In The Atlantic Abomination, an exploratory expedition to the bottom of the ocean discovers the remnants of a long-lost civilization, and then, the enormous body of an alien being preserved for unknown millennia. An attempt to raise the body unleashes a horror beyond imagining as the creature revives from a long sleep and begins to exert control over men’s minds throughout the world. This is a classic SF horror story in the mode of John W. Campbell’s The Thing, the source material for SF thriller movies in the 1950s and again, via John Carpenter, in the 1980s.
For each generation, there is a writer meant to bend the rules of what we know. Hugo Award winner (Best Novel, Stand on Zanzibar) and British science fiction master John Brunner remains one of the most influential and respected authors of all time, and now many of his classic works are being reintroduced. For readers familiar with his vision, this is a chance to reexamine his thoughtful worlds and words, while for new readers, Brunner’s work proves itself the very definition of timeless.
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The Atlantic Abomination
By John Brunner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1960 John Brunner
All rights reserved.
Their lusts had known no limit until now. They had gorged themselves, surpassed their own imaginings again and again, recklessly squandering what they had supposed to be inexhaustible; they had been like children in a house filled with sweetmeats, destroying what they could not consume. Until now.
Now it was as though the planet itself was sick of their arrogance.
How many times had the weaklings of this world fled cowering before the wrath of Ruagh and others of his kind? It was of no comfort to recall and count such occasions. Now he, Ruagh—the unquestioned master of thousands—was himself in flight, before the terrible and not-to-be-withstood anger of blind nature....
Far behind were the marble towers and jewelled citadels of Avvan, the city they had raised to honor him. Far behind in time now as well as space, for when he and his retinue had set out on their panicky retreat, the sea had already broached the white stone walls of the harbor and was hurling vessels against the nearest of the buildings. There had been cracks and splits in the fabric of the temple, Ruagh's temple.
And now here was Ruagh, for whom thousands had existed only to serve and worship, reduced to the overlordship of a starving and ragged band of refugees; his temple a palanquin, his high priests a handful of moaning bearers.
It was intolerable! Ruagh raged and fumed, wishing there were some means of punishing the cause of his indignities.
Ahead of the straggling procession a plain seemed to stretch endlessly. The sun beat down out of the sky, glinting on the ceremonial gongs which their players were too weak to beat but still carried, being also too weak to make the mental effort involved in throwing them away. Ruagh too was weakening, though he husbanded his strength, for he realized that once his iron grip on his people failed, their hatred would boil to the surface and they would turn on him and rend him.
The plain was not endless, he knew. It was a level shelf, tilted slightly so that it rose inland from the shore where he had had his city of Avvan built. Now they had accomplished almost half the distance to their destination which was a city built by another of Ruagh's kind, or rather by his subjects. That city was set among mountains. Surely, although the sea that beat at the walls of Avvan had gone mad, the mountains would stand fast!
Heat was making the ground appear to shimmer in the distance. For an instant it seemed to Ruagh that he was looking out on an ocean instead of firm ground. If only his vision could pierce the barrier separating them from their goal! If only he could see, and not merely hope, that safety lay ahead! The unbelievable, unprecedented behaviour of the seas had shaken his confidence in the natural order of events.
Then the shabby finery of his palanquin fell almost in a single instant to the ground. Ruagh's ill-controlled fury boiled up like lava from the pit of a volcano, blinding him to everything except the idiot incompetence of his bearers. He lavished pain on all those around him, and their suffering gave him back a little of his lost strength. That was the nature of Ruagh's kind.
At last he was sufficiently in control of himself again to summon his highest priest and make him writhe for what had happened. But no answer came to his imperious signaling. His rage blackened again. Doubtless, while he himself had let his mind wander, the idiot weakling had dropped dead of fatigue along the trail. He summoned the next in seniority, and was relieved to feel the man respond at once.
But the priest was a sorry sight. He limped as he hurried to the fallen palanquin, and blood was oozing from a cut on his face. When he spoke, he did so with stammering difficulty.
"Greatest Lord! The earth has gone mad!"
"What do you mean?" Ruagh, the memory of fresh suffering tingling, accompanied the question with a suggestion of pain. The man flinched outwardly, and rushed on.
"Lord, the earth shook and trembled, and a great cavity has opened in the plain across our path!"
Ruagh looked. It was true. He had been so furious at his bearers letting his conveyance fall that he had not seen. A crevasse many times deeper than the height of a man had yawned in the plain. Even now, loose soil and rocks were tumbling from its lip and vanishing below. Some of the fugitives were on the far side, wailing to the sky. One foolhardy man had approached almost to the edge of the crevasse and was attempting to see what fate had overtaken those who had been swallowed up.
And that, Ruagh presumed, was what had happened to his highest priest.
Now, for the first time in his life, he was coming to know fear; now the arbitrary behaviour of the planet was forcing him to the state where he so often drove his subjects. Fear of the fear was what drove him to madness.
"Make a bridge for me!" he commanded.
The surviving priest looked about him incredulously; he saw the plain, covered with low-growing scrub and an occasional thorny bush, but without trees. "But, Lord!" he protested. "What is there here out of which we may make a bridge?"
"Of your bodies!" Ruagh ordered. "And be swift!"
The crossing killed nearly half the survivors. Though they found the strength to hand together while Raugh's palanquin was manhandled over the gulf, they had not the strength to haul the weight of their own bodies back. By twos and threes, screaming, they joined their companions in the crevasse. Rock and soil fell to cover their corpses.
Others dropped as Ruagh flayed the procession onwards, depleting his own strength in the desperation that had overcome his better judgment. Only when night fell did he let the survivors rest and drink. They could not eat for they had already used up the few supplies they had brought.
Even then, Ruagh chafed, although he knew he was wholly at the mercy of his bearers and companions. He did not exact the full ritual of the sunset worship because that too was a drain on their bodily resources. He compelled himself to be patient while they sluiced their parched throats, fell asleep in the act, and woke again to requench a thirst that haunted them even in their dreams. Stars looked down after the sun had set, and Ruagh focused his attention on them to quell his terror. He had known some of them—even, one might say, many of them—and where yesterday he would have regarded their broods of planets as far inferior to the richly stored paradise he and his kind were now enjoying, he found himself aching for the placid predictability he had known under those suns.
And then the earth shook again. Not much; barely a tremor. The sleeping men around him twitched in their sleep, and then were still. But even a tremor was more than Ruagh could stand. Onward! To the safety of the city in the mountains! He lashed his weary bearers to their blistered feet.
They came at last, in the light of dawn, to the brow of a hill. Across the valley that lay beneath the hill, it was possible to see their destination. Eagerly, and yet at the same time reluctant lest his suspicions prove the truth, Ruagh had his palanquin borne forward at a stumbling run. Where he would normally have tortured his bearers for jogging him so, he noticed nothing.
There, in the red morning glow, sparkled the colossal dome of the temple where his cousin reigned. There were the varicolored palaces of his retinue, the broad roads, the high and splendid towers. The relief was blinding. For a long moment Ruagh stared and stared his fill.
It was his last opportunity.
Most of his subjects had dropped off to sleep already, glad to take advantage of even a moment's halt. But those who had not saw before Ruagh did what was happening. He looked only at the city; they looked beyond, to the great mountain on whose flank the city was sited. They looked, and they saw....
Gradually, with the dignity of one of Ruagh's ritual ceremonies, the crown of the mountain was splitting. A rock that looked no larger than the head of a man at such a distance was breaking loose. Falling. It struck the mountainside and bounced.
Faintly, the sound began to come to them, seconds after the sight.
And then the rock smashed through the dome of the temple, brought it crashing, broke down the mighty wall, and came to rest in the vast square beyond. A second rock shattered the glorious towers like ninepins, toppling them left and right. After the avalanche, the wreck of the city lay breathing dust beneath the rising sun.
Ruagh knew only a sense of desolation beyond anything he had conceived possible. All hope was gone....
He could not bear to look at where the city had been; he stared down into the valley, and saw something snaking out across its floor. Something that had been in darkness and shadow until the angle of the sun was high enough to reveal it. A procession! A train such as he had driven out of Avvan!
Heedless of future need, he drained the last reserves of his bearers and made them carry him swiftly towards the other party. The leaders of this group from the mountain city halted suspiciously and fanned out, drawing knives and swords.
Ruagh felt puzzled. He urged his bearers on, towards the other palanquin which bore the ruler of the mountain city. And from this palanquin now came a command, strongly uttered, with all the power that one who had not had to flee across a barren plain could still employ.
"Back! There is no place for you here!"
"Back!" echoed Ruagh, and felt how feeble he was in comparison with this other member of his race. "But back where? I have seen all between here and the coast, and there is no refuge!"
"You should have done as I did!" There was contempt in the words. "There is no time to leave this world as we have left others. Indeed, until now none would have been willing to prepare to leave it! But I was wise, and some few others who foresaw this day. In the living rock I have built a refuge for myself, where I can hope to sleep a million years if need be, where I can wait out the fury of this maddened world."
"Take me with you! By all that we have done together, take me with you!" Ruagh felt himself shaking.
"Fool! There is place for one."
And now, too late, Ruagh faced the truth.
The other went on, with a hint of cruel amusement, "Why do you not command your subjects to make a refuge for you, as I commanded mine?"
The picture of his worn-out band of survivors mocked Ruagh in his imagination. Without conscious thought, he had flogged them one last time to their feet, and bid them attack the members of the other procession. Perhaps he thought of seizing the refuge built for his fellow.
But of the outcome there could be no doubt. And amid the carnage Ruagh was left alone, while the sound of mountains falling echoed and re-echoed about him.CHAPTER 2
The chill which ran along Peter Trant's spine was not due to the chilly water; he was efficiently insulated against his environment. It was due to awe.
For it had just occurred to him that he was the first event here for thousands upon thousands of years.
Nothing, ordinarily, happened here. There was the never-ending rain of Globigerina on the seabed, forming the ooze whose depth divided by its estimated rate of fall enabled man to put an age to the sea in which Peter Trant now swam. Fish were rare, and those existing were migrants from higher levels.
The sense of isolation shook him, and he turned in the water and glanced back to the dim green sun shining overhead. It was not the real sun, of course. Sunlight was a mile or more away, and in any case it had been overcast when he and his companions started their long trip down. It was the beacon of the bathynef which had brought him here.
Well, that was all right, then. The beacon was the brightest light ever devised by man, fusing the hydrogen from the water surrounding it.
He hung, floating, thinking of the fantastic achievements that had combined to bring him here, and enabling him to move about as though he were in outer space, in free fall. The bathynef was perhaps the least of these technical miracles, although the fact that it could hang itself up on a fusion reaction more than a thousand fathoms below the surface was the result of an almost incredible masterpiece of design. The magnetic bottle which contained the beacon damped the escaping radiation to a level safe for the crew of the vessel, applying principles derived from the observation of white dwarf stars.
Here, stars had never been seen—not for millenniums. This side of the great Atlantic Ridge it was probable there had been land in other geological epochs. Under the layer of globigerina ooze which had enabled scientists to say that there had been ocean here for about a hundred thousand years, there was granite. On the other side of the Atlantic Ridge, those fantastic submarine mountains wider than the Andes and higher than the Himalayas, the ocean floor was basalt. Basalt is igneous, rock born of the primal fires that shook the new-born earth; granite is the rock on which the continents are founded.
Another shiver of awe crept down Peter Trant's back. He began to revise his opinion of the relative status of the miracles that had brought him here. He had been thinking that the greatest of them was the Ostrovsky-Wong process by which he was enabled to stand the pressure of the ocean deeps in a free-diving outfit less cumbersome than the space-suit needed to endure interplanetary vacuum. But was it not almost more astonishing that before men had been able to come and see for themselves, they should have been able to send tenuous messengers, sonar probes, and discover what they were likely to see when they followed in person?
He turned with a wriggle like an eel and stared towards the mountains on the opposite side from the bathynef. He could not see them in the dim water, but they were there, all right. The few peaks of this range which man could see were called a chain of islands, the Azores, St. Paul's Rocks, not far from the equator, Tristan da Cunha (that symbol of loneliness), Gough Island and the Bouvet Islands far to the south. Only oceanographers and those few others who were accustomed to thinking of the sea in depth as well as on its surface regarded the Ridge in its true light.
As he came nearer to the bathynef, he had to turn like an acrobat, but the high resistance of the dense water made it dreamily easy. He dodged into shadow beneath the vast buoyancy tanks and had to pause a while to let his eyes adjust to the field of brightness surrounding the beacon, which was now hidden from him. As soon as he was able to discern the still darker oblong which was the entry to the lock, he hauled himself into it.
The outer door closed behind him. The inner one opened instantly. The crew compartment, of course, was full of water. Air at any pressure tolerable for human breathing under normal circumstances would have meant doubling the strength of the hull of the bathynef. To crew this craft meant taking the Ostrovsky-Wong treatment and staying in a suit during the trip. The controls, the engine, the beacon generator and the rest didn't need air. They were embedded in a solid block of plastic which made servicing abominably difficult but which solved the pressure problem neatly.
He edged past Mary Davis and tapped her shoulder as he did so. She turned her head so that he could see her face through the front plate of her helmet, and he gave her a broad grin and a wink. Her answering smile was forced.
The third crewman, Luke Wallace, had been taking advantage of Peter's absence to use up more than his share of the tiny space. Moving back into his allotted area, he pantomimed throwing Peter back out of the lock.
"What you want to come back for so soon?" he whispered over the headsets. In the bathynef itself sound travelled well enough to speak in an ordinary voice, but stray pickup by the throat mikes had got them into the habit of whispering all the time. "Me and Mary were getting along fine!"
"Don't give me that!" said Peter, forcing himself to adapt to Luke's irrepressible manner. "I know they've done some investigation into possibilities in free fall, though it's only theoretical till they start sending up mixed spaceship crews. But here!"
"What a chance we had for research, anyway!" said Luke.
Mary cut in impatiently. "Peter, you be serious. Does the process work?"
Excerpted from The Atlantic Abomination by John Brunner. Copyright © 1960 John Brunner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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