Nocturnette No.6 : The Neva and Neptune.
By Jan Lakowski.
Marianna, a hand of glory led you to the shore. Life led you astray and death fulfilled your dream.
Here I am. Midnight again. I cry over the wheel for the passing of a summer of magic. Her love gone to sleep is bright in every tear. I miss her utterly alone.
At Usan, the rat-gnawed skeletal carcass of a headless seal is illumined by surgical-white LED torchlight. The virginal glow of the clinical LED encapsulates each rib in electrical flame, from a warlike halo. I'm overdressed for this place. It's minus 4 and everything that was once alive is now naked to the bone.
The planet Neptune, an ocean, on average, that was 10,000 miles deep and whirlpools that could swallow the earth. Eerily humming like a depraved scholar at a questionable checklist.
This was how humankind imagined it at first. The nautical planet. The indigo orb. Oceans of water and wine. How would it have been to have visited such a place?
Imagine bobbing in an inflatable dinghy, above an abyssal oceanic trench, 12,376 miles deep. Listening to Creedence on a battered cassette player, drinking milky tea and having an involved conversation with yourself.
Silence too, not a breath of wind on a planet equally parts water, tempest and likely to induce fugue. The monumental swell suggesting a huffing whale back horizon.
Yet, there's that humming. Like an electrical transformer. Had he heard the Witch Tape? He recalled the story.
12 years previously, the first human walked upon the water of Neptune. He wrote his name, yet left no flag, only ripples. Such was his agreement. The fact remained that the deeps were just too deep here for any electronic marker left to be later detected. A mess of slush and labyrinthine catacombs in ice floes thousands of miles thick lay even where they had detected the pressure became too great for water to remain liquid. Was there a rocky bottom somewhere,even below the below?
He had discovered an aberration in the topography. An icy pinnacle that rose up thirty miles out of what depths he could not say. Like a grey stalagmite, accusatory yet beckoning, and cloaked in growth. Red mosses, weeds, undulating in the swell.
He had a camera rig on a remote submersible the size of a coffee table. Already it had suctioned itself firmly to an alcove at the summit of the edifice, that lay a mile under his dinghy. Anchored to the ship in the sky. A romance to it, isn't there? These seas are too deep for us he muses.
Anyway, troubled sleep, barely drifting. Half awake. Checks the tapes. Immediately hears something, caresses the volume, listens mouth agape, eyes tearing-up, goosebumps raising like the humps of sea serpent coils.
A murky image too. A kind of alien caddis fly larvae he reasons. Grotesque, undulating, garishly pink. Worm tentacles and body terminating at abhorrently inquisitive proboscises that moved constantly at great speed. Yet camouflaged in dark rotting weeds and mosses, so that it seemed cloaked, and hooded, or no, its dress appeared to come to a distinct peak. Like a witch's hat. All interlocking complexities of the textures of decomposition, the dark dress unfolding in the current.
Maybe ten feet from the lense, it could only measure around a metre. Yet, it was accompanied now, not by a similarly garbed colleague but by a sound. A seemingly mechanical humming, a sound that suggested incredible intricacies, but refused his enhancements. All he could do was guess. A thousand voices impersonating every dialect of every language he had ever only scantly known talking all at once? Sarcastically robotic and varying in intensity? Or was it the working tone of some great engine in an alien machine, left here to record, who knew what? Incantations. He suddenly knew in himself, that was what they were. It was certain. Then, almost immediately, that transitory thought was forgotten.
Glancing again at the screen of his laptop, huddled in the yellow tent he saw the creature had gone, and the sound also, began to fade. Yet, was it always there? Beyond the limits of his hearing? He could not abide such a thought. The idea that such a horrid sound, so vile and intrusive that it almost seemed to be an animal of itself, sentient in his thoughts. He would have to sleep on it. That questionable silence. Yet sleep would not come.
The Witch Tape, so named by the man who recorded it. He survived the expedition, made it home, and lived twenty years in the torments of a pioneer , bound to Press men and magazine temptresses forevermore. He passed the tape along secretly from Cosmonaut to Cosmonaut. St Petersburg was his home, and the frozen Neva its beautiful grey green heart, as sure and pulsing as a vein. Marina said she could not sleep after hearing the tape, and it was the same for his wife yet she only slept next to him and had never heard it. He too, died in his dreams, unnaturally and wailing in fear at a sound that noone else in the company of his deathbed could hear. A sound that was itself alive. The present narrator was the dead man's final trustee, and the tape rested with him. He could only faintly remember a ghost of its noise.
Now he sat bobbing alone, thirty years from earth, anchored to the ship in the sky. Recalling that half-remembered sound, and wondering if it was the same as the sound he was hearing now.
The Neva and Neptune. This agate. A stone's face that calls up these places, in a fertile mind open like a mouth, a valve, a wound, a receptacle.
Marina warms both polished halves of the agate in her hands. Marina, named after a long gone great grandmother, in the days when men were forced to travel into the past in order to reach the planets furthest from the earth. Those days have come again. This is a special stone to her, and such an unusual colour. Like the Neva before it is frozen. The colour of her father's eyes.