Chapter 6 – Entombed by choice

 

Within minutes, the tanks were filled back to two hundred bars.  Eirik and Jack put on their dry suits, fastened the straps on the full face communication masks which Alexander wanted them to wear, and soon disappeared once again beneath the water.  Jack really enjoyed having the mask on because of its added benefit; no more face freeze in the spring cool water of the fjord.  After testing the system and confirmed that it worked perfectly between themselves and the surface support team, the two divers went down and followed the current a few centimetres above the silt covering the structure.  It took seven minutes of consistent swimming to reach the location where the surface scan had showed a downward slope extending to thirty-five metres.  They descended further.  A few metres into the slope, all traces of silt disappeared to reveal a perfectly smooth surface.  The metallic grey wall soon extended beyond their field of vision in all directions.  The deeper they went, the dimmer the sunlight got.  The current suddenly stopped, blocked by a massive wall.  Jack was the first to caress it with his glove.  He was no expert in industrial manufacturing, but he knew enough to be quite certain that the skills and money required to make something so massive and so perfectly smooth to the touch must be beyond the capacity of any existing industrial giant.  He contented himself from gliding downward and feeling the excitement envelop him, shielding him from the frigid water all around.

They slowed their descent as a large field of rocks started coming into view and pierced through the gloom.  The surfaces of the rocks were silted and piled up against the slope which seemed to continue far below.  They couldn’t tell how much of the structure

 

was buried beneath the rock which varied in size, from small pebbles to large boulders.

“Let's continue swimming toward the shore,” proposed Jack after shining his light between cracks and small openings.  “This way,” he corrected at the same time pointing in that direction with his hand.

Eirik heard him through the headset.  As Jack stopped talking, he heard the typical ‘tsssh’ indicating the end of the transmission.  Eirik made the OK sign in acknowledgement and started swimming alongside his buddy.

As they swam slowly toward the eastern shore with the sloped wall on their left, Jack stopped for a moment to touch the wall again; it stood at about a thirty-degree angle at three corners.  The grey metallic wall was still as smooth as a freshly painted ship still in dry dock.

While Jack was searching, Eirik hovered next to him patiently until, from his vantage point, he saw Jack’s hand jerk back from between the rocks, a plume of silt in his track.  Jack, as if stricken by sheer panic, yelled in the microphone, “Kill the lights!”  It took a second for the voice to reach Eirik, but before his brain had the time to process the words from Jack, he mimicked what his buddy did and placed his dive light against his chest, blocking the light.

Jack was now pointing deliberately at his eyes and then at the hole between two rocks.  Eirik didn't see it at first, only after he had changed position and placed his body almost upside down to get a better angle did he finally see why Eirik reacted so violently.  There was a bluish light emanating from underneath a thin layer of silt.  It was blurry, small, but very bright against the darkness.  After securing their lights, they started clearing some of the small stones until only the biggest boulders remained.  As they were moving them in a two-man chain, unable to throw them far because of the water density, it became apparent to them that the stones had been deposited there by nature over the years.  A trained marine biologist, Eirik had seen ancient and recent underwater cairn and was sure that this was not one because the rock piles were too random.  They excitedly toiled in clearing the area; the water made the large rocks much easier to move, but the silt quickly got stirred all around them.  Soon, they couldn’t even see their fingers in front of their masks.  As they waited for the dust to settle, they heard a voice through their communication device.  With the noise generated by the rocks still tumbling, they had trouble making out what was said.  Eirik retreated himself above the silt clouds and asked the support team to repeat.

“Guys, I don't know if you have looked at your dive computers lately, but you're about to exceed your bottom time.  I would like both of you to start returning to your entry point and begin your decompression cycle,” the voice of the dive manager was loud and clear.

“Acknowledged.  We will take another ten minutes down here; we’ll calculate our deco accordingly,” replied Eirik, knowing that even with the unexpected exercise, Jack was likely also good on air, too.

“Roger that, support team out,” acknowledged the dive manager, thinking that all tech divers were alike, probably even worse than fighter pilots when it came to hard headedness.

Eirik carefully switched his communicator to diver-to-diver to prevent the support boat to eavesdrop on the conversation. “Jack, we have ten more minutes, let’s make the best of it.  Switch mode before you answer,” urged Eirik as he re-entered the cloud of silt to rejoin his buddy.

Jack had already switched and answered, “In that case, get your butt over here.  We have only one boulder to push away and we are done.”

“Done, what do you mean? You can see the light clearly now?” Eirik asked.

“With that whiteout, I wouldn’t be able to see a cow a foot away, but I'm used to navigating inside boat wrecks and caves and this is not much different.  Not easy to identify with my gloves though, but this feels like a frame, the light clearly reflects differently on it than on the rest of the structure,” concluded Jack.

They both used the frame to wedge their feet and to push the last big rock out of the way.  What Jack had perceived as a door or window frame was clearly so.  Slowly, the cloud of silt dissipated enough to reveal a depression in the structure.  Although they couldn't see or feel any crack between the door and its frame, they couldn't imagine what else it could be, except perhaps something that wasn’t designed to be opened.

Pressed for time, they brushed away as much silt as they could and uncovered a panel on the left hand corner, its blue light was still shining brightly. The panel was of a rectangular shape, about the size of a deck of cards, and perfectly levelled with the surface of the door frame.  If it had not been for its pitch black colour and the blue light located at the top right, it would have been totally imperceptible.

“Maybe you should touch it,” proposed Eirik to Jack who stayed closer.  “I hope it works with the gloves because I can't remove mine, they are integrated into my dry suit.”

To their extreme astonishment, the panel lighted up as Jack’s fingers came close to it.  “Oh my God!  I didn't even touch it, must be some kind of infrared technology,” shouted Jack.  They saw three square buttons appearing on the black panel, each had a different shade of brown.  Their excitement and euphoria were quickly replaced by the onset of fear.

It was all becoming too unreal for them.  Eirik could see behind the mask that the blood had escaped from his friend’s face; Jack was as pale as the light from his torch.  “Too much stress,” he thought.  “It is time to go back to the surface and we will have to return later.  But we are just right here, mere centimetres from what could be the discovery of a lifetime and I have to do something.  At least press a button and see what happens, but they are all of the same color, how to choose?”

As the seconds went by, his mind was clearing like the water around them.  There it was, buried in the deep recesses of his mind, slowly resurfacing, the coloured chart of his first deep dive a decade earlier.  He smiled at the epiphany he had just experienced and said, “We are at more than thirty metres right now.  The only colour we are able to see at that depth is blue, all the rest is dark green turning brown.”  The rationale dispelled his anxiety and replaced it with unfettered excitement.  Eirik pointed his light to the panel and, as the light swept over, the new colours of the three squares were revealed.  Instead of brown, the squares revealed a series of faint glows in the order of purple, green and red.

Jack was grinning like a Cheshire cat.  It’s just too much excitement for a human brain to take in such a short span of time.  Luckily, the brain knew how to tell the body to breathe without the need to think about it otherwise he would be dead by now. “Let's see what happens if we press one, ok?” and not waiting for Eirik to agree, he reached out with his finger to press the green button.  It was at that moment that a loud squeaking sound rang in his ears.  Jack’s hand pulled away with a snap and fear gripped him again for the third time on this dive.

“Guys, this is surface support, can you hear me?” asked the dive manager.

It took a long second for Jack to recuperate from the shock and switch his communicator back to diver-to–surface.  “Yeah, we hear you, don't tell me it has been ten minutes yet?” answered Jack, annoyance clearly present in his shaky voice.

“Actually, it's been sixteen minutes; you already exceed safety limits by more than ten minutes overall.  I want you to end the dive immediately.”

“Roger that,” Eirik replied, more annoyed at the obvious order than the interruption.  “We have discovered something here and will need to do another dive as soon as possible, can you break out the rebreather for both of us and please calculate how long of a surface interval we need to make before we can do another dive.  I have filters in my cabin since Procurement forgot to buy them again.”

At this moment, Jack quickly approached, tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at the door, then placed his index finger in front of his mouth.

Eirik nodded frantically, understanding that they should keep what they just witnessed a secret.  Eirik hoped it was not already too late for that and gave Jack the OK sign.

They both hovered at their deco depth, one hand on the line and looked mechanically from time to time at their computer, counting the minutes remaining to their decompression cycle.  Eirik always took that time to literally decompress and meditate even a little, but not this time.  The adrenaline was still coursing through his veins and he could barely stop himself from the desire of deflating his BCD and free diving to the bottom to press one of the buttons or maybe all of them.

As soon as their heads pierced the surface of the water, they were helped onboard by the support crew.  The dive manager apparently looked a little annoyed, probably not happy because of their breach of protocol.  He informed them that they needed to wait at least two hours before he would allow them to gear up again.

On the boat, Jack was sneezing uncontrollably. He changed his position to sit closer to Eirik.  “I think I need to take a warm shower soon, two dives in a row at that temperature is a little too much for me.”

Eirik nodded in agreement.  The pretext of taking a shower would also give them a greater opportunity to be alone and discuss what to do next.  “That's a great idea, I’ll accompany you,” Eirik replied, giving Jack a look of acknowledgment and complicity.

As soon as they stepped on the platform, they both made a beeline for the showers.  They locked the door behind them and started running the water. The shower room was big enough to accommodate six people at the same time.  Wooden seats were placed in the centre of the room and at the back, behind a large opaque glass were ceramic toilets and sinks, along with everything someone would need for his personal grooming.  It was the first time Jack used this shower, he noticed that the floor was warm and realized it was radiant heated floor.  Heat is bliss.

They both stayed under the shower jets for a few minutes in silence, enjoying the warmth and soothing effect of the water falling on their tired bodies.

Jack was the first to break the silence. “Brother, I was born and raised in the United States, watching sci-fi movies and alien invasions.  Be it B-movies, a television series or a mega blockbuster, the inescapable constancy in each of them cumulates to that.  One person or group of innocent individuals discover a piece of highly advanced technology and within minutes, a chain of black trucks park in front of their homes, men in black suits representing three-letter organizations get out, inform them that what they found was a weather balloon, and that it needs to be taken away for reasons of national security,” explained Jack without taking a single breath.  “Of course, I’m not sure what we found.  Maybe it’s nothing; perhaps it’s a new shipwreck or an underground alien base and as soon as we press one of the buttons, an advanced invasion army will be unleashed upon the Earth, conquering the world within days.  Then maybe, just maybe, just as we are about to surrender to them, they all get out of their spaceships at once and all die because they can’t breathe our atmosphere even though they had been on Earth for a thousand years, hiding underground getting ready.”  With that he stopped and laughed his head off, hoping that Eirik, having lived in Norway, was spared from that agonizing movie “The War of the Worlds.”

Unfortunately for him, Eirik had seen it too and was now laughing also.  “Let's be serious before we start talking of little green men,” warned Eirik, as he tried to remain rational despite being barely able to contain his excitement.  “Not that it’s really important, but I believe that the structure on the surface takes the shape of a pentagon.  It looked like that on the sonar image,” continued Eirik, looking at his friend who was nodding his head in agreement, but not for the same reasons.  The sonar to Jack looked like a batch of distorted images, much like those of prenatal ultrasounds, which only told their stories to those trained to read them.  For him, it was the three-edged corners that gave the feeling that the shape was more complex than he had imagined at first.

Jack took a minute to explain his thought.  “I think it’s safe for me to extrapolate on that idea.  If the flat surface at the top of the structure is made like a pentagon, then it is logical to assume that the complete structure is a dodecahedron.  If you’re right, that means the structure extends far beyond the bottom of the fjord.”

Eirik nodded gently, took a towel and went to sit on the bench in the centre of the room.  He rested his head on his hands in deep thoughts for a while, then he finally raise it back up and looked at Jack who was also focusing in his own thoughts.  “So if we recap from the beginning, we have a structure that begins underneath the surface at about ten metres, pentagon-shaped of about 180 metres across, and the slope suggests that the structure is a dodecahedron.  So far, I don't have much problem with that idea, but here is where things get a little Sci-Fi-ish for me.  A dodecahedron is basically three pentagons meeting at each vertex; it has 12 faces, 30 edges and 20 vertices or corners.  That would mean from the top of the structure, it would extend at least three hundred metres beneath the surface.  That’s what?  About the height of a fifty-story building, I would guess.  To complicate matters, we have what seems to be a control panel and a door which looks painted on the structure rather than fixed to it.  Neither the control panel nor the door seems to have any discernible contours.  In addition to all those wonderful shapes and forms, we have an outer shell which is perfectly smooth, completely denuded of calcium, or marine organisms of any kind, and the entire outer shell seems protected by an electric current which prevents all forms of corrosion.“

Jack closed the shower, stepped out and walked toward Eirik. He was about to speak but was stopped by Eirik, obviously not finished with his explanation.

“The worst part is that with all those wonderful unanswered questions, I'm forgetting the most important one. This whole adventure started this morning because a diamond drill bit was unable to scratch the surface of the structure,” finally concluded Eirik.

“Nice, that is a truly remarkable assessment of our discovery.  Unfortunately like you said, it raises more questions than it answers.  Like what I was trying to tell you in the water, I believe we should keep this between us for the moment.  I would definitely like to go back down and see if we can open that door, if indeed it is a door.” proposed Jack. “Eirik, you got me this job and it is one of my first opportunities to work with Alex, I want to be careful. Of course having the boss onboard would definitely make things easier for us, but I am still reluctant to tell anyone else about this.”

“Alex and I go way back, but still, now I agree with you, we shouldn't tell anyone until we’re sure of what’s down there.”

“I won't hide the fact that one of the main reasons I don't want to tell anyone is that I do not really want to relinquish the potential fame,” Jack admitted, feeling somewhat relieved like someone who had just revealed a long kept secret.  “All this is pretty overwhelming.  I just hope that this is not one of those secret government projects and that we just stepped on someone’s turf.”

Eirik smiled and paused for a second.  “This is Norway not the United States, we don't have that many military or civilian organizations that could have made a structure like this and nothing that could possibly resist a diamond cutting head.”

“Then what made you smile just now?”

“Oh, just an idea which crossed my mind... As you likely know, Norse mythology is very rich; we have many types of trolls, dwarves and elves.  Many books were inspired by Norse and Scandinavian folklore like the Lord of the Rings,” said Eirik proudly. “And although I never put much faith in those myths, I found it cute that such creatures might possibly have something to do with it.”

“Well why not, at this point anything is possible,” said Jack, smiling in his turn.

“Okay, we should go, I suggest we tell them that since we saw that the slope extend further into the ground, we couldn’t be sure of how far down it expands.  Drilling is over for them today anyway, so I guess they won’t mind if we go back down to try to determine that point before they can resume their work.”  Eirik went on.

“Alright, you go see your friend Alex, explain that to him and I will prepare two rebreathers in the meantime, but I’ll need the filters,” Jack said.

One great advantage of the rebreather besides being light, allowing longer stay at the bottom, was also its enclosed system which generated no bubbles.  This feature greatly benefited underwater photographers; it allowed divers to come much closer to the underwater wildlife they were observing compared to open circuit scuba equipment.  Today, that feature would make the divers totally invisible to the surface support crew.

Eirik left to meet his friend, the project manager, to tell him that they would need to do a third dive.  Alexander asked many questions about what they had seen and to his satisfaction, he could see that Eirik had actually found something.

As Eirik exited his office, Alexander stepped out to the balcony, took a communication device from his pocket, waited for the person on the other side to answer and spoke.  “Yeah, they have seen it.  They are returning to it later this afternoon.  Nope, they didn’t inform us and Eirik was rather atypically cryptic about it, which is not in his nature.  But, at any rate, my work is done.  I’ll give it a few days and then I’ll resign.  Nope, we disabled it during the reset process.  Nah, don’t bother, I’ll return home the old fashioned way.  You, too.”  He finished, put the device back in his pocket and returned to work.

It took almost three hours before the two divers could re-enter the water.  The sun had passed its zenith and the light at the bottom was slightly less than before, making it feel more like a night dive.  One good effect of the surface interval was that the silt around the doorway had completely cleared, affording them a perfectly unobstructed view of the door and the control panel at the end of their torch lights.

Jack retook the exact position where he had been before being ordered to return to the surface.  Passing his fingers where the door’s contour should technically be, he noticed no imperfection and no crack between the door and its frame.  Turning his attention to the panel, he realized the blue light was still on, but the three buttons had disappeared.  As he approached his gloved hand, the three squares reappeared in the same order of purple, green and red.  Jack took a second to look at his buddy and gave him the usual OK sign.  Eirik gave it back as absent mindedly as he had received it.  Because green was good anywhere in the world, Jack pressed the green button first.  They waited, almost a minute had passed but nothing happened.  He pressed it again, waited some more and still nothing.  Next he tried the purple button, and as he did so, a bright light illuminated them.  They were instantaneously blinded and both instinctively closed their eyes.  Tentatively, they ventured to open them again a little at a time, letting they pupil adjust as they may.

Eirik, with both eyes watering from the shock, was the first to see it.  The door was now transparent.  A few more seconds and his eyes had now fully adjusted, there revealed a long corridor right behind the door.  As he looked up and down, he noticed that each of the corners of the ceiling and the floor had a 45-degree angle border which made the corridor look like a deep stop sign.  Each corner contained a strip of light that stretched the entire length of the hallway.  Running on each wall was a long orange pipe which they deemed to be handrails of sorts.  The floor was fully covered with a black rubbery carpet.  At that moment, Jack noticed a peculiar thing.  The floor seemed to be filled with water, but only slightly, and he could see it was receding.  As far as he knew, the transparent material in front of him was thick glass, similar to the polymer transparent walls at SeaWorld near his family home in Florida, and it was almost a foot in thickness, he estimated.

