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One Hundred Years in Sushi City

I dreamed the ocean lay above us, and it was beautiful. Then I woke up and my anxious little monkey mind began parsing all the potential hazards. This story is the result.

On Wednesday Dan found an octopus stretched across the Honda's windshield, basking in the morning dew. Dan set his computer bag down and returned to the house, where he assembled a makeshift cephalopod-removal kit: a spatula to pry suckers off glass, a cookie sheet to scoop up the cat-sized animal and fling it into the hedge. At the spatula's prodding the 'puss turned an angry red. Its arms thrashed, recoiled, and re-attached to the car, deftly avoiding Dan's attempts to slip the aluminum sheet underneath it.
"Daddy, don't hurt it!" Piper called from the doorway. She ran to Dan's side, startling a roosting school of sardines out of the mulberry tree.
"Careful, pumpkin," Dan said, stepping back from the car. "These things bite."
"Only if you make them mad. Here, let me." Piper stood on tiptoe, reaching across the car's hood to gently rub her index finger between the golden, goat-like eyes. She stroked a tentacle until it twined around her wrist. Five minutes later Dan backed the Honda down the driveway as Piper waved goodbye, the octopus perched quietly on her shoulder.
At the train station, Dan parked and hunched over the steering wheel, angling his head to scan the sky while a radio reporter described the emergency landing of an Airbus A320 at Newark. The plane had plowed through a school of cod shortly after takeoff, clogging the engines and sending sashimi raining down on Hoboken. "And speaking of rain," added the jovial deejay, "cloudy with a chance of cetaceans across the Tri-State Area. So grab an umbrella and watch out for whale poop."
The sight of marine fauna cruising overhead still unnerved Dan. Not like Piper, who'd been born after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf, after the last of the 2011 tsunami debris sank into the Pacific, after CO2 levels in seawater rose to unprecedented levels. By the time Piper learned to crawl, most creatures had abandoned the oceans. Oyster beds choked roadside drainage ditches and barnacles clung to car bumpers. An occasional shark dipped to street level after sundown, hunting feral cats and stray labradoodles.
Dan caught the 8:20 into Grand Central and walked to the United Nations complex, dashing across 1st Avenue against the red light, dodging among the yellow cabs and black town cars. He presented his press pass for the annual conference on international whaling quotas and entered the security queue, feeding his shoes, belt, computer, and wallet into the x-ray box before stepping through a millimeter wave scanner. In the auditorium the keynote speaker, a scientist from UCLA, projected his first graph as Dan settled into a seat near the windows.
"Cetaceans," the speaker announced, "are as endangered in the sky as they were in the sea--"
"Prove it! Give us facts!" A man in the front row leapt to his feet, shouting and red-faced. "Here's a fact--orcas are decimating cattle herds in Kansas. And the troposphere is five times bigger than all the oceans--" two security guards grabbed the shouter's arms and began dragging him toward an exit "--it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know these predators will keep multiplying!" The auditorium doors slammed shut and the man's voice faded away.
The speaker cleared his throat and resumed lecturing. Dan dutifully typed notes and gazed out the window, watching a humpback whale maneuvering over the East River, straining krill from gathering storm clouds. The speaker droned. The auditorium's heating system hummed and thrummed. Dan's eyelids sagged.
"Dan--psst!" Dan jerked upright. Nathan, his old roommate from Columbia, sat at the end of the row, motioning with his cell phone. Staying in town tonight? Nathan texted. Dinner?
They left the conference early, descending into the subway where grinning fish crouched in dark tunnels, luring rats into their jaws by waggling fleshy, luminescent tongues.
Nathan led Dan to a crowded Chinatown restaurant decorated in red-and-gold. "Whaling quotas should be increased," Dan said, selecting a square of pickled squid with his chopsticks. "Something has to be done to mitigate the threat posed by sea life. Even in my backyard, I could step on a stonefish and die from its neurotoxin."
Nathan rolled his eyes. "You live in the suburbs. Your garden is inherently dangerous. Poison ivy, ticks with Lyme disease, mosquitoes carrying West Nile--"
"But the fish... they make it more dangerous."
"More dangerous than what? Your chances of dying in a car crash are ten thousand times greater than encountering a shark." Nathan spooned stir-fried sturgeon onto his plate. "Why not take the long view. Is it more dangerous now than in the 1960s, when nuclear war was imminent? Go farther back, a century. Antibiotics didn't exist and people died of infected hangnails. Two centuries and you've got pipes made of lead carrying water full of cholera."
"No, I mean--it's more dangerous than when I was a kid." Dan said.
"Ah, so that's your measuring stick."
"Well, it's simple fact. And I don't like it."
Dan arrived home late Friday afternoon. Piper's squeals of delight floated over the backyard fence, and when he opened the gate she ran toward him, her yellow sundress decorated with tiny crawling sea stars. A spotted dogfish pup flopped along behind her, doing its ungainly best to keep up.
"He followed me home daddy, can I keep him?" Piper dropped to the grass beside the fish, who propped itself on its pectoral fins, tail waving and eyes bright. "Pretty, pretty please? I named him Squeak."
Piper sat on a bench, watching her great-grandson chase a soccer ball across Central Park's north meadow. Banners for the Museum of Natural History hung from light poles, advertising an exhibit on the vanishing sky whales.
The krill had been the first to return to the oceans and, as nature demanded, baleen whales followed. Anemones re-colonized tidal pools. Swordfish left the jet stream for the Gulf Stream. Academic conferences were held and theories debated. Had bacteria in the ocean evolved to digest toxic effluvium? Or were technological improvements reducing contamination to tolerable levels? Adaptation? Or intervention?
Piper closed her eyes and remembered the pet dogfish who had followed her everywhere, faithful as Mary's little lamb. Her grandson would be lucky if he ever felt the breeze from a whale's flukes, or watched the quicksilver turns of a school of mullet racing through midtown streets. Piper sighed. You had to admit, life was less interesting these days. That was simple fact. And Piper didn't like it, not one little bit.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Author Comments

VG Campen lives in the woods of North Carolina. This is her second story in Daily Science Fiction, and her work can also be found in Analog and Nature Futures.

- VG Campen
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