Chapter 9

 Michael Crichton

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:
"Your questions are driving me crazy!"
"Okay, okay. Take it easy."
Emotionally labile. Rage and irritability. Norman made more notes.
"Do you have to make so much noise?"
Norman looked up, puzzled.
"Your pen," Harry said. "It sounds like Niagara Falls."
Norman stopped writing. It must be a migraine, or something like migraine. Harry was holding his head in his hands delicately, as if it were made of glass.
"Why can't I have any aspirin, for Christ's sake?"
"We don't want to give you anything for a while, in case you've hurt yourself. We need to know where the pain is."
"The pain, Norman, is in my head. It's in my goddamn head! Now, why won't you give me any aspirin?"
"Barnes said not to."
"Is Barnes still here?"
"We're all still here."
Harry looked up slowly. "But you were supposed to go to the surface."
"I know."
"Why didn't you go?"
"The weather went bad, and they couldn't send the subs."
"Well, you should go. You shouldn't be here, Norman."
Levy arrived with more lemonade. Harry looked at her as he drank.
"You're still here, too?"
"Yes, Dr. Adams."
"How many people are down here, all together?"
Levy said, "There are nine of us, sir."
"Jesus." He passed the glass back. Levy refilled it. "You should all go. You should leave."
"Harry," Norman said. "We can't go."
"You have to go."
Norman sat on the bunk opposite Harry and watched as Harry drank. Harry was demonstrating a rather typical manifestation of shock: the agitation, the irritability, the nervous, manic flow of ideas, the unexplained fears for the safety of others - it was all characteristic of shocked victims of severe accidents, such as major auto crashes or airplane crashes. Given an intense event, the brain struggled to assimilate, to make sense, to reassemble the mental world even as the physical world was shattered around it. The brain went into a kind of overdrive, hastily trying to reassemble things, to get things right, to re-establish equilibrium. Yet it was fundamentally a confused period of wheel-spinning.
You just had to wait it out.
Harry finished the lemonade, handed the glass back.
"More?" Levy asked.
"No, that's good. Headache's better."
Perhaps it was dehydration after all, Norman thought. But why would Harry be dehydrated after three hours in the sphere?
"Harry ... ?"
"Tell me something. Do I look different, Norman?"
"I look the same to you?"
"Yes. I'd say so."
"Are you sure?" Harry said. He jumped up, went to a mirror mounted on the wall. He peered at his face.
"How do you think you look?" Norman said.
"I don't know. Different."
"Different how?"
"I don't know!" ... He pounded the padded wall next to the mirror. The mirror image vibrated. He turned away, sat down on the bunk again. He sighed. "Just different."
"Do you remember what happened?"
"Of course."
"What happened?"
"I went inside."
He waited, but Harry said nothing further. He just stared at the carpeted floor.
"Do you remember opening the door?" Harry said nothing.
"How did you open the door, Harry?"
Harry looked up at Norman. "You were all supposed to leave. To go back to the surface. You weren't supposed to stay.
"How did you open the door, Harry?"
There was a long silence. "I opened it." He sat up straight, his hands at his sides. He seemed to be remembering, reliving it.
"And then?"
"I went inside."
"And what happened inside?"
"It was beautiful. ..."
"What was beautiful?"
"The foam," Harry said. And then he fell silent again, staring vacantly into space.
"The foam?" Norman prompted.
"The sea. The foam. Beautiful ..."
Was he talking about the lights? Norman wondered. The swirling pattern of lights?
"What was beautiful, Harry?"
"Now, don't kid me," Harry said. "Promise you won't kid me."
"I won't kid you."
"You think I look the same?"
"Yes, I do."
"You don't think I've changed at all?"
"No. Not that I can see. Do you think you've changed?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I - maybe."
"Did something happen in the sphere to change you?"
"You don't understand about the sphere."
"Then explain it to me," Norman said.
"Nothing happened in the sphere."
"You were in the sphere for three hours. ..."
'Nothing happened. Nothing ever happens inside the sphere. It's always the same, inside the sphere."
"What's always the same? The foam?"
"The foam is always different. The sphere is always the same."
"I don't understand," Norman said.
"I know you don't," Harry said. He shook his head. "What can I do?"
"Tell me some more."
"There isn't any more."
"Then tell me again."
"It won't help," Harry said. "Do you think you'll be leaving soon?"
"Barnes says not for several days."
"I think you should leave soon. Talk to the others. Convince them. Make them leave."
"Why, Harry?"
"I can't be - I don't know."
Harry rubbed his eyes and lay back on the bed. "You'll have to excuse me," he said, "but I'm very tired. Maybe we can continue this some other time. Talk to the others, Norman. Get them to leave. It's ... dangerous to stay here." And he lay down in the bunk and closed his eyes.
"He's sleeping," Norman told them. "He's in shock. He's confused. But he seems basically intact."
"What did he tell you," Ted said, "about what happened in there?"
"He's quite confused," Norman said, "but he's recovering. When we first found him, he didn't even remember his name. Now he does. He remembers my name, he remembers where he is. He remembers he went into the sphere. I think he remembers what happened inside the sphere, too. He just isn't telling."
"Great," Ted said.
"He mentioned the sea, and the foam. But I wasn't clear what he meant by that."
"Look outside," Tina said, pointing to the portholes. Norman had an immediate impression of lights-thousands of lights filling the blackness of the ocean-and his first response was unreasoning terror: the lights in the sphere were coming out to get them. But then he saw each of the lights had a shape, and were moving, wriggling.
They pressed their faces to the portholes, looked. "Squid," Beth said finally. "Bioluminescent squid."
"Thousands of them."
"More," she said. "I'd guess at least half a million, all around the habitat."
"The size of the school is amazing," Ted said. "Impressive, but not really unusual," Beth said. "The fecundity of the sea is very great compared with the land. The sea is where life began, and where intense competition among animals first appeared. One response to competition is to produce enormous numbers of offspring. Many sea animals do that. In fact, we tend to think that animals came out onto the land as a positive step forward in the evolution of life. But the truth is, the first creatures were really driven out of the ocean. They were just trying to get away from the competition. And you can imagine when the first fish-amphibians climbed up the beach and poked their heads up to look out at the land, and saw this vast dry-land environment without any competition at all. It must have looked like the promised - "
Beth broke off, turned to Barnes. "Quick: where do you keep specimen nets?"
"I don't want you going out there."
"I have to," Beth said. "Those squid have six tentacles."
"There's no known species of six-tentacled squid. This is an undescribed species. I must collect samples."
Barnes told her where the equipment locker was, and she went off. Norman looked at the school of squid with renewed interest.
The animals were each about a foot long, and seemed to be transparent. The large eyes of the squid were clearly visible in the bodies, which glowed a pale blue.
In a few minutes Beth appeared outside, standing in the midst of the school, swinging her net, catching specimens. Several squid angrily squirted clouds of ink.
"Cute little things," Ted said. "You know, the development of squid ink is a very interesting - "
" - What do you say to squid for dinner?" Levy said.
"Hell no," Barnes said. "If this is an undiscovered species, we're not going to eat it. The last thing I need is everybody sick from food poisoning."
"Very sensible," Ted said. "I never liked squid, anyway. Interesting mechanism of propulsion, but rubbery texture."
At that moment, there was a buzz as one of the monitors turned itself on. As they watched, the screen rapidly filled with numbers:
"Where's that coming from?" Ted said. "The surface?"
Barnes shook his head. "We've cut direct contact with the surface."
"Then is it being transmitted underwater in some way?"
"No," Tina said, "it's too fast for underwater transmission."
"Is there another console in the habitat? No? How about DH-7?"
"DH-7's empty now. The divers have gone."
"Then where'd it come from?"
Barnes said, "It looks random to me."
Tina nodded. "It may be a discharge from a temporary buffer memory somewhere in the system. When we switched over to internal diesel power ..."
"That's probably it," Barnes said. "Buffer discharge on switchover."
"I think you should keep it," Ted said, staring at the screen. "Just in case it's a message."
"A message from where?"
"From the sphere."
"Hell," Barnes said, "it can't be a message."
"How do you know?"
"Because there's no way a message can be transmitted. We're not hooked up to anything. Certainly not to the sphere. It's got to be a memory dump from somewhere inside our own computer system."
"How much memory have you got?"
"Fair amount. Ten giga, something like that."
"Maybe the helium's getting to the chips," Tina said. "Maybe it's a saturation effect."
"I still think you should keep it," Ted said.
