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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Sci-fi · #1284136
Submariners in a post apocalyptic Victorian era take port in an abandoned facility.
                                                           Red Tide


         In the pitch darkness, water pours off of a huge machine.  Following the sound of a rusted creak, a chemical light illuminates a young woman standing in the hatch of a submarine.

         “I don't think anyone's here,” she says.

         A young male voice from inside the submarine says “There must be.”

         “See for your self.”

         A young boy climbs out, followed by a large, middle aged man.

         The man says “Aidan, what would make someone abandon a place like this?”

         “Diseases, chemical leaks.  There are methane deposits all over the sea floor, here.”

         “Methane is non-toxic.”

         “Yes, but the sea floor could be unstable if it thaws.”

         “Addie, are you still on that?”

         “Never mind, Lillian,” the big man says, with a wet cough.  “What ever the reason this place is unsafe.  I say we brush.”

         “I agree,” says Aidan.

         “So do I, but I want to check the hull first.  That crash we got felt nasty, we might not make it to the surface.”

         “I'll carry the pump,” the big man says, climbing back into the submarine.

         “Bring your barker. I want us armed.”

         The three of them drag the bulky equipment out onto the dock.  The big man, after laying down a huge brass machine, sits cross legged and coughs furiously.

         “Are you alright, Gilbert?”  Aidan asks.

         “Fine,” he manages to say between coughs.

         “Take a break,” Lillian says.  “We can handle it.  I'm sorry to make you carry that thing.”

         “It's fine,” Gilbert says.  “I'm the only one who can lift it.”

         Lillian puts on the suit and notices Aidan trying to lift the helmet.  “I'll get that, nancy boy,” she says, affectionately.

         Aidan pours into the machine from a large container with the
word “methane” written on it and adds fresh water to the boiler.  Pistons turn when he lights the burner and air rushes through the rubber tube into Lillian's helmet, escaping through the open bottom.

         “Maybe I should do it,” Gilbert says.

         “It's fine, Gil.  I've stood this lay before.”

         She steps off of the dock and crashes into the dark water, sinking fast and no sooner does Gilbert lean over the dock and vomit into the water.

         “Bloody hell,” Aidan says.  “Off to bed, then.  I'll mind the machine.”

         On the ocean floor, Lillian stands motionless under the submarine waiting for the ridiculous amount of silt she kicked up to clear.

         Staring at the long, jagged indentation in the hull, she decides the dent reaches at most half a foot deep in the center.  Safe enough if they stay near the surface until they repair it.

         She looks toward the far surface of the ocean as the dust clears and sees a massive silhouette against the rippling false sky.  Seemingly a solid mast until it twists slowly, in no hurry at all, the master of its aquatic hell.

         Lillian screams under her helmet and jerks the air tube furiously.

         Back on the dock the watchful boy releases a crank.  Rubber tubing coils around the spool and in less than a minute the terrified diver claws her way onto the dock and rips the helmet away.  “We've got to go, now!”  She shouts, splashing the boy with brine.

         “What?  Why?”

         “There was a kraken, Aidan, or a leviathan, I don't know but it was sodding huge!”

         “Bigger than the Anarchist?”

         “Much bigger.  Where's Gilbert?”

         “I sent him to bed.”

         “Leave the machine, then.”

         “What did this thing look like, Lillian?”

         “I don't bloody know, Aidan!  Get on the damned submarine!”

         “Use your jolly nob,  Lillian!  If it's bigger than the submarine than it's either a filter feeder, or if not than it probably eats whales.  And what does the bloody submarine look like?”

         She steps off of the ladder.  “Aw, hell.”

         “So, are you sure you saw a giant monster?”

         “There's no doubt.”

         They climb back into the submarine where they find Gilbert screaming on his bedroom floor.

         “Christ!  Gilbert, Look at me, man!”

         “God, he's as red as a radish.”

         “Addie, get the opium!”

         They force the white powder into the big mans nostrils.  “Snort it, Gil!”  Lillian orders.

         They hold him down until the drug takes effect.

         “What's wrong with him?”  Lillian asks, calming herself.

         “I don't know.  He cast out his accounts over the water a few minutes ago.  An infection, maybe a toxin or a parasite.”

         Lillian looks around, as if she can see through the submarine walls and into the facility they just left.  “A place like this should have medicine.”

         “Except someone has to get it.  Everyone here might have died of smallpox for all we know.”

         “I think it probably has more to do with that great bloody sea-beast I just saw.”

         “Maybe.  I'll go fetch the stuff, then, I know what to look for.”

         “No, just tell me.”

         He sighs.  “Morphine, and anything that has the word 'antibiotic' anywhere on it.”

         “Alright.  Don't worry.”  She messes up his hair.

