The Ocean – Part 2 (Short Story)

At the age of thirty-seven Danny enrolled as an undergraduate student for marine ecology at Stanford. His impressive résumé initially surprised the course administrators and the professors alike. His natural enthusiasm complimented his background and good references cemented his selection.

Today, Danny was here, in the middle of nowhere in the Gulf of Mexico on his first day of undergrad internship. His PI at Stanford was studying the effects of a forty year-old oil spill in the gulf. The spill had one of the worst impacts on the marine ecology in the Western Hemisphere.

Danny had read in detail about the incident. A drilling rig siphoning oil from the depths of around three thousand metres had been quite a profitable project for the government. The rig itself was privately owned by a few British stakeholders. Environmental agencies had already complained about incidences involving smaller fires before. Engineers had suggested more frequent checks to curtail the leaking oil and replacing of some of the metal casings. Its should have been no surprise that the drill eventually collapsed under pressure killing 37 people. The whole incidence was one of the worst cases of man-made ocean disasters with the spill gushing out tones of crude oil for nearly two months. He had also seen the horrific pictures of the wildlife being destroyed: birds covered in oil unable to fly off or even feed, dead fish on the surface and the shores and beaches covered with oil. The worst was the impact it had beneath the sea. Oil and natural gases had suffocated thousands of species living in the area. Although the companies had fully taken the responsibilities of the clean-up, the nature of the tragedy itself was overwhelming for the teams. The people involved in the clean-up itself were suffering long-term health problems.

Danny and the research team were there to study the long-term effects of the microbes used digest the oil on the various species of planktons in the area. His training in medical school meant that he already understood most of the biology behind the projects, he just had to train on the ship with its equipment. For him, though, this just meant a distraction that he could enjoy.

He grew up on the shore playing in the sea but wouldn’t collect shells and coloured glass like other kids, nor did he wish to find a message in bottle washed ashore. Danny liked the ocean, the sound it made, how small everybody looked as compared to the ocean. This meant that there was so much out there. There was so much to explore and understand, perhaps this is why he didn’t rebel when his father pressed him to apply for the medical college. His dad was a doctor himself and Danny always felt a certain power of his dad over him. He wanted to learn so he gradually warmed up to medical school. But he always knew that he was away from the ocean and then he met Emily.

It was not love at first sight. They had met at a party, she was his classmate’s sister, studying pschycotherapy. He had mentioned how his first love was the ocean and he was here because his dad pressed for it. Emily had heard everything patiently and put her gentle hand on his arm and had said, “You can still go be with the ocean, your life is not over”

And thats what she had become for him, life. Over the years he worked hard to graduate with giving her not enough time he thought she deserved. She always said that he should love himself and his life and not just her, her studies had taught her that co-dependance was not healthy. But she never pressed the issue as she knew that he was content and very busy. He was excelling in his work and everything was perfect for while.

It would always scare him to think if anything would ever happen to her, she was his friend, his love and everything in between. And then one day it happened, as if his life was just waiting for this to happen to him. They had to recognise her from her car outside the store, which was destroyed by a blast caused by attention seeking separatists wanting there own land. They had taken responsibility for the blasts and it had made him bitter to know that she died for no fault of hers. Her killers didn’t even know her name and didn’t care. He was sad much more than how angry he felt. He didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

Marine biology was much lighter, being in the ocean took some burden off his soul. They would collect water samples during the weekdays and carry out some tests to identify residual hydrocarbons in the planktons from the oil and compare them with healthy planktons. In the evenings they could sit outside their cabins and have a beer. Gerry would also be with him and after the initial days of awkward small talk, he could talk about himself. Gerry, short for Gerard would talk in his heavy french accent which always amused Danny. He would insist they call him Gerry and Danny guessed that it perhaps had to with the all-American staff butchering his full name. Danny looked forward for his first weekend on the ship when they could go snorkeling.

However, his hopes of snorkeling shattered when it was announced that on the weekend, Danny would be trained to excavate and retrieve samples in a very compact research submarine. He had played with toy subs as a boy but he had never imagined being on the dark bottom of the ocean in one. The Professor decided to go with him explaining that this way, although they give up on their weekend, they can go back home early. Although this news was meant to make Danny feel better, he didn’t quite like it. Why? He loved the ocean, he didn’t want to go back early!

He was asked to dress light and he was soon going to understand why. The sub’s name was the RETRIEVER as he could read on the back half of the machine. The front half was a glass globe where a total of around 300 degrees of visibility. It wasn’t very big and had long robotic arms. All Danny had to do was sit back and watch as the professor demonstrated so he wasn’t under any sort of pressure and then he thought perhaps he was, and smiled to himself. After a long time, Danny was able to get back his sense of fun.

“After you”, Danny said as the Professor led the way inside. He opened the airlock hatch, he wasn’t sure if it qualified as a door as they entered the sub.

It was smaller than it looked from outside as the professor was practically sitting next to Danny.

“This looks very old. I thought we now use the fully automated ones exclusively. I don’t recall reading about this one under research tools in the papers” Danny noticed.

