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 13: Meni and Mari on the Aquarium
Meni’s theatrics indeed made an impact on Mari, and she didn’t feel like continuing the debate. She chose to look for signs of fish eating the bread that Meni had thrown into the Aquarium. But evidently no fish had taken an interest throughout the extended Komnenos story.
One might have expected some squid to migrate to the surface at that time. But, unbeknownst to them, a large shark was quietly patrolling the area around them, scaring all sea life away a few meters under the two feisty girls.
While Mari and Meni were using distance to conceal themselves, Nannion was doing the same. She had followed them to the walkway, keeping low, about a hundred meters behind them. That was a fairly risky undertaking; there was nowhere to go if they decided to try and grab her, but she was a fast cat and knew she would probably make it to the shore.
Also, her fur color concealed her well on the light-colored translucent walkway. She found it difficult to resist curiosity, being a stranded cat, and all. She knew the shark was around; her superior eyesight had allowed her to see the clear shape of the beast passing right under her.
The air abruptly started changing. There was a build-up of humidity, highly uncharacteristic. The air suddenly became misty, and it began to rain. If you have been to London and you know what spray rain is, that is exactly what it felt like. Tiny droplets floating around, in the most annoying way if you happen to be wearing glasses; they always find their way onto the lenses and you end up wiping them all the time. But it smelled of something weird, something chemical.
Nannion decided to call it quits. She turned around and started galloping towards the shore.
“Is this dimethyl sulfide?” Mari asked.
“I think so,” Meni replied.
Dimethyl sulfide, or DMS, is an organic compound most notably present in cooked cabbage. Corals and algae appear able to produce DMS, which reaches the atmosphere and may actually regulate the local weather by helping to form clouds. This is intriguing, for it suggests that sea life can control the weather. Too much sun could lead to higher production of DMS by the corals and these, in turn, could help turn a bright day into a cloudy one. It is arguable how much coral can regulate cloudiness with DMS but, where Mari and Meni were, they thought it smelled like a gigantic cabbage soup.
“The smell must be stronger by the shore.” If this was coral-produced DMS, Mari knew corals would be close to the shore, in the shallow waters, where they can benefit from the sunlight. “We should go back. The others may be looking for us.”
As the girls started walking back at a fast pace, they noticed the “soup” appeared to have small “dumplings” in it. Meni and Mari immediately realized that corals — possibly — were spawning and that they were seeing massive amounts of eggs released simultaneously. Of course! The full moon was close and corals spawn around the time of the full moon.
“Let’s go,” said Mari.
“You don’t think the bread caused this, right?” Asked Meni somewhere between jokingly and totally seriously.
As they walked back, amidst the spawning coral and the cabbage smell, fish appeared and started eating the eggs in a frenzy. This made for a quite hectic atmosphere and encouraged them to move faster. Meni and Mari felt the humidity increasing. Was it the DMS doing that? Something else along with the DMS? It was like a misty dusk. The rain picked up, and it quickly got a bit heavier than a typical London spray.
“I doubt it was your bread, Meni. But try not to be like the annoying Aquarium visitor tapping on the glass of the fish tank.”
“Ouch...” That was not a particularly good joke, but good enough to break the intensity just a little while the girls were picking up their pace.
The corals, or whatever else was releasing the volatile substance, had apparently turned a quiet afternoon into an uncomfortable, wet dusk. But as corals normally do, they were just trying to overwhelm the organisms that were happy feasting on their eggs. So they had to spawn with perfect timing to make sure that enough eggs would remain uneaten to continue their line. Moonlight is commonly the cue. Remarkably, corals can tell when the moon is full.
Nannion had reached the shore when she realized that her not-so-well thought-out plan could get her trapped between the scientists at headquarters and Mari and Meni as they returned. She decided to take a right turn and go in the opposite direction where she had two escape options: either take the second walkway back towards the center of the Aquarium or go around the entire perimeter of the Aquarium along the shoreline.
Being an agile cat, she would be able to climb the explosion debris and fare much better than Frank, days ago. She chose the walkway option and continued galloping towards the center as Meni and Mari were approaching the shore in the opposite direction from the other walkway. The distance, haze, fur hue, and her small size provided her cover. Nannion was cautiously walking on the second walkway towards the Aquarium center as Meni and Mari were galloping on the first walkway on the opposite direction.
Nannion slowed down because the geometry of the two walkways that converged towards the center of the Aquarium meant that to keep the most distance from Mari and Meni, she needed to keep close to the shore. Meni and Mari got close to the shore, about two hundred meters from it. From there, it was another couple of hundred meters leftwards to the port and another few hundred meters to the team base. The explosion hole was at the opposite side, a few hundred meters to the right.
Meni noticed something by the explosion hole, despite all the haze. Meanwhile, Nannion had squeezed her body behind the base of the walkway at the shore, keeping out of sight. Meni stopped in her tracks. “Mari, what is that?”
Mari took a good look. “Is that... Frank?”
It was Frank. He had gone to the explosion hole and entered the waters. These were the same waters he had once fallen into during one of the scariest experiences of his life. He was in it, bare-chested, still wearing his jeans. No shoes. The water was up to his chest. He was holding himself half above the surface by holding on to metal sticking out of the sides of the hole. He was calm, evidently having overcome his depression. What could have been swimming around him was not even a consideration. He was just standing calmly in the water.
“What the hell is he doing there?” Meni said and Mari thought. As they approached Frank, his position changed slightly. He was now holding himself by his left hand only, still half in and half out of the water. He was focusing his gaze on what must have been a vision or some element from a dream, towards the surface of the water close to him.
Frank’s experience of these events was quite different. He was staring at the humanoid, which was also half in and half out of the water. It wasn’t sinking, just floating. Its calmness was infectious — Frank felt relaxed, fully relaxed. When he closed his eyes, he was half-immersed into the brine lake, still staring at the humanoid.
Frank was well versed into marine biology, for an amateur, and he knew what brine lakes were. He realized his original visions could have been interpreted as real brine lakes, or they could be interpreted as manifestations of his love of water, and the overlapping of aqueous dreams resulted in images of water within water.
In reality, Frank was dipped into deep and unexplored waters, the same waters where he knew life, including that of large sharks, existed. Mysterious eggs were floating around him, but unlike what Meni and Mari had previously seen, no fish seemed interested. Or else not many fish were around him.
Meni started jogging towards Frank while Mari was slowly walking towards him, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. Nannion kept still until Meni and Mari passed. Then, with a panicked jerk she got onto the walkway and took a flat-out sprint towards the Aquarium center. She didn’t stop until she reached the center and took cover behind the bubble equipment.
In the meantime, Meni hadn’t taken many paces when a shark broke the surface and swam next to her. She stopped in her tracks to look at the fish. This was a large shark, perhaps six meters in length, and it looked much like a Greenland shark — brownish, primitive, and soft. It looked just as she had imagined the Guardian would look. It wasn’t a streamlined, tight-skinned shark like a Great White or a Mako.
The shark stopped swimming when Meni stopped walking. It dove into the water, took a turn, and started swimming again only when Meni assumed her jog. It followed her again, and Meni stopped once more. So did the shark, which took another dip, and a turn, and brought itself into a vertical position, with its head out of the water, very close to the shore. It was watching Meni as some sharks can, over the surface of the water.
“What the hell are you!?” Meni asked the shark. Her voice was low, barely audible. “You are not even a known species!”
Meni began walking towards Frank. Running made no sense, nor a difference. The shark kept on following her, right next to the shore, a few feet away from her. Meni wondered whether the shark didn’t want her to reach Frank. There was only so much it could do, being confined to the water. She stopped and stared at it. What would it do if she were to enter the waters? Would it eat her? Drown her? Was she actually communicating with a shark? An unknown species of shark? She moved to the edge of the shore. The shark was again upright and keeping still, head above the water, staring at her.
Although its tail and torso were moving in order to keep it upright, from above the water it looked like a motionless, frozen body. Meni leaned over slowly towards the shark. Mari was frozen, watching her. Meni reached out with her hand and the shark did not move. It did not flinch or seem affected in any way. She extended her hand towards it and the shark did not twitch a muscle; it kept staring at her with the same intensity as before.
Meni moved her hand towards the shark’s nose and touched it. She did not hesitate because she did not feel danger for her arm although she had pondered whether this beast would readily kill her. But she was as careful as she could be. She touched its nose for a split second and the shark did not move. She stood up straight and their eyes were still locked. She leaned over again, extended her arm, grabbed its nose and gave it a gentle push.
The shark moved, finally, backwards. It reminded her of dolphins swimming backwards as part of their tricks. The shark dove in the waters and came back up, staring at her once again. Now it reminded her of dogs wanting to play. She got up and moved two steps away from the shore.
Mari had been watching all this from further back. She was not equipped to interfere. She watched Meni decide her course of action. She saw Meni quitting her effort to reach Frank and walking back towards Mari. Meni had accepted the shark’s perceived will not to reach Frank. She also felt Frank should deal with the consequences of his own choices. And she really did not feel the shark was after Frank. That was her assumption; she really didn’t know what it wanted.
As she walked back towards Mari, the shark dove and disappeared. Mari walked next to Meni as they headed back to the team. Neither spoke a word.
The two girls, normally full of energy and life and a little silliness, appeared from within the mist to Cannavaro and Taro. Their serious demeanor seemed strange. The two scientists who were already confused by the mist and smell noticed it and looked to the girls for an explanation.
Meni gave an account of what had happened. She pointed towards the explosion hole where Frank was immersed. From where they were standing, he could not be seen.
A while later J-Cap informed the team members that the lights in Frank’s boat were now on. He must have returned for the night. He must have walked back a short distance behind them. Taro suggested they deal with the situation in the morning. “Tomorrow we will face Frank,” he said. He said they should all leave the sharks alone that night.
“What kind of sharks are these, anyway?” asked Fawkes. He did not know of an animal that matched that description.
“Let’s deal with this thing in the morning,” replied Taro, “if you all agree. I also don’t know what they are.”
“First, we should consider asking for help,” stated Cannavaro.
“That is a reasonable argument,” Fawkes agreed.
Taro argued against involving others. “I want to figure this out. There is a very fine balance here that we may disrupt by involving lots of people. Let’s not bring a bunch of boats and scientists and authorities here.”
“Fine with me. I also want to work this one out. I don’t even know we will be allowed here if we bring in the authorities. Let’s vote,” said Cannavaro.
The vote was unanimous. Everyone felt it would be best to try and sort out things the next day. They all wanted to think about Frank and the sharks, trying to work out what was going on. J-Cap would keep a good eye out that night and everyone felt safe. In the meantime, Nannion was feeling dizzy on top of the transparent walkway.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma