“Hunters and Gatherers”
September 4, 2010
I found myself in a room made entirely of glass. The floors below were of the same opaque crystal as the walls all around, which bent upward to form the domed ceiling of the chamber. It was this same extraordinary material that comprised the surface on which I rested. I was elevated, as if on a stretcher, a few feet off of the ground.
The room was lit by fuzzily glowing masses of green and blue-white that appeared to be embedded within the glass. In the regions where the glass faded to transparency, there was nothing to be seen beyond my prison but darkness.
I could not discern where I was, where I had been before—if I was dead or alive. However even such immense questions and fears could not overshadow my aesthetic experience: the miraculous sensation of awakening in this sanctuary of silent thoughts, floating through a sea of dark nothingness.
The morning was cloudy and a cold rain descended lazily upon the hunters. The coldest and darkest days of the year had recently passed, and everywhere snow and ice was turning into tiny streams that cut miniature canyons in the tan, dusty dirt at their feet. They were heading for an open meadow right next to the coast. As the men stomped through the forest of pines, all were hopeful of what they would find when they reached the clearing.
The meadow was the first of its kind to have its snow melt away each year, as the salty breezes anxiously catalyzed the arrival of spring. The nomads knew this, and had been returning to this area for the past three years.
While at the moment their brown, wooly animal pelts were beginning to accumulate perspiration against their shoulders and backs, they remembered the all too recent feeling of being too hungry to warm their own bodies. They wished to never feel that again, and this was the spirit with which they now sought their giant prey.
Some of them noticed the sounds of the forest. The birds migrated north in this season, and their chatter was privately welcomed by each of the men of this clime.
The hunter in front—one of the eldest among them—felt the rain grow stronger. Then he looked up from the ground where he had been watching his step, and realized that the woods were thinning; they had reached the edge.
Even with the sparseness of tree cover accounted for, the rains were unquestionably heavier. The falling drops almost prevented the men from spotting the lumbering megafauna in the distance. At once they extinguished their conversations, and began to draw upon the years of experience residing in their minds. Trial and error would be the hunters’ compass as they ran out into the rain to kill a mammoth.
April 21, 2010
“Cephalopoda. Break it down into its roots and you get ‘head’ and ‘foot’. And that’s pretty much all there is to them: a large head with two eyes, and a bunch of highly dexterous feet.”
What a great excuse to get somewhere warm, I thought.
When they had asked me to speak to the University of Miami’s marine biology students, they had basically told me to just come up with something interesting and pick a date.
“So… a simple name… simple explanation… they’re just marine invertebrates… do we have a simple, dumb organism on our hands?”
I decided to make a little personal vacation out of it—a little bit of alone time—solitary play, if you will, as has been observed in the octopus.
“Of course not… I would be out of a job.”
From my doctoral thesis onward, I had dedicated my life to the study of squid behavior—a very small facet of this field in fact. But these kids would be getting plenty of exposure to boring PowerPoints about tiny little facets of research. Not today, damn it! I wanted them to at least remember me.
July 4, 1937
[From the research log of Rudyard Glassmith:
specimen: unidentified man-made flying craft—initial write-up
Notes: Vessel contains wings indicative of an airborne machine. Contains twin rotating blade apparatus, common of recent specimens. Under-wing contains the following symbols:
N R | 6 0 2 0
Hydrodynamics testing indicates pressure-disparity lift method inherent in wing shape—consistent with other artifacts.
Organic specimens: Two.
N o o n a n
N O O N A N
E A R H A R T
E a r h a r t
These symbols found in this sequence most prevalently and specifically on male and female’s belongings, respectively. Interchangeability of “big” and “small” symbol forms is consistent with many previously documented specimens.
All complex symbol-rich artifacts to be sent to anthrolinguist.]
April 21, 2010
“I have two main goals here today. First, I want to show you how a research area like mine is still very active, and how much there is still to be learned even in this day and age…”
I had decided to make my talk a little more fun.
“…And secondly, I want you all to leave this room thinking cephalopods are awesome.” Reaction received. They were awake and mildly entertained. I had earned my keep. Good enough.
I cued up the slides on the enormous projection screen behind me. I told them all about the newly understood two-layered skin of squids, and how the outer provides camouflage, while the inner layer produces polarized light messages that can only be seen by other squids. I took the section home with a popular favorite: the Caribbean Reef Squid’s ability to communicate with one buddy on the left, and another on the right at the same time, all just by changing colors.
The rain was noisy, and the water softened the crunch of the grasses of the meadow collapsing under heavy footsteps. The large tusked beasts had not yet noticed them and continued to graze. The mammoths were near the coastal edge of the meadow, as they seemed to have a constant salt craving that was satisfied by the ocean-sprayed leaves. The hunters fanned out to anticipate any potential direction of escape.
Suddenly and without warning all of the mammoths began to move at once. They lumbered parallel to the shoreline, their long, matted fur flopping against their hides. The flank of men that intercepted the herd was able to keep a few from leaving the hunters’ ring—they only needed one. Among the trapped beasts, one particularly massive mother remained along with her calf. The eldest hunter yelled to the others to prepare for what was to come, but most of them already knew.
April 21, 2010
“…kind of funny how in this one class of organisms, you have different pieces of what you might compare to human-like intelligence, but its scattered, rather than localized in one organism. On one hand you have these squids with great examples of social behavior, while on the other you got the octopus—great at problem solving and learning, but much more solitary. And then of course all of them share this highly developed central nervous system that everyone gets so excited about…”
The running slowed. The mother mammoth’s eyes changed from innocent fear to proud fury. She began to charge. The hunters to her sides moved in and threw their spears. The man towards whom she charged just ran for his life.
One of the pointed tips successfully pierced the animal behind her large hairy ear. A young, courageous member of the group thought she was about to lose her footing, and so he lunged at her massive ribcage with his shorter, handheld weapon. His ambition cost him his life. She never fell, and instead stomped the young, grizzly warrior with a hind leg.
The mother’s scream trumpeted. A higher pitched reply came from the calf, which was now reluctantly distancing itself from its mother. It was heading towards the remainder of the herd in a frightened scamper, its head turned back to its mother.
Another spear landed in her hindquarters. A third in her throat finally brought her slowly and inevitably towards the ground. When the mammoth was down, only one young hunter ran over to the squashed human. The damage to the man was mostly internal; the rain washed away any external bleeding faster than it was being produced. The rest of the men went over to carry out the motions of putting the mother beast out of her misery.
The mourning young hunter was the first to notice what happened next, since he had been looking out at the water in sadness at the opportune moment. The rest of the heads did not turn until after the great noise.
A massive whale breeched the ocean surface closer to shore than any of them had ever seen. It let out a strange, otherworldly cry, and just as it returned to the water, it was impaled by a most unfamiliar object.
The thing that came out of the whale near its blowhole was entirely transparent, other than the blood that ran from its tip. It had texture, and varied thickness, as though fashioned and ornamented from a massive icicle. It was more intricate in decoration than anything the hunters could have dreamed of in three lifetimes.
They watched as this great crystal lance slid back out of the dying creature and back into the black water. As the whale descended slowly, the hunters did not believe their eyes, and some proceeded to rub them. All around the whale was a brightening glow of green and blue, expanding from the center out of nothing just below the water’s surface. Then almost a dozen bobbing, pulsing objects, each topped with a number of prongs coated by dark, wet skin, breeched the surface and bobbed in the glowing, nacent waves. Then after a long silent moment, the domes submerged, and soon after the magical glow was gone.
The men all stood there for a while, not speaking a word to one another; they continued to stare at the spot where they saw this alien event, hoping that if they squinted hard enough the magic would come back. However, it never did, and so they finally continued the arduous task of cutting into the mammoth, preparing its meat for transport.
April 21, 2010
“…for the Humbolt Squid, a species in which researchers now have witnessed remarkable examples of cooperative hunting, on a level unparalleled among invertebrates…”
“Journeys of Enlightenment”
March 20, 1917
“…then I think our choice has been made for us. I see no other way.”
Her feeling of defeat was written all over her.
“I have watched this community flourish since I took this position eight years ago, and even before then as I grew up here. This new age of 'sub-marine' warfare that they started has nothing to do with us, and yet we seem to suffer most. The conflicts have starved our community! Severed us from sustainability! Compromised your safety!
“Despite our shared outrage, I ask you all—my citizens—to join me in continuing to comply with our passive approach at this time. Let me remind you all that a disorganized, unplanned retaliation would only provoke global disaster. We, in the spirit of our ancestors, will find our greatness in patience, and our actions through reason. Come now, children of this land, join me. Take all that you can of this place before our exile. Approaching fast is the time that we all must journey into the darkness…”
April 21, 2010
“Yes a question—red shirt.”
“Yeah, hi. Uh… so maybe this is a dumb question but um… so like you were saying how cephalopods have all these pieces of intelligence—so why didn’t they ever evolve to be intelligent like us, if it woulda been beneficial?”
June 9, 1549
9th of June, 1549—
Today marks thirty days at sea, and we are deep in the heart of the Atlantic. All around my crew and myself lies nothing but blue horizons. Also there are the endless skies, constantly determining our fate. Tonight is a clear night. The stars are precisely where we had left them a few days ago. May I even have the pleasure of reporting that the wind has been very much in our favor all day? Indeed it has been so. Any one of these long days may mark the halfway point of our voyage.
The colonies are over there somewhere—up and around the earth’s belly, over which ships seem to sink before vanishing into a new world.
I believe I understand now why God gives us this treacherous gap of sea to cross: He wishes to ensure that once we land at our new destination, we will never take it for granted. We will gladly devote our labor, and reap from its soils all of the awaiting bounties, so ours for the taking. Just as I now look out across limitless blue, so there I shall find ceaseless green, rolling onward as far as I may ever please.
April 21, 2010
“Hmm… ok, sure. First of all—not a dumb question. A lot of the benefit of studying other organisms displaying intelligence is to use them in a comparative context—measure them up against humans. That’s where some of the coolest learning happens. And relevance to humans often wins you more grant money.
“To give you a more concrete answer, one thing they don’t have going for them is life span. Even these smart octopuses often have a lifespan of about two years or so. This means less time to learn and build upon knowledge… and then you also lose that key component of parental care. Humans, and elephants for that matter, spend a lot of time raising their young, which works nicely with an animal needing lots of cognitive development.
“And then finally remember that for any adaptation, there has to be a selective pressure for it. Evolution itself has no goal. Octopuses and squids think and communicate to the extent that they need to survive. Anything more is a waste of energy… so… Yeah, thanks for the question! Anyone else? Alrighty—moving on.”
May 27, 1917
The exile was massive, epic, and devastating. Every so often they would turn around to see behind them, their great metropolis shrinking into distance and blurred behind a haze of destruction. And this was only that which stood erect above ground! The last of the city were back there, with the job of destroying it—tearing it all down. Centuries of history now had to be removed without a trace. Everywhere glass was being shattered. The great spires of our proudest constructions now slid down in fragments against their neighbors. It seemed to take ages for these to hit the ground. The city’s glow was being extinguished rapidly, as each little point of light was surely being ripped open, its contents freed. The scene was as great an example as any of entropy’s constant yearning for chaos and nothingness in the universe.
The exiles carried all that they could: family artifacts and records, some handy tools and devices. Most of the items they carried were of native design; only a few participants of the pilgrimage could bear to use those of foreign origin anymore.
Throughout the crowd, each of them echoed the same mantra of the historic moment: now is the time that we all must journey into the darkness.
April 21, 2010
“…the discovery of the giant axon in the 1930s—that’s a great example of my point. Here was a zoologist checking out squids, and he ends up discovering this model system that would get the ball rolling for our entire knowledge basis of neurophysiology! ...”
June 13, 1549
13th of June, 1549—
Tragedy has stricken us mercilessly. One evening past, just after sunset, the most horrific of things occurred. The orange-red glow of the sun was reaching its final cadence, when a new light appeared, this one from below. It was as if the blue-white moon was ascending from the depths below our ship. My crew, captivated and intrigued, leaned over the sides, staring down into the growing soup of color. There was no clear source of this light—no solid objects below the surface to identify.
Then, just as a few of the men actually produced tears in the presence of such beauty, the killing began. Other reports of a kraken must have surely been by day, for its luminosity was the sole quality that measured up to its rage. On all sides of the ship, thick, wet tentacles began gripping onto my crew. I had safely been at the center of deck, left vulnerable only to witnessing the terrible events as they unfolded.
The kraken did not seem interested in sinking our ship as in other stories either. It had a very specific hunger for live human flesh.
Most curiously, the tentacles—of which there were dozens!—must have been covered with a strange exoskeleton, for in the dimness of the evening I swore I could see tools and weapons (seemingly made of something like glass) surrounding and armoring many of the sucker-clad appendages. Each of these rigid shapes seemed more ideal for doing terrible things to a man than the previous.
Only myself, and three among my crew survived. There had been no fight—no glorious battle. We that were spared had been the most passive, perhaps not vital enough to be deemed palatable by the hungry monster. No battle—only screams. Still repeating in my mind, more than the blood and the struggle of my crewmen is the eerie silence that overcame the scene the instant the screaming men had been pulled under. All this violence, and then nothing—just that blue-white light—surely from this great kraken's body, descending slowly back to the depths. I retain guilt to this moment now about how I selfishly had wondered how long the seabeast would remain sated.
Damage to the vessel was not extreme, but will be a hell of a time for four men to handle. At first I worried about how none will believe our story when we arrive—how they well shrug us off, and tell the others that the time at sea had driven us mad. Now I don’t care about that. I just want to be on dry land. I understand now in full that dry land is where human beings belong.
No man may claim jurisdiction over the infinite seas.
April 21, 2010
The rental car had a superb “new car smell”. There’s something about running the AC in Florida—the nice dampness still gets in a little. I thought the speech went pretty well, and now I could relax—have some “me” time—for the rest of the weekend. I turned on the complimentary satellite radio, hoping to hear the classic rock I had heard on the way over to the university. Instead, I heard the news for the first time since I had gotten to Florida.
“…the explosion, eleven crew members that had been working aboard the rig are still being reported as missing. British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward has assured the public that all efforts to find the missing workers are being implemented, as they also look to discover what exactly went wrong yesterday evening at the rig…”
What had I missed? Some oil spill? No not a spill—a rig exploded. Wouldn’t that make a spill? I imagined the Caribbean Reef Squids nearby. One squid in the middle of two others. It would be saying to one squid “yeah that lunch today was quite delectable. No oil or grease on it...” and then he would be simultaneously saying to the other squid on his other side, “Dude did you feel that boom? What the fuck was that?!”
I sighed out loud. I needed a girlfriend.
Nov 9, 1979
“…allow that this pollution get even more out of hand. Human civilization marches onward and it feels like we are rolling in filth.”
Darlene Mantlebach could hold on to old values no longer. She would implement policies that would appease the grievances of the masses, not to mention her own.
“I hereby approve the plan put forth by Mr. Glassmith and his associates: a new wave of intensive study of planetary human impact. We will not be held back by the citation of ideological rhetoric or bureaucratic red tape; we will move forward…”
September 4, 2010
I found myself in a room made entirely of glass.
May 15, 2010
“Welcome, Mr. Hayward. Please sit down.”
“Thank you Gary. Eeahh. This better be good.”
“Well, good wouldn’t be the word I would use, sir. More like, interesting and… eh… potentially important.”
“Alright, alright. Let’s see what you’ve got for me.”
“Right then. I think we can hand it right over to the head of our camera specialist team. Fred?”
“Thank you, Gary. And thank you, Mr. Hayward, for taking the time. Ahem. You know what I’m just gonna skip right to… this picture. What does that look like to you… anybody?”
“…I guess it’s like a T-rex took a chomp out of it or something.”
“Thank you for that contribution, Dr. Sherwood—I’m quite thrilled we hired you for that insight.”
“Well actually Gary he’s sort of on the right track. These punctures are not indicative of a pressure-induced burst from the inside. They look much more like something smashed these holes into the pipe from the outside.
“Closer analysis of the damages led our team to believe—most intriguingly, and I think you’ll quite agree, sir—that it was not some single collision with some object that did this. Instead it’s as though a multitude of weaker blows culminated in these punctures. Look here—all around the edges of the breakage points are other contact points. You can really—”
“Contact with, um, what exactly? Not sure I’m following.”
“Well I’m quite sure we don’t know. Mr. Hayward, and members of the board, I stand before you risking my head by telling you that we do not have the answer, and that we instead have a true mystery of science here.”
“Which is why I suggested we need a full range of investigations into this. This could have been natural causes, which could help to exonerate us. Or it could somehow show new evidence against us. We need to be the ones controlling the info… Mr. Hayward?”
“Yes I agree. Mr. ehh…”
“—Doctor, sir… Dr. Miller. Fred’s fine too.”
“Right um… whatever you think is best to investigate this, work up a report, tell us what you need. Jerry, in the meantime, can we spin things enough to keep this quiet until we know how it will affect BP’s image?”
“Absolutely sir, we got some great new stocks of footage of that same oil plume flowing up. That should keep the public happy—or rather, content enough.”
“Yeah, that and the greased up pelicans.”
October 16, 1920
At the bottom level of their luxurious home, Sylvia Glow guided her only daughter through a labyrinth that she had designed herself. They pass through it together very slowly, as her daughter has a great deal of work to do.
The diplomat’s daughter is now half as tall as she. Already the youngster is promising to be as brilliant as her mother. Sylvia Glow is satisfied with the rate at which her daughter scans the labyrinth walls, committing every fact written on it to memory. And there is certainly a great deal. As a leader of many, Glow believed, one must understand that a single event’s causes are as diverse and ancient as its effects are numerous and perennial.
The proto-Cepheran genus diverges from that of squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish.
Nov 9, 1979
“…For those of you less familiar, Neil Glassmith’s lineage has been devoted to anthropologic work for dozens of generations…”
The archaic proto-Cepherans are the apex of their pelagic ecosystem. They are intelligent and social. Their lifespan is still only about three years long, and their clutches of eggs are still large.
Nov 9, 1979
“…and in Glassmith’s trustworthy hands, I will hereby allow the taking of a number of human specimens. This number will be limited, regulated, and consistently monitored and reviewed. Glassmith and his team have already assured me that their gas-bubble technology has been determined suitable for safe containment of live human specimens. We have, in fact, been sure of this for some time.”
Darlene paused for the telegraph to catch up.
The Cepherans are social now, as competition for prey has led them to form nomadic hunting clans. A clan could be spread over a few cubic kilometers of ocean at any given time. To accommodate their complex, highly distributed hunting style, they have developed a new addition to their language based on long-range detection of powerful beak clicks. Other than these clicks, the Cepherans go days without sensing much of anything in the open oceanic void.
Nov 9, 1979
“…also, in conjunction with these new policies will be a new step in our globalization and unification. I speak, of course, about the implementation of the long awaited deep channel passage across the Shallowcross Range. At last, we will have a warm zone crossing point between the two greatest regions of our civilization. We will use the faults and ridges already inhabited as the major starting points…”
A clan is starving. Many of the “old-time creatures” they used to hunt have been long extinct, living on only in the legends and stories passed on down the lines. Off in the distance they hear the click patterns of another clan.
There is no room for compromise. None for peace. The proactive, practical approach is the only one they have known for generations. No room in their calculating minds for compromise, and plenty of room in their guts for food.
Nov 9, 1979
“…will begin as a system of intersecting tunnels, too deep to be detected by the creatures above. Over time, we expect that it will grow naturally and gradually, both in girth and complexity, based on our needs…”
A community of Cepherans grows in a deep ridge at the bottom of the oceanic abyss. The heat from volcanic activity near a fault line is their life source. Stretched across the sand flats are rows of algaes, slimes, bivalves, and worms that have been planted there and cared for by Cepheran farmers. Even organisms from the shallow seas can now be sustained in the depths through millennia of selective breeding and aquacultural innovations.
The raids by migrant clans have been discouraged in recent years, thanks to the Cepheran’s greatest technology: glass. It was discovered some years ago that collected sandy minerals, encased in an organic slime, could be passed over a heat source and quickly melted and re-solidified into glass of a desired shape and form. The cannibalistic nomads have been helpless against the spines, blades, and armor of the settlers ever since.
Nov 9, 1979
“…more than ever, our civilization will be as one. The Southwaters and the Firebelts, the Ridgelands and Abyssinals—we will share all of the same triumphs and tragedies…”
The sea is dotted with Cepheran city-states. From the deepest depths to some coastal outposts, their cities are marked with elaborate ornamental spires of stone and glass. The glass itself is of varied colors. However a human eye would not have been able to distinguish these well, for they would have been greatly overshadowed by the brilliant glow of bioluminescence that the cities emitted.
May 27, 1917
The exile was massive, epic, and devastating. Every so often they would turn around to look back, their great metropolis shrinking into distance and blurring behind a haze of destruction. And this was only that which stood erect above ground!
The selective cultivation of bioluminescent organisms, both motile and sedentary, has been one of the greatest achievements and finest arts of their society. It was a limitless variety of color, brightness, time cycles; they have isolated the stimuli that turn the lights on and off—even make them blink and twinkle. While the Cepherans were initially well adapted for dark water sight, the finer tasks of their new metropolises required such specific illumination.
Other light displays were arranged to emulate the chromatophore-based communication of the Cepherans, while still others were purely for creative expression. In this golden age, the Cepherans—tentacled and brilliant—produced poems out of color and light.
June 1, 1917
“Ms. Glow. Welcome to the Ridgeland Metropolis. I am…so sorry for your loss.” Dierdre Mantlebach was sincere in her sympathy (Sylvia Glow had a keen eye for that sort of thing).
“Thank you. So are we. We of course cannot thank you enough for—”
“Please, don’t even. Your city was a great one, and therefore I assume it was comprised of talented, competent members. Ms. Glow, I will see to it that the crafts of as many lineages as possible are preserved, even at the risk of redundancy.”
“That will surely mean a lot to all of them.”
Meanwhile, on her left side, Mantlebach had been instructing and questioning her cabinet of powerful females on handling housing for the refugees. Sylvia used the free face of her mantle to produce a static gratitude display to the cabinet while continuing her conversation with the Prime Minister of the Ridgeland. When all conversation had reached conclusion, Mantlebach glowed red, and all present cracked a unified farewell with large beaks.
“Boundaries and Limits”
September 2, 2010
How did I end up being so lucky as to get two working vacations in the same year? I was surprised my name was starting to really get out there as an expert.
I did a backwards roll off the side of the boat, my large flippers following. As I adjusted to the variety of temperatures mixing between my body and the water, I watched the remaining team members jump in as well.
Then again maybe the people who hired me just thought I was enough of a sucker to do take this gig without more information. All I knew was that they would pay me a whole bunch of money to take a look at something deep in the Caribbean, give my opinion if I had any, and walk away without asking any questions.
It was shady, yes, but I don’t think these people were criminals. They seemed normal enough, clean enough…professional enough?
The interesting thing was the type of crew they had on the team: me, the witty and handsome teuthologist, a shark guy who had done the whole shark cage thing back in his hayday, an aquageologist (or whatever else you call them), and a couple engineers and some others I didn’t even get the chance to meet. From what I had gathered there had been some previous dive, but they now needed all of our thoughts on the subject.
August 10, 1945
“Word has arrived from Big Ocean 4. Humans now wield a great power, on a level unparalleled in our world. In the midst of their ceaseless fighting and exploitation of all that the earth has bequeathed upon them, they learned to produce a blast that indiscriminately destroys plant, animal and algae; city and farm; mother, father, and child.
“The human species is so young, and yet in their temperate, terrestrial sanctuaries they wish to harness powers far beyond their control. There may come a day unfortunately soon, upon which we can no longer stand idly by in the shadow of these barbarians.
“Any remaining differences between the great Cepheran cities must be put aside. We have a common threat, so very near, against which we all must unite.”
Dora Mantlebach hovered in the spherical balcony of her office, looking out at the glowing city. The communications specialist left with a click, out the stone-lined circular porthole. Not too far off, Ralph Glassmith and Bernard Lavaman were working in an air-containment chamber made entirely of glass. Inside, they had been dissecting a human-made machine larger than themselves for days. The machine had wheels and was filled with gears and rotating mechanisms similar to the hydraulic-flow systems that powered and syncronized the city.
By the looks of the grey smoke filling their chamber, they had gotten its power source running. Light blue speckles expanded into large blobs on Dora Mantlebach’s skin as she watched pensively and worried about their safety.
September 2, 2010
The pipe was massive. The guide pointed to large gashes in the metal, and then made a silly (I thought so) shrugging gesture, implying that we should figure out what the story was. I went over briefly, then swam away.
