Storytime: Like a Fish.

July 22nd, 2015

You can see all of life in a single drop of water.
At the base, the belly of the bulb, a slim sliver that blossoms and erupts and bloats into a burgeoning mass. The slight, barely-measurable tapering that follows. And at the end, abruptness.
The ichthyosaur watched it fall from the crack in the glass, and she knew that it was time.

The fracture had not been large, and at first she had hoped, though she knew it was foolish. But day after day it had stubbornly widened, millimeter by millimeter, and now at last the leak had come and her world was going to wash away from her. Again.
She spun softly in the murky water – the filters had clogged weeks ago – and considered her old tank. Its ruins had something skeletal about them; the gaping gashes the look of teeth, the jagged holes accusatory eyes. And of course, the dryness of truly long-dead bones, all of the wet rush of life stripped out of them by the world.
The drop came to mind again; the recent past summoned by the distant. There had been a second by now, undoubtedly. And maybe a third. And then there would be more. And then. And then. And then.
The shattered tank leered at her in a way that brought her back to a long time ago, when things on two legs had walked and gawped at her, and then she finished a decision she’d already made.
It was time to live.

It was not a new decision for the ichthyosaur. She had seen her owner consider it, as the papers grew louder and the headlines more jumbled, as the phonecalls grew ever frantic and fewer. Screamed conversations late into the same nights that had once been filled with dinner parties and languid guests and the sort of casual obscenity that only the very, very wealthy can afford.
She had been his triumph, one of two. A creature brought back from two hundred million years dead with bones rotted and all trace gone, carefully tailored to please his whims in whatever fashion they struck him. An efficient metabolism, no reproductive system – with no mate, why bother? – and an increased intellect, so she would oblige the guests by staring back at them as they gawped. All the modifications made for the same reason she existed, for the same reason the automated servitors of the house existed, for the same reason the shark existed: to show he was capable of it, and had done it, and could do it again if he wasn’t so bored with it all. Another curiosity for the wall.
Well, he hadn’t been bored at all in those last days, though the guests had all gone away. He’d screamed down headsets, broken vases, drank himself insensate as he stared through the riot-reddened skies. And in the end he had stopped the screams, stopped the sobbing, made no sounds at all, but instead had taken another trophy, one from a trench in France merely a few centuries old, and had gone up to his room trailing only a silence.
The sharp noise that followed had been purely perfunctory.
Afterwards had been the first time she had commanded the servitors herself, though she had always deemed it a possibility. Programmed to respond to an idle gesture as a command by those who would never stoop to speak to even human servants, the stubby little machines had, after several errors, registered the sweep and swoop of her jaws as an order.
By her word, they brought down the body of her owner from his bed, blood still trailing from his skull and his eyes strangely compressed, and she had looked upon him for a time.
Then they took him to the kitchens and rendered him down into fats and fibres and sheets of wet red turned to dry brown. For later.

Much of her time since had been spent reading, and reading had returned that time to her with interest.
Reading had shown her how to keep her tank filter running up until the last of the power supplies had failed.
Reading had shown her the length of time it would take her tank to spill itself through the cracks and the gaps after the great explosions she heard –and felt – in the building’s guts in the last nights of the chaos.
And reading had shown her the importance of the oxygen filter in the megalodon’s tank, which she had immediately turned off.

Gazing upon its now-tanned, rough-sided hide, cradled like an infant in the arms of the servitors, she wondered what it had thought as it slowly choked to death down there, dead again in the dark. Unlike herself it had been a pure reconstruction, a brag based on size and strength alone, and it wouldn’t have had the words to describe itself, let alone what was happening to it.
The megalodon’s sacrifice had preserved her; its dried flesh had kept her full for months after her owner’s corpse was stripped to bones; its gigantic tank had given her a place to hide and think and stare over the city from; and now its very skin was hers, tenderly wrapped around her form by the aquatic servitors and dragged from the water, dragged with the water. Liquid gurgles fell from the open ends of the thick shagreen casing – water, precious water running away, drying up – but it held, and she swam in the belly of the shark, held aloft by two dozen metal paws.
And they took her to the elevator, and from there, into the city.