Jack pressed the purple button once more and the window returned to its opaque form, and darkness crept back all around them.  “I’m assuming that the purple opens the door too or maybe that is what the red is for?” Jack asked, slightly nervous.

“Likely, but what is the green for again?” asked Eirik inquisitively.

“It seemed to have removed the water from the corridor,” replied Jack. “But I’m not sure if that is good for us or not.”

“Yeah, now that I think about it, if we open the “door” now, we will be sucked in and bounce like ping pong balls until we smash like tomatoes on the back wall.  Try to press the purple and then the green one again; I think I understand what happened before,” Eirik proposed confidently.

Jack pressed the purple button and the door returned to its transparent state as fast as it did the first time.  He then pressed the green one again.  At first glance nothing happened, but as they patiently observed, they noticed the floor starting to reflect light, soon the ceiling was being reflected on the dark black floor.  The water was indeed beginning to rise.  “It works the same way on submarines, it is basically an airlock,” Jack said excitedly, forgetting that it was Eirik who had first mentioned it.

“Didn’t you train as a submariner when you were in the army?” Eirik asked.

“Yes, I did, but it didn’t last long.  The thought of spending months in the same confined space with seventy other guys was not too appealing to me, so I dropped the program and joined the Navy SEALS; that way, I could dive for free,” answered Jack, a little embarrassed to have to hide the real reason why he had to quit both the Navy and the SEALS to his friend.  “Well, the water is almost reaching the top now.  I'm assuming that we can start opening the door.  I’ll press the purple again next.”

“I think we should move out of the way.  If I'm not mistaken, doors on submarines open outward.”

“You're right, move above the door and I’ll remain on the left side to press the button,” offered Jack. “Just to be on the safe side, once the door opens, I should go inside alone.  That way, if something happens and I'm trapped, you’ll have about ninety minutes before hypothermia sets in to figure out how to get me out of there,” he added, knowing that he would likely freeze to death before running out of air.

“Good idea, my ass is far more valuable than yours anyway,” answered Eirik, laughing out loud into the microphone which Jack heard as mostly static.  But his laugh was just to hide his worries.  He knew that Jack’s statement, although accurate, had been said to make him appear braver than he was.  He understood his buddy was no less nervous than he.

“Okay, let’s do it,” Jack said and pressed the purple button.  Nothing seemed to happen, but as Jack returned in front of the window, he noticed that there were no more reflections.  He couldn’t believe his eyes and kept hovering there until his buddy swam closer to him.  Jack felt nervous, but not afraid.  With a kick of his fins, he moved forward and swept the water where the glass door used to be and felt nothing.  It had simply vanished.

Slowly, Jack made his way in, mainly using his hands to pull himself inside the corridor using the round and smooth railing on the left wall.  He entered further and turned back from time to time to look at Eirik behind.  Jack continued to use the railing to bring himself forward instead of using his fins.  Eirik kept looking at Jack without blinking, trying not to miss a single move of his buddy.  He was as eager as Jack to discover the place.  Various thoughts crossed Eirik’s mind.  He felt that as a wreck diver, Jack shouldn’t use the structure to drag himself along.  But this place was no wreck, everything around him looked and felt new as if it were built yesterday and the contractor had just handed them the keys.  It was perfectly clean, no debris, calcium or the usual particles of silt that you would find on anything left in the water for even the shortest period of time.

Jack soon reached the end of the corridor about five metres further. On the left-hand side of the doorway, he could see another control panel identical to the first one.  As before, he hovered his hands over the panel and it was activated.  He pressed the purple button and the opaque layer on the door disappeared giving way to another crystal-clear glass overlooking three corridors, one directly in front of him of which he couldn’t see the end and one on each side going left and right.  Everything appeared distorted due to the magnifying effect of the water; however, he could still see doors in every hallway.

“Eirik, close the door on your side so I can remove the water,” said Jack.

“Jack, we need to have a plan.  I will close the door when you tell me, then wait five minutes to see if you are alright.  If everything is still fine, we should reverse the process,” proposed Eirik.

“Ok, good idea.  I can’t say I feel very confident about this, but one of us has to try at one point.  It may as well be me and may as well be now.  Push it,” ordered Jack, readying himself to be sealed inside.