by Elous Telma
On a secluded Greek island in the 1950s, an enormous abandoned mine is filled with sea water for a major international experiment in marine biology. It is intended to study natural selection and, perhaps, evolution in a new aquatic ecosystem. However, the experiment and the island are eventually abandoned.
Decades later, a sailor’s photograph of the corpse of a large shark prompts a team of biologists to visit the island. The team discovers unique environments, including an underwater brine lake. The life forms act in ways that affect the fauna on the island as well as themselves.
The new ecosystem is dangerous. How to cope with it? The biologists will need some form of interspecies communication with the sea life and even with a cat that has been stranded on the island. It’s simple in theory...
Chapter 8: Toes in the Water
Cannavaro and Meni geared up quickly in order to reach Dioptra in a couple of days. It was easy for them; they weren’t far away. They packed their stuff, including the Watermelon, got some food from the harbor and off they went. On the way, they encountered a pod of dolphins but didn’t stop to take pictures.
Within a couple of hours, they had reached the island’s port. They had left the realm of calculated research and were now part of a highly non-academic endeavor based on preliminary data that were essentially a grainy picture and an e-mail by a rich German eco-tourist. Meni wondered why they had taken to the task based on this very flimsy evidence. She assumed it was not the picture, nor that they were close to this abandoned island. She reasoned it was because these other teams had bought the story; therefore, there had to be some truth in this.
“Boss,” she addressed Cannavaro, “exactly why are we getting into this? Is it because Taro, Hanson, and Fawkes are involved?”
“These things do play a role, Meni,” he replied. “But these guys can corroborate only our own gut feeling at this stage. How do you feel about it?”
“My instinct tells us to go ahead,” she said. “We are close enough, anyway; nothing to lose for us.”
“That’s exactly right,” he said.
“But why are we really going? What is your reason?”
“The picture,” he laconically replied.
“It’s good enough for me too,” she agreed.
“Meni, bring the Watermelon. I should show you how it works. We can handle it together.”
On their way to Dioptra, Cannavaro and Meni didn’t think too much about the potential of the expedition. Instead, Cannavaro gave Meni a crash-course on the Watermelon — how it worked, how to troubleshoot it, all while piloting the boat.
Sometime later, they were at the harbor of Dioptra, securing the boat next to Taro’s much larger vessel. This wasn’t the first time Cannavaro had visited Dioptra. Years ago, while a marine biology student, he had visited the island with friends, as a coming-of-age departmental ritual. There had been nothing obvious going on at the island. It was just an abandoned place, loaded with history and seemingly devoid of life. After a few hours and a few beers, they had abandoned it.
Cannavaro and Meni wasted no time walking the short distance from the dock to the Aquarium waters where Taro’s team was setting up their headquarters.
Taro had brought a few people with him. The most noticeable was his skipper, J-Cap, a rugged middle-aged Japanese sea expert who was able to captain the vessel, scuba dive, take care of security, cook, all while exuding a feeling of total control.
He was a present-day samurai with a largely unknown past that fed to a number of myths that Japanese marine biology students liked to circulate. He didn’t use his real name, whatever that was. He was simply known as J-Cap, from “Japanese Captain,” after some marine biology students started using that nickname for him.
Mari was a PhD student of Taro’s who was happy to put her research on the back burner for a few days to be involved in the investigation of this unusual fish photograph subject. She had sent the picture to Aris.
Eiko was a technician whose experience was needed to set up and operate the delicate equipment they had brought from Japan. Hanson and Fawkes hadn’t yet arrived, but they were due to reach the island later the same day.
Greetings and salutations between the two teams were warm but expedient, as all wanted to peek under the waters soon. Eiko had prepared a hand-held contraption, essentially a long pole with a camera at the end of it. Its cables were attached to the headquarters, a little kiosk that Taro’s team was still preparing a few meters away from the shore. It contained all sorts of monitors and instruments. She prepared to lower the camera into the waters as Cannavaro wondered if they should wait for Hanson and Fawkes.
“This is just a quick peek in shallow waters, Alberto-san,” Taro reassured. “They will be OK with this, they will be here later today. We won’t deploy the Watermelon if they are not here.”
This was a really nice morning. Summer on Greek islands can be relentlessly hot for 24 hours a day. But, on that June day, the temperature was pleasant and dry, with a light breeze, and crisp air. It did cause a somewhat rugged texture on the water, though, rendering it opaque.
Eiko began lowering the pole as Taro and Mari watched the monitors. Cannavaro and Meni were a few feet behind Eiko watching her and the water in anticipation. J-Cap had stayed at the boat and was watching the team from there.
As soon as Eiko dipped the camera into the water, a frenzied commotion developed in the water. Fish jumped out of the water, apparently aimlessly, some hitting the surface and some the camera and its pole. A large one must have yanked the camera pole downwards, giving Eiko a scare that made her jump backwards and fall onto her butt. She was still holding the pole and quickly pulled it out of the water. Eiko was very glad to see that the pole and camera had not been damaged.
Everyone was a little startled, and Meni and Mari ran to her. J-Cap had grabbed his gun when he saw the excitement, but he quickly realized it was not something to worry about. The incident was intriguing to him too.
“It’s OK,” she said reassuringly. “Nothing, really. There is plenty of life, here. Obviously. It will be best to keep a distance from the waters.”
Eiko turned to Taro. “Another attempt?”
Taro agreed. “Let’s do another one with the hand-held. Let’s take a few images while we prepare the Watermelon.”
The first pictures showed plenty of life in the waters. Small and medium-sized fish were agitated by the camera and its flashlight. There were more fish than one would expect in the waters right outside the island.
Nothing seemed too strange, but the species were not immediately identifiable. They might have been offspring of typical fish that, due to their isolation for generations, had a somewhat altered appearance. Even that would be of interest; studying such phenomena was the reason the hole had been made in the first place.
Evidently, the explosion hole had not completely broken down the isolation of the inner environment. This could be expected, as organisms living in the deeper parts of the Aquarium were likely to be isolated, since they would have to travel to shallow waters in order to have access to the hole.
However, most life forms cannot withstand pressure changes of the magnitudes that would be required; they would be confined to the Aquarium waters, especially at depth. Larger fish would probably be unable to exit through the hole, which appeared to be relatively small and packed with rubble. Its widest opening was above the water’s surface.
The fish dispersed and the team focused on preparing the Watermelon for a deep dive.
J-Cap came down from the deck to see the pictures. His role had become a combination of captain and problem-solver, security and safety officer and cook, but he was deeply invested in marine biology. In fact, he was something of a legend as he was the first man known to swim with a goblin shark.
Goblins are remarkably strange-looking sharks that can be found living in the deep waters off Japan. When they bite, their lower jaw protrudes forward, completely changing their appearance. J-Cap was able to dive deep with special gas mixtures, and he had used his skills to film sharks before he decided to join Taro’s team.
J-Cap’s appearance exuded a conglomerate of clichés. He was reserved, focused, and avoided unnecessary chitchat. But he was deeply interested in what Taro’s team did, and he regularly read marine biology literature. He was an excellent and refined cook; anyone on that island who knew him was looking forward to being invited over to Taro’s boat for dinner. Taro and J-Cap regularly obliged.
The teams went back to work in preparation for the afternoon dip. Cannavaro and Meni worked with Taro, Mari, and Eiko on the Watermelon. Everyone had to become proficient in its engineering even though Hanson and Fawkes were on their way to Dioptra, and their presence was a prerequisite for the dive. J-Cap went to the boat to prepare dinner for all. On the way to the island, he had caught fish and he was working out that night’s menu.
Although Meni had just met Mari, she felt comfortable enough to ask her about some of the J-Cap stories she had heard. The marine biology community is not very large, and stories do go around. During their short breaks from work, Mari let Meni in on what she had heard.
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma