The Sea Lady - Season 1 Episode 5
Dr. Eurus takes shelter. composes her memoir, and makes a new friend.
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:
"Humpback whale" by MBARI_MARS on Freesound.org
Other sound effects used in this trailer were either downloaded in accordance with their copyright or were created for the use in this podcast.
Winifred Eurus: Wave was gonna cut me off soon anyway. I’ll close the valve and switch to tank. Okay, six hours and counting. Changing settings to audio recording.
Okay, so yeah, I’ve wedged myself into a humongous seashell to avoid being swept away by the tide. It sounds like a fairy tale. It’s dark in here, but I have just about enough room. It looks a bit like a tunnel, maybe two and a half feet wide at the mouth, getting narrower going down. I can stretch my legs all the way out without hitting anything, but have to bend my body a bit to do so.
I can hear it moving, down there, in the wetter recesses of the shell. We’ll wait to see what it does.
[Low rumbling that gets louder. Sound of impact.] Oof, there’s the wave hitting. I can feel and hear it, but the shell is doing a tremendous job resisting the force. I’d love to get a look at the material under the electron microscope once I get back aboard the Stribog.
Notes for memoir, take one. Hmm, I could also work it into one of those pop science books, the ones with catchy names. After I publish a few times I’ll follow it up with a book on Fons, something easily digestible with lots of pictures and infographics. Then retire from academics or take a position without all that teaching business. I’ll sit back and wait for other people to publish, and write articles on what I think about what they found, and just ride it out from there. Even if I’m discredited for being out of touch, my brand as a hardcore survivor type would continue.
I’m mostly joking, but hell, wouldn’t it be nice?
That’s making at least one major assumption, though. That I’ll survive. So. . . hello, possible listeners who might one day find this recording, if I never find my way out of this hellhole. But anyway.
One might say that we start our lives in the ocean. A little ocean, a private ocean, one our mothers carry for us. But it’s salty just like the one our ancestors swam in, if not exact in its concentrations. Perhaps knowing this we clutch tight to it, the warmth and the water, cloaking ourselves in it, absorbing it. When we leave that ocean we take a piece of it with us - just as salty, just as wet. And we hold onto that internal ocean that courses through darkened passages and channels, wrapping it around our solid bones and binding it with walls of skin.
Some people think the internal ocean is affected by the moon as well, like the tides. This is incorrect, a result of superstition and coincidence. It’s too small of a microcosm to truly take part in the larger cycles, the cosmic ones. But there’s still a sameness there that connects us to the ocean.
Animals always face a difficult transition, in leaving the sea. On Earth and possibly elsewhere they solved this problem by cheating, and taking the sea with them. They hardened their skins against evaporation, made their eggs little protected oceans for their young. By then the plants and bacteria had done most of the hard work in making the land livable, and the lurching reptiles and amphibians, and the scuttling arthropods, were able to thrive.
Something similar must've - Ow, Bob, stop that, I’m trying to do something here - god dammit!
So I should stop and explain about Bob, I guess. If you’re wondering, it’s named that because of the pun, not after Robert Montague. It literally kind of bobs up and down, when it sticks its face around the bend. I guess it never exactly ‘bobbed’, at the surface that is, when it was swimming around. But still, it’s a water pun. This is from a woman who named her childhood pet Cat Damon.
Oh god, that’s after Matt Damon, for the kids out there. Jesus.
Anyway. I’ve gotten a really good look at its face for the first time. Its gill appendages, the feathery ones also used for filter feeding, are curled up right now. The thicker inner ones are more apparent, and it’s using them to feel around at various points inside the shell. I’m also getting a good look at its small beaklike mouth.
It’s made no motion to attack, at most shoving me with its tentacles a few times. Which is uncomfortable but pointless. I’m wedged in pretty good and it’s surprisingly weak. There are advantages of being from a higher gravity world, I think. And having bones and things like that.
Maybe it doesn’t want to hang out for the next few hours with a corpse, so it’s not really trying.
The plan is, once the peak of the high tide passes and the current gets less extreme, I can climb out of here and sort of just swim up to the top of the rock. My oxygen will last until then, I think. I hope my cache of supplies is secure but, for now, I’m sitting tight in this little upper pocket where the parasitic tentacle thing was hanging out before.
The walls are strange but beautiful - iridescent mother-of-pearl shining purple and green and white in the beam off my helmet. Blister pearls are evident in smoothed-over lumps as big as golf balls. I want to chisel off a sample of the nacre, but that would be essentially pointless.
[Sigh] I’m bored. There's not too much to do here.
Cold water is seeping in around the edges of the hatch. My area is almost full of water except for a bubble at the top - I almost feel like I’m in a big porcelain bathtub. It’s cold, but I’m fairly well insulated in the environmental suit so... I’ll be okay.
As I was saying, something similar to Earth animals adapting out of the ocean probably happened here on Fons. I say probably because there’s not a lot of direct evidence, just extrapolation of computer models and guesswork, supported by some of my own observations.
There’s nothing inevitable about organisms ascending from the sea, you know. It’s an attractive enough niche that it would be surprising if it never happened at all, but there’s no mandate by destiny to grow legs and build cities. That said, the relative lack of land life on Fons beyond sparse vegetation does require an explanation, which our theories of its history provide for. A massive extinction event nearly wiped them out.
But that cataclysm still left some survivors, most notably the birds I encountered, and some of the larger nighttime animals that would require a solid skeleton to support them. Another possible example is what I’ve decided to call the spaghetti spider, that slurps up the worms which emerge after dusk. Like spaghetti. That’s where the name comes from. Okay, still a gross image. Yeah, I know.
Bob’s moving around down there. If I scoot down a bit, very carefully, I can see it around the bend. It’s got its face turned to the wall, and it’s doing something, moving its tentacles around. There’s a faint vibration I can feel through the surface I’m laying on, something I can’t quite hear.
It’s pulled its head away. The section of wall it was interacting with looks different than the rest, it’s dull and oblong, oddly regular. There are grooves of some sort in it, swirly and random, like a big fingerprint, or like a melted vinyl record. I wonder what the purpose could be. Was the vibration the creature scratching that with its beak? I mean, I did feel vibrations from the outside of the shell and in the tendrils connecting them, but those felt more powerful than you could make from scratching. But it’s possible that the two are connected. I wonder... God, I wish I knew more about acoustics. God dammit.
The die off of land life on Fons happened slowly, as death often does. The mechanics of how it happened are not my area of expertise, but if you use computer models to trace Fons’ orbit backwards through time over the course of hundreds of millions of years, you find it not orbiting the sub-brown dwarf Volturnus at all, but in its own stable orbit around the main sequence star Kresnick-85. This orbit was slightly elliptical compared to Earth, but the planet was habitable enough that life developed and started to thrive there.
But the solar system contained a monster - Volturnus, the giant planet, that once might have been a star and failed. It just took a nudge, a small tug every few hundred rotations, and Fons’s path became more and more erratic. There was a cataclysmic period of a few thousand years where days and nights became confused and chasms opened up and rivers ran backward, all that stuff. Most living organisms left probably were clustered around the ocean vents. The sea envelopes and protects, like the womb.
When Fons settled into its current orbit around Volturnus, the environment evened out just enough for the shallows to be repopulated. And despite the tides and extremes of temperature and magnetic radiation, it has once again begun to thrive.
That’s the theory, anyway. Melissa and I have gone back and forth over it. She’s not sure Fons is a planet. And I’m like, it’s pretty much a planet, though. But is Volturnus a large gas giant or a really shitty star?
Her idea of classification differs from mine, always has. It’s easy to define something based on how it behaves when everything moves in curving lines for billions of years. It’s hard when everything wriggles all around and jumps in your face. I have a little more taste for nuance. The field of mechanics desires certainty.
Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to explain things to her at times - she cuts to the heart, where I don’t want to go. She takes my ideas apart, not realizing that doing so kills them. Still, sometimes it does help me see them more completely.
Ideas can die, species can die. Individuals can and often do die. But that’s not what I’m going to do, not now.
There’s some other irregularities inside the shell. If I scoot down - okay, calm down Bob, I’m just trying to - okay, there. I can see a few lumps kind of set into the wall of the shell itself. Similar to the blister pearls but not made of the same stuff. One is rectangular, oddly regular. Another looks like foggy glass, and I can see that there’s some sort of liquid in it, with bubbles at the top. If I tap it with my foot something small moves inside. I can tell from tapping it that it’s solid and glasslike, not squishy like I’d expect from watching all the Alien movies so many times.
In fact this whole place, the entrance way I guess, is very clean and smooth. It’s still distinctly biological, though, it’s curved and imperfect and made just the right size for Bob to come through. Which makes things like that rectangle stand out. Nature doesn’t often make corners, and almost never right angles. By nature I mean biology, and Montague can keep his remarks about crystals to himself.
I can just about reach the rectangle one, and - oh. Gross.
I kicked it and it swung open, like the hatch on the shell, and something spilled out, some sort of gunk. Whoa, Bob seems a little upset about that. [Vibrations] He’s making the whole place vibrate. The little thing in the glass container is moving around frantically.
The gunk is, god, the gunk is green, and clumpy. What could it be?
Oh god, it’s seeping down into the bowels of the shell.
I think it’s completely reasonable that my mind would be on death at a time like this.
Species die out, they're either replaced by their descendant species or invaders from elsewhere.
