Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience bidding tokens (earned while watching) to determine the path of the story. The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways. Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.
Caverns and Pets Canyon and Child Support Diving and Visits
The cloud bank passed overhead just as a flock of small skates flapped by beneath their boat. Their movement was perfectly matched, as if the fish used the clouds as roaming shade. Lucas and Beryl sat on opposite sides of the boat, preparing their equipment for the dive ahead. They were already clad in skintight neoprene suits with a colorful stripe down the side. Lucas was Green. Beryl was purple.
He had the camera. She waited for him to notice the skates, lean over the side, and snap a few pictures. Neither of them were happy now, but they could be happy later. They could project whatever emotions they wanted to onto the pictures, especially if it was just of the fish and the waves. Nature cared not for little squabbles. He fiddled with his mask, tapping the microphone and blowing on it pointlessly.
“Lucas,” she snapped. His face rose slowly. “You’re missing the skates. Get a picture.”
“They’ll look better underwater,” he said limply and went back to blowing on the microphone like it was a styrofoam cup of cheap soup. She could already see that would be his mood for the rest of the day, barring an extraordinary discovery. Everything would be cheapened. The fish would look like the kind you win at carnivals, the coral like amateur sand castles, and the water itself like bathwater thick with soap scum. All this, because she had a mother, father, and sister who occasionally liked to see them.
“They’ll be gone before we get down there,” she chided. “One of them probably has a story: a scar, a family, something we’ll miss.”
“Maybe your family could be gone before we get back,” he offered. “I’d be happy to miss their stories, and anything else they bring with them. How many frogs did your sister say she was bringing this time? Twenty?”
“They’re work props that happen to need food,” Beryl argued in her sister’s defense. “You can’t tour the country’s schools teaching kids about amphibians without amphibians. They’re in plastic boxes anyway. They can’t jump on you.”
“Right, except for that one time.”
“Okay, so they play practical jokes on you. I know. They’re obnoxious. They don’t like you. I know. We’ll see them pretty much as soon as we’re out of this water, so it should be a good dip. Okay? I can take the camera if you don’t want it.”
“No, you’re right. Let’s go.” With that he donned his mask, checked the straps on his flippers, and rolled backwards into the water. The skates fanned out around him, fluttering their satin sand-colored wings. He snapped a few pictures of their panic. He got one of Beryl dropping into the water alongside him. He always liked the shape of her dive and the perfect trail of bubbles she left. How did she make bubbles dainty? How was that even possible? She jabbed her finger, down beneath him. Lucas spun in the water and aimed the camera at the seabed, ready to snap a quick shot of a fleeing octopus or shark.
Wreckage A Perfect Sand Tunnel Giant Clam
Clik. The flash disappeared down a deep hole in the sand. Lucas hovered over it, lowering the camera to get a better look. It was perfect. Perfectly circular. They’d done plenty of adventuring in the ten years they’d been married and not bothered to turn that adventurous instinct into a child or a mortgaged home. They’d braved caverns, canyons, and deep forests that passive aggressively rejected their presence with foul weather and strange sounds, so they knew what to expect from a simple photography dive.
They always went alone, against professional advice. They were the sort of people who needed to risk a life on occasion, and their own was often the most convenient. In each other they found a partner equally likely to throw everything away just to give the surviving one a story to tell. Once, Lucas had asked her what he should do on a dive if a shark grabbed him. She simply answered that he should make sure to separate the camera from its strap so it could be recovered. That was the response he wanted. His death could be a great coffee table book, with a few double-page shots of the monster’s gullet.
That tunnel confounded them. It was strange, but not immediately dangerous. If it was dangerous, they could’ve just haphazardly approached it and poked at it. The tunnel had no visible end though it went straight down. Its edge was a perfect curve, but not burned to glass. How grains of sand could behave in such a way eluded them. Cautiously, not their favorite way to do things, they approached each side of it and stared down. He snapped another picture, which revealed more of it, but there was still no bottom.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Beryl said into the microphone in her mask. Lucas heard her voice crackle in his ear and heard her take another breath from her tank. They were only good for about two hours down there before they needed to resurface. She was right, and she wasn’t just referring to their actual trips. They’d jealously torn through hundreds of photography books and compared their own photos. Nobody had pictures like these.
“What could’ve made it?” he asked in return. For some reason the first thing he thought about was having to explain the photo to Beryl’s family. Her parents didn’t want a hole in the sand. They wanted grandchildren. They wanted a hole in a condom or a hole in a wallet. He decided they wouldn’t show the pictures at all. It turns out, they saw nothing in the entire ocean. No fish, no mysterious holes, and not even an oddly-shaped grain of salt. They would just have to be silent for their visit, aside from the peeping of her sister’s frogs.
“We can’t fit.” her voice pulled him out of his head and back into his mask. Experimentally, he reached his arm as far into the tunnel as he could. Nothing bit. He rubbed the sides. The sand was stiff, but there was no evidence of any other substance holding it together. He tried to pull some of it loose, to no avail. “I think we have a shovel up on the…” she stopped. A shadow passed overhead. He heard his wife gasp. Was this it? His coffee table book moment? Was he about to be flattened into a new reality as a thrilling memory?
