Todd and the Real Girl
Todd was itching for another adventure. He had lost interest in Curiosity and her limited mentality. After aimlessly fluttering around Central Command, he found himself back in the bay where Cetacean sat. He looked her over. Finding his little dock, he attached himself to her and pinged her system computer. “Hello, Todd,” the computer replied.
“Good afternoon, Cetacean, how are you?” Todd scanned her systems for recent activity.
“Fully functional, Todd.” If he’d had a face, he would have smiled at that response.
“I see that they have upgraded a few of your systems,” Todd was a little bit jealous.
While Todd was busy fiddling with Cetacean’s new toys, Cetacean had notified Leonard.
“Good afternoon, Todd,” Leonard’s voice rang out. “I see that you have found Cetacean’s upgrades.”
“I wouldn’t mind having a few of these myself,” Todd retracted the specimen hatch.
“I’m glad to hear that.” Leonard opened a large metal case. Todd flew over to inspect the contents.
“Is that for me?” Todd buzzed around Leonard and the case, “Please say yes.”
“As soon as you settle down, you can be transferred.”
Todd dropped to the deck and disconnected everything that he could. Once Leonard was certain that he could transfer Todd safely, he removed Todd’s module from the old mini-sub and dropped it into the new body.
Todd slowly connected his mind to his new body, trying out the various additions. He fluttered up into the air and flew around the bay. He extended his new arms and played with his mechanical hands. He picked up his old body and dropped it into the case. Then he rushed back to Cetacean to share the good news. Leonard shook his head and moved the case back to a side wall.
Mariana had hoped to return to Oceanside Land when her little adventure in space concluded, but the Superior delayed her departure from Coney Land. She seemed to have become stuck in an endless loop of meetings to discuss the Cresh. An extensive list of questions to which she didn’t know the answers was accumulated in their wake.
“Perhaps, Master Lee, you should go seek out those answers,” Superior Crane rose from his seat as he spoke. “And I know exactly how you can do that, if you are interested.”
Mariana stood up quickly, her seat crashing to the floor behind her, “When do I leave?”
The Superior smiled, “As soon as the rest of the crew is assembled.”
Exploring the Great Lantic Ocean had been Mariana’s dream since childhood. She was awestruck that it was about to come true. She packed for the mission and carried her rucksack with her as she wandered around Central Command. She was eating mid-day meal when her video chirped.
There were five people waiting for Mariana in the launch bay. Piotr Warszawa had been a star student of hers at Oceanside University. His detailed structural studies of saltwater lifeforms had impressed the University Superiors enough to award him a Master. Mariana squealed with excitement, ran to Piotr, and gave him a hug. Adam Smith, a Death Examiner, was there as well as Dahlia DeHaven. She smiled and waved at Dahlia, having met the Psi-born during a real trip to Mars. Dahlia introduced her to Wendy, an Artificial who would be assisting Leonard. The fifth person was Todd in his new body.
Todd extended his new mechanical arms to embrace Mariana. At first, she hesitated, but decided to hug the floaty metal person anyway. Todd did a celebratory buzz around the group before settling down. His voice projected from their collective videos as he spoke, “This way to the Great Egress.” Todd headed toward the Secure Bays tunnel. After a moment of hesitation and raised eyebrows, everyone else followed.
Girl Meets Whale
Once everyone had cleared the Security scanner, boarded the elevator carriage, and the elevator was on its way downward, Todd began the mission briefing. “As most of you are aware, the Cresh aliens spoke of having survived a Great Cataclysm which killed off most everything living in the Great Lantic Ocean. Our mission is to discover exactly what that event was and to see what survived it.”
Todd paused his briefing long enough to allow everyone to move from the elevator to a waiting tram. Once everyone took a seat, Todd continued by explaining everyone’s role in the mission, which he managed to complete just as the tram arrived at its destination.
“Pete and the delightful Marianna are on board because they are the world’s foremost saltwater zoologists. Their mission is to catalog whatever new life forms we encounter. Wendy is our pilot and will also assist our technical expert, Leonard Leonard, who we will be meeting at the end of this ride. And Dahlia is along to determine if there is intelligent life down there. Pete and Wendy are the new kids on the block.” It was obvious that Todd had been amusing himself with some ancient video records.
As the tram pulled into the secure bay, Todd announced, “Please remain seated until the tram comes to a complete stop!”
“Is he always like this?” Piotr asked.
“I don’t know,” Mariana replied.
Dahlia smiled, “he was always a little off, I think, even when he was alive.”
“Please remove all personal items from the tram. The management is not responsible for items left behind,” Todd said while everyone stood up to leave.
“Thank you for riding the tram. Have a nice day!” Todd was the first one out the door.
“What is he so happy about?” Adam asked.
“Shiny new body and a mission,” replied Dahlia. “And I think he really likes Mariana.”
Todd led everyone into the briefing room where Leonard was waiting.
After everyone had chosen seat, Todd settled on the floor next to Mariana. Leonard dimmed the room lights and a short video detailing the changes made to the Cetacean began to play. Life Assessment scanners had been installed in the expanded laboratory. There was a holo-cam station to make a video record of the captured life form before releasing it back into the ocean. To accommodate storage of saltwater zoological specimens, the crew quarters had been reduced to accommodate only four naturals. The forward seats had been updated to both link with and recharge the Artificials. The observation seats had been replaced with standing versions to take up less space in the forward compartment.
Most of Leonard’s updates were inspired by what he had seen on Leviathan. The rest were recommendations made by Mariana during her many debriefings. The Cetacean was the ship that Mariana had always desired. It would take her out to sea, under the waves, and down to the ocean floor. Mariana stared in disbelief at the shiny silver ship. She was speechless for a moment, then squealed with delight as she ran toward its hatch.
Todd intercepted Mariana before she could board the ship, allowing time for everyone else to catch up. Leonard signaled for the elder crew to board before allowing the newcomers entry. Wendy settled in at the helm and queried the ships computers. All systems were online and functioning within normal limits. Leonard explained Todd to the newest crew and highlighted his new capabilities. Todd gleefully demonstrated his new arms and ocular analogs, somehow managing to wink at Mariana.
Piotr gave Mariana a playful nudge, saying, “I think he’s sweet on you.” Mariana blushed.
When they finally boarded, Adam and Dahlia were busy inspecting the new lab equipment. Todd could be heard over a speaker, “I’m docked and fully interfaced. Let’s get this show boat on the road!”
“Somebody needs to have a serious talk with Todd,” Adam smiled at Dahlia, “and it isn’t going to be me.”
Mariana and Piotr carefully pored over the zoology laboratory. They discovered, to their delight, that all their prior research and discoveries were available on the ship’s computer. The duo carefully examined the specimen containers. “What about larger specimens?” Piotr asked. “Will we be able to accommodate them?”
“Not yet,” Leonard replied. “Large specimens are Todd’s forte He will use his onboard scanning equipment to take measurements and make video of any saltwater creature that can’t be brought aboard.”
“Why do we have a Psi-born?” Piotr couldn’t fathom why they would need a telepath.
“Because,” Mariana answered, “some of the saltwater creatures are intelligent. Having a telepath allows us to communicate with them.”
“Oh,” Piotr frowned, “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Okay, everyone, it’s time to stow your gear and strap in.” Leonard shooed the newcomers to the crew quarters, while the senior crew settled in behind the helm and navigation stations. Leonard helped Piotr and Mariana to strap in before heading to the helm. Dahlia had to close her eyes and focus to shut out Mariana’s palpable excitement. The launch took less time than it had on Cetacean’s maiden voyage. The new seating allowed the passengers full view of the landscape as the ship headed toward the Great Lantic Ocean.
Close Encounters of the Shark Kind
The waves of the Lantic were slapping the shore. The crew watched the rising tide while the Cetacean rolled slowly into the saltwater. “Bingo!” shouted Todd, when the ship had immersed completely. There wasn’t much sea life beyond the occasional side-walker and a few tentacled floaters. The ship crawled deeper into the saltwater and turned toward the caverns where the previous mission had encountered the Cresh and their damaged spaceship.
There were some smaller versions of the Cresh floating nearby. Dahlia reached out to them, but they were too primitive. “These must be your squid, Todd,” she remarked.
