Back | Next

The Shining Ones

by Arthur C. Clarke

When the switchboard said that the Soviet Embassy was on the line, my first reaction was: “Good—another job!” But the moment I heard Goncharov’s voice, I knew there was trouble.

“Klaus? This is Mikhail. Can you come over at once? It’s very urgent, and I can’t talk on the phone.”

I worried all the way to the Embassy, marshaling my defenses in case anything had gone wrong at our end. But I could think of nothing; at the moment, we had no outstanding contracts with the Russians. The last job had been completed six months ago, on time, and to their entire satisfaction.

Well, they were not satisfied with it now, as I discovered quickly enough. Mikhail Goncharov, the Commercial Attaché, was an old friend of mine; he told me all he knew, but it was not much.

“We’ve just had an urgent cable from Ceylon,” he said. “They want you out there immediately. There’s serious trouble at the hydrothermal project.”

“What sort of trouble?” I asked. I knew at once, of course, that it would be the deep end, for that was the only part of the installation that had concerned us. The Russians themselves had done all the work on land, but they had had to call on us to fix those grids three thousand feet down in the Indian Ocean. There is no other firm in the world that can live up to our motto: ANY JOB, ANY DEPTH.

“All I know,” said Mikhail, “is that the site engineers report a complete breakdown, that the Prime Minister of Ceylon is opening the plant three weeks from now, and that Moscow will be very, very unhappy if it’s not working then.”

My mind went rapidly through the penalty clauses in our contract. The firm seemed to be covered, because the client had signed the take-over certificate, thereby admitting that the job was up to specification. However, it was not as simple as that; if negligence on our part was proved, we might be safe from legal action—but it would be very bad for business. And it would be even worse for me, personally; for I had been project supervisor in Trinco Deep.

Don’t call me a diver, please; I hate the name. I’m a deep-sea engineer, and I use diving gear about as often as an airman uses a parachute. Most of my work is done with TV and remote-controlled robots. When I do have to go down myself, I’m inside a minisub with external manipulators. We call it a lobster, because of its claws; the standard model works down to five thousand feet, but there are special versions that will operate at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. I’ve never been there myself, but will be glad to quote terms if you’re interested. At a rough estimate, it will cost you a dollar a foot plus a thousand an hour on the job itself.

I realized that the Russians meant business when Mikhail said that a jet was waiting at Zurich, and could I be at the airport within two hours?

“Look,” I said, “I can’t do a thing without equipment—and the gear needed even for an inspection weighs tons. Besides, it’s all at Spezia.”

“I know,” Mikhail answered implacably. “We’ll have another jet transport there. Cable from Ceylon as soon as you know what you want: it will be on the site within twelve hours. But please don’t talk to anyone about this; we prefer to keep our problems to ourselves.”

I agreed with this, for it was my problem, too. As I left the office, Mikhail pointed to the wall calendar, said “Three weeks,” and ran his finger around his throat. And I knew he wasn’t thinking of his neck.

Two hours later I was climbing over the Alps, saying goodbye to the family by radio, and wondering why, like every other sensible Swiss, I hadn’t become a banker or gone into the watch business. It was all the fault of the Picards and Hannes Keller, I told myself moodily: why did they have to start this deep-sea tradition, in Switzerland of all countries? Then I settled down to sleep, knowing that I would have little enough in the days to come.

We landed at Trincomalee just after dawn, and the huge, complex harbor—whose geography I’ve never quite mastered—was a maze of capes, islands, interconnecting waterways, and basins large enough to hold all the navies of the world. I could see the big white control building, in a somewhat flamboyant architectural style, on a headland overlooking the Indian Ocean. The site was pure propaganda—though of course if I’d been Russian I’d have called it “public relations.”

Not that I really blamed my clients; they had good reason to be proud of this, the most ambitious attempt yet made to harness the thermal energy of the sea. It was not the first attempt. There had been an unsuccessful one by the French scientist Georges Claude in the 1930s, and a much bigger one at Abidjan, on the west coast of Africa, in the 1950s.

All these projects depended on the same surprising fact: even in the tropics the sea a mile down is almost at freezing point. Where billions of tons of water are concerned, this temperature difference represents a colossal amount of energy—and a fine challenge to the engineers of power-starved countries.

Claude and his successors had tried to tap this energy with low-pressure steam engines; the Russians had used a much simpler and more direct method. For over a hundred years it had been known that electric currents flow in many materials if one end is heated and the other cooled, and ever since the 1940s Russian scientists had been working to put this “thermoelectric” effect to practical use. Their earliest devices had not been very efficient—though good enough to power thousands of radios by the heat of kerosene lamps. But in 1974 they had made a big, and still-secret, breakthrough. Though I fixed the power elements at the cold end of the system, I never really saw them; they were completely hidden in anticorrosive paint. All I know is that they formed a big grid, like lots of old-fashioned steam radiators bolted together.

I recognized most of the faces in the little crowd waiting on the Trinco airstrip; friends or enemies, they all seemed glad to see me—especially Chief Engineer Shapiro.

“Well, Lev,” I said, as we drove out in the station wagon, “what’s the trouble?”

“We don’t know,” he said frankly. “It’s your job to find out—and to put it right.”

“Well, what happened?

“Everything worked perfectly up to the full-power tests,” he answered. “Output was within five per cent of estimate until 0134 Tuesday morning.” He grimaced; obviously that time was engraved on his heart. “Then the voltage started to fluctuate violently, so we cut the load and watched the meters. I thought that some idiot of a skipper had hooked the cables—you know the trouble we’ve taken to avoid that happening—so we switched on the searchlights and looked out to sea. There wasn’t a ship in sight. Anyway, who would have tried to anchor just outside the harbor on a clear, calm night?

“There was nothing we could do except watch the instruments and keep testing; I’ll show you all the graphs when we get to the office. After four minutes everything went open circuit. We can locate the break exactly, of course—and it’s in the deepest part, right at the grid. It would be there, and not at this end of the system,” he added gloomily, pointing out the window.

We were just driving past the Solar Pond—the equivalent of the boiler in a conventional heat engine. This was an idea that the Russians had borrowed from the Israelis. It was simply a shallow lake, blackened at the bottom, holding a concentrated solution of brine. It acts as a very efficient heat trap, and the sun’s rays bring the liquid up to almost two hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Submerged in it were the “hot” grids of the thermoelectric system, every inch of two fathoms down. Massive cables connected them to my department, a hundred and fifty degrees colder and three thousand feet lower, in the undersea canyon that comes to the very entrance of Trinco harbour.

“I suppose you checked for earthquakes?” I asked, not very hopefully.

“Of course. There was nothing on the seismograph.”

“What about whales? I warned you that they might give trouble.”

More than a year ago, when the main conductors were being run out to sea, I’d told the engineers about the drowned sperm whale found entangled in a telegraph cable half a mile down off South America. About a dozen similar cases are known—but ours, it seemed, was not one of them.

“That was the second thing we thought of,” answered Shapiro. “We got on to the Fisheries Department, the Navy, and the Air Force. No whales anywhere along the coast.”

It was at that point that I stopped theorizing, because I overheard something that made me a little uncomfortable. Like all Swiss, I’m good at languages, and have picked up a fair amount of Russian. There was no need to be much of a linguist, however, to recognize the word sabotash.

It was spoken by Dimitri Karpukhin, the political adviser on the project. I didn’t like him; nor did the engineers, who sometimes went out of their way to be rude to him. One of the old-style Communists who had never quite escaped from the shadow of Stalin, he was suspicious of everything outside the Soviet Union, and most of the things inside it. Sabotage was just the explanation that would appeal to him.

There were, of course, a great many people who would not exactly be brokenhearted if the Trinco Power Project failed. Politically, the prestige of the USSR was committed; economically, billions were involved, for if hydrothermal plants proved a success, they might compete with oil, coal, water power, and, especially, nuclear energy.

Yet I could not really believe in sabotage; after all, the Cold War was over. It was just possible that someone had made a clumsy attempt to grab a sample of the grid, but even this seemed unlikely. I could count on my fingers the number of people in the world who could tackle such a job—and half of them were on my payroll.

The underwater TV camera arrived that same evening, and by working all through the night we had cameras, monitors, and over a mile of coaxial cable loaded aboard a launch. As we pulled out of the harbor, I thought I saw a familiar figure standing on the jetty, but it was too far to be certain and I had other things on my mind. If you must know, I am not a good sailor; I am only really happy underneath the sea.

We took a careful fix on the Round Island lighthouse and stationed ourselves directly above the grid. The self-propelled camera, looking like a midget bathyscape, went over the side; as we watched the monitors, we went with it in spirit.

The water was extremely clear, and extremely empty, but as we neared the bottom there were a few signs of life. A small shark came and stared at us. Then a pulsating blob of jelly went drifting by, followed by a thing like a big spider, with hundreds of hairy legs tangling and twisting together. At last the sloping canyon wall swam into view. We were right on target, for there were the thick cables running down into the depths, just as I had seen them when I made the final check of the installation six months ago.

I turned on the low-powered jets and let the camera drift down the power cables. They seemed in perfect condition, still firmly anchored by the pitons we had driven into the rock. It was not until I came to the grid itself that there was any sign of trouble.

Have you ever seen the radiator grille of a car after it’s run into a lamppost? Well, one section of the grid looked very much like that. Something had battered it in, as if a madman had gone to work on it with a sledgehammer.

There were gasps of astonishment and anger from the people looking over my shoulder. I heard sabotash muttered again, and for the first time began to take it seriously. The only other explanation that made sense was a falling boulder, but the slopes of the canyon had been carefully checked against this very possibility.

Whatever the cause, the damaged grid had to be replaced. That could not be done until my lobster—all twenty tons of it—had been flown out from the Spezia dockyard where it was kept between jobs.

“Well,” said Shapiro, when I had finished my visual inspection and photographed the sorry spectacle on the screen, “how long will it take?”

I refused to commit myself. The first thing I ever learned in the underwater business is that no job turns out as you expect. Cost and time estimates can never be firm because it’s not until you’re halfway through a contract that you know exactly what you’re up against.

My private guess was three days. So I said: “If everything goes well, it shouldn’t take more than a week.”

Shapiro groaned. “Can’t you do it quicker?”

“I won’t tempt fate by making rash promises. Anyway, that still gives you two weeks before your deadline.”

He had to be content with that, though he kept nagging at me all the way back into the harbor. When we got there, he had something else to think about.

“Morning, Joe,” I said to the man who was still waiting patiently on the jetty. “I thought I recognized you on the way out. What are you doing here?”

“I was going to ask you the same question.”

“You’d better speak to my boss. Chief Engineer Shapiro, meet Joe Watkins, science correspondent of Time.”

Lev’s response was not exactly cordial. Normally, there was nothing he liked better than talking to newsmen, who arrived at the rate of about one a week. Now, as the target date approached, they would be flying in from all directions. Including, of course, Russia. And at the present moment Tass would be just as unwelcome as Time.

It was amusing to see how Karpukhin took charge of the situation. From that moment, Joe had permanently attached to him as guide, philosopher, and drinking companion a smooth young public-relations type named Sergei Markov. Despite all Joe’s efforts, the two were inseparable. In the middle of the afternoon, weary after a long conference in Shapiro’s office, I caught up with them for a belated lunch at the government resthouse.

“What’s going on here, Klaus?” Joe asked pathetically. “I smell trouble, but no one will admit anything.”

I toyed with my curry, trying to separate the bits that were safe from those that would take off the top of my head.

“You can’t expect me to discuss a client’s affairs,” I answered.

“You were talkative enough,” Joe reminded me, “when you were doing the survey for the Gibraltar Dam.”

“Well, yes,” I admitted. “And I appreciate the write-up you gave me. But this time there are trade secrets involved. I’m—ah—making some last-minute adjustments to improve the efficiency of the system.”

And that, of course, was the truth; for I was indeed hoping to raise the efficiency of the system from its present value of exactly zero.

“Hmm,” said Joe sarcastically. “Thank you very much.”

“Anyway,” I said, trying to head him off, “what’s your latest crackbrained theory?”

For a highly competent science writer, Joe has an odd liking for the bizarre and the improbable. Perhaps it’s a form of escapism; I happen to know that he also writes science fiction, though this is a well-kept secret from his employers. He has a sneaking fondness for poltergeists and ESP and flying saucers, but lost continents are his real specialty.

“I am working on a couple of ideas,” he admitted. “They cropped up when I was doing the research on this story.”

“Go on,” I said, not daring to look up from the analysis of my curry.

“The other day I came across a very old map—Ptolemy’s, if you’re interested—of Ceylon. It reminded me of another old map in my collection, and I turned it up. There was the same central mountain, the same arrangement of rivers flowing to the sea. But this was a map of Atlantis.”

“Oh, no!” I groaned. “Last time we met, you convinced me that Atlantis was the western Mediterranean basin.”

Joe gave his engaging grin.

“I could be wrong, couldn’t I? Anyway, I’ve a much more striking piece of evidence. What’s the old national name for Ceylon—and the modern Sinhalese one, for that matter?”

I thought for a second, then exclaimed: “Good Lord! Why Lanka, of course. Lanka—Atlantis.” I rolled the names off my tongue.

“Precisely,” said Joe. “But two clues, however striking, don’t make a full-fledged theory; and that’s as far as I’ve got at the moment.”

“Too bad,” I said, genuinely disappointed. “And your other project?”

“This will really make you sit up,” Joe answered smugly. He reached into the battered briefcase he always carried and pulled out a bundle of papers.

“This happened only one hundred and eighty miles from here, and just over a century ago. The source of my information, you’ll note, is about the best there is.”

He handed me a photostat, and I saw that it was a page of the London Times for July 4, 1874. I started to read without much enthusiasm, for Joe was always producing bits of ancient newspapers, but my apathy did not last for long.

Briefly—I’d like to give the whole thing, but if you want more details your local library can dial you a facsimile in ten seconds—the clipping described how the one-hundred-and-fifty-ton schooner Pearl left Ceylon in early May 1874 and then fell becalmed in the Bay of Bengal. On May 10, just before nightfall, an enormous squid surfaced half a mile from the schooner, whose captain foolishly opened fire on it with his rifle.

The squid swam straight for the Pearl, grabbed the masts with its arms, and pulled the vessel over on her side. She sank within seconds, taking two of her crew with her. The others were rescued only by the lucky chance that the P. and O. steamer Strathowen was in sight and had witnessed the incident herself.

“Well,” said Joe, when I’d read through it for the second time, “what do you think?”

“I don’t believe in sea monsters.”

“The London Times,” Joe answered, “is not prone to sensational journalism. And giant squids exist, though the biggest we know about are feeble, flabby beasts and don’t weigh more than a ton, even when they have arms forty feet long.”

“So? An animal like that couldn’t capsize a hundred-and-fifty-ton schooner.”

“True—but there’s a lot of evidence that the so-called giant squid is merely a large squid. There may be decapods in the sea that really are giants. Why, only a year after the Pearl incident, a sperm whale off the coast of Brazil was seen struggling inside gigantic coils which finally dragged it down into the sea. You’ll find the incident described in the Illustrated London News for November 20, 1875. And then, of course, there’s that chapter in Moby-Dick. . . .”

“What chapter?”

“Why, the one called ‘Squid.’ We know that Melville was a very careful observer—but here he really lets himself go. He describes a calm day when a great white mass rose out of the sea ‘like a snow-slide, new slid from the hills.’ And this happened here in the Indian Ocean, perhaps a thousand miles south of the Pearl incident. Weather conditions were identical, please note.

“What the men of the Pequod saw floating on the water—I know this passage by heart, I’ve studied it so carefully—was a ‘vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing cream-color, innumerable long arms radiating from its center, curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas.’”

“Just a minute,” said Sergei, who had been listening to all this with rapt attention. “What’s a furlong?”

Joe looked slightly embarrassed.

“Actually, it’s an eighth of a mile—six hundred and sixty feet.” He raised his hand to stop our incredulous laughter. “Oh, I’m sure Melville didn’t mean that literally. But here was a man who met sperm whales every day, groping for a unit of length to describe something a lot bigger. So he automatically jumped from fathoms to furlongs. That’s my theory, anyway.”

I pushed away the remaining untouchable portions of my curry.

“If you think you’ve scared me out of my job,” I said, “you’ve failed miserably. But I promise you this—when I do meet a giant squid, I’ll snip off a tentacle and bring it back as a souvenir.”

Twenty-four hours later I was out there in the lobster, sinking slowly down toward the damaged grid. There was no way in which the operation could be kept secret, and Joe was an interested spectator from a nearby launch. That was the Russians’ problem, not mine; I had suggested to Shapiro that they take him into their confidence, but this, of course, was vetoed by Karpukhin’s suspicious Slavic mind. One could almost see him thinking: Just why should an American reporter turn up at this moment? And ignoring the obvious answer that Trincomalee was now big news.

There is nothing in the least exciting or glamorous about deep-water operations—if they’re done properly. Excitement means lack of foresight, and that means incompetence. The incompetent do not last long in my business, nor do those who crave excitement. I went about my job with all the pent-up emotion of a plumber dealing with a leaking faucet.

The grids had been designed for easy maintenance, since sooner or later they would have to be replaced. Luckily, none of the threads had been damaged, and the securing nuts came off easily when gripped with the power wrench. Then I switched control to the heavy-duty claws, and lifted out the damaged grid without the slightest difficulty.

It’s bad tactics to hurry an underwater operation. If you try to do too much at once, you are liable to make mistakes. And if things go smoothly and you finish in a day a job you said would take a week, the client feels he hasn’t had his money’s worth. Though I was sure I could replace the grid that same afternoon, I followed the damaged unit up to the surface and closed shop for the day.

The thermoelement was rushed off for an autopsy, and I spent the rest of the evening hiding from Joe. Trinco is a small town, but I managed to keep out of his way by visiting the local cinema, where I sat through several hours of an interminable Tamil movie in which three successive generations suffered identical domestic crises of mistaken identity, drunkenness, desertion, death, and insanity, all in Technicolor and with the sound track turned full up.

The next morning, despite a mild headache, I was at the site soon after dawn. (So was Joe, and so was Sergei, all set for a quiet day’s fishing.) I cheerfully waved to them as I climbed into the lobster, and the tender’s crane lowered me over the side. Over the other side, where Joe couldn’t see it, went the replacement grid. A few fathoms down I lifted it out of the hoist and carried it to the bottom of Trinco Deep, where, without any trouble, it was installed by the middle of the afternoon. Before I surfaced again, the lock nuts had been secured, the conductors spot-welded, and the engineers on shore had completed their continuity tests. By the time I was back on deck, the system was under load once more, everything was back to normal, and even Karpukhin was smiling—except when he stopped to ask himself the question that no one had yet been able to answer.

I still clung to the falling-boulder theory—for want of a better. And I hoped that the Russians would accept it, so that we could stop this silly cloak-and-dagger business with Joe.

No such luck, I realized, when both Shapiro and Karpukhin came to see me with very long faces.

“Klaus,” said Lev, “we want you to go down again.”

“It’s your money,” I replied. “But what do you want me to do?”

“We’ve examined the damaged grid, and there’s a section of the thermoelement missing. Dimitri thinks that—someone—has deliberately broken it off and carried it away.”

“Then they did a damn clumsy job,” I answered. “I can promise you it wasn’t one of my men.”

It was risky to make such jokes around Karpukhin, and no one was at all amused. Not even me; for by this time I was beginning to think that he had something.

The sun was setting when I began my last dive into Trinco Deep, but the end of day has no meaning down there. I fell for two thousand feet with no lights, because I like to watch the luminous creatures of the sea, as they flash and flicker in the darkness, sometimes exploding like rockets just outside the observation window. In this open water, there was no danger of a collision; in any case, I had the panoramic sonar scan running, and that gave far better warning than my eyes.

At four hundred fathoms, I knew that something was wrong. The bottom was coming into view on the vertical sounder—but it was approaching much too slowly. My rate of descent was far too slow. I could increase it easily enough by flooding another buoyancy tank—but I hesitated to do so. In my business, anything out of the ordinary needs an explanation; three times I have saved my life by waiting until I had one.

The thermometer gave me the answer. The temperature outside was five degrees higher than it should have been, and I am sorry to say that it took me several seconds to realize why.

Only a few hundred feet below me, the repaired grid was now running at full power, pouring out megawatts of heat as it tried to equalize the temperature difference between Trinco Deep and the Solar Pond up there on land. It wouldn’t succeed, of course; but in the attempt it was generating electricity—and I was being swept upward in the geyser of warm water that was an incidental by-product.

