The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
‘It isn’t,’ I said. ‘If you’d read the papers properly you’d see that two more bombs have gone down in the last week: one in the Cocos-Keeling Basin, and the other in the Prince Edward Deep.’
‘I didn’t see that.’
‘News value practically nil at the moment. You have to read the small print.’
‘It doesn’t help when they choose outlandish places to send them down, either. There must be plenty of deep places somebody’s heard of.’
‘Presumably none of the civilized regions will put up with bombs on their own doorsteps – and who’s to blame them? I wouldn’t fancy a coastline that’s all radio-active water full of dead fish by the million, myself.’
‘But it does show that they’ve not shelved the whole thing – the Navy, I mean.’
‘Mightn’t it be worth going to Whitehall and seeing your Admiral again?’
‘He’s a captain,’ I told her, but I considered the idea. ‘Last time we met it wasn’t really I that had the success with him,’ I pointed out.
‘Oh. Oh, I see,’ said Phyllis. ‘H’m. Dinner Tuesday?’
‘I’ll put it to him, from you.’
‘I’m sure there must be a name for this kind of thing,’ she said. ‘The way I have to work! One day you’ll find it’s misfired and you’ve cut yourself out.’
‘Darling, you know you thoroughly enjoy the art of the little finger. And you’d be furious if I concealed you under a bushel.’
‘That’s all very well,’ she said. ‘But I’d just like to feel a little more certain whose little finger we’re talking about.’
Captain Winters came to dinner.
‘Would you,’ asked Phyllis, leaning back on her pillow with her hands behind her head, and studying the ceiling, ‘would you call Mildred attractive?’
‘Yes, darling,’ I replied, promptly.
‘Oh,’ said Phyllis, ‘I thought perhaps so.’
‘It looked mutual,’ she observed.
‘It was meant to look – er – absorbed,’ I told her.
‘Oh, it did,’ she assured me.
‘Darling, the position is awkward,’ I pointed out. ‘If I were to tell you that one of your best friends is unattractive-’
‘I’m not at all sure that she is one of my best friends. But she’s not unattractive.’
‘Your own appearance,’ I remarked, ‘I would describe as rapt. The manner trustful, the eyes a little starry, the smile a little enchanted, the overall effect quite bewitching. You know that, of course, but I thought I’d mention it; it was so well done – unusually well, I thought.’
She shifted slightly.
‘The Captain’s a very attractive man,’ she said.
‘Ah, well, then we’ve had a nice evening with two attractive people, haven’t we? And they had to be stopped from attracting one another; channelled, as it were.’
‘H’m,’ she said.
‘Darling, you’re not jealous of my poor little histrionic talent?’
‘No – it just seemed to have improved, that’s all.’
‘Sweetie,’ I said, ‘I am almost constantly treated to the spectacle of a variety of men wrestling with the pangs of temptation, and I feel great sympathy for them.’
She let the nearer hand stray from behind her head.
‘I don’t want them,’ she said…
‘Darling,’ I remarked, somewhat later, ‘I begin to wonder if we ought not to see more of Mildred.’
‘M’m,’ she said, doubtfully, ‘but the Captain, too.’
‘Which reminds me, if you aren’t too sleepy – what did the Captain have to say?’
‘Oh, lots of nice things. Irish blood there, I think.’
‘But, passing from the really important, to matters of mere worldwide interest – ?’ I suggested, patiently.
‘He wouldn’t let go of much, but what he did say wasn’t encouraging. Some of it was rather horrid.’
‘Well, the main situation doesn’t seem to have altered a lot on the surface, but they’re getting increasingly worried about what’s happening below. The general flap and scare worried the authorities. It unsettled people, and they were uneasy lest what was just an excitement and a thrill might turn into a panic.
From the way he spoke I think there must have been quite a bit of manoeuvring behind the way it has all calmed down.
‘And he didn’t actually say that investigation has made no progress either,’ but what he did say implied it. For instance, echo soundings don’t help. You can tell where the bottom is, but that tells you nothing about what may be on the bottom there. The shallower, secondary echoes may be off large creatures, shoals of fish, or anything, but there’s no means of being sure what they are off. Some of them seem to be static, but no one’s sure about that.
‘Depth microphones don’t help much. At some levels there’s practically nothing, at others there’s just a meaningless pandemonium of fish-noises, like we heard from that telebath thing. And they daren’t let them down really deep on a steel cable because of what happened to that research-ship and some of the others. They’ve tried with a cable which was a non-conductor, but the mike leads burnt out at about a thousand fathoms. They sent down a television camera adapted for infra-red instead of visible rays, on the theory that it might be less provocative, and insulated the gear from all the rest of the ship. That was a good thing because at about eight hundred fathoms up came a charge that jumped fuses and melted half their instruments.
