The Cave

By Robert Thurston

It seemed to Darrin Dremont that there were a lot of profitable scams on the Internet these days. The shifting sands of these times gave rise to salient innovation everywhere. In response, Darrin had been ruminating over a creative new idea of his own. A way to merge the sometimes benign nature of the Internet seamlessly with his own strange compulsion to scuba dive. A way to make a wrong right somehow. Essentially Darrin's thought was to create computerized virtual reality tours of the world's underwater caves. If that worked out, he thought, than later he might add live streaming video of on-location shots for specific broadcast dates... A vague notion began to take form in his mind.

Certainly man had mapped out the rest of the world in staggering detail but there were reservoirs in those bottomless caves that no human had physically ever come close to. What was in those caves? Maybe a mold growing in some hot water recess that would be the next cure for cancer? Maybe the toxin from some unheralded poisonous creature that would provide a new antidote. Maybe some exotic minerals that could be used as an alternate fuel source. Perhaps some uncatalogued bit of life they would name after her. Who knew? No one was working hard enough to find out. In the forseeable future man was only going to spend more and more time underwater. Darrin saw a resource being wasted.

"Tough Love," he thought.

It wasn't as if caves had never been thought twice about. It was just that getting in those rocky mazes to find out about their contents had proved to be very difficult logistically. You just couldn't send in an unmanned something to explore without planning for a catastrophe -- whether monetary or otherwise. Anything imposing itself into those submerged labyrinth like fissures was sure to get stuck somewhere along the line: never to be seen again. Darrin saw untapped potential. But with so many people to reach in so little time...

Mapping underwater caves wasn't totally unheard of. Sure others had charted hand drawn maps and put together dark, washed out photographic composites of underwater caves. Some of these renderings were even quite extensive but nothing approaching the great crispness in imageric detail Darrin envisioned. Those antiquated and outdated maps would pale in comparison to his virtual tours of, eventually, all the world's underwater caves.

Darrin imagined with growing clarity how one of these imaginary spelunking treks might play out in cyberspace. He liked the idea of watching his digitized self swim on a big screen through the nooks and crannies of pixel saturated cave models. With the computer he could alter conditions he would encounter below such as water flow. He could make the caves as dark or light as he wanted. With enough practice he could do it all blindfolded.

The double standards over safety priorities given to certain occupations and hobbies never ceased to amaze Darrin. For years they had airplane simulators for pilots who wanted to fly. Diver's lives were on the line too. Now was the time of the niche. A window of opportunity. Ultimately, Darrin wanted to design a way that a cave diver could practice a "dry" run through the treacherous deep without the detriment of having to come up for air.

Hell, later on he could build on the virtual cave tours idea--make it better. He could have an inventor make something small and portable the explorer could bring with them. Something that could tell the diver where to go once they were actually underwater in the cave. Build something into the mask, Darrin speculated. A bright digital arrow placed unobtrusively within the dive mask. Pointing in the right direction with a small number beside it representing how many feet to go.

Maybe he would help make a video game with someone. A game where someone would try to navigate thru one of his "virtual" caves while Moray Eels and octopuses tried to gobble the player up. Learning seemed to stick with people more when they had had fun doing it. Maybe include her somehow. You'd have to finish the course and bring back some treasure or something before your air indicator showed empty. New ideas linked to others sprung up out of nothingness.

That was all down the road though. How to set it all up now was the big sticking point. And where...Transmitting through water and thick coral would take some doing.

Mentally Darien was a strange guy. Curious. Not altogether honest. A card carrying member of NACD the National Association of Cave Divers. He was strangely drawn to following those the convolutions of those coral trails to their craggy ends. Each destination reached was a little life mystery he could solve where so many others eluded him. Every riddles answer, justification.

Physically he was well suited for the worst the caves could throw at him because he was wiry and very thin.

He took many precautions of course. He was crazy not stupid. He would always attach a thin cable to the entrance of the hole so he could find his way back. He was meticulous about his own safety on these dives and his fear of drowning was tremendous.

The "voyages" as he called them gave Darrin an odd thrill. A chance to live vicariously. Hand stepping his way almost blindly through the unflinching darkness gave him a big charge and let him know he was alive. Needless to say navigating the caves was a time of extreme focus. The small light he wore on his head to see, did little. Its shine was quickly swallowed up by the murk. He had an idea about what to do about that. In the pitch black though it wasn't so much what the body was doing as it was what the mind was thinking.