When I finally reached the grid, it was quite difficult to keep the lobster in position against the upwelling current, and I began to sweat uncomfortably as the heat penetrated into the cabin. Being too hot on the sea bed was a novel experience; so also was the miragelike vision caused by the ascending water, which made my searchlights dance and tremble over the rock face I was exploring.

You must picture me, lights ablaze in that five-hundred-fathom darkness, moving slowly down the slope of the canyon, which at this spot was about as steep as the roof of a house. The missing element—if it was still around—could not have fallen very far before coming to rest. I would find it in ten minutes, or not at all.

After an hour’s searching, I had turned up several broken light bulbs (it’s astonishing how many get thrown overboard from ships—the sea beds of the world are covered with them), an empty beer bottle (same comment), and a brand-new boot. That was the last thing I found, for then I discovered that I was no longer alone.

I never switch off the sonar scan, and even when I’m not moving I always glance at the screen about once a minute to check the general situation. The situation now was that a large object—at least the size of the lobster—was approaching from the north. When I spotted it, the range was about five hundred feet and closing slowly. I switched off my lights, cut the jets I had been running at low power to hold me in the turbulent water, and drifted with the current.

Though I was tempted to call Shapiro and report that I had company, I decided to wait for more information. There were only three nations with depth ships that could operate at this level, and I was on excellent terms with all of them. It would never do to be too hasty, and to get myself involved in unnecessary political complications.

Though I felt blind without the sonar, I did not wish to advertise my presence, so I reluctantly switched it off and relied on my eyes. Anyone working at this depth would have to use lights, and I’d see them coming long before they could see me. So I waited in the hot, silent little cabin, straining my eyes into the darkness, tense and alert but not particularly worried.

First there was a dim glow, at an indefinite distance. It grew bigger and brighter, yet refused to shape itself into any pattern that my mind could recognize. The diffuse glow concentrated into myriad spots, until it seemed that a constellation was sailing toward me. Thus might the rising star clouds of the galaxy appear, from some world close to the heart of the Milky Way.

It is not true that men are frightened of the unknown; they can be frightened only of the known, the already experienced. I could not imagine what was approaching, but no creature of the sea could touch me inside six inches of good Swiss armor plate.

The thing was almost upon me, glowing with the light of its own creation, when it split into two separate clouds. Slowly they came into focus—not of my eyes, but of my understanding—and I knew that beauty and terror were rising toward me out of the abyss.

The terror came first, when I saw that the approaching beasts were squids, and all Joe’s tales reverberated in my brain. Then, with a considerable sense of letdown, I realized that they were only about twenty feet long—little larger than the lobster, and a mere fraction of its weight. They could do me no harm. And quite apart from that, their indescribable beauty robbed them of all menace.

This sounds ridiculous, but it is true. In my travels I have seen most of the animals of this world, but none to match the luminous apparitions floating before me now. The colored lights that pulsed and danced along their bodies made them seem clothed with jewels, never the same for two seconds at a time. There were patches that glowed a brilliant blue, like flickering mercury arcs, then changed almost instantly to burning neon red. The tentacles seemed strings of luminous beads, trailing through the water—or the lamps along a superhighway, when you look down upon it from the air at night. Barely visible against this background glow were the enormous eyes, uncannily human and intelligent, each surrounded by a diadem of shining pearls.

I am sorry, but that is the best I can do. Only the movie camera could do justice to these living kaleidoscopes. I do not know how long I watched them, so entranced by their luminous beauty that I had almost forgotten my mission. That those delicate, whiplash tentacles could not possibly have broken the grid was already obvious. Yet the presence of these creatures here was, to say the least, very curious. Karpukhin would have called it suspicious.

I was about to call the surface when I saw something incredible. It had been before my eyes all the time, but I had not realized it until now.

The squids were talking to each other.

Those glowing, evanescent patterns were not coming and going at random. They were as meaningful, I was suddenly sure, as the illuminated signs of Broadway or Piccadilly. Every few seconds there was an image that almost made sense, but it vanished before I could interpret it. I knew, of course, that even the common octopus shows its emotions with lightning-fast color changes—but this was something of a much higher order. It was real communication: here were two living electric signs, flashing messages to one another.

When I saw an unmistakable picture of the lobster, my last doubts vanished. Though I am no scientist, at that moment I shared the feelings of a Newton or an Einstein at some moment of revelation. This would make me famous. . . .

Then the picture changed—in a most curious manner. There was the lobster again, but rather smaller. And there beside it, much smaller still, were two peculiar objects. Each consisted of a pair of black dots surrounded by a pattern of ten radiating lines.

Just now I said that we Swiss are good at languages. However, it required little intelligence to deduce that this was a formalized squid’s-eye view of itself, and that what I was seeing was a crude sketch of the situation. But why the absurdly small size of the squids?

I had no time to puzzle that out before there was another change. A third squid symbol appeared on the living screen—and this one was enormous, completely dwarfing the others. The message shone there in the eternal night for a few seconds. Then the creature bearing it shot off at incredible speed, and left me alone with its companion.

Now the meaning was all too obvious. “My God!” I said to myself. “They feel they can’t handle me. They’ve gone to fetch Big Brother.”

And of Big Brother’s capabilities, I already had better evidence than Joe Watkins, for all his research and newspaper clippings.

That was the point—you won’t be surprised to hear—when I decided not to linger. But before I went, I thought I would try some talking myself.

After hanging here in darkness for so long, I had forgotten the power of my lights. They hurt my eyes, and must have been agonizing to the unfortunate squid. Transfixed by that intolerable glare, its own illumination utterly quenched, it lost all its beauty, becoming no more than a pallid bag of jelly with two black buttons for eyes. For a moment it seemed paralyzed by the shock; then it darted after its companion, while I soared upward to a world that could never be the same again.

“I’ve found your saboteur,” I told Karpukhin, when they opened the hatch of the lobster. “If you want to know all about him, ask Joe Watkins.”

I let Dimitri sweat over that for a few seconds, while I enjoyed his expression. Then I gave my slightly edited report. I implied—without actually saying so—that the squids I’d met were powerful enough to have done all the damage: and I said nothing about the conversation I’d overseen. That would only cause incredulity. Besides, I wanted time to think matters over, and to tidy up the loose ends—if I could.

Joe has been a great help, though he still knows no more than the Russians. He’s told me what wonderfully developed nervous systems squids possess, and has explained how some of them can change their appearance in a flash through instantaneous three-color printing, thanks to the extraordinary network of “chromophores” covering their bodies. Presumably this evolved for camouflage; but it seems natural—even inevitable—that it should develop into a communication system.

But there’s one thing that worries Joe.

“What were they doing around the grid?” he keeps asking me plaintively. “They’re cold-blooded invertebrates. You’d expect them to dislike heat as much as they object to light.”

That puzzles Joe; but it doesn’t puzzle me. Indeed, I think it’s the key to the whole mystery.

Those squids, I’m now certain, are in Trinco Deep for the same reason that there are men at the South Pole—or on the Moon. Pure scientific curiosity has drawn them from their icy home, to investigate this geyser of hot water welling from the sides of the canyon. Here is a strange and inexplicable phenomenon—possibly one that menaces their way of life. So they have summoned their giant cousin (servant? slave!) to bring them a sample for study. I cannot believe that they have a hope of understanding it; after all, no scientist on earth could have done so as little as a century ago. But they are trying; and that is what matters.

Tomorrow, we begin our countermeasures. I go back into Trinco Deep to fix the great lights that Shapiro hopes will keep the squids at bay. But how long will that ruse work, if intelligence is dawning in the deep?

As I dictate this, I’m sitting here below the ancient battlements of Fort Frederick, watching the Moon come up over the Indian Ocean. If everything goes well, this will serve as the opening of the book that Joe has been badgering me to write. If it doesn’t—then hello, Joe, I’m talking to you now. Please edit this for publication, in any way you think fit, and my apologies to you and Lev for not giving you all the facts before. Now you’ll understand why.

Whatever happens, please remember this: they are beautiful, wonderful creatures; try to come to terms with them if you can.

To: Ministry of Power, Moscow

From: Lev Shapiro, Chief Engineer, Trincomalee Thermoelectric Power Project

Herewith the complete transcript of the tape recording found among Herr Klaus Muller’s effects after his last dive. We are much indebted to Mr. Joe Watkins, of Time, for assistance on several points.

You will recall that Herr Muller’s last intelligible message was directed to Mr. Watkins and ran as follows: “Joe! You were right about Melville! The thing is absolutely gigan—”

Back | Next