The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

  ‘I never do reckon water in tons – and that’s part of the point. To ordinary people two and a half inches just means a very slightly higher mark on a post. After your build-up it sounded so tiddly that everyone feels annoyed with you for alarming them – those that don’t just laugh, and say: “Ha! ha! These professors!”’

  Bocker waved his hand at the desk with its load of mail.

  ‘Quite a lot of people have been alarmed – or at least indignant,’ he said. He lit a cigarette. ‘That was what I wanted. You know well enough how it has been since the beginning of this business. At every stage the great majority, and particularly the authorities, have resisted the evidence as long as they could. This is a scientific age – in the more educated strata. It will therefore almost fall over backwards in disregarding the abnormal, and it has developed a deep suspicion of its own senses. Vast quantities of evidence are required before a theory based on scanty knowledge can be dislodged. Very reluctantly the existence of something in the Deeps was belatedly conceded. There has been equal reluctance to admit all the succeeding manifestations until they couldn’t be dodged. And now here we are again, baulking at the newest hurdle.

  ‘Ever since this business in the Arctic began, a number of people have been well aware of what must be going on – though not, of course, of how it is being done – but for one reason or another, not excluding Governmental pressure, they have been keeping quiet about it. I have myself.’

  ‘That – er – doesn’t sound quite – true to form,’ I suggested.

  He grinned briefly, and then went on:

  ‘I misjudged it. Several of us did. When the purpose of the thing was clear, I doubted it. “This time,” I said to myself, “they really have bitten off more than they can chew.” There wasn’t any point in alarming people unnecessarily. Things are bad enough already. So, as long as it was possible to hope that the attempt on the ice was going to fail, it was better to say nothing in public. A sort of semi-voluntary censorship.’

  ‘But the Americans – ?’

  ‘Same attitude – if anything a bit more so. Business is their national sport, and, like most national sports, semi-sacred. A still bigger slump than they have been having since the shipping troubles started wouldn’t help anyone. So we all watched and waited.

  ‘We’ve not been altogether idle, though. The Arctic Ocean is deep, and even more difficult to get at than the others, so there was some bombing where the fog-patches occurred, but the devil of it is there’s no way of telling results.

  ‘Also, a group of us put it to the Admiralty that there were only two ways the things could be getting into the Arctic. They wouldn’t be using the Bering Sea route past Alaska because that would give them something like a couple of thousand miles in shallow water. So they must be coming up our way, between Rockall and Scotland. By cutting through one ridge south of the Faeroes they could have fairly deep water right the way up to the Polar Basin. Now, by that route there are two narrow passes they would have to use. We and the Norwegians got together over that, and between us we put down quite a lot of bombs east of Jan Mayen Island, and another lot further north, between Greenland and Spitsbergen. They may have done something, but, again, you can’t tell. At best it can only have meant a bit of delay, because the trouble still went on, and new fog-patches started up.

  ‘In the middle of all this the Muscovite, who seems to be constitutionally incapable of understanding anything to do with the sea, started making trouble. The sea, he appeared to be arguing, was causing a great deal of inconvenience to the West; therefore it must be acting on good dialectically materialistic principles, and I have no doubt that if he could contact the Deeps he would like to make a pact with their inhabitants for a brief period of dialectical opportunism. Anyway, he led off, as you know, with accusations of aggression, and then in the back-and-forth that followed began to show such truculence that the attention of our Services became diverted from the really serious threat to the antics of this oriental clown who thinks the sea was only created to embarrass capitalists.

  ‘Thus, we have now arrived at a situation where the “bathies”, as they call them, far from falling down on the job as we had hoped, are going ahead fast, and all the brains and organizations that should be working flat out at planning to meet the emergency are congenially fooling around with those ills they have, and ignoring others that they would rather know not of. There are times when one fails to see why God thought it necessary to devise the ostrich.’

  ‘So you decided that the time had come to force their hands by – er – blowing the gaff?’ I asked.