Norman had been looking at the screen. He was no mathematician, but he'd looked at a lot of statistics in his life, searching for patterns in the data. That was something human brains were inherently good at; finding patterns in visual material. Norman couldn't put his finger on it, but he sensed a pattern here. He said, "I have the feeling it's not random."
"Then let's keep it," Barnes said.
Tina went forward to the console. As her hands touched the keys, the screen went blank.
"So much for that," Barnes said. "It's gone. Too bad we didn't have Harry to look at it with us."
"Yeah," Ted said gloomily. "Too bad."
"Take a look at this," Beth said. "this one is still alive."
Norman was with her in the little biological laboratory near the top of D Cylinder. Nobody had been in this laboratory since their arrival, because they hadn't found anything living. Now, with the lights out, he and Beth watched the squid move in the glass tank.
The creature had a delicate appearance. The blue glow was concentrated in stripes along the back and sides of the creature.
"Yes," Beth said, "the bioluminescent structures seem to be located dorsally. They're bacteria, of course."
"What are?"
"The bioluminescent areas. Squid can't create light themselves. The creatures that do are bacteria. So the bioluminescent animals in the sea have incorporated these bacteria into their bodies. You're seeing bacteria glowing through the skin."
"So it's like an infection?"
"Yes, in a way."
The large eyes of the squid stared. The tentacles moved. "And you can see all the internal organs," Beth said. "The brain is hidden behind the eye. That sac is the digestive gland, and behind it, the stomach, and below that - see it beating? - the heart. That big thing at the front is the gonad, and coming down from the stomach, a sort of funnel - that's where it squirts the ink, and propels itself."
"Is it really a new species?" Norman said.
She sighed. "I don't know. Internally it is so typical. But fewer tentacles would qualify it as a new species, all right."
"You going to get to call it Squidus bethus? " Norman said.
She smiled. "Architeuthis bethis," she said. "Sounds like a dental problem. Architeuthis bethis: means you need root canal."
"How about it, Dr. Halpern?" Levy said, poking her head in. "Got some good tomatoes and peppers, be a shame to waste them. Are the squid really poisonous?"
"I doubt it," Beth said. "Squid aren't known to be. Go ahead," she said to Levy. "I think it'll be okay to eat them." When Levy had gone, Norman said, "I thought you gave up eating these things."
"Just octopi," Beth said. "An octopus is cute and smart. Squid are rather ... unsympathetic."
"Well, they're cannibalistic, and rather nasty. ... She raised an eyebrow. "Are you psychoanalyzing me again?"
"No. Just curious."
"As a zoologist, you're supposed to be objective," Beth said, "but I have feelings about animals, like anybody else. I have a warm feeling about octopi. They're clever, you know. I once had an octopus in a research tank that learned to kill cockroaches and use them as bait to catch crabs. The curious crab would come along, investigate the dead cockroach, and then the octopus would jump out of its hiding place and catch the crab.
"In fact, an octopus is so smart that the biggest limitation to its behavior is its lifespan. An octopus lives only three years, and that's not long enough to develop anything as complicated as a culture or civilization. Maybe if octopi lived as long as we do, they would long ago have taken over the world.
"But squid are completely different. I have no feelings about squid. Except I don't really like 'em."
He smiled. "Well," he said, "at least you finally found some life down here."
"You know, it's funny," she said. "Remember how barren it was out there? Nothing on the bottom?"
"Sure. Very striking."
"Well, I went around the side of the habitat, to get these squid. And there're all sorts of sea fans on the bottom. Beautiful colors, blues and purples and yellows. Some of them quite large."
"Think they just grew?"
"No. They must have always been in that spot, but we never went over there. I'll have to investigate it later. I'd like to know why they are localized in that particular place, next to the habitat."
Norman went to the porthole. He had switched on the exterior habitat lights, shining onto the bottom. He could indeed see many large sea fans, purple and pink and blue, waving gently in the current. They extended out to the edge of the light, to the darkness.
"In a way," Beth said, "it's reassuring. We're deep for the majority of oceanic life, which is found in the first hundred feet of water. But even so, this habitat is located in the most varied and abundant marine environment in the world." Scientists had made species counts and had determined that the South Pacific had more species of coral and sponges than anywhere else on Earth.
"So I'm glad we're finally finding things," she said. She looked at her benches of chemicals and reagents. "And I'm glad to finally get to work on something."
