The message has been smuggled via a plaintext file saved to a MicroSD that I pray survives its trip to the surface. If the journalist or civilian receiving this can read this message, I am posting covertly from a deep marine lab that officially does not exist. Its codename, as of this message, is SPEARHEAD UNLIT FRONTIER (SULFR). We are in the relative shallows of the Izu-Ogasawara Trench, submerged at just around 4,500 meters beneath the surface of the ocean. We are funded by the American government and have been since the early Cold War. This base’s foundations were laid down starting in the early 1960s, as an unannounced companion project to the lunar missions.
We were tasked with beating the Soviets to colonize the depths of the ocean. More recently, we’ve been up to miscellaneous research projects that would never be allowed anywhere else. Just like Edward Snowden with the NSA, I’m a contractor who has become grossly disillusioned. Unlike Snowden, however, I believe that I can maintain my deep cover a little longer. I have to. There is so much to be uncovered. I haven’t even begun to understand the depths of it. There is so much that the world still needs to know.
I’ve been secretly transcribing all the strange security dispatches, and the “all-personnel emergency” alerts that come in over the radio. Whenever I’m alone, it’s easy enough to turn my computer towards the wall a little, and start typing. There’s a lot I’ve been missing, though. I also started writing down the strange conversations I’ve overheard in the lab. In the past months, I even received additional permissions to the lab’s intranet communications. This lets me listen in on some radio-silenced phoneline chatter. I’ll do my best to contextualize the different conversations you’ll be reading, but I still don’t have many answers.
Item 1: “Nonresponsive Sailors” (Security Dispatch)
Dispatch Message: “Attention, all security units. Attention, all security units. A midsized, civilian surface vessel has been sighted within SULFR-controlled waters. It is believed that the crew is missing or incapacitated, because there has been no response from the bridge. There has also been no visual confirmation of deckhands. The ship poses a security risk and is to be towed to salvage zone waters and then scuttled for reclamation after sinking.”
Author’s Note 1: There are surface rigs that take staff beneath the surface of the ocean via cable elevator. It is an entirely separate security ecosystem from the one in the research labs. Circumstances allowed me to witness some of this event myself, because I had only just arrived at surface intake. I was waiting to be taken down to the labs. Security dispatch logs are saved in the lab’s intranet files, and so I was later able to obtain the transcript below. This was my first hint that things weren’t right at UNLIT FRONTIER.
Author’s Note 2: If the crew was really missing or incapacitated, then why did I hear so much gunfire when the security teams boarded? Who was screaming?
Item 2: “Spillway Failure” (All-Personnel Emergency)
Alert Message: “All Hands on Deck. All Hands on Deck. A critical spillway failure has been detected near the inlet of Hydroelectric Main Feed 8. The deep ocean spillway appears to have drawn a moored naval mine into itself, triggering an explosion and damaging the inlet port. All staff are to begin consolidation procedure. Check your local sector thoroughly for new leaks, hairline cracks, or structural damage that may have resulted from this incident. Report any trouble or unusual function immediately to supervisory staff.”
Author’s Note 1: How and why did we construct a “spillway” under the ocean? Where does the water used for SULFR’s undisclosed “hydroelectric” projects end up?
Author’s Note 2: How truly massive might the flow of water into these projects be? The spillway apparently is active enough to pull a massive, chain-anchored mine into itself.
Item 3: “Sea Lice” (Overheard Conversation)
- Technician 1: The seine nets are coming back ruined. The fish they’re catching are no good either.
- Technician 2: How are the nets bringing back fish if they’re ruined?
- Tech.1: The fish are so mutilated that they’re sticking by their own innards
- Tech.2: Yuck! Yeah, that’s no good.
- Tech.1: Dry foodstuff will have to do for now. At least until we get the problem sorted out.
- Tech.2: What’s the problem, exactly? Do we know yet?
- Tech.1: Crustacean parasites. Isopods, abyssal sea lice, you know the type.
- Tech.2: That’s strange. We’ve had good luck with the antiparasitic additives so far. Minimal biofouling, and no major chunks taken out of the large specimens we’ve brought in.
