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    Innumerevoli lunghe braccia si torcevano e si arricciavano come un nido di anaconda, sembrava volessero afferrare alla cieca qualsiasi oggetto si trovasse alla loro portata. Non aveva faccia o fronte visibili, né segno immaginabile di sensazione o di istinti; ma emergeva dai flutti come non fosse di questa terra. Poi con cupo rumore di risucchio quanto era apparso scomparve. E Starbuk gridò con voce scalmanata: "Lo spettro bianco!".

    H. Melville, Moby Dick, 1851


    Folco Quilici's new novel, is a long sea quest and adventure story:
    The deep sea search and recovery team is engaged in a mission more hazardous than anything attempted to date.

    Marco Arnei, Sarah Morasky and Junio Valerio Manunzi, known as Juv, head for the geographical center of the Pacific Ocean aboard the "Jack London", a vintage, three-masted clipper fitted out with the best in high-tech marine technology.
    The clipper is owned by William Faber Niau, New Zealand's king of canned tuna. Confined to a wheelchair ever since an accident in a rugby match some sixty years ago, W.F. Niau is a huge, vigorous man of Maiori origin. Now on the threshold of his eightieth year, he has decided to dedicate his time and his multi-million dollar fortune to a quest that borders on the impossible. His goal is to reveal the last great secret of the seven seas by discovering the habitat of the architeuthis and photographing this legendary marine animal in its natural environment.

    The "Jack London" is on course to Polynesia to investigate the channels that run between the Marquises Islands, an area notorious for treacherous weather conditions. Ever since the great whaling days these waters have been famous for the presence of large groups of cetaceans and marine biologists have indicated that this is where the architeuthis, the implacable enemy of all whales, is most likely to be found. When the two sea giants encounter each other, the ensuing fight can only end in death.

    But what is this creature that has fired the imagination and defied discovery for centuries?
    According to legend, the architeuthis is the world's largest cephalopod, but little or nothing is actually known about it. For two thousand years, people have conjectured about its size, strength and aggressiveness, but at the onset of the Third Millennium no-one has ever seen one. The depth of its habitat protects it from human curiosity and only chance discoveries by whalers of savaged whale cadavers washed ashore in various parts of the world, have offered proof of its existence.

    Bathyscaphs probing the depths of the architeuthis' supposed habitat have been hampered by reduced mobility and scant visibility.

    At this point, we prefer to believe that the elusive creature is not a small sea floor fish or a large piece of plankton, but a monster more than 15 meters long with tentacles ten meters long.
    Body weight is assumed to exceed five tons, including an array of defensive and offensive weapons, such as multiple snake-like, strangulating tentacles with claws and suckers, a heavy, snapping, beak-like mouth and thick body armor pierced by two large, ever-open eyes.

    Sci-fi biology enthusiasts suspect the architeuthis is the result of an alternative form of evolution or possibly an alien creature from another planet.

    After dedicating a crippled lifetime to the creation of a large successful industry, W.F.Niau is obsessed by a quote from the works of William Faulkner: a man is dead only when he is forgotten. He yearns to be remembered as the man who went beyond legend to compile a dossier on the "monster", so permitting Science to add a hitherto unwritten chapter to the great book of marine biology. To accomplish this task he scoured Europe and America to find the right people for the job, finally selecting Germany marine biologist, Gerhard Frailich, an international authority on the "architeuthis mystery" and a team that includes deep water experts Marco Arnei and Sarah Morasky, and submarine technology wizard Juv Manunzi with his technical support group.

    At first, Marco, Sarah were reluctant to accept executive roles in "Mission Architeuthis", but the fascinating implications of the New Zealand millionaire's proposal combined with a slump in deep sea archeology soon made them change their minds. Juv's was even more skeptical, but once he overcame his natural diffidence, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the design and construction of a revolutionary deep water exploration craft, equipped with digital video and audio systems and a range of defensive measures.

    Named "Nautilus" in honor of Jules Verne, the mini-submarine was built in San Diego's largest shipyard for underwater technology and is now securely stowed on the afterdeck of the "Jack London".

    Shortly before the "Jack London" set sail from Auckland, W.F. Niau held an international press conference on the deck. Posing proudly next to "Nautilus", he presented his exploration team, summed up the goal of his quest and listed the means he has made available to achieve it.
    The Media loved it, splashing the story on front pages and TV news shows around the world, provoking the ire of a man dedicated to the defense of the environment, who has vowed "to defend the oceans from human intruders" with every means at his disposal.
    Okiro-san was the victim of an incident in the nuclear power station at Tokaimura, Japan, the only survivor of twelve "kamikaze" volunteer firefighters who managed to close down a rogue plutonium plant and avoid a disaster of catastrophic proportions.

    Unlike his eleven companions, Okiro survived the massive doses of radiation that literally devoured their bodies. For years, he has lived in a silver coverall made of a special plastic material, completely isolated from the outside world that he views through a thin slit in the face mask. His bodily functions are controlled by micro-systems within the coverall and he eats and washes in a special pressurized cabin.

    His heroic deed and its consequences received widespread publicity and he now commands a sect of some twenty fanatics, mostly women, members of an anti-social, anti-conformist, free love group, proudly self-styled "militant animal lovers", who elected him their leader.

    The sect's floating base, "Shark", an old, black trimaran adorned with provocative slogans, sets sail in search of the "Jack London" determined to foil the mission of "the vandal of the environment", and save the world from the "arrogance of knowledge. The sect considers itself authorized to use every possible means to save the ocean and its bio-diversity.

    But this is not the only threat to W.F. Niau's project.
    Theodore Abrams Todd, an ambitious Californian millionaire, has also made his money in canned foods and will not accept that there is someone else in the sector who can steal his thunder. He decides to thwart "Mission Architeuthis" to humiliate the New Zealander and win worldwide acclaim for himself, not only by hunting down and photographing the legendary monster, but also by bringing home a live example. To achieve this goal he has consulted experts in creatures of the marine abysses and commissioned a Norwegian shipyard to build a remote controlled robot, equipped with sensitive search sensors, specially designed hook and net launchers and a bank of syringes loaded with powerful anesthetics.

    Once the monster has been located and immobilized in a special pressurized cage, "Onyx", an ocean going tugboat fitted out for the occasion, will tow it slowly to Hawaii, where it will become a worldwide attraction in an underwater zoo.
    The crews of the "Jack London" and "Onyx" prepare to challenge each other above and below the waves in what might have been a straight forward contest of reckless daring, had Okiro's "militants" not appeared on the scene.

    The Japanese are every bit as motivated as the hunters and to attract world attention to their fight against marauders intent on upsetting the natural balance of the ocean by polluting its waters, killing the fauna and plundering its resources. If the sect defeats the aspirations of the two cynical millionaires, it will establish itself in the forefront of environmentalist "at war with the world to save the world". Although Okiro himself invented the defiant slogan, he finds himself beset with doubts about joining the ranks of eco-terrorists. He is well aware he is only the figurehead of the sect that is in the hands of a fanatic minority, determined to go any lengths in the name of their cause.

    The "Jack London" and "Shark" face off on the high seas. The sect opens the hostilities with barrages of insults first via radio, then hurled across the waves followed by provocative gestures that elicit no response.

    Then, they try to prevent the launch of "Nautilus" by using high pressure pumps to discharge streams of fetid, stinging colored liquid onto the deck of the elegant clipper. The action is broken off when "Onyx" appears on the scene and the sect turn its attention to the mission helmed by Theodore Abrams Todd.

    Now that all three forces have taken the field the tension rises and a series of dramatic, often grotesque clashes will reveal that the "good guys" are not always so good and the "bad guys" are not always so bad.

    The situation is further complicated when a primitive Marquisis tribe enters the fray after a foraging party from "Shark" lands on their island to replenish the boat's fresh fruit and water supply. The invasion of unruly, half-naked girls causes consternation in the tribal village, especially when the intruders discover the exhilarative qualities of Kawa, a strong hallucinogenic drink used in small doses by the priests, during tribal rituals. The girls get their hands on the priests' reserves, drink themselves silly and lose all control. The village elders are so shocked by their "guests" behavior that they declare war on the "poopà" anchored off their island.

    The crews of the three ships mark each other around the clock, unaware that the real danger for all of them comes from a primitive people descended from a tribe of cannibals. When the natives finally appear, armed with weapons abandoned by the U.S. military garrisoned on the island at the end of World War Two, the tension reaches dizzying heights.

    In the end, Juv restores the peace with the islanders addressing them in Sardinian dialect and using an unlikely gimmick.

    In spite of the hostilities in progress, aboard the "Jack London" the exploration of the marine abyss never ceases. Every descent that Marco and Sarah make in "Nautilus" is charged with suspense. Although the craft has the weapons to ward off an attack by a hostile creature, they have only been used in laboratory conditions. While the tension on the surface remains constant, the search for the architeuthis continues hour after hour, day after day… in vain. Sometimes W.F. Niau himself joins the intrepid couple in their uneventful underwater forays until, one day, with the millionaire aboard, the search pays off. Suddenly, the architeuthis is there, caught in the beam of the submarine searchlight. The long-sought prey is huge and so majestic that immediately Sarah names it "The King"…. a veritable monarch of the depths that, as the three humans watch in awe, is attacked by a giant whale. Ignoring the risk of being overwhelmed by the two gargantuan contestants, Marco edges the "Nautilus" forward and fires an electric charge at the whale, driving it away.

    Marco, Sarah and W.F.Niau stare through the porthole into the eyes of the architeuthis. "Nautilus" and the largest octopus ever seen hang immobile in the water, face to face, the sub's digital video equipment recording every second of the encounter. Time passes, a minute, maybe more, as both sides overcome their astonishment and apprehension. Then, the awesome beast attacks, pitting itself against the steel intruder, modern technology against primordial brute strength. Using every defensive device at his disposal, Marco manages to break away and head for the surface. The three aquanauts step out onto the deck of the "Jack London" euphoric, their mission accomplished.

    In the jubilant words of W.F. Niau: "the existence of the architeuthis is no longer legend but documented fact."
    While the triumphant dive is in progress, events on the surface between the environmentalists and "Onyx" come to a head as Okiro's fanatics upgrade their attacks with the use of firearms.

    Abrams' crew responds with equal violence, trying to ram and sink the trimaran.
    Appalled by the horrifying possibilities of this escalation, Sarah Morasky assumes the role of peacemaker, and sets about bringing Abrams and Okiro to their senses. In spite of the two men's stubborn defense of their conflicting ideologies, she is successful. Marco Arnei comments dryly:
    "When she was a student in Israel at the Faculty of Science in Tel Aviv, she convinced Jewish and Arab students, including a group of fundamentalists, to live together in peace. Now I know how".

    After Sarah's intervention, Okiro's sect argues violently about how to carry on the campaign against "Onyx". The more fanatical members want to continue the armed conflict and set fire to the Californian millionaire's ship. Another, smaller faction is concerned about the ruthlessness of Abrams and his bodyguards and seeks a compromise; the industrial magnate must abandon the search for the architeuthis and announce his change of mind on nationwide TV.

    Soon, anger and frustration turn to physical violence. Okiro is knocked over in the clash between opposing factions, his protective coverall is ripped and his body is exposed to the risk of gangrene.

    Unanimously, the sect members decide to hoist the sails and head for the nearest hospital, on Tahiti over 900 miles away.

    With the environmentalists out of the way, the crew of "Onyx" prepares to capture the architeuthis. In spite of W.F. Niau's disapproval, Marco and Sarah do everything they can to convince Abrams to abandon the hunt, pointing out that, if successful, his project might even be bad for his image. The Californian throws them off his ship and orders his team to proceed.

    The seek-and-apprehend robot scours the depths, investigating every possible hiding place in the abyss below the mother ship. Finally after several misadventures, the prey is captured and caged.

    With extreme caution, "Onyx" proceeds towards Hawaii, its tow hawser straining as it cuts through the waves.

    Then, a typhoon hits the Marquises Islands.
    The sea and the sky join forces to vent their rage on the plunderers. The tugboat's seaworthiness is severely hampered by the weight of the titanium hawser and the caged monster hanging above the abyss thousands of feet below the surface, and, when Abrams refuses to order his men to cut the hawser, "Onyx" is claimed by the towering waves.

    The "Jack London" rides out the typhoon, defying the howling winds and raging seas with the aplomb worthy of an old clipper.

    When the storm has passed, Marco, Sarah and Frailich go to work on the report that will accompany the photographs and videos taken during the encounter with the architeuthis and so reveal the secret of the abyss to the whole world.

    Then, W.F. Naiu reminds them of the agreement they signed before setting out on the expedition which states that all photographic materials are the exclusive property of the millionaire and only he will decide when to publish the report.

    A party is held on board to celebrate the success of the mission, as the "Jack London" makes its final landfall. That evening, W.F. Niau summons Marco, Sarah, Juv and Frailich to his cabin and announces his decision: the report and all attached materials can only be published after his death. "It will be my monument," the crippled canning king tells them, already congratulating himself on the scientific importance of the results obtained thanks to his determination and money.

    "Well, that won't be for quite a while," Juv comments with a smile, "our leader is in excellent health and seems set to live for many more years."

    The story's final twist will create no winners or losers and the secret that has been wrested from the waves will remain a secret. W.F. Niau's aspirations of everlasting fame will die with him, just like Okiro's principles and Abrams' greed.

    Marco, Sarah and Juv will continue to believe firmly in the value of research for scientific purposes only.

    Author's note:

    The above summary is no more than a simple device to present the principal characters, the background and a few samples of the action.
    As the plot takes shape, I will draw on the premise I developed in my previous novels: the defeat of the aggressor at the hands of the defenseless, the triumph of the rational over the irrational.

    I will continue the trend I started in "The Ship Hunters" and "The Depths", by transferring marine legends and stories into a reality that preserves every aspect of their often terrifying fascination. On other occasions I explored the world of ghost ships. In this book, the story evolves around the impact of a marine monster on the real world.