05-Arrival / They came in gently at first, lapping at people’s feet like inanimate objects that had stumbled upon the virtues of attraction. Within a few hours, on the beaches of Sharm El Sheikh, people could barely make it into the sea past the quivering mass. Out in the great blue, beyond the diving boats and the tourists, I imagined coastal trawlers and purse-seine fisherman taking them, tonne by useless tonne. As the first pictures shot across undersea cables to screens around the world, I was watching. I sent them flying. Me. Nobody in a world that demands you’re somebody. Me, Jess Zo, posting under an anonymous name.
08-Morning after / I woke up with the couch in my face, red hair curdled like blood on my glasses: a horror movie. A good one though. Halloween. The Thing, maybe. I can’t remember exactly how I got roped in to mod the Black Ventures forum on Space², but I’ve always felt like a guard dog on it’s patch—I opened my eyes 27 years ago on Merritt Island, early years warped by the sights and sounds of the Kennedy Space Center, thunderous launches pulling my bones apart and dragging me forcefully into adulthood. It’s hard to reconcile the joy of building backyard rockets with my dad, and seeing William Black and the other privateers plow inherited capital into dreams as big as their egos.
10-Going for the jugular without Occam’s razor / After five days no one else has pulled the strands together in quite the same way as I have, maybe no-one else is stupid enough. Here’s the thing though: Black Ventures sent Omega up four months ago, part of a series of launches that never quite made sense, at least as far as the $$$ are concerned. Omega crashed off Socotra Island, the largest in a small archipelago hovering near the bottom lip of Yemen, and then this phenomenon washed up right in the same neighbourhood. I feel like I’ve committed a mortal sin by posting this on the forum. My inbox says so. I’m brave, stupid and a conspiracy theorist all at the same time.
16-The cartographer / I’ve dived to the bottom of a jar of olives, losing my mask on the way down. For nearly a week I’ve been on a historical search for jellyfish pictures around The Red Sea. The first spark was a post by a light aircraft pilot, who snapped a rich velvet cloak draped across the ocean. EXIF data put the images near Farasan Island Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Saudi Arabia, three days before the jellyfish hit Egypt’s beaches. This was just the start. I’ve found jellyfish everywhere. I’m sick of them. On the map in front of me, I stare at distorted concentric circles, lapping gently from Socotra Island, towards Port Sudan, Ras Madrakah, Little Aden, Sharm el Sheikh. Goosebumps.
17-You’re through to Corporate, how can we help? / I caught the live-stream today of William Black being accosted by two doorsteppers from the Las Vegas Sun while walking out of his hotel in Reno. At least someone is reading the forum. A master of the universe facing too ageing hacks from the past. They asked him if he was ‘responsible for the jellyfish’. I don’t care what anyone says. I love old media. Black said we need rigorous science to get to the bottom of it, not a hatchet job from those ‘motivated to see a great new age of space exploration brought to an end’. Hmmm. More importantly, a problem for the East is becoming a problem for the West. The jellyfish have invaded the Suez Canal, appearing on the shores of Gaza then Tel Aviv then Beirut. At Tartus in Syria they did what I guess no other worldly power has dared to do, and blockaded the Russian naval base, while at same time threatening the intake pipes of container ships and bringing the Suez to a virtual standstill for the first time since the last Arab–Israeli war.
23-The Deep / I think I’m enjoying this. Has anyone ever said that about patent trawling? It turns out a Black Ventures subsidiary bought a fertility drug called OPH1 that failed stage one trials. When it was tested on pigs something interesting happened: it halved the gestation period. Well, something interesting is happening with the jellyfish reproduction rate too. Is Black Ventures trying to figure out how to populate planets? Too out there? You need thousands of people to populate planets. Having more babies faster is cheaper, more efficient, you name it. I guess it must be easy to lose perspective when you’re saving the world.
24-First contact / A journalist called David Warner messaged me on the forum. He wants to ‘touch base on my recent post’. Urghh. Talk like a human. I think I prefer my head firmly below the parapet. Things are moving in the natural world too. Less than a month into their quiet revolution, the jellyfish have begun to plateau. Eaten by sunfish and sharks, pecked from foaming water by seabirds. Others have succumbed to low oxygen levels or attacks from parasites. As the problem is eaten away at, the jellyfish have slowly relaxed their grip on the news cycle. Shipping has been rerouted. Tourists have begun to tour. The formerly terrible disaster is newly proclaimed a blip, an event, something to learn from—even if the lessons are not yet known. William Black is still a free man. Let’s be honest, that won’t change. Me, Jess Zo? I guess I return to being, well, me. No more heroes, just the glint of possibility hidden neatly in the corner of my eye.
AN Grace is a writer from the United Kingdom, whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Queen’s Quarterly, Young Magazine, The Racket, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and others.