“Could you grab one or two?” Mariana asked. “I’ve never seen those except in videos.”
“As you wish,” Todd chirped before darting off to collect a few. He wasn’t gone long before returning with two specimens. He unloaded the collection jar into the waiting container inside the ship. “Anything else, sweetie?”
Mariana moved the collected specimens to storage and set a new container into the transfer tube. Todd had taken off with the empty collection container to scout the area for anything interesting. Mariana watched Todd’s video while he meandered about the shallow shelf waters. A movement in the sand was enough to send him darting in like a predator to grab whatever it was that was roiling the water. He returned with some odd fish that was round and flat with eyes on the topside. Mariana accepted it and kept watch as Todd scurried off in search of something new.
It didn’t take long for Todd to find something new and unlike anything Todd had ever encountered. And it didn’t look happy to see him either. The beast was too big to fit in his specimen jar, which was already full. It was very large and mostly black with a white underbelly. Several times Todd thought that he had outrun the toothy critter, only to have it catch up to him. It was a powerful swimmer, propelled by the motion of its crescent shaped tail. Todd tried several times to evade the monster, but it always caught up with him. Todd scrambled back to the Cetacean, the only safe place he could think of.
The creature rammed the ship as Todd ducked behind it. Todd could be heard in the background muttering, “shark. It’s a shark. Oh lordy, we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The thud of the impact echoed inside; the ship rocked slightly. It circled Cetacean looking for Todd, who had hidden himself beneath the ship. It circled again and made another run at Cetacean, then suddenly turned aside.
Dahlia had clenched her eyes shut. Her fingers dug into the armrest as she reached out to the creature attacking them. It was angry and directing all its fury at the strange invader in its hunting grounds. It turned away because a strange voice told it to calm down. It slowly approached the shiny object again. The voice was still there, calmer than before, assuring the beast that no one intended harm. It came to the front window where it showed off its large toothsome maw with multiple rows of triangular teeth. Its beady little eyes offset its fierce appearance.
Among the few things to survive through the years were several videos about sharks. Mariana had seen them all. “You won’t like how we taste,” she shouted at the shark, hoping that somehow Dahlia would translate. “On the other hand, you might make quite a feast for us.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t play ‘God of the Mountain’ with the shark,” Todd cautioned. “We don’t want to make him angry with us.” Todd’s camera focused on the circling shark. “Please tell him that we are only visiting and don’t want to hurt him.” Dahlia was way ahead of him. She had managed to convince the shark to allow Todd to scan him. All Dahlia had to do was to convince Todd that it was safe.
“Are you…you…you sure?” Todd stammered, “It seems pretty upset to me.”
“That’s because you stole its food,” Dahlia explained. “He hasn’t eaten in a while and you grabbed the little food that he could find.”
“Can’t he eat something else?” Todd didn’t want to release his pretty catch.
“Let me ask,” Dahlia replied. She sorted through the images the shark and presented and told the shark that she knew of a horde of squid.
“He’ll let you keep your catch and he’ll let you make scans of him in exchange for the location of the squid.” Dahlia had already negotiated the scans for squid deal, but Todd needed assurance.
Once Todd completed his scans of the shark, Dahlia told the shark where it could find the squid that they found earlier. It flashed a toothy grin and then took off into the cavern to feed. Clear of the threat of the shark, the Cetacean moved slowly into deeper water. Mariana and Piotr carefully examined the brightly colored blue and yellow fish that Todd had recently captured. They noted that the fish had a beak and spent time discussing why they thought it had one.
Then they turned their attention to the scans of the shark. The made notes about its crescent shaped tail and the small dorsal fins nearby. After an animated discussion, they both concluded that it was a Great White. Piotr was awestruck by the download of images from the shark itself that Dahlia had gleaned from her psychic link with the creature. It was not alone, nor the last of its kind. There was a group of sharks ahead of them. As the Cetacean approached the sharks, Dahlia let them know that this strange visitor was not a threat.
