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He Says He Is An Oceanographer

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If you see something floating through our fair waters that looks somewhat like a jellyfish, but does not move in a healthy manner nor respond to municipally-approved greetings, this is likely a plastic bag. Plastic bags, a form of waste produced by humans (like our awful, awful nearest neighbors, Ocean Bluffs), can be a dangerous choking hazard, especially to young children.

Protect your children by telling them about the dangers of plastic bags, and by, every so often, sacrificing a young sea turtle on the altar we all have in our kitchens. About once every full moon is recommended. If you absolutely can't get turtle, a middle-aged marine iguana will do instead...but don't tell the City Council I told you that!

This has been Community Health Tips.

 

~~~

 

A cool breeze wafted over the little boat, bobbing steadily in an ocean as calm as a bathtub, while Carlos checked the readings on the first sample of seawater.

Then he checked them again.

Then he called, "Kendra, did you let any of your interns tamper with the machines?"

"No, why?"

"Because everything's coming up sixes."

Kendra, his fellow oceanographer, left the sonar equipment behind and came over to join him. "That's a gambling expression, right?" she began, but did a double-take when she saw the readouts. "Oh. You mean everything's literally coming up sixes."

"Which is not only improbable," said Carlos, staring at the rows of identical digits on his screen, "the oxygen levels alone mean that everything for a couple of miles should be dead. No fish, no plant life, nothing."

An iridescent teal and yellow fish chose that moment to leap out of the water right next to their hull. Carlos only saw it out of the corner of his vision; he assumed that if he got a chance to examine it more closely, it would turn out to have the normal number of eyes after all.

"We'll just have to recalibrate everything when we get back in the lab," he decided. "How's it coming with the sonar?"

 

~~~

 

Several listeners have called in to report seeing mysterious lights in the depths of Radon Trench.

We would like to remind everyone that, as Radon Trench extends an unknown number of thousands of feet below the sea bed, it is entirely possible for it to be populated with deep-sea organisms whose own bioluminescence is the only source of light they know. Oh, how they must envy us, basking in what sunlight manages to filter down to our little community, luxuriating in the excess of easy photosynthesis! What tales of resentment they must tell, huddling around the thermal vents that are their only paltry source of warmth!

Well, listeners, we can content ourselves with the knowledge that our bitter trench-dwelling neighbors can never rise up into the photic zone and invade us, as their bodies, adapted to withstanding much greater pressure, would explode under the lack of strain.

Also, the Great Old One does not allow them to leave.

Cthulu fhtagn!

 

~~~

 

"Carlos? Can I borrow you for a second?" called a voice from inside the cabin.

"Sure thing, Alex," said Carlos, who needed a break from the fact that today, his readings were unfailingly coming up as zero. Ocean water made up of zero percent everything. That shouldn't be permitting the survival of marine life or keeping them afloat. "What's going on?"

Alex had a map of the area spread out on the main desk, the coastline traced in brown along the top, various underwater features marked off in blue. All their data was recorded in the computer system, but it was nice to have a physical map around sometimes, to work out your thoughts on. "Here's our present location, okay?" he said, marking an X with a charcoal pencil. "And here, roughly, is the pattern of currents suggested by the data."

Carlos nodded. "With you so far."

"Here's where we took readings yesterday." Alex added a new X, sketched in more light curves. "And the currents from there." A large arc was starting to develop. "And here's the data from Tuesday...."

The arc curved around on itself. That wasn't so unusual; they were in a gulf, any currents forced to bump up against a big curve of land. But the more data Alex added, the more Carlos's brows started to furrow. "You think this whole area of water is flowing in...a circle?"

"Not just that," said Alex. "It's behaving exactly like a slow-motion version of the way water spirals down a bathtub drain. You can double-check the fluid dynamics. In fact, please double-check the fluid dynamics, because I really want to know what I got wrong."

"It can't be the area's natural pattern," agreed Carlos. For one thing, where would the ocean be draining to? "But you might not be wrong. Some kind of human intervention, maybe drilling...I know Strexcorp had a couple of rigs out here last year. We'll look into the city records when we get back, okay?"

Before Alex could answer, there was a scream from outside. Both scientists dashed out onto the deck just in time to see Kendra shake a plastic bag from her hand, the wind catching it and tossing it onto the water's surface.

"Kendra!" exclaimed Carlos. "Littering?"

"It wasn't ours!" said Kendra quickly. "I fished it out of the water — it floated on by, so I figured, why not clean it up — but I must've gotten a crab or something with it." She winced, rubbing the fingers of one gloved hand. "It pinched."

 

~~~

 

The Sheriff's secret police have traced the source of the unauthorized audio broadcasts that interrupted many peaceful community events yesterday evening.

Normally such broadcasts turn out to be the songs of passing whale pods calling to their young ones. Of course, no long-distance audio broadcasts are permitted within the city limits except for the approved songs of yours truly, but most whale species get a pass on this, as they are generally too large to fit in the Sheriff's secret re-education facilities.

This one, however, was different. Instead of soothing information about the climate and hospitality of other towns along the course of the whales' great and inspiring migrations, or old folk songs passed down to the children from generation to hopefully-not-doomed generation, this broadcast was a series of warnings not to trust the government, and in particular, not to eat any of the krill this week.

Well, listeners, you probably won't be surprised to hear that the singer was none other than local merman Steve Cuttlesberg! What a jerk, am I right? I hope you enjoy your re-education, Steve.

Stay tuned for a selection of favorite krill recipes. Try one tonight!

