Snot Whale Jackpot
By Sean Craven
When Henry got the email on his phone, he read it a few times and then panicked. He walked to the living room, turned on the big screen and looked at the email that way for a while. Then Henry yelled, “Colonel!”
The Colonel, a rooster with fangs and a tail, half-flew along the hardwood floor and scratchily rustled to a stop. He stared for a second, the speaker in his throat softly mumbling the words of the email. “They chose your proposal!” the Colonel said. “The ghost whales won!”
“Shit,” Henry said, “I’m known. I’m international. I am officially and undeniably a big-time artist. Son of a bitch.”
“So, will you remember your little friends once you’re the genius who made the memorial for the Gulf of Mexico?” the Colonel asked, and clicked his claws on the floor.
“I don’t have any little friends,” Henry said. “From now on, you’re all big.”
“I like being little,” the Colonel said. “To be otherwise would present an inconvenience.”
“You know what I mean,” Henry said, and the Colonel tapped Henry’s shin with his wing.
Heather Flores was in Henry’s living room looking at the TV monitor, set to 3D. “Oh, that’s so pretty!” Heather said. She was dressed up again, and Henry wondered if she understood how drastically the difference in their heights affected the display of cleavage.
The TV showed Henry’s sample footage of what looked like an animal, a glassy, horizontally-flattened shape moving through the water. It was the size of a whale, but its body moved from side to side like a fish. But it wasn’t a fish, it was a construct, and there was something of the cathedral to its design. A strong feeling of the sacred. The camera swooped to an overhead view, showed a beautifully sculpted steel-and-carbon spine supporting curtains of transparent flesh; along the length of the spine was a stripe that bore a running stream of corporate logos.
Henry didn’t like that. It was like the bar code on a magazine, a bit of ugliness that served interests other than art. The British Petroleum logo was a bitter little pill. But all God’s children have to eat.
“What’s that?” Heather said, and jabbed a red-painted nail at the white pod the ghost whale had just defecated.
“They take two kinds of dump,” Henry said. “That one’s plastic. They take all the little flakes and particles floating loose in the water and bind them together with resin. People are free to salvage them for recycling or building materials, and if they’re left in the water, they form floating reefs. You get seaweed on them, little shrimp and fish move in... Their regular dumps are regular whale-sized dumps, but they’re optimized to feed plankton.”
The armature was overgrown with jelly-flesh now. With a shiver, the metal-and-carbon skeleton grew edges and sliced through the transparent tonnage of biomass. Flesh shed, the skeleton looked like a wingless black-and-silver dragonfly. As the trembling, boneless hulk drifted down, the dragonfly turned and swam rapidly back to port to deposit a load of toxins before returning to its rounds.
“Moving carbon and energy around, that’s the main thing,” Henry said. “I put in a shitload of filters and crackers and so on, but in the end it’s a matter of getting more fish and shrimp and shit and less jellyfish. Put those calories where the right plants and animals can get at them. People never noticed how important whales were until we really started running out of them.” Henry grinned. “Morrie says it looks like a giant booger.”
Heather said, “Have you ever worked this big before?”
Henry said, “Klubok, the Thing that Ate Hercules was bigger, but that was just some dopey monster movie. This is the real world. Listen, that’s why I wanted to talk to you. I could use Morrie’s help on this.”
“But he’s just a little boy!” Heather said.
“He made the Colonel,” Henry said. “I couldn’t have done that when I was his age, even if I had the tech. There are some specific problems with the way the jellyfish are incorporated into the bodies of the whales that I’m sure he could help me with.” ...Tweet