Submersible Disaster


Modeling of the submarine “Nautilus” from the 1954 film “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.” –Abraham Lincoln

“Ma’am, move!”

Nine-year-old Josiah Covington pushed hard against Keisha’s stomach as she was trying to shield him from a barrage of bullets. Her back was to the door and she expected to be dead in the next few seconds, but before she felt the anticipated pain of being shot, the boy’s other hand yanked hard on the elevator’s control lever, moving it from “Ground” to “Bottom.”

Then something hit her from behind, a staggering, off-balance Isaiah Covington, throwing her forward into the boy and causing all three to fall to the floor, as a staccato of pings and bangs hit the closing elevator doors.

Three of the glowing energy bullets pierced the car’s doors and hit the back wall just over their heads as they began their rapid descent.

“Hold on!” Isaiah’s warning was well-advised but ill-timed as none of them were in a position to grab onto the retraining bars above them. All they could do was flounder about on the floor, coughing in the fog of steam and aerosol lubricant released by the elevator’s rapid operation. Then an abrupt deceleration, which Keisha remembered from the last time she’d ridden in this death trap, and a sudden, jarring stop at the bottom of the shaft.

“No time to lose.” The elder Covington was up and off of the irritated, embarrassed fifteen-year-old girl, and out the door.

“Please get up, Miss Davis!” Josiah complained as he struggled to push her off of his chest.

Keisha used both arms to move herself off of the child, and then he hopped up, appearing more than a little annoyed. He looked down at her and his features softened. He offered her his hand. “Sorry about my manners, Miss. Got a little scared for a minute.”

She looked up at him with a mix of awe and incredulousness. What nine-year-old kid worries about manners and courtesy right after almost being shot to death?

“Thanks.” She accepted his offer and let him help her up.

“Hurry!” Isaiah was calling them. “They’ll be down the shaft in a minute.”

The two ran outside to see the inventor manipulating an overly complex set of levers, gears, and pressure vessels which were spouting steam and several other strange gases. The elevator doors slammed shut and the car shot back upward.

“You can’t do that! They’ll come down after us.”

“I know what I’m doing, Miss Davis. Josiah, bring her along. I’ll get the Dakuwaqa ready.”

“Yes, Papa.”

Isaiah, his strange firearms once again holstered, ran ahead through the only exit left. They were in some roughly hewn stone chamber, like a cave, except there was what looked like wall-mounted electric lighting, the first she’d seen since entering this anachronistic universe. The bulbs were pulsing as if they couldn’t get a consistent current.

The panel and vessels next to the elevator were expanding and contracting, moaning like a woman in labor, and glowing in shades of green and blue, looking both sickly and deadly.

“Come on, Miss Davis. We’ve got to go before the trap goes off.”


She let Josiah lead her along as the two ran after Isaiah. Past the open doorway, the air was suddenly colder, and she heard the lapping of waves. It was another cave, a much larger one, extending to a wooden pier, and beyond that, an underground pool supporting what could only be a submarine illuminated by several spotlights on tripods.

It was shaped more like a fish than a machine, although it was obviously metal. On the upper front was the word “Dakuwaqa” painted in sea green next to what looked like some sort of mermaid. A ladder on the rounded side led up to a small tower that began a serrated dorsal fin extending to the vessel’s rear, and on top of the tower was an open hatch.

“We’ve just got time to get inside before it happens.”

She didn’t waste her breath asking questions, just ran with him across the rock floor, and then heard their footsteps rapidly echo as they raced across the sagging wooden planks of the pier.

“Up with you, Keisha.” He moved aside letting the girl go ahead, and she didn’t argue about archaic patriarchal attitudes or sexism. She hit the iron rungs at a run and was climbing as the first series of quakes hit.

“Earthquake!” She cried out as she grabbed the edge of the hatch.

“No, Ma’am. Explosion. Get in.”

She was descending down the narrow opening as Josiah reached the top above her. As she hit the bottom, it got darker, and she heard the hatch clang shut overhead. Then Josiah fairly slid down the ladder, and Keisha barely had time to get out of the way.

“In a seat and secure your netting, Keisha. We need to be underway in moments. Josiah. The Engineering Station if you please.”

“Yes, Papa.”

The teenager sat heavily at in a chair near the back of the cramped control room. Isaiah was at the front seated behind a large wheel similar to the one used to guide the airship in which she’d arrived in this world only hours ago. Josiah sat to the right in front of a console filled with meters, dials, levers, pulleys, and turn wheels, which he handled as expertly as his Dad.

