Xing Saga 14: X Marks The Spot
Mount Barker, SA
In which Snoopy and the new arrivals from Xing search for a sunken shop and find an underwater colony of metalbots …
‘And so, boys and girls, that’s what happened to your uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents who sailed on the ‘Amazonia’, trying to reach America. They disappeared without a trace and were never seen again.’
As Oggie concluded his story to the assembled bot children, he looked down sadly at the map he’d been holding up, shaking his head over the hand-drawn ‘X’. His audience had been full of questions about the sinking, which occurred back in 2085, almost ten years ago. The Amazonia had hit an iceberg and sank with all hands, or was that the Titanic? Well, anyway, it had carried away friends of his and their families to a watery grave at the bottom of the Atlantic, an ocean which covered about 20% of their adopted planet, Earth.
Some of the recently arrived bots, fresh from his home planet Xing, had brought with them some flashy new tech and wanted to go out to the ship’s last known location to look for it. Oggie got the willies just thinking about being near water, let alone under it, so he didn’t volunteer to join them. Instead, Snoopy agreed to lead the group, as she needed something new to occupy her, other than her constant plans to get back to the home planet. She commandeered the noble BodWilf, who was still serving out his punishment as a grey. She would enjoy making him grovel, she thought.
The scientific component of the search party examined the hand-drawn ‘X’, drew up exact coordinates and they set off. At first, they approached the area by air, hovering over the spot and aiming their instruments into the depths. Dissatisfied with their results, they dropped an unmanned explorer craft down to the ocean floor, where it promptly crumpled like a used tissue from the water pressure. Snoopy was finding it hard to keep a straight face at the evident surprise and disappointment of the scientists in her charge. Then BodWilf was airsick and vomited on the floor, giving Snoopy great satisfaction watching him clean it up.
The crew measured the pressure and found data about it already existed that they’d overlooked. A more robust unmanned craft was built and sent down in its turn. This one survived the trip but brought back limited data. It was too dark and dense to see very much, although they got footage of some really weird sea creatures skulking around, dangling their own light source. Then some interesting ‘pings’ on the craft’s botometer indicated the presence of metal down there.
The search area was broadened and aerial reconnaissance finally found what they thought was the wreck of the Amazonia. The amazing thing was that it looked intact, if a bit organically enhanced, settled along a broad section of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Not only that, but it seemed to be occupied, and not just by sea creatures! A new exploration vehicle was designed and built. This one carried a crew of four, skippered by Snoopy. They approached the huge ship, registering electronic chatter as they got nearer. To Snoopy’s surprise, she could see figures moving behind the portholes. Not just figures, metalbots! They were alive!
She approached the ship with caution, settling her craft on the tilted deck. She then engaged land mode and the craft crawled carefully towards what looked like a door. This opened slowly due to water pressure and a metalbot head popped out. Sadly, it was not attached to a metalbot body, so it floated past them, only to be snaffled by an enormous kraken. There ensued a flurry of tentacles and sediment and the disgusted predator spat the head out again, letting it sink slowly to the deck.
Then a bot hand appeared in the doorway gesturing to them to come in and they negotiated the short distance between their craft and the ship’s door as quickly as they could. Inside, the pressure was less noticeable. Snoopy was surprised to recognise a bot she’d thought to be long dead; her former commander of Gamma Group.
‘Sir,’ she began, ‘the last time I saw you, you were in several pieces. I’m glad to find you’ve recovered.’
‘Officer SnoopyLoo, I owe you a debt of thanks for getting Gamma Group back to Xing for me. How come you’re back on Earth again?’ he replied.
‘Long story, sir. How do you wish to proceed with returning the survivors of the Amazonia to the surface?’ What he said next took her by surprise, and her mouth dropped open.
‘I don’t think we can return now,’ he said, ‘you see, we’ve made a life down here. We’ve eaten quite a large percentage of the ship’s metal and adapted ourselves to become denser, so that we can endure the pressures. We’ve had children who have never seen the surface, each of whom weighs more than a fully grown soldierbot. So, thankyou for finding us, but no thanks for the rescue.’
‘But, sir,’ she said in dismay, ‘I think you should relay the offer to the others, nonetheless. There may be one or two who want to return to the surface. Maybe even return to Xing?’
‘Ah, returning to Xing,’ he mused, ‘is that possible now?’
‘I certainly intend to return, sir,’ said Snoopy, ‘as soon as our craft is repaired.’ She shot a cutting look at BodWilf, who was staring guiltily at the floor, hoping she hadn’t noticed that he’d thrown up again.
The rescuers were given a tour of the underwater town set up by the Amazonia survivors. Snoopy spelled out the options for rescue, and four childless bots elected to return with them, but not before the two groups agreed to trade with each other. Xing Town was to provide metal and tech in exchange for some strange rocks the others had found on the ridge ¬ rocks with extra-terrestrial properties. The scientists were in a buzz about it.
Back on the surface of the ocean, while awaiting transfer to the aerial craft, Snoopy felt sad that the majority of bots in the underwater town had decided to stay put. She had struggled to resist the urge to leave BodWilf with them, but that would deprive her of seeing him suffer, and she intended him to suffer.
Back home, she would suggest to Oggie and others that it might be nice to invite some of the wet kids to visit Xing Town, while sending some of their own kids to stay in the underwater town. A cultural exchange of sorts. One day, these water-bots would even be able to communicate from the depths. Their only dangers were undersea volcanic eruptions, seismic activity that might shake loose the sunken ship, and running out of metal. In the years since they sank, the ship had become encrusted with organic material and was becoming its own reef. As the bots consumed the ship’s metal, nature was taking its place and providing a habitat for marine life.
She looked at Oggie’s map and decided that the ‘X’ over their location should denote ‘Xing Town Atlantis’.