Flyswatter

Something reaches down and lifts Cyclopterus like a toy in a bathtub.

Inertia pushes Galik into his seat. The vessel tilts, nose down: slides fast-forward as though surfing some invisible wave. Moreno curses and grabs the stick as Cyclopterus threatens to turn, to tumble.

Wipe out…

In the next moment everything is calm as glass again.

Neither speaks for a moment.

“That was one hell of a thermocline,” Galik remarks.

“Pycnocline,” Moreno says automatically. “And we passed it a thousand meters ago. That was— something else.”

“Seaquake?”

She leans forward, interrogates the board. “Sylvie‘s transponder isn’t talking.” She conjures up a keyboard, starts typing. Out past the hull, the metronome chirp of the sonar segues into full-throated orchestra.

“Technical glitch?” Galik wonders.

“Dunno.”

“Can’t you just call them up?”

“What do you think I’m doing?”

Acoustic modems, he remembers. They can handle analog voice comms under normal conditions— but what’s normal, with Nāmaka churning up the Devil’s own background noise? Down here, the pros use text.

But judging by the look on Moreno’s face, that’s not working either.

She drags her finger along a slider on the dash; the pointillist seabed drops away around some invisible axis as the transducers swing their line-of-sight from Down to Up. Static and confusion rotate into view; the distant surface returns a blizzard of silver pixels to swamp the screen. Moreno fiddles with the focus and the maelstrom smears away. Closer, deeper features stutter into focus. Moreno sucks breath between clenched teeth.

Far overhead, something has grabbed the thermo— the pycnocline as though it were a vast carpet, and shaken it. The resulting waveform rears up through the water column, a fold of cold dense water rising into the euphotic zone like a submarine tsunami. It iterates across the display in majestic stop-motion, its progress updating with each ping.

It must be almost a thousand meters, crest-to-trough.

It’s already passed by, marching east. Patches of static swirl and dissipate in its wake, clustered echoes whose outlines shuffle and spread in jerky increments. Galik doesn’t know what they are. Maybe remnants of the Garbage Patch, its dismembered fragments still cluttering up the ocean years after Nāmaka tore it apart. Maybe just bubbles and swirling cavitation. Maybe even schools of fish; there are still supposed to be a few of those around, here and there.

“What—” he begins.

“Shut up.” Moreno’s face is bloodless. “This is bad.”

“How bad?”

Shut up and let me think!

Her visor’s back down. She plays the panel. Scale bars squeeze and stretch like rubber on the dash. Topography rotates and zooms, forward, aft; midwater wrinkles blur into focus and out again as Moreno alters the range. Her whispered fuck fuck fuck serves up a disquieting counterpoint to the pinging of the transducers.

“I can’t find Sylvie,” she admits at last, softly. “Not all of her, anyway. Maybe some pieces bearing eighty-seven. Swept way off-station.”

Galik waits.

“She was ninety meters down.” Moreno takes a deep breath. “The tip of that— thing reaches up to fifty. Must’ve slapped them like a fucking flyswatter.”

“But what was it?”

“I don’t know. Never seen anything like it before. Almost like some kind of monster seiche.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s like—when the pycnocline sloshes back and forth. Standing wave. But the strong ones, they’re just in lakes and seas. Basins with walls the wave can bounce against.”

“Pacific’s a basin. Pacific’s got walls.”

“Pacific’s fucking huge. I mean sure, ocean seiches go on world tours sometimes, but they’re slow. Stretch the mixing layer a few meters over a few years. Maybe kickstart an El Niño now and then. Nothing like this.”

“There was nothing like Nāmaka ten years ago either.”

“Yeah.”

“Hurricanes can’t even dissipate any more, so much heat in the oceans. Maybe it’s amping your seiches too.”

“Dunno. Maybe.”

“Maybe they’re even feeding off each other. Nothing’s linear any more, it’s all tipping points and—”

“I don’t know, I said. None of that shit matters right now.” She slides her visor up, eyes a red handle protruding from the ceiling. A tiny metallic hiccough and a soft bloop carry through the hull after she yanks it. Something flashes on the dash.

“Emergency buoy?”

Moreno nods, downs visor, grabs the joystick.

“Shouldn’t we, you know. Make a recording? Send details?”

“It’s in there already. Dive logs, telemetry, even cabin chatter. Beacon stores it all automatically.” The corner of her mouth tightens. “You’re in there too, if that helps. Sub commandeered by NMI, prospecting dive. Maybe they’ll move faster, knowing one of their errand boys is in danger.”

She edges the stick forward and to port. Cyclopterus banks.

Galik checks the depth gauge. “Down?”

“You think anyone’s gonna fly a rescue mission through Namāka? You think I’d be crazy enough to surface even if they did?”

“No, but—”

“Any rescue’s gonna come in from the side. And since you wouldn’t have dragged Sylvia all the way over from the Cafe if there’d been anyone closer, I’m assuming it’s gonna have to come from further out, right?”

After a moment, he nods.

“Could be days before help arrives even if our signal does manage to cut through the shit,” Moreno tells him. “And I for one don’t feel like holding my breath for a week.”

Galik swallows. “I thought these things made their own O2. From seawater.”

“Lack of seawater isn’t the problem. Need battery power to run the electrolysis rig.”

He glances at their bearing; Moreno has brought them around so they’re following in the wake of the superseiche.

“You’re going after the Earle.”

Her jaw clenches visibly. “I’m going after what’s left. With any luck, some of the fuel cells are still intact.”

“Any chance of survivors?” Most habs come with emergency pods, hard-shelled refugia for the meat in case of catastrophe. Assuming the meat has enough advance warning to get to them, of course.

She doesn’t answer. Maybe she’s not allowing herself to hope.

“I’m— I’m sorry about this,” Galik manages. “I can’t imagine what—”

Cowled Moreno hunches over the controls. “Shut up and let me drive.”

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday January 23 2019at 08:01 am , filed under fiblet . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

29 Responses to “Flyswatter”

  1. Is this a work in progress? If so, when do you hope for it to be released?

  2. Cafe, or Cape?

  3. Do-Ming Lum:
    Is this a work in progress?

    Finished it a week ago. Jonathan Strahan’s accepted it for an upcoming antho, which I probably shouldn’t talk about because I don’t think it’s been officially announced yet.

    alyctes:
    Cafe, or Cape?

    Cafe. Short for “The White Shark Cafe“.

  4. I’m looking forward to the whole story. Your writing is so much denser and hard science based that it makes for a slow, thoughtful read. It wakes my brain up.
    The only problem I have with your writing is that I can’t find anyone in my circle of friends and acquaintances to pass the books onto; everyone wants an easy read.

  5. The idea of using battery power to run an electrolysis rig in a submarine (or in a cybernetic lung) is pretty absurd, splittting H2O to H2 and O2 requires a shitload of energy. And it would be an absurd waste to leave a bunch of highly energetic H2 sitting around, which in turn is only useful if you react it with O2.

  6. Peter Watts: Finished it a week ago. Jonathan Strahan’s accepted it for his next antho, which I probably shouldn’t talk about because I don’t think it’s been officially announced yet.

    Cafe. Short for “The White Shark Cafe“.

    Did you write all the stories for that collection then? 😉 Nice fiblet – looking forward to more!

  7. Carbonman: Your writing is so much denser and hard science based that it makes for a slow, thoughtful read. It wakes my brain up.
    The only problem I have with your writing is that I can’t find anyone in my circle of friends and acquaintances to pass the books onto; everyone wants an easy read.

    Seriously? “Denser”? Look at the current fiblet; it’s got maybe one oceanographic sciencey term that most people might not know, and it exposits the hell out it to clue everyone in. I think that’s a plenty easy read.

    Daniel: The idea of using battery power to run an electrolysis rig in a submarine (or in a cybernetic lung) is pretty absurd, splittting H2O to H2 and O2 requires a shitload of energy.

    You better tell the Navy quick, so they can cancel this electrolyzer contract with UTC. Also so they can go back and strip out the electrolysis rigs that have been oxygenating their subs for decades now. (Come to think of it, I should probably go back and give the same warning to my 13-year-old self, before he hooks a battery up to a couple of wires and sticks them in water to see the little stream of bubbles rising from one of the electrodes.)

    Will: Did you write all the stories for that collection then?

    Nah, that’s actually the difference between an anthology and a collection; only the collection is single-author.

  8. So I’m guessing Nāmaka is a standing storm, a hurricane that doesn’t dissipate?

    As for the cause; massive asteroid impact? it would give the fast moving wave on that scale, and the lack of any response; whole surface wold just got wrecked.

    Also ad another meaning to “Flyswatter”, if a big and unpleasant intelligence lobbed a rock at us

  9. Oh man i love it!

    So in ten years we are going to have perpetual hurricanes due to Global Warming, and then mysterious underwater waves that knock subs out in the blink of an eye… cool!

  10. > Global warming

    You need to watch this:

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2019/01/when-dilbert-speaks-denialists-tremble.html

  11. Hank Roberts,

    Beautiful You could hardly design a blog to look more blatantly telling of delusion. It has everything: the all-caps text with bolded and italicized words thrown in for even more of an “unhinged rant” feel, the random mixture of text colors and size, the schizophrenic positioning of paragraphs all across the page, the inexplicable coded language (All W’s replaced with VV’s, which apparently stands for an alliterated Latin phrase of unclear relevance), and of course, the deference to cartoonist Adam Scott as a scientific authority. I’m serious here, is this a parody? Is this the Time Cube guy’s side project?

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure the claim of “most viewed site on global warming” holds up; Alexa ranks it as only the 2,737,715th most popular site. “Most parodied,” maybe.

  12. Have you actually watched the video? He’s pretty lukewarm and neutral about global warming. I sometimes try to follow what he says because he called Trump like a year in advance, and sometimes he says interesting things, but ever since he switched to podcasts I can’t handle his smugness.

  13. Is it not that the problem with climate change is due to our current level of civilisation. I’m not denying a change, and I can see humanity’s impact, but we live such short term, fixed lives that it’s become a much bigger deal than it would have been 5000 years ago, or likely would be 5000 years from now.
    In the past you could carry everything you needed to live, and migration was easy.
    New York barely existed 300 years ago, but now it must be where it is, and things (temperature, rainfall, sea level) can only change within very limited ranges.
    I really doubt societies can come together to make dramatic, rapid, behavioural changes due to hyperbolic discounting, natural human greed, and social evolution’s law of supply and demand.
    So, to me, we are left with relying on incremental changes and human beings’ incredible mental adaptability.
    A hundred years from now, grumpy old men will be saying “I remember when I was a lad there were no gondolas in London and you could walk everywhere”. A bit trite, but I think adaptation will just “naturally” occur – with impacts – and forced attempts at revolutionary change is doomed to failure, as per the recent climate change summit…”Where’s my $100 billion dollars a year, please thankyou.”

  14. Martin:
    Is it not that the problem with climate change is due to our current level of civilisation. I’m not denying a change, and I can see humanity’s impact, but we live such short term, fixed lives that it’s become a much bigger deal than it would have been 5000 years ago, or likely would be 5000 years from now.
    In the past you could carry everything you needed to live, and migration was easy.
    New York barely existed 300 years ago, but now it must be where it is, and things (temperature, rainfall, sea level) can only change within very limited ranges.
    I really doubt societies can come together to make dramatic, rapid, behavioural changes due to hyperbolic discounting, natural human greed, and social evolution’s law of supply and demand.
    So, to me, we are left with relying on incremental changes and human beings’ incredible mental adaptability.
    A hundred years from now, grumpy old men will be saying “I remember when I was a lad there were no gondolas in London and you could walk everywhere”. A bit trite, but I think adaptation will just “naturally” occur – with impacts – and forced attempts at revolutionary change is doomed to failure, as per the recent climate change summit…”Where’s my $100 billion dollars a year, please thankyou.”

    Ah, if the only consequence of Global Warming was the rising sea. Unfortunately it’s not. You are correct, we will adapt to a rising sea level. We will either engineer around (above) it or simply move inland.

    But what I fear the most… droughts in the midwest, the bread basket of the USA. We lose the ability to grow massive amounts of food over there and its game over for life as we know it. People in the US have grown fat and lazy. I fear that even a small disruption in their daily consumption of sugar and carbs would lead to nationwide turmoil. And then, once grain and corn become scarce, kiss the meat industry goodbye. No more $0.99 cheeseburgers or chicken tendies with hunny mussy :).

    Food shortage will be our downfall longterm, not coastal flooding.

  15. Jeremy C,
    Not being American I have no idea what the last two foods are that you mention, but I agree with your point.
    I was just using a simplistic example.
    The effects will be global (obviously), significant, and very varied – as per many of the comments above.
    Humanity will easily survive it, but not without pain and change.
    That’s what seems to terrify people. In the last few hundred years we have become a very short-term culture, used to being in control.
    It’s going to happen. Maybe some mitigation is possible, I doubt it.
    But it will not be a single-event apocalypse. Just a constant gradual series of changes and effects, as we are already seeing.

  16. I wonder if the “meat industry” is actually “the world’s oldest profession” 🙂

  17. Martin:
    I wonder if the “meat industry” is actually “the world’s oldest profession”

    Well, by Meat Industry I was referring to the large cattle and chicken processing companies that supply most of the beef and chicken to processed foods. These are the cattle factories that feed their cattle mostly corn and sugar. Not small farms that let their cows graze on grass… those will be OK. We will just have to deal with eating MUCH less meat than we do now, and at a much higher price.

  18. […] No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons » Flyswatter – "Something reaches down and lifts Cyclopterus like a toy in a bathtub." […]

  19. “kiss the meat industry goodbye”

    Would love to see that. It’s a fucking horror show. Even non-industrial meat farms. Vegetarian diets are perfectly healthy. Forget about the long-term shit show we’re sliding into – Why the fuck do people want to kill when it’s not necessary?

  20. Phil:
    “kiss the meat industry goodbye”

    Would love to see that. It’s a fucking horror show. Even non-industrial meat farms. Vegetarian diets are perfectly healthy. Forget about the long-term shit show we’re sliding into – Why the fuck do people want to kill when it’s not necessary?

    I agree about the “Industrial” meat farms, nasty shit. Cows should eat grass not corn. There are some really good documentaries on the industrial cattle farms and the nasty effects that force feeding cows a diet of mostly corn and grain has on them. All that sugar in their gut causes a massive increase in the amount of disease causing bacteria (e. coli…) and that causes their manure to be hazardous waste instead of a relatively clean fertilizer. Those bacteria outbreaks on lettuce and other veggies… mostly caused from infected manure runoff from these types of farms. The manure from a grass fed cow farm would not have this issue.

    Now about going vegi… no thanks. I love my meat :). I have however reduced my families consumption though, red meat 3x a day isn’t the healthiest diet. And we switched over to mostly lamb/goat and most of our beef from local grass fed cattle. Grass fed tastes better, but more importantly has a balanced ratio of fatty acids (Omega 6 and Omega 3). You want these to be close to a 1:1 ratio in your diet, no more than 4:1. Grain fed beef comes in at a whopping 20:1… whereas grass fed is close to 3:1. That 20:1 imbalance causes inflammation of your arteries which in turn causes cholesterol to build up plaques and start blocking them.

    Interesting factoid: Heart Disease rates from clogged arteries have skyrocketed since the 50’s. It was in the 50’s that we started feeding our cattle corn and grain. Before that almost all cattle was grass fed. Hard to pin a direct link between these two events… there are alot of other contributing factors such as sedentary lifestyles… but the evidence is pretty damning to me.

  21. if we’re talking about whether meat consumption is healthy or desireable: it’s only really worth it if you’re just barely calorie-neutral every day, which most people aren’t. Otherwise it’s just unnecessary. Much like sugar-rich food.

    I personally want to start trying alternative agriculture, but it’s kind of a “scene” that’s hard to fit into an academic schedule.

  22. popefucker:

    I personally want to start trying alternative agriculture, but it’s kind of a “scene” that’s hard to fit into an academic schedule.

    Met a guy at a party that was all about his backyard tilapia hydroponic setup. He was convinced it was the most sustainable backyard gardening approach. He was what I would describe as a hippie; tall, skinny and had the right voice and demeanor. He smelled like incense.

