The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
‘Look,’ I said. ‘Bocker must have got to know about this as soon as anyone did. He ought to have some views on it, and it might be worth trying to find out what they are. That select Press-Conference of his that we went to was almost an introduction.’
‘He went very coy after that,’ she said, doubtfully. ‘Not surprising, really. Still, we weren’t among the ones who panned him publicly – in fact, we were very objective.’
‘Toss you which of us rings him up,’ I offered.
‘I’ll do it,’ she said.
‘I suppose it’s being a victim of the charm myself that stops me being jealous of the supreme self-confidence it inspires,’ I said. ‘Okay. Go ahead.’
So I leant back comfortably in my chair, and listened to her going through the opening ceremony of making it clear that she was the EBC, not the BBC.
I will say for Bocker that having proposed his mouthful of a theory and then sold it to himself, he had not ratted on the deal when he found it unpopular. At the same time he had no great desire to be involved in a further round of controversy when he would be pelted with cheap cracks and drowned in the noise from empty vessels. He made that quite clear when we met. He looked at us earnestly, his head a little on one side, a lock of his grey hair hanging slightly forward, his hands clasped together. He nodded thoughtfully, and then said:
‘You want a theory from me because nothing you can think of will explain this phenomenon. Very well, you shall have one. I don’t suppose you’ll accept it, but I do ask you if you use it at all to use it anonymously. When people come round to my view again, I shall be ready, but I prefer not to be thought of as keeping my name before the public by letting out sensational driblets – is that quite clear?’
‘What we are trying to do,’ Phyllis explained, ‘is to fit a lot of bits and pieces into a puzzle. If you can show us where one of them should go, we’re very grateful. If you would rather not have the credit for it, well, that is your own affair, and we’ll respect it.’
‘Exactly. Well, you already know my theory of the origin of the deep-water intelligences, so we’ll not go into that now. We’ll deal with their present state, and I deduce that to be this: having settled into the environment best suited to them, these creatures’ next thought would be to develop that environment in accordance with their ideas of what constitutes a convenient, orderly, and, eventually, civilized condition. They are, you see, in the position of – well, no, they are actually pioneers, colonists: Once they have safely arrived they set about improving and exploiting their new territory. What we have been seeing are the results of their having started work on the job.’
‘By doing what?’ I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘How can we possibly tell? But judging by the way we have received them, one would imagine that their primary concern would be to provide themselves with some form of defence against us. For this they would presumably require metals. I suggest to you, therefore, that somewhere down in the Mindanao Deep, and also somewhere in the Deep in the south-east of the Cocos-Keeling Basin, you would, if you could go there, find mining operations now in progress.’
I glimpsed the reason for his demand for anonymity.
‘Er – but the working of metals in such conditions – ?’ I said.
‘How can we guess what technology they may have developed? We ourselves have plenty of techniques for doing things which would at first thought appear impossible in an atmospheric pressure of fifteen pounds per square inch; there are also a number of unlikely things we can do under water.’
‘But, with a pressure of tons, and in continual darkness, and – ’ but Phyllis cut across me with that decisiveness which warns me to shut up and not argue.
‘Dr Bocker,’ she said, ‘you named two particular Deeps then; why was that?’
He turned from me to her.
‘Because that seems to me the only reasonable explanation where those two are concerned. It may be, as Mr Holmes once remarked to your husband’s illustrious namesake, “a capital mistake to theorize before one has data,” but it is mental suicide to funk the data one has. I know of nothing, and can imagine nothing, that could produce the effect we have here except some exceedingly powerful machine for continuous ejection.’
‘But,’ I said, a little firmly, for I get rather tired of being dogged by the ghost of Mr Holmes, ‘if it is mining as you suggest, then why is the discoloration due to ooze, and not grit?’
‘Well, firstly there would be a great deal of ooze to be shifted before one could get at the rock, immense deposits, most likely; and secondly, the density of the ooze is little more than that of the water, whereas the grit, being heavy, would begin to settle long before it got anywhere near the surface, however fine it might be.’
Before I could pursue that, Phyllis cut me off again:
‘What about the other places, Doctor. Why mention just those two?’
‘I don’t say that the others don’t also signify mining, but I suspect, from their locations, that they may have another purpose.’
‘Which is – ?’ prompted Phyllis, looking at him, all girlish expectation.
‘Communications, I think. You see, for instance, close to, though far below, the area where discoloration begins to occur in the equatorial Atlantic lies the Romanche Trench. It is a gorge through the submerged mountains of the Atlantic Ridge. Now, when one considers the fact that it forms the only deep link between the eastern and western Atlantic Basins, it seems more than just a coincidence that signs of activity should show up there. In fact, it strongly suggests to me that something down below is not satisfied with the natural state of that Trench. It is quite likely that it is blocked here and there by falls of rock. It may be that in some parts it is narrow and awkward; almost certainly, if there were a prospect of using it, it would be an advantage to clear it of ooze deposits down to a solid bottom. I don’t know, of course, but the fact that something is undoubtedly taking place in that strategic Trench leaves me with little doubt that whatever is down there is concerned to improve its methods of getting about in the depths – just as we have improved our ways of getting about on the surface.’