  ‘Yes – but not alone. This time I have the company of a number of eminent and very worried men. Mine was only the opening shot at the wider public on this side of the Atlantic. My weighty companions who have not already lost their reputations over this business are working more subtly. As for the American end, well, just take a look at Life and Collier’s this next week. Oh, yes, something is going to be done.’

  ‘What?’ asked Phyllis.

  He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then shook his head slightly.

  ‘That, thank God, is someone else’s department – at least, it will be when the public forces them to admit the situation.’

  ‘But what can they do?’ Phyllis repeated.

  He hesitated. Then he said: ‘This is between ourselves. Not a word of it have you heard from me. The only possible thing that I can see for them to do is to organize salvage. To make sure that certain things and people are not lost. That, I have no doubt, they will start to do immediately the reality of the danger has been accepted. The rest will have to take their chance – and I’m afraid that for most of us it won’t be much of a chance.’

  ‘Like preparations for a war – move great works of art and important people away to safe places?’ suggested Phyllis.

  ‘Exactly – almost too exactly.’

  Phyllis frowned. ‘Just what do you mean by that, A. B.?’

  He shook his head. ‘That they will think in terms of ordinary war – and I don’t trust the sense of values that will operate. Art treasures? Yes, no doubt they will try to preserve them, but at the cost of what else? Call me a Philistine, if you like, but Art really only became Art in the last two centuries. Essentially, before that, it was furniture for improving one’s home. Well, we seemed to get along all right although we lost the Crô-Magnon art for some thousands of years, but should we have done so if it had been the knowledge of fire that we had lost?

  ‘And “important people”? Who is important? Some Norman, or pre-Norman, blood must run in the veins of every Englishman of three generations’ standing, but I have no doubt that those who can trace it back by a list of names on paper will be considered to have prior claims to survival. Certain eminent intellectuals are likely to be tolerated, too, on the strength of honours earned in the days when they had fresh ideas. How many will be among the élite because they still have ideas, remains to be seen. As for the ordinary man, much his wisest course would be to enlist in a regiment with a famous name. There’ll be a use for him.’

  ‘Come off it, A.B. It’s many years now since you even looked like a cynical undergraduate,’ said Phyllis.

  Bocker grinned, and then wiped the grin off just as suddenly:

  ‘All the same, it is going to be a very bloody business,’ he said, seriously.

  ‘What I want to know–’ Phyllis and I began, simultaneously.

  ‘Your turn, Mike,’ she offered.

  ‘Well, mine is; how do you think the thing’s being done? Melting the Arctic seems a pretty formidable proposition.’

  ‘There’ve been a number of guesses. They range from an incredible operation like piping warm water up from the tropics, to tapping the Earth’s central heat – which I find just about as unlikely.’

  ‘But you have your own idea?’ I suggested, for it seemed improbable that he had not.

  ‘Well, I think it might be done this way. We know that they have some kind of de
vice that will project a jet of water with considerable force – the bottom sediment that was washed up into surface currents in a continuous flow pretty well proved that. Well then, a contraption like that, used in conjunction with a heater, say an atomic reaction pile, ought to be capable of generating a quite considerable warm current. The obvious snag there is that we don’t know whether they have atomic fission or not. So far, there’s been no indication that they have – unless you count our presenting them with at least one atomic bomb that didn’t go off. But if they do have it, I think that might be an answer.’

  ‘They could get the necessary uranium?’

  ‘Why not? After all, they have forcibly established their rights, mineral and otherwise, over more than two-thirds of the world’s surface. Oh, yes, they could get it, all right, if they know about it.’

  ‘And the iceberg angle?’

  ‘That’s less difficult. In fact, there is pretty general agreement that if one has a vibratory type of weapon that can cause a ship to fall to pieces, there ought to be no great difficulty in causing a lump of ice – even a considerable sized lump of ice – to crack.’

  ‘And nobody knows of anything we can do about it?’

