The Village on the Sand Flats - Season 1 Episode 3
Dr. Eurus observes some interesting behavior and acquires supplies.
Tides was written by Jesse Schuschu and directed by Jesse Schuschu and Ayla Taylor. It was produced by Ayla Taylor and edited by Bridge Geene. Art by Sarah Durst.
Dr. Winifred Eurus is played by Julia Schifini.
Tides is the story of Dr. Winifred Eurus, a xenobiologist trapped on an unfamiliar planet with hostile tidal forces. She must use her wits, sarcasm and intellectual curiosity to survive long enough to be rescued. But there might be more to life on this planet than she expected. . .
Find us at www.tidespodcast.com and follow @TidesPodcast on Twitter or Tumblr. You can support our show at patreon.com/tidespodcast.
Music in intro is "Shimmer" by Scott Holms and the ending music is "Drift" by Scott Holms.
Sound effects include those that were previously credited and:
"Hissing.m4a" by TheScarlettWitch89 on Freesound.org
Other sound effects used in this trailer were either downloaded in accordance with their copyright or were created for use in this podcast.
Winifred Eurus: It’s twilight. It’s been twilight for hours now. I like it, it’s not so bright all the time. Cooler temperatures. It’s low tide again and I’m seeing yet another side of life on this planet. Down below, the exposed parts of the scree pile betray signs of furtive life. Though, of what, I can’t really tell.
Up here, I’ve noticed a few things flitting between me and the sky, or between me and the ground. Possibly the crepuscular animals, the dawn and dusk shift. Back during the twilight hours of the morning I was in the sub so I didn’t see much of it.
Those tree things are getting taller again, though not as tall as before.
I can see flapping shapes in the distance, indistinct in the dim light. I wouldn’t mind a flashlight, or barring that a fire. It’s likely that a light would draw more of these things, like moths, but I’m not entirely sure. It would require further study about how they orient and navigate, especially since Volturnus acts as a significant secondary light source. Imagine the moon but taking up half the sky. It glows with a sickly brownish-orangish light. I see pools and shallow streams stretching over the horizon, tinged in orange.
The plants here, from shrubs and weeds to lichens, are all colored very similarly to Earth plants, and probably take energy from the same wavelengths. But I wouldn’t be surprised to find pigments absorbing that residual heat, the IR spectrum, from the sub-brown dwarf.
An interesting project for Melissa and Erickson to work with me on would be a wide-reaching study of photosynthesis and position from the tidal zone to the epipelagic. Plants at this level spend most of the day dry, and may have more infrared-absorbing pigments to take advantage of Volturnus, but as you get further out high-frequency absorption would dominate for reasons of efficiency. Benthic zones, as I’ve seen, contain chemoautotrophs feeding off of the numerous ocean vents, but there may also be a significant amount of overlap, especially when considering the frequent and cyclical change in water depth. There could very easily be something like a ‘Fonsian autotroph distribution spectrum’: a fancy name for a hypothetical thing I just made up.
But now some of the flying shapes are coming a little closer. Be back in a moment.
They are very much shaped like birds, which isn’t all that surprising to me. Unlike the water, the air is a pretty unforgiving medium. Only a few very specific shapes will allow something heavier than air to leave the ground. That said - the lower gravity, a little more than half of Earth’s, allows them to be pretty big.
These have maybe a ten- to twelve-foot wingspan, frankly not that far off from the largest species of terrestrial birds. My best description for now is a black or darkish thing shaped a little like a pterodactyl, similar to the older kinds of paleoart but without the sagittal crest. Their posture reminds me of vultures as well, and I’ll call them “birds” for now. They have two distinct back legs, a third - possibly vestigial - tail or limb on the back, in addition to two forelimbs modified to be batlike wings. Their torsos - there’s something just wrong about them. God, I wonder what their skeletal structure looks like.
They are different somehow from the other Fonsian life. Perhaps it’s just the two-dimensional-ness of them. Everything else alive here is rounded, but they’re sharp black shadows, with severe membranous wings - a little scaly-looking actually - and long straight-edged vicious beaks. Those wings must have actual bone or some solid internal skeleton in them, too, which is a departure from the soft water-filled invertebrates I’ve encountered so far and - oh shi-
[Strange bird sounds]
One has landed here just now, on top of the largest boulder near my position. Swooped in and scared the hell out of me. Not sure if it even saw me, I’ve wedged myself into a crevice between two rocks. But I can hear it scrabbling around up there.
That beak, which is poking out over the edge every few minutes, must be at least two feet long. Probably a third of the total body length I’d estimate. Ends in a point like a chisel. The face, from what I’ve seen, is black or maybe dark brown, with four eyes, two above the beak and two below. Which is a nod to the rest of the planet’s radial symmetry. And it is attached to quite a powerful neck.
I think I can guess what they’ve evolved to eat.
Another one is joining it. And now another. They’re scrabbling around all over above me. [Bird screech] It’s frightening, but at the same time it’s refreshing almost to have some sort of land life around. Makes it feel less lonely. But there’s more of an intrinsic feeling of threat. Birds of prey have meaning in the archaic brain stem I inherited from my small furry ancestors. Their claws, their silent shadows, their soulless eyes - it’s disquieting.
Now they’re leaving, one after another, synchronized ungainly leaps smoothing out into perfect looping dives, down towards an outlying shell. Hopefully I’ll see some feeding behavior. It’s a good thing you aren’t here, Stevens. Maybe cover your ears for the description? Those beaks are awfully sharp, and the creatures inside their armor look pretty soft. Once you get through the shells . . .
So they certainly got a few good cracks in. Now that I think of it the shell they attacked may have already had a few gouges, like this wasn’t the first time it’s been targeted. Take a whack, and run away again, that seems to be their strategy. Run away, because as soon as the first one landed, a yellow mist started leaking out of the shell, and by the time the third one could bring its beak down the mist was fairly thick and noxious looking. The flying animals started to seem uneasy, moving their heads around and shifting their footing.
Then, all at once, the other fourteen shells on this side began to vent gas as well, and the three birds took off, circled, and then left.
The yellowish gas hangs low, and it’s slowly dissipating. I’m staying the hell away from it for now, because I suspect it to be chlorine. My suit filters can keep it out, probably, but I don’t want to go wading through a hydrochloric acid-filled stream if I don’t have to.
Now, I’m pretty sure the creatures in the shells have no way of seeing, and based on their behavior might be entirely blind even when outside of them. I noticed the attacked shell didn’t begin to release gas until the first bird thing landed, which supports my theory at least superficially. It does imply another method of sensing. But the really intriguing thing was the response from the rest of the shells - there was coordination there.
For Montague’s and Melissa’s benefit, I’ll mention that the appearance of coordination and communication is extremely common among all levels and scales of organisms on Earth - for instance: plants and trees of many species increase their production of defensive toxins when attacked by herbivores. Then downwind of those plants, others not being attacked will respond to the presence of a chemical signal passed on the breeze and increase production of the same toxins - sometimes they even use a network of underground fungi to pass these signals as well. This gave birth to a lot of misleading ideas of the “neural network” of the forest, and trees “talking to each other”, which are not exactly untrue but put too much agency, or intention, into these functions.
And yes, Stevens, I read your dissertation, and let’s just say you’re lucky I wasn’t there for your defense.
Hm. Simplest explanation, Occam’s razor, since they have orifices in the shells from which to vent gas, it’s reasonable to assume that like the trees it’s an automatic reaction to sensing the gas through the same orifices. Much like the plants, there’s no thought to it, simply an evolved, almost mechanistic response that benefits the survival of the group, even if one individual is gradually worn down and eventually lost.
I also sometimes succumb to imagining conscious intention in random or purely impersonal events, like the weather or the stars, or a car that won’t start. For example, assuming that because someone works in proximity to you, they’re your friend and they care about you. Might actually come looking for you when you’re lost or in danger. But friendship is just an evolved mechanism to grease the wheels of necessary collaboration, and when it comes down to the wire, I think you’ll find that-
Wait. Wait, what is that?
A bright point in the sky, it’s coming in fast. . . a parachute. I wonder . . . Oh, it bounced. Unmanned then, that makes sense. But, hey, a supply drop! That. . . that’s a welcome sight, since I’m running low on nutrient bars and . . . well, more importantly than that, you guys can hear me? Hey?
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Almost set to go. I have maybe five hours of partial light left. That might be enough time to climb down, walk to the drop, look it over, drag it back, and then maybe to climb back up as well. Depends on the mass of the stuff I need to or even want to bring back. Honestly I’d prefer not to have to climb up in the dark but I’ll make do. Full dark lasts about sixty-six hours, during which there will be another wave, though the timing has been a little unpredictable. The planet Volturnus is just starting to sink to more than half below the horizon, and if I recall correctly, moonrise and moonset are the low tide periods of Earth.
Before I go I’m making sure to gather and lash down - honestly, screw into the rock, when I can - all of the things I’m not bringing with me. Of course, though, I’m taking my spare oxygen. Better safe than sorry. Other than that I don’t have any useful tools or weapons to bring with me. Just my human reflexes and ingenuity.
Okay. Time to fall - not fall, I mean, climb - climb down. See you at the bottom.
Alright. Walking past some of the first giant shells.
Another theory about those shellfish, more of a stretch but supported by how they responded to the birds, is a different, faster form of communication. There isn’t an order to the group response, where each animal vented independently starting with the closest as the gas diffused outwards. Instead there was a distinct pause, as if waiting for a threshold to be passed, then all at once a coordinated counterattack. I mentioned before that a decent number of the shells are quite close to one another, nearly overlapping at times. Between some of them there are thick branching connections, tendrils, climbing over rock or half buried in sand. They’re made of the same material as the shells themselves. So there might be a more direct way, the modality of which I can’t be sure of. Chemical, synaptic, auditory?
A pause to think, then, a group response. Group, community thinking.
But that’s taking it a step too far. Humans have a tendency, me included, to assign intelligence to unintelligent behavior. Parrots don’t mean the words they say in the same way that we do - they copy and repeat, they learn how to elicit a certain response from humans. An octopus can open a jar but as far as we can tell they can’t question the existence of the jar, realize that jars don’t exist in nature, that another mind beyond its own must’ve created it.
And on the other hand I might be looking at all of this backwards, and my own “consciousness” is just an illusion. I don’t really know. I don’t know if I can know. I do know that I’m regressing to college freshman levels of philosophy, so I’m going to stop there. Blame my fucked-up nightmare of a Circadian rhythm.
Right now I’m walking through rows of shells near the stream that kind of loom around me, like mausoleums. I think I feel more of those tiny tremors too. Brushing the sand aside on the ground, I found more of those tendrils underneath. They hum to the touch. But, why the hum?
If I knock on one - argh, whoa. [Mechanical hissing noise]
It sprayed me with that mist - [Coughing] My filters are enough to keep it out. But my nose itches. That’s worrisome.
The gas comes out a hole on the side, I see now. A very small neat circular opening. I feel like that was a warning shot. The rest didn’t respond at all, leading me to think the stimulus required for a group response is more specific.
Now the walking is much easier. I’m past the shells, following the top of a low ridge to the drop site.
Made good time, plenty of time to get back if I don’t hang around. Thank you for the note, I’m glad that you all can hear me even if I’m just babbling most of the time. Melissa, I’m not sure why your personal note needed to be so . . . confrontational . . . but I promise not to make too many physics assumptions from now on. Montague, thank you for the scrawl I assume was your name added onto the note as an afterthought.
I look forward to figuring out how to get the new rations from outside my suit to inside my suit, but listen I do appreciate that there are at least a few new varieties, like oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip, which . . . come on guys. You gotta be fucking with me.
If I bite into a raisin thinking it’s a chocolate chip, I might just take my helmet off and stand in front of the wave. Just purely out of spite.
I received the portable seismometer, spare batteries, oxygen canisters, first aid kit, suit repair kit and spare parts for my desalination system undamaged. They’re pretty heavy all together, and I would have appreciated some sort of sled. So I’m wrapping the stuff in the parachute and about to drag it all back. Fun times. I’m thinking of leaving most of it in a cache somewhere near the base of the rocks. I would leave it here but no way it would stay in the same place, and there’s nothing solid to wedge it under.
Sun’s pretty low, Volturnus is a sliver on the horizon like an enormous orangish-brownish extra bonus sunset. There’s enough light to see by, on the sunlit side of the small ridge. Long, sharp shadows of birds starting to head towards land. I’m heading back to home base as well.
It’s getting darker now. I’m back by the rocks. My helmet light throws the texture of the shells and the weird sculpted shape of the cliffs into sharp relief. I’m trying to conserve my battery of course but the climbing part would be difficult without it, and I’ve got some spares. I guess I have rope now, from the parachute cords, but I got up there last time without it.
I can hear things moving around out there, in the growing dark. In the beam of my light I saw a few worms like the ones I’ve seen before, but bigger, whitish and beige hues. They’re taking advantage of the dark and low tide to move around on the surface, making these long winding trails from pool to pool. Not much time to observe this subset of the ecosystem, I have only a couple hours or so until full dark. And man I’m tired. Alright here’s the first ledge.
[Yelling] AAAAAaaaaaaaaaghgh. Fuck. Fuck. Argh.
Jesus fucking Christ. Ahhh, my ankle. Okay, okay. Oh shit.
It’s the same one the fucking crab got. Why does that always happen. Like stubbing the same toe over and over.
I regret to inform any listeners that I fell, I slipped and fell - man, it couldn’t have been more than eight feet. Seriously. God damn it. And now I’m just lying on my back, trying to . . . figure out how . . .
I think my ankle is - probably sprained, if that. We’ll see when I’m able to put my full weight on it. I also whacked my head pretty good, but the helmet helped. Let’s try sitting up - whoo, okay, really dizzy. Dizzy. I got the whole-body tingles there.
Damn, how long was I lying there? Suit clock says maybe twenty minutes, but that’s still too long. Now to try standing up.
[Yells in pain]
Well shit. So I can’t put my weight on it. Not much to use as a crutch out here, though I might be able to wrap it . . . okay.
So what I’m doing now is pulling my arms into the suit and trying to remove my undershirt. Which, of course, is not working. Never mind. That was. . shit, that was stupid.
Instead I’m going to try to wrap it from the outside of the suit, just making the boot as tight as possible with the adjustable straps. I do have a first aid kit, but no fucking ice, obviously. Enough bandage to stabilize the ankle at least. Elevation would be nice, but not currently a fucking option.
I sprained my ankle - this same ankle, of course - when I was a kid. Trying to remember the Ottawa rules the doctor told me at the time. Not being able to support the weight is a bad thing. I’m praying it’s not a fracture, just a sprain. I can’t get my hand in there to touch it but it doesn’t feel like there are any loose parts.
How the fuck am I going to climb back up there?
Maybe if I . . . Ow, ow, nope. Fuck. No.
Son of a bitch.
Julia Schifini: Tides was written by Jesse Schuschu and directed by Jesse Schuschu and Ayla Taylor. It was produced by Ayla Taylor and edited by Bridge Geene. The voice of Dr. Eurus is Julia Schifini. Special thanks to Sarah Durst for designing our cover art.
You can find us online at our website tidespodcast.com or follow us on tumblr and twitter @tidespodcast. If you like our show and would like to help us keep making it, you can support us on Patreon at patreon.com/tidespodcast.
Thank you so much for listening
And now an Ocean Fact.
Winifred Eurus: This is Dr. Winifred Eurus and this is Ocean Facts.
Ocean fact #3: The ocean contains a multitude of plant and animal life. And also your car keys. You know what you did Deborah.