Even with this being underwater and all, did they really need a squid specialist here? I guess if that’s how they wanted me to think, I would. A big octopus will try all kinds of strategies to get into a clam. But not to get into a pipe…
And so it was settled: I was useless. For the rest of the time, I swam around the area, spotting some shrimps and sea urchins on the seafloor.
When we resurfaced, we sat around exploring the possibilities. On the sleek white deck of the luxurious boat, all of the experts were sitting around a circle on chairs, coolers and buckets. The men who had hired us stood around us on the periphery, quietly writing into clipboards as we suggested ideas.
Natural forms of corrosion were discussed, and the possibility of a confused shark was bounced around. Even the slow work of long-spined sea urchins was considered.
The people in charge seemed disappointed, but not surprised. When the conversation died by natural causes, one of the standing men told us that we had to check one more site, a few miles out.
February 29, 2016
“If I hadn’t measured it myself, I couldn’t have imagined the amount of power they waste in a day—right through this one cable here. All we have to do is tap into the lines for a short while, and before they know what has happened we will be long gone with enough electrolyzed fuel to push ourselves way ahead of schedule.”
“Indeed. Off of their feeble backs we will propel ourselves to new heights.”
September 2, 2010
Apparently the previous mission had resulted in some “strange readings” from this other site. How anything so far away could be relevant to…well, whatever that first thing was...I had no idea.
And so, motivated by large amounts of off-the-books pay, I dived in once more. This site was a deeper one. On the boatride over, they had given us the usual lecture about taking your time in your descent and ascent.
After about fifteen minutes in the water, we were so deep that hardly any light still penetrated from the surface. The yellow lights on each scuba suit were the only indication of my colleagues’ whereabouts.
I started getting antsy. It had been years since I had done any serious diving. I started to notice all of the itches I couldn’t reach, and I started to think how the air I was breathing had been sitting in a tank of metal for God knows how long.
My mind was finally removed from all of these concerns when I saw something I could not explain. Off to the right and below where we all bobbed, the faintest light began to glow. Then behind us. And to the left. The light came from no one source, but rather from all around, as if every molecule of water was suddenly burning. It was mesmerizing. I don’t recall what I did with my body—I must have been frozen. I did not swim towards or away from the light, from the surface or the bottom.
I suddenly sustained a sharp blow to the back of the head. Then something like a giant leathery rope rapped around my torso. Next there was a sharp pinch in the precise center of my spine, as I was simultaneously pulled backwards by the giant coils. And with that I was conscious no longer.
November 9, 1989
“Humans do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. They do not deserve our voluntarily vulnerability. You’ve studied them Ronald—you’re of the Glassmith lineage afterall!—how do you think this will play out?”
“You know if it were me I’d be sending explosives up in those rockets instead of our talented citizens. May I remind you we still have Twenty-nine years to change our minds?”
“I am aware of your stance, Mr. Bigsucker.”
“I am aware of your stance, Bigsucker. I understand that human fear may drive them to a militant response. And that is why I am asking for your expertise.”
“With all due respect Ms. Glow, soon this settlement will be too large to exist without human contact. Whether it be militant or peaceful, we simply cannot progress naturally with continued secrecy.”
“The cabinet of the Southwaters says they can hold out at least another few decades.”
“We must avoid confrontation at all costs. This planet is so small.”
“It will play out with human cities underwater and cepheran cities above. And together we will travel to other worlds, where we will create the utopias of the old stories together.”
“Too small. No room for everyone.”
“The reason they are in fact ‘old stories’ is because the idealists who passed them along left out how they ended: human regression to barbarism.”
“Well I’m sorry Norton but on this issue we are going with Glassmith’s pitch. You will assist him however he asks. However, you are still in charge of the East-half Administration for the Shallowcross Channel, which—”
“Oh please—the channel. The day when that becomes a worthwhile job will be the one when I sink the isthmus into the water and really start drawing some attention from above.”
“Well Sharon I’d say bide our time. Our team is now so efficient at analyzing and retrofitting human technology that it practically becomes our own technology by the time we are done with it. Every time humans make a discovery after years of effort, we crack it and catch up in a day. Then we adapt it to our needs in the following two. Staying the course as long as possible—”
“They have evolved though. All the research points to—”
“I really miss the days when the Glassmith team just retrofitted sunken human vehicles…”
“But haven’t you even said Ronald, that these days a lot of the technology we pick up from them we can’t even use because they would detect it?”
“And we didn’t try to make presumptions that humans were ‘alright’ but ‘just a little slow’.”
“That’s right Sharon, what you said to Norton. Even the humans he keeps in those tanks tell him all the time how the way we communicate long distance is a method that they haven’t used in decades!”
“Well yes that is true. We can safely test everything, but there are some things that we can’t implement on a widespread scale because of our secrecy. Yes I have to admit that is true.”
“And what of the linguistic studies? Decades in the works—how prepared are we to interact directly with them?”
“You mind your mantle, Bigsucker.”
“Yes of course, Ms. Glow. Anyway, I actually must be going. Farewell.”
“If you’ll excuse me, I have a tunnel of cowardice to preside over.” Crack.
“I am happy to report that we have up-and-coming scholars, young male and female cepherans, who will be prepared at moments notice to speak to any human who speaks one of the most common four languages, may they be civilian or leader.”
“That’s good news. Hopefully they won’t be hired to apologize for Bigsucker’s behavior in our lifetimes.”
“Indeed—let us hope not.”
October 3, 1991
“Hey how long till touch down?”
“We’re about an hour out.”
“This really was a sweet gig—too good to be true, really.”
“Yep, I’m gonna miss these islands. Look at that—every single one we go over looks like it would have nicer beaches than the one before it.”
“Yeah, but only if you’re into chasing local tail.”
“Are you guys gonna kiss or what?”
“Fuck off, Jose. I was just sayin’ this was a pretty nice deal we had goin’ for a while.”
“Whatever, man. If you guys are into that—what happens in the Bahamas stays in the Bahamas, man. You guys wanna come back here 'n' settle down or some shit… drinkin’ drinks with the little umbrellas in 'em—”
“Guys, shut up—look at this.”
“What the fuck?”
“Both of these things just started spinning and not making any sense.”
“You try hitting the thing?”
“Actually, yeah. Mmm…thing’s a piece of shit.”
“So can we just fly… straight for a while?”
“I guess so…Ah shit, not if that cloud cover’s rolling in.”
November 9, 2014
Manuel felt dirty. He had been working in the shipyard all morning, under a humid tropical sun. To make things worse, he spent most of that time on a giant plot of concrete and steel. At the moment he was on break, but watching over the yard while the other guys went on a supply run.
He looked out at the water, the great mouth of the Panama Canal, hoping that just looking at it hard enough would start to feel like he was swimming in it. One old mammoth ship was now lazily coasting by, blocking Manuel’s view of blue water with that of more rusted steel. He was so hot that he took the boat’s inconsideration as a personal offense.
He looked down at his forearms, where new red sunburn was forming under the pre-existing tan. He was dying to take a swim. The last guy who tried it got caught and was fired six months ago. Manuel thought to himself how the boss should just let the men swim a little to boost morale.
He looked out at the water again longingly. He imagined himself floating out there, bobbing in the big slow wake of the enormous and rusty ship. Then he noticed how the water grew choppy—too choppy to be the result of only the boat wake.
Within two seconds of this realization, Manuel felt the ground rumble beneath his bottom. He rose from the stack of beams on which he had been reclining.
Boom. A bigger rumble, and longer lasting.
Manuel heard the sound of metal piping clanking to the floor in a nearby warehouse to his right. He did not run anywhere, for there was no way of knowing the threat’s source.
Seemingly in the time Manuel had looked away and back again, the entire mouth of the canal was now covered in whitecaps, seawater flowing inland at an ever-increasing rate. Awfully dry, abrasive noises made Manuel cringe; the old ships that were moored at the docks were all scraping against their pilings and bulkheads.
When the great bridge in the distance started going down, Manuel could have sworn he could hear the suspension cables snapping, but surely he was too far away. That old link between continents was being ripped and warped and twisted until it was mostly underwater. It reminded Manuel of a DNA double helix he had seen in science class as a kid. That which was still visible could not be called a bridge at all.
Buildings were collapsing on all sides now. Suddenly Manuel spotted a white and blue research-style boat tied up nearby. Swifty, he had made his decision: he would try his luck in the water, rather than risk the destruction on land.
March 28, 1470
“Thank you for coming up so shallow on such short notice, Mr. Bigsucker.”