The holo-cams recorded their feeding habits as they swallowed up a cluster of smaller fish. Todd grabbed a few of the food fish as the ship passed by them. The food fish were less colorful with silvery scales. A few of the younger sharks swam around the window trying to get a view of the strange visitors inside. They spent an equal amount of time showing off their maws full of teeth, but lost interest when the ship and its contents ignored their swagger. As the ship pulled away from the school of sharks and continued its crawl toward the abyss ahead, the gawking by the juveniles stopped. At the edge of the shelf, the Cetacean stopped to allow the human crew members time to sleep and prepare for exploring the deeper water.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Slope
Exploring the Hatteras plateau had been on Mariana’s wish list since she watched her first undersea adventure video. Mariana tried to remember if it would be like jumping off a cliff or skiing down a mountain side. She tried to take her time eating breakfast but she was anxious to get down there. Suddenly, Piotr was patting her on the back as she nearly choked on some scrambled eggs. “Slow down, Mari, you won’t get to see too much if you’re dead,” Piotr took her fork from her and set it on her plate. “Now take some time to breathe and have a drink of water.” He handed her glass to her. She smiled sheepishly and took a sip.
Dahlia was finishing off her can of cold ravioli when Adam finally summoned the courage to ask her why she always had pasta. “It reminds me of home,” she gave her standard answer hoping that it would satisfy him. It didn’t.
“No, really, why always pasta?” Adam stared at her, then abruptly turned his attention to his coffee mug.
Dahlia set down her spoon and the empty can. She sipped her coffee, “I just like it.”
Adam looked at her face. He could tell that she was serious, that it was that simple. “I suppose you get tired of people asking. I should not have asked.”
“No. But you did. And I didn’t end up mad over it. It’s a quirk. Over the years of caravanning without a cooker, I got used to cold canned food. And of all the cold canned food, pasta was the least detestable. And I guess that I just got to like it.”
“So, no deep-seated issues then?” Adam winked.
“Puh…leese,” Dahlia rolled her eyes. She stood up and started clearing the table. The two younger crew members had already taken their seats up front. Adam helped her clean and put away the eatery ware. It wasn’t long before they were strapping themselves in up front.
Just as Wendy started to move the Cetacean forward, Todd was buzzing about in the front window. “C’mon guys, let’s get going! I’ll race you to the bottom!” Before anyone could respond, he took off down the slope. During the downward trek, Todd returned several times to complain about the ship’s slow downward pace. Leonard had asked Wendy to keep to a slow steady pace to record any wild saltwater life that they might overlook otherwise.
On the way down, a few Great White sharks buzzed past the front window. The sharks didn’t seem too concerned about them though. Dahlia found them curious but calm. Todd kept a safe distance from the sharks, a holdover from his surprise encounter the day before. Near the midpoint of the slope, they found the opening in the rock wall that would lead them to the abandoned city of the Cresh.
The opening was too small for the Cetacean. The two saltwater zoologists had a list of what they wanted to see and sent the request to Todd. He flew to the opening and before entering, managed a salute while saying, “Super Todd at your service ma’am.” He was inside and back out within an hour.
“That was quick!” Mariana asked, “are you sure that you found everything that we asked for?” Mariana was hoping that there might be a clue to the Great Cataclysm somewhere in the Cresh city.
“Yes, ma’am, Lady Lee, found every little nook and cranny.” Todd feigned taking off a hat while making his statement.
“Transfer is complete,” Piotr turned to face Mariana, “I told you he was sweet on you, Mari.”
Mariana blushed. While Todd and Wendy returned to the journey downward, Mariana and Piotr went over the holo-video that Todd made of the Cresh city. It was very ordered, resembling the habitats of burrowing critters like hoppers, but with a central hall that resembled the home of a paddle-tail. The central hall must have been where they ate their meals. Fish bones, including an intact skeleton or two, littered the floor.
The quarters were austere except for the random presence of debris from sunken ships. There were some china cups, random pieces of flatware, bits and pieces of broken chandeliers, and odd knickknacks tucked away in some of the chambers. There were even a few live fish wandering about, which Todd had brought back with him. There were no Cresh left behind to answer the pressing question. Overall, the Cresh city was a disappointment.
As the Cetacean reached the bottom of the slope, Todd shouted, “three, two, one, contact! We have arrived! Thank you for flying Todd Air.”
