Short: Dugong Dreaming

Enceladus Marine Research Station

Guest log 9.1

June has always been my favourite month of the year; still is. Warm days and starry nights. Aaron said the sun gave him hives, which of course it didn’t; it was just an excuse to stay in the shadows and read about Galapagos turtles.

One year, early in our marriage, we took out a loan and went back to the real California on old Earth. Ten blissful days on white Malibu sand. Aaron mostly stayed in the hotel doing laps in the pool.

 *

‘June? Your records indicate her revival was in March, StellR. Do you have any earlier logs to replay?’ Steve asked, noting how strangely obtuse the mediapp was behaving. Surely the first log was the most logical place to start. Although nothing was logical about the station. It appeared to be abandoned despite StellR’s insistence she was maintaining minimal station operations for three souls.

‘Certainly, although 3.1 would be the best. Before that she was largely incoherent,’ replied StellR.

‘Fine. Replay logs from 3.1. Thank you.’

 *

 Guest log 3.1

This is [cough] Alexia. Wait. What’s with that dugong, StellR? Over there. It’s looking at me again. Everywhere I go it’s there, watching…

No, I am not imagining it … but … well; you need to figure something out ‘cause I can’t focus with it staring at me.

What? [cough]

Oh, sorry, I forgot I’m recording. [sniff] I’ll start over.

Guest log 3.2

This is Alexia Crown, citizen of, um, Taurus Six, I think. Lead soprano with the Celestial … Celestial Coloraturas. Yes, that’s right, coloraturas, and current guest at Aaron’s research station.

This is my therapeutic log that I am recording at the request of StellR, the station’s mediapp. [sneeze]

Apparently, it will be a positive mental health support. I’m not so sure. I’ve been making daily recordings since I was revived from cryo 48 hours ago. Not feeling the mental health benefits yet.

Of course, it might have been a bit more therapeutic if I wasn’t under the constant surveillance of an ugly old dugong! Right now, I’m recording in the lab and every time I look up I see one big eye peering at me through the side portal. It’s bobbing up and down in the salty brine outside, glaring all the while.

I’ve given up going to the dining room. It has three full wall-windows dedicated to sea floor observation. Can’t even get a coffee there without a damn dugong lapping the room. It’s creepy – like the old Earth aquariums Emmy and I used to holovisit. Only here, I’m the one on display.

Aaron used to call them – what did he call them? Sea cows? That’s it. Sea cows. He said they were the perfect match for the ocean grasses they’ve transplanted here.

They’re supposedly docile and not too high up on the intelligence scale. So why do they haunt me? They’ve got the whole ocean to explore and yet, every time I sit down to record my log, one appears in the window.

It’s like they know they don’t belong here on Saturn any more than I do. Hang on-

[scratching noises]

Ah that’s better. I taped some linopape over the portal. Bye, bye dugong!

[laugh]

Alone at last, aside from StellR who’s listening, supposedly to assess my progress waking up from cryo, and adjust my recovery meds.

Lies!

I’m sure she just wants evidence for the unlikely event that someone actually comes to this godforsaken place. When they find my withered corpse, along with the bodies of the station crew, they’ll know who is responsible.

But I’m on to you, StellR. You want to record me saying crazy things. Then you can kill me too, and blame it all on my cryo-psychosis.

Did you do anything to save the poor crew, StellR? Did you watch as they each succumbed, or did you give them something to nudge it along? Did you have them making logs too? Huh? Nothing to say?

Come on, admit it, StellR! How many did you ki-

Guest log 4.1

This is Alexia Jane Crown recording a log from the Amphitrite Marine Research Station situated on the underside of the ice shelf of Enceladus, the sixth moon of Saturn.

I’m feeling paradoxically better and worse today. The cryosleep drugs have finally filtered out of my system and the brain fog is lifting. I can think clearly now, which also means I am beginning to understand the depth of my dilemma.

Today I’ve walked every hall and room of this crowded little research station and nothing makes sense. Everything is intact. No hull breach. No power issues. Nothing looks out of place. Yet, all thirty-two scientists who manned this station are deceased – mostly collapsed at their posts, although some lay peacefully in their bunks.

The cause of death isn’t obvious; there is no sign of violence. StellR says they all died of old age, which is ridiculous. They might be a very senior crew but how could they all keel over at the same time?

I put in a distress tele-transmission to the closest UNP base but it’s still a good distance away. It’ll be at least three hours before they respond. That is, if StellR has actually sent it. She’s glitching. Each time I request anything beyond basic life support or simple tasks like “lights on”, she freezes and resets herself.

[sigh]

So what else? Right. I considered a biological event; like a virus or bacterial contamination but the pilot who brought me here is dead too.

Took me two hours to find him using StellR’s visual monitors. His body is laying halfway out the hatch, jamming it open at the end of the main exit tube. He appears to be fully sealed inside a standard orbital suit. That’s class one protection from hard vacuum. No bug’s getting through that.

And Aaron, the whole reason we are here, my ex-husband, father of my child and famed fauna relocation expert, is missing. As is our daughter, Emmy. I just pray they’re together. I don’t know where else to –

Guest log 4.2

Found her! [heavy breathing] Emmy’s alive!

When I was recording that last bit, I remembered that I started my search after I left the medbay but I never checked in the medbay. I was pretty confused when I woke up and I never saw the other cryosleep pods. There are three of them. One is empty. One has my darling little Emmy still fast asleep and the other has Aaron.

Oh God, he looks terrible! He’s gone like the others. [gulp]

His eyes are milky, his cheeks sunken and his skin – his skin is completely wrinkled and pock marked like the lunar ice above. I always understood intellectually that he was well into his hundreds but the longevity treatments kept him looking as young as me, so it was easy to forget.

Sweet Jesus, maybe StellR is right.

Guest log 4.3

Just got a response from the cadet at the UNP base on Titan. It looks like the longevity treatments have failed there too. Hundreds of senior career soldiers gone due to sudden reversal of age. How is that even possible?

I always thought the longevity treatments embedded in our genes were infallible. That’s how we were able to conquer the stars; with pilots who could do long haul flights, spending decades sailing between the stars, without eating into their life span. Now –

The young cadet in the message sounded like he was in shock, poor kid. He said that none of his fellow cadets have qualified as pilots yet and the base is far too complex to run by themselves. They’re stranded too. He was crying as he spoke. God help them all.

Guest log 5.1

In the two days since my last log I’ve had another message from Titan. No one is coming to rescue us.

Apparently, longevity failed everywhere. Interplanetary travel has ground to a halt as most of our ageing pilots are dead. And so are most of the government leaders, teachers, medical specialists, technical experts, hell, nearly everyone’s gone.

Can’t believe it! We were all encouraged to reduce procreation to prevent overpopulation when it became clear that people were going to live such long lives. I was lucky Aaron’s work came with a license to have Emmy. Now the few kids left are isolated in cities of the dead; totally ill-equipped to go on alone.

I want so much to wake Emmy. I ache to see her grin as she recites one of her funny little limericks about naughty boys and fire crackers, to chase her down the hallways or join her in a warbling duet. I sing her lullabies but she can’t hear me.  She never will again. What’s the point of waking her to a life stranded with just me and a bunch of dugongs?

I hated them when I first woke up, the dugongs that is. Now they’re my only companions. I’m starting to get used to seeing their ugly snouts pushed up against the glass.

Guest log 6.1

It’s the first Thursday of April, Earth standard.

After her last glitch, StellR reminded me that keeping track of time was good for one’s mental health. She’s right of course. With no natural day or night, this clinical environment will surely send me nuts by June.

I’m setting myself the goal of figuring out the command centre environmental controls. Hopefully I can simulate some seasonal changes if I can get control of the vid screens. I’d love to turn up the heat too. With all the water outside, maybe I can convince myself that I’m at the beach.

We were supposed to be here for just one month. Emily’s access visit with Aaron was timed for my Summer hiatus from the Coloraturas tour. We were scheduled to hit all the biggest concert halls you know; the colonies pay well for an injection of culture. We were like a big musical family travelling from port to port.

I feel sick when I wonder which of them, if any, has survived.

Guest log 7.1

I have news.

In the week since my last log StellR has glitched eight times, triggered by my amateur attempts at hacking into the command centre. There seems to be some background programs running that use a lot of her operating memory. Every time I get near them, down she goes with a message about preserving core directives.

Anyway, the last time she came back on line she gave me the codes. Seriously! Didn’t even have to ask. Had I known that, I would have done a manual reboot on her weeks ago.

Full access means that views of Malibu beach are plastered all over the vids and the heat’s cranked up to balmy. Much better.

Debussy is echoing through the halls now. The dugongs seem to love it as much as I. The melody must vibrate through the hull to them because they definitely change their movements when it starts. The big one looks to be singing as well, although I can’t hear it. If I had the time I would try to rig up some external recorders.

Years ago Aaron mentioned splicing whale genes into the dugong genome to give them a thicker layer of fat for insulation against Enceladus’ cold currents. Could whale song be an unexpected side effect?

Guest log 7.2

Well, that didn’t last long.

About an hour after the last log StellR glitched so badly she was off for nearly ten minutes. Around the fifth minute the whole station went down with her; air fans, heat, light and all the consoles stopped. It scared the bejeebers out of me. For a few moments I had a glimpse into my afterlife and it was bleak.

Seemed to affect the dugongs too.

I was in the dining room at the time and when the lights came back on, the big one was there acting erratically. He was racing from one window to the next, waving his fins around and blinking his eyes rapidly. He only calmed down when I put my hand on the glass. Couldn’t believe it; he came right up to the pane and seemed to mimic my action.

Then I remembered Emmy. I raced to the medibay, fearing the worst. How could I have forgotten her? Thankfully her module has an independent power source but who knows how long that would last if the station went down permanently?

I have to find a way to get her out of here.

Guest log 8.1

It’s May and I’ve got nothing useful to report. Each day I trawl through the systems but most of its scientific jargon and programming code is hard to decipher for an arty gal like me. I’d rather be singing to Emmy’s sweet frozen face anyway.

Guest log 9.2

Got it! It’s taken me three long days but I think I have figured it out at last. The dugongs hate Beethoven and Bach! Play a little Led Zeppelin though, and the big one’s off in a swirling frenzy.

[laughter] Wish Emmy could see it.

Guest log 10.1

I think I’ve just had a breakthrough.

It’s late July and I have set up a console in the dining room. Call me crazy but I have started to feel an attachment to the dugongs. I guess loneliness can be an excuse for all sorts of strange dinner companions.

Yesterday the big one was doing his usual mimicry routine – you know, I wave an arm; he waves a fin, and so on. This got me thinking. I have been trying to break into the command controls to gain control of the station to protect Emmy but each time StellR glitches. This puts Emmy at risk. It dawned on me that I could load a copy of StellR’s operational matrix onto a quarantined system, deliberately glitch that and see what happens.

If I can find out which program is causing the issue, perhaps I can isolate it or delete it all together.

Guest log 11.9

Oh God! Don’t know where to start. It’s been two days since I made the discovery and I’ve tried to record my log several times since then but I keep deleting after I start – it’s just so hard to explain.

[sigh]

The plan worked. I know what’s wrong. It seems StellR glitches because she is running a high level translation matrix. It appears there are external recorders, the dugongs are singing and she is continually translating.

She’s talking to the dugongs.

[crying]

Guest log 11.10

Amendment to the last log. StellR is not talking to the dugongs; she is talking to a dugong. The big dugong. She’s talking to Aaron!

Guest log 12.1

When Aaron came here four years ago it was hard on all of us. Emmy mourned through our separation and lived for the annual access visits with her father.

There was one trial relocation for all of us, but I couldn’t see it through. A remote research station hanging under an isolated ice shelf is no place for a growing girl and an opera singer.

Yet Aaron had to continue the post; we both knew that. It was a career changing opportunity to be a part of the biggest aqua-forming project in the last century. They were making incredible discoveries about planetary hydrology, species adaptation and aquatic translocation. It would help transform water worlds across the cosmos for human habitation.

What I didn’t know was that they were carrying out a secondary classified project. Apparently they decided early that transforming a whole marine ecology to suit human colonies was too complex. The easier option was to transform humans to suit an aquatic environment. They were attempting to transfer human consciousness into marine mammals and they succeeded.

When the sudden age reversal happened, Aaron got to his modified cryo pod in time and used it to upload himself.

Now StellR says he wants to talk to me.

Guest log 13.1

This will be my last log, not that it makes any difference. I doubt anyone will ever hear it anyway. Still no response from Titan and no way off this moon.

I guess at some point someone may come for us but that could be decades away. By then we could run out of power or I could be dead. Poor Emmy will awaken all alone. How can I leave my baby here trapped and alone? Never to see another human face. Never to see the sun or feel fresh air on her skin.

So many possible future crisis, so few options. Our situation is hopeless.

In the month since my discovery I have given up on gaining command control. I spend most of my time crooning over my darling Emmy’s pod or walking the hallways praying and crying. I feel so powerless.

Talking with Aaron doesn’t help. I am scared rigid by the one impossible choice he has offered us. Yet, if I don’t take it up Emmy will spend eternity in an eternal frozen dream. Or worse.

I can’t.

I must.

I…

*

‘That’s the end of the recording, Sir. I wasn’t able to persuade her to do anymore,’ said StellR.

‘And what happened after that?’ asked Steven.

‘Check for yourself; they are quite well, Sir,’ replied StellR.

Steven crossed the dining room en route to central command. There was no point examining the three life pods again. STellR was mistaken.  There were no life signs. The station was devoid of human life. He would shut her down then return to his ship. Time to leave.

As he reached the door a low gentle moan reverberated through the dining room. It was like a rip of vocal ecstasy was pulling him back to the windows. Dugong song filled the room.

‘See, Sir. I told you they were fine. They’ve just been asleep but now they’re refreshed and in fine voice.’

Steven turned. Outside there were a pod of dugongs. The little one was racing from window to window. The largest one was waving its fins and the other was the source of the song.

‘I often wonder if they still dream,’ said StellR wistfully.

10 thoughts on “Short: Dugong Dreaming

Add yours

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. The more I read, the more I got engrossed and kinda didn’t want it to end. Reminds me on those stand-alone episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix. It had a nice, retro feel as well, like Asimov’s world, sort of. Anyway. Great story. Good luck with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was such a good read! As the plot thickened and Alexia’s situation kept getting worse I was so eager to see what was going to happen! It was very clever and very interesting to read. Love it!

    Like

  3. How gorgeous! I just loved it. From the get-go it was interesting and intriguing and the ending was a delightful surprise that I did not see coming! I would like to read more about the world this was set in!

    Like

  4. Wow Shelley – fabulous. I’m not a lover of short stories – to me they have always seemed so pointless as just as you become immersed the story ends. I have to say that this one of yours has totally changed my opinion. I immediately connected with the main character and felt her confusion and dilemmas, and I loved and totally did not expect the ending. Congratulations – loved it! Keep going!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow it was engaging,interesting in all aspects characters fleshed out enough so you feel and want to know what is happening or did happen 👌🏼

    Like

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