A Sea of Turmoil, V. 1
“I just can’t believe we finally escaped.” A shadow of worry still darkened her bright hazel eyes. “It sounds silly, but even here, almost 75 light years away I feel they are watching me.” She held her face up in that direction, where only eight hours ago they were tossed like rag dolls in reentry. Two moons glistening off of her eyes with such a brilliance, one wonders if those moons were not a mirror to the sun, but instead were mirrors to her eyes, issuing unto the sun, far off now on the day side of Fehrinbraele, a fair warning that it might do well to take care. She then added in resolve, to emphasize the point; “All the time, like the sky itself can’t be trusted.” Gault felt she could have burnt it asunder with that gaze.
Gault’s hand tightened around hers, which had the opposite effect on her nerves, as intended. “I swear to you, this is the most safe system in the sector. They can’t possibly have tracked us here.” At this disclosure, her face lifted ever so slightly. He sensed, however, that time itself would be the only balm to rest her weathered spirits. “Come. We have only a moment.”
The two walked lightly on the ashen Fehrinbraele sands, shoeless, weaponless. This part could not leave Gault in a perfect calm. Then, as if her mind could feel his own troubles, she stood fast in her tracks, tugging Gault unawares.
“Herrin,” Gault summoned over his shoulder—the unbandaged shoulder—“Tell me. What can possibly convince you that I am on your side?”
“Why did you take me here?” Her eyes now fixed at a point in the sand; her body in a rigid pose so unlike the softness of her touch.
“Have we not just been discussing that very thing?”
“No. I mean here. To this place.”
“To this—do you mean to the beach? To Rhapsody Point?”
“I do. I mean here. Why to Rhapsody point. In all the city there are safe places, where people can conceal our signs.”
Gault brought over his left hand and clasped over his right to contain hers completely. His words mewed out compassionately, as if with a new understanding of an old hurt, and mingled with the gently crashing surf. “Herrin. Dearest child I swear to you I am a complete fool. I should have told you more directly what purpose I had for this meeting, so your well-earned suspicions would not have bested you this way. I am to blame, I fully own. Now, as dull as I may be in considering your honest sensibilities,”—now through a chuckle—“I am sharper still than the best of those Sphendrian fools.”
“Are you Gault?”
This shot a pain through him, briefly. He drew a long breath and cast down submissive eyes to the point of sand she had just chastised. “Fair enough. I shall prove it.”
Herrin looked to him in a plain way, as if convening a court over his actions. A moment for deliberation, she stepped forward, judging him not guilty. But not quite yet innocent.
They proceeded down the point to where the gurgle of the shallow river could be heard depositing its busy burden into the sea. It was a stretch of sand that disappeared into the stars behind them, and in front; while the black of the sea swallowed them up in steady procession on their left. The river trickled down a woody berm to their right, where the fern-like trees seemed to throw the stars over their heads. “Join me for a seat?”
Herrin resigned herself, and in the most lady-like fashion, swept up her dress to kneel sideways in the soft sand. She noticed Gault’s casual form, and likewise reclined. “What are we looking for?”
“Out to the sea, keep a watch. See that by Copernicus?” She found the constellation near to the horizon awaiting its turn to be swallowed up.
“I can’t see a thing Gault, what am I looking for?”
“You look for nothing at all silly!” he laughed gaily. “This is about waiting. Waiting for the perfect moment.”
“We wait for a moment? And what is it that happens,”—now smiling—“when this moment arrives then?”
“A most spectacular thing. Perhaps the most spectacular thing in the galaxy.”
“Really? That is quite a boast!”
“I have words for this,” Gault struggled with something in his head, “but none can be formed to do justice to the occasion.” Her gaze would not relent in her prompting. “It is Todarodes proxi-ignitius.”
“What in heavens?”
“Now didn’t I just warn you? What sort of a place have you put me? –No, keep looking to the sea, there!” She had turned to him in exasperation at his Latin proclamation.
As she turned, her face lit with a brilliance double what the moons could shed, and here eyes became the brightest globes on that world.
“WHAT… in HEAVENS?”
Gault beamed in satisfaction with this reaction.
From the blackness of the sea, crackling percussive snaps fired off in the distance, like the repetitions of an automatic rifle, while streaks of yellow flame rocketed up from it in flickering trains. It may have been the swallowed up stars escaping their fate in the maw of that alien ocean for all appearances. The glow of the rocketing stars rose up for merely a few seconds and then vanished, slowing in a gradual arc, and dulling their cannonade, just before extinguishing again into the blackness of the sky.
Herrin had not realized that she had grabbed Gault by the shoulders, being startled by the fireworks display. “What.. was that? Gault?” And still, she did not realize.
“If you stay silent, I will show you. That is why we are safe,”
Herrin obliged, and followed Gault’s finger to the sky above them. She looked to the twin moons glowing in their waxing halves, in anticipation of whatever bizarre thing may be next. And sure enough—as sure as her eyes could be trusted, that is—the black shadow of a long, torpedo-shaped object passed before one moon, and then another shadow like it passed the other moon; and then more shadows passed in order, flickering the moons above them, and all the while leaving the spots of their shadows racing across the beach around her, and before her, and behind her as well, as if a squadron of aerial missiles—perfectly silent missiles—had deployed on some mission of war declared by the sea herself, so that the berm to her back shall be given no quarter. Gault had withdrawn a light from his pack, and held it to the sky. His face beamed in its glow, which shone up to the moons with its shallow light, by any comparison, to reveal these strange weapons which had stormed the beach of Rhapsody Point in such a fiery assault. What she saw, she would surely not ever forget. It would be more likely in fact that some other insignificant thought that had been bothering her—a narrow escape from the Sphendrian clansmen, for example—might quit her in complete surrender to this new wonder before her eyes.
The shape of the things was, well, very much alike to a torpedo as the shadows betrayed. But the shadows were not sharp at all, as what a cold, metal weapon would cast under the luminance of a moon—thoughts that should not go readily together, she admits—, but the shadow of a ghost that could not completely hide a moon’s brilliance. They were, mostly translucent, in fact, save for a dark mass at their center. Gault’s light revealed a more profound peculiarity; they had the most odd arrangement of what must have been wings. At the rear of the torpedo (she surrendered in trying to replace this analogy by now) where fins would be expected, were quite broad and pointed forward-swept wings. Then, at the nose of the thing—the dangerous bit in our weapon analogy—appeared likewise, two smaller canards, and likewise swept forward to the tip; so thin were they however that they cast no shadow beneath them from the light of the moon at all, only being revealed when struck by the light in Gault’s hand. All this, and they were an odd hue of purple, save for the dark mass she observed by their lunar shadows; which was in fact an assortment of brilliantly colored tubes, or parcels delicately carried by each torpedo in wet, shiny appendages, as if they were wedding gifts.
“None may do justice, indeed.” Herrin’s eyes remained fixated on the spectacle in the sky.
“Todarodes proxi-ignitius. You see? It fails completely to cover it.”
“Yes. It fails.” She began a distant conversation, disallowing anything of this to escape her sight. “Where are they going?”
“They are going to the Trimbid Sea”
“They are going across town are they?”
“They are.” Gault’s shoulder grew tired, he reclined and propped his light hand on the sand. “They are a squid.”
“A squid?” inquired her mouth, distantly. The rest of her being remained involved with the sky, entirely.
“They are a species of squid, which occupies the two seas, and has decided to fly between them when the moons are in this alignment.”
“What for? And those packages are so pretty. I think of wedding gifts to look at them.”
“That is not entirely unreasonable. Quite on point, in fact. These squid spawn in the safety of the Trimbid.”
Herrin suddenly grabbed Gault tightly and let out a shriek as a deep thud hit the sand just at her side.
“Oh! Sorry! That happens sometimes!”
“What in heavens?” She looked behind her. “Give me that light!” She snatched the light away and shone it on a sort of round shell, brightly swirled in red and aquamarine, now sitting in the sand just behind her. “I could have been killed by this!” gault’s hands reflexively went over his head. And then his other hand over hers, on better reflection.
“Yes, that is rare, but they occasionally get tired of the load. Don’t touch it!”
“It may still be hot.” A smell of hot seaweed in the sun rose around them now.
“It really is a jet engine?”
“It is the shell of a large limpet that grows on the seafloor, here on the shelf. But its shape serves well as a jet nozzle, yes.”
“On a squid? Are you mad?”
“No, but we are safe for it just the same.”
“Yes, so, after your jet squid has nearly killed me just now, tell me how we are ‘safe for it?’”
“Look out there again, to Cassiopeia.”
“Where?—Oh, is that it? It is hardly there now.”
“Yes, it is setting”
“To the East, as this world lays it out.”
“To the East, that is correct.”
“All right, my puzzling friend, what about it?”
“We are safe because these animals are finely tuned magnetic navigators, who fly directly along magnetic lines of flux.”
“You mean crosswise, do you not? I saw the magnetosphere just this morning. I’m not dim witted, you know.”
“The poles are along the axis, you saw, yes?”
“This point is known to them because it is a node in the planet’s magnetic field that lines of flux change direction. And these squid sense that.”
Herrin’s silky brow grew a subtle crease. “You mean our signs will not be seen here, because of this?”
“I simply mean they will not be seen as signs here. Our signs are discerned from background magnetic signatures of a planet by a simple reference. The detector looks for variances from a straight line of flux. At this spot, the lines are not straight. This area does not resolve in a scan. Anyone here is essentially invisible.”
“And how, Mr. Gault, would you come to this vast knowledge of Sphendrian scans?”
Gault turned down his face, in a somewhat dejected look. “I have had to hide from the Sphendrian before. I was with them once, you should know.”
A shocked look came over Herrin. “Indeed I should! What do you mean?”
Gault’s face paled, but just the same, calm never escaped his ever present smile. “I served briefly for them, and I had an occasion to serve with a tracker.” Herrin’s attention was unbounded now. “I can only escape the Sphendrian because I was once a Sphendrian.”
“Traitor!” The hand that he knew only for its softness left a sting on his cheek. He knew it was red as well, and not at all sore for the soreness of it. “To pursue me, this whole while claiming to be my hero. Just as well it is, now, of all the secrets I could possibly forgive, which are far and wide to be sure; this one is unforgivable!” She was on her feet now, dispensing her speech as an oath. “Mr. Gault, —“ And she was gone.
Gault stayed in his proper station, in the sand and dirt. Accomplished.
Note: Creature created on Worldbuilding.SE. I designed my jet squid in several steps: First, I needed cooling because jets get hot. That created a problem with lighting the jet engine, so that got answered. But it needs to fly for 1/2 mile, how big do its wings need to be?. I got that answer, but the squid borrows a shell from another animal, so how long can a squid burn its jets before breaking the shell became a problem.
A Sea of Turmoil, V. 2