Fiction: Hidden Beneath Calm Waters

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By Jerry Hobbs

Today:

As with most finned creatures living in salt water, survival of the sablefish, genus Anoplopoma, depends on a brain that is controlled by 99% instinct and 1% intelligence. A perfect example is the one which now swims downward several thousand feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, miles off the coast of Japan. It blindly follows the instinct portion of its brain, which promises food. The intellectual part neither understands, nor cares, what type of food, but simply trusts that it will soon eat.

What began as a journey, guided by an unusual scent and a slightly elevated temperature of water carried upward by ocean currents, soon becomes one of visual attraction when a yellowish-green glow appears in the distance. Somewhere in the creature’s tiny brain, electrical impulses decide that glow signals the location of the food it seeks.

Even though normally dependent on shrimp, crabs, and smaller fish when searching for a meal, the sablefish swims without pause between what appear to be weaving stalks of brown kelp and begins to feed on the glowing algae. Had it used even a fraction of its brain’s 1% intelligence, the fact that kelp doesn’t exist at this depth might have issued a warning. Instinct and hunger overrule caution, however, and the waving brown stalks are ignored as they slowly move closer. Soon completely surrounded, the fish continues to feed on the odd-tasting algae, unaware it is now in a trap from which there will be no escape.

1945:

On Monday, August 6, an American B-29 bomber with the name “Enola Gay” took off from North Field Airbase in the West Pacific for a six-hour flight to Japan. Its primary cargo, including an element known as uranium-235, was no more dangerous than a large mass of metal during most of the flight. It would remain harmless until thirty minutes before reaching the target city of Hiroshima, when the safety devices would be removed. At that time, the atomic bomb, code name “Little Boy”, was capable of an explosion that would equal the force of 13 kilotons (26,000 pounds) of TNT.

On Thursday, August 9, a second B-29, named “Bockscar”, took off from the same airfield. This aircraft flew first toward Kokura, Japan, its initial target, but a thick cloud cover forced them to choose the secondary location of Nagasaki. “Fat Man”, as this bomb was nicknamed, contained a more powerful element called plutonium-239, which would yield an explosion the equivalent of 21 kilotons of TNT.

The following morning, Friday, August 10, a third and final B-29, named “Texas Rose”, left the airfield with the destination of Tokyo – Japan’s capital city. This was the final aircraft to be dispatched and its cargo was also an explosive device. Like the one the day before, it contained the more powerful element, plutonium-239. Even larger, it was designed to explode with the equivalent force of 28 kilotons of TNT.

Enola Gay and Bockscar, the first two bombers, entered the country of Japan as planned, flying between thirty-one and thirty-two thousand feet, almost six miles in altitude. The first bomb, Little Boy, fell 43 seconds before reaching its programmed height of 1,900 feet over Hiroshima, where it exploded. An estimated one hundred and sixty thousand people eventually died as a result. Though the second bomb was more powerful, the death toll in Nagasaki when Fat Man exploded was approximately half that.

The successful missions of these first two planes were largely due to the fact that, even though detected by enemy radar, they were ignored as being too few in number to be considered a threat. Therefore, to conserve fuel, no Japanese defense planes were sent to meet either of them. That decision proved to be extremely costly and effectively determined the outcome of the war.

Because Tokyo was the capital city, reconnaissance flights were randomly sent aloft to search for any threat. A Japanese Zero, which was a long-range fighter aircraft, was patrolling that Friday when Texas Rose entered the forbidden airspace. Discovering the B-29 while still well offshore, the Zero flew just above the water to evade detection then rose upward to attack from below with .30 caliber, armor-piercing ammunition that was interspersed with tracer rounds.

As the bomber’s tail gunner hastened to return the fusillade of bullets from the lower rear turret, the Zero’s aim proved effective as the shells strafed the larger aircraft’s port side wing, rupturing the fuel lines that ran to the engines. The B-29′s gunner quickly found his range, and .50 caliber shells tore into the Zero’s starboard wing, ripping it to shreds before slicing across the cockpit.

Even as bullets pierced the Japanese pilot’s body, his finger continued to press the firing trigger. With the drag reduced on his right wing, the small plane spun counter clockwise, causing the last of his ammunition to stitch across the B-29′s starboard wing, rupturing the fuel lines there, also. This time, however, a tracer shell ignited the volatile liquid, causing both starboard engines to catch fire and explode.

The Zero spun in a counter-clockwise spiral all the way to the ocean below, while the Texas Rose, with most of its starboard wing now missing, followed closely behind. It took each slightly less than two minutes to fall those six miles. Whereas, the Japanese pilot died almost immediately from the .50 caliber bullets, the crew of the B-29 bomber lived a lifetime in those 120 seconds.

What remained of the Japanese fighter disintegrated when struck by the waves created by the impact of the larger plane, which plunged into the water nearby at more than two-hundred miles per hour. Its crew died instantly from the impact, even before the huge bomber broke apart and sank. Within minutes, there was no trace of either aircraft on the ocean’s surface.

Unlike the rest of the B-29′s structure, the reinforced compartment holding the bomb with “Remember the Alamo” painted across the side remained relatively intact. Though armed, the electrical safety plugs had not yet been removed and therefore, the device did not explode.

Meanwhile, authorities at the airfield anxiously awaited the return of the Texas Rose. Hearing nothing in the 12 hours following its takeoff, they feared the worst and dispatched search planes to follow the bomber’s charted route. After 24 hours, including nighttime flights looking for signal flares, they determined that the aircraft had crashed and sunk to the bottom at some unknown location between the airfield and its targeted city of Tokyo.

When the Japanese Zero’s pilot failed to return to base, his squadron commander decided he was dead, presumably due to engine failure that forced him down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean while on the routine reconnaissance flight. Due to a fuel shortage, no effort was made to search such a large area. No one would ever learn of the hundreds of thousands of lives saved due to the man’s courageous actions.

Since the Japanese Emperor formally surrendered six days after the second bomb was detonated, it was decided in the interest of public opinion that all records of the failed attempt to bomb Tokyo should be conveniently “lost”. In their place, documents were created that reported in great detail how the Texas Rose had been shot down over the South Pacific Ocean during a routine bombing mission. The crew was officially listed as MIA – Missing In Action. Due to tight security surrounding the actual operation, along with the fact that orders for strict radio silence had been observed, only those directly involved knew the truth. It was a secret they all carried to the grave.

Today:

The brown stalks, mistakenly ignored by the sablefish as kelp, are in truth, the tentacles of a species of octopus known as the North Pacific Giant, genus Enteroctopus doflein. They slowly close around the hapless victim before it suspects danger. By the time it does, the suckers lining each of the tentacles prevent any chance of escape. Just as countless times before, a feeding fish becomes food itself and is crushed to death while being pulled towards the parrot-like beak of the larger creature, which is superior in both strength and intelligence to the sablefish.

Soon, the queen’s feast is complete. She sinks back down into the dark throne of twisted metal, content to digest her meal and lie in wait for the next tasty morsel that will be drawn to the slight rise in temperature and the glow of enticing algae. Like dozens of female ancestors before her, she’s confident she’ll be well-fed for the rest of her life.

Beneath her is a half-hidden chamber containing a large, oblong object with the faint letters, “Re__mber th_ Al_mo”, on its side. Created as a weapon intended to be used from the air, the bomb wasn’t designed to withstand either the pressure at this depth or the corrosive salt water. The effect of both has, through the years, eaten away most of its housing, including the thin, protective shield of lead that lines the plutonium, allowing heat from the radioactive material to perpetuate the algae, along with its faint glow.

Since the Giant Octopus breeds only once at the end of its life, the eggs hatched by every successive queen gradually build up an unexplained affinity for the radioactive material. As a result, each new tentacled female, “chosen” by her display of superiority to occupy the throne inside what remains of the Texas Rose, therefore lives slightly longer than the previous one. This extended lifespan, aided by a rich diet, not only encourages an increase in physical size, but also provides additional time for her brain to further develop. Genetics ensure these enhancements are then passed on to the eggs. The result is that each generation is even more evolved that the last.

At their depth and isolated location, it’s unlikely anyone will disturb this group of North Pacific Giant octopi. Since the half-life of plutonium-239 is thousands of years, these creatures, one of the higher mentally-developed denizens living in the oceans of Earth to begin with, will no doubt continue to grow in size and intelligence. Even today, their cognizant ability approaches that of humans. Soon, it will be much higher.

Hours after the female’s meal is digested, a prowfish, genus Zaprora silenus, searching for something edible, senses a slight increase in temperature, along with an unusual hint of food carried upward by fickle ocean currents. Instinct guides it down, deeper than it has ever swum before – toward a faint glow, where it will soon eat and be eaten. Down to that special place, hidden beneath calm waters.

THE END

Bio: Jerry discovered the joy of putting his imagination on paper shortly after retirement. Since that time, he has published two novels and a book of short stories. He uses his own version of “thinking outside the box” to ensure his stories are not only fresh and entertaining, but also sometimes have unpredictable results. Several of his articles have been published in online magazines, but his true love is fiction. He recently completed a novella and plans to include several short stories under the same cover. In his spare time, he sings barbershop harmony in both a men’s chorus and quartet.

Though not recently active, his blog is: http://www.jerrywriter.blogspot.com/.

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