Scarlet and I are currently on a ship in the Indian Ocean, near to Enggano -- a small island to the southeast of Sumatra.
My friend The Oceanographer (as I shall refer to him) made good on the debt he owed me -- first transporting us by helicopter to his home base in Japan, and then by sea plane to his "science yacht" stationed off the coast of Java. Our journey, I'm happy to say, was much more comfortable than our previous flight -- from Brussels to Namp'o, squeezed between boxes in the belly of a cargo plane.
The Oceanographer has capitalized on the genre of celebrity scientists (pioneered by personalities such as Jacques Cousteau and Steve Irwin). He is exceptionally well funded, quietly receiving financial support from almost a dozen individuals in the multi-millionaire tax-bracket.
So, you understand, he could afford to be generous when he consented to lend me a small submarine. After all, he had another two on board, simply as spares.
Two months ago, rumors reached me about a colony of Porpische living in the deep water trenches off the coast of Sumatra. Obviously I had to investigate. Finding myself reconnecting with The Oceanographer, I knew my chance had arrived.
Scarlet stayed onboard the yacht while I piloted the little yellow sub into the depths. Down, down I dove, until the sheer volume of water above me blocked out all light.
For hours I waited at the mouth of the trench, watching for some sign of life... And then there they were! Rising rapidly on an updraft of hot water from the volcanic vents below, a school of thirty-odd Porpische came into view.
What an amazing sight it was: the twelve-foot-long animals glowing pink, shooting upward as a group. Reaching the top of the trench, they scattered outward into the cooler water. Several took an interest in my sub, and came up close to the viewport. I set the Bolex running, and captured the entire encounter on film.
Then, after perhaps 30 minutes, the school began circling. Like a great spinning candelabra, they descended into the pit again. I was left above, breathless, stunned by the beauty of what I had seen.
Risks must be taken in order to advance science. Rousing myself from my reverie, I decided I must try to follow the Porpische down farther into their realm. I believe I descended another mile into the inky depths -- before the incident.
It felt like sky-diving, falling into darkness, just behind the school... When suddenly something enormous smashed past the sub. Immediately I knew I was in trouble: tiny droplets of water began to emerge from one of the welded seams in the submersible's wall. Below me, I saw three of the Porpische wink out in an instant, as a mysterious leviathan swallowed them in a single gulp.
I could not tell what the thing was. I only could see its silhouette for a moment... But from what I so briefly saw, I'd say it was at least three times as long as a Blue Whale -- which would make the thing around 300 feet in length.
The rest of the Porpische, in a fight-or-flight reaction, winked out their lights as they darted toward the invisible column of hot water rising from volcanic vents far below.
Myself, I was taking on water -- and the engine was stalled. I was critically damaged, and sinking fast.
What happened next I cannot fully explain. Despite the imminent threat of being swallowed by the leviathan, several of the darkened Porpische raced back to my sub, and together pushed me into the updraft.
Thus, this strange group of etremophile fish saved my life! They spread their wings to catch the upward current, and helped steer my vessel up, up, and beyond the mouth of the trench.
There, they helped push me off to the side, where the sub settled onto the ocean floor. And then, just as had happened before, I watched them regroup, circle, and descend back down toward their home.
Why did they help me? There are many tales of dolphins helping shipwrecked sailors to shore... But this act of bravery, the animals coming back to save me despite an immediate threat to their own lives -- it's an act of inter-species altruism unlike anything I've heard of before.
This, my friends, is one more example -- a gleaming and hopeful example -- of why I have committed my life to finding and protecting the amazing creatures with whom we share this Earth.
With no small amount of luck, I was able to get the submarine's motor going again, and I desperately began my ascent toward the surface.
It is a very good thing that I was wearing a pressure suit during this entire ordeal -- because by the time I reached the safety of the waiting yacht, there wasn't more than 18 inches of air left in the sub.
The entire journey back, I had one hand on the submarine's controls -- and one on the Bolex, holding the camera tightly against the sub's ceiling. It appears that I managed to return it intact. ...Success!
The Oceanographer was, shall we say, unhappy about the state of his sub. However, after hearing my tale -- and sharing more than a few glasses of fine cognac -- I feel it's safe to say that all is forgiven and forgotten.
Already another expedition is beginning to take shape... But I will certainly have to return here at a later date. Better equipped, I must go into the abyss again to see if I can discover the nature of that giant silhouette.
The Porpische I encountered were almost like aquatic angels.
Darker things still beckon.