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Authors: Brian W. Aldiss

An Island Called Moreau

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An Island Called Moreau

Brian W. Aldiss

Dedicated to the spirit

of H. G. Wells: The Master

To sink below the surface of the ocean was to enter a world of sound. Much of the sound originated from organic beings, forever transmitting their signals and necessities in harmonics which ranged through a scale commensurate with their environment, from shrillest, fastest squeak to deepest grunt. No one ear in that great element could encompass the span of frequencies involved
.

Near the surface of the ocean, the sounds were light and many, and the organisms transmitting them similarly multitudinous and small. Lower, where larger fish swam, a deeper note prevailed. Lower still, deeper yet. As the light faded, as pressure increased toward the submerged valleys and hills of the ocean bed, the sounds became infrequent and acquired a lugubrious note in keeping with their surroundings
.

Another range of sounds also persisted. It issued from another order of existence entirely: from the inorganic, from the mantle of water which moved ceaselessly over the drowned landscapes of its domain. These throatless noises had been audible almost since the beginning of time, certainly long before any stirrings of life. Currents, waves, tides, sunken rivers, sunken lakes and seas, all served as restless atmosphere to a world remote from the sentient creatures whose existences were confined to exposed territories outcropping above the planetary waters
.

This ocean was of considerable depth. Its dimensions extended for thousands of miles in all directions. It occupied one-third of the surface of the planet, covering an area greater than that of all the exposed lands. A philosophical observer might regard it as the subconscious of the world, contrasting it to the exposed land area, which might
—
in the light of this rather whimsical notion
—
be considered as the seat of a fitful conscious
.

In the aqueous subconscious of the planet, all was as usual, all as it had been for millions of years. On land, away in another element, the teeming individual awarenesses of the dominant species were in more than normal ferment. Their actions were full of sound and fury. They had just launched themselves into a global war which threatened to lay waste much of the land area, besides bringing about their own extinction
.

Such military clamor scarcely penetrated the surface of the great ocean. Yet even there
—
even there, one could search and find contraindications, symptoms of pain
.

Meteorites flashing through the night sky from space were once regarded as portents of solemn events. The ocean also had its portents from an alien element. Like a shower of meteoritic debris, metal from a disintegrating craft scattered across miles of sea. Slowly the parts sank, turning through the water, reflecting less and less light from above as they fell. They drifted down toward areas of enormous pressure and permanent twilight
.

Finally, all that remained of the
Leda
came to rest upon a barren plain near the equator, bedding down in primordial oozes under six thousand meters of ocean
.

1

Alone in the Pacific

In times of peace, the crashing of the space shuttle
Leda
into the Pacific Ocean would have provided drama enough for most of the world to have heard about it by lunchtime. During the early months of war in 1996, the incident was little noticed, beyond the announcement that an Undersecretary of State was missing.

It is not my intention to detail that crash here. It forms no part of the dreadful story I have to relate. Suffice it to say that my secretary and I were the only passengers, and that the crew numbered two, James Fan Toy and Jose Galveston. The shuttle splashed down into the Pacific close to the equator, latitude 2° south, longitude 178° east. My secretary was killed on impact; in a moment of panic, he jumped up just before we struck, and his neck was broken.

The craft floated long enough for Fan Toy, Galveston, and me to climb free and jump into an inflatable life raft.

To escape drowning was one thing, to escape the ocean another. The war was far away to the north of us, and we were in a little-frequented sector of ocean. We saw no planes, no ships, no land. Day succeeded day, the awful power of the sun making itself continually felt. We had little shelter and less water, rationing ourselves to a mouthful twice a day. As our life energies were burned from us, we took to lying under an inflatable plastic canopy, no longer paddling or even keeping watch on the unvarying horizon about us.

On the eighth day, early in the morning before the sun had risen high enough to scorch us, Fan Toy gave a cry and pointed to something floating in the waves. We stood and stared, leaning against each other for support.

How vividly I recall that moment, with the stench of our bodies and the boat's fabric, the ceaseless motion of the waves, the vast expanse of water! In the water was a dolphin, making slowly toward us.

“It's bringing help,” Fan Toy said. We had sent out a radio call for help as the
Leda
reentered Earth's atmosphere. This might well be a naval dolphin coming to guide us to a nearby submarine—such was the hope raised by sight of the creature.

