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Dirty Water #138

by Micah Epstein

August 21st, 2021

3 min read

Pulleys complain, and the silver glass bathysphere splashes into the sea, disturbing a shimmer of fish. A circle of concerned faces watch as the vessel guzzles ballast - and sinks. Sunlight trickles through the disturbed ocean surface, playing across the dense iridescent corals and a vibrant array of bulbous eyes and flashing fins. The dense ecosystem blooms and balloons off the reinforced-concrete legs of the Well that hem in the bathysphere, four corners of lacey life with infinite depth beneath. From neither of the two passengers, a chirpy autotune: “What exactly are we investigating again?” The Undertaker, tanned and lean with a staunch pillar of a neck, addresses the center console: “That’s exactly the type of question I should be asking you, Curiosity - and I guess answers itself. We’re going to investigate the undersea cable node. Your lifeline.” The Undertaker turns her concern upon the Midwife who sports a broad face behind goggle-thick glasses and a fierce glee. “What do you think is happening?” The Midwife responds with a question: “Curiosity, what is the status of your cloud archive?” “Syncing....syncing...syncing…” the bathysphere is sinking ever deeper. Here the gentle warming touch of the sun begins to recede, and life adjusts with harder shells, bizarre forms, and muddy palettes. The Midwife and the Undertaker both feel, somehow, the increasing pressure on their shoulders. The Midwife, without asking, turns off Curiosity's audio feedback to stop the incessant alert and says: “My guess is the cable housing, and the cables with it, have been breached by some new growth down there. We would at least be getting a trickle if we had only lost one or two cables. This is...bad.” The Undertaker’s face shifts through deadpan processing to gladness, “That means the deep-sea lophelia has reached full maturity…to actually rip through those cables!” Gladness shifts to logistical concern in response to a sharp glance from the Midwife “Those are old-growth, carbon sink species. Gonna be nigh-impossible to get council permission to clear them now.” The Midwife keeps her eyes narrow; starts, stops, stutters: “Well, but, this is the node we’re talking about. Isn’t that the whole, like, reason our township exists? To maintain the node? Without those cables I, I mean we, we wouldn’t have anything. Our fishing practices, weather prediction, our entertainment archives...” The Midwife rests a hand on the center console “...our long-distance friendships. They are all net-based.” The Undertaker nods and bites a lip, seems to listen, “Sure, sure, but we know how to fish now! And I’ve gotten pretty damn good at cloud-spotting. And storytelling, for that matter” Her gaze turns inward for a moment, with pride, “Maybe we have gotten everything we need from the net. Maybe it’s time-” Gentle now “Time to cut ourselves loose.” “Sorry to interrupt this scintillating conversation” interjects Curiosity “But we are now leaving the *TERM-MISSING* zone now.” “Bathypelagic” whispers the Midwife. The Undertaker looks at her in confusion. “Activating shipboard lights now.” The Well legs in front of them are silhouetted in stark and ghostly light. Wriggling forms, moving with grace amidst the crushing pressure, secret themselves away. “Maybe…” the Midwife begins carefully, “Maybe you're right. But it’s not our decision to make. We sit at one of six key nodes for the cable network. Maybe we’ve learned enough to survive, but we provide a service for literally hundreds of Wells like our own. The council-and-township model was designed to make us more decentralized, self-sufficient. But I don’t think it means isolation...” The Bathysphere’s descent is monotonous, almost confusing, their single spotlight catching one of the Well legs, cloaked in gray incomprehensible muck, rising like some primordial chain away from them. “There’s something powerful about being connected.”

*Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #138 August 2021


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