         The young submariner takes a lantern back into the facility and follows a dank hallway.  Huge copper pipes lining the walls drip stagnant water and mold
covers everything.  She covers her mouth with her head scarf.

         “Hello?”  She calls out and mumbles “Couldn't these sods put up a
damned sign?”

         After checking several closets and living quarters she wanders into the mess hall.  “Hello?”  She calls out again.

         Metal crashes onto the stone floor.  Lillian draws Gilbert's revolver.

         “My God,” someone says.  “I thought I would die here!”

         “Stay back,” Lillian warns.

         “Please, I'm harmless.  I've been stuck here for... I don't know!”  A nearly nude man, all pale skin and hair, crawls into Lillian's circle of light.

         “I'm warning you!”

         “Alright, please.  Just don't leave me here!  I've been alone here for months and months, the chemical lights have run out, I've been burning bed sheets for light!”  The man starts crying as he says this.

         “Calm down, I'm not going to leave you.  Listen, I need your help.”

         The stranger helps Lillian and Aidan carry Gilbert to the sick room.  “What's wrong with him?”  He asks.

         “I'm thinking an infection,” Aidan says.  “But maybe food poisoning if he didn't cook it right, or some toxin,”

         “He's out of it because we gave him some opium.  He was screaming and his skin was burning, and Aidan saw him vomit.”

         “Was there blood in it?”  The stranger asks.

         “I don't know,” Aidan says.  “He vomited in the water.”

         The stranger checks Gilbert's finger nails, eyes, and mouth.  “We'll give him some antibiotics and keep a close eye on him.”

         “Thank you,” Lillian says.  “I'm Lillian Walker, this is my brother Aidan.”

         “I'm professor Volker Uhlan.  And who is this fellow?”

         “Gilbert Quigly, an old friend of our da's.”

         “And a fine engineer,” Aidan opines.

         “So why are you the only soul here, professor?”

         “Please, call me Volker.  You've both seen me nearly nude.  And so out of shape.  Speaking of which, I think I'll get dressed now before we get into what is sure to be a long explanation.”

         Lillian grins.  “Right.”

         Volker returns wearing full gentleman's attire; expensive shoes, a vest and a monocle, but no visible change in grooming which makes Lillian think of an orangutan in a top hat.

         “A bit dusty,” Volker says, “but I a bit more like myself again.  By God, what a trial this has been.  I shouldn't complain, though.  I'm alive.

         “We'd been working at minimal staff, a big mistake in hindsight, the non essential personnel having been evacuated.  We had reason to think that the methane under Fairholm was unstable.”

         Aidan smirks. 

         “So one day some months ago, when I was here shaping crystals for the professors hydroxyl radical experiments, professor Godard and the staff took our last submarine out collecting water samples to measure the amount of phosphate but they never came back.”

         “Maybe we could look for them?”  Aidan asks.  “How bad was the hull damage, Lil?”

         “Too bad, I think.  We'll have to stay near the surface when we leave.”

         “They couldn't possibly still be alive,” Volker says.  “It's been months, like I said.”

         The siblings provide Volker with additional chemical lights and methane, the latter he uses to light the stoves and make a lobster dinner.  “No butter nor lemon, I'm afraid.”

         “It's fine,” Lillian says.  “I've been trying to work up the courage to ask you.  It sounds daft, but while I was diving under the submarine earlier I saw this horrid sea creature, bigger than a whale.”

         “Where was this?”  Volker asks, sounding worried.

         “It saw it just under the port wall.”

         “Oh dear.  We call it Magnus Pyga.  Well, 'we,' I mean I.  I don't know much about it, Fairholm has been studying it for years.  It's the reason for the evacuation.”

         “Not the methane?”  Aidan asks as he removes a long gray hair from his lobster claw.

         “Yes, the methane.  In an area where we know the Magnus Pyga was active there was a massive methane release and a crater remains on the sea floor.  The hypothesis is that the creature produces sulfuric acid within it's body and for some reason sometimes buries its self and releases the sulfuric acid.”

         “That's why professor Godard was looking for phosphate,” Aidan says.  “Sulfuric acid breaks down phosphate rock.”

         Surprised, Volker says “Yes, exactly.”

         “What was it you say sometimes, Lil?  Da' was a good man but not much of a scientist?”

         “Our father used to believe that methane caused the surface heating, not coal emissions,” Lillian explains.

         “He just could never sass out what caused the methane to thaw.”

         “Well professor Godard was betting on methane as the cause, that's why we were trying to synthesize the hydroxyl radical.”

         “What is the hydroxyl radical?”  Aidan asks.

         “We've found that it speeds up the decay of gaseous methane.”

         “You're trying to reverse the surface heating?”

         “Yes, but I'm not sure it can be done without professor Godard.  Maybe
not even with him.  The hydroxyl radical would have to be stabilized before it could
be released into the air.”

