Fathomless

Fathomless

by Greig Beck

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781760780999
Publisher: Momentum
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Series: Fatholmess , #1
Pages: 420
Sales rank: 286,030
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)

About the Author


Greig Beck is the author of the Alex Hunter series and The First Bird series.  He lives in Sydney, Australia.

Read an Excerpt

Fathomless


By Greig Beck

Cohesion Press

Copyright © 2016 Greig Beck
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9946305-3-7


CHAPTER 1

Stanford University, Stanford – Lecture Room M106 – Today

Cate Granger stood on the podium looking out over the mostly empty room. She was finishing up her lecture, and paused as the rear door opened a crack and a figure slipped through. The person saluted and then slipped into a back seat.

She smiled and nodded once. It was Greg Jamison, her colleague and friend who, like her, was a professor of evolutionary biology at Stanford University. He was thirty, and just a few years younger than her, but with a mop of blonde hair that made him look more excited teenager than academic.

Both of them specialized in adaptive changes to marine life, with their current research centered on collapsing fish stocks, and how some species were able to adjust through evolution and flourish, sometimes to the detriment of the existing creatures in the habitat. Adapt or Die, they'd call their paper when they finally got around to finishing it.

She changed the screen image behind her. It now showed a grainy picture of a forest, probably from some decades back – there was healthy oak and birch trees, some shrubs and open grass fields. There was also a couple of deer just peering from the underbrush, and between the tree canopies, a few birds were caught mid flight – it was an idyllic forest setting.

"Not all introduced species are invasive," Cate said, pausing to look around the room at the shiny, youthful faces. Most stared at the screen, but a few young men stole glances at her when they thought she wasn't watching. She suppressed a smile and continued.

"And some species we don't even realize are, or even could be, invasive until it's too late." She changed the image to one of the same setting, but obviously taken years later. The forest looked melted – green melted – everything smothered under a thick mat of strangling plant life. The trees, the bushes, even the areas that had once been grassy clearings were crushed beneath the living mass.

"And then when we do find out, sometimes these biologicals are so embedded, and the damage so advanced, that all we can do is surrender and learn to live with it." She looked over her shoulder at the screen. "This is the kudzu vine – Pueraria montana var. lobata – grows up to seven inches per day. We introduced it in 1876 as an ornamental plant to drape over our sunny porches. Kudzu's real leg-up came in the late '30s when it was said to be a 'miraculous' gift that would fix nitrogen into overburdened southern soils. So we planted it everywhere."

She sighed. "It was once dubbed, the savior of the south. Now, it's eating the south."

She changed the slide, showing images of zebra mussel infestations in rivers and lakes, then moved onto thirty-foot boa constrictors eating anything moving in the Florida Everglades. Finally, she stopped at an ancient looking drawing.

"This painting is called Fish Swimming Amid Falling Flowers. It was painted during the Song dynasty, around a thousand years ago by a man called, Liu Cai. Peaceful, huh?"

The watercolor showed some sort of variety of carp in a pond, swimming through colorful floating blossoms.

"The Chinese have been cultivating the carp species for centuries – has a great reputation for being hardy, and a talent for eating pond weed, which was a huge problem for us in many of our waterways." She shrugged. "You can eat them, they look attractive, low maintenance, and some can live for nearly a century." She changed the slide to two men holding a single fish in the air – it was a giant.

"The problem was, they liked our waterways so much, they multiplied, and grew big – up to one hundred pounds each. And then they decimated every other living thing in the waterways. In fact, in the Illinois River today, they account for ninety per cent of the entire biomass. Bottom line: once the carp moves in, everything else either moves out, gets eaten, or starves."

She gave the room a flat smile. "Forget climate change; the estimated damage from invasive species worldwide totals more than $1.4 trillion – annually."

Cate leant forward onto her knuckles. "A habitat that took millions of years to become established can be irretrievably altered in twelve months." She paused a beat, drawing all eyes back to her. "That's why today, there are such rigorous checks and balances on what we allow into our country, into our forests, and our airways, and into our rivers." She looked at each of the students. "I'm your original green warrior, but even I know that there are some creatures that do not deserve to exist in some areas – they're aliens, deadly invaders. And if they can't be moved on, then eradication is the only solution. Or one day, we might find something moves in, that even threatens us."

Cate let the silence hang for a second or two, before shutting the images down. She then took a few questions, set an assignment, and finally dismissed her class.

Greg jogged down the steps towards her. "Professor Granger."

She grinned. "Professor Jamison. What brings you to my class? Trying to spark a few ideas for your own sessions?"

"Great presentation." He leaned on her desk. "I would have mentioned the Australian cane toad or the gray rabbit waves of the 1800s. Still, overall I think you covered the topic in excellent detail." He held up a finger. "But I am here to remind you not to forget our meeting with Bill later today."

"Sure. Got a few errands to run, but I'll be there. You know how I love bureaucracy." Cate pretended to put a finger down her throat.