Keisha found netting attached to her seat and pulled it around her. The crude hemp seemed to cling to itself like velcro and held her secure to her chair. She wished Grandpa had put something like it in the Graceful Delight, but the old man’s airship was the least of her concerns now.

“Open ballast valves one and two, Josiah.”

“Opening ballast valves one and two, Sir.”

She heard the sound of motors behind her spinning up and then the churning of propellers. Isaiah turned the wheel and they were moving, probably away from the pier, but then he pushed forward on the helm and they started downward. They were going underwater.

Keisha felt a momentary panic. She’d never been in a submarine before, and this one seemed so tiny, like a coffin. It was like being buried alive. The control cabin had the same electric lighting as the cave, and kept flickering, as if about to overload and blow out.

Isaiah was still giving Josiah orders but Keisha hadn’t been paying attention. How did they know where they were going? She didn’t see any windows or view screens. They were underground, not in the ocean. Where did they expect to go?

“We’re lined up on the tunnel. Opening the inner doors.”

“Aye, aye, Papa. Main propellers at the ready, Sir.”

“Opening outer doors now. Stand by.”

“Yes sir. Standing by at the engines.”

“Steady now. Steady. Go, boy!”

Josiah pushed forward hard on a lever that controlled the main engines, and there was a sudden burst of acceleration. Keisha was pushed back in her seat, but the netting held fast, so she was secure.

Then the craft was shaken and tossed left and right. “The trap is sprung, boy. Give her all you’ve got!”

“Throttles at full, Sir.”

“We’re in the tunnel. Sixty seconds now.”

“Yes sir.”

“Sixty seconds until what?” Keisha’s sounded like she was talking into a fan, her voice reverberating because of the violent vibration of the engines and the explosions.

She noticed a clock face above Josiah’s controls, numbers in Roman Numerals like every other timepiece she’d seen here. The watched the second hand, which was unusual here, tick off the seconds from sixty down.

The engine noise reached a deafening whine, but Keisha couldn’t move her hands up to her ears because of the netting. The smell of steam, oil, and ozone was nauseating, and she tasted acid and vomit on her tongue. Both the stench and the pressure of acceleration made it hard to breathe.

Then there was what must have been another explosion, because they were suddenly thrust forward with an enormous surge of power and current. The girl shut her eyes tight and hoped Isaiah’s prayers about God helping her were working.

Then she was thrown forward against her restraints, bruising her shoulders and chest. They were alive, and slowing down.

“We made it. We’re in the Bay,” Isaiah declared victoriously. But what sort of victory left behind a wife and mother, and a little three-year-old girl, victims to bloodthirsty murderers? She lowered her head as she caught her breath, felt tears trickle down her cheek, and then watched them drop onto her lap. She couldn’t help but believe that somehow this was all her fault.

“We’re far enough off shore now, Josiah. I’m bringing her about and coming up to depth. Secure the buoyancy and engines and hold us here.”

“Aye, Sir.”

In spite of their loss, father and son performed with machine-like efficiency, which at first Keisha admired and then came to resent. What kind of man leaves behind half his family just to save his own ass?

“Take the helm, Josiah. I’m going to have a look through the Optiscope.”

“Aye, Papa.” This time, the boy’s voice sounded more subdued as he opened his netting and stood.

Isaiah was already on his feet and using a hand crank to lower a large tube from the ceiling. She recognized the periscope from a bunch of old submarine movies she’d watched with Grandpa when she was little.

He unfolded the grips at the tube’s side and pressed his face to the lens as Josiah pushed a button on the main panel to turn the lights from yellow to red. She remembered that would help their eyes adjust when looking into darkness.

Isaiah sighed and his exhalation carried a trembling.

“I think I owe you a look at the devastation I have wrought, Miss Davis.” He stood back and she saw his eyes were wet. He wasn’t the heartless monster she imagined him to be a few moments ago. Keisha wanted to apologize, but he couldn’t possibly know her thoughts.

Opening her own netting, she stood uneasily on the slightly shifting deck. Isaiah lowered the tube a bit to accommodate their difference in height. Then she pressed her palms where his had been. The handles were warm and moist. Pushing her face against the glass, she saw the night sky illuminated by fire and smoke. It was what was left of the Covington home and its surroundings.

“A series of explosive devices planted for just such an occasion. The elevator only ascended halfway back to the main level. Then the first set of bombs was detonated, killing anything alive in the house, preventing our would-be murderers from pursuing us, and absolutely destroying any evidence of my hidden submersible base.”

His voice was flat, lacking any emotion, whether victory or defeat.

Keisha watched the conflagration in horror, noticing that, just before its collapse, the airship landing tower and platform were empty of all moored airships. Someone had taken the Graceful Delight, the final legacy of her Grandpa. It was all lost, including her duffel bag containing the old man’s journal. Whatever secret it held worth all of their lives was now only ashes, just like Grandpa.

Keisha, turned to face Isaiah, her eyes streaming with tears, her voice tight with grief. “Damn you. Your wife and daughter died in there. For all you know, you blew them up.”

“That’s not true. It can’t be.” The boy wheeled around in his seat, his face a study in rage and anguish.

“Josiah, hold your tongue. I’ll handle this.”

Yes, Pa.” His son seemed suddenly younger, just a little boy without a Mother’s love.

“Miss Davis…Keisha. If my wife kept her wits about her at all, and very likely she did, then it is quite possible she still survives as does our daughter.”

“Oh damnit, how? She was shot and bleeding. The blood trail led to the cellar door. If she was forced down there, she was trapped. Even if she could hide in that hole under the stairs, when you blew up the house, she and Leah would have been killed.”

“There’s more than one way in and out of that cellar, Keisha. You must have faith.”

“In what?”

“In powers that are greater than man and machine, something in your education that is sorely lacking, I’m afraid.”

“There was another way out? How do you know they made it? She was bleeding.”

“Faith, Keisha. We must pray that my wife and my daughter survived, and that my dear spouse’s vast store of resources will enable her to carry on the fight, even as we must.”

“What fight? What are you talking about?”

Keisha heard a speaker from the front of the room crackle to life, issuing churning sounds, just as Josiah exclaimed. “Papa. Sound of propellers topside approaching our position. I think they spotted the Optiscope.”

“To your station, lad. Keisha, back to yours. I let myself get distracted and the Optiscope lens remained above water long enough to be seen.”

By the time Keisha got back to her seat, Josiah was already in his restraints at the Engineering panel. Isaiah returned the Optiscope to its original position and once again took the helm. Then the lighting switched back to normal.

He’d said something about her taking her station. She turned to the panel on the boat’s port side and gazed at a confusing collection of devices and controls, which for all she knew, were an artistic tribute to the historic use of brass and tin gears, cogs, and sprockets.

“Prepare for an emergency dive, Josiah.”

“Yes sir. Engines at the ready. Buoyancy tank valves on stand by.”

“Now, son. Emergency dive.”

“Aye. Emergency dive in progress.”

The engines whined up, singing their shrill banshee’s cry, and filling the air with noxious fumes. The sub angled down sharply, but the thrust of the propellers held her suspended, as did the netting. Then the boat lurched and vibrated as the first bomb was detonated.

“Depth charges, Papa.”

“Yes, son. They know we’ve escaped the half-mechanical marauders they sent into our home, and mean to finish us off in the water.

Another explosion. The lights went dark for a full three seconds, and one of the pipes over Keisha’s head started to leak. She could taste sea water on her lips.

“What’s the depth beneath us, son?”

“Got a sounding of not quite six fathoms. Just over twelve meters. Our current depth is four meters and diving.”

Another explosion. It was almost on top of them. Steel and brass brackets and bolts cracked and popped. The boat twisted along its axis to starboard. and they were put at a ninety degree angle before they stabilized.

“Only 1.5 meters to the bottom, Papa. Coming up fast.”

“Leveling. Continuing evasive maneuvers. Maintain speed, Josiah.”

“Aye, Pa. Engines at full. Reading another charge. It’s going to be close.”

The sound was like being inside an empty, sealed steel barrel with a large firecracker when it exploded. A light bulb shattered, and two more pipes started shooting out water like broken sprinkler valves. Keisha could hardly see because of the haze and the dimming of the remaining lights. Then the ship lurched but it wasn’t a bomb. They’d hit something. She screamed as the electricity failed, and in utter darkness, the submarine began tumbling.

Previous chapters of Keisha’s wild adventure are:

  1. The Adventure Begins!
  2. Aerial Encounter
  3. Police Pursuit
  4. Desperate Attack

Escaping their foes on the surface, Isaiah Covington managed to destroy them at the cost of his home and possibly his wife and daughter, as the trio made a desperate escape in an emergency submersible. But now, they’ve been discovered again, and are likely destined for a watery grave.

The next chapter is Menace in the Dark.

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