Darrin told everybody about his new Internet idea. This was going to be a turning point in his life he thought. At the same time he could contribute something of value at the least to other would be cave divers. Maybe help save a few lives when someone got stuck and rescue wasn't sure how to get them out. When time was running out maybe he could make someone's chances of survival a little better. Couldn't bring Peggy back but...

Hundreds of people died in underwater caves every year and this was an issue worth shedding some light on. He saw the advancement of modern technology juxtaposed against the illogical precepts of the old world he grew up in and the apathy more than bothered him. Soon he would expatriate himself from these bindings. Maybe he was just looking to blame someone.

Darrin liked the idea of getting paid for doing something he loved anyway. That was the only way to go. Darrin went out on a limb and tried to borrow some money from the bank to finance his idea. He gave First World the specific minutiae and they were receptive. They suggested life insurance. Soon enough he was approved for the funds. Everything was well documented.

One of his first purchases was a new invention that firefighters were using. It looked like a transparent hose and had bright lights placed intermittently in every 2 inches of its length. It was thin and durable. It was also able to be specially fitted with fiber optic filament for filming. Firemen loved it because when homes were burning down around them they knew there was a simple way out. So enamored with it were they that they nicknamed it the "Umbilical Cord" because it basically was your last chance to be born again.

Part II

Darrin worked for months and the increasing presence of other divers at the caves he dove in seemed to verify that people were indeed buying his newly made "Virtual Cave Tours" software. Public interest in his work was overwhelming. His site's visitor counter for Internet views was sitting on more than a million. He had credit card takers set up over 6 phone lines at his home and they stayed in use 24 hours a day. A company he subcontracted out to handle deliveries was working overtime. He had upgraded the "Umbilical Cord", fitting it with a ballast transmitter and tiny enclosed fan blades to enable it to float in one specific place. He went though the daily preparations and rituals without much fanfare. He spent a lot of time in the water with the umbilical cord. The search was still on for the perfect underwater cave. The one he would do the live feeds from.

The work was coming along beautifully. He had many of the Atlantic's underground caves detailed and logged beyond even his own expectations. Finally, one day he hit paydirt and found the motherlode of all underground caves. It had a very small opening but sprawled out with great expanse beneath. A steady steam of bubbles meant oxygen was coming out of isolated air pockets below. Pockets vacuum sealed under the right conditions while flushing themselves empty leaving just air-- then refilled again with water with the changing underground pressures. The underwater gorge dove more than a mile deep beneath the ocean floor. He named it Godzilla Chasm and mapping most of it took the better part of 4 months working day and night.

During those 4 months he set up his first two Internet broadcasts with computerized live video. He marveled at how well his new sonar equipment worked in rooting out overgrown caves It amazed him how some types of high frequency waves traveled through most anything. How well remote sensing equipment worked in sending the signals necessary to transmit pictures and sound these days.

On October 19th Darrin made his third Internet broadcast. The ingenuity of his idea had started to dawn on more than a few. He had added several more high powered computers to his growing arsenal at home. By now he had most of the Godzilla Chasm cave structure mapped out and his virtual tours were physically drawing hundreds out to this hole in the bottom of the Atlantic's floor. Godzilla Chasm had many substructures within it that Darrin named after parts of the celestial universe. The world watched his descent down. Then what appeared to be trouble.

"Something's wrong here! I'm having some problems with my oxygen!" Darrin revealed chillingly.

He went silent as a hand could be seen clawing frantically at the walls.

"Somebody send help I'm lodged to tightly in here to get out and I'm not getting air." Darrin's voice went out to the world. The screen went pitch black and the news media went nuts. It flickered back on for a second.

"Gotta ditch these air tanks."

The word went out across the world. Yes, they might actually be witnessing the world's first well documented Internet death. 8 minutes he had been under 9, 10! The globe watched in desperation.

Then inexplicably there was the camera view of Darrin lying on the bank of an underwater pocket. Undetermined substances in the walls lit up the visibility of the cave's interior with a kerosene glow.

Salt water spilled out of his mouth along with a torrent of what looked like vomit as he hunched to his feet, then doubled over. He wheezed audibly and a stringy strand of bronchial saliva hung down from his chin. His diving suit was shredded and bloody scratches oozed from his torso. The "Umbilical Cord" lay limp on the tiny shore next to him. Darrin spoke outloud.