There was a silence while we took in that one, and its implications. Phyllis rallied first.
‘Er – and the other two main places – the Caribbean one, and the one west of Guatemala?’ she asked.
Dr Bocker offered us cigarettes, and lit one himself.
‘Well, now,’ he remarked, leaning back in his chair, ‘doesn’t it strike you as probable that for a creature of the depths a tunnel connecting the Deeps on either side of the isthmus would offer advantages almost identical with those that we ourselves obtain from the existence of the Panama Canal?’
People may say what they like about Bocker, but they can never truthfully claim that the scope of his ideas is mean or niggling. What is more, nobody has ever actually proved him wrong. His chief trouble was that he usually provided such large, indigestible slabs that they stuck in all gullets – even mine, and I would class myself as a fairly wide-gulleted type. That, however, was a subsequent reflection. At the climax of the interview I was chiefly occupied with trying to convince myself that he really meant what he had said, and finding nothing but my own resistance to suggest that he did not.
Before we left, he gave us one more thing to think about, too. He said:
‘Since you are following this along, you’ve probably heard of two atomic bombs that failed to go off?’
We told him we had.
‘And have you heard that there was an unsponsored atomic explosion yesterday?’
‘No. Was it one of them?’ Phyllis asked.
‘I should very much hope so – because I should hate to think it could be any other,’ he replied. ‘But the odd thing is that though one was lost off the Aleutians, and the other in the process of trying to give the Mindanao Deep another shake up, the explosion took place not so far off Guam – a good twelve hundred miles from Mindanao.?
‘I wish,’ said Phyllis, ‘that I had been kinder and tried to pay more attention to dear Miss Popple who used to try to teach me geography, poor thing. Every day the world gets fuller of places I never heard of.’
‘That’s perfectly in order,’ I told her. ‘Haven’t you noticed that the places mentioned in military communiqués are scarcely ever to be found on the maps? The geographers never heard of them, either.’
‘Well, it says here that over sixty people were drowned when a tsunami struck Roast Beef Island. Where’s Roast Beef Island? And what’s a tsunami?’
‘I don’t know where Roast Beef Island is, though I can offer you two Plum Pudding Islands. But tsunami is Japanese for an earthquake-wave.’
She regarded me.
‘You needn’t look so smug, dear. It’s only half marks. The thing is, would it be anything to do with us?’
‘Well, with those things down there, I mean.’
‘Not unless it was a phoney tsunami.’
‘How euphonious! “Phoney tsunami!”’ She went on crooning; ‘Euphony – euphony – phoney – tsunami’ to herself for a bit until she ended suddenly: ‘How would we know?’
‘Look, I’m trying to think. Know what?’
‘Whether it’s phoney or not, of course.’
‘Well, you could ring up your learned pal, Dr Matet. Oceanographers have meters and things to tell them what kind of wave’s what, and where it comes from.’
‘Do they really. How?’
‘How would I know how? They just do. He’d be sure to have heard if there were anything funny about it.’
‘All right,’ she said, and went off.
Presently she came back.
‘It’s okay,’ she reported, disappointedly. ‘There was, I quote: “a minor seismic disturbance in the neighbourhood of St Ambrose Island, longitude something, latitude something else.” Anyway, off Chile. And Roast Beef Island is another name for Esperanzia Island.’
‘Where’s Esperanzia Island?’ I inquired.
‘I don’t know,’ she said, happily.
She sat down and picked up the paper. ‘Everything seems to have gone very quiet lately,’ she said.
‘I hadn’t noticed it. I might, if you would try to do some work, too,’ I replied.
A few minutes’ silence ensued. Then she said:
‘Captain Winters rang up yesterday. Did you know there hasn’t been a single fireball reported for over two months?’
Evidently this was one of those mornings. I put my pen into its holder, and took out a cigarette.
‘I didn’t, but it’s not very surprising; they’ve been rare for quite a time now. Had he any comments?’
‘Oh, no. He just sort of mentioned it.’
‘I suppose the Bocker view would be that the first phase of colonization has been completed: the pioneers have established themselves, and the settlement is now on its own to sink or swim.’
‘Predominantly, sink,’ said Phyllis.
‘Anybody who happened to overhear the home twitterings of EBC’s clever feature-script writer could blackmail us for years,’ I told her.
It passed her by.
‘I’ve been thinking about what Mallarby said,’ she remarked, ‘and I don’t see why people couldn’t make up their minds to leave those things down there alone. I mean, if there is one part of the world that can be of no conceivable use to us, a part we can’t even reach, and it happens to suit them, then why not let them have it?’
