Art Pact 142


We swam lazily beneath the hot sun, every few minutes rolling from our backs to our fronts or vice versa. The sea was blessedly cool, and during a turn both sides would revel in the feeling. If one had turned so face the sky the deep drying heat in one's back would be quenched by the fathoms-deep chill of the ocean water. Similarly, one's face and belly would be caressed by the sun's hot rays and slowly begin to steam as the salt water was burnt away. We wagged our flippers in languorous circles on the surface of the water, watching the ripples rush away from each of us towards the other and merge in complex patterns. There was no wind, there were no waves on and scale that we could measure with our eyes, although we could sometimes feel beneath us a minutes-long swell that gently pushed against our outstretched bodies.

It was this, I think, that carried us to the edge of the sound-cell and away from the territory we were supposed to be exploring. The booming call of the marker-whale, which had already dwindled to a faint rhythm that one could only feel in the bones, faded entirely without our really noticing it, so absorbed were we in the process of enjoying ourselves, of being free of all necessity to act, even though we knew it was just for a short while. So we unwitting fell off the edge of the civilised world and into the more complicated zones about which we (the expedition) knew less, but about which we (the two of us) were soon to learn a great deal more.

We spotted the object when it was nothing more than a black dot on the horizon. It was floating, oddly, like a person, but far too far out of the water to be even the biggest whale. Indeed, it seemed to us to be like an island in reverse - viewed normally, it was quite small, nothing more than a little sand spit, but if one looked above the waves one could see a great bulk that had been concealed there. We watched it drift closer and closer (that is to say, we drifted closer and closer, brought there by that almost imperceptible current), and a sort of electric nervousness passed through us, a combination of the alien sight of the thing and the realisation that we were outside the range of the sound-cell and therefore would have to guess which way it was back to the beacon.

The thing was huge, but strangely formed. From around a hundred meters we could see that it was smoothly curved and largely featureless except that, like a rock or the back of a whale, it had picked up parasites and moss. Still, there were no openings on it, no irregularities, nothing like a building that would allow entry or exit or safe places to rest.

Above the water, though, the irregularity was amazing. The curving visible surface stretched up out of the sea to form a huge wall that reached up perhaps ten meters into the air. It seemed impossible, and looking up at it gave the disturbing impression that it was about to topple over onto us.

We had enjoyed the silence of the earlier day - the relaxing muteness which we had agreed to practise to better allow us to appreciate the relaxing beauty of the afternoon - but by almost imperceptible signals we began to twitch our mouths and fins, and I perceived that our unity was at an end, that although we both wanted the same thing we would have to become separate minds to discuss this new and bizarre phenomenon. Understanding this, I accepted the shame for being the first to words and I swam down and safely away from the object and hung in the shadow beneath it, in the cool dark where it was easier to think.

"What do you suppose it is?" I said, and the words sounded like the boom of a whale after the long quiet.

"It's pedifactured," she replied, "but it must have taken an age. And how was it risen like that?"

As usual, she confused the what with the how, but I was not perturbed as I often was. It seemed to me that freed of our unity it would be better to allow her to proceed in her analytical manner while I attempted to absorb the whole of the situation. A two-pronged attack might serve us better.

"How big would you say the bit above the water was?"

She swam quickly from one end of the shadow to the other, then rolled around thoughtfully, flicking her tail while she calculated.

"It's the same length as the bit we can see," she said, "perhaps a little longer. About ninety meters, maybe? You could get a couple of sounding whales nose-to-tail along this thing. Above water maybe ten meters tall, and fifteen meters across?"

We swam around it, taking in every angle as best we could, me letting the whole feel of the object sink into me, mindlessly cataloguing its curves and angles and place in the world so that perhaps sometime down the line a concept would occur to me. She measuring those curves and angles and sending little pulses towards the visible surface to see what stuff the object might be made of. Her pulses were her own, of course, but the curved surface threw them back stretched, so that from my place beside her I could sense something of them. Below the timbre of her there was a strange feeling, something both empty and solid at the same time, which I had never heard before.

"It's metal," she said, with a curious tone in her voice. "Lots of metal. Lots and lots of metal."

I just floated there, dumbfounded, listening to the faint echoes of her repeated pulses. I'd heard metal before, of course - the little sand-dollar discs of it that covered the floor in places, but they were barely a few centimetres across.

"It's a ruin," she said excitedly. A shiver ran through my tail.

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