Darrell Hunter’s lineage had met the defense specialist only once before, as far as the family records showed.
“Well, it is nice to keep busy. There isn’t much to do as a defense specialist when your entire race is at peace.”
“Yes sir, of course. So I wanted to show you these readings we have been getting. They suggest very strange electromagnetic activity here—this whole region in fact. That we figured out pretty quickly, about a hundred days ago. Then we realized we could actually manipulate these erratic forces to our advantage. We actually think we can focus the pulses at specific locations, for example a human watercraft.”
“What good would that do—are humans magnetic or something? Have I not been updated on the magnetic properties of the sentient land beings?”
“I assure you the humans are not magnetic and that if that had been the case you would have been promptly notified. However, their navigational apparatuses are magnetic. They look like this, sir.”
Hunter uncurled a tentacle on his left side and revealed the small round disk, a spinning needle balanced on its center. Bigsucker’s eyes focused on the compass, then back on the other cepheran. He glowed white with appreciation.
“Hunter, good work.”
November 9, 2014
He had no key to start the boat’s ignition, but he didn’t fret. Buoyancy was what he needed at the moment. The current swept him to the center of the canal as soon as he was untied. The chop was making the ride bumpy, but the boat seemed to handle it well.
Manuel drifted with the current this way for almost an hour. During that time, he saw hillsides shrink and grow out of the ground before his eyes. He wondered what could do this to land masses so quickly, and then thought how grateful he was that he hadn’t been swimming at the time! He saw patches of forest tip over in waves of uprooting trees. The water level was definitely high, but he could not tell by how much.
After about a half hour he had found a wooden oar under a bench on the boat. It provided minimal influence on his direction, but still made him feel like he had some control—some say in his fate. He stuck the oar in the water now to avoid the tip of some sort of large artificial structure protruding from the water.
Then he recognized where he was: these were the canal locks at Miraflores. He had not visited this place in years, but it was unmistakable. The boat smacked hard against what Manuel had determined to be a submerged lock.
Immediately the boat’s deck took on water, little streams swirling around Manuel’s feet. With only a few seconds to make a decision, Manuel jumped onto the protruding metal wall of the canal, and his boat was out of site within ten seconds.
He was stranded, with water on all sides of him. The current was very fast here. All of the buildings and structures, (and probably people) had been wiped out by the rough waters. When he looked downstream, he saw that the lake had been turned into a massive whirlpool. Ships, debris, and trees were all making their way around a giant bathtub drain at the center.
A helicopter whizzed by too high and too fast for Manuel to try to flag it down. While he was looking up, something scratched Manuel’s leg, which had been submerged almost to the knee. When he looked down, he realized that millions of shards of broken glass of all colors and sizes were flowing by in all directions. After ten minutes of standing helplessly on this tiny vantage point, the currents slowed, as did the whirlpool. Then the water began flowing the other way. The receding floods exposed enough of the destroyed locks for Manuel to pick a path to safety.
There was not time to consider what had happened, but only what to do next. As Manuel took his first step on soggy but solid land, he chuckled. He chuckled and thanked God, first for sparing his life, then for ensuring that he would not humor the temptation of swimming on the job again for a long time.
October 3, 1991
“We can’t be up here blind any longer guys. I’m gonna have to radio for—”
“Radio for who? You stupid? Do you remember the reason we are in a plane to begin with?”
“Well, we’ll need to radio eventually!”
“Not until we hide the shit.”
“Actually not an issue, folks. Radio’s out.”
“Serious? This is like some real Bermuda Triangle shit!”
“I think that’s exactly what this is actually. Listen, we gotta do some kind of water landing—stall it out somewhere.”
“Wait guys, look over there. Fly lower, man. Yeah, look at that landing-strip-shaped island. Could you land on that?”
“Yo, that shit’s a miracle! It’s bigger than Jose’s mamma’s ass! Definitely risky, but by the looks of it… I bet if we hit it just right we can land in one piece, then take off again when the skies clear.”
“…Which means we could even keep the junk.”
“Let’s do it.”
November 9, 2014
“…still waiting to see if anybody can figure out exactly what happened in Panama today. What we do know is that there were massive tremors with epicenters outside of Panama City at one end of the Panama Canal, and others near Colón, as well as some throughout the nation’s interior. The waters seemed to have flowed mysteriously inland, rather than immediately out to sea. Total casualties are believed to have pushed one hundred thousand, and the numbers are still climbing.
"The canal, meanwhile, is completely inoperable. Many local communities were left without power…”
January 13, 2017
For a short while, the darkness was absolute. Then the backup generators at the hospital and a few other places started kicking on one by one. Everyone at home dug out flashlights if they had them.
Oddly enough, not a single person ever thought twice in the following days about how the twelve-minute power outage in Wellington was within an hour of the New Jersey/Manhattan Winter Brownout of 2017. Perhaps it was an embarrassing moment for humanity, showing such ignorance despite the lack of a clear explanation for either event.
November 2, 2014
“The West-side administrators have all agreed. We are going ahead with the new dig. Don’t worry, minister. When the stalactite city is complete, you will not be sorry. Imagine a new metropolis at the heart of our globalized utopia. It will serve as an emblematic gem representing our lack of limitation—how unbound we are by the inconsequential world above.”
“Have you used any imaging or scanning devices to test the integrity of the rock layers?”
“With all due respect, madam minister, I would have been happy to. I was told not cleared to carry out such pursuits, however, since the bipeds above might notice the use of such technologies… since we will be near the surface. Quite the unfortunate interference, wouldn’t you agree?”
September 4, 2010
I found myself in a room made entirely of glass.
“Let me remind all of you one last time, that the commitment you are about to make is one that you will take to your death.”
Some of the men fidgeted and squirmed where they stood. The sky was clear and blue, blemished only by the small bright sun. All of them squinted and shaded their eyes as they looked up at the man who stood before them on a raised marble podium. He spoke with a booming voice, and would have been overwhelmingly tall even without his pedestal. His head had been shaved bald, and his skin was evenly tanned a rich brown. Hanging from his neck and resting on his naked chest were a number of beautiful stones, kinds that the men below had never before seen.
“You are all here because you have heard the legends, and I am here to assure you that through these gates they will become your reality! Behind me lives Poseidon’s garden! Here, through the bearing of his gifts, you will live longer than you thought possible. Each of you will possess the strength of three men of the mainland. You will never spend a day without food or a roof over your head. But if you have loved ones on the outside, I urge you to please consider for more than a passing moment, for you shall never see them again. Consider how little sympathy we will give once you have given your life to this place and its secrets.”
The boat on which the men listened was rocking gently in the water of the narrow canal. In front of the boat was a massive set of wooden gates, Surrounded by towering walls of stone. On either side of the canal were the shrubby beaches that enclosed the island.
Even upon these sands that were just outside the walls, the secrets of the interior never reached the ears of a single living man. Many people worked outside the walls however, carrying out laborious tasks without knowledge of the society’s inner workings. These men and women were known as the Ignorants, and they were free to come and go as they pleased.
“We have many ships coming and going, even today before nightfall. If you wish to reconsider this life-changing decision, we welcome it.”
None of the men budged; most of them were there because they had no one to return home to, or a home at all.
“Anybody?” He looked around and waited with a air of deliberation. Then he spoke again.
“So be it. Welcome to Atlantis.”
Immediately upon these words, the gates began to creak open. The men on the ship expected to be dazzled by the bustling community inside. Instead, they found another, identical gate. A few in their crew helped move the ship forward by rowing, and they were also aided by a slight inward current. Soon a few Atlanteans were tiptoeing along the walls of this tight canal, catching ropes from crew members on the boat. When the boat had been entirely towed inside, the gates behind the fifty-odd men closed.
What happened next was the last thing the men expected. In particular, they moved in the last direction they expected to move.
Slowly at first, the water level began to fall. Down they went, until the high afternoon sun was blocked out by the walls of their enclosure. Only once the height of the walls had doubled did the gate in front of them begin to open. Even despite all of the water that had just drained out, the opening of the gates caused additional water to rush out beyond the gates. The current pulled the ship forward. It rocked treacherously for a moment, creating a collective “woah” from the men aboard.
Now they beheld their long-awaited, shining city.
