Travelling at knee height I barely see the cresting waves through the sea oats. Occasionally my knee caps block the way of vision, but the ocean does not look too choppy. It would be a good day for a sail to Dafuskie or, for the adventurous, to Tybee Island. The blue-green smudge of Dafuskie to my right looks closer than it should. The sound may have narrowed after the last hurricane.
The low tide exposes a great expanse of sandy beach. It meets with mud flats at its lower recess. The mud flats come to be exposed only in the lowest of low tides. White, bleached, sandy white, to deep brown with hints of pink, to darker brown, to the almost oil slick mud sitting atop its layer of blackened hydrogen sulphide. The fun starts where the smell starts, where the living things crawl in the mud.
Nothing lives on the beach. To my annoyance, I am still wandering through the sand dunes. Tufts of straw-colored tubular stalks speckle the mud flats. They occasionaly spurt a succulent fluid into the air, not too high, just a moderate stream that dies down after a few seconds. There should be clams and polycheats and snails and anenomes and, a variety of things come to mind.
Blink! and mud covers my shoes, canvas shoes with rows and rows of holes by the sole, the better to let the mud percolate freely. I should feel the mud to know what's in it. More stalks, no more than 6 inches in height, have left streaks of mud above my ankles. They send off higher spurts of fluid when I press the mud around them with my feet. Something is crawling, something is gurgling, something just rolled over and I can't find it, no matter how deeply I dig. By now my hands should smell awful. The mud crackles to dryness, flakes off and lands on the wet surface to be remoinsturised.
I pluck a shell from a depression in the mud, a siamese shell with two apertures for two snails. It has an elaborate lattice- work of alabaster flutes with holes through them that rise along the spire, two spires that coalesce into one, like finding two bananas that have grown together. I don't have any pockets. I cannot hold a shell if I don't have any pockets so I toss it into the mud where it sinks and gurgles to the depths below.
What a fool, to have no pockets. I must not be wearing any clothes. Perhaps I put my shoes on first and forgot everything else.. Ooh . .what if I am standing naked on the beach? I could sink in the mud and .. that would be perfectly awful. There is nothing positive to be said about standing naked in a mud flat. It might be easier to tan . . it might be easier to wash the mud off . . No. There is nothing positive to be said about standing naked in the middle of a mud flat. However, when I saw through my kneecaps I felt a reassurance of khaki against my neck. At the very least I remembered to put on some shorts.
An orange knob catches my eye, well, not quite orange, the pleasing reddish brown accompanying the well cooked yam. I pluck it from the mud and drop it almost as suddenly. It is a big spider! It has spindly spider legs that taper to white from the orange head. I want to ride a rising wave of disgust and terror back to the sand dunes. I do not like spiders, but spiders should not be orange, nor should they be multicolored. They should be black or purple with a large hump before the start of the legs like an eggplant. This thing cannot be a spider. It must something else. . . A baby octopus! What else would have eight legs?
I pick it up again and sit it limply in the palm of my hand. It has no suction cups on its legs. I guess baby octopi do not develop suction cups for some time. I tickle it to see if it moves. It wriggles a few of its slender arms but does little else. It must have washed ashore and become stranded on the mud flat. I must save it.
I have no pockets but I do find a urine collection cup buried in the mud. I fill it with seawater from one of the tidal pools on the beach and slide the octopus into it. It falls in the water, CAH-CHUNK!, and sinks to the bottom. I think perhaps it is already dead, but as I walk back to the hotel it occasionally sends an arm out to play with my fingernails. It taps them rhythmically, tik tik tik, with the tip of a white tentacle. Looking at it from above I notice three black lines on the knob, as though drawn with an ink pen. Two are eyes that have appeared since I put it in the water and the third, an upside-down U, acts as a mouth. The mouth periodically swings open and shut, drawing water into the knob. The eyes show full animation. They blink and open and shut and ocassionally disappear for a bit, only to reappear somewhere else on the head. . . How adorable . .
At the hotel . . it seems I do have pockets. I tuck the baby octopus away in a pocket, swearing that I will remember to change the water. If caught holding a semi-dead octopus I might not be allowed inside. Per rushes over. He waves his arms frantically over his head. 'We'll be late for the session . . Jeff has been looking all over . . they moved the times around again, no one knows where they are . . '
I think for a moment . . if no one knows where they are, then we don't have to go to the session because no one will know where it is. He raises his index finger to his oval glasses, 'Ahhhh. Yes. You are right,' and turns to run down an oblique hallway. It seems they regularly shuffle the hallways in this hotel. I have to watch my step so as to not trip over an interlocking piece of floor shifting towards the lounge.
He has returned again.
'Here they **** ****** are.'
He intentionally muffles their names, two girls who appear to be no more than 16. They are to accompany me to the .. the what? I don't know what, but they are to accompany me. Do they work with us? I certainly have never seen them before. I ask them their names, but they do not understand. All they say is, 'Sla-vik?' and shrug their shoulders in unison. Most of what they do is in unison even though they do not appear to be twins. Perhaps they are part of someone's presentation. They are rather big for a presentation. I really should change the water for the octopus.
The expensive section of the hotel swings in front of us. A wooden ship with paper sails embedded in a green velvet wall marks the entrance. It has no common door. You have to pay a lot of money to enter. Gee. . . Who's paying for this trip? Am I paying? I won't be staying here for long if I am. I figure it must be from a grant, or for something else, perhaps I was invited to come here.
I ditch the two girls by a disintegrating staircase. The risers go one way and the stairs the other. I jump the entire flight to land on the floor below. I take the octopus from my pocket. It has disintegrated into 8 pieces, each with a piece of head and an arm. The eyes still jump from fragment to fragment, looking a bit confused. I cannot find the mouth.. Oh, poor octopus... Perhaps I can get Burton to reconstruct you in some cell culture media. I doubt that I can rejoin all the pieces. I will have to regrow eight new octopi. This thought saddens me. Eight octopi will not likely behave like one octopus. I put the container back in my pocket.
Jeff rushes by. He sees me but is too busy to stop. I wave and shout a doppler 'hello' so he can hear.
I climb a more stable staircase to the lounge. Someone disassembled an ebony tuba, stretched it and contorted it to form the bar. Occasional ebony valves protrude from beneath the counter, and the area near the sink plummets into the remaining body of the instrument. Otherwise the surface has an amazing black sheen. Few people stand by the bar as its' curving surface makes it a difficult place on which to rest drinks and glasses. The management, always efficient, refused to put stools around a useless bar.
I take the octopus from my pocket again. The cup is now rectangular. Three or four sections swish back and forth in the water which definitely needs changing. The rest have degenerated into greasy mustard green and black blobs. I really need to find Burton. I ask the bartender the easiest way to find salt water without going to the beach. He returns with a highball glass filled with murky water. I non-chalantly wander to the tuba end of the bar and pour the used seawater down the tuba hole. At least the octopus now has fresh water.
Out there . . must be Burton. Some people standing by the window point to an area of the sky below and tell me that space station 'Utah' is now on-line. We can take shuttles there from the north end of the hotel. If I am to find Burton, it will not be here. He may be in one or many of many places, anywhere but here. I run to the north side of the hotel to take the next departing shuttle.
The space station, though a novel concept, does not look all that impressive, merely a series of girders arranged in a triangular pyramid with a column in the height of the structure that houses the living quarters. A red light blinks from the top, and dingy green ones from the remaining vertices. Even the girders look dingy, not black, nor grey but a black-green as though blasted for years with vapours of vitriol. I don't see any other ships nearby, and few of the rooms in the column appear actively used. I can only utter a long sigh. I doubt that I will find Burton here.
An old man sitting next to me tells me that Space Station Utah saw far more activity 75 years ago after its construction. With the newer, more modern stations beyond the solar system, this one has little appeal left. I tell him I want to go back 75 years when the station was youthful and active. He nods and says that's ok with him. I wonder if he is the pilot. I look out the window to a dramatically changed scene.
The basic pyramidal shape of the station remains. The girders now emit a crisp white, with lights sparkling in hues bright and brilliant. The lights run along the entirety of the girders, chartruce at the vertices, red on top and blue along and within the girders. Added structures have been added around the basic pyramid formaing an expansive structure, not unlike a skeletal rose with a pyramid at its center. We twist around by 270 degrees in space and approach the station from the bottom. A white, funnel extends from the bottom, bathed in a near-blinding light. Two space shuttles bloom forth from its center, their rockets docked in the funnel's interior. I marvel at the view. So incredible, their outter layers shimmer in a mesmerising translucency. I gaze through magenta and pale blue squares of light beyond their surface as we descend to one side of the funnel.
I may just find Burton here.