Chapter 10

 Michael Crichton

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"He seems to be in a good mood," Barnes said.
"I'd say a very good mood," Norman said.
"Maybe a little too good," Ted said. "A little manic?"
"No," Norman said. "Just a good mood."
"I thought he was a little high," Ted said.
"Let him stay that way," Barnes snorted, "if it helps him to crack this code."
"I'm going to try, too," Ted reminded him.
"That's fine," Barnes said. "You try, too."
"I'm telling you, this reliance on Harry is misplaced." Ted paced back and forth and glanced at Norman. "Harry is manic, and he's overlooking things. Obvious things."
"Like what?"
"Like the fact that the printout can't possibly be a discharge from the computer."
"How do you know?" Norman said.
"The processor," Ted said. "The processor is a 68090 chip, which means that any memory dump would be in hex."
"What's hex?"
"There are lots of ways to represent numbers," Ted said. "The 68090 chip uses base-sixteen representation, called 'hexadecimal.' Hex is entirely different from regular decimal. Looks different."
"But the message used zero through nine," Norman said. "Exactly my point," Ted said. "So it didn't come from the computer. I believe it's definitely a message from the sphere. Furthermore, although Harry thinks it is a substitution code, I think it's a direct visual representation."
"You mean a picture?"
"Yes," Ted said. "And I think it's a picture of the creature itself!" He started searching through sheets of paper. "I started with this."
001110101110011100111010100000    111101011101
   11110110110101    100110101010100101
100101111010000     11010010100010101100000
111011111110101     1001010110      1001101010101101
      1000111101000010101100101     10000100
1000111101000010101      1001010110
001110101110011100111010100000     111101011101
11110110110101     100110101010100101      10010
1111010000      11010010100010101100000
111011111110101      1001010110      1001101010101101
     1000111101000010101100101       10000100
1000111101000010101     1001010110
001110101110011100111010100000     111101011101
   11110110110101      100110101010100101      10010
   1111010000      11010010100010101100000
111011111110101      1001010110      1001101010101101
      1000111101000010101100101      10000100
"Now, here I have translated the message to binary," Ted said. "You can immediately sense visual pattern, can't you?"
"Not really," Norman said.
"Well, it is certainly suggestive," Ted said. "I'm telling you, all those years at JPL looking at images from the planets, I have an eye for these things. So, the next thing I did was go back to the original message and fill in the spaces. I got this."
? ?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301521? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033008? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18?
"Uh-huh ..." Norman said.
"I agree, it doesn't look like anything," Ted said. "But by changing the screen width, you get this."
Proudly, he held up the next sheet.
? ?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321?
?04261037? ?18? ?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005?
?1822? ?042610134, ?0830162137? ?1604?
?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?032629? ?301321? ?04261037?
?18? ?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822?
?04261013? ?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621?
?1822? ?033013130432? ?00032125252632?
?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18? ?3016?
?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013?
?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621? ?1822?
?033013130432? ?00032125252632? ?032629?
?301321? ?04261037? ?18? ?3016? ?0618082132?
?29033005? ?1822? ?04261013? ?0830162137?
?1604? ?08301621? ?1822? ?033013130432?
?00032125252632? ?0326294, ?301321? ?04261037?
?18? ?3016? ?0618082132? ?29033005? ?1822?
?04261013? ?0830162137? ?1604? ?08301621?
?1822? ?033013130432? ?00032125252632?
?032629? ?301321? ?04261037? ?18? ?3016?
"Yes?" Norman said.
"Don't tell me you don't see the pattern,"
Ted said. "I don't see the pattern," Norman said.
"Squint at it," Ted said.
Norman squinted. "Sorry."
"But it is obviously a picture of the creature," Ted said. "Look, that's the vertical torso, three legs, two arms. There's no head, so presumably the creature's head is located within the torso itself. Surely you see that, Norman."
"Ted ..."
"For once, Harry has missed the point entirely! The message is not only a picture, it's a self-portrait!"
"Ted ..."
Ted sat back. He sighed. "You're going to tell me I'm trying too hard."
"I don't want to dampen your enthusiasm," Norman said.
"But you don't see the alien?"
"Not really, no."
"Hell." Ted tossed the papers aside. "I hate that son of a bitch. He's so arrogant, he makes me so mad. ... And on top of that, he's young!"
"You're forty," Norman said. "I wouldn't exactly call that over the hill."
"For physics, it is," Ted said. "Biologists can sometimes do important work late in life. Darwin was fifty when he published the Origin of Species. And chemists sometimes do good work when they're older. But in physics, if you haven't done it by thirty-five, the chances are, you never will."
"But Ted, you're respected in your field."
Ted shook his head. "I've never done fundamental work. I've analyzed data, I've come to some interesting conclusions. But never anything fundamental. This expedition is my chance to really do something. To really ... get my name in the books."
Norman now had a different sense of Ted's enthusiasm and energy, that relentlessly juvenile manner. Ted wasn't emotionally retarded; he was driven. And he clung to his youth out of a sense that time was slipping by and he hadn't yet accomplished anything. It wasn't obnoxious. It was sad.
"Well," Norman said, "the expedition isn't finished yet."
"No," Ted said, suddenly brightening. "You're right. You're absolutely right. There are more, wonderful experiences awaiting us. I just know there are. And they'll come, won't they."
"Yes, Ted," Norman said. "They'll come."
"Damn it, nothing works!" She waved a hand to her laboratory bench. "Not a single one of the chemicals or reagents here is worth a damn!"
"What've you tried?" Barnes said calmly. "Zenker-Formalin, H and E, the other stains. Proteolytic extractions, enzyme breaks. You name it. None of it works. You know what I think, I think that whoever stocked this lab did it with outdated ingredients."
"No," Barnes said, "it's the atmosphere."
He explained that their environment contained only 2 percent oxygen, 1 percent carbon dioxide, but no nitrogen at all. "Chemical reactions are unpredictable," he said. "You ought to take a look at Levy's recipe book sometime. It's like nothing you've ever seen in your life. The food looks normal when she's finished, but she sure doesn't make it the normal way."
"And the lab?"
"The lab was stocked without knowing the working depth we would be at. If we were shallower, we'd be breathing compressed air, and all your chemical reactions would work - they'd just go very fast. But with heliox, reactions are unpredictable. And if they won't go, well ..." He shrugged.
"What am I supposed to do?" she said.
"The best you can," Barnes said. "Same as the rest of us."
"Well, all I can really do is gross anatomical analyses. All this bench is worthless."
"Then do the gross anatomy."
"I just wish we had more lab capability. ..."
"This is it," Barnes said. "Accept it and go on."
Ted entered the room. "You better take a look outside, everybody," he said, pointing to the portholes. "We have more visitors."
The squid were gone. For a moment norman saw nothing but the water, and the white suspended sediment caught in the lights.
"Look down. At the bottom."
The sea floor was alive. Literally alive, crawling and wiggling and tremulous as far as they could see in the lights. "What is that?"
Beth said, "It's shrimps. A hell of a lot of shrimps." And she ran to get her net.
"Now, that's what we ought to be eating," Ted said. "I love shrimp. And those look perfect-size, a little smaller than crayfish. Probably delicious. I remember once in Portugal, my second wife and I had the most fabulous crayfish. ..."
Norman felt slightly uneasy. "What're they doing here?"
"I don't know. What do shrimps do, anyway? Do they migrate?"
"Damned if I know," Barnes said. "I always buy 'em frozen. My wife hates to peel 'em."
Norman remained uneasy, though he could not say why. He could clearly see now that the bottom was covered in shrimps; they were everywhere. Why should it bother him?
Norman moved away from the window, hoping his sense of vague uneasiness would go away if he looked at something else. But it didn't go away, it just stayed there - a small tense knot in the pit of his stomach. He didn't like the feeling at all.
"Oh, hi, Norman. I heard the excitement. Lot of shrimps outside, is that it?"
Harry sat on his bunk, with the paper printout of numbers on his knees. He had a pencil and pad, and the page was covered with calculations, scratchouts, symbols, arrows.
"Harry," Norman said, "what's going on?"
"Damned if I know."
"I'm just wondering why we should suddenly be finding life down here - the squid, the shrimps - when before there was nothing. Ever."
"Oh, that. I think that's pretty clear."
"Sure. What's different between then and now?"
"You've been inside the sphere."
"No, no. I mean, what's different in the outside environment?"
Norman frowned. He didn't grasp what Harry was driving at.
"Well, just look outside," Harry said. "What could you see before that you can't see now?"
"The grid?"
"Uh-huh. The grid and the divers. Lot of activity - and a lot of electricity. I think it scared off the normal fauna of the area. This is the South Pacific, you know; it ought to be teeming with life."
"And now that the divers are gone, the animals are back?"
"That's my guess."
"That's all there is to it?" Norman said, frowning.
"Why are you asking me?" Harry said. "Ask Beth; she'll give you a definitive answer. But I know animals are sensitive to all kinds of stimuli we don't notice. You can't run God knows how many million volts through underwater cables, to light a half-mile grid in an environment that has never seen light before, and not expect to have an effect."
Something about this argument tickled the back of Norman's mind. He knew something, something pertinent. But he couldn't get it.
"Yes, Norman. You look a little worried. You know, this substitution code is really a bitch. I'll tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'll be able to crack it. You see, the problem is, if it is a letter substitution, you will need two digits to describe a single letter, because there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, assuming no punctuation - which may or may not be included here as well. So when I see a two next to a three, I don't know if it is letter two followed by letter three, or just letter twenty-three. It's taking a long time to work through the permutations. You see what I mean?"
"Yes, Norman."
"What happened inside the sphere?"
"Is that what you're worried about?" Harry asked.
"What makes you think I'm worried about anything?" Norman asked.
"Your face," Harry said. "That's what makes me think you're worried."
"Maybe I am," Norman said. "But about this sphere..."
"You know, I've been thinking a lot about that sphere."
"It's quite amazing. I really don't remember what happened."
"I feel fine - I feel better all the time, honest to God, my energy's back, headache's gone - and earlier I remembered everything about that sphere and what was inside it. But every minute that passes, it seems to fade. You know, the way a dream fades? You remember it when you wake up, but an hour later, it's gone?"
"I remember that it was wonderful, and beautiful. Something about lights, swirling lights. But that's all."
"How did you get the door to open?"
"Oh, that. It was very clear at the time; I remember I had worked it all out, I knew exactly what to do."
"What did you do?"
"I'm sure it will come back to me."
"You don't remember how you opened the door?"
"No. I just remember this sudden insight, this certainty, about how it was done. But I can't remember the details. Why, does somebody else want to go in? Ted, probably."
"I'm sure Ted would like to go in - "
" - I don't know if that's a good idea. Frankly, I don't think Ted should do it. Think how boring he'll be with his speeches, after he comes out. 'I visited an alien sphere' by Ted Fielding. We'd never hear the end of it."
And he giggled.
Ted is right, Norman thought. He's definitely manic. There was a speedy, overly cheerful quality to Harry. His characteristic slow sarcasm was gone, replaced by a sunny, open, very quick manner. And a kind of laughing indifference to everything, an imbalance in his sense of what was important. He had said he couldn't crack the code. He had said he couldn't remember what happened inside the sphere, or how he had opened it. And he didn't seem to think it mattered.
"Harry, when you first came out of the sphere, you seemed worried."
"Did I? Had a brutal headache, I remember that."
"You kept saying we should go to the surface."
"Did I?"
"Yes. Why was that?"
"God only knows. I was so confused."
"You also said it was dangerous for us to stay here." Harry smiled.
"Norman, you can't take that too seriously. I didn't know if I was coming or going."
"Harry, we need you to remember these things. If things start to come back to you, will you tell me?"
"Oh sure, Norman. Absolutely. You can count on me; I'll tell you right away."
"No," Beth said. "none of it makes sense. First of all, in areas where fish haven't encountered human beings before, they tend to ignore humans unless they are hunted. The Navy divers didn't hunt the fish. Second, if the divers stirred up the bottom, that'd actually release nutrients and attract more animals. Third, many species of animals are attracted to electrical currents. So, if anything, the shrimps and other animals should've been drawn here earlier by the electricity. Not now, with the power off."