“Gee, thanks Todd,” Dahlia remarked, “as if we hadn’t noticed.”
Todd’s sudden run at the front window, followed by his sharp upward turn, startled even Leonard and Wendy. His noisy, panicked reattachment to the Cetacean was as disturbing as his sudden lack of commentary. The cause of his panic appeared a short while afterward. The beast had a large maw, made prominent by its forward position on the face. Its eyes were large and flat. But Dahlia could sense no aggression behind its actions. Apparently, Todd had collected some small sea life forms before encountering the beast and in his hasty retreat he had left behind a trail of the creature’s food. After a brief discussion, the two zoologists concluded that it was a Megamouth shark. Dahlia concluded that Todd should calm down and told him so.
After the megamouth left, the Cetacean and Todd continued their journey outward from the slope. The water was warmer than expected, most likely the result of the global warming event. They were still no closer to determining what the Great Cataclysm was.
Bright Lights, Deep City
As the Cetacean continued its slow crawl down the shallow slope of the Hatteras, the light from above faded away. The dark sea was navigable, but it hampered observation. The lights at the front of the ship cast an eerie red glow over the ocean floor in front of it. Occasional flickers of light would appear as randomly as the flasher beetles on the surface would light up a warm night. Todd made it his mission to chase them down, capture them, and load them into the collection jars aboard Cetacean.
One of the specimens collected was a deep blue fish with jagged teeth. Another specimen was a blob that oozed its way along the ocean floor. Todd brought back a fish with a transparent dome for a head and upward facing eyes.
“Piotr, look at those eyes,” Mariana passed the specimen to Piotr.
“The better to see you with, my dear,” he quipped.
“Careful, Pete, you’ll make Todd jealous,” Dahlia cautioned.
“You won’t like me when I’m jealous,” Todd responded.
“I don’t like you now,” Piotr muttered to himself.
Mariana and Piotr spent some time examining the new specimens and attempting to identify them. Todd darted off on another foray into the darkness. Dahlia closed her eyes to deal with a headache. If she could find the source, she could possibly shut it down. “Are you okay?” Adam asked as he watched Dahlia rub her temples. “Is there anything I can help with?”
“There is something out there. I can sense a lot of noise from some intelligence, but I can’t quite make sense of it. And it is giving me a headache,” Dahlia thought to Adam as she let her conscious mind drift outward. A smile crossed her face as she felt Piotr’s attraction to Mariana. She almost laughed when she heard Todd’s voice singing an old ditty from the ancient days. She could see the images that he was sending back of a cluster of sunken ships ahead of him.
Todd began to dart around like a hummingbird in a floral garden. He would stop to make a holo-pic of each ship then move on to the next one. Suddenly, he stopped. “Oh my…” His voice trailed off. “Would you look at this?!” The holo-image changed from static to video. Pinwheels of blue lights were floating around him looking very much like alien ships from an old fiction video.
The noise in Dahlia’s head gave way to multiple images of Todd slowly spinning around to video capture what surrounded him. The chattering of these creatures slowly made sense to her brain as she felt their wonder at the object that was Todd. They had made of city out of this undersea scrapyard, one that rarely received visitors. Images of these broken vessels from long ago still resonated in their thoughts. Some of the ships had flown in the sky before crashing down. Others had sailed the surface of the waters before driven below by an angry ocean. They had a multitude of stories to tell.
The images transmitted by Todd’s holo-cam came into focus. The creatures possessed eight arms lined with bright blue luminescent suckers. They emitted their light in short bursts like the glow-bugs on land. There was webbing between the arms of the small creatures that made them seem larger. Todd was having trouble capturing one, especially after his first attempt failed. Dahlia laughed. “They are playing with you, Todd. If we want to examine one, we will have to ask.”
After reaching out to the group of floating stars, a volunteer darted into Todd open container and tried to close the lid. Dahlia explained that Todd didn’t want to risk harming it and it settled down to enjoy the ride. The little fellow was very chatty and curious about the inside of the Cetacean. He crawled out of the container a few times to wander around and explore. The video screens fascinated him but not as much as the holo-player. Seeing the outside of the ship and his colony projected in three dimensions inside a square box convinced him that we were gods.
