Nick entered the front doors of Navy HQ at a brisk pace. Technically, he made it to the front gate before 0900, but a quick glance at his watch showed Nick was still running -- one minute and thirty-seven seconds late for the actual briefing itself.

As he entered the building he approached the officer behind the front desk asked, "Where is..."

The young female responded before he could finish his question, "Briefing room 1.", she said shaking her head. This obviously wasn't the first time Nick had been late to a briefing.

"Thanks.", Nick replied with a smile as he turned down the main hallway without losing any momentum at all.

The officer called out a final warning as Nick sped away, "The Admiral's in there.".

So apparently, the Admiral did have something better to do today. Nick didn't know which was worse, being caught off-roading on the Navy's new golf course, or coming in -- two minutes and five seconds late to the briefing.

Nick approached the briefing room door and forcefully slowed his pace, trying to act as casual, and quiet, as possible. He eased opened the door with a slight squeak. His hope was that everyone would be so focused on the briefing that he could sneak to a vacant chair in the back.

Upon seeing the long, dark mahogany table surrounded mostly by Rear Admirals and Vice Admirals, with only one available seat, he knew "Plan A" was a wash. The entire table was bordered with dark blue, almost black, heavily decorated uniforms.

Nick identified, either by name or by face, most of the people attending the briefing. They were all high enough rank that it was hard not to. However, at the far side of the table sat a young female Commander that stood apart from the rest. Not only was she decades younger than most of the attendees, she was also the only woman at the table.

Nick also recognized his backup pilot, Commander Nathan Strong, sitting beside the only vacant seat.

Captain Connelly who headed up the M.A.N.T.A. Project was standing at the front, running the briefing. He gave a disapproving glare as Nick entered the room and slunk into the only remaining chair at the table.

From the end of the table, Nick felt the eyes of Admiral Bentley turn his way, but he thought it best not to return the look.

Captain Connelly stood in front of two, thin transparent screens that currently displayed detailed computer renderings of a single seat attack submarine. It's profile resembled that of a flat B2 bomber, or at least a smaller version of one. From the top, it bore a close resemblance to a giant manta ray, only with a much shorter, stubbier tail. This view is where the vehicle got it's name, the M.A.N.T.A., which was an acronym for Military Advanced Naval Tactical Assault.

Without missing a beat, the Captain continued his briefing.

"The first stop for the M.A.N.T.A. is the research facility known as Deep Blue.", he said, as the display updated to show a structure assembled from a cluster of spheres and tubes.

"It lies at roughly 15,000ft. Which is a little shy of the halfway point to the bottom. It is the deepest underwater habitat on the planet. Deep Blue will serve as the mission's base of operations for the next three days."

The Captain turned to Nick, "We'll send an escort ship to monitor your descent, in case anything unexpected arises.", the Captain said. "We don't expect there to be any problems, as this ship has been lab tested for much greater pressure than what you'll be seeing."

"Deep Blue is a private facility, so we will be guests.", the Captain said as he gave a stern look to the Lieutenant Commander. "So behave yourself."

Deep Blue - The DescentRead this story for FREE!