“Alright that should do it,” Hector grunts as he screws in the last nut of the watertight antenna array base to the weighted platform.
“It’s ready!” He shouts up to Gloria who is womaning the multicrane on their research vessel the Baron vonBoatenstein Those dang open voting polls for boat names, the marketing teams love it but will the public ever take them seriously?
“Got it, heading down now, it will reach the bottom in a few minutes on the guidewire,” and Gloria twists her hand in the control glove to lower down the array to the surface of the calm southern Pacific Ocean. Few thousand miles outside of Hawaii.
No splash as the crane arm controlled by Gloria’s arm lowers the array just below the surface, then opens her/its hand to let it float down to the ocean floor.
They’re lining a ridge with the array towers so that their users won’t have to dive so far down.
Idea is to keep the Quiet Corridor entrances near the surface and have lakes of deep quiet down below, while also keeping network tendrils for input and output so the users can regain their ancient internet. When the human noise started, the ancient comms dissolved, the Quiet Corridor is just a start of reparations for the sea.
“How are the levels looking Cynthia? Mark have any of the users said anything yet?” Hector ecstatically asks the tech duo wearing computer goggles on deck.
“Levels looking good,” Cynthia replies, goggled in observing the spectrograms, “this was the last major gap in the coverage, there are still some bleeds that happen depending on temperature but we’d need another round of arrays to fix it, so for now we’re just alerting our testers.”
“And the users?!” Hector explodes as Cynthia is still finishing talking,
“Haha chill Hector,” Mark soothes. “Our testers are using their comms beacons now, there’s some feedback coming in, here why don’t you just listen for yourself,” says Mark as he takes his compGoggles off and turns on a small Bluetooth speaker.
Clicks and pops and whistles and growling whirs emanate from the speaker. Mark turns around a small tablet which shows the symbolic entries that the testers are making. By the sound of it and their nose-writing flourishes these are Pacific Bottlenose dolphins.
“Hey it’s Larry!” Hector proclaims having recognized one of the voices, he cups his hand toward the speaker and shouts “Hey Larry! How do you like the peace and quiet buddy?!”
“Hector, they can’t hear you it’s one way, plus didn’t that one say her name was Zeeetyakakakato?” Cynthia chastises Hector as Mark laughs, she continues, “You can’t just call them whatever you want! They’re our testers, have some respect!”
Hector brushes her off, “nah it’s cool me and Larry made a painting the other day when she came up to the ship array after talking with Zeb. I called her Larry and she laughed and called me Coorrrrektaya. Then she drew the Chinese symbol for friend 友.” Hector gets misty eyed remembering the moment.
“Ok it’s on the bottom now,” Gloria calls down as she slides down the side of the crane to the deck where everyone else is. let’s get a level check,”
“Nice! We’ll put it on the big screen” Cynthia says and the hologram array fires up to show a 3D map of the ridge where the array was just placed with other green dots representing arrays and a yellow dot representing the just placed array. A legend is to the left, a red to green gradient with midtones, red is > 120db yellow is between 120 and 30db, and green is nice peace and quiet below 30db.
When Zeb and Cynthia had first met and he told her that he wanted to build ‘like those Bose noise cancelling headphones but for the ocean’ her face lit up and she had gotten to work finding funders.
Five years later and they had just finished the first Pacific Quiet Corridor for use by all marine mammals and any other creatures whom were tired of being beat up by the constant barrage of sonar and ultrasound and general engine noise which humans so casually throw around in the extremely delicate soundscape of the ocean.
Engaging with local residents, Mark had been the connection to ensure that the first experimental tests could actually be verified, or put simply: did the animals actually benefit from and like the network.
The first beta testers were mostly bottlenose and spinner dolphins, with the occasional humpback and a tribe of orcas had provided feedback. There had been some tense early negotiations where Mark had to dive in the water between Orcas and Dolphins, and he had almost gotten munched but thanks to Hector’s quick thinking of dropping in a sonar-touch screen and playing with it the situation was diffused.
The quiet corridor is an amazing achievement, but what had really gotten to Zeb after the project had gotten underway was what they had made such strides in interspecies communication.
The sonar touch screens had been invented almost a decade before, but those researchers were narrow minded and had used them as pointing interfaces for boring experiments. Zeb and his team changed the display to leave a trail instead of just displaying a point and it changed everything. Suddenly the same screen a human could draw on a dolphin could sonar on.
It started as a way to test an idea, and quickly evolved into a core interaction component for feedback, troubleshooting and even raucous conversation. Hector was an artist and he and some of the other mammals had really pushed the tech past its limits in terms of expression.
At one point a device in the mid Atlantic was tested that had a sonar screen on it, which allowed the Quiet Corridor team to instruct remote Dolphins how to nudge a faulty module back into place. It took the team a moment after the troubleshooting to even consider what they had just done.
The dolphins in particular had enjoyed learning, and then heavily modifying, Chinese and Japanese characters. They had added quite a few and did not understand others. The locals even started drawing symbols to each other that the Quiet Corridor team did not understand yet which caused uproarious displays in the water. A new visual language was being born, as they used it to troubleshoot the very complex network of noise cancelling ocean floor transceivers.
“Starboard side, it’s the testers!” Zeb exclaims from the bridge above the deck and everyone turns with glee to see plumes of water vapor. One of the testers does a quick spiral above the water and crashes down with great gusto.
“Earz in everyone,” Cynthia hands out the earpieces which she and Mark had been tuning to amplify and transform the frequencies emitted by cetaceans into the human-hearing range.
Suddenly the boat dwellers’ ears were awash with happy pops and clicks. It didn’t take much formal comprehension of dolphin-song to know that they were thrilled. The dolphins slide up the the wet dock on the rear of the ship and wiggle about with happy eyes.
“Sounds like the final array did it, the corridor is quiet?” Zeb asks of the tribe.
Translated into rough English, their pops and clicks said “yes ripples are gone, so quiet! The stillness is thrilling! We can talk for far on the range! We even got to feel a whale brother sing down the quiet tube! But there was a zone of sadness and it hurt a lot!”
“Ah ok, let’s fix it,” Mark said and a speaker on his belt added some flourish clicks to help translate for them.
Mark set up a sonar-touch panel with the diagram of the ridge and the theoretical coverage of the arrays interference and Xcliee came forward to show him with his sonar pointer where the zone was.
Hector loves seeing them work together, they’re just like each other, once they zero in on a task they commit fully and probably don’t even notice what the other person looks like!
In the midst of the revelry a fast ship appears on the horizon. Through the tester feedback interface node 40 miles away what sounds like an Orca named Coyhiuy says a simple phrase that they’ve all come to know which means: Military Ship. Moving at 29 knots.
Zeb sighs as his crew starts getting riled up. He knew this would come eventually.
“You are in US jurisdiction” the ship blares through loudspeakers, causing the dolphins to scatter back to the water. And not even true, Zeb and Cynthia think, as they deliberately set up the quiet corridor in international waters.
“Cease and desist operations, and prepare to be boarded.” The loudspeaker declares.
“I don’t care if you’re telling the truth to be honest,” Commander Farragut calmly bellows, “all I care about is that foreign subs can hide in your cloaking device and this will not be tolerated. You will dismantle the devices at once or face arrest.”
“Sir, we are in international waters and have the full approval of Senator Mitchells in Washington.” Zeb calmly counters, “You will see us in court perhaps, but never a holding cell. She is on the line now, shall I connect you?” And hands Cmd Farragut the phone.
“This is Senator Kathy Mitchells of California, who am I speaking with?”
“Commander Farragut of the USS Abraham Lincoln,” he begins.
“A commander? What a waste of my time, you get me your CO and then we’ll talk, for now you release these United States citizens and move along.” Sen Mitchels coldly declares.
“I am on strict orders from Admiral Sherman to bring these...individuals… aboard the Abraham Lincoln for questioning,” Cmd Farragut replies.
“I just had a great dinner with President Cortez last evening where we discussed these patriots great project,” Sen Mitchels counters, “let me get her on the line.”
The tension in the room hangs thick. Gets thicker. The other line is ringing.
Zeb sees a glint in Commander Farragut’s left eye which means he is receiving an order in his Eyez.
“Right,” He says into the phone to Sen Mitchel, “Admiral Sherman informs me that President Cortez is in the situation room with the secretary of the Navy on other urgent matters and that I am to end this charade, goodbye Senator.” And hangs up.
“You four are coming with me,” Cmder says as the MPs zip tie the crew of Baron vonBoatenstein.
In the questioning room aboard the Abraham Lincoln only Zeb and Cynthia are present around the steel table, legs zip tied to the steel chairs, but hands are free.
Cmder Farragut is simply watching them from across the table.
This goes on for some time until the hatch opens.
“Captain on deck!” Cmder farragut stands and calls out stiff as a board and salutes with the MPs guarding the door.
“At ease,” Captain Smith declares, “you two have some explaining to do.”
A cybernetic interrogation session begins, MagRez caps are fitted to Zeb and Cynthia and as questions are asked brain regions are read and then modulated. Many experts decry this new form of information gathering as no better than the lie detectors of old, yet still other experts know the real purpose is to disorient and cause pain without lifting a finger. Torture persists in the modern day if it leaves no trace on camera only the mind.
Cmder Farragut who had been standing quietly, if slightly gleefully, to the side during the interrogation suddenly gets a glint in his left eye.
“Captain Smith,” Cmder Farragut interrupts with a slightly tense tone.
“Commander, I’m gathering intel, what could possibly be-“ and suddenly his left eye lights up and his face goes slack.
“You will answer for this, as I’m now sure that you are Russian agents,” and Captain Smith hurriedly gets up and exits the room.
“What the fuck was that??” Zeb and Cynthia both wheeze to each other.
On the bridge, a proximity alarm is sounding.
“Sir, they just appeared on our scopes and we’ve lost contact, last known point here” and a dot is placed on the 3D sonar display.
“What are we dealing with?” Captain queries,
“Sound signature matches with an older Russian Kilo-class and three newer Sierra subs. Sir they are circling for attack position.” Cmder farragut replies.
“Sound the alarm, countermeasures deploy, we’ll be doing the attacking here today gentlemen,” captain Smith calmly declares and the ships alarms begin to blare.
“Whoa what the hell?” Cynthia looks at Zeb as the alarms sound in their room.
“What do you think it is?” Zeb replies,
“Are you really a Russian spy?” Cynthia asks, half seriously,
“If I am I don’t remember,” Zeb replies less than half seriously.
Up and down the corridor there are footsteps bustling past.
A shudder as the entire Abraham Lincoln begins to turn.
Right now there must be full mobilization of the decoy auto-boats and more than a few jets have taken off to monitor the underwater auto-seekers.
“They are seriously mobilized!” Zeb says with some fear, “This is not good, what could be threatening them, we’re on an aircraft carrier near US waters?”
Suddenly the hatch opens with no one there.
“You two just gonna sit there or are you ready to get out of here?” And a small knife appears on the table.
“Gunther?!” Zeb and Cynthia both say in uniform disbelief.
“I thought you were out down the line on a small island chain, we didn’t leave you a boat! How did you find out we were in here, and where the fuck did you get active camo, and how did you get on here undetected?” Cynthia barrages him with questions as Zeb cuts them both free.
A face appears hovering in mid air “No time sweetie, they can only keep up the charade for so long. You are following me and staying under this.” And Gunther throws an invisible cloth at them which they quickly cover up with, then he pulls his mask back down and they’re out into the hall.
Running down the corridor they come to an open hatch, light at the end of the tunnel. A serviceman runs toward them with some fear written on his face and they squeeze to the wall as he runs by.
Then they make a break for the hatch and get to the railing.
“Jump,” Gunther calmly commands.
“Jump?!” Zeb and Cynthia exclaim.
“Now” Gunther shoves them overboard and they plunge into the water.
“What the hell Gunther,” Cynthia sputters, “they’re just going to find us here and arrest all of us!” Cynthia begins to launch in, but just then a slimy solid surface comes up under each of them. It’s the testers!!
And they’re wearing makeshift harnesses.
”You two, take these,” Gunther hands them small rebreathers. “close your eyes and hold on tight”
Gunther, his active camo flickering a bit from water drops, pats the side of the lead dolphin and issues some rough clicks in the common frequency, and with a fast snap of their tail fins the dolphins and their human riders are off and under water.
A few minutes later they resurface to clear the rebreathers and do a quick look back. They see Jets are circling the Abraham Lincoln as Gunther grunts and motions down with his hand and they descend again.
A few more minutes and they’re far enough away that the Abraham Lincoln has lost its detail to them.
One more dive to go, Gunther whispers, Zeb and Cynthia are getting a little light-headed but they hold on with gusto.
A few more minutes and they surface and the Abraham Lincoln is merely a spec, and on the surface they head toward a lighter patch in the water.
Suddenly a humpback whale rises up in front of them and blows plumes into the air.
“This is our ride back to the island I was on, can you hack it?” Gunther asks a dazed Zeb and Cynthia
They nod yes in disbelief as their dolphin rides drop them off right next to the giant mammal. They make eye contact with their rescuers who eek out a ‘you’re welcome’ and vanish below the water.
Then they make eye contact with the humpback and Gunther pulls out a small waterproof speaker which can play in humpback frequency and records a really rough song in his pitch which is then translated for the humpback.
Zeb and Cynthia could swear they saw the humpback’s eye bulge like a French speaker listening to anyone else try to use their language, but the whale takes the meaning and begins on the heading toward the island, staying above water.
As the active camo blanket dries off it stops flickering and to any observer it would seem that a whale was just near the surface taking a leisurely swim.
Once on the island Gunther fires up a comms tower and gets in touch with Sen Mitchel.
“What have you two done?” she says, which is Gunther’s cue to wordlessly hand the receiver over to Zeb and Cynthia.
“We really don’t know Ma’am” Cynthia says as Zeb smacks the side of his head to clear out water from his ear.
“Well the USS Abraham Lincoln is currently just coming down from a high alert where it was engaged by four Russian submarines, which it could not find and sounded the all clear just minutes ago. They are furiously looking for two escaped Russian agents. Do you happen to know where those agents may be?” Sen Mitchel asks with some jest in her tone.
“No ma’am, but I do know that we’re glad to have you as a supporter of our project” Zeb answers.
“Not just me, Zeb” Sen Mitchels replies with a smile and a brief rustling of the receiver on her end leads to,
“I love what you’re doing you two!” President Cortez’s bright voice is on the phone and Cynthia and Zeb both exchange glances as they say “thank you madam president.”
“Just know that I am already drawing up a pardon for whatever charges they’ll try to stick you with. I have a Delta unit VTOL coming to pick you up and get you to my office. The project you have just completed is so beautiful that you have ushered in a new era of diplomacy beyond our wildest dreams, your associate Gunther sent us the feed as he was staging your rescue with your allies. Once you get here we can discuss more. Great job you two!”
And the line goes dead.
Both Zeb and Cynthia snap to Gunther, who has the sheepish look of someone who just won an academy award.
“Gunther…what did you do?” they ask slightly angrily.
“Well,” he draws out, “those submarines that were spotted near the Abraham Lincoln that enabled me to help you escape? Let’s just say they also love to eat fish and surf occasionally…”
The Navy was furious for being tricked so soundly by the Dolphin and Whale team. Under the direction of Gunther, they had expertly sounded out the signatures of Russian submarines, having been bathed in their sonic signatures since birth. Using the Quiet Corridor hardware to amplify their imitation they had triggered the Carrier into full attack mode.
Hollywood was buzzing with talks of Cetacean voice actors.
“On this day we commemorate the opening of the quiet corridor and the opening of a new diplomatic relationship with the cetacean tribes” President Cortez exclaims
Through their work we now have a reliable communications method and the goodwill required to begin normalizing relations with the various species who call the seas their home. They can help us clean up our plastic waste, yet we must first clean up our sonic waste.
Fractal Futures collection is live!
This is one of 19 original short stories, only a few ever seen before (thanks to my beta readers throughout the years)