For days, the pod skirted a weather front that churned up small fish, crab and shrimp from the deep waters, which in turn, produced hundreds of squid to eat. During this feasting time, a mother sperm whale taught her calf to dive deep. The sensation created as his ribcage condensed and his lungs flattened startled him. He entered the midnight zone, the depth where light no longer shone, and the total darkness felt empty and cold. In contrast, he was thrilled as he powered through the surface and felt the dry, warm air on his cold, wet skin.
The hurricane edged closer and the matriarch Gray, named for her smooth gray dorsal, drove her family out to sea. She watched the mother, named Hope, prod her new calf to keep up. Hope delivered the only calf to survive this birthing season. Marauding tribes of killer whales were relentless and picked off all the family’s new ones. Years ago, Hope had been an “only" as well. She survived through a season of violent storms — one after another, each storm snatching a baby. The clan saw balance in Hope's delivery of this lone, surviving calf. They looked forward to the meaning this would have for their clan.
With no other calves to nurture and teach, every mama fostered him. They amused him with their name-stories. Each tale carried a warning or a celebration born from the experience of the individual. His favorite stories boasted epic battles with giant squid of the deep that flared many colors, from the angry warning-red of the morning sky to the putrid-purple of dying flesh. These clashes left many clan members scarred deep with pockmarks from the beast's serrated suckers and yawning gashes from clawed tentacles that tore away flesh.
The front edge of the storm produced huge waves that rolled over Hope and her calf. Scared, the calf swam erratically – randomly clicking. Hope pushed and prompted her baby away from the approaching storm. He became confused as the murky top-water boiled and the storm swept over them. Hope dove to avoid a swell poised to slam into her. She clicked a dive command – and dove.
Disoriented, the calf lost track of his mother. The colder saltier water, upwelled by the hurricane, tricked him – his senses telling him he was deep when in fact he was not. The water roiled around him, and he somersaulted through the storm surge.
Fighting exhaustion; punishing waves in the eye-wall of the storm shoved him underwater. He remembered the game he played with his mother and powered to the surface. Instead of breaking through the top-water into the warm and dry, the hurricane's strong winds and driving rain slammed him back underwater. Determined, he raced to the surface, never feeling the warm, but always getting air. The storm moved on and towed the little one along with it.
The calf tried to stay alive in the violent storm. He was well fed and well taken care of before he went lost. Everything he learned with his clan had seemed like a game, but now he used his games to stay alive. He remembered the story one mama told of her brother who went missing for a while. The brother was young and only suckled. The brother returned weak, eyes sucked back into his head and his smooth youthful flesh furrowed and sagging. The brother had not thought to eat the fish while he was lost. The mama cried when she told that he had not learned from the games he'd played, like the fish game – taking the fish into his mouth and swallowing great gulps, holding still to feel the fish wiggle and flop all the way down. She grieved still, because brother had not lived many seasons after his return home. This lost calf had learned the lesson of the fish game – he would die of thirst if he did not eat the fish.
Meanwhile Hope’s survival instinct took over as the storm raged around her. The hurricane churned the water to a tenebrous soup. She questioned whether she'd practiced a blind swim with her calf. She made as much noise as she could, hoping he would hear her over the clamor of the thunder and crashing waves. She moved away from the storm at a pace her baby could keep up with. It was a long underwater swim through muddy water. As soon as the sea cleared, she headed toward the surface. He loves this game, she thought. She broke the surface and felt the dry on her wet skin. She turned to see him fly up out of the water. It never happened, and her heart sank.
Hope found her clan far from the storm’s path. Her sisters happily nudged her; thankful tributes of her survival joyously clicked throughout her family. The happy clicks and boings trailed off as they realized she was alone. Like a thick fog, sadness rolled over the pod. Heartbroken leviathans launched their bodies toward the surface, breached the top-water and then crashed back into the sea. Gray knew the rhythm of the water. She called on the clan to search for the lost calf. Several whales followed Gray and the current, while others followed Hope as she headed back into the storm. Adults and adolescents fanned out in search of the lost calf. The sea was thick and gloomy from the tropical storm. Gray knew her clan's sonic clicks would fall a short distance, pushed deep by the heavy water. For several days, they sifted through the dense sea. Their haunting coda echoed for miles as the clan called out for their lost little one. Days of searching produced nothing. Gray and her tribe circled around and joined Hope and her group; their quest was over. This season's only calf was gone.
Hope continued her search alone. She knew the routine of her pod – where they would head when the water turned colder. Previously, she and the others hunted for the calf where he should have been, so she headed in a direction he should not have gone. Against the current, she swam clicking a mother’s coda.
The tribe prepared to celebrate the life of the little one they’d lost. Generations of loss – the strong to whalers, the weak to predators and the environment – resulted in a culture that celebrated the lives of those who passed on. A joyous celebration of the bold and confident calf replaced the sadness displayed when they discovered he was missing.
The clan focused their sonar. At the intersection of this sonic convergence appeared the playful image of the calf as he corkscrewed up to the surface and exploded into the warm dry topside. The broadcasted image of the small whale playfully lob tailing and breaching brought high praise and loving comments from the clan. Many shared stories of his life and his disappearance. His time would be archived and re-counted for generations as a cautionary tale.
he calf drifted with the flotsam and jetsam regurgitated at the backside of the hurricane. Drifting side-by-side, were natural items, like the orbs created by turbulent water that whipped palmetto grass and seaweed tightly around a shell and man-made junk, like blown-glass Japanese floats and plastic mermaid tears. He welcomed the return of the remora fish as they battled their way through the marine debris to latch onto his skin.
Orcas followed the gyre – the circular water current where the calf floated. He was not alone adrift in the debris; seals, turtles and dolphins also took shelter there. Safely nestled within the nurdles and rubbish, the small calf heard the terrified barks and high-pitched whistles as the sea's black and white assassins picked off those at the edge of the ocean garbage patch. Tightly cocooned in the litter, the calf also heard a hum rising from the deep; in the distance, he saw something large and gray breach the surface.
At the edge of the garbage patch, the U.S. Navy’s largest Marine Remotely Operated Vehicle (MROV) bobbed to the surface, scattering the Orcas. The hurricane had freed the post-World War II submarine from its deep-water tether. Redesigned as a stationary science laboratory, this freed underwater test site pushed through the ocean.
The calf stirred; the melodic whir and forward motion of the MROV pulled at him. He remembered when a blue whale and her calf swam with his pod for an afternoon. He and the young blue had breached and flopped onto the surface for hours. He'd watched in awe as the blues unhinged their giant mouths and skimmed the water for krill. The blue whale’s mother had hoo’d and hummed directives to her calf. Maybe this is a blue whale; he thought and let himself float away with the submarine.
Hope heard the mechanical song she’d learned to stay away from years ago. Did this calf know the danger of the deceptive song? This creature had been far from the pod's thoughts this season – Orcas were the danger they avoided. She headed toward the artificial sound and saw her baby floating next to the sub. She clicked out to him with joy. He saw her and snapped his jaws together frantically, clicking his delight to her. Instinctively, she moved her massive body between her little one and the deceitful ocean swimmer.
The false song stopped. The ocean was eerily quiet; and then the submarine exploded. There was time enough for the calf to notice the quiet. He turned to his mother for an explanation and saw sadness in her eyes; she knew death was upon them. She offered up a prayer to the ocean’s wisdom to spare her calf from suffering. Ahead of the flames, a powerful surge of water pushed the calf. He heard a horrible hiss as the water around his mother turned to steam. The sound his mother made as she cooked to death carved into his brain. The surge dissipated and fire and debris swept over him. It engulfed his body and burned his flesh. He screamed out as the flames burned into his eyes. As the calf drifted to the bottom of the ocean, parts of the sub fell down around him. He was in agony, alive and alone.
Minute metallic fibers inched out of the debris; several slowly twisted their way to the calf. When they reached him, the strands jacketed the injured body like spiderwebbing. More filaments stretched, burrowed, and raked through the debris field. As they gathered fragments into their fibrous web, a camera poked up out of the rubble. Designed to withstand explosive impact, the camera turned in each direction and assessed the damage.
Concussion from the blast left the calf disoriented. He thought he felt Red Algae Seaweed surrounding him; indifferent to the ocean current, it moved with malevolent purpose, tugging and burrowing into his flesh. The calf remembered playing in the algae, letting the fronds caress him as he glided through a meadow of the deep-water sea grass. This grass did not caress him; it tormented him.
He was on the bottom; he sensed this for sure.
Noise overwhelmed him. There was more noise in his head than what the gulls made when they feasted at an anchovy ball. Strange noise mingled with memories. He struggled to escape the clamor and clawing, but the algae anchored him. He fell into an unnatural sleep.
Nano-machines were hard at work inside his body
These were underwater repair nano-machines, specifically designed to work independently – without human or computer direction – to be mechanically resourceful. Submarine repair was time consuming. Replacement parts occupied valuable cargo space and added unwanted weight to the new specialized submarines. Theoretically, in an emergency, these nanos deployed spontaneously to assess damage and use materials at hand to do repairs. When the hurricane ripped the MROV free from its tether, the functionality testing taking place in the deep-water research site was interrupted. The nanos detected the need for navigation and engineered simple propulsion to move the submarine forward.
A camera evaluated the damage: extensive. Assessment nanos noted strong energy readings coming from a biological source in the wreckage. Linking to fiber optic cables imbedded in the seabed, communication nanos connected to the internet. Search nanos followed electric signals from nerve cells into the calve's brain. Collectively, the nanos judged the biological energy controllable. They would combine the biological matter with salvaged material from the explosion to achieve their goal: repair and rebuild the vessel.
Research nanos identified the energy source: infant sperm whale, age: between second and third year, weight: estimated two thousand kilograms of biologic material.
Vital internal organs sustained minimal damage; however, there was extensive injury to the skin and skeletal systems. Repair nanos reprogrammed, tasked to gather medical and veterinary data. The medical nanos stabilized life signs while engineering nanos focused on tissue manufacturing. These nanos developed high-performance bio-nano mesh skin by combining organic material with carbon nanofiber lattices. They renamed the material nanoflesh.
They would create more nanoflesh by increasing the chemical and electrical signals in a cell's nucleus during mitosis. This would allow for anticipated changes in size and shape.
The nano machines determined whale structure enhanced the function of the submarine and expanded on that biological model. Thus, the fore of the vessel was large and blunt tapering to a smaller aft section. The nanos papered the inside of the newly constructed framework in nanoflesh thereby creating an airtight cavity to house the fragile, biological mainframe. The nanos swaddled the calf in the newly formed nanoflesh to protect their central processing unit from infection.
Impressed by the agility of a sperm whale, specifically the broad tail pattern; a replicated fluke finished the vessel's design. Bone and craniofacial tissue engineering depended heavily on bone cell-infused tissue scaffolding, which functioned as an expandable framework.
Simple Romex wiring salvaged from the wreckage and placed in the backbone linked into the mainframe through the development of biosynthetic neuromuscular synapses.
Based on its ability to organize, store, access and process information, the nanos chose the organic brain as the main computer. Search nanos collected biological materials, such as phosphate, proteoglycan and calcium, along with synthetic materials recovered from the rubble to develop a neuromuscular junction to receive and send the signals required for movement.
The nano’s developed a simple respiratory system by combining lung tissue with carbon nano fiber tubes creating a set of super lungs. These lungs worked using the same principle as normal lung function; muscles contracting to take in oxygen and relaxing to release carbon dioxide.
Rods salvaged from the wreckage connected the propulsion system to the fluke. The engine relied on the fluke muscle’s ability to contract and relax to manipulate the rods.
The nanos chose Long Range Acoustical Devices (LRAD) as the primary weaponry. They made use of the organic spermaceti, the oily substance inside the whale's head, to enhance sound waves, similar to its original function. Sound-emitting nanos inside the junk partitions, along with a well-charted course of fluid-filled knobs, were placed inside the whale's melon - the rounded fatty domed part of the head - below the modified spermaceti organ. The knobby surfaces reflected sound waves coming through the spermaceti. This new system functioned as a sonic cannon. Sound that passed through the nano-altered spermaceti case was increased to a destructive level. The main computer, or mainframe, controlled sound intensity by changing the consistency of the spermaceti. The more oily the spermaceti, the more powerful the sonic wave. Conversely, less oily spermaceti produced a less powerful sound wave.
Construction of a vision organ was difficult since the explosion badly damaged the biological tissue necessary to construct modified eyes. The nanos adapted the working camera to create a graphing system. This system lacked the visual acuity of a normal eye and depended heavily on infrared light waves due to its inconsistent reliability with normal light waves. The nano-machines compensated for this unreliable vision system with additional sensors devoted to hearing.
When the nano-machines opted to utilize the calve's brain as the mainframe, they could not have anticipated how, with its memories and instincts, the organic brain would react.
Repair finished; systems waited for activation.
The calf woke up. Instinct propelled him to the surface. All systems worked in synchronicity; the intricately structured relationships between the rewired brain and the reconstructed systems moved the vessel flawlessly.
As he maneuvered to the surface, his new body creaked and groaned. Anticipating his every move, the nanos retracted the protective cover over the S-shaped blowhole; the calf took in a great gulp of air, then the nanos closed it again as he dove underwater. He listened for the sound of his pod.
The nanos choreographed movement of the newly engineered pectoral fins with the remade fluke to steer and propelled him through the ocean. The calf heard his pod in the distance and headed in that direction. At a glance, this biological sub looked like an overfed whale calf swimming effortlessly through the water as sun glittered off his nano-infused skin.
The nanos analyzed all systems as the calf moved easily through the ocean. The only glitch in the system lay deep within the amygdala of the computer. Memories of the explosion generated enormous energy. The nano-machines labored to keep that energy in check.
The calf approached his clan and clicked their unique coda greeting; he wove his way through the pod searching for his mother. Moving from female to female, he scrutinized each nuanced expression, hoping to see her eyes, crinkled too much at the edges but filled with love for him.
Chaos erupted as this stranger invaded their territory; his appearance disturbed them. His skin was too shiny, his fluke too long and an unfamiliar hum surrounded him, yet his argot was familiar – a dialect used only by this pod.
The clan moved away from him. Mothers corralled their young and circled them, anxiously slapping their tails on the surface. The matriarch positioned herself between her band and the outsider and listened. His story differed little from that of many orphaned whales. Lost for a while before returning scarred and deformed. This oddly shaped baby with glistening skin knew his family and they knew him. There was no denying this was the baby lost in the storm.
The massive fluke of the oldest member of the clan slowly waved up and down as she propelled herself toward the familiar stranger. Deep gashes and circular divots from razor-sharp beaks and the tooth-lined suckers of giant squid decorated her from stem to stern. She stopped inches from the peculiar calf; nose to nose.
The nanos received information from deep within the parietal lobe of their rebuilt computer. Recognition and categorization – family member.
The calf listened as the old female told the story of how he went missing.
“. . . you were stolen away by a giant wave in a violent storm. We hunted for you, calling you. . . Our Hope left us to search for you . . . gone.
The pod allowed him to swim with the clan, but most kept him at a distance. The integumentary system created by the nanos worked perfectly, creating nano-laced skin cells complete with thermo-regulation and sensation. The nanos moved closer to their goal: a biological submarine.
The strange calf swam deep, taking advantage of the extra pressure hundreds of feet of top water provided to compress his ever-changing body. He grew quickly and at times parts of him shifted, wagged or rolled as the nanos synchronized their efforts to build systems within the vessel.
The clan’s curious kept company with him throughout the day. Young and old took their turn swimming with the unique calf.
The organic matter of the submarine required protein. Nanos dedicated to biological fueling used enhanced echolocation to find deep-sea squid. The pod grew fat from the abundant supply of giant squid he located. Security nanos lodged themselves in the hypothalamus, primed to alert the sympathetic nervous system. This provided a perfect framework for a defense system.
Nano security detected GPS sonar focused on the pod.
Locate origin of tracking device and identify: Seventeen meters off the starboard bow. Asian Whaling boat; a converted trawler designed to process ambergris; outfitted with a one-ton harpoon shooter and high caliber automatic weapons. International Whaling Commission (IWC) identifies this particular vessel as pirate.
The huge whaler coasted through the water, drifting without destination. Sunlight glinted off the metal harpoon turret that dominated the starboard side. Recent sanctions leveed by the IWC rendered this ship useless to the “research” fleet that harvested blue whale. The IWC discovered several dead whale calves aboard this ship during a surprise inspection. Encountering these sperm whales while off the grid was a boon for the crew. They prepared to hunt within the pod.
Assessment of the approaching whaling ship’s arsenal: Rudimentary weapons system. Likelihood of damage/injury: low.
The nanos devised a counter defense and planted their biological sub between the whaler and the pod. The whaler fired an armed 30-gram penthrite grenade harpoon at the young male sperm whale in the direct sight of the cannon. It struck the altered whale's enhanced skin and exploded. A fireball flashed and the water agitated to a foamy white, snuffing out the fire as thousands of bubbles formed and roared to the surface.
The whales scattered as the reverberation from the shockwave roiled through the pod. Capillaries in the whales’ lungs ruptured from the grenades concussion and mothers nudged disoriented calves to the surface to take a breath. Frothy water dissolved and the crimson bloom the pirates expected to see develop never did. A shimmering sperm whale hung in the water undamaged by the harpoon. His eye, emptiness highlighted by impenetrable blackness, stared back at them in defiance.
Chatter scuttled through the superstitious crew; what ill omen did this herald? The trawler fled the area with its terrified crew members, each with magical tale to tell.
The small explosion stimulated activity in the orbitofrontal cortex of the bio-ships organic computer. The nanos directed the surplus energy to different systems in their vessel.
The calf followed its pod’s wake. When he reached them, they greeted him with unusual silence. The explosion impaired their ability to vocalize, however they bumped and nudged him in joyous reception.
It had not escaped the matriarch and the elders that their peculiar calf had placed himself between the pod and danger. Having been busy guiding her family to safety, she had not seen the explosion; but its effect still resonated through her melon. The calf seemed unharmed by the blast. She listened and watched as he greeted each family member by name. His eyes moved quickly, one eye greeting an old friend while the other moved on to acknowledge the next. He shimmered slightly as the sun reflected off his unblemished skin. Her pod had grown fat from the calf’s ability to locate easy prey like large schools of Cownose rays that moved like surface birds with slowly beating wings.
In her life, this matriarch had experienced many seasons of too little to eat and too much danger. So she gestured welcome to the returning calf, and one by one, the elders acknowledged their glittering kinsman.
Nanos systematically modified the mixture of chemicals dumped by axons. Monitoring and modifying this cocktail that flooded dendrites and neurons should keep the computer on line. Power surges that sprung from emotional pathways needed constant observation. The nanos discovered some emotions so powerful they sent the system off line.