I am the leviathan of my people, hunting the Leviathan of the deep―
Oray! Oray! My stomach is iron! My thoughts too.
Tuck me under your folds, ocean, as I fire myself into your deep.
As a boy I loved the stories, and now I am one.
In my dreams is her glory, a cut envelope of gravity and blue-green lapping moons of flesh, wrapped like a cocoon, serpent-beast fragrant as the Nile.
* * *
My brother is here with me. My brother hates me. But he is the most capable machinist in our city and he will keep the pressure from squeezing the blood out of our flesh. The Leviathan lives at fifty thousand meters.
* * *
Pressure is beautiful; it is a teacher. It is a lover. With each degree of atmospheric absorption, like each degree in the medieval abattoir, the thumbscrew modulates the mind into an awareness you would not dream could exist until you are there breathing that blood-thick oxygen, telling yourself, “I knew it was going to be this bad.” Though you didn’t. No one can.
* * *
I have lost all feeling in my legs; but it has been that way for years. Even my brother is frightened by me; I am being strummed like a harp or an electric guitar, slowly going mad, but that is what is needed, for if I succeed, if I bring back the head . . . I cannot describe the glory.
* * *
But now we enter the deep.
* * *
Like scions these Underhooks clasp the metal of our plummeting ship, digging their claws into us like a monkey into an apple; I can feel the squeeze.
“I’m charging now,” my brother says. The battery.
We run on seawater; on temperature differentials. But the electricity can kill these hungry devils if the timing is right . . .
I stare out the porthole at the limpid eye of an Underhook, red and luminous mixed with a milky flowing blue, like a small painful sun.
My brother activates the battery and their flesh explodes. As we plummet deeper, our lights cut through the bodily fluids and the serrated exoskeletons, deeper into the regions where all flesh is soft, because to be hard is to be dead.
* * *
I remember my last time shore side, almost two years ago now.
I stared at the sun and one of my cousins brought me a drink, next to the waves, in my wheelchair.
Above, I am powerless. But here, here I am a star. Making light.
She had looked at me and held my hand, all anyone will ever do. Unless I succeed.
“I am shifting into Jelly mode,” my brother says, and I lie back on the couch, and he presses the button, and our metallic skin morphs into a jellyfish’s diaphanous cocoon, sweet at eighty atmospheres, like the womb.
Pressure teaches because it is about boundaries: the nearness of death, the nearness of the water, the nearness of cells not your own insist that you must define, ever more strongly, your own identity, your own will.
Hold my hand, and I will show you what I mean.
* * *
Deeper are the Burrowers, Jellyfish like us, but a network of over one hundred fifty thousand, self-taught through the centuries to resist our penetration into their demesne, but I am faster.
Like a dagger or a tongue, my brother and I through our neural control wires can twist the body of the ship into non-Euclidian geometries only possible at over a hundred atmospheric pressures. Four dimensional topologies and Sinatra rhythms of God, syncopated as we burrow bombs into the bodies of the interlopers with our ship’s saliva-soaked penumbra and its arms, its many arms.
We are octopi made out of synth-metal. We are sinking fighting, but we are alive.
My name is Mank. But my name below is without syllables.
* * *
Four thousand years ago our ancestor the Bereaved One returned to us one of Leviathan’s skulls. Leviathan, who, I now believe, lived at shallower depths in those times. It has many heads. God knows how many it has grown now.
But the one I seek, larger than a house, will seal my name into the scroll and my name will be written in the sky. Across all maps, my heritage, like light, transmitted faster than thought over these centuries.
Rehearsing my victory in advance is madness.
“We are approaching its gravity,” my brother says, grinning evilly. He knows what I must do now. What I have sworn to do. Eject.
An organism so large it acquires a gravity well all its own. What laymen do not know is that after only two hundred meters, the ocean itself will pull you down; you no longer need to swim.
It’s getting back that’s the hard part. The ocean wants you down there, you see.
HE wants you down there.
* * *
I too am Leviathan! When I take him from the deep I will accept his soul into mine. My name is Mank of the Dendrites! The Knowing Ones of Beach Five!
I will eject! I will swim through the Mucous into Leviathan’s very brain!
Give me the charge, brother.
He does, with a kiss.
* * *
Brains are organized around a simple principle: be ready for anything that comes. That is the nature of plasticity. Given long enough, a working brain can actually incorporate physical errata into its working structure. For instance, a veteran who gets shrapnel in his skull, and even in the gray matter, assuming the injury is not fatal, can use that metal as an additional system of neurons, given enough years.
But the Leviathan, now, it is much faster. So when I slipped under the spinal cord, a structure approximately fifteen meters thick, and cut into its brain, I became, quite literally, part of the structure of its thought. No longer a simple intruder bent on its execution, I was now an axon in a neurological structure; physically part of its brain.
* * *
Leviathan, like humans, does not have immunological activity centered to any great degree within its gray matter; I could not be filtered out like a cancer, or globuled to death by white blood cells. No, what I could be was mind controlled.
The most stubborn man wins.
* * *
The mucous skin my brother had slicked over my body with its carefully selected biological flora quickly became useless, but we had expected that. Instead I had to think like it, teach this flopping monstrosity how its ends and my own could be seen as the same, if I could deceive it.
YOU MUST DIE, it whispered to me.
you must let me in, I thought-whispered back, touching neurons in the right places, snuggling my way into the core, swimming through the thickest muck. My every motion a trigger of behavioral responses, its thousand arms going haywire, its eyes glowing in a million frequencies.
Distantly I could feel my brother and our pod hovering along the meniscus of its gravity, close enough to remain undetected except as detritus, far enough away to avoid becoming part of Leviathan’s physical structure.
* * *
History was my weakest subject in gymnasium. I did not pay attention. And when I did, I could not make sense of how these thousand governments, these billion population explosions through our region of space, made any kind of sense that was relevant to my own, handicapped, life.
So it was that I came unprepared to the final leg of my journey, a sort of apocryphal tale hidden quite literally within the monster’s skull, an anagram , a parable for our people and our destiny.
I can paint it for you. Keep in mind this is only a partial picture, only what I can remember, and translate, this many years after my travails.
Midway towards the core of its medulla oblongata, my body electrified with images, and I saw:
My first love, as I had seen her so many years ago, her hook and her scabbard strapped to her lithe body, she was whispering something to me . . .
What had she said?
I felt the great beast listening to my thought, or thinking me into being. I cannot say.
I remember her lips next to my ear, the pressure of the air of her breath, and the feeling of her words! Mystery and sex and love mixed together in a cocktail that made it difficult for me to think, or move. Perhaps this was the beast’s intent! Confuse me with thoughts of love!
But I knew it was not that simple. We were locked in intimate communication. I wanted to claim its Prime Head; I could sense it knew that now. It wanted to teach me something.
But I remember.
I remember now!
It was so simple. Something so horrifically simple:
Be stronger for me, she had said. Something so beautiful and honorable. So terrifying. I have no legs, but I have the maddest mind of my kind. She was why I came.
But how many years ago was it? How many years ago was that?
Leviathan wanted me here.
“Brother!” I shouted into the murky fluid of its brain, and I could feel the Leviathan laughing, its huge body like an earthquake. I activated the homing device on my bomb. I knew my brother was being hunted, two hundred meters away.
Be stronger for me; a simple desire. That her beloved should be greater than he is, that he should grow mightier, that he should learn to the point of excruciating pain, and go beyond it.
I screamed inside the brain of the Leviathan, its flesh cutting my own, the bacteriological immunities granted by the sheen of mucus long gone; I was digested by its skull fluids.
The bomb was hungry. It locked onto the core of the medulla. I could feel in the watery air there in its skull the clinch and the low earthquake lull of its homing frequencies as it attached to the reptilian core of this, the greatest monster known to the galaxy.
Now for the hardest part of all― the return.
Easier to blow yourself up, eh?
But that’s for amateurs.
Right underneath the surface of my skin, at the back of my neck, appropriately and not coincidentally right next to my own medulla oblongata, I took my pocket knife and cut into my flesh and removed a small capsule and squeezed it, slicking it over my lacerated hands before the Brain could digest it; a final immunological response. I would be shat out at one hundred twenty-five meters per second. I held my breath.
* * *
I can breathe blood, but I do not like to do it. Heavy bleeding is a common defense mechanism at these astronomical depths. The gravity wells are such that a body can actually continue to use blood outside the body as a workable life source for several hours, and it confuses enemies.
I can see my brother’s pod; he is escaping the gravity well, ready for the explosion. I swim, swim, swim towards him.
I have twelve seconds.
I see his mad eyes, so like my own, through the porthole.
The Hand of the Leviathan closes round my dead legs.
I see the one-shot Razor on our pod’s starboard fuselage fire its cold round, white yellow in the dimness.
My brother is a crack shot, god bless his heart.
The appendage ruptures beneath me, and I hear the thing scream loud enough to make my ears bleed.
I reach the pod and scrape off the twitching remnants of the Hand.
My brother holds his breath and floods the pod.
I swim in.
We embrace, and seal the doors.
* * *
Even now I cannot remember.
Like seeing God, perhaps.
Many soldiers describe the same.
Ordnance and birth are not far apart.
* * *
Its head was free, like the Indian subcontinent on Old Earth set to ram the bedrock of Asia, unless we could catch it, and my brother activated the tow line.
* * *
It is not just, I know, like the buffalo hunters of the 1880s in America, to kill so many just for the skins or just for sport, but at least I can claim the honor of knowing the truth of the beast. Knowing its mind.
And knowing that it is not dead.
The flesh of the head will be enough to distract other predators on our week-long voyage to the surface. Its skull will be clean for my coronation.
The holy crown will be made out of its teeth.
Robin Wyatt Dunn writes and teaches in Los Angeles. You can find him online at http://www.robindunn.com