* * *
Harry was eating bacon and eggs in the galley. The others stood around and watched him, relieved that he was all right. And they told him the news; he listened with interest, until they mentioned that there had been a large school of squid.
He looked up sharply and almost dropped his fork. "Yeah, lots of 'em," Levy said. "I'm cooking up a bunch for dinner."
"Are they still here?" Harry asked.
"No, they're gone now."
He relaxed, shoulders dropping.
"Something the matter, Harry?" Norman said.
"I hate squid," Harry said. "I can't stand them."
"I don't care for the taste myself," Ted said.
"Terrible," Harry said, nodding. He resumed eating his eggs. The tension passed.
Then Tina shouted from D Cylinder: "I'm getting them again! I'm getting the numbers again!"
00032125252632 032629 301321 04261037 18 3016 06180
82132 29033005 1822 04261013 0830162137 1604 083016
21 1822 033013130432 00032125252632 032629 301321 0
4261037 18 3016 0618082132 29033005 1822 04261013 08
30162137 1604 08301621 1822 033013130432 000321252
52632 032629 301321 04261037 18 3016 0618082132 290
33005 1822 04261013 0830162137 1604 08301621 1822 03
3013130432 00032125252632 032629 301321 04261037 1
8 3016 0618082132 29033005 1822 04261013 0830162137
1604 08301621 1822 033013130432 00032125252632 032
629 301321 04261037 18 3016 0618082132 29033005 1822
04261013 0830162137 1604 08301621 1822 033013130432
0003212525252632 032629 301321 04261037 18 3016 06
18082132 29033005 1822 04261013 0830162137 1604 083
01621 1822 033013130432 0003212525632 032629 301321
"What do you think, Harry?" Barnes said, pointing to the screen.
"Is this what you got before?" Harry said. "Looks like it, except the spacing is different."
"Because this is definitely nonrandom," Harry said. "It's a single sequence repeated over and over. Look. Starts here, goes to here, then repeats."
00032125252632 032629 301321 04261037 18 3016 06180
82132 29033005 1822 04261013 0830162137 1604 083016
21 1822 033013130432
      00032125252632 032629 301321 0
4261037 18 3016 0618082132 29033005 1822 04261013 08
30162137 1604 08301621 1822 033013130432 000321252
52632 032629 301321 04261037 18 3016 0618082132 290
33005 1822 04261013 0830162137 1604 08301621 1822 03
      00032125252632 032629 301321 04261037 1
8 3016 0618082132 29033005 1822 04261013 0830162137
1604 08301621 1822 033013130432 00032125252632 032
629 301321 04261037 18 3016 0618082132 29033005 1822
04261013 0830162137 1604 08301621 1822 033013130432
0003212525252632 032629 301321 04261037 18 3016 06
18082132 29033005 1822 04261013 0830162137 1604 083
01621 1822 033013130432 0003212525632 032629 301321
"He's right," Tina said.
"Fantastic," Barnes said. "Absolutely incredible, for you to see it like that."
Ted drummed his fingers on the console impatiently. "Elementary, my dear Barnes," Harry said. "That part is easy. The hard part is - what does it mean?"
"Surely it's a message," Ted said.
"Possibly it's a message," Harry said. "It could also be some kind of discharge from within the computer, the result of a programming error or a hardware glitch. We might spend hours translating it, only to find it says 'Copyright Acme Computer Systems, Silicon Valley' or something similar."
"Well..." Ted said.
"The greatest likelihood is that this series of numbers originates from within the computer itself," Harry said. "But let me give it a try."
Tina printed out the screen for him. "I'd like to try, too," Ted said quickly.
Tina said, "Certainly, Dr. Fielding," and printed out a second sheet.
"If it's a message," Harry said, "it's most likely a simple substitution code, like an askey code. It would help if we could run a decoding program on the computer. Can anybody program this thing?"
They all shook their heads. "Can you?" Barnes said.
"No. And I suppose there's no way to transmit this to the surface? The NSA code-breaking computers in Washington would take about fifteen seconds to do this."
Barnes shook his head. "No contact. I wouldn't even put up a radio wire on a balloon. The last report, they have forty-foot waves on the surface. Snap the wire right away."
"So we're isolated?"
"We're isolated."
"I guess it's back to the old pencil and paper. I always say, traditional tools are best - particularly when there's nothing else." And left the room.