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 11: Frank’s Sea Visions
At Dioptra, the team had finished prepping the rover and Watermelon for the next day and had enjoyed J-Cap’s terrific meal. In the evening, adrenaline levels had subsided. Not much could be done until the next day, and people were scattering around the area.
As usual, J-Cap was on the vessel, keeping a watchful eye. Fawkes and Hanson were having a technical conversation with Taro and his team, planning the next dive. Cannavaro’s attention was split between Taro’s team and watching the Aquarium waters, full of anticipation for more exploration.
It was a pleasant and relaxing evening, disturbed only by Frank’s arrival to Dioptra. That was an exciting moment. Frank, the guy who started it all, was here. He introduced himself politely and stayed for a short briefing, but he couldn’t hide his frail emotional state. He said he was just really tired from the trip and would tell them tomorrow everything he had experienced that night on Dioptra. He excused himself and went back to his boat to sleep the journey off. He lay on his bed, wary of a sense of sadness creeping back in.
Outside, Meni was trying to convince Mari to go explore the center of the hole.
“That’s a kilometer away!” exclaimed Mari. Indeed, they would have to walk on the transparent walkway for about a kilometer before they reached the center. At that point, the bubble used to lower visitors about two hundred meters down into the waters.
Meni and Mari were also concerned about the state of the walkway. Its safety had not been assessed, although it appeared to be in a decent enough condition. Typically for a troublemaker, Meni wanted an accomplice. “Are you afraid the colossal squid will grab you?” asked Meni, teasingly.
“I am afraid Taro will,” Mari replied. Clearly, unnecessary risks would not be welcomed by their team leaders, and getting caught could result in them being sent back to their universities.
Meni, through pure Hellenic persistence, managed to convince Mari to go anyway. She appealed to Mari’s urges as a researcher. She also noted that the distance from their path to where everyone else was, under the low evening light, would be great enough that no one would see them, even if they were directly in their field of view.
Under cover of dusk and distance, they started cautiously walking the same path that so many visitors had taken a few decades ago, mostly to take the bubble into the waters of the Aquarium. Indeed, the dusk and humidity reduced them to slim silhouettes after just a few tens of meters.
Frank, in the meantime, was having a more difficult time. He had managed to put himself in a state somewhere between waking and sleeping. It was a compromise that he hoped would count as some sort of rest. Mostly, he hoped he could control his mood. As he sank a tiny bit further towards sleep, an awful sensation came back. It felt like a kind of deep depression coming out of nowhere. He held his head in his hands as he focused on controlling his emotions and pleading for mercy, to whom he did not know. After two nights in a form of trance, Frank was again in desperation.
Meni and Mari had made progress in their quest to reach the middle of the Aquarium. They were carrying flashlights but had switched them off to avoid detection by the other team members. They started feeling more comfortable in their mischief. The walkway seemed to be still in really good shape, and they realized the vast distance of this place; they couldn’t see the team on the shore although they were looking straight at their colleagues.
Frank’s face, in the meantime, was pale, sweaty, and distorted — he felt as if he had a bad flu and a stomach virus at the same time, during a bad dream. But he slipped more deeply into his sleep and began dreaming. His dream was informed by things he had read about the Aquarium, his own thoughts on this place, and his attempt to make sense of what he had seen on that crazy night with the shark and his plunge into the waters.
Frank dreamt of the day, years and years ago, when the last crew to leave Dioptra blew a large opening on the side of the Aquarium to give life in the hole a chance to survive. Or escape. How much was Frank’s dream a vision? And how much was he dreaming or awake? He felt a terrible sadness, and his mind kept bringing up the plight of Aquarium life to escape to the open sea.
Frank lay on his bed in his boat, focusing his mind to escape an impending bout with psychosis. “I don’t have a happy place,” he half-heartedly joked to himself as he came off the dream world, back into semi-consciousness. Green pastures and happy jumping lambs seemed to be an irritant. The sea was definitely the way to go.
He remembered a ferryboat trip as a child with his family — gazing at the blue sea and breathing in the exhaust fumes. He focused on the evening sun, about 20 degrees from the horizon, beginning to give an orange hue to the waters. But orange doesn’t mix with blue. If you look closely, depending on the way the light hits each part of the wave, you see distinct blues and oranges.
No one else saw this effect, perhaps because only young Frank was so focused on the waters, but a fin broke the surface and traveled for a while along the boat. Then he saw the back of what was clearly a shark. He took a glimpse of the head in a split second when it came out of the water. He was sure the shark was looking at him — staring at him. No one else saw this. Then the fish disappeared, the blues and the oranges alternating together, and the ferry fumes undid whatever image that the sea and sun had managed to impart to him.
He had always questioned the veracity of his own story, acknowledging that he had been, as most children, an occasional victim of his own imagination. But he also remembered another boat trip, in a larger, cleaner vessel, where he had also seen something similar.
This time, there were two sharks, and there were no oranges; the sun was almost vertically above him. The sharks followed him, not the boat, for the longest time. There was no one else around him. In fact, there was no one on the boat at all. He had looked around to make sure. There were no other ships in sight. Just him on a big boat and two sharks at noon. They stopped still and, with their heads above the water, looked at him.
The boat must have somehow slowed down, because the sharks’ heads stayed with him. They didn’t do anything; rather they seemed to be saying something to him. But they were communicating something that he never understood. The boat must have accelerated; the sharks were left behind.
“Screw it,” he muttered in his bed, with his eyes closed, as he decided not to fight this hallucination and go along with it. He had a boat without fumes, and there was a bright enough light at the end of the tunnel at this stage.
If you travel from Athens to the sea, you can drive along the coastline for many kilometers. It is a winding road, and at every turn you find a tiny bay where people go for a swim during the day.
Some of these bays have a tiny, makeshift port, just some planks of wood leading to a couple of rowboats. Years after Frank had seen the sharks, he had made it a habit to stop at a particular bay for a night swim. He liked it because it had a little port from which he could gaze into the sea for a while before he plunged in.
One summer, he went there at least once a week. He must have been noticed by a small pod of dolphins because, out of all bays, they spent more time at that one. At night, there were no people around. When he saw them, he always dived into the water and swam towards them. It took weeks before they let him approach. He never touched one, but a couple of times he was able to swim among them.
Once he brought to the bay a girl he had started dating. Not far away, there were nightclubs on the waterfront, and he suggested they take a dip in the sea. He told her, in full disclosure, that he had seen dolphins and that they might be there again. He didn’t tell her how often he went there. They spent some time sitting on the wooden port, and the view alone was worth the trip. He jumped in, feet first, and turned to her. She jumped in with him and they swam towards the open waters.
“Are the dolphins coming?” she asked.
And then the fins appeared in the distance. She immediately swam towards them, never having been so close to dolphins. But Frank grabbed her ankle and pulled her back with all his strength. The force startled her, and she looked at him with big, glary, frightened eyes.
“Get out!” he commanded. He had realized that the fins belonged to sharks, not dolphins. An entire complex of thoughts streamed in the girl’s head within half a second: Is he crazy? Is he going to molest me? Drown me? Should I get angry? Is he warning me? Do I even want to know what he is warning me of? I’m out!
Faster than she had ever swam in her life, she exited the waters, climbed onto the port, and saw four menacing fins leaving the bay in unison towards the open sea.
That relationship, If it ever was one, didn’t last very long. Frank was contemplating getting out of this putative dream, which he was still controlling, to some extent. But he wanted to see what else it might bring. Maybe something that would relax him.
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Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma