ALIEN FLOE

                                                      

 

He felt it first. A sound so deep it shook the metal structure of the ship as she ploughed through the dark Atlantic waters. He loosened the tripod and panned around, searching through the lens to try and locate the source. The moonless night filling the surface of the sea with reflected light from the ship’s lights, filling his viewfinder with ghostly images, liquid mirages in the night. And then he caught a glimpse of something on the horizon. A flicker of light; a dark silhouette. Another ship? Something obscured his view. Shadowy outlines rearing up out of the darkness. Vast shards of glistening glass. He began to film. The stock whirred through the gate as he focussed on the drifting objects.

 

The ships powerful engines increased their tempo. He panned over to the largest of the three shards. The wet flanks of its rugged ice glowed a luminous blue. From this angle he could see into it. He caught a glimpse of something buried deep inside…and then lost focus. It all happened so fast he wondered if he’d imagined it.   Looking down at the bow wave he realised they were travelling at nearly full speed. As the towering shapes grew nearer he saw they were passing amongst jagged ice floes; ominous white shapes drifting alongside. The sound of the engines changed pitch again as the ship began to alter course.

He panned around as the ship turned slowly away from the immense icebergs on the portside. From beneath the ship a terrible grinding noise grew louder. The deck shuddered. He kept filming. Slabs of ice fell away from the iceberg as they swung away from the largest of them. He focussed on the shape within…it was clearer now. And as the alarm klaxons filled the night and the passengers and crew started to panic, he saw it move.

The ships engines began to slow. He wasn’t worried, for now…after all, everybody knew she was unsinkable.

 

The smell came to them on the humid air drifting off the beach. They’d put away a fair bit of beer since graduating from M.I.T that afternoon and had worked their way through some local bars before winding up at Antonia’s by the beach. It had been an exceptionally warm summer and the smell of dead fish was a price you paid for living near the water. Both Joe and Annie had graduated with degrees in bioengineering and fallen in love at first sight. “What the hell is that?” Annie held her nose. “One helluva fish.” Joe sniffed. “Must be a big one.” Annie stood up…then sat back down. “Ooops. I think I’m a little smashed.” She stood up again. “Let’s go see.” Joe shrugged. “Really? That’s your idea of a romantic evening…a trip to see a dead fish.” Annie smiled at him. “You could be missing out on the chance to study an unknown species washed up on the shore…” Joe drank the last of the beer from his glass and took her hand. He could never say no to her, no matter how wild the suggestion. It was one of many things he loved about her. “Okay, you sure know how to keep the romance alive.”

 

By the time they got down to where the smell was coming from the light was going. But that didn’t matter. There was no way they could miss it. A whale carcass lay stretched out on the beach. Over fifty feet long it lay glistening on the sand. A deep tear in its abdomen. Annie looked at it sadly. “It’s a humpback. Joe wandered over to it. “I doubt it. Joe walked over to the gash in the side of the vast mammal. “Look.” He pointed excitedly at something jutting out of the whale’s side. “What’s that?” He reached out a hand and pulled at the object. It tumbled out onto the sand. A battered and sodden leather suitcase. He ran his fingers over the faint indentations of letters on the lid, long washed away by the creature’s stomach acid.. “Open it!” Annie had never been patient, and Joe couldn’t stop her from rushing forwards and tugging at the rusted catches of the old case. They crumbled in her fingers. The lid came open and they peered inside…

 

They stood in the MIT lab as Joe’s friend Matt bent over the remains of the case. He’d removed the contents and immersed them in distilled water. “There’s not much left of the camera.” He prodded at the rusted metal and wood remains that sat at the bottom of the container. Joe peered at it. “What about the film?” Matt looked at the circular shape swathed in oilcloth. “I don’t know. If there’s film in there that hasn’t been developed it could take some time to process.” Annie came over and touched the oilcloth. “Is that even possible?” Matt nodded. “They found a roll of unexposed film in a block of ice in Antarctica. It was left behind by one of Shackelton’s support team, Spencer Smith, a photographer. He died during the expedition.”

 

Annie’s eyes widened, mind racing at the possibilities. “So we might get to see something?” Matt shrugged. “That depends on a number of things. If it’s come from cold waters it might be in better condition than film left in room temperature.” He went over to the sodden suitcase. “Look at this.” He shined a UV light on it.

 

The faint indentations revealed themselves to be initials. “H.W.H, Not much to go on.” Annie ran her fingers over the letters.” I wonder who they were?”  Matt took the circular shaped object wrapped in oilcloth over to the darkroom. They followed him and once inside he turned on the red light.

 

He unwrapped the oilcloth to reveal an oxidised metal film can. He gently prised open the tin. Inside was another smaller film can. Matt stared at it. Protected from the water the label was faint but readable. “14th April 1912 – WH Harbeck” Anne’s face lit up. “The date, there’s only one place this could have come from…”

 

They stared at the screen. Matt scrolled through the information, pictures of the iconic ship and the night no one would ever forget. He read from an article on the screen. “William H Harbeck was a photographer on the Titanic hired by the White Star Line to film Titanic’s maiden voyage. He was married with two teenaged sons, but the woman with him on Titanic was not his wife, Catherine, but Henrietta Yrois, a 24-year old model he’d met in Paris.” Annie looked at the old sepia pictures on the screen. “So he was with his mistress?”

 

Joe looked over her shoulder. “They found his body but she was never recovered.” Matt looked at the film can. ‘Looks like he wanted to make sure this film survived, oil cloth and two film cans.” He prised the final tin carefully open. Inside was a tightly wound roll of 16mm film. “I’m going to have to process this really carefully.” Annie looked at the roll of film. “Do you think he knew the ship was sinking?” Joe held her hand. “I doubt it, everyone thought it was unsinkable. There must have been another reason he wanted this film to survive.” Matt started to load the film into the processor. “Well whatever it was, the answer could be on this.”

Matt gave them a call the next day. He’d developed the film. His voice sounded urgent. He said they needed to get over there right away. Joe put his cell phone away. “Annie looked at him. “What is it?” Joe shook his head. ‘I don’t know, Matt wants us to come over to the lab, now. I’ve never heard him sound like that before” Annie smiled. “What do you mean?’ Joe started to pick up his coat. Scooped up his car keys. “He sounded absolutely terrified.”

 

They drove across to the campus and parked outside the laboratory. It was early evening and the students were headed out, already planning to meet with friends, get wasted or in some rare cases, study. Matt was alone in the lab. He was pacing nervously as they came in. Joe went over. “What is it? You sounded like you were freaking out.” Matt took a swig from a bottle of beer. It didn’t look like It was the only one he’d had that day. “Too right I’m freaked out.” He ran his hand through his sweat-slicked hair as he paced backwards and forwards. “I did some research while I was waiting for the film to be processed.” He went over to a computer and punched up some information. “There are loads of theories about the Titanic. Some people thought it was an insurance scam, that it was actually her sister ship the Olympic that sank that night, that the rivets were substandard, she was travelling too fast for the conditions.” Joe nodded. “I read some stuff. Wasn’t there a journalist who smuggled a mummy on board under his car; they thought it was the curse that sank the Titanic.”

 

Annie listened. “There have always been theories about it. No one really knows what actually happened.” Matt upended the beer, wiped his mouth. “Exactly, only we do know one thing for sure.” He tapped some keys. An animated picture of the Earth and the Moon flashed up onto the screen. “On January the 4th 1912 there was a rare combination of events. A supermoon, a full moon at its closest to Earth, along with a springtide that ended six minutes before it made an unusually close swing by Earth.”

Joe stared at the monitor. “I don’t understand. What does the moon have to do with the Titanic sinking?” Matt shook his head. “It’s not about why the Titanic sunk, it’s what caused the icebergs to be there in the first place.” He opened another bottle of beer; chugged it back. “During new and full moons, the sun, Earth, and the moon are arranged in a straight line, with the sun and moon intensifying each other’s gravitational pull on the planet. This results in low tides that are lower than usual, and high tides that are higher, a spring tide. Annie nodded excitedly. “The higher tides floated all the icebergs that had been stranded by low tides.” Matt put his beer down. “Yes, sending a flotilla of icebergs southwards right into Titanic’s path.

They stared at the screen. Annie’s mind drifted back to how it must have been. Hundreds of souls, in the path of an unimaginable celestial phenomenon put into motion months earlier. Billions of gallons of ocean rising, vast icebergs torn free from their berths. All headed to a point in history one freezing night when an immovable object met an unsinkable ship…she imagined how terrifying it must have been. The sound, people crying for help, clinging onto the lifeboats…and then eventually a deathly silence as one by one they slipped beneath the icy waters. She was jolted out of her reverie by Matt. “You have to see this.” He led them to a DVD player and slipped in a disc. “It’s pretty faint, but I managed to process it and bring the contrast up.

They watched in the darkness as the picture filled the screen. Transported back over a hundred years to the night that history wouldn’t let them forget. Matt fiddled with a control, boosted the brightness. “I think this must have been his B roll, it’s got lots of bits he shot as he went along…until the end.”

The opening shots showed the majestic Titanic leaving port, and the celebrations as it pulled away. “He took these shots and then got taken back out to the ship before she left the harbour. He didn’t want anybody else to take them, he was a bit of a control freak.”

The next images showed shots of the passengers and of the crew as she headed out of harbour.   The screen went dark for a moment and then filled with ghostly images, which the processing had failed to resolve. Then it cleared. It was now night, the starlit deck stretched out in front of them.

“It’s huge.” Annie was transfixed by the sheer size of the Titanic’s deck. “You can see why they thought she was unsinkable.” Joe nodded. “They hadn’t counted on nature.” Matt looked at them. Shook his head. “They hadn’t counted on a lot of things. Watch.”

The images began to shake as Harbeck headed down through the ship and out onto a lower deck outside. The screen went white for a moment as he changed to a tighter lens. Then resolved into a shot of the darkness over the bow. “There!” Annie involuntarily shouted. In the distance some grey shapes began to appear.

 

The camera pointed over the side. Ice floes drifted past the side of the ship. “They didn’t even slow down.” Joe stared at the lethal chunks of ice as they crowded closer to the ship’s hull. Matt nodded. “ Look at the horizon, it’s a floating ice field. It absorbs daylight and releases it slowly at night as a low intensity light which produces a haze known as Ice Blink.” Annie stared at the screen. “No moonlight, haze, an over confident Captain and icebergs they weren’t expecting…it couldn’t get any worse.” Matt paused the film. “It could. They didn’t hit a normal iceberg. They hit a Black Berg, a glacial iceberg full of soil and rocks scrapped from the land surface as it travelled towards the sea.”

 

“What’s the difference?” Annie said. Matt continued. “They’re unstable, and as the sea melts the ice the weight of the upper portion causes the iceberg to capsize.” He restarted the film. “It was calm that night so they wouldn’t have seen the tell tale foam around the base of the iceberg until they were too close.” On screen people started to appear on deck as the panic spread.

 

The screen went white again…and then, on a tighter lens now, looming up out of the darkness. A vast, satanic, Black Berg. Semi translucent; a large black object buried deep within its cold heart. They watched as the ship tried frantically to alter course. But suddenly and terrifyingly, the Black Berg headed right for them; moving faster than the ship, and on a collision course. The picture went shaky as Harbeck ran from the deck and raced through the corridors below deck until he reached his cabin. A moment of blackness.

And then the film resumed. Harbeck stared into the camera. He looks absolutely terrified. The face of a man who knows he’s going to die. The frame is angled, as if the ship has begun to list. He talks quickly, looks around like he’s expecting something to appear. He bends out of frame for a moment and then returns…holding up a piece of paper, showing it to the lens.

 

                    “They’re coming, you have to stop them. Before it’s too late.”

 

He reaches out of the frame. Returns with another piece of paper and holds it up. But before they can read it the film runs out…The screen goes to black. Matt switches the monitor off. They sit there in the half-light. The sound of distant voices bleeding in from the campus. Stunned, unable to take in what they’d seen.

Annie speaks first. “So it was an iceberg that sank the Titanic.” Joe nods. “It wasn’t just any iceberg, or a Black Berg…whatever it was headed deliberately for them.” Annie stared at him. “That’s not possible.” Matt stood up. “Maybe not, but I’m expecting someone who might be able to help us get some answers, Stephen, a friend of mine. He’s deaf.”

 

Harbeck’s face filled the screen. A slight ginger haired man studied his lips as he talked into the camera. Translated the silent pictures into words. “I don’t have…long, I don’t have long…the ship, it’s lifting…no, listing…she’s going, she’s going down.” A pause as he spins back with the remote, plays it again. “If anybody finds this…we didn’t hit an iceberg…an iceberg…an iceberg hit us…” He pauses the film. Matt looks at him. “What is it Stephen?”

Stephen looked at him. “It’s just, well this is, well it’s incredible…something rammed into the Titanic over a hundred years ago and we’re watching film that will rewrite history.” He rubbed his chin. “It’s just…well. it’s freaking me out.” Matt nodded. “Consider me already freaked. But Harbeck died to leave us this. He could have got into a lifeboat, saved his own life; but whatever he was trying to tell us must have been too important…we have to know.” Stephen nodded. Started the DVD player, read the lips of a man already dead for a century.

 

“You’ve seen the film…you know what happened…I may be the only person to have seen it…the light, the lens…I have an advantage…if that’s the case then this is our only hope…they’re in the icebergs…whatever set them free…it could happen again…you have to stop them…Harbeck holds up the piece of paper. Stephen turns off the DVD and the screen fills with a TV station. He mutes the sound. Turns to Matt. “What does it all mean?” Annie looks at them. “You said it was a freak tide, a supermoon…a cosmic phenomenon that re-floated the icebergs…sent them southwards into the path of the Titanic. Matt nodded.

 

“Maybe that’s not what happened. Maybe the icebergs floated themselves…they just needed the high tide to do it.” Joe took Annie’s hand; it suddenly felt cold in the lab. “AD 796…” Matt looked at him. “What?” “AD 796, that was the last time that all of the conditions were right before 1912.”

 

Matt nodded. “Shit. If whatever happened is linked to some cosmic phenomenon then it’s going to happen again.” Annie looked at him. ‘What are we going to do…launch missiles at every iceberg we see?” Joe smiled grimly. “Whatever it takes babe…but we certainly need to show this to someone before it’s too late…babe?”

He looked at Annie, but Annie wasn’t listening…Annie was staring over his shoulder at the TV where the news was playing. He turned to look. Saw the aerial news footage from above the Atlantic below Newfoundland.

 

The dark shapes of icebergs drifting towards the American coastline…watched the news ticker crawl beneath the images: “Global warming thought to have triggered break up of ice cap…shipping warned of iceberg danger…” Annie shook her head. “We’re too late. They’re already coming”