"Hey, who doesn't?" Greg rolled his eyes. "Just don't be late; you know how Bill gets. Besides, he said he had something important to discuss with us."

"Let me guess; a new water cooler in the entrance foyer." She snorted. "Don't sweat it; I can deal with Bill. He doesn't mind if I'm a few minutes late. You just deal with marking all those student papers on time." Cate smiled, turning away from her colleague to pack. They had a good boss in Bill Harris, and besides, she knew she could twist him around her little finger.

"Yeah, well, you might want to be in on time today." From behind her, Greg sounded like he was grinning as he spoke. "Because overnight the new satellite data came in from NASA."

Cate stopped and turned. "Quadrant 43?" "Oh yeah," he said cheerily. "We got the entire west coast of Alaska this time."

"Yes." She fist pumped. For Cate, the university role was a dream job. She got to study evolution's mysteries and indulge her first love of exploring, something she guessed she inherited from her grandfather who went missing exploring the Alaskan coastline over sixty years before.

Her thoughts quickly turned to Violet, her grandmother, the tiny bird-like woman who smelled of lavender and mothballs. Violet had shown her the letters her husband had sent her nearly three quarters of a century ago. It was all that was left of him; his magnificent letters, decorated with hand-drawn pictures of fossilized creatures, that and a few old photographs. Violet, or Vie as her mother called her, used to read them to Cate when she was a little girl, telling of the great and brave soul who had the heart of a pioneer. She once said to her, that she hated him going into his caves, and had told him that one day he'd go so deep, he'd come face to face with the devil himself. She had laughed softly, but there was sadness in her eyes.

"I'll find him for you," Cate had said to her with all the solemnity a six year old could muster.

"Hey, still with me?" Greg leaned towards her.

"Huh? Oh yeah, sure." Cate started to hurriedly pack, sliding books, pens and notes into her satchel. She grinned; Jim Granger was her very own family mystery. It still left her wondering what ever happened to the man with that explorer's soul – just like hers, she bet.

She'd find out one day, for herself, and Violet, she thought, daydreaming now. One day soon.


* * *

"See that?" Cate Granger pointed at the screen, showing image data of the Alaskan southern wilderness taken from about two thousand miles above the continent.

"Sure, Indigo Lake." Greg shrugged. "So what?"

Cate tapped the screen. "Look, look."

"You mean there's something else?" Greg leant over the back of her chair, squinting. "Not ... really ... sure what am I supposed to be looking at." He straightened. "But the lake's very blue, and ..." He leaned around to look at her face. "Did you know the color is a bit of a mystery?"

"Yes, thank you, Greg, and the pretty blue is why they call it Indigo Lake." She gritted her teeth, "I meant this; focus, here." She tapped the screen harder, over a section of sheer cliff wall. The granite and diorite batholith wall of Indigo Lake on Baranof Island was about eight hundred feet high, and even from the great distance, its edifice looked intimidating.

The image itself was nearly drained of color, and some aspects were highlighted. One being the lake, a deep blue, others were paler blues and grays, with dots of orange speckled around.

"It's got a thermal overlay; what we're looking for is hotspots. Anything that's above air-temp normal." She raised an eyebrow. "So, now, does anything look a little strange to you; maybe leap out?"

There were specks of warm yellow and orange dotted about, which most probably represented some larger wildlife like caribou, but there was a larger flare she knew caught his attention. He folded his arms, nodding. "Yep, there's something hot on the wall."

"Bingo." She pointed, gun-like at his chest, and then turned back to the screen. "But not on the wall, instead, in the wall. There's sure something hot in there. My bet is there's a cave entrance that's pushing out heat from somewhere below the lake." She jiggled her eyebrows. "Maybe another lake."

"Mineral springs. Hey, have you ever heard the legend of Bad Water? It's supposed to be haunted."

She scowled him to silence. "No, the whole area is called Bad Water by the locals, and not even they remember why. It's not the lake." She waved a hand. "And before you even say it, there's no way some local wildlife is big enough to generate that much of a heat signature, and if something has flown in, it'd have to be the size of a damn ostrich."

"Damn, I was just going to say ostrich." He grinned. "So, a geothermal vent then. This area is still active, minimally, sure, but still. I know the geology, Cate. Plate tectonics in those parts are a huge generator of the wild Alaskan structures." Greg unfolded his arms and made shapes in the air. "The North American Plate is still riding over the top of the Pacific Plate – the valleys are sinking and the mountains are growing taller at a rate of about an inch or more a year." He smiled, looking self-satisfied.

"Bullshit," Cate said over her shoulder.

He snorted. "Well, thank you for your professional rebuttal, your honor."

"I mean, bullshit to it being just some sort of thermal vent. I think it's a vent all right, but not leading to deep magma, or steam from super-heated rock, or even heat from subduction friction." She turned to him. "I think it opens to a body of warm water."

