In Profundo Cognito
Updated: Apr 28
No matter how used to the dive, your stomach still sank.
As the team lead always said, it was "the natural" reaction to plummeting thousands of meters in just a few hours, and that it was actually the sensation of the stomach's air bubble trying to go up, not sink. Whatever the case, he also was fond of saying the bathymetric data wasn't going to collect its damn self, and that was my cue, as it had been.
Ever since that document was recovered, and the revelation of what could lie within, the Foundation renewed its interest in the field. A massive expedition had been organized. It was now operated under the fully-public dishonesty of "Project 5 Deeps". The multi-arm study would hopefully find such anomalies before they found us... or more likely before some rival organization found them first. It was a full-depth descent to all five of the world's major oceans, the first and likely the last of its kind. You can only bamboozle world governments like that once.
We were stationed in the Indian Ocean, above a trench called "Java". There, the free-fall lander had gone so deep, the cartographic team figured the altimeters were unstable. They almost called it off for logistical concerns. But wouldn't you know it, the counter suddenly stopped. Coordinates were 11.129°S/114.942°E. Over 7 kilometers deep. Great.
So they recreated that unmanned plunge, only now with an occupied submersible, TRITON 36000/2. It was a cramped vessel and my partner had either overlooked his need for a shower that day or ruined the one he had with his anxiety. Same as me. Neither of us would admit it. We didn't need to; we felt the same thing at the same time. Two humans can't help but feel indistinguishable from one another when in front of something so massive, so daunting, and so unconcerned with something as trivial as mortality.
Your brain starts to play tricks on you around the Mesopelagic zone. It's enough to unwind first-timers. People unawares can see things. Movements, creatures, even people they once knew. Ghosts, the folklore would call them; sunken souls, lost, searching for the surface. None of these are real. That, or telling yourself they aren't is the best chance our kind has to make it out with a mind retained inside the skull that it came in. The twilight inverts. It is opposite to the usual color gradation, seen in something like the fresh night sky, or a dawn pouring over the horizon. Here, it's dark below, light above. You get the feeling that you are being devoured.
Soon, the only thing we could see was our beacon light, only about 15 meters out. It seemed much less... but there was nothing much to see. Particulate matter ascended like reverse rain. It always reminded me of the old desktop screen savers, and I had a soft moment of nostalgia at... call it... 4K meters deep.
The second half of the dive took about four times as long as the first. Not sure how that works out, mathematically. Physically. Mentally. The submersible hit the bottom with a visceral thud, the thrusters augmenting the landing enough to not crack the vessel wide open like an eggshell. The systems had to shut off our comms in order to collect the data. We dispatched the instruments and waited.
The trenches are alien. Odder than the surfaces of other planets, I've been told. Creatures found there rival art, while other planets have little to no fauna, and the blackness above you might as well be the lonely infinity of outer space. Flora dance hypnotically in the currents. The stray oddity floats by, and you have to wonder if it was living.
After a few minutes, I saw a small snake. Looked like your garden variety. Thought it was a strip of plant life at first, but its persistent, horizontal orientation on the ocean floor made it stand out among the taller wafture. It was motionless for a majority of the time, blended in with all the passive movement. But the small motions — its head meandering this way and that occasionally — were just enough to suggest some volition, and it caught our eyes in the otherwise lifeless field. We smiled. It was a gift. It was more than enough entertainment for us while we waited for the data to process.
Our new buddy was within reach of our vessel's articulating arm, so we decided to expend some energy. Our ship had the reserves for some fun. Or some sanity. In our boredom, we plucked a small, undulating reed from the sand, extended it to the snake, and rested it just before our little companion. It didn't move. We soon reasoned it was blind. After all, its eyes were this pale, faintly-glowing green... I think. Not usual eyes. We booped its little snout with the very tip of the arm, and rotated the leaf towards it. It still didn't take the bait when tickling its mouth. We tried this for a good twenty minutes. Can't imagine it has a lot to eat, or many opportunities... much less to have something do all the work for it. Stubborn little fella. More stubborn than us. Maybe it was dying, or already dead.
Just then, another creature came into view, a welcomed second chance at entertainment. My partner identified it as a decapod, or "a shrimp" as I had to have it clarified. As it moved into our FOV, we saw its legs dancing lively and in an entrancing rhythm, like some sort of motorized toy. It bumped into our viewing port numerous times... probably 5 or 6 times. This made us laugh, the only break in the somber mood so far. I had to question just how dumb these animals were. My partner informed me they had rudimentary neurological functioning, nothing more than your typical insect.
