"There I See the Kraken Rising"
Mamadou Latheef straightened
his suit and tried not to look nervous.
Beside him, his senior wife Khadijah
was serene in her elegant green dress
brilliant with silver and gold embroidery,
scarves of ivory and gilt wrapped
over her long graying hair.
He had married her for
her political connections,
and at the moment he felt
deeply grateful for that.
They were meeting in
the boardroom, because
there were too many people
to fit in his personal office or
even the formal sitting room.
President Latheef had already
invited Mohammed Dualeh from
the Office of Refugee Services and
a few other government officials.
Imam Adil Kalinga had come to offer
his spiritual support and advice on
religious implications of the meeting.
Aquariana and Seth Bridger were there
to represent the cetaceans -- although
Steel and Moderato were doubtless
listening in -- and they had brought
Sheck Caperton as an assistant.
Dr. Infanta had her very own chair,
designed to match the others with
honeyed wood and white upholstery,
but with taller legs and a footrest
to keep her at a comfortable height.
Behind her stood one of her Guardians,
a stocky man introduced as Lorry.
Captain Left arrived in the care
of his teleporter bodyguard, landing
neatly on the prayer rug that had been
placed in a corner for that purpose.
The slender white-haired man
wore a magnificent gold-crested hat
and a uniform studded with insignia.
The poor man must be sweltering in it,
even despite the air conditioning.
President Latheef himself was
sensibly dressed in a white silk shirt
under a summer suit of gray linen.
As Captain Left took his seat,
Captain Right arrived on the rug,
a tall woman with graying blonde hair
and the same splendid uniform as her partner,
flanked by a petite teleporter bodyguard.
When everyone was seated and
the introductions had been made,
President Latheef said, "Today we
have come to discuss an alliance
between the Republic of the Maldives
and a superpowered organization.
I hope that this will bear fruit from
the promise of earlier emails."
Then he noticed that Captain Left
looked increasingly uncomfortable.
Before the President could inquire,
though, Sheck jumped in and said,
"Hey man, if you need the quiet room,
it's better to go before you melt down."
That was not at all the sort of thing that one
should say in a boardroom, but it seemed
accurate because Captain Left nodded.
"I would go if I could, but a meeting
this important requires my presence."
President Latheef thought quickly. The man
had seemed perfectly outgoing in email, but
then took a downturn in person. "Would you
rather participate via meetbot?" he said.
Captain Left looked at his partner.
"I was told that was disrespectful."
"In many cultures, yes, but I do that
every day," said the President. "We are
a small island nation. World leaders cannot
often make time in their busy schedules to visit
in person. So we use meetbots much of the time.
When they can take a vacation, we go to the beach
and spend an hour or few talking politics, then we
spend the rest of the day relaxing. It works for us."
"If you truly would not mind ..." said Captain Left.
"I have a whole room full of meetbots, so it's
no trouble at all," the President assured him.
"Pick anything you like from the floor. Don't
try the ones up on the shelves ... several of
the new Japanese models are just a bit
over-ambitious for everyday use yet."
Sheck popped out of his chair. "Come on,
I'll show you to the quiet room. It's past
the ablution room and the prayer room."
Captain Left followed at a more sedate pace,
his athletic bodyguard staying in arm's reach.
"Well, I tried," Captain Right said with
a sheepish smile. "We rarely appear
in the same place, and he doesn't care
for going out in public -- but then, I'm
no fan of computers, so it balances out."
"That's why we need diversity,"
Aquariana chimed in. "Seth here
has forgotten more about boats than
I'll ever know, but if something jams in
the propeller, I can dive without gear
and Steel can make a flashlight."
President Latheef grinned. "That's
exactly what I want for the Maldives."
"We're working on it," said Mohammed.
"Already we have much better services for
refugees than they did when I arrived,
especially those with superpowers."
Imam Kalinga nodded. "Some of
the Americans from the Sankofa Club
told us how their prayer rooms have
a Friendship Room for non-Muslims
who came with a friend, so we've been
adding those to mosques where we can."
"The dotties are nice too," said Khadijah.
"It's so much better to take the little boys
in there than in the women's room."
Just then, two meetbots rolled
into the boardroom. Captain Right
whisked a chair out of the way, and
Captain Left scooted up to the table,
looking much more comfortable now.
Sheck pulled up beside Aquariana.
"All right, let's start this again,"
said the President. "While you were
gone, we just chatted about diversity.
Now we can discuss what you bring
to the table, and what you hope to gain."
"What we bring ..." said Captain Left,
and suddenly the viewscreen at
the far end of the room lit up.
"... is a great deal of resources.
These are some of our holdings
that might sound familiar to you."
President Latheef had seen maps of
global megacorps before, some of which
held more economic power than small nations.
This thing looked like an octopus, with
tentacles stretching into many different fields --
apparel, finance, sciences, utilities, and more.
"Lemuria Lighting & Electricity, Maelstrom Utilities,
Tiamat Water Treatment ..." the President read
from the Utilities hub. "What do those do?"
"Maelstrom supplies both water and electricity
to a town, usually with a hydroelectric station,"
said Captain Right. "Tiamat handles desalination,
wastewater processing, and other cleanup."
"Desalination?" the President said,
leaning forward. "We sure need that."
"You run the Triton Teen Centers?"
Aquariana said, sounding unhappy.
"Those are -- that's really --"
"Our best way of reaching kids
before it's too late," said Captain Left.
"Some of them don't have anywhere else
to go. Think about that before you start
throwing stones at the rescue crew."
Aquariana slumped in her seat.
"Rub it in a little harder, why don't you."
"Ladies and gentlemen, some decorum,
please," said Khadijah. "We are here
to solve problems, not badger each other
for failing to solve them all sooner."
"My apologies, Lady Latheef,"
Captain Left said with a bow,
and Aquariana echoed him.
"Look, Aquariana, they run
Jörmungandr Strategy Games,
too," said Sheck. "They launched
global strategic games with Negotiation,
then roleplaying with Kaverns & Krakens
and later its land edition Vaults & Wyverns.
They've done a bunch of cooperative games
recently and I've learned a lot from those."
"Oh, I used to play K&K in dive school,"
Aquariana said. "I kind of miss it."
"No need for that," said Captain Left.
"All our crews have gaming schedules.
It's just a matter of finding folks who
share your stylistic interests."
President Latheef couldn't help
wondering if either of them knew
how to play a nice game of Thaas.
"Gaming is a great way to make
new friends and learn about people;
I used to do it back in my Navy days,"
Seth said. "Maybe we could use that
to foster soup-nary relations here."
"We use games for teambuilding
all the time," Captain Left said.
"Botany Bay and Cetus Biosciences ..."
President Latheef read in the science cluster.
"Don't they do some zetetic research?"
"Yes, and Anahita Hospital Ships
helped us set up the Restitution,"
said Dr. Infanta. "An island nation
can always use more service ships.
They have some library ones too."
"That would be Bellipotent Library,"
Captain Left supplied. "We have
one in Micronesia, one in Melanesia,
and so forth. It wouldn't be difficult
to send one here -- the Jules Verne
is in drydock for repairs and should
be available within a few weeks."
"That one has a hospital as well as
a library," Captain Right added.
"No Muslim books, though."
"We have plenty of books, and
if we need more, we can spend
zakat to launch a Muslim library,"
said Imam Kalinga. "Here we have
many small boats, but few large ships."
"Oh, we have ships," said Captain Left.
"Crew ships, explorers, hospital ships,
patrollers -- almost every kind made."
"You make it sound like a floating nation,"
President Latheef said thoughtfully.
"In essence, yes," said Captain Left.
"We have a population, an economy,
and holdings of considerable value --
but we are a stateless people,
without political recognition."
Dr. Infanta snorted a giggle.
"He said recognition, dear,
not power," said Captain Right.
"We have plenty of influence but
little official standing, and that
limits some of what we can do."
"We never meant to take over
the world," Captain Left said.
"It's just that becoming underlords
proved the most effective way of
discouraging others from destroying it."
"Then thank you," said Khadijah,
"for your long and faithful service."
"People don't usually say that
to us," Captain Right admitted.
"Well, they should," Khadijah said.
"You have some impressive things
to offer my country," said the President.
"I'm not sure what I can offer in return."
"Sanctuary," said Captain Left.
"We have ties in many countries, but
none open. Your welcome of superpowers
makes us think that we have a chance
to emerge from the shadows now --
we call that Contingency X."
"Why Contingency X?"
the President wondered.
"Kraken formed during
World War I from the crews
of two wrecked submarines,
one American and one German,"
said Captain Right. "Their captains
sketched out plans for everything they
could think of, including criteria that
would make it safe to decloak."
"Oh, is that why there are
two of you?" the President said.
"Yes, actually," said Captain Right.
"Our dual leadership structure gives us
a wider viewpoint and makes it hard
to disable a team by killing one person."
"So you want to form an alliance
to give yourselves a safe place to stay
and more formal backing," said the President.
"All right, our first rule is that you don't break
Maldivian laws in Maldivian territory. What
you do outside of that is your business."
"We have many members who would
like to find legal work if they could,"
said Captain Left. "A large number
of people come to us for lack of
better options, not on purpose."
"We have plenty of support for
refugees in need, with or without
any special abilities," said Mohammed.
"Just let us know if you need help."
"We're developing ways to give
each island some autonomy, if you're
concerned about religious restrictions
in a Muslim country," said Imam Kalinga.
"Some resorts have more liberal rules,
while others stick closer to ours."
"That's good to know, but we have
some Muslim members," said Captain Left.
"They've been clamoring to make contact."
"Brothers and sisters in the faith are
welcome here, and so are new friends,"
the President said. "It sounds as if
we can do much for each other."
"Which will piss off everyone who
isn't getting in on the deal, and you
were just complaining about increasing
foreign tensions last week," Seth pointed out.
"The other governments have started
to realize that they're hemorrhaging talent,"
said Captain Right. "That's one reason
why we decided to move forward now."
President Latheef sighed. "I know," he said.
"That's a very credible threat. I have friends
and allies of my own, but also a growing pool of
enemies -- many of them quite powerful. Unlike
some Muslim nations, the Maldives does not
have a nuclear option for deterrence."
"I'm your goddamn nuclear option,"
Dr. Infanta snapped. "You don't
need rockets when you have
a person of mass destruction."
Suddenly she didn't look like
a little girl, but something
ancient and terrible.
Lorry tapped her shoulder.
"You're scaring our friends, miss,"
he said. "A little more diplomacy,
if you would be so kind."
President Latheef shivered.
"I would prefer to avoid violence,
all the same," he replied. "Ours is
a religion of peace, no matter what
some fools try to make of it."
"That's the point of deterrence,"
said Captain Left. "Nobody
really wants to use it, and
we usually don't have to."
"Just having allies will help
protect all of us," said Captain Left.
"If you were a friendly nation,
this would be so much easier,"
said President Latheef.
"Unfortunately that requires
a permanent territory in our control,"
said Captain Right. "The topic has
come up, but it's never gone anywhere."
"We have territory," the President said slowly,
"and we aren't currently using most of it.
Our cetacean citizens are a minority;
even the humans only live on some
of the islands in the archipelago.
The rest is just open water."
The captains shared a look.
"What are you suggesting?"
Captain Right said carefully.
"Considering," the President said.
"Up to this point, we've discussed
mainly things I can grant personally
or propose in confidence that people
I know will approve them. To cede
a section of ocean territory in order
to create an allied neighbor would
require the support of the Cabinet."
"Would they actually agree
to that?" said Captain Left.
"I think it has strong potential,
or I would not have mentioned it,"
said President Latheef. Then he
turned to the imam. "I could use
a spiritual perspective, though."
"If they have Muslim members,
that's a strong point in favor,"
said Imam Kalinga. "I believe
the real question is whether
the rest are muallaftul qulubum."
"Well, they immediately offered us
a library ship to which we could add
a Muslim collection," the President said.
"A good sign," Imam Kalinga agreed,
then turned to the captains. "Will you pay
zakat? It is not required for outsiders, but
it does mark you as friends of the faith."
"We are willing, but can your economy
absorb that much at once?" said Captain Left.
"I don't know," said the President. "I have
been hearing all kinds of ... agitation ... from
the Ministry of Finance and Treasury since
Aunt Flo immigrated. Wealth is good, but
too much too fast can cause instability."
"Is there a way to balance the obligation
of charity with the need for stability?"
President Latheef asked the imam.
"We will work something out,"
Imam Kalinga said. "If they are
neighbors, then zakat is no concern;
if they are immigrants, they need not
all arrive at once but could spread out."
"Those are good options," said Captain Left.
"We can have our accountants talk with
each other, to avoid causing trouble."
"Can't you just put more zeros?"
Sheck asked, bouncing in his seat.
It showed even on the meetbot screen.
"Sheck, unpack that a little more,
please," Seth said, rolling his hands.
"You know how the big zakat displays
have all those vouchers for specific things
that you want to support, like widows or
people with disabilities and now soups?"
Sheck said. "If you use those, then it'll
spread out the cash, and all you really
need to do is write bigger numbers."
"Excellent idea, young man, and
thank you," said Imam Kalinga. "Yes,
every mosque and zakat office will have
some sort of vouchers in stock. Preferably,
use the blank-check ones that stipulate
the cause but not the amount of donation.
Shall I put out a call for those now?"
"Yes, please," said Captain Right.
"We can make a modest donation now,
as a way of sealing our alliance."
"Hmm," said the President. "I wonder
if any other unrecognized states would
be worth approaching for an alliance.
Recognition could be a potent incentive."
"Oh sweet Neptune, you can't recognize
all of them!" Captain Right exclaimed.
"Some of them are total whackjobs.
Look at the Taliban in Afghanistan."
"And Al-Shabaab in Somalia, as if
they needed to make more trouble,"
said President Latheef. "No, I was
thinking more along the lines of Tibet."
"They're soup-friendly," said Captain Left.
"They run to psychics and soul powers."
"That could be useful if they're willing
to share information," said Khadijah,
"but even India keeps close with that."
"You might consider sovereign tribes,"
said Seth. "We have the Navajo Nation
and the Republic of Lakotah. I think they
go for shamanism and animal powers."
President Latheef made a note.
"I'll look into those, thank you."
"We'll explore unrecognized states,
too -- they could provide a pool of
useful allies," said Captain Right.
"Meanwhile, please do speak with
your Cabinet regarding our situation."
"Steel, Moderato?" said the President.
"You've been pretty quiet, but I expect
you're listening. What do you think
of our potential allies or neighbors?"
They are favored of the Deep Old Ones,
Steel sent. It is not wise to interfere with
those who have earned such favor. It
is far better to have them as friends.
"Deep Old Ones?" said President Latheef,
but both of the Captains had gone very still.
The great undying ones of many minds,
Steel tried to explain, punctuating it with
an image of vast tentacles. They hold
the memory of the ocean and those
who dwell within the waters.
The President recalled hearing about
some incident in America involving
a giant squid and advice to avoid eating
cephalopods, or at least the larger species.
He couldn't remember many details,
though -- there was too much going on
at home for him to follow along with
everyone else's challenges too.
"By all means, let's avoid starting
another conflict," the President said,
then looked at the captains. "Have you
been in contact with the Deep Old Ones
all this time, or is that something new?"
"It's not that simple," said Captain Right.
"We have a lot of ... legends, but it isn't easy
to tell the truth from the rapture of the deep,
or plain old wishful thinking. Some of us
have had experiences that could be
visitations from below, though."
Tentatively Aquariana raised her hand.
"I got my superpowers from a diving mishap,"
she said. "I lost my head and some dolphins
rescued me. After that, I realized that I could
control water. My memory is fuzzy, but --"
She shrugged. "-- something changed me."
Captain Right spread a hand in her direction.
"That's exactly what I mean," she said.
"People have experiences, but they
can't always pin down what happened."
The imam chuckled. "So it is with
all epiphanies," he said. "Some things
are not meant to be explained, only accepted."
Well, if an imam was comfortable with it,
then President Latheef would not quibble.
"May I have the viewscreen?" he said.
Government property or not, he knew
that he could never wrest control from
Captain Left without the man's consent.
"Of course," said the captain, and
the screen blanked itself at once.
President Latheef called up
a map of the Maldives showing
the administrative divisions.
Then he marked out a tall rectangle
enclosing parts of the Laamu, Gaaf Alif,
and Gaaf Daal administrative regions,
appearing in the blank area of the map
in the waters west of those atolls.
"This seems like a promising area,"
said President Latheef. "It's out of the way,
doesn't infringe on major fisheries, and isn't
an area of keen interest to the cetaceans.
However, it contains no natural islands."
"You'd probably need to mount a platform,
like an oil rig, or build an artificial island,
to satisfy the nitpickers that it counts as
'real estate' for statehood purposes,"
Seth pointed out. "Politics, you know."
Aquariana nodded. "Be careful about
micronations. Some of them are solid,
but others are bonkers, and that could
undermine the credibility of this project."
"Sealand is eccentric but effective as
a host for secure internet hosting,"
said Captain Left. "Liberland is ...
questionable, but more assertive
about establishing diplomatic ties
with other unrecognized states and
micronations, such as Somaliland."
"Talk to Oceania," Khadijah advised.
"They've been fighting vehemently against
the geocentric exclusion of artificial islands,
because some of them -- like us -- are counting on
that as a defense against sea level rise. We all worry
that if we lose the last of our natural islands underwater,
the landed nations will try to revoke our sovereignty."
"Credible threat," Seth muttered, looking grim.
"It's risky to try overturning the whole premise,
though -- it helps quash those idiots in Argentina."
"Do not get me started on Argentina,"
grumbled Captain Right. "We've
been trying to clean up that mess
since World War II, and despite
our best efforts, we still have
a long way to go with it."
"However, a cohort of
unrecognized states could
support each other politically,"
said Mohammed. "African tribes
have tried it, with mixed success.
It would make the UN look very bad,
very racist, to ignore a united front."
"There's a nightmare waiting
to happen in South America,"
muttered Captain Right.
"Set that aside for now,"
said President Latheef. "Do you
like the proposed territory, with or
without adding artificial islands?"
"I do," said Captain Right. "We
have Antikythera Construction to build
all kinds of structures, floating or moored,
so the lack of islands is no hindrance."
"We're interested in that kind of
construction," the President said.
"We have several corporations and
other organizations already engaged
in it, but more would be welcome. You
would have a good place to build, with
both deep and shallow waters."
"It also puts us between you and
Somalia," said Captain Left. "Given
our background, that seems prudent."
"I'm glad you feel that way about it,"
said the President. "I don't think that
India or Sri Lanka would be at all happy
with us ceding territory on the eastern edge."
"Likely so," said Captain Right. "India is
powerful enough to make an issue of it.
Somalia is too far away to matter much."
"Don't underestimate the pirates,"
Mohammed said grimly. "They
can do a great deal of damage."
"They can," said Captain Left,
"but we can do considerably more."
There was something about him
that reminded President Latheef
of privateers, rather than pirates.
So can we, Steel said in a voice
that groaned like torn metal.
The pirates hadn't been faring
at all well against the new Navy.
"Hopefully that will help convince
the Cabinet to endorse our plan,"
President Latheef said with a smile.
"We have political favors to trade,"
said Captain Right. "We can use them
to gain recognition for our territory, but if
the Cabinet balks, tell us what you want but
haven't been able to get from other countries.
We may succeed in brokering a deal."
"Dr. Infanta, what do you think?"
asked President Latheef.
"Don't look at me," she said
with a shrug. "I think that it's
perfectly normal to go somewhere,
declare it yours, and kill anyone
who disputes your claim on it."
"Let's try for a more diplomatic course,"
Khadijah said. "We'll keep violence
on the list as a last resort only."
"Agreed," said President Latheef,
and then turned to the two captains.
"How does it feel to emerge from below?"
"It feels exciting, and a little scary,"
said Captain Right. "I think I like it."
"It will be good to stretch ourselves
onward and upward," said Captain Left.
"When I look down into the abyss,
Down into the merciless blackness,
Colder and deeper than Hades itself,
There I see the Kraken rising,"
Sheck recited from memory.
"Creepy," said Aquariana. "Sheck,
"Where did you find that quotation?"
"It's from the book Kraken Rising," said Sheck.
"It's supposed to be horror, but --" He shrugged.
"I think giant squids are cool and Hades got
screwed, so it's not really scary for me."
"Yeah, it can't hold a candle to
'The Call of Cthulhu' -- now that
is a horror story," said Seth.
Captain Right chuckled. "One of
our legends claims that H.P. Lovecraft
failed his entrance exam for the Coast Guard
because he floundered the swim test and then
came scrambling out of the water screaming
that something touched him, touched his mind.
You can imagine how well that went over
with the instructors on duty that day."
"He was touched, all right," Seth said.
"He wrote some good stories, though."
"Hopefully we can get along with
the cephalopods better than that,"
Aquariana said, shaking her head.
"Indeed, we have made a good start
on alliances today," said Khadijah.
The President recognized that it
would be best to end on a high note.
"Then we shall adjourn with that."
He stood up and turned to the imam.
"If we may have your blessing?"
"Let us go forth from here with
a beginning instead of an ending,"
Imam Kalinga said in a clear tone.
"Bismillâh ar-rahmân ar-rahîm.
In the Name of God, most merciful
and most compassionate."
The familiar words settled over
the President like a seal of approval.
He felt confident that he had
done right by his nation today.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes will appear in another post. Read the character, location, and content notes.