"Your mythical secret lake?"

"Yup." She nodded, smiling. "And my studies lead me to believe there's a body of water bigger than all of the great lakes combined – and all right under our feet, well, their feet. And all we need to do is prove it's there, and more importantly, prove it can be accessed." She grinned. "So, someone needs to go in and take a look."

Greg paced away for a moment. "Cate, your grandfather disappeared around those parts didn't he?"

"Oh yeah, long time ago," she said distractedly as she fiddled with the cliff-face images.

"Ah, and now you seem to be in the same area, like you're looking for him." He stopped pacing and faced her.

"No; just a coincidence is all." Cate turned slowly in her seat.

"You know, the scientific community believes that water might be suspended within the geology, caught up in the rock, like some sort of deep earth sponge." He tilted his head. "It'd be primordial soup, thick, primordial soup."

"Movile Cave." She raised her eyebrows.

"Huh?" Greg's mouth twitched into a smile. "Ah, Romania." He nodded. "You think it's something like that?"

"Maybe. Why not?" She tilted her head. "The Movile was only discovered in 1986. Cut off from the outside world for nearly six million years. Had a whole ecosystem of unique species that had evolved in there ... and not just blind shrimp, but big things like cave spiders the size of your hand."

"Ooh, they sound like fun." He grinned.

She turned back to her screen. "I just need more data." She leaned in closer to her screen, elbows on the desk. "I've got an old pal up there who owes me a favor or two. We can grab a quick peek of the opening in the cliff wall without getting our hands dirty." She spoke over her shoulder. "No mess, no fuss. Sound like a plan?"

"Sure ... then what?"

"Then, if there's something interesting there, we get approval for a full expedition." She held out her hands, shoulders hiked. "See? Easy as A-B-C."

Greg gave her a broad smile. "You know me; I'm all for doing a little preplanning before jumping right in and doing something expensive, career ending, or just plain dumb."

She laughed softly. "Always good to have you onboard, Mr Jamison."


* * *

Three days later, Cate, Greg, and Abigail Burke, a newly minted PHD straight out of the geology department, sat in Cate's office – their Home Base, as Cate called it. An enormous curved computer screen was center stage, and several computers were set up in a horseshoe shape on the tiered desks before them. They waited on a communication link to be established between Frederick Wan Ling – a friend of Cate's doing some research on migrating Arctic birds – and their in-house system.

Greg brought in the coffees as Cate checked the speaker on the desk for the fourth time. She checked her watch again and then turned to Abigail. "We'll record everything, but keep your fingers crossed the link holds. This is costing me the last of my exploration budget, and a truck-load of goodwill with a friend."

"You must have pull. I didn't think anyone was getting extraneous budget allocations anymore." Greg took his seat.

Cate wiggled her eyebrows. "I knows people." She swallowed; truth be known, there was no exploration budget. Getting funding to go on questionable treasure hunts in today's razor-thin funding environment was near impossible, especially at a time when university departments were being shut down or downsized.

Even if there was the prospect of finding any money, it'd take weeks to procure its release. Cate had no time or patience for university political maneuvering, so had dipped into her own savings for the project. Getting a result was now damned personal.

"Professor Cate Granger ... Cate? Are you there?" The voice was scratchy, and as disembodied as she expected.

"Freddie!" Cate scooted forward in her chair. "You made it. How is it?"

"How is it? Fucking freezing." His yell competed with the sound of a rushing wind in the background.

Greg leaned towards Cate, whispering. "Remind him he's in the Gulf of Alaska."

Cate turned and scowled before spinning back to the speaker. "I owe you big time, Freddie. Did you get all the kit?"

"Yep, top of the line; spared no expense. And had a nice meal as well. Spent every penny you gave me." There was grating laughter.

"And another nice meal when I see you again, Freddie, promise. Are we just about ready?" Cate held up her hands, fingers crossed on both.

"Sure am, ran a test flight, and am just preparing to attach the spare relay beacons. Nice piece of tech, if I do say so myself."

"What'd you get?" Greg sat, sipping and listening.

"The DJI Phantom 2 with HERO4 GoPro – eye in the sky, baby." Freddie's voice bubbled with excitement.

Abigail mouthed, wow, then leaned forward. "Hi Frederick, this is Abigail Burke. Is that the quad copter version?"

"Hi Abigail. Call me Fred or Freddie; only mom calls me Frederick, and that's only when she's pissed at me. And you bet it is; Phantom Quadcopter v2.0, with gimbal control dial and built-in battery, compass, thermal reader, full hour flying time, and relay drop-crane for WiFi buoys – means when it enters zero line-of-sight areas like a cave, it can drop the relays, and continue to send and receive signals so we don't lose him."

"Cool, very cool," Greg said. "No wonder he blew the budget."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fathomless by Greig Beck. Copyright © 2016 Greig Beck. Excerpted by permission of Cohesion Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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