There was so much to take in. The ship continued to move forward down a narrow waterway, as if it were designed to give them this magnificent tour. All around them the structures were built in peculiar shapes and sizes, and were made of white marble, heavy-looking, unfamiliar black stones, and glass. The glass seemed to be the most striking, in fact, as it came in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The way it all caught the sunlight made it seem as though each piece had been set perfectly for illuminating the city at that time of day. It was the most beautiful thing any of them had ever seen; it was more splendid than anything they could have ever dreamed of, even in an afterlife.
Up ahead the boat was about to go down a slight ramp and into a round, artificial-looking lake that comprised the center of the island. All along the walls of the artificial water body were other ships, built in styles representing cultures from across the Mediterranean, as well as some beyond any recognition.
Then in the middle of the water, right where they were headed, a single mass was rising. It looked like a crown made of bone covered by flesh. It was of a dark reddish brown. Three points emerged next to the crown; as it continued to rise, the points proved to be the top of a glass trident.
“It is Poseidon himself!” one man yelled.
Just as the others gasped in realized agreement, more of these crown shapes surfaced around it.
“No—sea beasts! Look, another there! And there!” All of the masses rose in unison. They revealed their soft, tapered bodies, which were studded with soul-piercing eyes.
When the confused and frightened sailors first made eye contact with the cepherans they reached for weapons. However, at precisely that same instant, the same bare-chested man coasted up to the middle of this greeting in a small rowboat. The man was not rowing; the vessel glided as though set in motion only by an initial push. He stood up on the small bow. In his tan, weathered left hand he grasped a stone trident, its butt resting on the boat, the three menacing tines pointed into the air next to his face.
“Do not fear them,” he boomed. “Do not fear your new leaders—your new masters. These beings are of Poseidon’s hand, and as a race they are far older than we people are. It is they who provide us with the nourishment that makes us strong and vital. It was their ingenuity and wisdom that gave us the great monuments of achievement that you witness all around you now. Do not let your fears weaken you. Do not let your blindness shade you from paradise.”
Only one man aboard the ship decided he could not handle this. After a few brief moments of hesitation and deliberation, he jumped into the water with a hysterical yell and began to splash away back towards the now-distant gates. He fought clumsily against the current as he attempted to swim back upstream.
A cepheran calmly emerged right in front of the swimming man and gently embraced him in two or three tentacles.
“No! I’m getting out of here. You can’t make me—”
The cepherans in front of the ship turned to face the bare-chested man as if asking a question. As they did so their entire bodies changed from their brownish-red color to a vibrant mosaic of green and white blots. The tall man gave a single, solemn nod. Immediately upon this signal, the cepheran holding the man in the water twisted his tentacles, ripping her struggling captive into bloody pieces.
“As you are already well aware, you are here to stay. I—we all—hope that you will make the most of your life here.”
October 4, 1991
“Guys, wake up.”
“Jose what the f—oh… oh my god.”
“What the hell is this?”
“I don’t know man—it’s like a big fish bowl or something. I can’t see nothin’ out there.”
“Agh, my head. So wait… we landed the plane? I’m trying to backtrack here…”
“Um, yeah, well there was that island right? So we were going in and…”
“I got it! Wait… so wheels touched down… but then… didn’t the water like—”
“Shit, yeah! The water came up over the island, like the whole thing was—”
The three men were wet, bruised, and bloody. One had a bad scratch over his left eyebrow. The end of the glass chamber to which they were closest was lit by glowing blue slime that seemed to swirl within tubular crevices in the glass. The other end was dark.
And then the venation of the glass seemed to modify itself and branch, allowing the glowing slime to expand and diffuse to the far and of the room. Three of the most horrifying creatures the men had ever seen were looking back at them. They were like giant octopuses or squids, in that they had many tentacles and two black eyes. Each squatted on curled tentacles. One of their heads reached about seven feet high, while the other two were just over four feet. Out of the tops of their “heads”, skeletal features seemed to push on the skin of the creatures, creating a shape like a royal crown, where a squid would have had a cone.
The monsters were covered in what appeared to be artificial armor of glass, stone, and metal. These were ornamented with colorful gemstones and with pods of bioluminescence. Underneath these hard, segmented layers, their true, organic bodies seemed to be soft and moist.
The creatures slowly approached. The men could hear faint clicking noises occasionally emanating from somewhere within the organisms’ interiors.
“Yeah. Jose. What can I do for ya?”
“Ay dios mio.” Jose muttered under his breath. Then, to the creatures, loud and slowly, “He-llo. My name is Jose. Me llamo Jose. We come in peace. Venimos—”
“It looks to me like they want us as lunch, not Spanish teachers, Jose!”
One of the creatures moved out in front, now only about six feet from the men. While the tentacles seemed to be out of range of any of the three men, the creature suddenly whipped one around from behind its body and slapped it across Jose’s torso.
Jose landed hard on the smooth glass floor with a squeaky slide. He couldn’t breathe, and a few of his ribs were certainly broken. He remained there in the fetal position.
“Hey! That’s our Mexican!”
The cephalopods just stared, their mantles pulsing like giant hearts. The two men looked at each other for the last time.
“Fuck it. For Jose?”
“You betchya. Let’s dance.”
September 4, 2010
I could not discern where I was, where I had been before—if I was dead or alive.
The three huge females clenched their siphons and propelled themselves up through the glass tubing. Points of bioluminescence whizzed past as they made their way towards the surface. They lazily noticed the various sediment layers, marking the slow progress of geological time.
Finally the cepherans could see one another again, for their translucent tubes led up into a common dark room. Six other tubes of water remained empty around the inner walls of the vaulted rotunda. Between each tube were the tapered legs of arches that intersected at the ceiling’s apex. These were marked ornamentally with points of bioluminescence, creating symbols in human and cepheran languages. In the middle of the round room were six humans in robes of light linen. Suspended over them hung a heavy chandelier, filled with bioluminescent slime, swirling and blending dim blue and green lights. When they noticed the cepherans’ arrival, all of the humans stood, faced the occupied tubes, and gave quick bows of respect.
The cepherans glowed a deep magenta in reply. The beautiful colors filled the chamber then faded. Then each cepheran withdrew a broad clear membrane of clear material. Almost two million years of selectively breeding deep sea comb jellies had yielded this invention as one of the many benefits.
The cepheran in the middle finished sticking her membrane to the glass tube first. Then she pulled up a tentacle with a glass stylus attached to the tip and began to gingerly stroke the membranous organism. Wherever she touched, it glowed. She swiftly and comfortably wrote in human symbols. The glow of the first symbol did not fade until the fourth was being written. All of the humans had crowned around her tube to transcribe as she wrote.
“We learn you are warring far away.”
The humans entered a huddle to consider a response. All of them knew there might come a day when the cepherans would wise up to their questionable use of power at the borders of their territories. When they had chosen a response, one man wrote it with chalk on a large slate. He held it up over his head, while feigning a face of sincerity.
“We want to protect Atlantis.”
The cepherans always hovered slightly above the humans, forcing the humans to strain to communicate. This behavior was not necessarily meant to subordinate the humans, however; such powerful cepheran females had probably been accustomed to hovering above inferiors throughout their entire lives. Another glowing message formed:
“You were not defending. Attacking. We did not agree this.”
It took the humans a short while to get their apology in chalk how they wanted. In the meantime, they spoke to each other vocally, so that the cepherans would not understand. Finally they held up the slate.
“You are right. We are sorry. We will not try to spread any further without permission.”
“This not good enough. Recall all of your vessels to this island. All crews. All warriors.”
The humans seemed to be uncomfortable with this, and were talking to one another frantically. The cepherans were mildly frustrated and bored; they watched the land creatures that were so eager to communicate faster and yet only spoke one at a time. Finally their talking slowed, and they wrote their response.
“As you wish. Give us ten days.”
“Do not lie to us. You cannot make city-state great if it founded on lies.”
“Yes. Move on to other community topics?”
And so the meeting continued in this way, and the humans and cepherans that governed Atlantis discussed problems, solutions, plans, and achievements. The humans felt uneasy, as they did not plan to abandon all of their holdings east of the strait in the next ten days. If they knew the truth, this would not have been the greatest of their concerns.
The cepherans felt nothing, only a rational series of events to be awaited; they had nothing to worry about. To them this city was an embarrassment to cepheran culture. It was a bastardization of their art and architecture. It was haphazard. It was inefficient and decadent in all of the wrong ways. Most atrocious to them was the hypocrisy of man. It was true that the Atlanteans exalted the cepherans as gracious providers and liaisons to the supernatural. However, between meals of super-nutritious cyanobacteria cultures, the humans of Atlantis squander the most important cepheran gift: the wisdom to create harmony on earth.
The old and great cepheran species had a history of planning generations in advance on every issue, predicting every possible outcome, and every possible downstream effect thereafter. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the old females knew exactly what they intended to do ten days later to these corrupt and barbaric beings.
September 3, 2017
I have been here for seven years; I spent the first six months waiting to wake up. It’s not just me down here either—there are thousands of us.
They had kept me in solitary confinement for about three weeks. They were very gentle with me. I think they somehow detected my immense fascination in them and therefore didn’t resort to aggression at all. Considering my condition, I hung in there pretty well. After all, I was alone with all the time in the world to study a missing taxon of cephalopod divergent evolution!
I think my daily visit with one of them must have been the same individual every day. These days I can tell, but back then I hadn’t yet honed by ability to distinguish. Of course I knew he was there to study me (I would later learn how to sex the species just by appearance too), but I liked to think of it as the two of us mutualistically benefiting both of our careers.
They cannot speak, but some of them can write in English (You wouldn’t believe what they use instead of paper down here if I told you!). They spent a lot of time practicing communication with me, and asking me questions about myself and the world above.
When they asked me what my job was on the surface, I told them I study squids and octopuses. I had assumed that was the simple way of delivering the information. The cephalopod sitting with me had replied,
While their grammar tends to be spotty, their retention of vocabulary is spectacular! Their memory in general, in fact, is probably the skill in which they most drastically out-compete humans as far as I can tell.
Their brains appear to be enlarged relative to their taxonomic cousins, just like humans. To protect their otherwise soft and exposed brains, their semi-vestigial shells seem to have migrated forward to the front of their mantles and re-evolved function. Where they jut out from under their skin like a king’s crown.
Most of the people down here make due with the lives they have and are relatively content. We are kept very healthy. Our food consists of extremely nutritious cultures of marine microorganisms like cyanobacteria and algaes that they consume as well. To keep us happy they occasionally feed us real seafood, like clams and fish that they farm. I cannot let my predicament ruin my objective reporting of facts, which is why I must tell you the truth: everything is absolutely delicious!
They encourage us to breed, but they try to respect our natural habits of attraction, marriage, monogamy, and so on. In fact, I have learned that if you wish to marry and reproduce, they will provide you with more private quarters in which you can live and raise children. I personally have not landed a good catch yet, but there are some “potentials”. Being fresh meat from the surface gives me a lot of appeal down here.
Every day we are entered in different studies, as though they are systematically dissecting every ounce of what it means to be human. One day I will have to do problem-solving games with lights, blocks and colors, while the next I may be put through a exercise stress test. When I do a good job, they toss me delicious pieces of broiled shrimp with some kind of seasoning that is out of this world.
My favorite is when they play what I like to call “Show Me How It Works!” which is when they hand you a piece of human technology that they have found, and you have to demonstrate it. I have been handed cellular phones from the '90s, and I have been handed rotary phones from the '50s. I’ve even ridden a bicycle in a circle around the algae aquaculture complex with them hovering behind the glass and watching me. It’s like if show-and-tell were a person’s day job.
The more educated humans down here often refer to the creatures as “Cephs”, while there are some who use all kinds of slang terms: “Squiddies”, “Squidders”, “Suckers”, “Sea Nazis”, “Water Martians”, “Ass Crackens”, “Ink-Shitters” and so on.
I don’t know why I’m not more upset. I guess it would be too exhausting to spend every day in rebellion—not to mention, the Cephs would probably kill me. I’ve seen a couple people be taken away, but usually by the time they were removed from the compound all the humans were so irritated and disturbed by their outbursts that we didn’t mind the intervention as much as we maybe should have.
The Cephs don’t try to deceive us. When anyone asks them if we will ever see the surface again, they reply something like,
“Probably not. If we succeed in our goals, your children or their children may go to surface some day.”
June 13, 1549
No man may claim jurisdiction over the infinite seas.
September 19, 2018
All around the world people saw the same thing. Of course some people, such as the crew of a Japanese whaling ship hundreds of miles south of port, those aboard a U.S. naval ship in the middle of the Atlantic, the people of Cape Town, South Africa, some coastal villagers at the southernmost regions of Chile, and a few lucky Polynesians, all got front row seats.
It was broad daylight—precisely noon, in fact. Surely if you have been paying attention thus far you know it had been intended that way; nothing on September 19th, 2018 was accidental.
The rockets were like nothing anybody had ever seen. The brilliant projectiles had very little if any metal to speak of. Their shells were mostly of a stunning reflective substance, which caught the sunlight and refracted it into dazzling rainbows across the world.
At any site where a rocket was sighted, dozens more followed. Meanwhile, other rocket clusters, such as those surrounding Antarctica, were not even spotted by a single human eye as they made their ascent.
While the unique materials of the vessels prevented easy detection by human military technology, a few were successfully shot down by the world’s militaries. Most of the rockets were intercepted only by the endless stare of humankind.
“Please, I have journeyed for little less than a year.”
“You don’t seem like the usual sea wanderer. Where did you hail from? Originally?”
“I was a native to the once-great island-state of Atlantis.”
Some of of the men standing in back giggled when they heard this, but others elbowed them to be quiet.
“Atlantis, you say? I thought nobody ever left that place. Were you born among the Ignorants? Outside the walls?”
“No. Inside. To my knowledge I am the only person to ever make it out.”
The captain looked over the tired man. Then he glanced back at his crew. When he turned around again, he sighed.
“You may work with us for the time being. But first, tell me what went on in there. What was the big secret so great that no one could ever leave? Your only payment to get on my ship will be the divulgence of this information.”
“You will not believe me.”
“Of course I will. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And with that whole island sunken into the sea, this once-forbidden disclosure provides no more risk. I cannot foresee your motive to lie anymore.”
“You are entirely correct in your assumptions. But I must warn you that I doubt your willingness to accept what I tell you. Are you sure you want to know?”
“Not a single grain of uncertainty. But whisper it in my ear—I alone want to learn this great thing before we divulge to the others.”
The starving Atlantean leaned into the captain’s ear and whispered. The rest of the crew tried to lean forward at first, before realizing their efforts to eavesdrop were futile. All of them had to stand there in the quiet seaside morning and just wait.
Finally the Atlantean was finished and he backed away from the captain. For a moment the captain’s face was blank, his eyes searching through nothing. Then his bubble of laughter burst from his mouth, and was quickly joined by that of the crew. The Atlantean felt defeated by the unbelievable truths that were his life.
Suddenly the captain was serious. He wound back his hand, and then swung it across the Atlantean’s face. With the poor wanderer on the ground, the captain spit on the crouching figure. As his garments rode up his back, the crew noticed how prominent the ribs were on this emaciated figure.
“I was wrong about you. You dress a little cleaner than some of the twisted migrants and you have some strange necklaces and because of that you call yourself an Atlantean. Atlanteans were fierce invaders! Not sniveling, delusional liars like you!”
“Wait—don’t—I told you that you wouldn’t—”
“How dare you claim heritage in Poseidon’s chosen people, the greatest masters of the sea that the world has ever known!”
The captain turned to his crew to continue his rant as the whole mob of them turned to leave the dock. “Perhaps his breath smells like low tide because he is still trying to eat the seaweed for super strength, as in the most extravagant of Atlantean myths!”
The final swell of laughter flowed up to the homeless man’s ears like a broken wave fizzling up an inclined shoreline.
That night was like any other night for the Atlantean: doing odd jobs for the boat owners, nursing his wounds, and looking out at the big west ocean, reassuring himself that his birthplace was once there.
September 20, 2018
“…geologists meanwhile claiming they weren’t rockets at all… that they were some kind of natural global event. And I quote, ‘an emission of igneous and metamorphic particles from deep and sensitive strata at the mantle/crust interfaces’…”
“…missiles left over from the cold war, but no one has owned up to such a claim…”
“…not unlike War of the Worlds, in which the aliens had buried their ships here ahead of time...”
“…these weren’t natural events! Please! You can tell here in these clips that the trajectory is very intentionally modified, and that the vessel continuously accelerates itself—basically all of this points to something similar to, but not identical to, human rocket propulsion.”
“…those that were not shot down did make it safely into space. NASA claims they have about fifty percent of these objects accounted for, some in our orbit, and others still moving farther away.”