She was examining the shrimps under the low-power scanning microscope. "How does he seem?"
"I don't know."
"Is he okay?"
"I don't know. I think so."
Still looking through the microscope lens, she said, "Did he tell you anything about what happened inside the sphere?"
"Not yet."
She adjusted the microscope, shook her head. "I'll be damned."
"What is it?" Norman said.
"Extra dorsal plating."
"It's another new species," she said.
Norman said, "Shrimpus bethus? You're making discoveries hand over fist down here, Beth."
"Uh-huh ... I checked the sea fans, too, because they seemed to have an unusual radial growth pattern. They're a new species as well."
"That's great, Beth."
She turned, looked at him. "No. Not great. Weird." She clicked on a high-intensity light, cut open one of the shrimps with a scalpel. "I thought so."
"What is it?"
"Norman," she said, "we didn't see any life down here for days - and suddenly in the last few hours we find three new species? It's not normal."
"We don't know what's normal at one thousand feet."
"I'm telling you. It's not normal."
"But, Beth, you said yourself that we simply hadn't noticed the sea fans before. And the squid and the shrimps - can't they be migrating, passing through this area, something like that? Barnes says they've never had trained scientists living this deep at one site on the ocean floor before. Maybe these migrations are normal, and we just don't know they occur."
"I don't think so," Beth said. "When I went out to get these shrimps, I felt their behavior was atypical. For one thing, they were too close together. Shrimps on the bottom maintain a characteristic distance from one another, about four feet. These were packed close. In addition, they moved as if they were feeding, but there's nothing to feed on down here."
"Nothing that we know of."
"Well, these shrimps can't have been feeding." She pointed to the cut animal on the lab bench. "They haven't got a stomach."
"Are you kidding?"
"Look for yourself."
Norman looked, but the dissected shrimp didn't mean much to him. It was just a mass of pink flesh. It was cut on a ragged diagonal, not cleanly. She's tired, he thought. She's not working efficiently. We need sleep. We need to get out of here.
"The external appearance is perfect, except for an extra dorsal fan at the tail," she said. "But internally, it's all screwed up. There's no way for these animals to be alive. No stomach. No reproductive apparatus. This animal is like a bad imitation of a shrimp."
"Yet the shrimps are alive," Norman said.
"Yeah," she said. "They are." She seemed unhappy about it.
"And the squid were perfectly normal inside. ..."
"Actually, they weren't. When I dissected one, I found that it lacked several important structures. There's a nerve bundle called the stellate ganglion that wasn't there."
"Well ..."
"And there were no gills, Norman. Squid possess a long gill structure for gas exchange. This one didn't have one. The squid had no way to breathe, Norman."
"It must have had a way to breathe."
"I'm telling you, it didn't. We're seeing impossible animals down here. All of a sudden, impossible animals."
She turned away from the high-intensity lamp, and he saw that she was close to tears. Her hands were shaking; she quickly dropped them into her lap. "You're really worried," he said.
"Aren't you?" She searched his face. "Norman," she said, "all this started when Harry came out of the sphere, didn't it?"
"I guess it did."
"Harry came out of the sphere, and now we have impossible sea life. ... I don't like it. I wish we could get out of here. I really do." Her lower lip was trembling.
He gave her a hug and said gently, "We can't get out of here."
"I know," she said. She hugged him back, and began to cry, pushing her face into his shoulder.
"It's all right. ..."
"I hate it when I get this way," she said. "I hate this feeling."
"I know. ..... .
'And I hate this place. I hate everything about it. I hate Barnes and I hate Ted's lectures and I hate Levy's stupid desserts. I wish I wasn't here."
"I know. ..."
She sniffled for a moment, then abruptly pushed him away with her strong arms. She turned away, wiped her eyes. "I'm all right," she said. "Thanks."
"Sure," he said.
She remained turned away, her back to him. "Where's the damn Kleenex?" She found one, blew her nose. "You won't say anything to the others. ..."
"Of course not."
A bell rang, startling her. "Jesus, what's that?"
"I think it's dinner," Norman said.
"I don't know how you can eat those things," Harry said, pointing to the squid.