Thursday, August 24, 2006


Placid were the heavy waters far from shore. In the middle of the deep ocean where it was impossible to see another soul for hundreds of miles in any direction, a small craft ran across the surface of the still sea. The slow, flirtatious ripples emanating from the rear of the boat gradually disappeared as the craft sped onward, energy expended and absorbed.

There were only three people visible on the boat. A large man of indeterminate age sat at the wheel, silently scanning the horizon. Despite thr tropical heat he was dressed immaculately in a white suit and duster. He did not seem to be sweating, or even to notice the heat at all. The hair on his head was white to match the white of his clothes. There was another man at the rear of the boat, hunched over in his seat and visibly unhappy. He was much younger than the first, still almost a boy, and was visibly uncomfortable in the tropical climate. He has stripped down to a thin white tank-top but still sweating; a half empty bottle of sunscreen sat on the seat next to him. There was music in his headphones, and that appeared to be the only thing keeping him from being far more unhappy than he already was.

The third person on the boat seemed much more comfortable. She was very tall, with a dark, slightly caramel complexion and a face that revealed an indeterminate ethnicity. She was lying across a row of seats set into the prow, wearing nothing much in the way of clothing except for a small string bikini and a white sarong encircling her hips. She was a strikingly beautiful woman, and except for her taut athletic frame she would not have stood out on any beach resort on the planet. The man at the wheel stared across her figure as he steered the boat, stirred less by any incipient lust than by mere curiosity -- who knew what designs lays beneath the darkened sunglasses which covered her eyes?

"Are you thirsty, Drums?"

The boy sitting at the rear of the boat nodded imperceptibly. At the best of times he was not a particularly verbose companion but now, alone in the middle of the ocean, separated from any forms of electronic communication except for the phantom wisps of low-frequency radio signals and distant satellite communication, he had become positively laconic.

"You should drink more water." The man in white reached over to a small miniature refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. He concentrated for a moment and the bottle was covered in a thin icy crust, no more than a few millimeters thick, but enough to ensure the drink was as cold as possible. He tossed the water to the boy.

A small island grew larger on the horizon. It was almost entirely flat and covered with sand, and nothing large appeared to grow on the surface.

"We're here," the man in white announced to no one in particular. "Jakita, you're going to want to see this."

The woman sat up and ran her fingers through her hair. "It's an island," she said, nonplussed. "And a particularly flat island. There is nothing here."

"That's rather the point," he replied. "There used to be something here. It was written up in the last guidebook, but it's gone now."

They sat in silence as the boat neared the beach. Up close, it was obvious that the island was not as barren as it had initially appeared -- there was small vegetation and a few spindly palm trees scattered across the beach. But the landscape did not seem particularly hospitable to life. Despite the tropical milieu, there was something tortured and burnt in the landscape, as if the island had been scoured and set to wither in the sun.

"It's so still," the woman said. "There's nothing in the air. No life, no movement. Not exactly death but . . . stasis."

They drifted to within a hundred yards of the shore and set the anchor in the water. The woman dove in the water and swam the remaining distance to shore, her strokes long and fluid. The two remaining men pulled a canoe out from a cavity in the rear of the boat and set it in the water.

By the time they reached the shore the woman had already been there for quite some time. As the men were pulling the canoe onto the beach she approached them with a large plank of wood under her arm.

"Is this what you wanted to see?" She threw the plank on the sand in front of them. It was weather-beaten and faded, but there was still writing. In large white letters the sign read DANGER, DO NOT ENTER. There was an equally large radiation symbol, and smaller writing underneath that read BY ORDER OF THE UNITED STATES NAVY.

"It hasn't been dangerous in years", the man said. "Radiation doesn't linger like that, not from those bombs. But they had no idea what happened here after the bomb went off. They didn't understand it, they couldn't quantify it, so they sealed up the area as tight as they could. Not so tight that we couldn't get in."

"Just a nuclear bomb? What's so fancy about that."

"Nothing, in particular. But any explosion of that magnitude is going to create some disturbances. Any time you mess with the fundamental forces of nature there are going to be unintended consequences. Especially when the means are so brutal and violent . . . things get pulled through from other places and other times. Things that weren't supposed to be alive, at least not here."

They began to walk across the beach, following the curve of the island over a few short, windblasted dunes. After about a half a mile they stopped at a small inlet. There was a large wooden mast set out of the sea at an odd angle, broken and splintered but still recognizable.

The man in white knelt down at the waterline and touched the water. Something seemed to sharpen, to come into focus, and the inlet froze. Steam immediately appeared over the ice. As the moments passed the frozen inlet began to recede like sand being blown back from a momentous wind, sweeping back further and further to create a solid wall against the sea. An area which had previously been hidden by tens of thousands of gallons of water was revealed.

"Neat trick," the woman said. The made their way into the area of the inlet, walking towards where the mast had originally stuck out from the water. In the light of day the mast revealed itself to be attached to a larger apparatus, a shattered remnant of an ancient boat's prow and pieces of a hull.

The woman paused a minute before speaking. "Shipwreck. Looks to be about four hundred years old."

"You're partly right," the man answered. "It was built around four hundred years ago. But it's nowhere near that old. This was a pirate ship. The explosion took them forward but it also changed them as well."

"So a nuclear bomb in 1945 affected a boatful of pirates in the seventeenth century? Again, neat trick."

"Rules in a place like this are changed. Borders become porous, definitions not so clear. It's not the only strange thing that ever happened here. But the most recent."

"So what did these pirates do in the twentieth century?"

"They didn't know they were in the twentieth century, for one. Their minds were warped by the transit, so they were different . . . they became fixated on a colony of very strange undersea creatures. They developed something of a symbiotic relationship with these creatures, because they believed them to be magical. They weren't magical. Just something else that had come through the Bleed . . . something that warped the laws of nature around themselves. These pirates died after a few years of circling the island and singing strange sea-shanties."

The man in white walked away from the shipwreck, towards the ice wall that he had created to keep the sea away. He placed his hand on the wall and it receded backwards again. A concave aperture slowly opened in the ice, and the aperture became a tunnel, large enough for a man to walk through. He walked into the aperture and under the sea.

It was a long tunnel, stretching from the site of the inlet out a few hundred yards to the sea. The ice walls were mostly transparent, and they could see the sun shining down through millions of gallons of water above their heads and into the refracted ceiling and walls of the passageway.

"There aren't any fish," the woman said after they had walked for a time. "I would have expected to see lots of fish."

"They know to keep away from this region."

They came to a large cavern which had formed in the ice, covering an area approximately the size of a baseball field. The uniform blankness of the ocean floor had given way to sprawled heaps of debris -- scrap metal, driftwood, stone. But, oddly enough, the scraps appeared to be organized into some sort of order, perhaps even a grid.

There was a large structure near to the entrance of the ice cave. It was a transparent dome, perhaps twenty feet in diameter, ten feet tall. It had been created with enviable skill: it was a marvel of engineering, an airtight bubble built to withstand the pressures of deep sea depths. There was a thin layer of silt and sand obscuring a clear view of the interior of the dome. The woman wiped away the muck and peered inside.

"Look at this. There's a tree in here. And it's still alive."

Sure enough, there was a small tree, oak from the looks of it, sitting at the center of a sprawling green lawn. Everything was overgrown, nothing had been mowed in decades. There appeared to be a miniature picnic table of some kind as well.

There was an airlock on the far side of the dome. The door opened easily enough to a small decompression chamber separating the sea from the oxygenated atmosphere inside.

"Oh my God." The woman leaned down and pulled something from inside the airlock. There was a small humanoid figure in her hand, in what appeared to be a white space suit, with a clear helmet and an opening at the rear for a tail. There was something still in the suit, however . . . a small skeleton of what appeared to be a rodent. Perhaps a squirrel.

"This is too bizarre," she said. "Squirrels don't live in space suits at the bottom of the sea."

"It gets better," he replied. They walked away from the dome and towards what appeared to be the center of the ruins. A few structures here seemed almost intact. There were three buildings placed in a row. On the left, there was a what appeared to be an enlarged coconut shell, about two feet round and set into the sand. the middle structure could have been mistaken for a piece of debris, a metal pipe jutting up at an odd angle from the ground.

But the strangest sight by far lay to the right of the other structures. It appeared to be a large pineapple, about three feet tall and constructed out of metal and glass. There were doors and windows and even what appeared to be a small mailbox at the end of a pathway leading to what must have at one time been a road. It seemed a perfect scale-model dwelling for a person eight or ten inches tall.

"Who the hell lives in a pineapple under the sea?" the boy finally spoke up. He had turned the music in his headphones off and stared, with the other two, at the strange spectacle before them.

The man in white knelt down and opened the tiny door to the house. He reached and pulled out a small object. At first glance it appeared to be nothing much, perhaps a small block of coral. But it was also completely rectangular, with sharp angles and straight lines. It had the rough dimensions of a large kitchen sponge.

There were small limbs extending from the bottom and the sides of the rectangle, wispy arms and legs barely the size of toothpicks. The creature was fragile, dead and desiccated -- whatever its flesh had been composed of had dried and cracked like a fossil. Now, exposed to the air, it seemed especially breakable. But the fossil also wore clothes. They were little more than rags, eaten away by time, but they were clearly pants -- small, square shortpants that covered the bottom third of its rectangular body, as well as what appeared to be a white shirt and tie.

"These creatures had no idea why they were here. They were probably native to a liquid dimension inconceivably different from our own. The strange properties of the Bikini Atoll allowed them to survive for a time here, at the bottom of the sea . . . but they warped the minds of all who approached them, anyone who tried to make contact. That's why the pirates who followed them from the past were irrevocably insane. We could never study the phenomenon up close before, because their existence violated the fundamental laws of our universe. Now . . ."

"Now they're dead," the woman spoke up.

"It took a while for the laws of our universe to effect them, but gradually they began to fade away. They must have been able to harness some kind of fire or flame in order to create this level of civilization. Perhaps the universe began to correct itself, so the unique properties that allowed them to create fire underwater would have faded with time. That must have been the first sign of their impending doom. I suspect from the state of his corpse that the creature in my hand was the last to die. It must have been terrifying, to see your friends and comrades die around you and not know why. They couldn't have been very advanced, but they apparently knew enough to make a world similar to what they had known. And then that world fell apart."


"Yes, quite so. But I'm glad I got to see it with my own eyes."

With that, they returned to the surface and their boat. But they also took with them the small skeletal sponge, placed in a small box and filed away in a warehouse somewhere on the outskirts of town.

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