The world outside was broken in a way the apartment had never shown her, in its books or its reality – and so big, so very overwhelmingly big. The ichthyosaur snugged herself deep in her mobile pool and broke it farther, smaller, into more manageable pieces of sensory data.
The grey-red sky of late afternoon colliding with old smoke.
The jagged edges of concrete already turning to dust and dirt.
The sharp uric scent of the shark’s long-gone innards.
The faint roar and tumble of an ocean dead for decades.
The uncomfortable half-damp around her sides that faded sharply outside her servitor-borne transport into nothing but dry, bone dry. The air was a shell that shattered on breath.
The journey was not all quiet. Three servitors fell victim to the world at large; its protrusions and pits and grit. A small pack of starving dogs attacked, or attacked as best as any animal could when its skull is clearly traceable through its skin and its eyes are shriveled in their sockets. They died quickly and quietly in the servitors’ small metal hands, almost grateful.
And at the very end, as their destination usurped the horizon with its long, low bulk, two more were sacrificed to rupture the triple-rusted security of its titanic doors.
The purification facility.

The ichthyosaur had known of it for a long time, of course. It had been the toast of the papers, the promise of the times: a plant that could turn ocean water – even a modern ocean – into fresh water, life-water, the water that could refresh and quench and fill and not rot away at your innards like it had for uncounted hundreds of billions of fish and plankton and the oceans themselves, choked to death on carbonic acid.
Not that the ichthyosaur had any interest in fresh water. She was a creature of the sea, not a lake, not a pond, not a stream. But with the right hands, the plant could be controlled: its waters stripped of acidity yet retained of salt; its processing chambers made home; its intakes into traps for the sad jellyfish that were the last survivors of all that had swam except for her, only her, two hundred million years old and already dead.
They shuffled down the great steel corridors, empty and almost unbroken. The purification facility had been a saviour; the one thing even the riots had not touched – if not out of self-preservation, then out of an inability to trespass through its many locks. Their bones carpeted the lobby and plaza, dead in the quiet queues they’d formed as they lost the power to move. But as the grand donor’s name prominently installed over the front hall was familiar to the ichthyosaur, so too was the security software familiar to the servitors, who were recognized on sight and were barred by no doors, they and their strange dead cargo. They passed out of the corridors and into quiet offices and finally a deadened control room where the ichthyosaur consulted the machines and learned that the facility’s chlorination plant had been sabotaged, transforming millions of liters of water into something unfit to even be called a swimming pool.

She had this confirmed six times. Once to be sure; twice to be certain; thrice to understand; fourth to grow angry; fifth to stop; and sixth to think.

The sun was coming down over the horizon as they approached the docks; the rich red haze thickening in the sky and clotting in the dust clouds. There was little sound left; the feral dogs might have been the last living things in the dry city.
Apart from the ichthyosaur.

The shagreen was growing dryer even on the inside; her weight was bearing down on her. Under the red glare her eyes stung. But she was determined to see this one thing before it ended, and so she had the servitors hold her high above their heads, to let her look before she left.
On the one side, the city, broken and breaking and crumbling like sand already.
Turn. Turn.
On the other, the ocean. A flat blue churning. Alive it would’ve been alien to her; but what could be more familiar than a corpse?

It was a long fall, but a short dive, and mercifully little thought required. Her back moved as it ought, her flukes bent, her lungs pushed, and all the questions melted away as she felt the splash turn into an embrace that took away doubt and left certainty even as it began its long, patient war against her insides.
The ichthyosaur spun, and watched the bubbles spin away and leave her, felt the rush and pull of impassive currents.
Then she did as they decreed, and vanished from sight of shore forever.


You can see all of life in a single drop of water.
The inverse is not true. But she was willing to try.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.