‘He says that atomic bombs are out, for the moment at any rate. You can only use them in isolated places, and even then the radio-activity spreads widely. They kill an awful lot of fish quite uselessly, and make a lot more radio-active. The fisheries experts on both sides of the Atlantic have been raising hell, and saying that it’s because of the bombings that some shoals have been failing to turn up in the proper places at the proper times. They’ve been blaming the bombs for upsetting the ecology, whatever that is, and affecting the migratory habits. But a few of them are saying that the data aren’t sufficient to be absolutely sure that it is the bombs that have done it, but something certainly has, and it may have serious effects on food supplies. And so, as nobody seems to be quite clear what the bombs were expected to do, and all they do do is to kill and bewilder lots of fish at great expense, they’ve become unpopular just now.’
‘Most of that we already know,’ I remarked, ‘but when it’s on parade it certainly makes a fine upstanding body of negatives.’
‘Well, here’s one you didn’t know. Two of those bombs they’ve sent down haven’t gone off.’
‘Oh,’ I said, ‘and what do we infer from that?’
‘I don’t know. But it has them worried, very worried. You see, the way they are set to operate is by the pressure at a given depth; simple and pretty accurate.’
‘Meaning that they never reached the right pressure-zone? Must have got hung up somewhere on the way down?’
Phyllis nodded. ‘That alone would take a bit of explaining, but what worries them still more is that there is a secondary setting, quite independent, just in case it happens to land on a submarine mountain, or something. It works with a timeswitch – only with these two it hasn’t.’
‘Ah,’ I said, ‘perfectly simple, my dear Watson – the water got in and stopped the clock,’ I told her.
‘It’s your name that’s very suitably Watson – I’m only labelled that way for the duration,’ Phyllis said, coldly. ‘Anyway, there’s nothing perfectly simple about it; and it’s made them extremely anxious.’
‘Understandably, too. I’d not feel too happy myself if I’d mislaid a couple of live atom bombs,’ I admitted. ‘What else?’
‘Three cable-repair ships have unaccountably disappeared. One of them was cut off in the middle of a radio message. She was known to be grappling for a defective cable at the time.’
‘When was this?’
‘They might not be anything to do with it.’
‘They might not – but everyone’s pretty sure they are.’
‘No survivors to tell what happened?’
Presently I asked:
‘Let me see. Oh, yes. They are developing some kind of guided depth-missile which will be high-explosive, not atomic. But it hasn’t been tested yet.’
I turned to look at her admiringly. ‘That’s the stuff, darling. The real Mata Hari touch. Have you got the drawings?’
‘You goof. It’s only because they don’t want people unsettled that it’s not been published in the newspapers – that, and the fact that the newspapers agree. The last hullabaloo sent the sales-graphs dipping everywhere, and the advertisers didn’t like it. There’s no need for ordinary security measures. Nobody’s going to dangle a telephone into the Mindanao Trench and ask if anybody down there would like to buy some interesting information.’
‘I suppose not,’ I admitted.
‘Even the Services use common sense sometimes,’ she said pointedly, and then added, on a second thought: ‘Though there are probably several things he didn’t tell me.’
‘Probably,’ I agreed again.
‘The most important thing is that he is going to give me an introduction to Dr Matet, the oceanographer.’
I sat up. ‘But, darling, the Oceanographical Society has more or less threatened to excommunicate anybody who deals with us after that last script – it’s part of their anti-Bocker line.’
‘Well, Dr Matet happens to be a friend of the Captain’s. He’s seen his fireball-incidence maps, and he’s a half-convert. Anyway, we’re not convinced Bockerites, are we?’
‘What we think we are isn’t necessarily what other people think we are. Still, if he’s willing – When can we see him?’
‘I hope to see him in a few days’ time, darling.’
‘Don’t you think I should – ’
‘No. But it’s sweet of you not to trust me still.’
‘But – ’
‘No. And now it’s time we went to sleep,’ she said, firmly.
The beginning of Phyllis’s interview was, she reported, almost standard:
‘EBC?’ said Doctor Matet, raising eyebrows like miniature doormats. ‘I thought Captain Winters said BBC.’
He was a man with a large frame sparingly covered, which gave his head the appearance of properly belonging to a still larger frame. His tanned forehead was high, and well polished back to the crown. This dome was hedged about with wiry grey hair which stuck out in tufts over each ear. His bright eyes peered at one past a pronouncedly Roman nose. His large, responsive mouth surmounted a slightly cleft chin. As if all this dominating apparatus were slightly too heavy for him, he stooped. He gave one, Phyllis said, a feeling of being overhung.
She sighed inwardly, and started on the routine justification of the English Broadcasting Company’s existence, with the assurances that sponsorship did not necessarily connote venality, venenosity, or even vapidity. He found this an interesting point of view. Phyllis recited examples of illustrious EBC occasions and persons, and worked him round gradually until he had reached the position of considering us nice enough people striving manfully to overcome the disadvantages of being considered a slightly second class oracle. Then, after making it quite clear that any material he might supply was strictly anonymous in origin, he opened up a bit.