‘That’s reasonable – superficially, at any rate,’ I agreed, ‘but Mallarby’s point was, and I agree with that, that it’s a matter of instinct, not reason. The instinct of self-protection is opposed to the very idea of an alien intelligence-and not without pretty good cause. It’s difficult to imagine any kind of intelligence, except a sheer abstraction, that wouldn’t be concerned to modify its environment for its own betterment. But it is very unlikely that the ideas of betterment held by two different types would be identical – so unlikely that it suggests a hypothesis that, given two intelligent species with differing requirements on one planet, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, one will exterminate the other.’
Phyllis thought it over.
‘That has a pretty grim, Darwinian sound, Mike,’ she remarked.
‘ “Grim” isn’t an objective word, darling. It’s simply the way things usually work. If one species lived in salt water, and the other in fresh, you would, in the course of time, inevitably reach a situation where the interests of the races demanded that one should freshen the sea while the other was doing its damnedest to salt the lakes and risers. It looks to me as if that is bound to apply unless the needs are identical – and if the needs are identical, then they are not a different species.’
‘You mean, you’re in favour of going on sending down atom bombs, and that kind of thing?’ she said.
‘Darling, if I happen to mention that, as a process, autumn follows summer, it does not follow that I am all for getting a ladder and pulling the leaves off the trees.’
‘I don’t see why you should want to.’
‘You mean, you’re not in favour of sending down atom bombs? By the way you were talking before, I thought – ’
‘Look, let’s drop atom bombs for the moment – no, damn it, I mean, let’s leave them out of it. The thing is that once we had developed intelligence we weren’t satisfied with the world as we found it; so, are the things down there likely to be satisfied with it as they find it? Such evidence as we have suggests that they are not – they don’t like being bombed by us, for instance. Then the real point is, how long will it be before the efforts to change it for the convenience of both parties come into serious opposition?’
‘Well, since you’ve asked me, I should say you have answered your own question: it happened when we prodded them with the first atom bomb. That’s what I’m complaining about.’
‘Scarcely a matter for complaint, darling, and anyway, it’s too late. We must have gone down then on their environment-improvement list with a high priority, even if we hadn’t before. There was a certain ominousness in the speed with which they took up the defensive – as if they might have expected something of the kind and prepared for it. What really remains to be seen is whether the natural obstacles that now separate us will defeat their abilities – as they almost defeat ours – and, if they do not, then how we can meet them when they come.’
‘Then, on the whole, you are in favour of dropping bombs?’ suggested Phyllis.
‘For goodness sake! Let’s get this thing straight. Darling, I and the Royal Navy are not in favour of dropping atom bombs: we think it poisons too much water, for problematical results. But I, and, I hope, the Royal Navy, too, are prepared to take up arms against this sea of troubles, as and when it may appear necessary and effective. In this I have no doubt that others will join us. The weapons to be chosen will be dictated largely by the time, place, and nature of the need.’
Phyllis sat with her head propped on her left hand, her eyes unseeingly on the newspaper.
‘You said, “inevitable”. Do you really think that?’ she asked, after a time.
‘Yes. Even if only part of what Bocker thinks is right. We can’t both inherit the Earth.’
‘When, do you think?’
I shrugged my shoulders. ‘When you think of the difficulties that both lots must overcome to get at the other effectively, it looks as if it might be a long time coming to a head – a generation or two, perhaps, or a century or two. I don’t see how anybody could hope to get nearer than a wild guess.’
Phyllis picked up a pencil, and watched her fingers abstractedly as they twiddled it. Presently she became quite still, staring rigidly at nothing. I knew the symptoms, and forbore to interrupt. After a time she said:
‘How would this be? Start with sounds of a tearing wind and an angry sea. Perhaps a lifeboat putting out, with the men’s words blown away as they speak.
‘ “The deep-sea bottom! The uttermost part of the Earth! It is dark; it has always been dark; it will always be dark until the seas dry up and the arid Earth spins on her endless way, with life a tale that has long been told and finished.
‘ “But now, that is far away in the future, as far away in time as it will take the sun to scorch up the five miles of water above our heads; and it is dark.
‘ “It is cold, too, as cold as any glacier; and quiet… and still… It has been still for aeons…
‘ “We have brought down light with us from the world far above, and we switch it on. We see a wide floor flanked by gigantic rocky cliffs. But it is not a solid floor. If we were to try to step on it we should sink through many feet of ooze before it became solid enough to support us.
‘ “All the time, in the beam of our lights we can see motes endlessly descending and descending to make the great bed of ooze.
‘ “It is an eerie place, an awful place, death’s own place; for the floor, the rock shelves, everything but the perpendicular faces of the cliffs, is drifted deep with the mortal remains of untold billion millions of minute creatures. ‘Nothing,’ you would say, ‘absolutely nothing could live here. This is beyond the reach of life: the nethermost pit.’
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