Barron, Lyra, and myself found ourselves standing on the water, assessing our predicament. The Cyclops lay at rest on a mirror-gloss plane, canted several degrees to starboard where she had come to rest after being throw clear of the surfacing pupa. Barron had checked over the exterior with his engineer’s eye, and reported no damage. He credited the slightly gelatin-like springiness of the surface, which likely eased the impact of the crash. Looking at our stranded ship-protection-homein this state I could not help but feel a sense of urgency to get her back in the water where she belonged. The unearthly sounds of another insect emerging nearby served to underscore my anxiety.
“Skipper,” Lyra announced with uncommon veracity, “the sooner we get back below the surface, the better.”
Ten millimeters away the glassy plane of the water bulged upward, then burst. Spear -like projections, hairs actually, stabbed skyward then blossomed outward over the water, creating an aperture in the surface tension – a break in the featureless plane from which emerged a winged monster.
With what appeared to be considerable effort the enormous insect pulled itself out of the pupa exoskeleton, dragging itself into the world with its six articulated legs, an aquatic creature reborn into the terrestrial realm. Its antennae and wings were still crumpled but immediately began to unfurl. As its wings dried in the morning sun, giant compound eyes surveyed the surrounding plane. It picked a half-millimeter speck off the water, a mite, then crunched it in powerful jaws, and swallowed it. The Cyclops was not much bigger than the doomed mite, and not much further away from the insect.
“Just what I thought,” said Lyra. “These are Chironomidae, also known as blind mosquitos. We must’ve gotten entangled with the pupa as it was surfacing, and were thrown clear. That one will fly off in search of a mate, but another one could hatch right beneath us and make the Cyclops its first meal.”
“Not what I signed up for,” commented Gyro.
“So,” I asked, beginning the question on everyone’s mind, “how do we break through the surface tension and get back in the water?”
“What we need,” announced Barron, appearing in the companionway, “is a surfactant – a compound that we can apply to the hull – something that will nullify the water’s cohesive nature. At launch the ship was painted with a micelle coating, but that beasty must’ve secreted phospholipids to help it break through the surface tension…”
“Which stripped off our own anti-cohesive coating,” finished Lyra, “leaving us stranded. But any kind of oil will break the surface tension.”
“We keep a supply of olive oil on board for greasing the gears, and for covering the diving suits,” explained Barron, “but there isn’t enough to glaze the hull. “
“Then I have good news” added Lyra reassuringly. “Oil occurs naturally in a common family of planktonic algae, in species that thrive in this region.”
“It appears,” I said feeling encouraged, “that we are going fishing for algae. But what kind are we looking for?”
Lyra’s eyes flickered with excitement. “Diatoms!”