“Don't be too sure he's on our side,” Galveston said.

We dipped our hands into the ocean and splashed our blistered faces and eye sockets to try and see more clearly.

“Yes, it's one of our boys,” Fan Toy said. “Take a look at the stars and stripes embedded in its tail.”

I was peering too and could discern the insignia as he spoke.

“It's moving slowly. Could be it's injured,” I said.

The creature seemed to be making heavy weather of what was just a light swell; it wallowed from side to side as it headed toward us.

Galveston got a paddle out. “I don't like the look of the beast. Keep off!” He struck at the dolphin as it came within range.

“Don't be a fool,” Fan Toy said, trying to knock the paddle from Galveston's hand. The two men struggled feebly together.

My attention was momentarily attracted elsewhere. A school of flying fish—only the second school we had seen since taking to the life raft—passed behind us, clipping the waves as it flew. One of them, slightly adrift from its fellows, landed in the raft behind us.

It was food. As I stooped down to seize it, my glance caught something on the far horizon. I could not say what it was—possibly the mast of a ship, gleaming in the sun. I bent down to snatch at the struggling fish.

As well that I did. In that moment came the explosion. It struck me with a wall of sound and pitched me into the sea.

I surfaced, choking and deafened. The water seethed all round me. The life raft had gone. So had Fan Toy and Galveston. I called their names. Limbs and flesh lay in the ocean about me, trailing tentacles of red which were dispersed among the waters. They had been blown apart, as had dolphin and raft.

The one item still afloat and happily intact was the inflatable canopy. I managed to climb into it, bail out the water with my hands, and achieve a precarious stability. I also managed to retrieve a paddle. Then I lay where I was, in a daze, as slowly my hearing returned: but not my companions.

For whatever reason, I had again been preserved. Triumphantly, I told myself—even whispered the words aloud through cracked lips—that my love of God and country would bring me through all perils to victory. I did not doubt that the
Leda
had been sabotaged by subversive elements in the Moon base, and that the sabotage had been aimed at me. Yet I had survived. And would continue to survive.

Maybe Fan Toy and Galveston had been involved in the treachery, for one can trust no one during a global war. They had been destroyed. I lived.

Now I had a makeshift boat. I was too numb at first to paddle. But a light breeze caught the canopy and bore me along, slowly increasing the distance between me and the carnage. Which was as well. Two sharks began to circle the area. Then another moved in, and another after. Soon I watched many triangular fins, circling the bloodied area at speed.

There was little doubt as to what had occurred. The dolphin had been naval trained. It must have been on a suicide mission, loaded with an explosive charge, maybe a nuclear one, and programmed for some particular target. Enemy defenses had hit and wounded it. Half senseless, it had swum on, who knew how far. Seeing our raft, it had homed in on us, probably in search of aid. Galveston had struck it with his paddle, whereupon the explosive charge had been detonated.

Confirmation of this theory lay in the way we found the dolphin swimming alone. An ordinary dolphin, when wounded, secures help from its own kind, who will escort it hundreds of miles, if need be, to a safe spot where it can recuperate. Our fellow, loaded with death, had had to travel alone to the last.

It was impossible to stand in my flimsy canopy boat. I could manage only to sit up and stare about me, searching the horizon for that gleaming thing again. It was nowhere in sight.

My strength began to desert me as hope went. The sun was growing powerful, and I crammed a flexible bucket on my head for protection. Then I slumped back as best I could, unable to paddle since there was nowhere to paddle to.

Seconds, minutes, hours, drifted by before I looked up again. Who knows the teeming thoughts that poured through my mind? When I finally broke from my reverie and peered about me, an island was in sight!

How beautiful it looked, how superbly more positive, more
created
, than the miserable element swilling all about me! I stood up in my excitement and capsized my boat immediately. Once I was back in it again, I turned eagerly to see what I could see.

At this distance, the land appeared as a rock with a flat top. On that top, an installation of some kind had been built; this was what I had seen as I stooped to pick up the flying fish. Although any indication of human enterprise filled me with hope. I had reservations from the beginning; the world was so full of automated machinery of various kinds, from missile detection systems to navigational aids, that evidence of an installation was no proof men would be nearby. Yet even a deserted island was a hundred times more welcome than open sea. To die under a palm tree suddenly seemed like heaven.

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