But that’s different from individual death. Individual death is either the smallest thing in the world, or the biggest, I guess, depending on your proximity to it.
But I don’t want to talk about this right now.
Looking more closely at the rectangular. . . uh, box, I guess? It’s made of shell material like everything else, but far smoother and thinner. More regular, with a consistent look and feel to it. Looks a lot like the bathroom cabinet in my old apartment, actually about the same size. Mine was only rarely full of sludge though. It’s stuck onto the wall with the same natural concrete stuff the shell sticks to the rock with.
The lid is hinged, and not the same as the hatch of the shell, which is a kind of flexible, organic material. The lid has an actual hinge, like, with moving pieces and - oh, god, what do you call the rod in the middle connecting the two things - fuck, I don't know. You know what I mean. It seals with a strip of soft rubbery material on the inside edge, pretty much like a fridge without the magnet there. I've determined all this by kicking and moving things with my feet and craning my neck to look down, so it’s not the most precise analysis.
I also scooted down a bit to look at the glass thing. There’s a little animal caught inside, a fish I think, the glass is too cloudy to see. But there is something else, very small, like tubes that go into it and out then back into the shell, maybe connecting to something outside.
Bob’s moving around down there right now. Be back in a minute.
Okay. Okay. Let me collect my thoughts and try to figure this out. I had a really strange encounter just now.
Bob was moving around way deep around the bend of the corridor of the shell, just sending vibrations up through the material. Then it poked around the corner, and I scooted back up to the entryway and the bubble of air, bracing myself against the wall. Its feathery gill appendages were tucked away, and the thicker ones were reaching out, feeling the surfaces, until it came to the open compartment and with great dexterity and purpose, closed it. Then it felt the tank containing the fish, maybe for cracks or something. The next thing it did was eat the gunk still floating around, using the feathered tentacles this time, which was really disturbing, even if it wasn’t violent. I did see more of its mouth than I wanted to.
It shows little interest in me, or little that I've interpreted as interest. But my interpretation of interest is really just limited by my experience. This thing has no eyes, and doesn’t seem to want to eat me or go anywhere near me. But I can’t tell you if it was thinking about me, or wondering about me. It did stop for a minute or two, laying the thick tentacles on the surface of the shell. Maybe listening. To me? Can it hear me talking, or hear my heartbeat? But then it moved on and went to the oblong textured patch of the wall and scratched there for a bit, loud enough that I could hear and feel it.
Then it came back to me, stopping just short of touching my feet. It was still for a long time. It wasn’t looking at me, of course. No eyes, obviously. I considered kicking it. I also considered reaching my hand out a hand to touch it, but I stopped myself. Then Bob squirmed back down and around the bend. Weird.
Bob came up to me again, very slowly, and reached out a tentacle to poke my boot. Obviously I was, and am, crammed as high up here as I can get, and there was nowhere to go. So I got ready to boot it in its stupid face, but it just poked me, weakly, and then slithered back down but not all the way down yet. It’s past peak high tide, right? He, it, whatever, probably wants to get out to feed. Though that cupboard or whatever seemed to have food in it. Maybe that was just a snack for low tide. I don't know. It couldn’t have been happy that I spilled it everywhere. Woops.
It’s such a fragile yet dynamic ecosystem that’s adapted to these impossible conditions. It’s created organisms like the worms and birds, these generalists, that are able to adapt to many different circumstances, maybe one day evolving beyond this world. But it’s also produced so many specialists, like the one I’m inside, that almost certainly will die out eventually when the environment changes. For instance, when an invasive species shows up. Like me.
Early hominids contended with their own abrupt changes in the environment, including possibly rebounding from a severe genetic bottleneck early on; it’s hard to say whether it was because we were adaptable, or just lucky.
I think it’ll be worth it to keep monitoring this planet, though I’m not sure Tellus Initiative will keep funding missions for pure science without any gain. Especially for millions of years? That would be a bit of a stretch.
It’s time for me to leave. Bob’s been nothing but accommodating and I don’t want to overstay my welcome. Sure he’s too polite to say anything, but I can tell he’d just rather have me gone. I’ve gotten that before. Well, let me just switch over to broadcast and... [click] And hey, there we go.
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 Melissa Diamond for helping us with all the space stuff, and to Sarah Durst for designing our cover art. You can find us online on our website tidespodcast.com and follow us on Tumblr and Twitter at @tidespodcast. If you like our show and would like to help us continue making it, you can support us on patreon.com/tidespodcast. Thank you so much to everyone who has donated so far. And special thanks goes to Abysmii, for their particularly generous contribution.
As always, thank you so much to everyone listening.
And now, an Ocean Fact.
This is Doctor Winifred Eurus. And this is Ocean Facts. Ocean Fact #4. “Unless you are a biologist, don’t question what that goo that washed up on shore is. You don’t want to know.”