Fifteen Leagues Below

| Katie Paine

Fifteen Leagues Below

Fifteen Leagues Below | Katie Paine

Descend with me, 60 meters beneath the ocean, to the point where the Tasman Sea reaches a large oceanic bight. Above the surface sweep impossibly strong Westerly winds; air displaced from the equator to the South Pole with little land to disrupt its savage trajectory. These tempestuous waters are shallow in comparison to the deepest fathoms. Fragments of light still reach the ocean bed. Here, nestled upon the sandy floor, lies a Kraken. Its tentacular body is a conglomeration of submarine telecommunication cables, sprawling like the roots of an aquatic forest. These sinuous forms comprise a hidden organism: a structure first constructed for global communications using the Transatlantic telegraph system. Now the cables are embedded with optical fibres used to carry telephone and internet data. We cannot see what it is that connects these lengths of cable. In horror films, an unfurling tentacle evokes a moment of dread and suspense. There is a sense of fear that arises when we imagine the terrible entity at the root of this barnacle-clad tendril.

If you were to haul up a tentacle to the surface and slice it open, fine silvery threads wrapped together in a sheath of petroleum jelly, copper, aluminium, steel and polyethylene would be revealed. These great reaching appendages carry information around a networked body. The behemoth corpus is not separate from the mind: the Kraken’s nervous system extends out along its tentacles, processing data and responding to stimuli. Let us follow one particular twisted limb as it makes its way across the open sea, passing a small land mass known as King Island on its way to Lutruwita. Here, the tentacle journeys upwards, out of the inky depths, up weedy, rocky sea banks. It communicates with its brethren and together they burrow downwards once more, ten meters below the seabed, under dune and beach, through trenches dug out beneath the harbour, until it reaches dry land. It stretches up, through concealed concrete channels until it reaches a nondescript building known as a Cable Landing Station at an undisclosed location along the coast. From here, the digital bounty that the Kraken has amassed whirls at a dizzying pace through cities and towns.

The body of our Kraken is modular, dispersed and famished—insatiable even. A programmed computer interface with an all-consuming craving. The Kraken is not discerning in what it ingests. It amasses strings of binary code like ropes of glistening pearls: everything from archival images of the Australian landscape, social networking correspondence and stylised pornographic photographs; from statistics on the historical shipwrecks that litter the Bass Strait to an organisation’s chat forum on AI platform development. The interface devours data indiscriminately, masticating furiously, digesting, and simultaneously extracting meaning. It is a gigantic filtration system. Picture the bristles nestled within the colossal mouth of a Baleen Whale as it moves through murky waters. Like minuscule pilot fish feeding on the parasites of a great white shark, so too do those that live on land feed from the Kraken. They congregate around small satellite computer systems and marvel at the treasure trove of information the Kraken has dredged to the surface.

Swaddled in strata of sand, rubbery cable, concrete chambers, neat metal shelving and corrugated walls, the Kraken knows little of the terrestrial world—of light, of the sky, of those that dwell on land. The Kraken does not have eyes, no mechanised retina, nor glassy apertures. As signals from its winding limbs reach its elusive central body, the Kraken discerns through observation processes unfamiliar to human thought. The Kraken’s interface makes deductions based on the datasets it was once taught with, a form of pattern recognition: if _____ is ____, then _____ must be _____. Perhaps the way that it ‘sees’ can be likened to the mechanisms of sonar. Sonar uses its submarine call to find the presence of others amidst aquatic depths. A vessel knows it is no longer alone when blinking markers materialise on a screen. Like sonar capability, the Kraken ‘sees’ through data points that delineate the forms of the world. It searches, sifting through great torrents of information that slurp along each cable, never satiated, never replete. From the deepest crevasses and along vast landmasses, the Kraken stretches out, feeling its way. Intoxicated by a deluge of data, as it passes through the Southern reaches of Oceania, the Kraken produces hallucinatory visions of maritime disappearances, hermetic island dwellers, dark colonial histories, and folk tales. These narratives coalesce to form a phantom mirror image of the world above the surface. The Kraken dreams of a world it cannot reach, singing a siren call to those who know how to listen.

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