    Anyway as he was describing, in great detail, how I could easily set one of these tilapia farms up for myself I quickly realized that it would be an all consuming endeavor. I work 9-5 and take care of kids… this guy lives alone, semi off the grid, and has nothing i would consider to be a ‘job’. Meaning that he works odd jobs just long enough to pay the bills and fund his next ‘project’ and then promptly quits.

    Nice ideas but your are correct in that they rarely fir into a modern lifestyle.

  23. Hello, Peter. Perhaps off-topic, but I wondered what you made of the fact that the cleaner wrasse has apparently joined the ranks of humans, chimps and dolphins in displaying self-awareness, (My completely uninformed guess: it’s something to do with the fact that it makes a living working around the nasty parts of dangerous animals and has to be sure it will be recognized.)

    Afraid I haven’t been keeping up with you since (the very impressive) Echopraxia, but I’m glad you’re still writing.

  24. John Park,

    Hey, that’s nothing. There was a paper back when said that ants could pass the mirror test. The methodology looked solid, too, even though it appeared in a predatory amateurish pseudojournal (and has, as far as I can tell, since been taken down). And I do, in general, think that we’re chronically guilty of underestimating the smarts of other species

    I’ve always been vaguely skeptical of mirror tests in general, though. I can see what its proponents are getting at, and it’s certainly better than nothing, but I think it’s far from definitive. There are all sorts of reasons why natural selection would promote the ability of the organism to distinguish itself from its surroundings, and it’s not hard to imagine pattern-matching mechanisms that could accomplish that task without being self-reflective in the “sapient” sense.

    I mean, hell. Most of us humans can recognize ourselves in mirrors, and wondering if the rest of you are all p-zombies is still considered a legitimate thought experiment.

  25. I came across a description of the ant study too; and it seemed that for the ants, as for the wrasse, being recognised could be a matter of life or death. It’s tempting to try and guess what that might say about the origin of self-awarenes, if only as a source of SF ideas.

  26. Came to post about the fish, not surprised to see I’ve been beaten. Speaking of ants I’m currently in Melbourne and the Myrmecia ants around here stare at you, it is very cool. Apparently they have eyesight rivaling that of a cat according to their wiki entry.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrmecia_(ant)

    I’m tempted to bust out the mirrors and paintbrushes. But am wary of ending up like the ill fated characters in Charlie Stross’ Missile Gap, since apparently their sting can cause anaphylactic shock.

    I did have a couple more Wattsian news items that may serve.

    This one’s all over the news: Open AI has come up with a working Chinese Room, and they’re only releasing a hobbled version because they’re afraid what people might do with the full powered one
    https://blog.openai.com/better-language-models/.

    And as a bonus: A paper on hunter gatherer patterns in serial killer behaviour
    https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-03051-001?doi=1

    We examined sex differences in serial murder that may be byproducts of ancestral tendencies. Specifically, we proposed and tested a “hunter-gatherer” model of serial murder

  27. Peter, if I may call you that? One of the biggest problems I have with your fiction is the assumption that sentience or consciousness exists. Why do you make that assumption and how do you define it?

  28. V,

    Huh. I’m actually kind of surprised you’d call me on that, given that I’m one of the few authors I know of who’s question the value of consciousness at least, if not its outright existence. I’d say that pretty much every writer out there “assumes that sentience or consciousness exists”. I’d assume pretty much everyone in any profession would assume the same, if they thought about it at all.

    But I’d argue that “consciousness exists” is not an assumption. I’d argue it’s the only statement I can make that doesn’t make (or ultimately rest upon) unprovable assumptions. “I am conscious” is the only thing I can state with certainty, because something is obviously aware of these thoughts. Now, you may not be conscious. Nothing else in the universe might be conscious. Everything I think I perceive might be a hallucination generated by some disembodied brain tripping out in a vat, for all I know. Ultimately, I have to take my perceptions on faith. But the fact that I’m perceiving at all? That is the one thing I can state from first-hand experience with absolute certainty.

    None of this is especially deep, of course. Descartes made a meme out of it back in the sixteen hundreds.

  29. Hey there,
    Can anyone point me to an article/post/podcast where Peter lays out his views on free will?
    Did a quick search and found a great post which gives an update:
    https://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=3415
    But is there any such article which covers his views comprehensively?

    Cheers