  ‘It boils down to this, we simply don’t think the same way. When you consider it, practically all our strategy of defence or attack is based on our ability to deliver or resist missiles of one kind or another – whereas they don’t seem to be interested in missiles at all; at least, you could scarcely call a pseudo-coelenterate a missile. Another thing, and this is one of those that keeps the backroom boys stumped, is that they don’t use iron or any ferrous metals – which knocks out a whole range of possible magnetic approaches.

  ‘In war, you have at least a rough idea of the way your enemy must be thinking, so you can put up appropriate counter-thoughts, but with these brutes it’s nearly always some slant we haven’t explored. If they drove those sea-tanks with any kind of engine known to us we could have picked them up well offshore, and destroyed them – but whatever does make them go, it obviously isn’t an engine in our sense of the term, at all. The answer, as with the coelenterates, is probably up some biological avenue that we simply haven’t discovered to exist, so how the devil do we start understanding it, let alone produce an opposing form? We’ve only got the weapons we know – and they’re not the right ones for this job. Always the same fundamental trouble – how the hell do you find out what is going on five miles down?’

  ‘Suppose we can’t find a way of hindering the process, how long do you think it’ll take before we are in real trouble?’ I asked him.

  He shrugged. ‘I’ve absolutely no idea. As far as the glaciers and the ice-cap are concerned, it presumably depends on how hard they work at it. But directing warm currents on pack-ice would presumably show only small results to begin with and then increase rapidly, very likely by a geometrical progression. Worse than useless to guess, with no data at all.’

  ‘Once this gets into people’s heads, they’re going to want to know the best thing to do,’ Phyllis said. ‘What would you advise?’

  ‘Isn’t that the Government’s job? It’s because it’s high time they thought about doing some advising that we have blown the gaff, as Mike put it. My own personal advice is too impracticable to be worth much.’

  ‘What is it?’ Phyllis asked.

  ‘Find a nice, self-sufficient hilltop, and fortify it,’ said Bocker, simply.

  The campaign did not get off to the resounding start that Bocker had hoped. In England, it had the misfortune to be adopted by the Nethermore Press, and was consequently regarded as stunt territory wherein it would be unethical for other journalistic feet to trespass. In America it did not stand out greatly among the other excitements of the week. In both countries there were interests which preferred that it should seem to be no more than a stunt. France and Italy took it more seriously, but their governments’ political weight in world councils was lighter. Russia ignored the content, but explained the purpose; it was yet another move by cosmopolitan-fascist warmongers to extend their influence in the Arctic.

  Nevertheless, official indifference was slightly breached, Bocker assured us. A Committee on which the Services were represented had been set up to inquire and make recommendations. A similar Committee in Washington, D.C., also inquired in a leisurely fashion until it was brought up sharply by the State of California.

  The average Californian was not greatly worried by a rise of a couple of inches in the tide-level; he had been much more delicately stricken. Something was happening to his climate. The average of his seaboard temperature had gone way down, and he was having cold, wet fogs. He disapproved of that, and a large number of Californians disapproving makes quite a noise. Oregon, and Washington, too, rallied to support their neighbour. Never within the compass of their statistical records had there been so cold and unpleasant a winter.

  It was clear to all parties that the increased flow of ice and cold water pouring out of the Bering Sea was being swept eastward by the Kuro Siwo current from Japan, and patent to at least one of the parties that the amenities of the most important State in the Union were suffering gravely. Something must be done.

  In England the spur was applied when the April spring-tides overflowed the Embankment wall at Westminster. Assurances that this had happened a number of times before and was devoid of particular significance were swept aside by the triumphant we-told-you-so of the Nethermore Press. A hysterical Bomb-the-Bathies demand sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic, and spread round the world. (Except for the intransigent sixth.)

  Foremost, as well as first, in the Bomb-the-Bathies movement, the Nethermore Press inquired, morning and evening: ‘WHAT IS THE BOMB FOR?’

  ‘Billions have been spent upon this Bomb which appears to have no other destiny but to be held up and shaken threateningly, or, from time to time, to provide pictures for our illustrated papers. Having made it, we were too scared to use it in Korea; now, it seems, we are too scared to use it on the Bathies. The first reluctance was understandable, the present one is unforgivable. The people of the world, having evolved and paid for this weapon, are now forbidden to use it against a menace that has sunk our ships, closed our oceans, snatched men and women from our very shores, and now threatens to drown us. Procrastination and ineptitude has from the beginning marked the attitude of the Authorities in this affair…’ and so on, with the earlier bombings of the Deeps apparently forgotten by writers and readers alike.

  ‘Working up nicely now,’ said Bocker when we saw him next.

  ‘It seems pretty silly to me,’ Phyllis told him, bluntly. ‘All the same old arguments against the indiscriminate bombing of Deeps still apply.’

  ‘Oh, not that part,’ Bocker said. ‘They’ll probably drop a few bombs here and there with plenty of publicity and no results. No, I mean the planning. We’re now in the first stage of stupid suggestions like building immense levees of sandbags, of course; but it is getting across that something has got to be done.’

  It got across still more strongly after the next spring-tides. There had been strengthening of the sea defences everywhere. In London the riverside walls had been reinforced and topped for their whole length with sandbags. As a precaution, traffic had been diverted from the Embankment, but the crowds turned out to throng it and the bridges, on foot. The police did their best to keep them moving, but they dawdled from one point to another, watching the slow rise of the water, waving to the crews of passing tugs and barges which presently were riding above the road-level. They seemed equally ready to be indignant if the water should break through, or disappointed if there were an anti-climax.

  They were not disappointed. The water lapped slowly above the parapet and against the sandbags. Here and there it began to trickle through on to the pavements. Firemen, Civil Defence, and Police watched their sections anxiously, rushing bags to reinforce wherever a trickle enlarged, shoring up weak-looking spots with timber struts. The pace gradually became hotter. The bystand
ers began to help, dashing from one point to another as new jets started up. Presently there could be little doubt what was going to happen. Some of the watching crowd withdrew, but many of them remained, in a wavering fascination. When the breakthrough came, it occurred in a dozen places on the north bank almost simultaneously. Among the spurting jets a bag or two would begin to shift, then, suddenly, came a collapse, and a gap several yards wide through which the water poured as if over a weir.

  From where we stood on top of an EBC van parked on Vauxhall Bridge we were able to see three separate rivers of muddy water pouring into the streets of Westminster, filling basements and cellars as they went, and presently merging into one flood. Our commentator handed over to another, perched on a Pimlico roof. For a minute or two we switched over to the BBC to find out how their crew on Westminster Bridge was faring. We got on to them just in time to hear Bob Humbleby describing the flooded Victoria Embankment with the water now rising against New Scotland Yard’s own second line of defences. The television boys didn’t seem to be doing too well; there must have been a lot of bets lost on where the breaks-through would occur, but they were putting up a struggle with the help of telephoto lenses and portable cameras.

  From that point on, the thing got thick and fast. On the south bank water was breaking into the streets of Lambeth, South-wark, and Bermondsey in a number of places. Up river it was seriously flooding Chiswick; down river Limehouse was getting it badly, and more places kept on reporting breaks until we lost track of them. There was little to be done but stand by for the tide to drop, and then rush the repairs against its next rise.

  The House outquestioned any quiz. The replies were more assured than assuring.

  The relevant Ministries and Departments were actively taking all the steps necessary, claims should be submitted through Local Councils, priorities of men and material had already been arranged. Yes, warnings had been given, but unforeseen factors had intruded upon the hydrographers’ original calculations. An Order in Council would be made for the requisition of all earth-moving machinery. The public could have full confidence that there would be no repetition of the calamity; the measures already put in hand would insure against any further extension. Little could be done beyond rescue-work in the Eastern Counties at present, that would of course continue, but the most urgent matter at the moment was to ensure that the water could make no further inroads at the next high-tides.

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