Ten more days. The countdown echoed through his mind, each passing moment amplifying the sense of impending doom. The weight of his pursuit bore down on him, suffocating him in a cocoon of dread.
The hours dripped with an eerie viscosity, stretching and warping the fabric of time until it became an amorphous abyss that, like the watery depths around him, had swallowed him whole.
And then, out of nowhere, the creaking of bending metal outside his pod wrung, wrenching him from his stupor. Something was terribly wrong.
In the desolate depths, where little light trod, Prof. Eric Lampard wondered if any of this was worth it. With a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, he’d always pushed himself to uncover the mysteries of the human body.
At age fifty-five, he’d achieved much on this front and wanted to unravel more secrets. His latest study had brought him two hundred feet under the blue-green waters near the Puerto Rico Trench. If only he knew how all this would end for him.
The absence of any familiar sight gnawed at his sanity, leaving only the frayed edges of his fragmented thoughts. The first few days in this environment had been calming, but the next few weeks were nerve-wracking.
His isolation had become a sinister companion, taunting him with its unyielding grip. He kept counting the days, wishing there was an easier, less dangerous way to tackle this mission. But everything would end in one swift motion, starting with metal creaking.
A Lover Of The Ocean
Eric was no stranger to the deep ocean. A Tampa native who had spent his younger years serving as a naval officer, he’d lived half his life within the black-blue depths, enjoying what watery wonders mother nature had to offer.
He’d been on almost every water vessel ever created, from fishing barges and cruise ships to military carriers and submarines. But none of those experiences could match what he would go through here.
For one, Eric was all alone in his water vessel, unlike the other times he’d been under the ocean. The vessel, a 100 feet pod submerged two hundred feet under the ocean surface, served as his home and base of operations.
Although it had been tested for possible breaches and declared safe, Eric was constantly on edge. This was mainly because this water vessel came with one unique twist.
Eric’s pod wasn’t equipped with a pressure hull, unlike most submersibles. It only had the standard light hull to keep ocean creatures and water away.
This meant the constant ocean pressure was always pressing down on him, threatening to turn his insides into outsides.
He’d spent the first few weeks dodging decompression sickness and was now getting used to this new environment. But why had he settled for a dangerous design choice that most submersible professionals would advise against?
A Needed Study
Well, Eric’s study centered on the effects of deep-ocean pressure on humans. The project, spearheaded by the University of South Florida, was studying how the human body reacts to long-term exposure to extreme pressure.
As the lead researcher and a man with extensive deep-ocean experience, Eric volunteered as the test subject. But what he’d go through under the ocean would leave him a changed man forever.
His world had dwindled to a mere triad by the end of the first month. In this twilight darkness, there was only him, his scientific equipment, and the oppressive weight of the abyssal deep-ocean pressure.
It pressed against his fragile pod, a relentless force that whispered of imminent disaster. Its unyielding presence coiled around him like a snake, ready to strike and shatter his existence at any moment.
“Ten days,” he repeated after every passing minute, his voice a hollow whisper. But the words now carried a tinge of desperation, a futile attempt to anchor himself amidst the encroaching terror.
He could feel the walls of his sanity weaken, could hear their hisses as they threatened to crumble under the mounting pressure.
He kept telling himself everything would be alright when even he couldn’t believe his words. Then, like a deranged symphony, the metallic groan of his vessel shattered the suffocating silence.
Let It Be Swift
The air crackled with malevolent energy, and icy tendrils of fear gripped his heart. He’d never been in such a mess in his fifty-five years of deep-sea diving.
He knew what happened next and how instantaneous it was. After ninety days under the water, the end was finally here. All he could do was pray that it would be as swift as people said.
A Little Dangerous
Most deep-sea divers are well aware of the dangers of underwater pressure. While many might fear the loss of oxygen and light when lost thousands of feet below sea level, the most imminent threat is usually the pressure.
This is because death by ocean pressure is usually more menacing, unlike suffocation or being devoured by deep ocean creatures, which might take a few grueling minutes.
It comes instantaneously. The pressure is usually keen on taking all oxygen away from your body. It seizes it from your organs, including the lungs and brain, and presses them up.
Your lungs would collapse as the body implodes, resulting in immediate death. While this might be painless due to how fast it happens, the dread comes from knowing that you’d pass on without knowing it. So when Eric heard the metal creaking, he couldn’t get up fast enough.
It Gets Worse
He also knew what would happen if his water vessel was to implode. It would instantaneously shrink in on itself as all the oxygen escaped, crumpling like a soda bottle.
If that were to happen, no one would be able to find his body. A primal instinct told him that something was horribly wrong as soon as he heard the creaking. But the sound got worse, prompting him to do the only thing he could.
Eric rushed for his atmospheric diving suit, gear that would shield him against any pressure compromising the pod he’d been living inside.
But as he was putting it on, he realized it would hamper any meaningful progress he’d made during his study. His body had survived for ninety days under the ocean, with only ten to go. Would he be willing to jeopardize all that because of fear?
This thought cleared his mind somewhat, eating away at the fear that had petrified him for close to a week now. He was in too deep to back out now.
He chose to trust the makers of his pod, knowing they wouldn’t allow him down here without ensuring it was safe. But unknown to him, something otherworldly was already happening.
