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 17: What’s Wrong With Mari?
Frank and Meni immediately realized that Mari had a serious problem, the same one as Frank’s. Meni was mortified; Mari was a sweet, quiet girl, not really a seasoned solo sailor. How would she cope with depression and hallucinations, if she was inflicted with the same whatever it was that had gotten Frank?
Meni approached her. “Mari?”
Mari turned her head towards Meni. She looked like a lost soul, like a lost child begging for help.
“Mari, are you okay?”
Mari just kept on looking at Meni with her puppy eyes, saying nothing back.
“Mari, there are sharks swimming in these waters, and they follow people.”
Mari didn’t take her legs out of the water. She did turn to stare down into the water by where her feet were immersed.
“Mari, look at me. Look at me. We’ll go back to the base and we’ll sort this out. Come with us.”
Mari didn’t look at her. Instead, she pushed herself into the water and instantly disappeared under the surface. Meni and Frank jumped in after her. Frank went straight in like a diver and he thought he should be fast enough to grab her before she started swallowing water. He could see her shadow and he knew he could grab her.
Meni wasn’t so lucky. Evidently, a shark had been lurking in those waters and she fell onto it. Not expecting this, she hit the back of the shark with her face and her left arm, which bent towards her body and almost broke. She kicked and tried to straighten herself to swim towards the shore. With her left arm in great pain, she found herself sitting on the shark’s back; she lifted her body and with her feet on the shark, she awkwardly jumped towards the shore.
She found herself holding the ledge of the shore and with both hands, despite the pain, she pulled herself out of the water. She looked for Frank and Mari.
Frank came up holding Mari. The waters were still disturbed from all the commotion and the shark was still there, with its back protruding out of the surface, facing towards the path that Frank had to take to bring Mari out.
Meni, without much thought, took a leap and gave the shark a kick with both her feet. It may or may not have been effective, but Frank, Mari and Meni all managed to climb to dry land. The shark dove and disappeared, seemingly unfazed by the kick.
None of them spoke a word. Frank and Meni flanked Mari, each grabbed an arm and started walking fast towards the base. Mari put up no resistance at all.
Back at the base, the team was expecting Fawkes and Hanson to emerge with photos from the interior of the lake. J-Cap had already reported his experience with Frank, but priority had to be given to seeing Fawkes’ and Hanson’s safe return. All eyes were on the monitors, and attention was placed on getting as much video from the Watermelon without getting in the way of the rover’s ascent.
Meni, Frank, and Mari appeared. Everyone was startled by Mari’s empty expression and the fact that everyone was wet.
“We found her sitting by the water further down, close to the explosion hole,” Meni said. “I think there is something wrong with her. When we tried to bring her back, she jumped into the water. A shark was right there.”
Everybody looked at Meni, Mari, and then Frank, to assess if he was also out of it. He seemed fine. For now, anyway.
“We will deal with this immediately,” Cannavaro said, “once Fawkes and Hanson are back. They are ascending now. Just guard Mari closely.”
Back to the monitors. The images from the Watermelon were now capturing some light from the surface of the water. The rover was about to surface. With much credit to Fawkes, the rover broke the surface just 50 meters from the shore. Its jets brought it out. When Fawkes and Hanson came out of the rover, some confusion ensued, since Hanson and Fawkes had no idea of what had been happening on land.
Hanson started reporting instantly. “This is not a lake. This is like another ocean. It’s huge. Help me get the data out.”
“I have to stop you, Hanson-san,” Taro replied. “Sorry, but you need to be updated, first.”
Hanson and Fawkes stopped at their tracks and listened to a very confusing set of incidents nobody could really explain.
“Okay,” Taro continued, “get the data onto a laptop. J-Cap and I will bring Mari to her quarters and look after her. Everybody, to our boat in twenty minutes.”
Fawkes made an offer. “Make it our boat. We can all fit around the dining table.”
“Meni, do you want to join us now?” Taro asked.
Meni agreed to stay close to Mari, hoping Mari would emerge from her semi-conscious state.
Twenty minutes later, everyone was sitting around the main dining table on Fawkes’ and Hanson’s boat. J-Cap had important information to share. Mari was still dazed but tranquil.
Taro began. “I recommend we briefly see some footage from the lake’s interior to get an overview of the geology. Then we can try to put together what is happening up here.”
Hanson turned his laptop facing his teammates and played the movie, already fast-forwarded to when the rover’s camera was about to break the surface of the lake. Awe set upon the team as they watched the footage from inside the lake.
The video quality was limited by the lighting provided by the on-camera lights, and the relatively weak lights — for this environment — from the rover and the Watermelon. But they could tell this was a deep, deep, structure. Most expected the lake to be a couple of meters in depth, and they hoped it could be as deep as 20 meters. It looked endless.
They squinted trying to see a lake bed, or walls, but there was nothing. There was no indication of the size and depth of this area, but it seemed enormous. The discovery gave everyone an uncomfortable feeling as they sensed they might have literally found themselves in deeper waters than they had expected.
It wasn’t obvious what this geology entailed, and how this unique environment would affect its biology. They realized that, although they were all experienced biologists, they had no understanding of the rules of this particular ecosystem.
Taro conducted a sober and focused meeting where all information was laid out. Meanwhile, Frank was going in and out of some stupor or depression. Mari was stuck in a similar state as well, with no signs she was about to come out of it.
Meni seemed generally collected, despite having been followed by a shark which she had touched on the snout. J-Cap was apparently impervious to stress, and his legendary background made everyone hope that if he also lost it, he would be the last one to do so.
Hanson and Fawkes were totally fine, at least for now. So were the others. The underwater lake was at least much, much larger than anyone had expected, sharks seemed to have a personality, and the enclosed waters seemed to have spawned eggs.
“Fawkes, did you see any corals?” Taro asked.
“No. You are asking about the spawning. I don’t know where they came from. Possibly from the lake?”
Hanson interjected, “We thought they might have come from within the lake. But we got there after the spawning and can’t tell. Of course, that would mean the lake has life.”
“Corals living in the darkness,” speculated Cannavaro. “That would be a first.”
“We should deal with people, first,” Taro said. “Frank, how long will you stay composed?”
“No idea. But when I relapse, just let me go into the water. Don’t bother with me. If worse comes to worst, I’ll just get eaten.”
“What about Mari?” Taro asked. “Really, we should return her to the mainland. But then we’ll have to notify the authorities, and they will come here.”
“We should return her,” Cannavaro said. “But then all this is over for us. Authorities will take over and, before they figure out what is going on, they may mess up this environment. Or worse, they will inadvertently bring the press and onlookers. We are not that far from where the tourists are.”
Cannavaro got up and addressed Mari: “Mari, please look at me. Will you look at me in the eyes?”
Mari, expressionless, looked at Cannavaro. He gently took her hands and made her stand. He asked the others to help him bring her outside the boat. Cannavaro gently took Mari’s shoulders and turned her around so that she faced Hanson. He gave her a little push. Mari walked a few feet and stopped, as if she had lost her momentum. Then, Cannavaro took her by an arm and gently led her around. Mari, expressionless, followed his lead as if she were powerless to put up resistance.
“Eiko, can you videotape this?” Cannavaro asked. “When Mari snaps out of this state, hopefully, we can show her the video. She can then decide whether to stay here or return to the Institute.” The idea seemed to buy the team some time before killing the expedition. They agreed to wait.
Cannavaro and Eiko went on making 5-minute videos of Mari’s numb face in close-up, of her being made to walk anywhere just by gently pulling on her arm or pushing at her back, of her not responding to simple questions about her name, age, and place of birth.
All were looking at Mari’s tests and were worried and sad. Cannavaro tenderly turned her towards the Aquarium. He gently pushed her towards them with his right hand on her belt for fear that she would jump into the water. As she reached the water’s edge she didn’t stop, but Cannavaro controlled her and caught her before she could plunge in. She stared at the water with a serious look in her face.
“Mari,” said Cannavaro, almost in a whisper. “Mari, what are you thinking of?” He received no reply.
“Does she have any medical history that can explain this?” Cannavaro asked Taro and his team.
“No, nothing at all. No history, no drugs,” Taro answered. “J-Cap, please search her quarters for any medication.” A few minutes later, J-Cap reported no findings whatsoever.
Meni came up with the thought that there might be a connection with the smell that she and Mari had been exposed to during their walk to the center of the Aquarium.
“Mari and I went for a walk at the center of the Aquarium,” she told everyone. “The smell was very strong there. I think we could smell DMS but I don’t know what else was coming out — maybe a chemical or biochemical factor did this to her. And not to me, for some reason. Or not much.”
“Was she acting normally when you were on the walkway?” asked Cannavaro.
The large vessel of Fawkes and Hanson carried a small recompression chamber for emergencies concerning decompression sickness. Fawkes suggested they put Mari inside and to supply her with air from the tanks on the boat. They wouldn’t need to subject her to pressure changes, but the chamber would keep out any chemicals that she might react to.
Adding onto Hawke’s idea, Cannavaro suggested to help Mari metabolize or rinse out of her system any chemicals, first, as much they could. She would need to drink large amounts of water and breathe scuba-diving air.
They tried encouraging her to drink, but she made no effort to do so. Eventually, they decided to give her a drip of saline straight into her blood system. J-Cap, being certified in first aid, placed the drip on Mari, who was made to sit on a chair, where she stared aimlessly towards the water.
J-Cap then brought a scuba tank and put the regulator in Mari’s mouth. She did not put up any resistance, and he proceeded to close her nose with a clip, making her breathe only from the compressed tank air. It was a sad sight — a young girl sitting on a chair with a drip, a scuba diving contraption next to her, and a lifeless look.
Meni was constantly by her side, holding her hand and making sure she was breathing comfortably. Cannavaro suggested to make her walk and hopefully help her system degrade whatever this chemical was.
J-Cap grabbed the tank, Meni helped her get up, Eiko held the drip, and they began the cumbersome walk along the shore. They thought she could probably take about half an hour of this, given her low energy levels. They really hoped for signs of improvement in this time. Eiko helped Taro change the drip bag when the first one was consumed. Mari was able to hold herself up, but Meni never let go of her. It was unclear if there were signs of improvement. Meni thought so, but she could not swear this wasn’t wishful thinking.
As the air levels ran low and the second drip bag was almost empty, the team decided to prepare the chamber. Eiko took over the tanks from J-Cap who prepared the chamber. This was as small as they get; one person could barely fit in it and, thankfully, Mari was a skinny girl.
The chamber looked like an old torpedo — it was a tube, laid flat on the ground, with an opening on one edge from where Mari was to enter. She was placed on a stretcher and this, with her on top, was pushed inside. The drip and scuba equipment had been removed, and a glass window right above her face allowed the team to keep a constant eye on her.
Everyone watched her through the window hoping to see her come out of this state. It really wasn’t clear that anything was changing. There was no twitching, no change in her breathing, no signs of consciousness. However, after some time, she did look somewhat different. Meni commented that Mari did not look like a zombie anymore but like someone sleeping. Heavily, perhaps, but sleeping. “Come on, Mari, snap out of this,” Meni murmured as she stared at her face.
Then Mari opened her eyes slowly, as if she were waking up on a normal, lazy morning. Mari could see Meni through the thick glass window, and Meni realized that Mari was probably regaining consciousness.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma