Kind of getting away: 4

So I’m having the same dream again. This tells me that I’ve properly adjusted to the place. At least that is the meaning I have given to it. Should I ask for more? I don’t dare, not yet.

I’m standing on a shore and there is a vast creature that is coming through the water towards me. A tiny, pitted, bulbous body, shiny in a metallic way, propped on eight many-jointed legs, hooked at their ends. The entire scene is grey. The legs go up so high that the body is in the clouds, kilometres up. The legs come out of the body nearly horizontal but then bend downwards sharply. The creature might be wading through the ocean or walking on top of it. Its movement is ancient and jerky. One leg moves at a time, or two. But no more. It might be alive.

This has become a shared ritual between my mind and I. It is a naked relationship. Our expressions are only ever blunted. I wonder what the message is, this time.

Now that I think about it, this is not in fact the first time I have dreamt on Tokata. The night after the storm I did have a dream. It’s interesting how dreams are so difficult to remember. They’re always there but I find that I need something to remind me that they even happened. What I have now is this image:

I am on a shore yet again. But this is a different shore. Or maybe it is the same shore but the water has gone away, has retreated or wandered up some snarl of rivers and simply forgotten to come back. So the sand goes on nearly to the horizon. There’s a huge ship, an oil tanker[1], stranded on the shore, pointed straight at me. It is old. The bottom half of it has been painted red; the upper is grey. Mute calligraphies of rust come down its side. It is not quite falling apart yet. I can remember this quite clearly, actually. I don’t know why, but this is very clear: scrawls quietly going down the great flanks of metal. Pouring out of the hawsepipes. There is something intimate about rust, and that is true here also. Even though I am standing quite far away from the ship I remember looking up at it. It must have been big. Maybe too big, about a hundred metres in height. A small section of the bulbous bow has collapsed. A sound comes. It is like a foghorn, loud and distant. Now life erupts out of the hole in the bow, a mass as solid as basalt. Animals, things with eyes and mouths and teeth and things without, all pouring out. Lithe things lope away across the flats. The sand churns. Winged things shriek, taut with antipathy, and go into the sky. Their sound is a giant whisper. Soft things bubble out of the hole like viscera and writhe on the drying sand. Invertebrate agonies. Huge objects loll out of that hole, expanses of shining skin made limp out of water. Forked tongues go hesitant into the air. A bellow lumbers out across the sand. Nameless muscular things fan out from the ship, moving as if unfamiliar with their own weight. Slit pupils glare without blinking at the sun. The sun is setting, I think, and the water is red, the air is rosy, the sky very high and limned everywhere with amber. Warm colours to cope with all that atmosphere.

I have realised something. I mean right now, at this precise moment, as I write this. Just imagine – if I had not written this, this would never have occurred to me. What I now know, and this is certain, is that this is a gift. This has been given. And I am supposed to receive it. I must go out and receive it.

Is this the Wash? I cannot remember clearly enough to tell. It might be the Wash, but the Wash is not so dry, maybe. This might be the Wash at the lowest tide. I don’t know.

One more thing about this dream I had in the tent after the storm. But this is not that unique. It’s happened to me several times and I don’t worry about it. But I was lying there, in the dark, and my eyes were closed. And there was something all around me, breathing, a fraction of a millimetre from my skin, walling me off from everything else. I didn’t know how to react to it because it had no real signature. It was not menacing or anything else. It was an imagined thing. I think everyone gets that feeling sometimes, actually. Or maybe that’s not true. That’s possible. I have every right to assume that there is something different about me.

[1] I think it’s an oil tanker. I have a picture in my head and I’ve looked it up.

Note Concerning a Wreck named T—, Published in Mariner Issue No.455, 2983rd year, aut: The Golden Whale

It was called Unsinkable. Not unsinkable, but capital-U Unsinkable, to indicate that this vessel did not merely possess this characteristic, but fully owned it, exercised dominion over it. As if the very nature of unsinkability was to be found embedded in its hull, inside the metal frame, the antithesis of the idea of weakness. Was not to be disentangled from it. Maybe this capital-U Unsinkability was nestled placentally among the ropes, or maybe was stashed, glowing secretly, in the cargo hold, or made its home in the forest of davits that lined pockets of the deck.

It was very beautiful. (The “is” does ask itself, but maybe later.) It was made during that time when people didn’t really think about beauty when building something, but thought more about things like, I suppose, weight, size, solidity, nobility, aristocracy – and so really it must have been beautiful. Unconsciously. It is very easy to see even now its big bronze nose opening the pages of the water. Lumbering along. Well, not lumbering, but with the feeling of lumbering. With weight and confidence.

At seven minutes past midnight on June 1246[1] the ship collided with an iceberg. A miscommunication meant that its position had been relayed wrongly, and by the time it was spotted and the 113-tonne rudder was turned to move the ship hard to port it was too late. The inertia of a 80,000-tonne ship travelling at over 40 knots is very substantial.

The iceberg collided glancingly with the bow, crumpling a W-shaped section of it about 20 metres across, and then dragged itself along the starboard hull. It was the damage caused by the latter that proved fatal. The hull was too thick to break, but buckled inwards at portions along a 400-foot span, pulling the rivets that held the plates together loose and allowing water to flood into seven of the forward compartments. The total area of the openings that were created was less than four square metres. Water came through this space at a rate of 10 long tonnes per second. There is a bitterness to the thought that if the T— had not attempted to avoid the iceberg, and have collided with it head-on, it would probably have survived – only two compartments would have been flooded otherwise, or at least this is as much as I am willing to guess right now. Just before the collision a radio cry went out, tangled in the ionosphere, but the nearest ship, the D—, was too far away to be of assistance.

At 1.12 a gangway door was opened in the port side of the ship to load passengers onto the lifeboats. Four minutes later a wall of water came through this opening, and to the horror of the engineers it was found that the massive door could not be closed; gravity and the increasing lean of the ship made it simply impossible. At this point Engine Rooms 1 and 2 were fully flooded, and water was coming through Engine Room 3 into the main gangway of the lower G deck, where nearly two thousand people were crammed. Most of them died.

One hour later the bow had filled with so much water that its weight lifted the stern clear of the sea, exposing the propellers, each 7 times the height of a man, and causing one of the funnels to crack. The stresses building up on the middle of the ship soon became catastrophic. At 2.35 the water in Engine Room 4 reached the main cable bundle that carried power to the rest of the ship. The housings had peeled off as the entire room had warped with the ship – one end of the room was a full two feet lower than the other. At 2.37 the lights on the T— that had filled its corridors and halls with brightness and made the sea shine flickered once, came back on, flickered again, and went out.

Then the T— cracked in half. The sound was so alien that very few of the passengers recognized it for what it was. It was a groan, a rattle, an agonised tearing noise that went on for over 20 seconds, not the explosion that many expected.  The T— broke in two at one of its weakest points in the structure, the area of the main engine room hatch. All the decks were ripped in two, but the double-bottomed hull held for a minute longer, so that as the bow descended it pulled the stern along, lifting it over 45° out of the water, until the two-inch plates holding the two halves of the ship together snapped and the bow rolled free into the freezing water.

The hydrodynamic leading edge of the bow meant that it descended smoothly at a steep angle and gained speed fast. The water flowing over it sheared the funnels away. As they detached the tangle of ropes they took with them scoured the decks clean. The wheelhouse crumbled away. After eight minutes of relentless descent in the dark the bow crashed into the seafloor at 42km/h, digging itself 20m into the mud. The impact bent the hull in two places and caused it to buckle downwards by about 16° under the forward well deck cranes and by about 7° under the forward expansion joint. The weakened decks at the rear, where the ship had broken apart, collapsed on top of each other. The forward hatch cover was also blown off and landed a couple of hundred feet in front of the bow due to the force of water being pushed out as the bow was crushed against the bottom. A slipstream formed behind the bow as it was falling, and when the bow hit the seafloor a 6000-tonne column of water crushed the bridge into an puzzlement of broken steel.   The vertical steel columns supporting the decks were bent into C-shapes, railings were blown outwards, and the roof of the crew quarters and main hall were pushed in.

On the surface the forward section of the stern, having fallen back into the water, was filling so fast that in 20 minutes it assumed a near-vertical position and was dragged beneath the surface. It lacked a streamlined leading edge, so its descent was traumatic. As it sank the rudder swung around to a 40° angle, so it tumbled and corkscrewed tightly as it fell, rotating slowly like a Dipterocarp seed or a helicopter blade. A large V-shaped forward section just aft of midships, the weakest portion of the ship due to the two large spaces it contained (the First Class Stair and fuel store), simply disintegrated into nothing, spitting its contents into the blackness. The engines tumbled out like hundred-tonne marbles.

