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  • Excerpt Monday: Falling Star by Phillip Chen

    Falling Star
    by Philip Chen

    The following is from my novel, Falling Star, a story about mysterious objects discovered buried deep in the ocean and what happens when they wake up and start sending signals to outer space.

    This novel has been recommended by noted book critic, Alan Caruba, charter member of the National Book Critics Circle, who says, " If you read just one novel in 2011, make it Falling Star."


    The bright upper column water became progressively darker as the Squid went deeper and deeper.  The temperature in the submersible also dropped precipitously.  Both Anderson and Carver were grateful for having remembered to wear their long johns.  Several times during the long descent, Carver had to wipe the portholes as the humidity inside the pressure vessel and relative warmth fogged the lenses.
    At one point Carver, in an uncharacteristic effort at humor told Anderson that he didn't know he would have to do windows.
    During the initial descent, Anderson relied on the sonar depth finder to warn them of any obstacles below.  Turning on the outside lights was both wasteful from the battery standpoint and useless given the increasing lack of marine life.  In addition, it was necessary for both occupants to adjust to the increasing darkness.
    The plethora of varied aquatic life at the surface also faded as the Squid continued its spiraling descent into the blackness of the sea.  As the water color turned primarily dark blue, the only life that the two intrepid explorers saw were occasional rays or sharks.  Even deeper, these denizens of the deep were replaced by eerie creatures, some with their own lighting.
    Eventually even these masters of adaptation to the darkness seemed to disappear and Anderson and Carver were left to their own.  Two fragile surface creatures going lower than even marine life adapted to the depths.  Anderson, of course was used to this display of evolutionary adaptation, Carver remained fascinated by the varied life and how it differed so from life as he knew it.
    Almost as soon as the ride had started, Anderson trimmed his tanks and the Squid came to a slow stop, suspended in the depths of the ocean.  On this first dive, they had arbitrarily picked 12,000 feet.
    "Here we are," said Anderson.
    As the Squid sat motionless, Anderson and Carver ran through the test sequence so carefully worded by Mike and the test engineers at MacAlear so many months ago.  They turned on the strobe lights.
    "Wait, did you see that?" exclaimed Carver.  He thought he saw something big - really big - and dark move quickly through the water in the shadowy background.
    "May have been a blue whale," said Anderson, "or, maybe a giant squid."
    "I didn't think there was anything that large at this depth," replied an uncharacteristically nervous Carver.  He wasn't so sure of what he saw, but it did not look natural.
    Almost as soon as they had begun this dive, it was over.  Anderson dropped his ballast and the Squid began its slow upward spiral toward the surface.
    "There she is!" shouted Mike from the deck of the R/V Falling Star.  Everyone else hurried to the stern of the mother vessel excited to see the Squid return from its first deep mission.  Already, Navy divers had launched two Zodiacs with their 200 Horsepower Mercury outboard motors and were speeding to the white speck bobbing in the distance.
    Anderson and Carver emerged from the pressure vessel and stood in the conning tower, both were dripping wet not from the sea but from their sweat.  They were both glad to have some fresh air and to bask in warmth of the afternoon sun.  Anderson took the hand held controller and plugged it into the outlet in the conning tower.  Carver took pains to lock the hatch to the pressure vessel, ever mindful that was how the submersible Alvin was swamped and temporarily lost a short while ago.
    With his hand held controller, Jim was able to steer the Squid toward the R/V Falling Star.  However, he did not complain when the Navy divers offered him a tow.
    After all, thought Anderson, the Squid was not intended to be a surface tug.
    With the help of the Navy divers and their Zodiacs, Anderson was able to maneuver the Squid on to its mounting cradle.  Once secured, the elevator of the Falling Star began its slow ascent, sea water pouring out of the crevices of the Squid as it rose above the water.  When the elevator platform reached its maximum height, Jim Anderson jumped down from the conning tower.  Waiting for him on the now dry platform were Robison, Sevson, Mike, and McHugh.
    "How did it go?" asked Robison.
    "Like a charm, I think we're ready for the first bottom dive tomorrow morning," said Anderson, with a big grin on his face.  Carver remained silent.
    Later that evening, Carver quietly approached McHugh.  "Commander, I don't want to be an alarmist, but I saw something big move in the shadows when we leveled out."
    "What do you think it was, Chief?"
    "I don't know, sir," replied Carver, "but it was big and fast."
    "What did Anderson think?"
    "He didn't see it, but he thinks it might have been a blue whale."
    "Interesting, I don't think blue whales could dive that deep," replied McHugh.  "Did you note it in the log?"
    "Yes, sir."
    "Thanks for telling me Chief," replied McHugh.  "I'll keep it in mind."
    What McHugh did not tell Carver about was the incident involving the SSBN - 620, the John Adams.  He made a note in his small notebook that he kept for these events.
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