- Tech.1: Until now, yeah. The fish we’ve been collecting for food supply supplement are coming in looking like swiss cheese. And the ectoparasites swarm out alive once you pull the nets up through the airlock.
- Tech.2: And they’re immune to the antiparasitics, too?
- Tech.1: They sure seem to be. I mean, they’re survive the airlock. The pressure change doesn’t even seem to faze some of the bigger sea lice.
- Tech.2: Don’t even tell me that. I had a nightmare last night that I inhaled some water by mistake during a dive. And then in the dream, they tell me that I’ve got sea lice burrowed into the side of my lung.
- Tech.1: Well, let’s step up the biocides in the surrounding waters. There won’t even be any fish to catch, but there aren’t really much worth eating now anyway.
- Tech.2: I’ll call it in. If the UNLIT FRONTIER ecosystem dies completely, then maybe we can talk command into shipping a crate of freeze-dried meat, or beef jerky, or something.
- Tech.1: I would kill for some meat from the surface. It’s been way too long. Even the idea of freeze-dried makes my mouth water. So, ok. I’ll step up the biocide concentration?
- Tech.2: Yeah. May as well go for it. We’ve got a long way still before we start to poison the surface waters to any noticeable degree. And now I can’t stop thinking about beef jerky.
- Tech.1: And who needs sea lice through the airlock, right?
- Tech.2: Yeah.
Item 4: “Unexplained Lights” (Intranet-Hosted Phone Call)
- Voice 1: Just checking in about the lights.
- Voice 2: Yeah?
- Vo.1: The radar shows that the source of it is miles below our deepest cameras.
- Vo.2: The divers are reporting heat from it, like the sources are much closer.
- Vo.1: Right, but the radar says they’re way deep down. They must be incredibly hot, or else transmitting energy on a wavelength that only turns to heat after it hits something besides water.
- Vo.2: Any idea yet what the source of the lights could be?
- Vo.1: No. No real guesses from the team.
- Vo.2: And they just come and go? Like, they blip in and out of existence?
- Vo.1: They seem to. From our perspective at least. We thought at first that they might be magma flows.
- Vo.2: That sounds plausible.
- Vo.1: But they move around too much. It’s similar to the pattern of travel that a pod mammal makes when it get separated from its pod.
- Vo.2: But they’re way too big to be whales…
- Vo.1: Right, and all the while it’s producing as much light and thermal energy as an oil refinery’s lit flare stack…
- Vo.2: And then suddenly it’s gone again. So, we’ve got no real guesses, then.
- Vo.1: We’ve got no real guesses. But the lights keep coming back. Sometimes there’s more than one.
- Vo.2: [Sighs] Keep me posted, alright?
- Vo.1: Alright.
Item 5: “Frozen Bodies” (Email Memorandum)
Message Text: As a courtesy to all staff, please be advised that several of our guests at SULFR have unfortunately perished. This was due to an unforeseen complication in one of the research labs. The cause of death is to remain strictly undisclosed except among supervisory officers. All staff should be aware that the bodies of the guests in question will be stored in Sector 22 cold storage until more suitable arrangements can be made. This is necessity to prevent decomposition and associated health hazards. Staff working in Sector 22 should do their best to carry on with business as usual. THE CORPSES ARE NOT TO BE HANDLED OR MOVED BY SECTOR 22 STAFF.
Author’s note: Sector 22’s cold storage lockers also serve as SULFR’s kitchen freezers. I went to have a look at the bodies out of morbid curiosity. The injuries on the deceased were bad, and bordered on mutilation. My visit raised more questions than it answered.
Item 6: “Unknown Megafauna” (All Hands on Deck Alert)
Alert Message: “All Hands on Deck. All Hands on Deck. An unknown megafauna is currently investigating Sector 21 from the sector’s exterior. It appears to have been drawn by the submerged lights in that sector. It may try to gain entry to other visibly-lit areas. Immediately extinguish all non-critical sources of light. Available staff assigned to the cephalopod and mollusk research wings are requested to report immediately to Sector 21. All others should consider the sector off-limits until further notice.”