“Yes it is, this one is not used that often. Normally we do use the fully automated one. But since you are a mine biology student, its obligatory for you to be trained in manual sample collection in this ancient relic!”

Danny chuckled.

For the next half an hour, the professor, explained Danny the equipment, the systems and the protocols to be followed. Danny looked quite frequently at the hatched door still open and thanked heavens for it. He could almost smell the professor perspiring and knew exactly what is to come next as the hatchet closes and they descent into the ocean.

Finally the professor closed the airlock and messaged the crew to transport them over to the water. As Danny watched, the long rope like chains pulled them up and gently lowered them into the water and then let them go. Despite what they thought, the sub was very stable and Danny felt a certain lightness in his body just like one feels on the ferris-wheel.

As the professor controlled the sub, Danny realized that there was not much to learn about operating it, a lot of it was still automated but a lot of it was something like a builder would do to operate a crane. It didn’t take too long and they found themselves on the bed of the ocean. The professor switched on the secondary lights and they could see a lot around them.

Nothing special though, initially it was just billows of sea dust and they waited till it settled.

“So lets begin the field-work, shall we?”

As Danny had correctly guessed, the cockpit was like an oven and both of them had started accumulating considerate amount of sweat all over them before anything else.

What he referred to as field work consisted of switching on a suction pump which had collected a litre of silt and water mixture. At one point Danny even wondered if the rest of the crew were playing an elaborate and expensive practical joke on him. He was being taught how to work the robotic arms, grabbing material and using the various sort of detectors etc. He was used to operating much more complicated robotic arms so he was getting slightly impatient with how slow the arms moved as opposed to the almost superhuman micro-motor skills of the NEUROMANIPULATOR, the brand name of the surgical arms in the operation theatre.

The “field-work” was over and the professor began his ascent with the heat in the sub which could have truly tested anyones patience but not Danny’s. Danny felt great that after a long time, he had managed to remain as calm as in one of his surgeries.

As soon as they arrived on the surface, they had to adjust his eyes to the flash lights glaring onto the glass bubble. The machines on the research vessel pulled them back up and they could finally open the hatchet again. It was night time and the wind finally made his skin feel alive again.

As they climbed out he noticed something on the right side of the wall of the sub from the outside. He asked the professor to check it out. It looked almost like an octopus but unlike any octopus the professor had ever seen. It peaked his curiosity and he decided to bring in a glass vessel to put the octopus in and study it later. All this while the creature made no movements and Danny wondered if it was dead already.

The professor placed the octopus in the lab as Danny followed. He wanted to see more of it.

“Get under the shower”

“In a moment, don’t you find it strange that it has no suckers?” Asked Danny he closely noted the transparent creature with a big bulbous head and translucent skin.

“There are no eyes either but I do want to wash myself before I ward all of my students off with my hard work otherwise referred to as sweat and body odour!”

“You are probably right.” Both of them let out a loud laugh.

As Danny turned around to leave, one of the tentacles of the octopus leapt out of the vessel and whipped Danny’s back, the back bone to be precise. Danny shouted in agony and the Professor turned around in surprise to what had just transpired in a fraction of a second.

“Are you alright?”

“Ahh I think so” Danny said as he tried to rub his back.

The octopus had retrieved the tentacle and became motionless again. The professor rushed Danny to the infirmary. On the way he asked Gerry to carefully put a lid onto the vessel.

Danny tried to assess what his body should be undergoing if there was any sort of toxin in his body. He was not feeling any numbness anywhere, he could speak, breathe and see perfectly. The pain was gone, he was not nauseous and his muscle coordinations seemed good as well. He knew that there was at least no neurotoxin. It was certainly not a bite because the octopus used its tentacle, or whatever it was. Was it even an octopus?

A thousand thoughts flashed through his brain probably forcing him to remember everything that he had learned as a doctor in probably 30 seconds. As soon he entered the infirmary he had to put his finger under a needle in a coffee-maker sized machine and the other arm inside it. One would check the chemicals in his blood and the other would check his vitals. The report was quick and the conclusion was that Danny was physically fine.

Danny thought that he essentially got whipped by the little fellow, smiled to himself, then realised this was no time for jokes, even in his head.

The Professor heaved a sigh of relief. “I love the coffee-maker” he smiled referring to the machine. “Are you feeling ok Danny?”

“Yes I am actually, scared to death though, but ok”

Gerry arrived at the door.

“Professor, the octopus, is, how should I put it, dissolving”

“What do you mean dissolving?”

“I mean dissolving into the water”

Both Danny and the professor rushed toward the lab. It was unbelievable but there it was right in front of their eyes. The creature was no more there, just a grayish gluey liquid inside the vessel.

The professor did not feel great about this whole fiasco. He asked for an emergency meeting in half an hour.

In the meantime Danny had the time to clean up and realise that when you think everything has happened to you, something new just blows your mind. He changed and left for the meeting.