"If you can hear me... Please get help. he said slowly. I haven't mapped out this part of the cave but I'm somewhere near the Andromeda Quadrant in Godzilla Chasm. Above Godzilla Chasm on the surface the beginnings of a massive Coast Guard rescue team began to assemble. Reporters from around the world gathered outside of the safety perimeter that rescue personnel set up.

Inside the area Darrin was in the situation appeared to deteriorate. Without warning the water began to rise and the "Umbilical Cord" soon floated upwards to within a foot of the ceiling. Darrin could be seen clearly with his face and nose pressed up against the downward movement of his rock like captor overhead. Women screamed a collective chorus of shrieks that echoed throughout their respective neighborhoods. Then Darrin disappeared for what seemed like forever. The world watched horrified. Men bit their fingernails deep into the cuticle.

Man had seen this tragic story go down all too many times--his greatest machinery, his greatest machinations coming back to kill him. The memory of the recent Kurk incident with the Russian sub was still fresh in everyone's memories. The Baby Boomers couldn't help making comparisons to the Apollo 13 capsule's mission of the early 70's-- the one detailed in that memorable film with Tom Hanks. The Hindenberg... Titanic. The 20th Century had been fraught with technological betrayal.

They had all shared that same feeling of helplessness before. What could anyone really do from sometimes thousands of miles away? Watch it unfold impotently? A feeling of indignation had consciously taken root in a society who had now been around long enough to acknowledge it. Maybe it didn't have to be that way anymore. Many believed without ever saying so that it would be a mark of real advancement... A noticeable step forward when collectively the world's population could operate through their own privately held mechanical sophistication to remedy problems they had had no choice but to stand mute on before. Human nature these days was easy enough to read from afar.

Not surprisingly, sales of Darrin's software for Virtual Cave Tours sold millions more overnight. Instant downloads were constant. There might be a way to help. People took a good long look at what they were up against. The public posited themselves as mech-warriors, launching into "chivalrous" mode. Searching they were the combined billions of possible paths Darrin might have taken in the "Andromeda Quadrant."

The "VCT" software allowed fellow owners all over the world to speculate about how they could get Darrin out. It was like a big collaborative puzzle, a new world Rubik's Cube and it took on game like proportions. Only certain specific routes would allow you to wind up in almost unreachable pockets. Differing combinations of entries and exits meant you arrived here and not there. Who could plot out a definite route for the rescuers. Solving the riddle and validating themselves on some abstract level they'd stuggled for in this new age meant getting Darrin out. Otherwise they were just relics from a time that wasn't quite over.

The Coast Guard had downloaded copies of Darrin's "VCT" too. They floated over "Godzilla Chasm" in full force now. They knew Darrin was very small and moving without tanks. Two divers descended towards the sea bottom. One was carrying a container. They found the ballast transmitter that was connected to the lit "Umbilical Cord" at the cave's entrance and began to follow it down silently. They reached a point where the craggy gorge narrowed. One diver begged off after getting a good look around out of fear for his own safety. His commanding officer radioed in agreement from the surface saying that it might be better to just send one man in case the diver needed to make a quick exit. The diver followed the "Umbilical cord" down. The hose extended into a small hole. The diver was 150 pounds and weighed down with extra large tanks. He couldn't begin to continue. He didn't even try. He opened up his container and then slowly began feeding another "umbilical cord" into the same hole it's namesake occupied....

Part III

Miami Florida

About 20 men clad in black barge into a seaside home. They quickly move through the sparsley furnished living quarters to the area in the back where the signal is coming from. There, they find a small indoor swimming pool with an elaborate papier mache and cement mockup of a cave. One massive pump similar to those found in wave pools, hums in anticipation. A can of kerosene sits on the floor. On the walls are the many differing pictures of people who drown in caves in 1999. Their faceless voids litter the recesses. On the table is a stack of opened envelopes from around the world. The name of someone, a "Peggy" is painted once on the wall in the far off corner. The men exchange looks of recognition and begin to rummage further. One finds a note that begins, "Who knows what they would have left behind..."

Another man opens a nearby window revealing a large free standing satellite dish.

Several thousand miles North East in Switzerland a thin wiry man wearing sunglasses walks into a bank. He is carrying a Manilla envelope and a large suitcase.

The End

Copyright © 2001 by Robert Thurston

Bio:"I live in Naples Florida. My Favorite things are writing, weightlifting and running. I am 33 and was born in Kingsport, Tennessee. I graduated from Barron Collier High School. I received an A.A in Journalism from Hillsborough Community College. I Received my B.A in English from the University of South Florida in 1999."



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