Author’s note: Sector 21 was never reopened, and the cephalopod and mollusk research wings have been shuttered and inactive ever since. Based on the sounds I heard that night, I believe that the creature was successful in breaching the hull of Sector 21. If so, explosive decompression likely killed all those present.
Item 7: “Living Salvage” (Intranet-Hosted Phone Call)
- Voice 1: Any update on the attempted hijacking of surface pod 4?
- Voice 2: Yeah, we’ve got a whole lot of dead bodies to process.
- Vo.1: Just dead bodies?
- Vo.2: Well…
- Vo.1: Is that a complicated question?
- Vo.2: In a way, it is… Seems like while the hijackers were being processed, a couple of the bodies woke up.
- Vo.1: Woke up?
- Vo.2: Started moaning and screaming – you know, not totally dead yet. In a few cases they started feeling well enough to fight us a little. They resisted being processed, I mean.
- Vo.1: Anybody get hurt?
- Vo.2: Just the salvage that was still alive when it happened. It’s all being processed smoothly now though, in any case.
- Vo.1: No problems, then.
- Vo.2: Yeah, nobody’s gonna miss a few dozen pirates.
- Vo.1: And pod 4 is still operational?
- Vo.2: Not a scratch.
- Vo.1: Alright, well that’s good news. I’ll be in touch with the security footage from the hijacking attempt.
- Vo.2: Don’t bother. We know exactly how it all ended up.
- Vo.1: I guess we do. Alright, thanks.
- Vo.2: Bye.
Item 8: “Mimics, or Ghosts” (Overheard Conversation)
- Technician 1: I’m sure that I heard a human voice on piezoelectric hydrophone.
- Technician 2: You heard feedback coming from inside the labs. I’m telling you.
- Technician 3: He thinks it’s a ghost.
- Tech.2: He thinks it’s a ghost? [Laughs]
- Tech.1: [Quietly] It wasn’t feedback. It was a voice from outside the lab.
- Tech.3: Tell him what it said to you. That’s the important part.
- Tech.1: [Refuses to speak]
- Tech.3: Tell him what you think you heard!
- Tech.2: Come on already, let’s hear it. My break’s ending.
- Tech.1: It said, “I’m freezing to death out here.”
- Tech.3: And that’s not all it said, right?
- Tech.1: It said, “I’m suffocating. Please. I won’t last out here.”
- Tech.2: So, what… you think it’s the ghost of someone who drowned?
- Tech.3: I’ve been saying it must be some kind of mimic behavior. Something biological imitating a human voice.
- Tech.2: You really believe he heard something? The simplest explanation, by far, is that he’s just cracking up from the long hours.
- Tech.3: I’ve heard something like what he describes. There’s no such thing as ghosts, though.
- Tech.1: I’m not so sure…
- Tech.3: A living mimic is way scarier than a ghost though, if you think about it. A ghost is just a spirit reliving its last moments. It’s basically the essence of a human. But, see, a mimic is some unknown creature. It’s a real thing that’s pretending to be human to get inside the facility. It’s pretending to need help, even, just to get at us! That’s much more troubling if you ask me.
- Tech.2: You guys are both losing it. That’s my assessment.
- Tech.3: You haven’t done a week on the hydrophones yet. We’ll see what you say after you rotate. There’s voices out there, and a human voice doesn’t carry through the water like that.
- Tech.1: There’s definitely something out there, and it’s speaking to SULFR from very nearby.
Item 9: “Guest Liability” (Security Dispatch)
Dispatch Message: “Attention, all security units. Attention, all security units. Contractor #434-83-8525 has become a guest liability. Prioritize making contact with Contractor #434-83-8525. His location is unknown. He may be in hiding, or armed with makeshift weapons. Security teams are instructed to prioritize resolving the guest liability.
Author’s Note: I believe this was an attempted escape by an UNLIT FRONTIER staff member. I think that this dispatch message was a coded instruction to murder the “guest” who was causing trouble. The facility will do anything to defend its secrets. This means that you might never receive another message from me, but I swear what I say is true. I will do my best to keep shedding light on the darkness here. God help us all.
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All three novellas in the trilogy described below are included in the compilation:
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