by Elous Telma
On a secluded Greek island in the 1950s, an enormous abandoned mine is filled with sea water for a major international experiment in marine biology. It is intended to study natural selection and, perhaps, evolution in a new aquatic ecosystem. However, the experiment and the island are eventually abandoned.
Decades later, a sailor’s photograph of the corpse of a large shark prompts a team of biologists to visit the island. The team discovers unique environments, including an underwater brine lake. The life forms act in ways that affect the fauna on the island as well as themselves.
The new ecosystem is dangerous. How to cope with it? The biologists will need some form of interspecies communication with the sea life and even with a cat that has been stranded on the island. It’s simple in theory...
Chapter 19: Let Them Go?
Meni thought she felt the shark approaching the surface. In reality, she was just quite good at calculating things, having also correctly assumed a relaxed but determined swimming speed and knowing the depth of the hole accurately.
The shark burst out of the water. She must have not interrupted her sprint, for she jumped several feet into the air, jerked her body twice, and fell back into the water with a big splash.
The scientists kept on watching. No one reacted physically, at least not outwardly. They had been expecting her appearance and did not really know how to follow up on this incident. But all of their insides certainly did. Hanson’s stomach released a batch of digestive acid producing a burning feeling that he interpreted as awe. Frank and Meni felt as if they were at a lecture theater, expecting to learn new things. They all just waited for the shark to show up again.
Nannion didn’t wait. The splash woke her up from her post-meal nap on the fake leather seats of Taro’s boat. She jumped up and ran to the water, joining the team. There still was some aftermath from the splash, but the shark was not in sight. Nannion didn’t need to see more. She made a dash towards the explosion hole. She ran like a bullet. Meni half-hesitantly followed her, alternating a fast walk with a mild jog. Where was Nannion going?
Taro and Hanson used binoculars to track the cat. When cats have a plan, you can tell because their look of determination is similar to ours, and we recognize it easily.
Meni started thinking that perhaps Nannion was more in sync with this environment than she initially had suspected. She started sprinting after her. No one else joined Meni, avoiding the formation of a crowd that could disrupt whatever was about to take place. Meni also kept a distance between herself and Nannion.
As Nannion ran towards the explosion hole, the shark’s fin appeared through the surface. It was also moving fast towards the hole. Cat and shark converged. Nannion got there first. She stopped and faced the incoming shark.
Hanson watched through his binoculars. A few hundred meters away, on a hot summer day, people, cats, and sharks look distorted as the hot air rises upwards from the rock into the somewhat cooler air. It looks a bit like when you mix sea water and brine.
The shark slowed down and approached the hole as the cat stood still, on all fours on the edge of the coast. The shark assumed a vertical position, bringing her protruding head as close to Nannion as possible, her dorsal fin sinking into the water. They looked at each other and Nannion gently extended her paw, touching the shark’s nose, decisively pushing her back. The shark stood still for a moment and then let her body sink downwards. Nannion stayed in position.
Hanson posed an obvious question: “Did she stop the shark from doing something?”
“You mean, from turning into the next Guardian?” Alexandros asked.
“Something, I don’t know what.”
“She may be seeking freedom,” J-Cap offered.
Taro was dubious. “She may. But this is no longer an animal of the open sea. She was born and developed here, in a combination of ordinary water and an environment that is normally highly toxic.”
Hanson was hopeful. “She would probably survive in open waters, as well.”
Taro nodded. “Probably. At least physiologically. But I don’t know how she would cope with the challenges out there. Where would she go and live?”
“L’Atalante, Urania, and Discovery,” Cannavaro mused. “Not far from here. There, she could establish a new niche, close to the lakes. That could give her a survival advantage. And freedom.”
Fawkes looked around. “How many sharks are there, here?”
“I don’t know. One less than when the Guardian was alive.”
“Are we thinking of releasing them to the outside?” Fawkes asked. “Can we make such a decision? We cannot possibly evaluate the repercussions.”
Alexandros agreed. “You are right, Fawkes. But such a decision would be in line with the original plan to give Aquarium life a shot at freedom.”
Frank added a premonition. “The sharks are the tip of the iceberg.”
Fawkes agreed. “He’s right. What else is in the lake? What is producing eggs? How about these little fish swimming here? How many of them are like these sharks? How many are ordinary little fish, identical to their cousins in the Aegean sea?”
“And what about the cat?” Taro asked. “Is she now a part of this? She clearly understands some aspect of what is happening better than we do. Even Meni’s contact with the shark seems to have had a subconscious element to it.”
Cannavaro shook his head. “Not an understanding, though.”
Taro was impatient. “No, I didn’t say that. But what about Mari? And Frank? What about you? You’re affected by this. Are the sharks and the cat also affected, or are they a part of it?”
Frank had a new perspective. “These may be similar concepts. We may simply be entangled—”
Fawkes interrupted. “No, Frank. These are not similar concepts. And no, you are not necessarily ‘entangled.’ There is a hierarchy here. Something, possibly in the lake — we know now that there can be life in it — is affecting you. You are not ‘entangled,’ you are subject to it. Look at Mari: she was totally messed up by this thing, but she seems fine now. It’s probably a chemical released into the air that is doing this. It’s probably reversible.”
Taro broke in. “Regardless of the logic — we will need to discuss this — how do we feel about this situation? Do we want to release the sharks, if we find a way to take them close to the other lakes?”
No one answered.
Taro had a proposal. “We need a spontaneous, non-binding demonstration. How do we feel as a group. Do you want them out?”
Everyone said yes, except for Meni, who had followed Nannion. Nannion, in the meantime, had left her post and walked over to Meni. After a couple of leg rubs, Meni picked her up and started walking back.
When Meni reached the team, with Nannion still in her arms, she also agreed she would like to give the sharks a chance at freedom.
Fawkes, who was the most experienced engineer, started brainstorming on what would need to be done. “There are — let’s assume — two large sharks here.”
Alexandros pitched in: “Obviously, if there are two of two different sexes, you understand the connotations.”
Nannion jumped out of Meni’s arms and took a few steps towards the water.
Hanson picked up on Alexandros’ point: “Indeed, so we need to think—”
Before Hanson managed to complete his sentence, a shark jumped out of the water and landed in front of the team on dry land. It splashed water everywhere and knocked over Taro and J-Cap.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma