Author : Neil Herndon

Looking out. Or looking in. Do we stare into the expanse, or does it and its inhabitants look in on us? Which one of us is the exhibit in a zoo?

In space, windows are structural weaknesses. Down here, if we have windows at all, they need to be over five inches thick. And if we don’t want them to be cones, it needs to be twice that. All the way down here, there’s no light from the surface. It’s pure blackness, a sea of ink.
But I was born here, way down here at the bottom of the world. Where nothing grows. Where no light from the sun reaches. And yet, here we are. Living and growing. And I count myself lucky. Not because the hull of the habitat hasn’t been crushed by millions of pounds of ocean water ready to fill this tiny bubble of air, but because I’m here to worry about that at all.
Limited resources, limited space. Only so many births per year so we don’t exhaust what little we have. Everything’s based on math. Statistics. Crop yield. Air availability. Water. Living area. Required systems and facilities. But we’ve been down here so long, there’s now an entire generation of people who’ve known only the habitat. Born without knowing the surface, without feeling the sun’s rays. We’ve known only this depth, this pressure. Could we even exist above?

This little experiment someone thought was a good idea has become a permanent colony. A nation unto itself.

Some days, I like to pretend we’re actually out among the stars instead of below the ocean. One extreme to another. A space station drifting among the cosmic dust. We can turn on flood lights and look out to our kingdom beneath the sea, but it doesn’t help. Just more darkness. And tiny specks of white. Dad says they look like stars. When he shows me pictures, it’s uncanny. Such brilliance. Such vastness. It seems to go forever. Just like the inky void surrounding us. So I pretend that we chose out there instead of down here. Just for a change of scenery.

There’s something down here. With us. I see it moving late at night. These blue-green lights swim by, shimmering against the backdrop in patterns that shouldn’t exist in nature. Maybe they don’t. It feels so inorganic. Dad says I’m seeing things. Hallucinations from the oxygen mixture. Ocean madness he called it, everyone gets it from time to time. The result of an existence with no natural light, and no real sense of time. That’s why we have the day room, a suite that mimics life on the surface as close as possible.

But it’s not madness. Steve’s dad got Ocean Madness. Got the shakes, the cold sweats, the forgetfulness. I don’t forget. I don’t see strange shadows in the corridors. But I do see the beast. Out there, in the water. In the void. I swear, it comes around at the same time, every night. Maybe it’s drawn by the frequency change from the electrical equipment.

Or maybe it’s looking in on me.

It knows I’ll be there. So it waits. It swims passed, hoping to get a glimpse through my window, my tiny portal to the unknown. Maybe it knows I’m looking for it. So it looks right back. The whole point of this experiment, this colony was to see if life below the surface was possible. No less possible than a colony on the moon or Mars. Only down here, there might already be residents.

And we didn’t ask permission to come.