GIVETHEREADERSWHATTHEYWANT!
One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.
7/4/11-MAGNUS LINDQVIST

The Drowning World, Chapter Two

Somewhere Out There

 

Read Chapter One, based on Ben Self’s story starter from last week

(This one gets a PG-13 for some gruesome details.)

It’s out there. I know it’s out there because I can hear it. The boys don’t have a clue how I find them, but they know if they hunt with me they’ll get to eat, after a little excitement. And the excitement usually turns out alright.

I hold up the frameless polarized lens and squint out over the water. Three miles out from the coast, you can just make out the tops of Wells Fargo and a couple of other moldering structures. On our few salvage forays, my eyes followed their edges down, down, where blue turns to black. Denver is still there, a new Atlantis sleeping beneath us.

I close my eyes and let my mind fall into those depths. The pull comes, starboard. I point and Sam nods, adjusting the rudder.

My burning shoulders remind me of the sun‘s newly naked power, but I’ve stopped seeking shade since my skin went from parchment to bronze. These days, I’d go without the shirt altogether, but some mores have yet to fall.

Sensations of hunger and darting movement swell up at me. Our prey is close, and may be on her own hunt.

“Slow,” I whisper. “Jake, up on the prow. And take it easy—you scare her, you’re swimming home.”

Jake obeys, cowed. Sam squints at me. He’s ferreting out my use of gender for the fish, how it changes.

I remind myself to go easy on Jake. Sea legs are still new for all of us. When the rains finally stopped, our scrabbling impulses for dry air and solid rock turned against us. We‘re still learning to moor to that rock and cast out.

Now the arc-white sun and impassive ocean frame our world. Some of us are already wishing at the sky, hoping rain isn’t done with us yet. I look down into the new depths, damn the rains, and damn the creatures who brought this on us, filling our skies with roaring machines, drowning us in a new broken firmament.

I breathe and let go. I seek out the other mind, deep but rising. I’m picking up a sated feeling now. He’s probably found a school of yellowjack and is having a snack, following them up and in front of us. I’m no good at fishing for the smaller species, because I don’t get any signals from them. I guess only the big ones are habitable.

And is this one big. I’m starting to picture a nose about a meter in front my own eyes, down to a tail that’s probably four meters past my own feet. A hunter, this size – he has to be a Great White.

My palms start to sweat. This may be more than I am ready for. But this fella’s power extends beyond the physical. There’s an opportunity here I can’t pass up.

Maybe we are the lesser beings, maybe they should run the world. But no way in hell are they getting it without a fight.

I step up behind Jake as he’s hoisting the aluminum tube. I wipe sweat from my eyes and take the back end of the tube onto my own shoulders. Most hunting ships have them mounted, but I’ve had better luck holding them. The cord in the gunnels below us is neatly coiled and clear of our feet. Jake tenses a little as I brace myself against him, setting my eye to the scope.

“Head down, Jake.”

I should probably let them know what we’re going up against, but I’d rather they consider mutiny after we’ve killed it.

They still think I’m crazy, or have incredible eyesight. Nobody else aims at anything that isn’t taking a breath or showing a fin. But this one might be close enough to see. All the better for our connection. Let him get as close as he’s going to.

Then that feeling of immediate and overpowering strangeness starts to come in, as I’m picking up signals from a mind completely foreign to my own. I usually obey the instinct to block it out, but this time I try to welcome it, maybe sidestep it, to see what else comes. I suffer grotesque and illogical smells and tastes. My skin feels the rush of water, and it’s hard for me to resist covering my eyes. I even sense the bodies of Jake and Sam through what I can only imagine is some extension of the shark’s electroreception, although I can’t fathom how this is possible.

Then, vastness. The leagues below me seem to open up in their mystery, all relevant at once, all aware and terrifying in their immensity, and the bottom keeps leaving, falling away, impossibly, filling with stars, an instant web of consciousness tied across a lifetime of light through the void.

“Nala!”

Jake’s tense whisper calls me back. He’s struggling with the harpoon. I force a sharp breath through my lungs, clear my vision and straighten out my knees. I push my mind back out to the water, keeping my defenses up this time.

The full, deep tone of life in the water before us has stopped moving. Is it feeling out for me? I’m happy to oblige.

Whispering for Jake to brace himself, I place my hand on the release for the massive spring that lies coiled inside. Then a flourish in the water, both felt and seen. I stop my hand for an instant, feeling for the beast’s heart.

“Now!”

I pull back the release, and the barbed spear leaps from its barrel, its recoil pitching Jake against me. The cord at our feet sings through the air beside us as our javelin pierces the water. An instant later my body jolts in sympathetic shock. Good, I think, keep that connection. Stay open. I welcome the pain in my side.

Jake is still fumbling, unnoticed below me. He’s seen the cord go slack, but hasn’t begun to recoil it.

“Jake! Grab the damn line! Help me pull this son of a bitch in!”

“I forgot to bind my hands, ma’am!”

The poor idiot has no protection against the thin cable’s unforgiving braided steel. I curse his stupidity, and my oversight.

“Sam! Help us pull!”

I pray the beast isn’t able to call a friend to his aid as we all commit ourselves to getting him out of the water. I try to stay connected to him, even as I pour my strength into the physical effort of his retrieval, my own cloth-bound hands straining against the jumping cord.

Then Sam is behind me, pulling for all he’s worth. Which is a damn sight more than Jake. The enormous shark is at the surface and thrashing the water into a froth. And now that I get a glimpse of his massive body, I apologize under my breath for taking the boys into this fight. I don’t know what madness gripped me, convinced me of this course of action. The shark whips the cord, which snaps against the prow, splintering the decrepit rail. If we survive, we’ll hear no end of the folly from our elders, hunting this giant without so much as a winch.

But we’ve managed to pull him to within twelve meters of us, or pull ourselves to him, more likely. And I can feel his pain wrenching in my own body, the needle working around his heart but not yet piercing it. I wonder that these beings can not leave the fish’s body as easily as they occupied it. I have yet to sense one depart. I wonder if they understand mortality. The agony saps my own resolve, but I must focus on the connection while staying lucid.

“We need to let it go!” Sam yells through gritted teeth. In their minds, we are only trying to bring home a big meal; nothing worth dying for.

“Wrap it around the main beam and just hold it!” I yell at Jake and Sam, two boys who have become clenched masses of sinew, as taught as the cord they fight with. Slowly Jake works the loose end around the large wooden cross beam that joins the two hulls. With him and Sam keeping it wrapped tight against the beam, I can release my hold. As I’m directing them to wrap the ends a few more times to increase the cord’s friction, I start to pick up the beast’s distress call.

I’m already barefoot, so there’s little to slow me but my shirt and pants. I rid myself of these quickly and leap onto the gunnel. “When I get next to him, Jake, I want you to jump on that cable. You hear me? I want it to jerk him around.”

Jake nods, slowly and wide-eyed he understands my direction but can’t comprehend my thinking. I turn back to the water and launch myself in.

This is the only swimming I do anymore. Fast, intent, predatory. I push myself into the water like the blade strapped to my thigh. I must cut ruthlessly, effortlessly toward my prey – my foe.

I think about Dad. How he made me leave him, withered and pale from the cholera, in the lowlands of Colorado. Apologizing to me for not believing, for sending me to the shrink, being more scared of my gasping nightmares than I was, but for all the wrong reasons. Apologizing for waiting to fly to the mainland, so that once the filaments entered our atmosphere it was too late for air travel.

Slice, slice, my hands cut through the chop, my legs burning with exertion. I risk a glance at the beast and its tumult eight meters before me.

I think about the filaments, so innocuous in name, so deadly and unstoppable in design. Entering our orbit from Earth’s blind spot, passing by the sun, each laden, impossibly, with hydrogen siphoned from our star’s limitless supply. Each a three-mile long needle, coming to rest within our stratosphere and roaring to life, combining its new hydrogen payload with earth’s oxygen in an unending explosion of water that fed our skies and oceans for half a decade.

A fin half as long as my own body flails up out of the surface in front of me. It comes down again with a crash, and as I fight the force of its wake, I grab the fin and pull myself onto it.

And I think of that dolphin, and his message, the journey we took through time, and what I learned. His remorse tinged his message, and has ever since. I feel it in every encounter with the air-breathers. At times it has even stayed my hand. But the sharks, the giant squid, the octopus and the ray – in them, a bitter resolve is in its place. I know now that their consciousness comes from a great distance, a race of such vast intelligence that construction of the filaments is a common factor in their expansion. Our world was fit for their aquaforming, and we were an evolutionary misstep.

Pulling myself from the water, I feel the sharp tug on the cable jerk the shark’s body, and his spasms rock me – within and without. They threaten to capsize me, but I fight to maintain the link with him. I plunge my left hand into its gills, the only handhold available to me. I wrench myself up to its back and brace my legs against either side of its dorsal fin. I grip the thrashing behemoth and am reminded of rodeos, something I have not thought of in years. It is a great risk to perch myself here for the killing blow instead of weakening the beast outright, but I find myself driven to capture this beast’s knowledge as fresh as possible.

I remove the knife from my thigh. Its length matches the femur it is strapped to. The beast issues a violent, twisting heave, and I am instantly under it, crushed by the impact. I am still astride him, however, and his skull is still beneath me. Forcing my strength through arm, knife, and water, I plunge the blade into the brain of this animal, this host to a foreign mind, a mind I will lay open for all I can gain. Still submerged, on the back of a dying monster, I gouge again and again, carving out my path. The will beneath my blade begins to fade, even as I lose track of oxygen. Finally I have access, though it is by feel rather than sight, as the water is opaque with blood. I plunge my hand deep, and devour the supreme intelligence that has fallen before me. The survival of my own species may depend on it.

Eventually I emerge, gasping for forgotten air. I drape myself across the shark’s back and allow Jake and Sam to pull me in with the lifeless body. Jake, bless him, is about to jump in for me when I raise my arm in greeting.

“I’m okay, Jake. Just give me a hand.”

I smile up at them and receive shocked expressions in return. I look down at my bood-covered chest and realize I am a gruesome sight. No matter. This body will feed our village for a week. It will strengthen their bodies and their resolve.

And I may be able to pass on my advantage if I act quickly. The shark’s power is still coursing through me. His symbiote’s insight is still alive and vibrant in my mind.

I reach into the shark’s skull and remove another handful of the bland meat. Ignoring Sam and Jake’s concern, I step from the shark’s body into the boat. I look both of them over.

“Sam. Come here.”

Sam approaches, and I extend the meat.

“Eat it.”

Sam is incredulous. “I don’t think so.”

I have no patience for this worthless prejudice. After the first year of rain, fire became too precious to waste on cooking. And as we lost all agriculture, we came to treat the large sea creatures as Indians did the buffalo. The planet converted to sushi, and we learned to waste nothing. Almost nothing.

“Listen to me, Sam. There’s no time for weak stomachs. Eat this, and you’ll understand.”

Leaning back from me, Sam shakes his head. I’m considering forcing it on him when Jake speaks up.

“I’ll do it.”

I look and Jake and crack a smile.

“Great. Hurry.”

Jake approaches in a quick stride and takes the meat from my hand. He raises his head as if to avoid seeing or smelling it, and takes it to his mouth, chewing a large bite. I wait as he struggles to swallow it down.

“Great,” I say. “Now, if you didn’t know what that was, would it taste so bad?”

Jake smirks. “I guess not.”

I ask Jake to eat the rest, and he obliges. Sam and I watch patiently.

Then I begin to feel the contact, and see a confused distraction come over him.

Jake?

“Yeah?” he responds.

How are you feeling?

“A little strange, but – good, really.” He is appraising his environment with new awareness, and confidence.

Meanwhile, Sam regards us with a bewildered stare.

That’s good, Jake. Can you look at me?

Jake focuses on me. “Sure.”

Now can you stop talking?

Jake’s eyes go wide and his mouth hangs open. For a moment, he doesn’t know what to do with the silence. Then his mouth closes, his eyes focus and he swallows.

You mean, like this?

I smile, wide.

Oh yes. That is perfect.

I look at Jake, and feel our connection deepening. I feel the sun on my back, and see it in a constellation known to other planets. I feel the boat’s gentle rocking, and stretch that out through the water to life teeming below us, and to wavelets caressing shores of lands I have never visited.

I feel the tide turning.

 

Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved.

 

If anyone’s curious about the science behind this story, one large part was finding a plug-in for Google Earth that allows you to manipulate a sphere that is centered on the globe–essentially letting you set your own diameter, which mimics a uniform depth just as a new coastline would appear. Here’s my study of Denver, showing the Wells Fargo, Qwest, and Republic Plaza buildings just peeking out:

3 Comments to “7/4/11-MAGNUS LINDQVIST”

  1. Cole Bennett says:

    Magnus, aMAZing image. It was wonderful getting to talk to you today and hear your story behind it. Art begets art. Sorry that the format of this page does not do it justice – everybody, click on the image to see Magnus’s work the way he originally framed it in his own page.

    Thanks Magnus!

  2. Pat Bennett says:

    I finally had time to sit down, read through and digest this. You could easily develop the idea into a series of books, creating a new civilization, a new world. Great!

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