The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

The peoples of the West, the State Department observed, would be interested by the Soviet Note. As, however, they had now had considerable experience of that technique of propaganda which had been called the pre-natal tu quoque, they were able to recognize its implications. The Government of the United States was well aware of the territorial divisions in the Arctic – it would, indeed, remind the Soviet Government, in the interests of accuracy, that the segment mentioned in the Note was only approximate, the true figures being: 32° – 4′ – 35″ East of Greenwich, and 168° – 49′ – 30″ West of Greenwich, giving a slightly smaller segment than that claimed, but since the centre of the phenomenon mentioned was well within this area the United States Government had, naturally, no cognizance of its existence until informed of it in the Note.

  Recent observations had, curiously, recorded the existence of just such a feature as that described in the Note at a centre also close to the 85th Parallel, but at a point 79° West of Greenwich. By coincidence this was just the target-area jointly selected by the United States and Canadian Governments for tests of their latest types of long-range guided missiles. Preparations for these tests had already been completed, and the first experimental launchings would take place in a few days.

  The Russians commented on the quaintness of choosing a target-area where observation was not possible; the Americans, upon the Slavonic zeal for pacification of uninhabited regions. Whether both parties then proceeded to attack their respective fogs is not on public record, but the wider effect was that fogs became news, and were discovered to have been unusually dense of late in a surprising number of places.

  Had weather-ships still been at work in the Atlantic it is likely that useful data would have been gathered sooner, but they had been ‘temporarily’ withdrawn from service, following the sinking of two of them some time before. Consequently the first report which did anything to tidy up the idle speculations came from Godthaab, in Greenland. It spoke of an increased flow of water through the Davis Strait from Baffin Bay, with a content of broken ice quite unusual for the time of year. A few days later Nome, Alaska, reported a similar condition in the Bering Strait. Then from Spitsbergen, too, came reports of increased flow and lower temperatures.

  That straightforwardly explained the fogs off Newfoundland and certain other parts. Elsewhere they could be convincingly ascribed to deep-running cold currents forced upwards into the warmer waters above by encounters with submarine mountain ranges. Everything, in fact, could be either simply or abstrusely explained, except the unusual increase in the cold flow.

  Then, from Godhavn, north of Godthaab on the west Greenland coast, a message told of icebergs in unprecedented numbers and often of unusual size. Investigating expeditions were flown from American Arctic bases, and confirmed the report. The sea in the north of Baffin Bay, they announced, was crammed with icebergs.

  ‘At about Latitude 77, 60° West,’ one of the fliers wrote, ‘we found the most awesome sight in the world. The glaciers which run down from the high Greenland Ice-Cap were calving. I have seen icebergs formed before, but never on anything like the scale it is taking place there. In the great ice-cliffs, hundreds of feet high, cracks appear suddenly. An enormous section tilts out, falling and turning slowly. When it smashes into the water the spray rises up and up in great fountains, spreading far out all around. The displaced water comes rushing back in breakers which clash together in tremendous spray while a berg as big as a small island slowly rolls and wallows and finds its balance. For a hundred miles up and down the coast we saw splashes starting up where the same thing was happening. Very often a berg had no time to float away before a new one had crashed down on top of it. The scale was so big that it was hard to realize. Only by the apparent slowness of the falls and the way the huge splashes seemed to hang in the air – the majestic pace of it all – were we able to tell the vastness of what we were seeing.’

  Just so did other expeditions describe the scene on the east coast of Devon Island, and on the southern tip of Ellesmere Island. In Baffin Bay the innumerable great bergs jostled slowly, grinding the flanks and shoulders from one another as they herded on the long drift southward, through the Davis Strait, and out into the Atlantic.

  Away over on the other side of the Arctic Circle, Nome announced that the southward flow of broken pack-ice had further increased.

  The public received the information in a cushionly style. People were impressed by the first magnificent photographs of icebergs in the process of creation, but, although no iceberg is quite like any other iceberg, the generic similarity is pronounced. A rather brief period of awe was succeeded by the thought that while it was really very clever of science to know all about icebergs and climate and so on, it did not seem to be much good knowing if it could not, resultantly, do something about it.

  Tuny, at a chance meeting with Phyllis, summed the attitude up: ‘I’m sure things like that must be frightfully interesting if one happens to be the kind of person who finds just being interested in things enough. What seems to me so feeble is that having found out all this they don’t stop them doing it.’

  ‘Well,’ said Phyllis, ‘stopping icebergs is probably pretty difficult – ’

  ‘I don’t mean stopping icebergs, I mean stopping the Russians from making icebergs.’

  ‘Oh,’ said Phyllis, ‘are they? – making them, I mean?’

  ‘But of course! Just look at it logically,’ Tuny told her. ‘You don’t get things like this suddenly happening for no reason at all. The Russians always seem to think they have more rights in the Arctic than anyone else although they were years after other people in getting to the North Pole, and I expect they’re now claiming that they discovered it some time in the nineteenth century because they don’t seem to be able to bear the thought that anybody else ever discovered anything, and – where was I?’

  ‘I was wondering why they should be making icebergs,’ Phyllis said.

  ‘Oh, yes. Well, that’s all part of their general policy. I mean, everyone knows that their idea is to make trouble everywhere they can. And look at the wretched summer we’ve been having; things cancelled one after another, and now they’re saying that Wimbledon may have to be washed out altogether. And the whole thing is due to these icebergs they keep on sending into our Gulf Stream. The scientists all know that, but nobody does anything about it. People are beginning to get fed-up with evasiveness, I can tell you. They want a strong line, and a clean-out that will stop this kind of thing. It’s been allowed to go on much too long already. Surely they can blow them up, or something.’

  ‘The Russians, or the icebergs?’ asked Phyllis.

  ‘Well, I meant the icebergs. If they just blow them up and show the Russians it isn’t going to work, they’ll probably stop it.’

  ‘But – er – are you quite sure the Russians are responsible for them?’ Phyllis said.

  Tuny regarded her closely.

  ‘I must say,’ she remarked, ‘it seems to me very odd indeed how concerned some people seem to be to justify the Russians on every possible occasion.’ And shortly afterwards they parted.

  Meanwhile, the interchange of Notes across the North Pole continued. Neither side particularized on the steps taken to deal with the offence in its own area, but the State Department admitted that its area of fog was, when undisturbed by wind, now greater than before; the Kremlin was less committal, but claimed no resounding successes.

  The dreary summer passed into a drearier autumn. There seemed to be nothing anybody could do about it but accept it with a grumbling philosophy.

  At the other end of the world spring came. Then summer, and the whaling season started – in so far as it could be called a season at all when the owners who would risk ships were so few, and the crews ready to risk their lives fewer still. Nevertheless, some could be found ready to damn the bathies, along with all other perils of the deep, and set out. At the end of the Antarctic summer came news, via New Zealand, of glaciers in Victoria Land shedding huge quantities of ber
gs into the Ross Sea, and suggestions that the great Ross Ice-Barrier itself might be beginning to break up. Within a week came similar news from the Weddell Sea. The Filchner Barrier there, and the Larsen Ice-Shelf were both said to be calving bergs in fantastic numbers. A series of reconnaissance flights brought in reports which read almost exactly like those from Baffin Bay, and photographs which might have come from the same region. Again the more sober illustrated weeklies ran rotogravure views of great masses plunging into seas already dotted for miles with gleaming bergs, and produced studies of individual bergs above such captions as ‘Nature’s Majesty: With Gothic pinnacles aspiring, a new Everest of the sea sets out upon her lonely voyage. The menacing beauty of this berg freshly calved by the David Glacier in the Ross Sea, is romantically caught by the camera. In many parts of the Antarctic coastline the production of such bergs has been so extensive that ice-shelves hitherto regarded as permanent have been shattered by their fall, and open water now replaces the frozen sea.’

