by Elous Telma
Chapter 7: Frank’s Long Jump
Time moved into irrelevance mode. Frank felt his heart stop as he started falling into the water, legs first. He was sure he saw large shadows under the surface. He could see splashes under him, and he knew they were not caused by the wind.
His feet broke the surface and touched something heavy. He tried to swim as fast as he could towards the shore. Small and medium sized fish appeared and joined the commotion. Frank was in a panic, and so were many other creatures in the water.
He did not know what could be living in these waters but he was seeing evidence that potentially very large fish thrived in them. Frank swam until he managed to climb onto land, shaking. It took him a few seconds to be sure he was, indeed, in one piece.
He picked up his jacket with the cell phone and ran a few meters away from the water. He turned towards the water, heart pounding, Then he started calming down. He saw again large shadows and wondered if these were creatures like the mummified shark. What was it, anyway? He headed towards the boat, shaking but in one piece.
Back in the boat, Frank noticed blood dripping from his right leg. He must have scraped his leg while climbing out of the water. He dried himself and felt ready to leave the island. But the weather made it an unappealing prospect. He made himself a cup of coffee and focused on lowering his adrenaline levels despite the coffee.
His heart rate was high, and he still couldn’t think straight. He just stared at the Aquarium waters, hoping to catch a glimpse of something moving. Instead, he saw bioluminescence from plankton close to the surface. As each raindrop hit the water, it disturbed tiny creatures, which emitted pulses of blue-green light. He had seen bioluminescence before, at sea, but this was the most spectacular, by far.
Frank picked up an issue of Thalassa, a marine biology magazine, and started skimming the pages. That and warm coffee seemed to calm him down. An article on Professor Taro Tama caught his attention. Tama seemed to be a scientist who might be interested in the Aquarium. Frank decided to send him a brief email and the picture he had taken. As he was sending his email to Tama, a large shark fin broke the surface of the water, leaving a bioluminescent trail behind it.
Meanwhile, Nannion had carefully walked towards the boat, curious about what had happened to Frank. She was sitting right under the window of Frank’s cabin when she was distracted by the sight of the shark’s fin cutting through the water surface. She approached the waters and stood by the edge of the shore looking at the bioluminescence. She had no fear but she was unsure what she should do next: expose her presence to the human, or continue her life as before?
With his leg now bandaged, Frank returned to the Aquarium, unaware that Nannion was following him just a few meters away. The buildings were on his right and the Aquarium waters ahead. He also saw the fin slice the surface, and he wondered what the connection between this shark, the dead one, and the explosion hole could have been.
He saw the remnants of the underwater observation deck and its entrance from the surface. He walked over and realized the structure was still mostly intact. He wanted to climb in but was worried that the whole thing would come off, take on water, and sink with him. He thought he would be able to get out in time. He got in and the structure seemed solid enough. The walls facing the water and the bottom were made of glass. This was perfect for observations, but it was too dark to see anything.
He sat down and watched for any signs of fish. As his eyes adjusted to the darker environment, he thought he could discern particles floating in the water, lit by the moonlight, maybe even some bioluminescence. Then the shark passed by, gently, with minimal movement, just on the other side of the glass. As it moved, bioluminescent plankton gave it a bluish tinge that helped Frank get a glimpse of its form the moonlight.
The shark was large, five to seven meters long, somewhat reminiscent of the prehistoric-looking Greenland shark. He couldn’t count the number of gill slits, which would have helped him categorize it. The shark didn’t come back, although Frank waited, staring into the darkness. Nannion saw everything from the shore.
Frank got out of the observatory and back onto land. He rushed to his boat to get a torch light. Back in the observatory, he used the light to scan the waters for the shark, but to no avail. Some fish came by, but they were hardly impressive to look at. Maybe there weren’t that many fish in the hole, or maybe he just couldn’t attract them.
He shone the light downwards towards the sea floor. He could see the beginning of the winding road that used to take monster trucks all the way to the bottom of the mine to remove earth. He saw the road disappear into the darkness and wondered what it would be like to swim along the submersed road two kilometers down. He got back out of the observatory and, with torch light in hand, he decided to investigate the buildings.