The trouble from Phyllis’s point of view was that he did it on a pretty academic level, full of strange words and instances which she had to interpret as best she could. The gist of what he had to tell her, however, seemed to be this:
A year ago there had begun to be reports of discolorations in certain ocean currents. The first observation of the kind had been made in the Kuro Siwo current in the North Pacific – an unusual muddiness flowing north-east, becoming less discernible as it gradually widened out along the West Wind Drift until it was no longer perceptible by the naked eye.
‘Samples were taken and sent for examination, of course, and what do you think the discoloration turned out to be?’ said Dr Matet.
Phyllis looked properly expectant. He told her:
‘Mainly radiolarian ooze, but with an appreciable percentage of diatomaceous ooze.’
‘How very remarkablel’ Phyllis said, safely. ‘Now what on earth could produce a result like that?’
‘Ah,’ said Dr Matet, ‘that is the question. A disturbance on a quite remarkable scale – even in samples taken on the other side of the ocean, off the coast of California, there was still quite a heavy impregnation of both these oozes.’
‘That’s astonishing, isn’t it?’ said Phyllis. ‘The effects – ?’
‘One cannot hope to foresee more than the most obvious effects. Some changes in fish migrations are already becoming noticeable, and a certain increase in sea vegetation along the course, as one would expect. Naturally, with the water diatomaceously richer – ’
He went on for some time, with Phyllis trying not to look too much as if she were grasping straws behind him. At last he said: ‘This, obviously, is of immense interest and the greatest importance, but naturally the most interesting question to us is why it should happen at all, and is continuing to happen. What, in fact, can have occurred that could be responsible for sending this sediment from the greatest depths to the surface in such amazing quantities?’
Phyllis felt that it was time she made a contribution.
‘Well, there was that atomic bomb off the Marianas. I should think that would have made quite a stir down below,’ she said.
Dr Matet regarded her severely. ‘That bomb was dropped after the phenomenon had been observed, and in any case it is highly doubtful whether the results of a disturbance there would have been concentrated into the Kuro Siwo.’
‘Oh,’ said Phyllis.
‘It is, as you know, an actively volcanic area,’ Dr Matet launched off again, ‘so that one’s natural inclination would be to attribute the disturbance to the opening of some new vent, or vents, on the sea-bottom. The seismograph records, however, give no support to that view. No major seismic shock has been registered – ’
Phyllis went on listening patiently while he demolished earthquakes as a possible cause.
‘And yet,’ she remarked at the end of it, ‘something not only was, but still is, going on down there?’
‘Something is,’ he agreed, looking at her. Then, with a sudden descent to the vernacular, he added: ‘But, to be honest with you, Lord knows what it is.’
He went on. Phyllis learned that, since then, similarly unexplained somethings had been throwing up deep-sea sediments into the Monsoon Drifts, off Guatemala; and also across the other side of the isthmus into the Mosquito Current. A thickening of the waters in equatorial mid-Atlantic had been observed, and the most recent report was of ooze appearing in the West Australian Current. There were also several minor irregularities of the same kind. Phyllis did her best to list them for possible reference, but just before she left she managed to put in a question on the aspect which seemed to her most interesting and important.
‘Tell me this, Dr Matet,’ she asked. ‘Do you think it is serious – I mean, is it a thing that worries you?’
He smiled at her. ‘It doesn’t keep me awake at night, if that’s what you mean. No, our worry about it, if you can call it that, is that we don’t like having to admit that we are utterly baffled in our own bailiwick. As for its effect – well, I should think that might be beneficial. There is a great deal of nutritious ooze lying wasted on the sea-bottom. The more of it that comes up, the more the plankton will thrive; and the more the plankton thrives, the more the fish will thrive; consequently the price of fish ought to go down, which will be very nice for those who like fish – of which I am not one. No, what troubles me is that I feel I ought to be able to answer a simple ?
‘Too much geography,’ said Phyllis, ‘and too much oceanography, and too much bathyography: too much of all the ographies, and lucky to escape ichthyology.’
‘Tell me,’ I said.
She did, with notes. ‘And,’ she concluded, ‘I’d like to see even Mrs Hawkes scribe a script out of that lot.’
‘H’m,’ I said.
‘There’s no h’m about it. Some kind of ographer might give a talk on it to highbrows and low listening figures, but even if he were intelligible, where’d it get anybody?’
‘That,’ I remarked, ‘is the key question each time. But little by little the bits do accumulate. This is another bit. You didn’t really expect to come back with the stuff for a whole script, anyway. He didn’t suggest how this might link up with the rest of it?’
‘No. I said it was sort of funny how everything seemed to be happening down in the most inaccessible parts of the ocean lately, and a few things like that, but he didn’t rise. Very cautious. I think he was rather wishing he had not agreed to see me, so he stuck to verifiable facts. Eminently non-wheedlable – at first meeting, anyhow. He admitted he doesn’t know, but he is not going to make any guesses that might send his reputation the way Bocker’s has gone. What it amounts to is that he’d like it to be volcanic, but it can’t be because of the evidence, and it’s not likely that it is due to an explosion, or series of explosions, of any kind because it keeps on coming up in a more or less steady flow which suggests that the force at work is both immense and continuous. Now you have a shot at it.’
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