 

~~~

 

"But it's there," said Carlos, leaning over the side of the boat and squinting down into the water. (His hair was long enough to fall into his eyes when he did this. Either he had to hold out until it was long enough to pull back into a ponytail, or bite the bullet and get a trim.) "I can see it. Right there."

"So can I," said Alex, next to him. "That is definitely a reef. Just because it isn't on our map...."

"It definitely looks like a reef," said Kendra. "According to sonar, it's no such thing. There's nothing there except ocean floor, and maybe a couple of eels."

"Something must be going wrong with the sonar too," decided Alex. "We'll have to recalibrate it just like we did the chemical readings."

Carlos didn't point out that, while they had convinced the machine not to display identical digits for everything, it was now unfailingly turning up every number as 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, or 42.

"There's an easier way to figure this out," said Kendra. "Someone could suit up and go down to the reef to check."

The three scientists all looked at each other.

"You're the one who thinks it's not real," Alex told her. "You should go. Examine the evidence for yourself."

"You're the one who thinks it is real," Kendra shot back. "If it's perfectly normal down there, why are you so eager to volunteer someone else?"

"If you don't trust my perception when I say it's real now, why would you trust it just because I got closer?"

"Carlos, what do you think?" asked Kendra. "You're the leader of this expedition. You can choose."

"Um," said Carlos.

"Or, if you trust Carlos so much, he can go," suggested Alex.

"I don't think...."

"That sounds fair," said Kendra.

"You just said I could choose!"

"Only because it was a tie! You wouldn't abuse your authority to override a democratically chosen majority, would you?"

For once, Carlos found himself wishing that numbers and math would stop working correctly.

 

~~~

 

A new person came into town today. A human.

Who is he? What does he want with us?

His boat, you may have noticed, has been sailing out regularly to take up different positions floating above our community for some time now. Of course, in accordance with City Ordinance 24601, no mer-humanoid citizens have been permitted to approach or be seen by the intruders, so I have not been able to gather much information firsthand. But Old Merwoman Josie, down by the reef, reported that her angelfish friends have kept many close eyes on him.

His friends, Old Merwoman Josie informed me, address him as Carlos. They all have lots of scientific equipment. What is it for? Why bring it here? Why now?

I fear for Carlos. I fear for our community. I fear for anyone who has not yet had their mandatory weekly meal at Big Ray's Sushi.

No one does a roll like Big Ray.

No one.

 

~~~

 

Twenty feet down, Carlos could feel the chill of the water even through the well-padded neoprene of his wetsuit. He took a deep breath, sighed a stream of bubbles out of the end of his snorkel, and kicked his way over to the reef.

A shoal of tiny green-and-yellow fish scattered as he approached. Behind and below them, vertically-growing plants waved with green ladders of floating leaves, blue fernlike structures rustled, steady fans of coral spread out in soft arcs of red and pink from the main body of the reef. Carlos swam alongside the structure for a minute, watching plants rustle and anemones wave their tiny tentacles in the current.

"It's beautiful down here," he reported into his radio, knowing it was all being recorded up on deck. "It's...well, it's a little eerie, too. I know it's just the current, but every time I look at a different patch of plant fronds or anemone feelers it looks like they're all pointing right at me. Funny the tricks the mind can play on you sometimes, huh?"

The observer effect was real, of course, but so was the effect where you assume you have more influence on events than you really do. As a scientist, you had to be on guard for all kinds of biases.

"The fish keep scattering when I get near," he continued. "Some of them have probably never seen a human before, poor little guys. I'm getting photos of the ones I can...and plenty of shots of the rock, too. And the plants. And the polyps."

Swimming a little further on, he cast his eyes, and his camera, downward...and spotted a few tentacles, dark and purplish, extending out from under an outcrop at least thirty feet below.

"I think I've got an octopus!" he exclaimed. "Most of its body is concealed, but it looks like it might be larger than anything native to the area."

"It isn't anywhere near you, is it?" asked Alex's voice in his earpiece, crackling with static. "Curious octopi have been known to 'borrow' researchers' equipment."

"I'm keeping my distance, don't worry," said Carlos, snapping more pictures.

"Have you touched the reef yet?" put in Kendra's voice. "Is it physically there?"

You weren't supposed to disturb reef ecology by sticking your hands in it, but considering what he was down here to investigate, Carlos figured it was essential to check. He tapped his knuckles against a few pieces of bare rock, ran his gloved fingers along the surface of a piece of brain coral.

"Feels real to me," he reported. "Although this coral is unusually smooth for its species...but it's definitely touchable, and that's the important thing, right?"

 

~~~

 

Listeners! Oh, listeners! What a day I have had!

I went down to the reef where that new oceanographer, Carlos, was investigating. My actions were not in defiance of the City Council's orders, mind you, because I kept very well hidden, and although he took a few photographs in my direction, that shouldn't be a problem, because I don't currently resolve on film.

The point is, listeners...when he ascended out of our sweet depths to the dry and unforgiving air above...I followed.

There was a convenient series of rocky formations not far from where the boat with all the science equipment was anchored, so I clambered up the far side of one of those and looked cautiously over, revealing only the top of my head, which I am told can pass for human at a moderate distance. From there I was able to watch as the other scientists hoisted Carlos up onto the deck of their craft, took some of the science-y gadgets he had brought down, and helped him get out of his diving costume!

But Seacil, you might be saying, what's so special about that? He looked like a normal human underneath it, didn't he?

Well, yes. In a sense. In the sense that everything about him was perfect.

When he removed his mask, Carlos was revealed to have dark and delicate skin, a square jaw, and teeth like a limestone cliff. He spoke to his fellow scientists with a tone of knowledge, the certain knowledge of one who does science, and yet also wonder, the inevitable wonder of one who has more science left to do. And then...he removed his hood.

Listeners, it turns out that brilliant Carlos — wonderful Carlos — handsome Carlos — was blessed with perfect hair.

And I fell in love instantly.