Starlight - Book 1 in the Starlight Trilogy

After an enjoyably peaceful year living and attending university in the east coast town of Kamogawa in Japan, Meg Momozono finds herself thrust into an exhilarating and terrifying adventure of magical girls, fairies, and gods. And the discovery that not everything can be easily explained by science...

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13. Chapter 13 - Iced Tear

  “Nautilus, ready for dive.”

  Punching a few keys on the keyboard, her face thrown into deep relief by the cold white light of a computer monitor, Cordelia moved a few errant strands of hair out of her face and activated the mic. “Confirmed, Nautilus. Bring us back a few souvenirs.”

  She looked up and out of the reinforced acrylic window connecting Control to the Dive Pool, where a submarine hung suspended over the water, held by chains and a hydraulic system of cranes. The circular and predominately metal room contained a benign-looking pool of still ocean water, giving the room its name.

  A mere metre of space separated the sub from some thousand atmospheres of pressure; not a problem for the latest generation of deep dive submarines, modelled partially on its famous namesake, with a large viewing dome at the front and a certain hint of shark about its design.

  Dropping gently into the water, the machine soon vanished, leaving nothing but the lingering scent of salt water and a number of ripples on the surface.

  Cordelia relaxed in her comfy swivel chair, checking the monitors for anything interesting, and crossed a leg. A mug appeared in her peripheral vision. She grasped it with a vague nod. “Thanks, Marina.”

  The young woman addressed as Marina sat at the consoles in the next chair over. “Still observing?” she asked, making herself comfortable.

  “We’re just testing the waters, if you’ll excuse the awful pun,” Cordelia said, taking a sip of the strong and slightly burnt coffee, making a disgusted face. “But every time Jeff heads out there, we discover something new. Can’t go missing out!”

  “You’re like a kid at Christmas,” Marina said, tilting her head. Her curly golden locks shifted, falling behind her shoulders. “Who knows, maybe Santa will bring you an early present one day soon.” Probably as well not to get their hopes up, though, she figured. They’d only been down here for a few days, sending their brand new, state-of-the-art DSV out on a few easy missions before the real business began.

  Cordelia idly scanned the monitors, enjoying the high-definition beauty of the ocean’s bed, deep beneath the Pacific. Like Marina, she had minimal hopes of anything truly interesting for the time being; they were really just getting their feet wet with the new sub-oceanic facilities of Starlight City.

  The microphone crackled to life again. “Cordy, you there?

  Cordelia grasped the mic. “Here, Jeff. Found something?” She glanced at the monitors, noting something large and bulky, clearly multi-coloured yet also hard to make out, despite the high resolution of the Nautilus’ cameras.

  Jeff’s rough and gravelly voice carried a hint of both excitement and mild worry. “Think I might have that souvenir for you! Didn’t expect to run into something right out the gate. Not sure what to make of this, can barely see it on the screens. It’s big, though.

  “Big and colourful,” Cordy replied, carefully studying a larger display above the consoles, hung from the ceiling alongside several others. She stood. “Bring it in, Jeff, let’s get a closer look.”

  “Roger that. Heading back to the pen now.

  Stifling a laugh with her hand, Cordelia grinned. “Maybe Santa heard you!”

  Making their way through the connecting halls, Cordelia opened the pressure-locked door to the Dive Pool, and clanked her way down the metal steps, followed by Marina. The submarine resurfaced, splashing freezing water over the circular metal walkways surrounding the circular pool.

  In the vice-like grip of the machine’s forward pincers; something alien and disturbing in vivid green, blue, and purple was held. Cordelia moved closer, squatting before the enormous organism. While vaguely aquatic in nature, with two ventral and a single dorsal fin like a dolphin, the creature also had something in common with another deep sea animal…

  Marina shivered, and not with cold. “Reminds me of those things I saw in a documentary once. Some kind of shrimp that can break glass with its pincers.”

  “Mantis shrimp?” Cordelia murmured, nodding. “It does bear a certain resemblance, yes, very similar to the peacock mantis shrimp in particular. If you crossed one of those with a shark. And possibly the Alien.”

  Marina’s shivers quickly changed into full-blown shudders. “It’s dead, right? Please tell me it’s dead.”

  Chuckling under her breath, Cordelia held a hand out. “It’s dead. Now hand me the camera, please.”

  Tugging said item from her lab coat’s pocket, Marina handed the small device over, thinking herself very lucky that she had chosen botany as a career; aside from certain exceptions like the rafflesia, plants generally didn’t creep her out like marine wildlife did.

  Cordelia grabbed it and snapped a few pictures from a variety of angles, noting with some amusement that Marina had backed off again. She waved at the sub. “Okay, Jeff, move it to the platform, please.”

  Jeff confirmed over the radio, moving the arms to place the creature on the metal surface. “Stand clear, I’m releasing it.” He did so, pulling the arms back before docking the sub and climbing out. Stepping onto the overhead gantry, he walked around and made his way down a ladder to join his colleagues.

  Circling the organism, Cordelia continued snapping pictures, muttering under her breath. “I’ve seen some outlandish creatures in my time, but nothing quite like this. And certainly not in relatively shallow waters. Where exactly did you find it?”

  “Few hundred metres out, not even halfway to Archlight Shelf,” Jeff replied, scratching his beard.

  “Wonder if it found its way up from Markov Deep?” Marina mused.

  Cordelia nodded. “Maybe…”

  “Last time I saw something like this was in movies,” Marina added, laughing nervously.

  “Ah, the beauty of deep sea life. Every new discovery is nightmare fuel,” Cordelia said, laughing. “In any case, let’s get this stowed in one of the sample tanks.”

  Jeff jumped on-board the auto-lift – a machine similar in general function to a forklift, only smaller and designed for use in the claustrophobic corridors of a deep-sea base – and manoeuvred it across to the creature.

  The two scientists went to exit the room but were halted by a sound. A liquid sound, something unpleasant and gooey combined with bubbling, as of acid melting through polystyrene. With minimal fuss or fanfare, the creature melted into little more than a pool of black, primordial ooze.

  “Okay, that’s not normal!” Marina exclaimed, jumping back.

  Cordelia brought the camera up and switched to video mode in order to capture as much of this as possible, though the creature had all but dissolved already.

  Jeff covered his nose and mouth as a foul stench of sulphur and sewage clogged his sinuses. “That’s gonna take some cleaning.”

  “We are safe to be around this, right?” Marina said. She worried this might turn into a quarantine situation, not something she wanted during their first week down here.

  “Better get the hazmat guys down here, just to be sure,” Cordelia muttered.

  “I’ll do it,” Marina said, and vanished inside to the control room where she didn’t need to be in the immediate vicinity of the puddle of ooze.

  “Looks like sushi’s off the table,” Cordelia commented in an amused voice. “Perhaps a thick broth instead?”

  A theatrical gagging sound indicated that Jeff probably wouldn’t be her first customer for this new and exiting dish…

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