It’s Not Over
Calmer than before, Eric read a few books to clear his mind. He breathed a sigh of relief for the first time since he’d come here, letting the fear wash away from him.
But the creaking that had plagued the vessel continued, even though the whole ocean had turned quiet as it had once been. The worst was still on its way.
Why Can’t He Call For Help?
The hours turned into days, the creaking continuing on. Before Eric knew it, three days had passed, with the creaking turning into a low unsettling growl.
He considered calling the surface team to report the matter, but that would go against the research he was trying to conduct.
Back in 2014, two researchers like him embarked on a similar study just like him. They’d spent seventy-three days underwater, a feat Eric had already conquered. But his was far more impressive because of a few facts.
Eric was a hundred and seventy feet deeper than the scientists. He was also all alone, unlike the two scientists who went down in a pair.
He’d survived ninety-three days underwater with nothing but books and pens. He’d worked as the days went by, reading and writing to pass the time.
The loneliness had become loud and numbing, warping his mind into something different entirely. He should have known that his mind wasn’t the only part of his body changing.
Making A Call
At the end of the third day, Eric bowed to the pressure and had a conference call with his University of South Florida superiors. Still under the ocean, he explained how the experience was.
He was overjoyed to see human faces for the first time in three months. He relished in their voices and laughs, wanting to converse with them for hours. But that would never happen.
A Hundred Days
While talking to his colleagues, Eric decided to come clean about the pod’s hull integrity. He’d already spent ninety-three days under the ocean and was looking to push it to a hundred.
The ultimate goal had been a hundred days under the water. That would have given his research team enough data to rival what the 2014 scientists had come up with. But the hull wouldn’t survive another week without repairs.
I Can Do It
He told his superiors he could go out to fix the hull before it was too late. He was more determined than ever to see the remaining days through, and this was the only way to make that dream a reality.
To him, there was no need to have a team of engineers come down here. They would tamper with his isolation progress. He was already risking enough by having the call with his superiors.
Eric’s superiors didn’t like the idea of him moving outside the pod, trying to fix its hull. But they agreed to have him do a few repairs inside the vessel to strengthen its integrity.
Although they didn’t doubt his prowess as a diver, 200 feet below the ocean level was dangerous for anyone, even a pro like him. But Eric wouldn’t listen to their warning.
It’s Getting Worse
A day had passed when it happened. Eric only had three more to go before he needed to return to the surface when disaster struck. He’d been making a few repairs inside the vessel when the creaking outside got louder.
He knew he wouldn’t make it through the night if he didn’t venture out to fix it. He was confident he could survive the outside environment with some snorkeling gear, unaware of what he was about to step into.
Into The Airlock
With his snorkel gear on, Eric went to the vessel’s floodable airlock and locked himself inside. His plan was to go out into the ocean for a few seconds, fix the parts he needed to fix and hurry back.
If he’d lived here for three months with the ocean pressure constantly on him, it wouldn’t harm him now, even when he was outside. Or so he thought.
Opening The Door
Eric drew on his snorkel, and with two hands on the sealed door that fed into the dark ocean around him, he heaved downward.
The ominous creaking sound that had dogged him throughout his days came as he pulled on the door. The sound reverberated through his bones as the massive metal structure started moving. Eric didn’t even have time to regret his decision.
Into The Eddies
Torrents of water punched the door open and slammed into the airlock. The pod grumbled under the violent intrusion. Eric saw the walls around him crack as the freezing water engulfed him.
His lungs surged as he struggled to take a deep breath. With one swift move, he plunged into the roaring eddies.
The pod’s lights turned from their soothing burnished yellow to red, alarms ringing as the water broke the airlock door leading to the rest of the pod.
It was then that Eric understood the gravity of his mistake. He hadn’t secured the door properly, and this was his comeuppance. His entire home flooded, the rushing water flinging him into the pod as he fought to swim out.
Lost two hundred feet underwater, with nothing but snorkel standing between him and drowning, Eric fought. He calmed himself and started swimming against the current until he made it outside.
Without a wasted thought, he started heading up. The pod growled below him as the depths devoured it. Eric would not let that darkness take him too.
But with each stroke of his arms and kick of his legs, his energy and oxygen were waning. He started convulsing, his mind screaming for air. “Keep swimming,” he told himself, even as his body shut down.
What followed was a paralyzing pain that Eric couldn’t explain. He flailed as his lungs and brain burned. His screams went unheard, and his plea to stay awake fell on deaf years.
A stinging quietness followed before a bright light shone on his face. Eric’s eyelids fluttered open, and he found himself on a hospital bed with nurses and doctors standing over him.
“He’s awake,” one of them declared before his family and colleagues rushed into the room. Eric couldn’t explain what was happening.
Ten Years Younger
Through his colleagues, he learned that an emergency diving unit had been sent down the minute his pod got compromised. They got to Eric just as he was blacking out. But that wasn’t the interesting part. You see, after spending over ninety days under the ocean and at the complete mercy of deep ocean pressure, something remarkable had happened to Eric’s body.
Medical tests done on him showed that his telomeres, the DNA sequences that attach to the end of chromosomes and usually dwindle as we age, were now 20 percent longer than when he submerged in three months prior. Additionally, he had ten times more stem cells, was getting 60% more REM sleep, and had seen over 70% drop in cholesterol. Essentially, he’d aged back a decade!
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.