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Thinner in Some Places
[Sunday, December 13, 2015]
Aiona Bigelow and
Sameer Azim Seedi
kept a close watch over
the LPG tanker Akhir an-Nahr
as the big ship cruised through
the quiet, moonless night.
The ship was bound for
the Villa Storage Plant on
Thilafushi, not far from Malé.
They were watching it because
people had been dumping things
without permission again, so now
authorized traffic needed an escort.
Suddenly the Akhir an-Nahr
bumped upward, as if on a wave,
but there was no wave visible.
A mental shriek cut the air,
making Aiona and Seedi
clamp hands over their ears,
not that it helped the noise.
Aiona managed to raise
a forcefield around them,
which was nowhere near
strong enough to stop
the blast, but did reduce it
from deafening to merely loud.
Hush! That was Steel, half
of the Maldivian Navy. You
cannot shout at landers like that,
you will pop their tiny minds.
Whoever it was kept screaming,
and water foamed around the ships
as something threshed the surface.
Aiona ducked as a tentacle
the size of a bridge cable
swung over her head.
Even her forcefield
wouldn't stop that.
"What was that?"
Seedi yelped, flinching.
"Oh, hell," Aiona said.
"I think the Akhir an-Nahr
just rammed Cthulhu."
The Deep Old One had
moved into Maldivian waters
last month, or at least, that
was when she made contact.
Evidently she hadn't been here
long enough to learn the safe lanes
that people were trying to establish
to avoid collisions between ships
and large sentient sea life.
The mindvoice felt panicky,
and no wonder -- Cthulhu was
so big that nothing in the ocean
posed a threat to her anymore.
How long had it been since
anything that actually hurt her?
It hurts! It hurts! she wailed.
What happened? It hurts!
Of course it hurts, you colossal idiot,
Steel snapped. A ship hit you.
Stay away from those things,
they're dangerous, even to you.
Earlier in the year, a yacht had
run over two whales, leaving
an orphan calf named Shale,
whom Steel and Moderato
were now raising together.
Moderato was probably
busy with their calf,
but Aiona wished for
his calm presence now.
Steel didn't like humans
at the best of times, let alone
when a ship had just hit someone.
Aiona really hoped that he wouldn't
lose his temper and sink them all.
What is that ship doing here?
The one that hit you is
carrying bitter water.
Landers use to heat
their food, Steel said.
The other is watching it
to keep anyone from
dumping garbage at sea.
Why did it hit me? Cthulhu said.
I was sleeping, and then everything
was so loud, but I couldn't get away.
The world is thinner in some places,
Steel explained, and this is one of them.
There just isn't as much room to dodge
in the shallows as there is in the deeps.
Cthulhu gave an unhappy grumble,
and the ships bobbed in the water.
Stop that, you're making everything
worse, Steel said. You need to hold still.
Even with his combination of telepathy and
telekinesis, it took a while for Steel to calm
Cthulhu enough for her to stop thrashing.
Aiona released her forcefield, and
Seedi turned on a spotlight
to look for the damage.
The humans cringed,
clutching their ears again.
Let them look and then they
will turn it off, Steel said.
Seedi was already turning off
some of the lights, though,
leaving just enough for them
to examine the Akhir an-Nahr.
Aiona could hear her crew
talking over the radio with
the tanker's crew, even
as she leaned over the rail
to make her own assessment.
The ship seemed intact, with
no plumes of fuel escaping.
The kraken squid was not so lucky.
The top of her mantle stuck out of
the water, marred by a long gash.
Clear fluid welled up, and then
turned blue as the oxygen hit it.
"I'll grab the first aid kit,"
Seedi said, turning away.
"No!" Aiona said. "Everything
in there is designed for victims
with a hemoglobin metabolism.
That can be lethal to molluscs."
"Well ... what to we do?" Seedi said,
pointing. "She's bleeding buckets!"
"Steel, we need your help,"
Aiona said, hoping that
he was paying attention.
What do you need? Steel said,
surfacing to spout nearby.
"Call Dr. Barlough and
Sheck," said Aiona. "They
are the closest we have to
relevant medics for this. Tell
them the victim is a kraken squid
and to bring supplies meant for
a hemocyanin metabolism."
"What can we do in the meantime?"
Seedi said. "That's a lot of blood."
It really was, and Aiona didn't know
how that related to the total. She had
taken a class on marine invertebrates,
but that was biology, not vet care.
"Direct pressure," she decided.
"That works with most species."
Well, it would work if the kraken squid
didn't swat them like sand fleas.
"Cthulhu, we want to help,"
said Aiona. "Will you let us get
on your back to slow the blood?"
I will, Cthulhu said. She was
trying to whisper, but her voice
still sounded enormous.
Aiona vaulted over the rail
and landed on Cthulhu's back.