Dahlia had quite a time convincing him otherwise. She had an equally trying time convincing him to leave the ship and return to his home. Finally, she conceded defeat when he refused to leave an air vent that he had squeezed into. He oozed out of the vent only after they assured him that he could go back to the land with them.
The Squid and the Stargazer
While Dahlia was busy negotiating with the octopus, Todd was having troubles of his own. He was chasing an interesting specimen whose eyes and mouth were at the top of its head. It liked to bury itself in the sand covering all but its eyes and mouth. From that vantage point, it would grab and devour anything that came too close. Todd tried several times to scoop it up from behind but it always took off and found a new spot to bury itself in. Fortunately, he could track the fish to wherever it went.
After several failed attempts at scooping it up from behind, Todd decided to come at it from the front. The fish kept backing away every time Todd moved the container toward it. Exasperated by the stubborn behavior of the fish, Todd reached out one of his new arms to shoo the fish into the container. Fifty volts of electricity surged up his arm, which automatically retracted to protect Todd from harm. Angered by the jolt, Todd stopped trying to sneak up on the fish and managed to catch it before it could bury itself again.
The stargazer wasn’t Todd’s only company. Hiding in the dark was a large predator, something that would give poor Todd nightmares for weeks to come. Like Todd, it had been stalking the stargazer. Unlike Todd, it had epicurean designs on the fish. It followed Todd back to the Cetacean and watched him as he emptied the container. Then it struck.
The giant squid wrapped its arms around the Cetacean and began to attack the small hatch with its beak. Dahlia reached out to the beast, but could not find reason beyond its hunger. The panicking stargazer released several jolts to no avail from inside its insulated container. Todd had already disengaged from the ship’s hull and was moving away. Taking a cue from the stargazer, the crew decided to try shocking the squid. They only succeeded in angering it into lashing out with its tentacles.
Todd panicked and randomly chose a direction to run in. He had not gone far when another fearsome creature started to approach him. “Eep!” Todd shrieked, “It’s Jimmy Durante’s ghost come back as a shark.” The shark noticed Todd’s sudden reversal of course and followed him back to the Cetacean. Spotting the giant squid, the shark turned aside just as Todd ran into one of the squid’s large eyes. The squid flicked Todd aside with one of its tentacles and resumed trying to bite its way into the ship.
The long-nosed shark circled around and silently drifted in. It tore a chunk of flesh from one of the squid’s arms. The squid lashed out and tossed the shark aside. The shark drifted in a second time and snipped off one of the squid’s tentacles. The shark’s next strike was against the squid’s eye, which left it blind on one side. Several bites later and the squid ran off to nurse its wounds while the shark circled the Cetacean. Todd had recovered from the squid flinging, but he showed no interest in engaging the shark.
Realizing that the shark was still hungry, despite its snacking on the squid, Mariana scooped a few lucky specimens from the food fish container and flushed the rest out the upper port. The shark gobbled up the fish and then wandered off. “Whew, that was close,” Todd remarked as he came out of hiding. “And the way he ate those fish,” Todd paused for effect, “you might say that he was a goblin shark.” Todd returned to his perch on the top of the ship and downloaded all the holo-images that he had made. A few hours later they were back at the base of the slope. The Cetacean went into energy conservation mode while the human crew slept.
Leonard and Wendy had spent the night keeping the stargazer excited by poking at it to push as much energy as possible into the ship’s batteries. They stopped short of killing the fish, concluding that it should recover by morning. Wendy expressed concern about climbing the slope as it was higher than where they had come down to the Hatteras plain. Leonard reminded her that they would encounter light at the same level regardless.
The Cetacean rose slowly up the slope wall recording everything for later analysis. There would likely be many more journeys ahead for the small submersible, but for now it headed for its new home base. The University at Oceanside Land had moved its Saltwater Studies Unit into a new home. The new structure contained housing for the students and masters who would live there. There were new zoology labs to study the physical structures of saltwater specimens. And there was a special docking bay for the Cetacean. They had named the small fortress Submarine Land. Mariana called it heaven.