The Kraken's Teeth
Over a billion kilometres from Earth, and humans are still seafarers
The dark sea was eerily still under the smoggy orange clouds and their perpetual twilight. Haruka tried to blink the sandy dryness out of her eyes. She dug a small spray bottle from her jacket, misting her eyelids, making them sting as she fluttered them briefly. Then relief. She turned her refreshed eyes back out through the glass wall, to the murky view over the harbour. For some reason it reminded her of Scotland. A long time ago, now, and so very far from here. And this inky black sea was not filled with water.
Kraken Mare. The largest sea on Saturn’s moon, Titan, its sky tinted orange with the hydrocarbon clouds which rained down on its mountains of solid ice. After a spending her life always reaching for the next horizon, Haruka had finally found herself staring at a horizon on a completely different planet. You never know what might be over the horizon, her brother had told her once. He’d meant it as a warning, but Haruka had always found the idea inspiring.
The horizon. She squinted her eyes as she looked. There was something out there on the sea, a slightly different shade of dark obscured by the orange haze. A boat, perhaps? She’d seen several of them from the spaceplane which had brought her down to the surface, leaving faint ripples as they cut over the tarry sea. Over a billion kilometres from Earth, and humans were still seafarers. And so was she. Maybe she could build a life on this strange little world.
The corridor around her was completely deserted. More of a greenhouse than a corridor, really, connecting two of Hafgufa’s city domes. Brightly lit with warm white lighting and filled with lush plants. A little piece of home in the orange gloom. Nearby, a small pond with colourful koi swimming in it. A little grove of birch trees. A small wooden shack, open walled and airy, with a sign in vibrant orange and cyan Russian lettering. Beneath it, smaller writing which Haruka could read. Rodya’s Tea House.
Birchwood steps creaked as Haruka climbed up them, catching the attention of a man behind the counter with a shaggy beard and a thick woollen sweater, who sat up as sharply as his drowsiness would let him.
“Dobro pozhalovat,” he mumbled, stifling a yawn, “ya mogu vam po—” He stopped suddenly, blinking his eyes as he caught a good look at her. “Ah, how can I help you, offworlder?”
Haruka frowned, open her mouth to speak, but it took a moment before she could form words. “How did you know I was an offworlder?” she asked, eventually.
“Middle of the night, sleepy looking, wandering around here where you can get a good view over the sea,” he shrugged and gave a toothy grin. “Lucky guess.”
Haruka gave a half smile, casting her gaze briefly down at her feet.
“You been in Hafgufa long?
“Maybe 4 hours.” She blinked her eyes. They still felt scratchy. “I guess I’m too wound up to sleep.”
“First time on Titan?“
“First time off Earth.”
“Long way to come, for a first interplanetary!” He stood, gesturing to some bar stools by the counter. “Come, sit down. First drink is free for new arrivals!”
Absently, Haruka wandered over and sat down. Behind the counter were several picture frames. Posed photos with groups of smiling people. Some in this bar. Some signed in thick marker pen. A couple with people wearing environment suits, standing outside on Titan’s icy landscape.
“Would you like something to help you sleep, perhaps? My brother’s birch wine is most excellent this season. Or something stronger, maybe?”
Haruka gave a dismissive little wave. “Just tea, thank you.”
With a nod, he walked over to an ornate looking samovar. Haruka turned her bleary-eyed gaze back out to the bay. Where was the boat? She craned her neck to see past the Birch trees. There it was! Closer now, heading this way, though she still couldn’t make out any details. Just a dark, unknown shape veiled by the orange clouds.
A clatter! She gasped, turning sharply. A small, painted ceramic cup full of dark brown tea with a faint smoky aroma, on a saucer with a couple of unrecognisable preserved fruit. She smiled up at the man. “Thank you.”
“Call me Yasha,” he said.
“You’re not Rodya?”
“Rodya’s my brother. I just work the counter when no one else wants to.” A sharp laugh. “So you like looking out at the sea? You trying to see Ice Tooth?”
Haruka tilted her head to one side, a frown fluttering across her brow. “Ice Tooth? What’s that?”
“Good question,” he said, a faraway look creeping in the the back of his eyes, as his gaze turned out towards the sea. “Something huge, out there in the sea. People catch sight of it sometimes.” He turned back to Haruka, his expression brighter. “A local legend, you might say.”
Haruka smirked. “You’re kidding, right?” Her smirk evaporated when she caught the look on his face.
“All I know is this.” He came a little closer, leaning down on his elbows. “You spend enough time around Kraken Mare, you’ll catch sight of something you can’t explain. Everyone knows someone with a story, from boat crews to city folk.”
Haruka looked down at her cup, blowing on her tea and taking a sip. Hot tea nipping at her lips, filling her senses with dark, rich flavours of smoke and black tea. A long moment passed. “I guess it’s not so surprising,” she said eventually. “A city named Hafgufa on the shore of Kraken Mare. Everything around here’s named after sea monsters.”
Yasha let out a deep belly laugh. “Aye, that’s true. But there’s a lot about the sea that’s still unknown.”
“People have always been afraid of the unknown though,” Haruka mused, lifting one of the preserved fruit to her lips. She bit into it and stifled a cough. A vodka soaked plum, filling her sinuses with alcoholic warmth
“Afraid, maybe,” he smiled, “but still they keep reaching for what they can’t see.”
Haruka nodded, staying silent. That was exactly what she’d done, after all.
“Humans keep on reaching for what we can’t see. “Yasha reached and dragged a stool over, sitting across the counter from Haruka. “I think looking for things we don’t know is what humans have always done. And there’s a lot we don’t know on this world.”
Haruka put the spoon down and gave a lopsided smile. “What kind of things don’t we know?”
Yasha leaned in a little closer. “Below our feet is the largest ocean in the entire solar system. More water than you can imagine, all covered in ice that’s harder than steel.” His voice wasa conspiratorial murmur. “All we know is that there’s kilometres of liquid water down there.”
Haruka picked up her cup again, sipping thoughtfully on her tea. “Like the deep oceans on Earth?“
“More like the darkest ocean trenches. We’ve not found a way to get through the ice yet. But a lot of people think, when we do, we might find,” a hesitant pause, “something.” His gaze turned back towards the sea. “Maybe sometimes, one of those somethings might find a way up here.”
Haruka rested her cup down on the saucer. “But you said there was no way through the ice.”
“No, I said we haven’t found a way. But we’ve only been here a couple of centuries. Barely a heartbeat in history.”
Haruka sat silently for a moment, shrinking a little in her seat, her thoughts filled with the frigid tarry sea. She stifled a shiver. “I came here hoping to try and find work on a boat.” She picked up the other vodka soaked plum, letting the sweet alcoholic fragrance fill her nostrils. “I wonder if I’ll find myself with a story of my own.”
“Haven’t scared you off already, have I?” Yasha leaned back on his stool.
Haruka let the thought simmer, popping the plum into her mouth and feeling the sharp bite of alcohol on her tongue. “No.” She frowned. “I’ve been to places with monster stories before. Ikeda-ko. Loch Ness. Nahuel Huapi. I wasn’t afraid then. I won’t be afraid now.”
“There’s no shame in fear.“ Yasha raised his eyebrows. “Always wise to be careful. Monster or no, Kraken Mare can be treacherous.”
Haruka set her empty teacup down in the saucer. “What are you not telling me?”
Yasha met her eye for a moment, nodded, and turned to the pictures on the wall. Carefully, he lifted one and set it on the counter. A blurry, pixellated photograph of a dark shape against the darker sea. Bulbous and organic looking.
“You’ll find lots of hazards out on Kraken Mare.” Yasha’s voice took on an icy tone. “Whirlpools. Sharp ice pillars. Eruptions of sea froth.” He tapped the photo. “And then there’s this.”
Haruka’s mouth filled with cotton. “Ice Tooth?” she heard herself ask.
Yasha stared hard at the image, his expression unreadable. “No one can tell me what it is.”
“And it’s a real photo?”
“Rodya took it himself out on the sea.”
Haruka closed her eyes for a second. What was she even doing here? Chasing the horizon. Ignoring her brother’s warnings. Or was she here because of them. An act of defiance, maybe. Did that even matter? She was here now, no matter what this smoggy little moon had to throw at her. She snapped her eyes open and looked up at Yasha.
“Ah.” A grin spread across his face. “I know this look.”
“Do you know how I can find work on a ship?”
“A hazardous sea like this one? You need a smart captain who knows the tides.” Yasha reached under the counter. “Someone like this.“ He placed a small card on the countertop with some contact details. “A friend of mine. Name’s Boran. Has a boat named The Koshchey with a small crew. He can be,” a pause, “a little intense. But I know him almost as well as he knows Kraken Mare.”
Haruka swiped up the card and slid it carefully into her jacket pocket. “Thanks very much!”
“If you come back to shore with any stories, you come back here and tell them to me, ok?”
“Ok!” Haruka stood. Maybe she should’ve felt wary, but a strangely light and resolute feeling was washing over her. “Reaching for the next horizon. That’s what I’ve always done. Do you often see ships like...” her question faded away, as she craned her neck to look for the ship she’d seen before.
“There was a ship out there before,” Haruka pointed, “out in that direction.”
An icy look fell over Yasha’s face. He shook his head. “You’ll not see any ships in that direction. It’s not safe. Too shallow, and full of ice pillars. They’d tear a boat to shreds.”
A chill gripped Haruka’s heart as she turned to stare out over the sea. Thoughts reeled through her mind. Thoughts of a dark shape against the darker sea. A bulbous and organic looking shape.