It felt like landing on a trampoline,
and she bounced a few times
before coming to rest on
the slippery surface.
Aiona wasn't used
to creating forcefields
for this purpose, and it took
a few tries before she managed
to slow the flood even a little.
Let me borrow your eyes,
Steel said. I can help.
"Okay, but be gentle,"
Aiona said nervously.
His mind was vast and
solid as it rolled over hers,
but he was trying to be gentle.
The blood slowed abruptly.
Steel gave Aiona a mental nudge.
I have the long wound blocked,
he said. Get the small ones.
The "small ones" were longer
than Aiona was tall, but she
pressed her forcefields over
them and plugged the leaks.
By the time a teleporter popped in
carrying the marine veterinarians,
Aiona was getting a headache.
"I still don't understand why
we're even here," Sheck said.
"Someone needs our help,"
Dr. Barlough explained.
"We help cetaceans,"
Sheck said. "Squid aren't
cetaceans, they're cephalopods."
"Well, there aren't any marine vets
who specialize in cephalopods here,
so we're it," said Dr. Barlough. Then
he sighed. "Do you need to tap out?"
"No. You said you needed my help,
so I'll help," Sheck said. "I just
don't know what to do."
"Close the holes, slather
everything with Blu Glu Plus,
and hope it holds," said Dr. Barlough.
They did the best they could, with
the two men using a suture gun
and Aiona helping them match up
the edges of the wounds, while
Steel tried to keep Cthulhu
calm enough that she wouldn't
buck them off into the water.
Aiona wished again for Moderato,
but it was probably better for him
to be watching the baby whale,
who absolutely did not need
this reminder of his trauma.
Come to think of it, Steel
had his own horrible past,
but he seemed to be okay --
or at least, as okay as he got.
Maybe the blue blood just
wasn't as upsetting as red.
Get off me, Cthulhu grumbled
as soon as they finished the stitching.
I want to dive down into the deep.
Everyone scrambled onto the boat.
"Be gentle with yourself until
that heals," said Dr. Barlough.
"Try not to stress your injuries."
Cthulhu jetted away without replying,
her vast bulk lost in the dark water.
"Well, that sucked," Sheck said,
trying to wring squid blood out of
a shirt that was probably ruined.
"Are you okay?" Aiona asked.
"Fine," Sheck said shortly,
backing away from her.
"He will be, he's just not
good with new things,"
Dr. Barlough explained.
"Neither is poor Cthulhu,"
Aiona said. "She was
screaming her head off
before you two got here.
I think it's been a long time
since she got hurt -- since
anything could hurt her."
"Oh," Sheck said.
"Yeah, okay, I get that."
"We don't have a quiet room
on board, but if you need
space, the aft deck is empty
right now," Seedi said, pointing.
"Thanks," Sheck said. "Yeah,
I could sure use a breather."
He headed toward the aft deck.
"The Akhir an-Nahr reports
no damage to the ship, and
no casualties from the collision,
although a couple of crewmen
suffered concussions from falling
when Cthulhu shouted," said Seedi.
"I've checked with our crew, too,
and we have no injuries here."
"That's good," said Aiona,
rubbing her head. "I want
to soak in blue chamomile and
take half a bottle of aspirin."
"What happened?" Seedi said.
"Overstrain headache," she said.
"I used way more forcefields
than I usually do all day."
"Aspirin won't help that,"
said Dr. Barlough. "Here,
you need something stronger."
He offered a packet of blue pills.
Aiona swallowed them dry,
then asked, "Where'd you get
those? I thought you were a vet."
"Never leave home without 'em now,"
said Dr. Barlough. "I had to expand
my first aid skills for humans, because
Steel gives everyone a headache as
soon as he loses his temper, or just
forgets how small and fragile we are."
"Can you blame him?" Seedi said softly.
"I saw the whaling trial. It was horrible."
"What happened to Shale was worse,"
Dr. Barlough said. "It's a wonder that
sea people have anything to do with us."
"They're trying," Aiona said, sitting down
on a padded bench. "I heard that's
what Cthulhu came here for, to learn
more about us and how to get along."
"It's helping," Seedi said. "At least,
I think it is. We have the world's only
all-aquatic navy. That's something."
"Yeah, it is," Aiona said. That had
stretched her whole worldview,
discovering whales were sentient.
It was thinner in some places, now,
but brighter and more colorful than before.
She didn't regret it, though, if it meant
getting to help people like Cthulhu.
That was why Aiona had become
a marine biologist in the first place, and
why she'd taken up with Sea Shepherd
after people started shying away
from her new superpowers.
She'd gone from there to
Kraken proper, and even though
it had taken her even farther
from her old life, it had also
opened whole new horizons.
On the ocean, a large spout rose,
followed by a much smaller one,
clouds of water vapor twinkling
in the light cast by the two ships.
Yeah, she could live with that.
* * *
This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.