“…no immediate threat, or reason for panic…”
“‘…Tom, is there any plan to actually go down to any of these sites and see what is going on?’ ‘Linda, yes that is the goal, but most of these sources are not in the easiest places to just go down and take a peek. We’re talking about extremely cold waters, extreme depths, darkness, extremely high pressures. I think we will definitely see a project start planning quickly, but it will definitely take time before anybody is getting in the water at these sites. Linda?’…”
“…more and more cataclysmic events! Look at Panama! Katrina, Julia, all the other hurricanes that have decimated cities as of late. Something is going on that’s bigger than us here and nobody wants to connect the dots!”
February 2, 2017
“Yes, that is exactly what I’m going to do. I will send a message to them through their global electronic communication system.”
“I will send them a message through their most modern form of global communication. The precise symbology of the message has been in revision for the last two hundred and twenty-six days.”
“Excellent work, Glassmith. You have my full support and confidence.”
“Have we planned our emergency precautions?”
“Your strategy sounds disappointingly passive and weak.”
“We will have everything finalized soon. The same self-sustaining automaton suits that will be used the post-Launch Day explorations… I have taken the extras and armored them and weaponized them. You see they do not need to be as light if they are merely crawling on the ground.”
“It is peaceful. Keep in mind also that the Glow lineage and mine have been teaming up on peaceful human diplomacy strategy since they immigrated into the Ridgeland Metropolis system. Launch Day and its aftermath will be the culmination of that work, and the beginning of a total transformation in our duties.”
“Thank you, Minister Glow. And, you may tell Ms. Mantlebach that we will be addressing water contamination policy right in this first message as well.”
“And if I’m right it will be a major transformation in mine.”
“I see your dispute over there. Do not let him agitate you. You and your lineage will achieve amazing prestige after our success in this venture. You will surely be permitted to birth a female to enter high ranks.”
“Excellent work. In case of such a turnout, Ridgeland and our entire civilization will be in the hands of your expertise, Bigsucker.”
“Of course, madam minister. You can be assured I will take the matter under my wing with grave seriousness; as you may have assumed or even intercepted, I am skeptical of Glassmith’s diplomacy methodology.”
April 21, 2010
“Can you lend a few tentacles over here?”
“Swimming over now.” The cepheran glided seamlessly over to his colleague. Once he arrived, “Things seem to be going smoothly. A successful fuel extraction seems highly probable. How can I help over here?”
“Help team 3B cut into the pipe.”
“They can’t get through? All of the other groups did.”
“Maybe just some interior reinforcement, or even some kind of mineral buildup. The good news is we can teach them the new technique we developed.”
“Of course. Right away.” Crack.
The young male cepheran glided over to the workers.
Crack crack crack! “How is your progress over here?”
The one in the geometric center of the group replied without waiting for any others.
“Not as quick as we had hoped. They have used very durable materials.”
“I thought they might have. Or, so the boss thinks, it could be some kind of mineral build up—a flaw in their technology. I’m supposed to get you guys to try the laser cutter. Can I show you how to work it?”
All of the workers gave a swift affirmative response with their royal blue mantles. Then a few of the workers swam away and brought back the laser cutting apparatus from a cluster of equipment sitting on the seafloor. They attached floats to it that made it almost neutrally buoyant.
“Right, so fasten this on to here. The way you’re doing it is correct. Now angle this spotting beam at three sixty-fourths. Great. Set up the others that way and let the machine start heating up. I’ll be back in a short while.”
Seven workers each perfectly emulated the same setup at different points around the pipe’s circumference. They did everything with complete accuracy, exactly as instructed. However, they assumed that this human oil pipe was entirely homogeneous, or at least that the odds of them destroying a very unique and important failsafe was highly improbable.
September 21, 2018
“As far as I can tell, no other recipient is following up much either.”
“Well regardless, do you think the author is responsible? Or involved in any way?”
“Ah, I don’t know…”
“You think it’s some kind of eco-terrorist stunt? Like the whole point is that bottom part? Kind of a funny way to get the word out…”
“For what it’s worth, I’ve heard weirder. And God, the fact that they… emailed everybody! Nine national governments and the U.N.? It keeps going—look at this list you guys!”
“Did we even check if this email had a virus?”
“Let me see this. Ok… a few marine biology labs… and FEMA? A few addresses in the Pentagon… hah they got PETA! Haha! It’s like they were just clicking random websites!”
“Three different languages too!”
“Okay, that makes it a little more impressive. And maybe a clue… I don’t think English was the first language… It looks like a third grader wrote it.”
“Or an alien race wrote it! Or rather, they intentionally made it look that way?”
“Hmm… I thought I had seen it all…”
“And the budget they would need—no eco group I’ve ever heard of has this much backing. I mean, we’re talking about a private entity launching not one, but dozens of rockets out of the earth's atmosphere, and launching from the deepest points in the ocean?! No, whoever wrote this garbage e-mail is not the actual source.”
“And they certainly aren’t who they say they are…” one official said with narrow eyes.
“You sure about that?”
The bubble of sarcasm popped. Everybody laughed.
“What if we look for the, um, gift they left us?”
“The one left precisely in the Pacific Ocean? No—I do not think we will waste anybody’s time with that goose-chase right now.
“Okay so I move to push this email aside in pursuit of more useful and—God willing—relevant data until we have any reason to consider this stuff useful. How do we feel about that?”
“Yes, that sounds good.”
The hunters had already cornered a mother and her calf. For a long time they had been thoroughly efficient, too efficient from an ecological standpoint. In some regions, a few subspecies had already been driven to extinction by over-hunting. They had yet to set limits on the hunting of these beautiful creatures; they had yet to notice their world shrinking.
The rest of the pod was already out of sight, yet their moaning calls were still within range. Usually, when the hunters traveled this far up, the sun would bathe them and their prey with blades of light. Today, however, it was rain that fell from above, and clouds had darkened the sky. No matter; the hunters were naturally versatile, and prepared for anything.
Once the mother had been cornered along side her young, she suddenly switched from fear to anger. Her tiring acts of aggression were futile. The cepheran vessels of glass gained on her from all sides. She was confused as the opaque particles of the water became each painted by blinding green, blue, and white lights.
Then the massive lance was through her abdomen. The force was so great that it pushed her out of the water. The cepheran vessel pilots realized how close they had been to shore. One of them poked their head above the surface, to get a rare glimpse of what only a small fraction of cepherans ever saw: land.
This one curious cepheran then noticed the group of figures standing and staring back on the beach. He quickly began cracking an alarm call with his submerged beak. Many of the other cepherans surfaced and watched.
After observing briefly, they saw how the land species had just killed their own prey. They had used tools. They were communicating. The accounts from distant settlements had been true ones.
That’s when everyone first felt their world shrinking.
September 20, 2018
To whom this concerns:
How are you today?
My name is Roger. My family name is Glassmaker.
I am of a species of intelligent cephalopods that lives at the bottom of the ocean all around the world. We are a much older species than humans. Our civilization watched the human evolve into intelligent creatures. We are also more intelligent than all of you. This is okay, however. We do not think this should block you and us from being friends.
We will admit that we have taken some members of your species for observation. If you noticed that you are missing people it may be because we took them. Sorry. Many of them are alive. Or some died but their children are alive. We need them so we can learn about you and learn how to communicate with you. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
We have also stolen various objects from you. They have been very helpful to our way of life. We want to return many of these things soon. For example, we have already put back many things inside the RMS Titanic that we took. Our human specimens say you will want them. Also, we left the plane flown by humans Noonan and Earhart in shallow waters off the shore of a small island in what you call the Pacific Ocean. Thank you for letting us borrow.
Launch Day yesterday was done by us. It was our rockets that went up into the sky. Some of our species are now heading into space, into orbit around the moon the earth and sun and mars and onto the Mars and Moon surfaces too. Sorry for the disturbance yesterday. We wish that you not take offense at our passing through your territory.
In addition to telling you of our existence, we want to also ask that you not pollute the water as much in the future. Many activities like making food and researching need good water. For example, the materials you call plastic fall onto our cities many times. Please put the plastic somewhere else, or use something else instead of the plastic.
Some day we would like to meet you “in person”. At this point, we just want to establish a peaceful relationship. Right now what we ask you is to not attack us after receiving this electronic message. This will tell us you do not want to fight. We do not want to fight. This will be good.
Thank you for reading this letter. Please share this with every human on the planet.
I hope you have a lovely day.
R. Glassmaker, S. Bioluminescent,
the Cepheran Race