  The attitude of polite patronage towards Nature, and the reception, with well-bred congratulatory restraint, of the clever turns she put on to edify and amuse the human race might have continued unruffled for some months longer than it did, but for the urchin quality of Dr Bocker.

  The Sunday Tidings, which had for some years been pursuing a policy of intellectual sensationalism, had never found it easy to maintain its supply of material. The stuff of mere emotional sensationalism, as used by its cheaper and less dignified contemporaries, lay thickly all around, easily malleable into shapes attractive to the constant human passions. Intellectual sensationalism, however, was a much more tricky business. In addition to avoiding the suggestion of sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake, it required knowledge, research, careful timing, and, if possible, some literary ability. Inevitably, therefore, its policy was subject to lamentable gaps during which it could find nothing topical on its chosen level to disclose. It must, one fancies, have been a council of desperation over a prolonged hiatus of the kind which induced it to open its columns to Bocker.

  That the Editor felt some apprehension over the result was discernible from his italicized note preceding the article in which he disclaimed, on grounds of fairmindedness, any responsibility for what he was now printing in his own paper.

  With this auspicious beginning, and under the heading: The Devil and the Deeps, Bocker led off:

  ‘Never, since the days when Noah was building his Ark, has there been such a well-regimented turning of blind eyes as during the last year. It cannot go on. Soon, now, the long Arctic night will be over. Observation will again be possible. Then, the eyes that should never have been shut must open….’

  That beginning I remember, but without references I can only give the gist and a few recollected phrases of the rest.

  ‘This,’ Bocker continued, ‘is the latest chapter in a long tale of futility and failure stretching back to the sinkings of the Yatsushiro, and the Keweenaw, and beyond. Failure which has already driven us from the seas, and now threatens us on the land. I repeat, failure.

  ‘That is a word so little to our taste that many think it a virtue to claim that they never admit it. But blind stupidity is not one of the virtues; it is a weakness, and in this case it is a dangerous weakness, masked by a false optimism. All about us are unrest, inflating prices, whole economic structures changing – and, therefore, a way of life that is changing. All about us, too, are people who talk about our exclusion from the high seas as though it were some temporary inconvenience, soon to be corrected. To this smugness there is a reply; it is this:

  ‘For over five years now the best, the most agile, the most inventive brains in the world have wrestled with the problem of coming to grips with our enemy – and they are still no closer to a solution than when they began. There is, on their present findings, nothing at all to indicate that we shall ever be able to sail the seas in peace again….

  ‘With the word “failure” so wry in our mouths it has apparently been policy to discourage any expression of the connexion between our maritime troubles and the recent developments in the Arctic and Antarctic. It is time for this attitude of “not before the children” to cease. I do not know, and I do not care, what kind of pressure has been preventing our more percipient men from pointing out this connexion; there are always cliques and factions anxious to keep the public in the dark “for its own good” – a “good” that is seldom far from the interests of the faction advocating it.

  ‘I do not suggest that the root problem is being neglected; far from it. There have been, and are, men wearing themselves out to find some means by which we can locate and destroy the enemy in our Deeps. What I do say is that with them still unable to find a way, we now face the most serious assault yet.

  ‘It is an assault against which we have no defences. It is not susceptible of direct attack. It can be checked only by our discovery of some means of destroying its High Command, in the Deeps.

  ‘And what is this weapon to which we can oppose no counter?

  ‘It is the melting of the Arctic ice – and a great part of the Antarctic ice, too.

  ‘You think that fantastic? Too colossal? It is not, it is a task which we could have undertaken ourselves, had we so wished, at any time since we released the power of the atom.

  ‘Because of the winter darkness little has been heard lately of the patches of Arctic fog. It is not generally known that, though two of them existed in the Arctic spring, by the end of the Arctic summer there were eight, in widely separated areas. Now, fog is caused, as you know, by the meeting of hot and cold currents of either air or water. How does it happen that eight novel, independent warm currents can suddenly occur in the Arctic?

  ‘And the results? Unprecedented flows of broken ice into the Bering Sea, and into the Greenland Sea. In these two areas particularly, the pack-ice is hundreds of miles north of its usual spring maximum. In other places, the north of Norway, for instance, it is further south. And we ourselves had an unusually cold, wet winter.

  ‘And the icebergs? We have all read a lot about them and seen a lot of pictures of them lately. Why? Obviously because there are a great many more icebergs than usual, but the question that no one has publicly answered is, why should there be more icebergs?

  ‘Everyone knows where they are coming from. Greenland is a large island – greater than nine times the size of the British Isles. But it is more than that. It is also the last great bastion of the retreating ice-age.

  ‘Several times the ice has come south, grinding and scouring, smoothing the mountains, scooping the valleys on its way until it stood in huge ramparts, dizzy cliffs of glass-green ice, vast slow-crawling glaciers, across half Europe. Then it went back, gradually, over centuries, back and back. The huge cliffs and mountains of ice dwindled away, melted, and were known no more – except in one place. Only in Greenland does that immemorial ice still tower nine thousand feet high, unconquered yet. And down its sides slide the glaciers which spawn the icebergs. They have been scattering their icebergs into the sea, season after season, since before there were men to know of it; but why, in this year, should they suddenly spawn ten, twenty times as many? There must be a reason for this. There is.

  ‘If some means, or some several means, of melting the Arctic ice were put into operation, a little time would have to pass before its effects became mensurable. Moreover, the effects would be progressive; first a trickle, then a gush, then a torrent.

  ‘I have seen “estimates” which suggest that if the polar ice were melted the sea-level would rise by one hundred feet. To call that an “estimate” is a shocking imposition. It is no more than a round-figure guess. It may be a good guess, or it may be widely wrong, on either side. The only certainty is that the sea-level would indeed rise.

  ‘In this connexion I draw attention to the fact that in January of this year the mean sea-level at Newlyn, where it is customarily measured, was reported to have risen by two and a half inches.’

  ‘Oh, d
ear!’ said Phyllis, when she had read this. ‘Of all the pertinaceous stickers-out-of-necks! We’d better go and see him.’

  It did not entirely surprise us when we telephoned the next morning to find that his number was not available. When we called, however, we were admitted. Bocker got up from a desk littered with mail, to greet us.

  ‘No earthly good your coming here,’ he told us. ‘There isn’t a sponsor that’d touch me with a forty-foot pole.’

  ‘Oh, I’d not say that, A. B., Phyllis told him. ‘You will very likely find yourself immensely popular with the sellers of sandbags and makers of earth-shifting machinery before long.’

  He took no notice of that. ‘You’ll probably be contaminated if you associate with me. In most countries I’d be under arrest by now.’

  ‘Terribly disappointing for you. This has always been discouraging territory for ambitious martyrs. But you do try, don’t you?’ she responded. ‘Now, look, A. B.,’ she went on, ‘do you really like to have people throwing things at you, or what is it?’

  ‘I get impatient,’ explained Bocker.

  ‘So do other people. But nobody I know has quite your gift for going just beyond what people are willing to take at any given moment. One day you’ll get hurt. Not this time because, luckily, you’ve messed it up, but one time certainly.’

  ‘If not this time, then probably not at all,’ he said. He bent a thoughtful, disapproving look on her. ‘Just what do you mean, young woman, by coming here and telling me I “messed it up”?’

  ‘The anti-climax. First you sounded as if you were on the point of great revelations, but then that was followed by a rather vague suggestion that somebody or something must be causing the Arctic changes – and without any specific explanation of how it could be done. And then your grand finale was that the tide is two and a half inches higher.’

  Bocker continued to regard her. ‘Well, so it is. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. Two and a half inches is a colossal amount of water when it’s spread over a hundred and forty-one million square miles. If you reckon it up in tons – ’

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