And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it was dead. In a flash, the shrimp had been bisected, folded in on itself, its exoskeleton splintering like thin glass, its head curled past and over its own tail. Behind it was our little snake friend. Not just alive, but hungry. A true carnivore alright. I watched the shrimp, its frail limp body pushed down slowly into the snake's throat, the bright pink musculature burying it from our lamp, small barbs of teeth daring it to try to fight back. Its antennae disappeared behind a curtain of scales.
The snake floated there. As motionless as it had been, only now hovering right before our viewport, facing my partner and I. An odd feeling came over me. We never looked at each other, but we didn't need to; we felt the same thing at the same time.
The snake was aware. Of us. Not the vessel itself, but us, sitting inside it; sitting there dumbfounded like shrimp.
Something slight wisped from the snake's nostrils, thin as cigarette smoke. Finally, it lowered itself underneath our sights and seconds later I could see it swimming away, up and to the right, out of radius of the light. Soon, it had vanished. I stay awake at night telling myself we — the Foundation, humanity — never saw that snake again.
At surface, we were eventually reprimanded for not reporting this to Command. "Should have told us ASAP, could have been an anomaly", one said, "That's the very reason our organization went down there, to find things like this." In fairness, our job was merely to gather more bathymetric data. They didn't care, and didn't care that our comms weren't online at the moment, or that as soon as they were re-established, we were focused on returning safely as instructed.
Some asshole marine biologist back at the Site didn't let up, and asked me straight up how stupid I had to be in order to not understand that a mundane snake in the deepest trenches of the ocean floor was unusual. Embarrassed and without a good reason, I tried to defend myself by pointing to the "vast mysteries of such depths", especially their fauna. "Almost everything down there looks like an anomaly... they're possibly all anomalies... to science at least," I recall muttering pathetically. My partner — equally befuddled by his lapse in attentiveness — tried to help; "Maybe it wasn't a snake, maybe it was an eel?"
We spent the next 2 hours being asked by people in our facility who I had never met before if there was anything else unusual about the sighting. In the delirium of the interrogation, I had the odd thought the snake had gotten longer in the short time we knew it. My partner agreed. This is the only thing they wrote down during their interview with us. I guess we weren't much help in cleaning up our own mess. Luckily though, I escaped severe reprimand. Our ship turned back towards the Bay of Bengal, and I was happy to be going home.
In the quiet honesty of my solitary moments, I admit somewhat painfully that the marine biologist was right. It all seems so obvious in retrospect. I guess most things do. How did I miss that? Where did my training go? Where did my mind go? I still can't say what I was thinking at that time, or what I wasn't. Or why I wasn't.
I also can't seem to get that shrimp out of my mind. It was so unintentionally voyeuristic as to be disturbing. I've seen a shrink and she‘s diagnosed me with PTSD. What's worse; I've been told that was a solo dive. They've kept this from me, almost like a secret; only told it to me gingerly after a few sessions. She’s offered me the schematics for the Triton to look at and see for myself that it’s a one-person vessel. But I said no. The Foundation can falsify those things so easily. Then I was diagnosed with paranoia, a career-ending sentencing. My condition is apparently common after a first dive; that it’s enough to unwind first-timers. I am happy to let them make that conclusion. I know better. It wasn't the dive, and it wasn’t my first. I got PTSD from a shrimp.
No, not the shrimp — the snake.
"In Profundo Cognito" was initially posted to the SCP Wiki here and is accordingly released as CC BY-SA 3.0.
Image generated with DreamStudio and is released as CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution to "Confic Magazine".
Prompt: Generate a oil painting of a small, cute, but menacing green sea snake in the depths of the ocean. The snake is floating above the ocean floor, illuminated by a search light coming from a deep sea submersible. The snake's body is mostly black, but with thin white stripes running along its length. Its eyes are bright yellow and seem to glow in the light. The snake's mouth is open, revealing sharp, pointed teeth. The ocean floor below it is dark and murky, but you can make out the shapes of rocks and small coral formations. The viewport of the submersible takes up the foreground of the photo, and you can see the reflection of the search light and the snake in the glass.
Prompt written by ChatGPT 4.0 with the prompt: "Can you write a DreamStudio prompt that will get me a realistic photo of a small, cute, but menacing sea snake floating above the ocean floor, lit by a search light, and seen through the viewport of a deep sea submersible?"