         Lillian smiles at Aidan. “I'm sorry, Addie.  Da' was right.”

         “I don't need you to tell me that, I knew it all along.  It couldn't have been the coal, it started before the height of coal usage and continued after most of the factories were shut down.”

         “It was because of the acid rain,” Volker says.  “Everyone was so impressed with the acid rain that the cause of it must have also been the cause of the surface heating.  Professor Godard used to say that a scientist may be smarter than the average person, but the scientific community is as inefficient and bull headed as any social or economic group.”

         The opium in Gilbert's system wears off later that night and they find him still in extreme pain. “A few hours really is not enough time for antibiotics to cure such an extreme illness,” Volker says.  They give the big man some morphine.

         Later, Volker finds Lillian sitting beside Gilbert's bed.  “Miss Walker, have you been sitting there all night?”

         “Yes, I didn't want to wake you or Addie.”

         “Kind of you.  I wish you had told me you were going to do that, though. 
I haven't slept either and it seems an awful waste.”

         Lillian nods.

         “Miss walker, I wanted to ask you about your brother.  For a boy his age he seems astoundingly intelligent.”

         “He is,” Lillian says.  “He grew up on our submarine with our fathers library.  He had nothing to do but look through the periscope and read.”

         “I see.  I wonder if Fairholm will survive the Magnus Pyga.  Fairholm is always looking for bright young people.”

         “I'm sorry, I could never allow that,” Lillian says.

         Volker purses his lips with exaggerated confusion.  “Why?”

         “You probably answer to some government or another?”


         “That's why.  Governments take what they want and then discard you.  I'm just old enough to remember, rich people and government officials got mirrors on their homes and eventually moved to the habitats.  Farmers and coal miners kept working as their hair fell out and black spots covered their bodies.”

         “Oh.”  Volker nods, sadly.  “Yes.  It was a nightmare.  I used to help cut off body parts.  I'm an oceanographer, not a doctor, but no one made a fuss.  It really wasn't anyones fault, though, least of all Fairholm's.  We're working to fix things with the hydroxyl radical.  Aidan could change the world.”

         Lillian doesn't say anything.  Nor does Volker for a few moments, then he says “Mister Quigly will be alright by himself for a few minutes.  Would you like to see the machine?”

         Back in the Anarchist, Aidan wipes the wetness from his eyes as he searches Gilbert's bed for any signs of insects or mold.

         Finding nothing, he then fetches a ladder and searches every inch of the walls and ceiling for water leaks.

         “Dry as a three week old potato,” he says, rubbing his nose.  “What else?”

         Aidan enters a large room with an iron tank coming out of the floor.  He finds an old notebook on top of it and opens it.

October, 1883

         Day 1
         5 herring
         7 cod
         1 salmon
         5 crab

         Day 2
         2 herring
         5 cod
         5 crab

         Day 3
         6 cod
         2 crab

         “Only one of us would eat three crab in one day,” he mumbles.  He decides to dissect the remaining crabs and look at their insides under his microscope. 

         He pulls the top off of the tank and lowers the chemical light down into the tank.  As the light goes deeper it develops a reddish tint.

         “The hell?”  Aidan throws the top off of the filter, revealing a glistening mass of red algae.

         Back inside Fairholm, Lillian admires a huge machine.

         “It needs a source of natural light to work efficiently.  The idea was to move it to a land habitat once we developed a prototype.”

         “And it will make hydroxyl radicals?”

         “Yes.  The sunlight is filtered through several crystal prisms.  These must be flawless in chemistry and form, and the sunlight turns the hydroxide ions in to... well, you know the rest.”

         “But is it safe here?”

         “No, I'm quite worried about that.”

         Aidan knocks on the wall behind them.  “It's shellfish poisoning,” he says.


         “Crabs are filter feeders, Gil ate three yesterday, and the tank filter is brimming with red algae.”

         “Will the medicine help?”  Lillian asks.

         “No,” he sighs.  “All we can do is feed him a lot of water and wait.”

         “How in bloody hell did poisonous algae get into our tank?”

         Volker answers “Phosphate.”

         “Yes.  Red algae reproduces quickly and eats phosphate.  There's not quite enough of it to cause a red tide.”

         “But plenty enough to pollute a closed environment if some animal you put in has red algae in its system,” Volker says.

         “Might not have been so bad,” Aidan says, “except those damned crabs killed our snails.”

         “Let's clean it out then,” Lillian says.  “God, it could have been all three of us.”

         Aidan and Volker take Gilbert off of the morphine that night and stay up in the sick room talking.

         “Why do you think the Magnus Pyga buries its self, professor?”

         “The best we could come up with is that it helps with digestion.  We
haven't known about it for very long.”

         “Wasn't there a large increase in the occurrences of red tides before the
surface heating?”

         “Yes, a lot of scientists thought the acid rain was causing it, but the red tides didn't match the weather patterns and ocean currents.”

         “Maybe the Magnus Pyga is the cause of that, too.  What do you suppose it eats?”

         “We never found any evidence of its eating habits.”

         “Well if it's a filter feeder that could be the reason it buries its self and releases sulfuric acid, to break down the phosphate and create a huge food source for the red tide.”

         “And the methane release is incidental.  A fine hypothesis.  It's a real shame that I lack the information to test it, it's so difficult to track the Magnus Pyga.”

         “Not if I'm right,” Aidan says.  “Just follow the red tides.”

         “Yes.  Maybe even observe it feeding.  If it pans out then the frequency of red tides over the years could give us a rough idea of the amount of methane released into the air.”

         “And you could search for craters at the locations of past red tides.”

         Volker says nothing for a few moments.  “Aidan, you know that Fairholm might not be destroyed.”

         “How's Gilbert doing?”  Lillian stands in the doorway, glaring at Volker.

         “Oh!”  The scientist flinches.  “Fine.  I mean, doped, but no change.”

         “Give it a few more hours,” Aidan says.  “I think we should be able to talk to him soon.”

         “That's good news.  Wake me up when it's my turn to watch him.”  She looks pointedly at Volker again.  The scientist looks down, meekly.

         “So the Magnus Pyga probably has a massive amount of toxins in its system,” Aidan says.

         Hours later, as Lillian dozes in her chair, a weak voice creaks out “What the hell?”

         “Gil!”  She grabs the big mans hand.

         “Where am I?”

         “The sick room of that science facility.  You got shellfish poisoning, you big lummox.”

         “I did?  But I feel great.”


         “Can I have some more?”

         “Sorry, no.”  She wipes the sweat off of his forehead and kisses it.

         Aidan asks Gilbert what he remembers.  “The most painful shite of my life,” the big man answers.

         After talking with Gilbert for a few minutes Aidan says to Lillian “His memory seems fine, we should test his motor skills when he starts feeling better.”

         Volker watches over Gilbert as Lillian and Aidan walk along the outer hallways.

         “We think the Magnus Pyga is a filter feeder,” Aidan says excitedly.  “Creatures like that one could be responsible for one hundred percent of the increase in red tides before the surface baking.  Can you imagine the amounts of methane released from that kind of activity?”

         “It causes the red tide?”  She asks, smiling.

         “Yes.  How else could it feed its self?  It buries its self into phosphate rock and lets out with the sulfuric acid.”

         Lillian looks out the port holes into the dark water as Aidan rambles on.  “Aidan, what time is it?”

         He checks his pocket watch.  “One fifteen daylight hours.  Why?”

         “It's so much darker outside than it was yesterday.”

         They press their faces against the glass.

         “Aidan, could this be a red tide?”

         “No.  If the Magnus Pyga let loose so close to Fairholm this place would have long since crumbled.  That's silt out there.”

         They look at each other in alarm.

         “Volker!”  The siblings shout to the man as they crash through the door.  “Help us get Gilbert, the creature's burying its self!”

         “What!  The prisms!”

         “Forget them, professor!”

         They pull the sleeping man out of bed.

         “What in the bloody-”

         “Walk, Gilbert!”  Lillian orders.

         They half drag the man back to the submarine.  “Climb!”  Lillian orders him.

         While the big man struggles up the ladder, Volker looks back into Fairholm.

         “Forget it, professor,” Aidan says.  “Your machine is going to sink whether you're here with it or not.”

         With a sigh and a nod, he follows the submariners into the Anarchist.

         “Aidan, take the periscope.”

         Lillian turns several switches and the machine rumbles to life.

         “Get a good distance, not just depth,” Aidan says.  “The air bubbles from the methane release could drop us like a stone.”

         The submarine lurches, Volker and Gilbert fall over.

         “I can't see a damned thing,” Aidan says.

         “There was a massive rock to our nine, last time,” Gilbert says.  “Rise a few hundred feet before you sail.”

         “Alright, thank you.”

         The big man says to Aidan “I've got this” and relieves him of periscope duty.  Aidan sits down next to Volker, catching his breath.  “It'll be fine,” he says.

         Volker nods.

         “Think you can re-create the professors research without the equipment?”

         “I wouldn't even know where to start.”

         “From scratch.  Professor Godard did it, so can you.”

         “Yes.  Not alone I couldn't.”  He looks at Lillian, tense at the controls, and decides to bring it up again some other time.

         In far shallower waters, Gilbert is the only one able to see the massive burst of bubbles and dust, another crater in the making courtesy of the Magnus Pyga.

                                                           The End.
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