The Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water on earth. Its length has been defined variably as stretching from the Arctic Ocean in the north to either the proposed Southern Ocean or, depending on who you ask, all the way to Antarctica. Its surface area covers 165.25 million square kilometers and its depths contain an estimated 714 million cubic kilometers, about half of the earth’s oceanic water.
In 1951, when eighteen nesting pairs of Bermuda petrel were discovered following zero recorded sightings since the 1620s, the conservancy community went into an uproar. The birds, overnight, became the highest profile Lazarus species ever re-discovered by humans. The term Lazarus species is employed as a Biblical allusion to the man who was thought to be dead but was raised by Jesus of Nazareth.
But the oceans are different than rocky earth or the animal terrains of the cloudy skies. They are too vast, too obscure. The very idea that humans are the God-given monitors of life and death are called into question, or, rather, disproven out of hand, at depths of 35,000 feet and below.
At northernmost edge of the Pacific lies the Aleutian Islands, likely named for the Chukchi word for island. These islands have long separated Russian and American spheres of influence. That’s where I’d been for the past two years before the sighting, and perhaps more importantly, before she came into my life.
“It took you long enough.”
The heavily clad figure crouched over the edge of a rickety wooden pier erected herself and turned. Kelly still couldn’t see much detail in the shadows cast by the fluffy hood.
“I filed that report two months ago. I guess government beurocracy really is as glacial as its reputation.”
Kelly didn’t know what to say, but the person she had come to speak to didn’t seem to be waiting for an answer. She threw back the hood of her parka and tugged the glove of her right hand off, exposing her skin to the intense cold.
“I’m Myra Hsu Li, Pacific Historian, biologist, and all around badass researcher.”
Kelly hesitated. A great shiver ran through her body as she made a stuttering move to take her own glove off.
“Sorry, my San Diego upbringing didn’t exactly prepare me for temperatures like this. My name is Kelly Malcolm.”
“Neither did the military apparently.”
The two shook hands.
“No,” the Black woman conceded. “Nor did the marines.”
“Marines?” Myra arched an eyebrow and cocked her head forward in exaggerated impression. “I’m glad I warranted the marines at least. They could easily have sent some poor civilian to placate me.”
“I’m not here to placate you.”
And with that, Myra was off, walking at a brisk pace down the pier to the shore, straight past her unwitting companion and down the shore of Sanak.
“Wait! Where are you…?”
“Welcome to Sanak,” she called without so much as turning her head to feign eye contact. “It’s a tiny, uninhabited island in the Aleutian chain just south of the Bering Strait that separates the political territories of Russia and the United States. Technically no civilians are allowed to come to the island. Its land has reserved for military personnel and government officials but more often than not it served solely as the home for seals, the occasional polar bear, and every once in a while bored high school students from the small neighboring islands looking for a thrill or some privacy for heavy petting.”
Not for the first time Kelly found she appreciated her relative lack of blushing capacity.
“At least that was the story of Sanak until Myra Hsu Li decided that she needed to visit the island in the process of data collection for her newest paper on the marine life of the northern Pacific. It was an uphill battle from the start getting approval to camp out there, but what the government had underestimated when they first received her petition was the degree to which I thrive on such impossibility.”
Now Kelly Malcolm found herself trailing after the diminutive Asian American woman as she launched herself with reckless and unlikely speed back to what Kelly could now see was the small structure Myra had been living in.
“Myra, excuse me.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll get to you and answer all your questions. We’ll have a long chat and I’ll reassure you that the details of my report were accurate, that I’m not crazy – well not much anyway – and that you people need to take this sighting seriously.”
This got Myra’s attention. She stopped and spun around, a piercing look connecting the two women’s brown eyes.
“You military industrial complex government-employed good patriot people. Not you Black people. That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
Just as suddenly she turned back and continued on her way.
“But for now, I have to get this pond scum onto slides.”
Kelly was shocked to say the least. At six foot five inches with an overwhelming masculine appearance and a military demeanor, few had spoken to Kelly that way in her entire adult life. Anyone but, occasionally, her father.
“Listen, as mentioned, I didn’t come here to placate you. They didn’t pick me because I drew the short straw. I’m here because of what happened to me a long time ago, far far south of here.”
Myra perked up at this, as if it was the first thing of note her companion had said.
“Are you familiar with the Jurassic Park incidents?”
“I’m familiar with the rumors. Everyone in my field is. Idiotic to think that you could get enough DNA out of mosquitos trapped in tree sap to actually clone whole dinosaurs.”
“Idiotic to try perhaps.”
“What are you saying,” Myra snapped with the intensity of a shaking world view.
“Look, I’ve been there. It was a long time ago. But since then I’ve devoted a great part of my career to undoing the damage that was done on that unfortunate island.”
When Myra didn’t answer, she went on.
“And, if I’m being straight with you, I have also been involved in covering up what really happened, though that’s never been my priority.”
“Oh I highly doubt you’ve ever been straight with anybody.”
“I…” Kelly’s eyes dilated but she was thrown from her game only a moment.
“What we’ve never actually been able to confirm is whether the Jurassic Park program was also breeding aquatic animals. We’ve had a few run ins with those that fly in a couple of spots in Latin America, but an aquatic program presents entirely new challenges.”
“The thing you have to understand, Kelly Malcolm,” the woman pronounced her surname with devious emphasis as if she had just now realized the significance of the name, “is that the oceans have many secrets, the Pacific perhaps even more than any other. My sighting could indicate escaped animals from your past or they could be like the Coelacanth, the Cretaceous fish we thought had gone extinct 65 million years ago until they were found near South Africa in 1938.”
Kelly nodded slowly and the two women locked eyes.
“Sounds like a fun challenge to me,” she said.
Myra held her gaze, “I can tell you’re going to make it fun.”