He ripped his arm free and rolled over. At first, he couldn’t see much. The bright sun had returned, and its jabbing spears of light obscured the object. He waved the bubbles from his mask away.
Massive Grouper Dolphin Pod Gelatinous Blob
It wasn’t clear because some of the light passed straight through it. The object was sinking, but it gave Lucas and Beryl plenty of time to swim out of the way. Stunned, all he could think to do was take another picture. The blob before them did not respond to the flash. It dropped lower. He could see his wife’s face distorted through it, despite it taking up more than twenty feet between them.
Its substance was of a blue slightly darker than the surrounding water. They could discern a few things within it. Most of it was human trash: shards of green beer bottles, two corks gone green from the algae, an ice cream wrapper proclaiming its flavor as dark chocolate cherry, and a contact lens case. Between them raced tiny bright lights that they recognized as bioluminescence.
“What is it?” Beryl asked, but Lucas knew she wasn’t asking him. They had no secrets from each other, and she knew exactly how confused both of them were. She was searching her own mind for answers. Between the two of them she’d had more biology in school. “Jellyfish? No. No tentacles. Salp? They don’t have lights that move like that… Why is it luminescent at all? It’s not dark out here. It’s the middle of the day and we’re not even forty feet down.”
“No, but it’s dark down there,” Lucas added. He pointed into the tunnel. As if he had ordered it to, the serene blob began to change shape. The bottom of it narrowed and formed a loose tube. The tube entered the tunnel and the rest of the blob shrank as its matter squeezed inside. To the couple it looked like a frosting bag having its contents squeezed out by pressure applied to the top.
The trash moved within it as well. The ice cream wrapper was sucked down into the tunnel first, while everything else was pushed to the back of the blob. Did it have a preference when it came to garbage? All the lights were concentrated in the tunnel as well, leaving none for the refuse. Within three minutes the entire thing vanished down the tunnel. Lucas and Beryl swam back to its edge and watched the bulbous blue end of it sink into the darkness.
“We should get a sample,” Beryl said. There was a crafty edge in her voice, audible even through the microphone’s crackle.
“We don’t have any equipment.”
“Anything can be equipment. We have that hazelnut mousse jar. That’s our equipment. Let’s go get it before this thing comes back out and drifts away.”
“It’s got hazelnut in it! We’d have to wash it first or we’d contaminate the sample.”
“We’re in the ocean doofis!” she spat on her face mask. “I’m pretty sure we can find water to wash it with. What’s your deal? This could be a new species. There could be an article. We could be in an article.”
“We’re not scientists. I just don’t want to screw this up.”
“Then don’t screw it up. This could be the best trip we’ve ever had. If we’ve actually got something, we have an excuse to spend minimal time with my family this week.” Lucas’ ears perked up. He wasn’t sure why the blob didn’t excite him that much. It certainly was extraordinary, but something about it seemed familiar. It was full of trash, so no matter what it was less than a miracle. Nobody wanted a dirty miracle. Still, avoiding her father’s stupid laugh and pepperoni breath was reason enough to hurry.
Retrieve Jar Blob Reemerge Hear Voices
Lucas was halfway back to their anchored boat when he heard something. It had to be Beryl, so he turned and looked at her. No. It wasn’t. A voice? There were words, but they ran into each other. Suddenly it was very loud: an eight car pile-up of gibberish right on his ear bones, already delicate from the pressure shift.
“The weather for today is go… elieve she did that, can y… in the year… oh snap!” He couldn’t manipulate the volume with the mask on, so he had to surface and rip it from his face. The voices babbled away. He pulled himself up onto the side of the boat with its ladder and held the noisy mask in his lap. He tried to dig the pain out of his ears with a gloved finger. Had they suddenly picked up radio signals? Could their microphones even do that? They cost a bundle, and they had paid a bundle to avoid any unexpected things like this.
“Just don’t tell anybody about the register…” That wasn’t radio chatter. He parsed a few more snippets containing what sounded like very personal information. It was the tone of voice for phone calls. Some of them were a little far away, suggesting a person sitting in front of their computer and using a chat service. A moment later Beryl broke the surface and tore her mask away as well.
“Buttered Ass!” she swore. “What is all this interference?”
“I don’t know,” Lucas said. Now that he’d recovered he was leaning into it to hear it better. “This is strange. I think we’re hearing private calls. Way out here no less… I don’t think there’s a cell tower jutting out of the nearest reef.”
“We didn’t hear anything until Blobbo the magnificent showed up,” she said as she lifted herself onto the boat as well. She tossed her mask onto the seat and immediately rooted around in their food bag for the jar of hazelnut mousse. Neither of them was much for cooking, so she tossed aside packets of cheese crackers, peppery jerky, and yogurt-coated trail mix to get to it. “Ahah!”