The professor informed the crew that he just talked to the university officials. They all think that because the nature of the creature was still unknown and that it had basically disintegrated so dramatically unlike ever seen before, Danny should be bought to the hospital and then cross examined thoroughly. He was to leave the next day for the hospital whilst they stay back and continue their work, now also on the grey goo.

Talk about shortening the trip, Danny’s was cut so abruptly so soon. A rescue helicopter was to take him back first thing in the morning which alarmed him a bit. He knew there was nothing wrong with him, but he was still worried. He decided not to tell his parents especially since his mom would freak out.

After dinner that evening and on the receiving end of countless theories by his mates, Danny just wanted to sleep. He had certainly had a long day.

Contrary to other days, tonight, he felt tired and so sleepy. And soon enough he was asleep.

The next thing he knows is that he is opening the door of the cruise ship vacationing with Emily. Its night time and he sees Emily blissfully asleep on the bed. He is by the window as the moonlight shines through. Emily awakes and sits up.

“Hello Danny”

Danny is surprised. He knows he is dreaming. He has dreamt of Emily almost every night since his suicide attempt. But she has never talked to him before.

“Emily, is it you?” As Danny tries to go approach her.

“Danny, I am not Emily.”

Danny is surprised, he doesn’t want to believe. Of course its Emily, just look at her. She is in the same silk gown, beautiful blonde hair, she still has their engagement ring on her finger.

“You are Emily, my Emily, I love you Emily, where are you, I miss you.”

Danny feels his eyes welling up with tears.

“Danny I would like to thank you for helping me. I am not Emily. I wanted to talk to you. You dream of Emily all the time, I had to be Emily to talk to you”

Danny watches in surprise as he sees grey tentacles rise from behind Emily’s head.

Danny is not scared just sad to realise that it really is not Emily.

“Who are you?”

As the tentacles retract be be replaced with Emily’s silky hair, she speaks, “Danny you have to give this to him, its for him”

Emily takes the ring off her finger and hands it back to Danny.

“To whom? This is my engagement ring”

“Its for him Danny, please help me Danny”

“But for whom?” Danny woke himself up. The chamber was empty, there was nobody. He had to orient himself again into realizing that he was on the research ship on his bed. He sat up and thought of the dream. He couldn’t sleep so he got up and wanted to take a walk. But he had sweat so much so he went to the sink to wash his face. As he splashed his face with cold water, he ran his hands over his hair till the back of his head. And then he noticed something. Something solid and thicker than hair just above the nape of the neck at the end of his hairline. He touched it again. “Yup, it was definitely not hair” he said plucking it out.

It was thicker and transparent with a whitish hue and about as long as his own hair. It looked like a fish bone only a bit more delicate. He thought of examining it under the electron microscope on the ship but at this time, he would have to definitely wake someone up and need to fill forms to clarify what he was using it for. But the main lab should be open, he thought, if someone was still working. He remembered it was the weekend but he decided to still give it a go. A normal microscope can be a useful tool as well, he thought.

As he walked past the dock, he could feel the cool wind in his shirt and his hair. He went a bit further and just let wind blow into his face as he breathed. A feeling of peace just went through his head, the kind of peace he had felt when he was a kid playing on the shore.

As he opened his eyes, he could see something floating at a distance in the water. It was not so bright so he tried to concentrate.

It was an octopus, similar to what they had found. It was just drifting towards the ship. Danny couldn’t believe it. What was that, a new species, and was it just a co-incidence that he found two, the same day! He just stood there with eyes open as he witnesses the most unbelievable event in his life.

The octopus started raising his tentacle very slowly. Danny thought that he should be running inside calling everyone. What was it doing, was it going to hurt them, was it some sort of an elusive sea monster of the stories. But he didn’t feel any fear even to his surprise. He somehow knew that the creature was not going to bring harm to him just like one knows that a puppy would not and could not hurt you.

The tentacle kept stretching and stretching. Danny, completely dumb founded, could not decide whether to call anyone or just watch what was enfolding in front of him.

The tentacle had covered the length from the surface up till the deck of the ship, which was easily around 30 feet! As it approached Danny it stopped and just stayed there and then it bend a portion of it towards him as if stretching it out for something.

As Danny stood there in front of an out-worldly display of strange behavior from what now he knew was not an Octopus, he had begun understanding of what was required out of him. He reached for his pocket and took out the delicate bone and placed it onto the tentacle. As soon as it touched it, the bone glowed bright reminding him of his ring on Emily’s finger. The bone gently sank into the tentacle as it receded without incidence.

The whole show perhaps took 2 minutes in all and the creature was gone with Danny still wondering what had just transpired in front of him. Should he now go and tell the crew about what happened? More so, will they actually believe him? Perhaps they would, especially since a strange goo still lay in the lab.

“The goo!”

Danny ran towards the lab and sure enough Gerry was there staring at the glass vessel.

As the first light of dawn entered through the windows, Danny and Gerry stare at the glass vessel full of sea water.

Danny ran towards the lab and sure enough Gerry was there staring at the glass vessel.

As the first light of dawn entered through the windows, Danny and Gerry stare at the glass vessel full of sea water.

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