Working as a Shoresman was a dodgy proposition at best. This close to the shore, it was easy to feel the unease that was almost a biological excrescence of the Days of the Rise. It was as if reality simply wasn’t right and the world changed into a dormant-yet-hostile entity the closer one got to the ocean.
Theregus had been going close to shore for nearly a decade and he still couldn’t stand being there for more than a few hours. There simply was no way he could conceive of a human being becoming accustomed to the alien-ness that had made its home in the world’s oceans.
Shoremanship required daily incursions into shore territory. Litoral areas had been uninhabited by humans for over a century and the wilderness had reclaimed all artificial structures rather quickly, so each such venture had the potential for very real dangers which had nothing to do with the creatures that had risen and humanity still feared. As a matter of fact, no sightings of the creatures had been reported in many decades. Nowadays most Shoreman casualties were caused by feral animals and simple carelessness, human error. That’s not to say there aren’t some cases of strange deaths and disappearances which, though hurriedly explained away by officials, suggest that humanity’s oceanic foes may still come aground to hunt.
Many precautions were taken by Shoremen to ensure that, should the creatures be on the hunt, no discernable pattern would be left for them to follow. Surveys were determined with mathematical chaos, randomly generated by an individual semi-sentient A.I. personality – called AB-EGO – which was carried in a small network of neural wiring that was implanted into the Shoreman’s brain and interacted directly with it, picked up all the information the Shoreman received via the human senses, though raw and unprocessed, to calculate the best course of action at the time as well as the upcoming surveys.
The result of this technology and methodology was a high survival rate for the Shoremen and a greater understanding of the nature of the seaside territories humanity had lost. It was, after all, their primary purpose to provide data that may one day allow humanity to mount a counterattack and reclaim the oceans. The secondary, though clearly more prevalent, purpose was to maintain surveillance so that, should the creatures rise again and come further inland, humanity would have enough time to prepare and react.
Theregus wondered if such a thing would ever come to pass, a new Days of the Rise. His grandfather, when Theregus was just a child, would tell his older brothers and him of the time when the tentacled, gigantic creatures had come out of the depths, rising to obliterate all vessels of human make, and then advanced on the shores of all the continents. How millions had fallen prey to the nightmarish things that stood stories-high – where they had the physiognomy to stand – or slithered and bounded, dwarfing houses and small buildings. How humanity’s weapons had had no noticeable effect whatsoever on them, be they nuclear or otherwise.
Those stories were the reason Theregus and his brothers had chosen to become a Shoreman in the first place, back when there was still a manner of mystical romanticism attached to the job. It had since fallen out of favor, what with the long period of relative peace… The creatures had become stories for children and, he had to admit, most adults scarcely gave them any serious thought any more. Theregus’ grandfather had said that the devil’s best trick had been convincing the world he didn’t exist, and that this was same with every terror in our species’ history. He himself only knew they had to be real because of the unshakable dread and the confirmation of disturbances when he sifted through the data after his AB-EGO had processed it and formatted it into something intelligible to the human brain. There were always signs of many somethings having passed through the territories. There were still scars of the Days of the Rise visible to those who knew how to look, and one didn’t need to look very hard, after all, since even nature seemed to avoid reclaiming the scars. If the creatures that had risen had been wild, natural, and native biological life forms, then they were of a nature even Nature itself seemed reluctant to acknowledge as its own. A mother denying her abominable children.
He had seen the old flicks and documentaries – which had now been replaced by a renaissance of Reality Television, which he thoroughly despised – and had been fascinated by the footage where the creatures had been captured by the camera lenses. Their anatomy was always hidden by some strange absorption of the light so that they always appeared as strange shapes that morphed and melted the light around it and infused it with shadows, an absence of light. There had been artist renderings and such, the only viable reproductions of the creatures’ likenesses, but these never fascinated Theregus quite like the images where the creatures’ light-distorting shapes could be seen wreaking havoc upon humanity.
Shoremen are required to return to the nearest headquarters of the brigade every seven days to be debriefed and get some down time for their psychological well-being before heading back out to the shores. Theregus had not seen headquarters in months and did not intend to see HQ again until he knew exactly what had happened with his two brothers, who had been in a joint excursion with three other Shoremen on some manner of official business. It was quite rare for Shoremen to band together, usually pairing if at all, as smaller numbers drew far less attention from whatever may still lurk near the shores. Something big, classified, had to have been going on for such a group to be ordered on an expedition, five Shoremen. None had returned.
AB-EGOs were never designed to be anything more than aides to the Shoremen, advanced as their A.I.’s were, yet most experienced Shoremen – any with at least three years of active service – would attest to AB-EGOs developing displays of personality and self-awareness. Some of the more outspoken veterans would at times, usually after a long night of drinks, state that their AB-EGO had a fully developed personality. Shoremen, given the grim nature of their job and the long stretches of time spent alone, were generally very reserved even amongst their peers.
Theregus’ AB-EGO had developed a personality of its own on the fourth year of his service as a member of the brigade and it had become a rather dissident and subversive intelligence, often pointing out the faulty logic of official statements on matters classified, how the governments clearly knew a lot more about what had taken place in the Days of the Rise and that, even now, they were keeping people in the dark about matters of obvious import. Theregus had named his AB-EGO Contagio, which was Latin for infection, because without it his own mind would not likely have found anything amiss with the system. It had infected him with the seeds of distrust and suspicions, for which he was very grateful. Contagio, in turn, embraced the name. They considered each other the best of friends. Theregus sometimes would go as far as to think to himself that, if such silly notions could be considered real, Contagio was his soulmate.
Together they had struck out on their own, gone rogue, deciding not to return until they knew the fate of Theregus’ brothers and the missing expedition. As it was, Theregus and Contagio were now far closer to shore than anyone had ever been in the past fifty years, officially speaking. They maintained no illusions about the veracity of such a notion.
They had been making their way down the shoreline to a positively ancient whaling station, where once the now-mythical whales had been hunted, there had been built a tourist attraction where people would spend hours whale-watching. The place had been known as Whistler’s Point and it was reputedly a haven for the legendary mammals even today, or so the boldest of the Shoremen would boast.
Whale cries could be heard even form the distance, confirming the boasts of their more reckless peers, but the closer they got to the whaling station, Theregus and Contagio could hear the noises less and less. They got to the pier, trying to stay well out of sight of anything that might be watching from the water, but it was a silly measure, futile; any of the creatures, had they been in the vicinity, would already likely be aware of their presence.