She tore open the jar, but scowled when she saw there was nearly half of it left. He knew she was torn between the almost-chocolaty hazelnut spread and the potential of incredible scientific accomplishment. She dipped her gloved hand into it, swirled it around, and forced a giant lump of it into her mouth.
“We’rhe gomma be wich!” she declared through her full mouth. She leaned over the side and scooped seawater into the jar repeatedly.
“I have a theory,” Lucas offered. She didn’t stop scooping, but told him to elaborate, which nearly made her choke on the mousse dripping out of her mouth.
Trash Theory Bioluminescence Theory Family Theory
“There was something familiar about that… thing.”
“The cnidarian?” she said, lips covered in mousse.
“Don’t act like you know what it is. Neither of us knows what it is. I have a theory. You have a gross jar.”
“Fine, take it away Mr. Cousteau.” She examined the jar in the sunlight, and it did in fact look clean. Even if they got a sample, the ridiculous design on the lid, a hazelnut playing badminton with a cashew, would probably affect their professional aura. Beryl draped her mask back around her neck and dropped the volume down nearly to zero.
“The familiar thing. Those lights inside it. They weren’t regular… you know… jellyfish glow. That has patterns. These moved around, randomly. Guess what else seems random around here?” He pointed at the mask. There was still a handful of voices emanating from it.
“You think the lights have something to do with the voices?”
“Yes. The last thing we saw was the lights surrounding that ice cream wrapper. I think there’s something in that wrapper. Another piece of trash, but something a little more… technological. I think that blob’s interacting with signals using it. That would be important right? Like, really important. An animal that can hear our phone calls.”
“I agree, that would be super important. It’s also super important we get a big old piece of it in this jar right here.” He nodded. Action time. He had to admit, he did want that article. Their lives already had a point, having fun, even if her family never could pierce the idea. This could give them proof though. Their fun could turn into a mounted and signed piece of evidence. It could be the thing he pointed to whenever his father-in-law mentioned grandchildren. He could say it was their baby, and it did more for the world than anything wearing a diaper ever would.
With volumes adjusted they dove back in and descended back to the tunnel. The skates had changed their mind, changed direction, and swam by again just over them, but the blob had their full attention. The dotted diamond shadows of the skates made for a better picture though.
There was a problem. They didn’t know how to lure the creature back out. They thought for a few minutes. Beryl snapped her fingers, pointless underwater, and pointed to her microphone. Of course. It might be able to hear their signals as well, if any of its vacuoles counted as ears. They should try talking to it.
Lucas tried to purge his mind of unpleasant family thoughts. It could affect his voice. It could affect how friendly he sounded. How best to go about it? Baby talk? Puppy talk? A stern lecture? We come in peace?
Compliments Complaints Appeals
“My extended family is coming next week,” Lucas declared, sending his complaints dropping down the tunnel. Beryl looked at him like he was crazy, but he held up his hand to stop her. He didn’t actually know what he was doing, but at least he could get a few things off his chest and drifting in the sea. “I don’t like them. They’re not criminals; they’re just obnoxious. You can help me.”
“You don’t really think it understand how pathetic you’re be…”
“Only you can help me, mysterious and wonderful creature of the seas! If I could have a piece of you, it would mean the world. They can’t bother me if I’m famous. They can’t tell me I’m inadequate if I have touched your greatness. And they’re so awful. You should see them. I bet they would insult your burrow and bury you down there forever. Will you help me?”
Beryl was about to berate him again when water pushed out of the tunnel. Up came a swell of blue, pregnant with lights, faster than they’d seen it move before. It squeezed itself free like a geyser, and went straight to the surface. They followed it as fast as their flippers could take them.
When they broke the surface they saw it spraying its own substance like a fountain. Lights danced in its current, like fireflies dive-bombing the sea. Beryl opened the jar and held it out, capturing several thick blue globs of it. She sealed it up. Two little lights danced around each other inside.
“We got it!” she declared. “You’re weird and you’re wonderful, and we’ll make sure the article reflects that!” she shouted to the gelatinous creature. Without realizing it, they’d struck a deal. The last thing out of the blob’s fountain was the ice cream wrapper. Lucas caught it. It was heavy and solid; there was indeed something inside.
He unwrapped it as the blob’s texture calmed back to a mound hanging out above the water. A cell phone. How it still worked trapped inside the creature was a mystery, but clearly it had been able to interact. The voices were a cry for help. Someone had to take the phone away. The blob was a colonial creature, but even it couldn’t handle the yammering of the human species. The first time two intelligences had crossed, and all they could do was irritate each other.
The blob squealed a sort of thanks. Now that someone else had the voices, it didn’t have to take care of them. It retreated downward, into its perfect burrow in the sand. Lucas swam to his wife and they both held the jar in their hands.
“This’ll shut them up,” Lucas said with a devious grin. “These beautiful little guys will shut everybody up. Oh man… how do we not have a coffee table book yet?”