"My goal is not to leave Atlantis!" Shumu said. "My goal is to write our history for our children's children and our children's children's children, and our children's children's children's children, and our-"
"Would this written language be as susceptible to your abuse?" interrupted Ikopi, Shumu's childhood friend, confidante and fellow researcher into written language systems for the city-state of Atlantis.
"What do you mean?" Shumu asked.
"I mean," Ikopi said, "would it be possible to shortcut your ramblings if we were able to come up with a systematic written language? Or will it make it possible for you to spread it farther than this office?"
"Very funny," Shumu said. "I thought your question was serious."
"I know you love Atlantis too much to leave it," Ikopi said, "and nobody else would have you."
Shumu's mouth flapped open and shut, and it wasn't to fill his gills with water. Before he could reply, Ikopi continued.
"Back on task, I've been studying the books of the ship that sank last week. It was the same story as all the other times - the ink dissolved and floated away before I could do much. And I got to thinking: what if it's not the language system that we're having trouble with?"
"Hunh?" Shumu asked.
"What if the problem is that we don't have ink? These people up above must be able to have the ink last more than a few days. I think the water dissolves the ink. If we could develop a waterproof ink..."
"...then we might be able to get somewhere!" Shumu said.
"Exactly," Ikopi replied.
"I like where you're going with this. I wonder how we could stabilize it."
One week later, Shumu and Ikopi had developed a chemical that wouldn't drift away when applied to a type of paper that they made from seaweed.
"This is amazing," Ikopi wrote on a piece of the seaweed, and passed it across the table to Shumu. He smiled, then frowned. He held it up to Ikopi.
"That means 'this,'" Ikopi replied.
"The seaweed is pretty amazing," Shumu replied.
"No, I mean 'this' in the sense that we were able to create a written language! And look at how much progress that we've made on the language! The alphabet, the syntax, the grammar! Already I can tell that you're a terrible writer!" Ikopi said.
"Lighten up!" Ikopi said, tossing a piece of crumpled-up seaweed across the table so that it bounced off of Shumu's forehead and floated away.
The door to the office slammed open. Two other Atlanteans emerged.
"We want to write a book," one of them said.
"Not a book a grimoire," said the other.
"A magical book," said the first one.
"Okay. Why do you need to talk to us?" Ikopi asked.
"Because you're...the only ones that I can teach us how...to write. We've got a lot...of thoughts that are bursting...out because our heads are...filling up with them," the first one said, speaking with an odd stutter. At each pause his neck would begin to relax, his eyes would unfocus and his head would flop back, until he snapped back to reality.
"Yes we need to write it because writing gets to many people many people can read and we need your ink to get to those many people because without getting to those many people then our thoughts would be stuck in our head and if they're stuck in our heads then they might burst but if we give it to other people than those thoughts will be spread around like a heavy burden and everybody can share the burden of these thoughts by reading it so that our heads do not have to burst," the second one said, with no pause and all in one gillful of water.
"I guess that we can help you. But people will have to be taught how to read," Ikopi said, wanting these people to leave the office and go jump on a beach.
"Our master said that...you would say that but to tell you that...it doesn't matter at all," the first one said.
His fellow jabbed him in the ribs.
"What he means to say is that nobody will learn to read without having something to read and we would very much like to help with that process by writing something that people should read and will read because it will be good for them and then they will learn to read because there is something for them to read and that will be what we write for them to read," the second one said.
"Can I talk to my colleague for a second?" Ikopi said.
The two visitors stood in the doorway grinning. Ikopi took that as a yes and, grabbing Shumu by the collar, she dragged him into a corner.
"These guys seem a little...weird, don't they?" Ikupi asked.
Shumu shrugged. "We could be seen as weird, as well."
She glanced over her shoulder. One of the visitors had taken out a knife and was cheerfully stabbing the other one in the back with it. The stabbing victim idly picked his nose, glanced over at Ikopi, waved, and started picking harder. Without breaking eye contact.
"Do I stab you in the back? And then you don't even notice?"
"I say we give it a shot," Shumu said. He walked back over the visitors. "Great. Can you come back for an instructional session on the elements of the alphabet, syntax, and grammar? Over the next several weeks I can introduce you to nouns, verbs, verb tense, verb conjugation, and then we'll finish the first lesson block with the intricacies of adverbs and adjectives in the written form."
"That sounds very...complicated and our master told us to...make things as simple as possible...before he wakes up from his slumber..." the first visitor said.
"Yes, well, to write a grimoire one doesn't simply jot down any old sentence, does he? You must know what you're doing! It doesn't sound like your master would be very happy to wake up from a nap and have to muddle through an error-laden jumble of words!" Shumu said.
The second visitor tilted his head and seemed to be listening to somebody that wasn't visible.
"We will return when the time is right for us to create our grimoire but you will not hear from us before then because the time must be right or else the grimoire will not be written and there will be no purpose to contact you before the time is right for the grimoire to be produced good day thank you for your time fellow normal Atlantean," the second visitor said. He used the knife in his friend's back like a handle to steer him out of the office.
Ikopi just noticed that the stabbed visitor hadn't bled a single drop.
Shumu sat down and continued writing.
"What the hell was that?" Ikopi asked. "Who the hell were they?"
"Cultists of He That Slumbers Beneath the Waves. They started bugging me last week. My guess is that their Great and Powerful King and Master that Knows All recognized that he'd need the written word to spread his foul message that would awaken him from the deep. That's where I got this kickass ink," Shumu said, holding up a bottle.
"You just asked a cultist?"
"Pssh, no way. Not the cultists. they're a bunch of comealong morons. I asked the Big Guy, He That Slumbers Beneath the Waves. Gave him a line about how it would help him conquer Atlantis and destroy all traces of it and blah blah blah. He took it, hook, line and sinker," Shumu said. This was a great insult in the submerged civilization.
"But what if they use the written word to spread their message and it works to awaken He That Slumbers Beneath the Waves?" Ikopi asked, still uneasy, feeling as if the cultists were still in the room and reporting back everything that they said to their master.
"Won't happen," Shumu said. "Somebody's still got to read it. And history never sells as well as you think it does."
The Moral: He Who Slumbers In The Deep wrote the book on marketing, which sold very, very well.