Unlike the bow the stern had not fully filled with water, and so for five kilometres it made its tortured descent to an overwhelming symphony of sounds: compartments imploding, bulkheads rupturing, steel support warping, hull plates ripping out, the poop deck folding in on itself, spraying out debris over kilometres of ocean floor. Crackings and slow grinding peals echoed for hundreds of kilometres.

When the stern reached the seabed the decks pancaked so violently that today no single deck is more than a foot in height. The hull plates splayed out to either side of the shattered section. The center propeller is totally buried, while the force of the impact caused the two wing propellers and shafts to be bent upwards by an angle of about 20°. The naked eye finds it difficult to believe that this is the stern of a ship.

When T— sank she carried over 2000 to the bottom with her. Imagine what is was like to be them, sitting in this celebration of metal feeling to the grand shudderings, the soft buffetings that muffle the catastrophe outside, hearing the colossal wrenching and trembling sounding everywhere. I want to say that this is too terrible to imagine, but of course it is not. We are all drawn to this kind of grandeur. There is something hortatory about it.

It is all too easy to imagine.

For those of you who are kind enough to read my reports regularly (enjoying, I hope, my writing) and are aware of my hobby then this note comes as a small surprise to you, concerning as it does a great tragedy of no particular importance happening on an old and primitive world. I suppose I owe you, in some form or another, an explanation of my fascination with T—.  It reminds me of me: a great new vessel golden in brass and manganese and steel nosing its way into the night, a ship with too much love in its name, a symbol of a gilded age, weighed down, pushed forward by the pride of an entire people, faultless and nimble as it darted across a sea, ended by something as old and slow as ice. There are many things out here that are older than me, and slower, and I fear that one of these will nick me fatally, and bring me to my end.

[A brief biological survey of the site was undertaken. The results were extraordinary. For the new organism discovered I suggest the name Halomonas theophagia.]

[1] Local reference


It is at the window, looking out. The window is open.

There is the question of its forelimbs, which are on the sill.

It puts its head out.

Water lashes its face.

He comes beside it and looks. “There is ship out there. Isn’t that a ship?” he says.

There is something with lights moving among the waves. It looks like an old one.

It does not reply. Then it says, “There is nothing wrong about that.”

It cranes its head out, all the way.

It likes the air outside, or so it seems.

In any case it does not talk about it.

“I have not seen a ship come this way,” he says. “I hope it makes it to shore.”

It is in fact true that the light is dim. This is the time of the evening when it goes fast.

“Is that in fact a ship?” it asks.

Water is running down its body into the house.

He says, “Look. All this water. Let’s close the window.”

It waits a moment and pulls itself in.

For a moment it is huge, but then it is small, and all of it inside the house.

It shakes itself although it is entirely dry.

It is dark.

Not outside, that is, at least not yet, but the other one speaking. It is entirely black.

That had escaped his notice.

Well, that would be inaccurate. It has never been entirely black before.

In fact it was something else.

He closes the window, and looks out. The ship is barely visible.

A dipping light out there. A little warmth.

“It is a ship, I think,” he says, and turns to go back to his room.

“No,” it says, “Not a ship.” It is still looking out through the glass like it is not there.

He goes back to the window.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Isn’t it a ship?”

It contemplates this.

How does one know if it is contemplating?

It is strange not to have an immediate answer.

In any case it thinks or perhaps it watches and then it says, “No, not a ship. The idea of one.  That is the idea of a ship, the things that make a ship a ship. An old friend.”

Water lashes its face.

But then again it is all dry inside.

He is very tired, impossibly so. He cannot bring to go into his room now. He sits in the chair and leans back and does not say anything.

Perhaps he should sleep here, head back, with his eyes closed.

“Should you go out to meet it?” he says.

“Always with these questions,” it says, “I don’t know. It’s been so long.”

There is also the issue of the rain but it does not mention the rain.

“Should I go out?” it says.

That might be a question, even.

He hasn’t taken his shoes off. That’s how tired he is.

“It’s not for me to say,” he says.

“I will take you outside. We will go together,” it says. “We have not gone out together.”

That is a bold claim. But it might be correct.

“It’s rough outside,” he says.

“Don’t worry,” it says.

And it picks him up and stands and puts him on its shoulders.

He is very small and very light.

It holds his legs.

It does this with hands, of course.

The door opens, perhaps because it opens it, and they are out in the wildness and the water.

He feels very safe.

Water lashes his face.

“This is something,” he says. “It’s really something.”

“Yes,” it says, holding him tight, bearing him, “Isn’t it really?”