As hardened a sailor though he was, these buildings made him feel quite uncomfortable. He was alone on a carved island, standing among abandoned buildings at night, with sharks swimming a few meters away. He decided to enter the buildings.
He went towards the amphitheater first. He thought that a quick peek from the outside would give him a good overview, avoiding the creepy proposition of having to enter the structure. But the doors were locked, still standing strong after decades of desolation. He looked through the windows, but all he could see was the hallway around the amphitheater. It didn’t look decrepit, suggesting that the doors and windows were still properly sealed.
The other buildings were in a similar state: safely locked, giving away little information. Not willing to break into property and jeopardize further the integrity of these structures, he returned to his boat. Nannion’s secret entrances were safe; he wouldn’t have fit through them, anyway.
Frank spent the night on the island, mostly in his boat, most of the time watching out of his windows or from the deck towards the Aquarium. A few times he got up and walked to the water, shining his light into it. He walked along the shore in search of the shark. All was quiet and uneventful that night, though.
In the one instance when he managed to sleep for a couple of hours straight, Nannion approached the boat and sat right next to it for a little while before she returned to her quarters, carefully and unnoticed. She normally slept on one of the many beds she had access to, but on this night she decided to sleep by the window pane on the second floor, overlooking the waters of the Aquarium. At the left corner she could almost see Frank’s boat. She brought her toy octopus to the window pane and fell asleep.
* * *
Cannavaro was listening to Taro’s account of Frank’s saga at the Aquarium with a mixture of excitement and cynicism. The idea of large sharks at the Aquarium, one dead and one living, was of enormous interest. However, all he had to go on was a blurry, darkened picture and an email sent by some guy called Frank.
Cannavaro: “So when exactly was Frank over by the Aquarium?”
Taro: “Four days ago. He may still be there, as far as I know. We are in the area — we are going there. We were already in the Mediterranean and we decided to extend our stay for a little while.”
Cannavaro: “So you are convinced about this guy’s story?”
Taro: “Mostly. Anyway, it’s time an expert checked out this hole. I spoke with Hanson and Fawkes, as well. They are on their way there, too.”
Cannavaro: “Hanson and Fawkes? Wow, you do sound convinced of this story. Are they bringing the Phorcys?”
Taro: “Well, they saw the email and made their minds up on their own. Yes, they are coming with the Phorcys. She has new manned equipment that will go all the way to the bottom. We all thought it would be a good idea that you also join us. Actually, Hanson and Fawkes asked me to notify you no sooner than today so that you don’t get there before the rest of us. Fair game, you know. Are you coming?”
Cannavaro: “Yes, I am coming. I will tell you later if I am coming alone or not.”
Taro: “OK, see you and your team there — it should take us a couple of days to get there. Bring the Watermelon with you.”
Cannavaro hang up and walked back to the table where his team had already finished eating. They were all staring at him without speaking. Aris and Despina were so intrigued by the story that without thinking they looked like they were about to pounce on Cannavaro and extract his information. When he saw them, he was a little startled. When they realized it, they snapped out of their trance.
“Sorry, boss,” said Despina.
“What did he say?” asked Reinhardt.
Cannavaro told them all he knew. “I am going there,” he said. It was actually quite close to where they had been that same day. “In a couple of days. I will wrap up a few things and go check it out. Does anyone want to come with me?”
All of them wanted to, of course. But Despina and Garyphallos needed to take care of the samples they had collected. A lot of work would go in trying to keep Loricifera alive and study its weird little anaerobic lifestyle.
Aris and Reinhardt had to go to Sweden as part of their University exchange program; they had already purchased tickets and had important obligations. And they needed to take part in a large effort to sequence the genome of Loricifera at Sweden’s state-of-the art sequencing facilities.
Meni had just started in Cannavaro’s lab and was more flexible. She didn’t even have a fully defined project yet, and she hoped this trip could be somehow incorporated into her studies.
“Well, it’s me and Meni, then. If this turns out to be nothing, we’ll be back a couple of days later. If there is something to this, we will keep you informed.”
There was a strong feeling among all team members that the trip to Dioptra had the potential to become the biggest of all current research stories.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma