Notes on Offworld Agriculture, Part 3

by Elena Clark
forum: Notes on Offworld Agriculture, Part 3
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Notes on Offworld Agriculture


New Arctica

           By driving very fast Avoire got me to the jetport in time to catch the evening flight to the New African Moon. I was even able to pick up my luggage from the hotel. I boarded the shuttle, strapped in, and was promptly thrown back into my seat by the takeoff. The shuttle was old, and the flight was mostly geared towards technicians and laborers, not commercial travelers, so they didn't bother to adjust the gravity or take off or land smoothly or anything like that. It took less than an hour, but it was a very very long hour by my reckoning. When I got off I had to run to the ladies room and be sick. I knelt in the stall for several minutes until the floor stopped feeling like it was dropping out from under me, and then I staggered to the sink and ran some cold water over my head. This gave me a piercing headache, but it was better than nausea.

           Once I was able to walk without vomiting, I went over to the ITG booking desk and arranged to get on the flight the next morning to New Arctica, and also to spend the night in the spaceport hotel. The gravity on the New African Moon was much lower than I was used to, so I felt rotten the whole time I was there, and even though I certainly wasn't looking forward to another shuttle ride, I was so glad to get off the moon I would have taken the shuttle back to New Windhoek if that's what it took.

           The flight to New Arctica was very long—almost three days—since we had to stop at Pangea and Gaia on the way. I was annoyed to spend so much time in my cabin, and annoyed to miss the sights of Pangea and Gaia, and even more annoyed I'd probably have to go back at some point. The only good thing about the long trip was that it gave me plenty of time to write up my report and read all about New Arctica and why I needed to go there.

           New Arctica was settled about sixty years ago by a joint Japanese-Chinese-American venture. It's mostly ocean, and the polar ice caps extend down to the 45th parallel. It has lots of its own fish-like creatures, which turned out to be edible by humans, so the original plan was to turn it into a giant fishery and export frozen fish to the rest of the galaxy. Space travelers and other planets bought the fish in large quantities, but of course Earth refused to import it, despite intense lobbying by the three governments that had funded the settlement (they all insisted the fish would be perfectly safe while expressing grave doubts about the safety of products from New Africa).

           Then, about fifty years ago, the New Jo-Burg Facility had its major breakthrough with gene splicing of Terran and non-Terran DNA. They started working on the dragons and then on the fruit from Fischer Island, and then someone got the bright idea to start experimenting with the fish from New Arctica. Lots of creatures were made, most of which either couldn't survive or couldn't be eaten. About thirty years ago someone came up with another bright idea, which was to add the genetic material of whales to the mix.

           It took them more than a decade, but eventually they made viable fish-whales and started populating the ocean with them. The fish-whales were between ten and forty meters long, capable of breathing both air and water, swimming on the surface and at great depth, communicating by sonar, sensing things by electromagnetic charge, giving birth to live young as well as producing great quantities of roe, and so on and so forth. They could be harvested for all the products that people wanted from Terran oceans but couldn't get legally.

           From one point of view the fish-whales were a great success. A single specimen could produce whale blubber, ambergris, red or black caviar, shark fins, and high-quality tuna flesh, for example.

           But from another point of view it was all a big failure, since Earth still hasn't given import permission.

           The report Mr. Thwaite sent me was so complicated I had to read it three times before I could make any sense of it, but once I did I saw why he wanted me to go to New Arctica immediately, although I didn't see I would be able to do anything useful.

           The report was from a scientist on Novy Mir. The specimens he had been given by the New Arctica Board of Trade had all seemed fine, and the people on Novy Mir had just finished their ten-year trials and were about to recommend import permission be granted.

           However, this scientist had taken a trip to New Arctica last year. While there, he had deposited portions of his sashimi and shark fin soup and caviar and so on into climate-controlled containers in the lining of his jacket, and smuggled them back to Novy Mir.

           Once back on the space station, he had started running unofficial tests on his samples, and had gotten radically different results from the official tests he'd been doing. Some of the stuff he'd found had been relatively benign—higher concentrations of heavy metals than in the official samples, for example—and some of it had been much more alarming. He provided lots of charts and graphs I didn't really understand, but what I did understand was that the DNA of the unofficial samples was not the same as the DNA of the official samples, and he was concerned it could have carcinogenic and possibly even mutinogenic effects, although he had not been able to run the ten-year trials yet, of course. He concluded by stating that he was running tests on himself for cancer (which was relatively easy to cure) and mutations in his reproductive cells (which were not).

           I sent Mr. Thwaite a message asking if he thought it would be okay for me to eat the food they gave me on New Arctica, and he wrote back saying I would have to use my best judgment, which wasn't a very helpful answer, so I wrote to the researcher on Novy Mir, whose name was Avram Osipov, to ask him. His message, which I got only a couple of hours before landing, said:

Dear Ms. Tremaine,

I did not see any sign of damage to anyone on New Arctica. I haven't found any mutations in my own DNA yet. My advice: try to eat as little as possible, but don't make a fuss.


           This didn't make me feel a lot better, but I didn't see anything I could do about it, so I disembarked with everyone else at New Kyoto, New Arctica.


           I was met at the gate by a young woman named Hatsumi Chen. She was only about 1 meter 50, and very pretty. The first thing she asked me after "Did you have a good flight?" was why I had bumped my trip up a couple of weeks. Obviously I couldn't tell her the truth.

           "They've had another outbreak of avian flu over on Pangea," I told her. This was true. "They said they might have to quarantine me if I came, so I decided to come to New Arctica first and then work my way back." Actually, they'd told me I probably wouldn't have to be quarantined if I came, but I figured Hatsumi wouldn't know that. She said she'd heard about the outbreak, and promised me there was nothing like that on New Arctica. She spoke very good English with only a trace of an accent.

           New Kyoto looked like pictures I'd seen of Japanese cities back on Earth, except smaller and colder. There were a few black-glass skyscrapers downtown with holo-ads in Japanese characters floating over them, and some temples, and a couple of parks with small, carefully sculpted evergreens and hump-backed bridges, and then we were out in the country, which was basically flat. In the city the snow was mostly cleared away, but out in the country it must have been a meter thick. Everyone I saw was wearing parkas and heavy boots. I didn't have either of those things, so I bought some in the spaceport.

           The road ran along the top of a low bluff overlooking the ocean. The water wasn't frozen, but there were big piles of ice on the beach. Hatsumi told me they had just had the big ice breakup. She said in the winter it often got down to -50. I said that sounded way too cold for me, and she said lots of incomers thought so, but for Arcticans it was the best time of year, because you could ski everywhere and skate out on the ocean and generally have a good time.

           After about an hour of driving on the flat straight road, we came to a low gray building that was partly on the shore and partly over the water. It had the words "New Kyoto Research Station" floating above it in English. As I was watching the words changed to Japanese and then Chinese characters. The sky and the snow and the ocean and everything else was gray, so the red letters were the only bright thing around.

           There were only a couple of other cars in the parking lot. The inside of the station was gray concrete with exposed piping. The whole thing looked like it could be hosed down easily, like a vet's or a slaughterhouse. We wound around through a few corridors without seeing anyone, and ended up in a small room with worn dirty carpet and dishes and appliances and the smell of bad coffee. There were two people waiting for us there: a tall Caucasian man with graying hair, and a young Asian man.

           "Oh good, you made it," said the Caucasian man as soon as we came in. "I'm Bob Thomas, head researcher here, and this is my assistant, Lin."

           We shook hands all around. Bob offered me some coffee, but even though I was pretty hungry and tired after all my traveling, I wasn't that desperate, so I said no thank you. Then Bob said everyone had been awfully surprised at my schedule change, and I explained about the avian flu, and said something about how I hoped I wasn't inconveniencing anyone, and he said no of course not, and told me if I felt up to it I could starting touring the facility right away.

The New Kyoto Research Station

           We started out our tour of the Station walking down more echoing concrete corridors, and then we went through a big airlock and into a part of the facility that was much colder.

           "I thought I'd give you a look at some live specimens first," Bob told me. "This is where we have our birthing and spawning tanks. The fish-whales can be either live-birthed or spawned from roe. We decide depending on a number of factors. Obviously spawning is much more efficient, but for new experimental species we often do live births. We inseminate with AI, or do in vitro fertilization."

           Immediately I wanted to know how they did all the procedures, so Bob took me to their treatment tank. It was at least 30 meters across and 10 meters deep, and lined and floored with concrete.

           "We drive or lure them in here, and administer a tranq in the water," he explained. "Then, once they're out, we immobilize them with these belts"—there were belts hanging from the ceiling—"and do whatever procedure is necessary."

           There was nothing in the tank just then, but the size of it gave me a little shiver, thinking how huge the fish-whales must be, especially when Bob told me they couldn't fit the really big ones in there, and had to catch them out in the open and shoot them with harpoon tranqs if they needed to do anything to them.

           Next we saw a spawning tank full of translucent roe. I could see the tiny fish bodies curled up inside the eggs, which were about the size of my fist. Bob said they could adjust things so they produced either the large fertile roe or the small roe for caviar. Then we went to the baby tank, which had the newly-hatched fish-whales in it.

           "If they're live-birthed they have to stay with their mothers till they're weaned, like whales," Bob explained, "but if they're spawned they're on their own, like fish. Species doesn't matter: the same species can be raised either way." The baby fish-whales ranged in size from the length of my hand to the length of my arm. Most of them swam around in the water, but occasionally one would beach itself on a platform on the side of the tank. I could see their gills and their blow-holes. One breached and fluked.

           "They live here for six months," Bob said, "and then move into the adolescent tank." We went into another room, and saw fish-whales the size of my body swimming around. They seemed aware we had come in, and a couple of them jumped out of the water like dolphins.

           "Good, you've still got your parka," said Bob. "Once they reach one year we raise that wall over there," he pointed to the far wall, which was on tracks like a garage door, "and let them loose. They're fitted with tracking devices, so we always know where they are. Let's go on to the outdoor tanks."

           We went through a small door leading out onto a platform that extended over the ocean. There were several circular fenced-in areas in the water, each about fifty or sixty meters across.

           "If we need to bring in an adult for observation, we drive them into here," Bob told me. "You're in luck: there's one in T1, the farthest tank on your right."

           I turned to my right, and sure enough, I saw the back of something about ten meters long break the surface and then dive down out of sight. I knew that it was only a small one, but it was still impressively big.

           Bob explained they had dug out the sea floor under the tanks, so the fish-whales could descend to a comfortable depth if they wanted to. I asked him what they ate, and he said the adult ones provided for themselves by hunting native fish, or, depending on species, by eating native plankton-like creatures.

           "We find it gives them a slightly unusual taste, compared with Terran fish or whales, but most people like it as well as or better," he told me. "At first they were unable to digest the native life forms properly, but then they adapted to it, and now they will choose native fish over Terran ones, and often lose weight on a diet of Terran feed. We're still not sure how they did it."

           I asked him if this concerned him, and he said no, it was much easier to let them feed themselves off of native food, and no adverse affects had been noticed yet, and he didn't expect there to be any. Then he toured me through the labs and the feedrooms, and then showed me to my room, where my luggage was waiting for me.


           My room at the Station had unpainted concrete walls and exposed piping just like everywhere else in the building. The heating system rattled and groaned in the night, which kept me up. That, combined with the space lag, made me pretty tired the next day, so when we took a small boat out onto the water to look at full-grown fish-whales I hardly even had the energy to feel queasy.

           Actually, the sea was pretty flat, with hardly any swell, so I was pretty much okay and after a little while I left the cabin and went out onto the deck.

           Bob told me the fish-whales mostly stayed within about ten k of the Station, except for once or twice a year when they'd make some kind of a migratory journey and swim all the way over to the other continent, about a thousand k away. He said they didn't know why they did it—their behavior was often inexplicable. For example, they didn't know how intelligent the fish-whales really were. They seemed to be somewhat trainable, but no one had made any experiments to see how much.

           "Or like this," said Bob, pointing to a group of sleek backs swimming rapidly towards us. "They seem to know what our intentions are towards them. So if we're just coming out to observe them, they come right over and beg for food. But if we want to catch one for some kind of procedure, they're much more elusive. A couple of times I've had all the others come over, but the one I want will stay away, like it knows. And rounding them up for slaughter is getting to be more and more difficult."

           Just then one of the fish-whales knocked against the boat, causing it to rock wildly. It expelled a big plume of steam through its air hole, making a surprisingly loud bellows noise. Then it dove down out of sight, making the boat rock again. I could see a ring of smooth water widening out from where it had been. It must have been over 30 meters long, and in its own way was almost as frightening as the dragons.

           "That's their way of begging," Bob told me. "If we don't feed them, they start nudging the boat more and more. One time we kept waiting to feed them to see what they would do, and this one here pulled back a little ways, picked up some speed, and rammed us. We nearly went over. So now we always feed them right away."

           Lin and another man came out with big buckets of cut-up pieces of fish. When I asked, they told me it was native fish. It looked and smelled about the same as Terran fish, although I don't know all that much about fish. They hooked a bucket onto the arm of a catapult-like contraption on the deck, pulled a lever, and shot the fish pieces up and out, so that they landed in the water about twenty meters away.

           "We used to just drop the fish over the side," Lin told me, "but now if we do that, they come up much too quickly and destabilize the boat, so we had to come up with this baby." He patted the catapult. "I built it myself," he said proudly. He shot off another load.

           The fish-whales had gathered around the food and were quarreling over it like dogs, shoving each other and slapping each other with their tails.

           "So, like I was saying," Bob continued, "last year we couldn't hardly bring them in for
slaughter for love nor money. We used to just come out here, harpoon a few, pull them in to the Station behind the boats, and get to work, but last year they went about forty, fifty k farther out than normal, and once we finally found them, they led us all over Creation. It turned out that even our high-powered slaughter boats could hardly keep up with them when they were swimming at full speed, and they were damn agile, too. Then, when we finally got some, the others tried to ram our boats. We shot at them and they swam off, but they followed us just out of gun range all the way back to the Station. And they made the most awful racket the whole time we were cleaning and processing the ones we'd gotten."

           The fish-whales had finished eating and came back over to the boat, so we turned around and headed back for the Station.


           They gave me access to all their research results and records, and the next day I uploaded them onto my Perdie and studied them, but they didn't tell me very much. Everything they'd given me checked out with the official reports from Novy Mir. I couldn't really think of what else to do, so when Hatsumi asked me if I wanted to go in to Little Tokyo, a town just up the coast, I said sure. We drove over that evening.

           Little Tokyo didn't look at all like the pictures I'd seen of Tokyo back on Earth: there were no skyscrapers, no flashing lights, and hardly any traffic. There were a few temples that looked very red and jolly in the snow, and a park with interestingly-shaped small evergreens, and a bunch of prefab concrete buildings that looked a lot like the Station, only smaller. Hatsumi parked in a public parking lot on the edge of town, and we walked in. It was completely flat, and except for the park, there were no trees, so there was nothing to stop the cold wind from blowing down the street and right through our clothing. I decided I didn't like New Arctica very much, but I didn't want to say so to Hatsumi, who was telling me about how much she loved her home planet and how she didn't want to leave, even though she'd been offered a job on Earth and her mother wanted her to take it.

           We went into a small restaurant whose name was in Japanese. We had miso soup, and then Hatsumi ordered all different kinds of sushi and sashimi, in Japanese so I didn't know what was coming. When it came, I looked at all the fish, which she told me proudly was all locally grown, and wished I had become a vegetarian. Hatsumi told me she ate at this restaurant several times a week, it was her favorite, and she didn't seem to be showing any signs of permanent damage, so I ate as much as I could, but every time I had to swallow, my throat closed and I had to force it down. Of course, I don't really like raw fish anyway. It was one of the only times I've ever thought of going into the bathroom and sticking my finger down my throat after a meal.

           After supper we went out to a bar. Everything there was in Japanese too. Hatsumi said Little Tokyo had the highest concentration of Japanese people on New Arctica: of its ten thousand inhabitants, more than nine thousand were Japanese, unlike New Kyoto, which was split pretty evenly between Japanese, Americans, and Chinese.

           "My boyfriend is supposed to be here," she said once we'd gotten our drinks. And by the time we had finished our drinks, a young man came over, sat down next to Hatsumi, and kissed her cheek. She introduced him as Taki, and told him what I was doing there.

           "Whoa, a Terran," he said in good English. "We hardly ever get any of those out here. If they come to New Arctica at all, they never get out of New Kyoto. They never experience the real New Arctica."

           I said I was eager to experience the real New Arctica, and asked him for suggestions. He said coming to the bar was a good first start, but I should build on it by coming out with him and Hatsumi and some of their friends the next day, which was a Saturday. They were going to go hover riding, he said, which apparently was the activity of choice on New Arctica. I said that sounded great, although inside I was kind of doubtful. It sounded cold. But I was hoping I might hear something useful.

The Real New Arctica

           I spent the night in the only hotel in Little Tokyo. My room was literally 3x3x3 meters. Hatsumi had explained to me that this was the fashion in Japan, where tiny things were prized and space was hard to come by. My bathroom was about the size of something in a space shuttle. I didn't see why there should be such a need to economize on space in New Arctica, which was about 99% empty, but apparently this was what people were used to.

           Hatsumi and Taki came over early the next morning, before the sun had fully risen, but I was more than glad to get out of my minuscule room anyway. We had a breakfast of hydroponically-grown rice (because New Arctica was way too cold to grow rice normally) and hydroponically-grown pickled plums (ditto). Then we got into Hatsumi's car and drove down the coast road. To our right was flat snow all the way to the horizon, and to our left was flat ocean. Occasionally a fish-whale would breach and fluke, but that was the only break in the flatness all around us.

           After about an hour we came to a parking lot on the bluff overlooking the ocean. Several other cars were parked there, some of them with trailers loaded with hovers. They looked exactly like the hovers we used back home: saddle, handlebars, hoverjets on the bottom. I counted ten people waiting in the parking lot. All of them were about my age, and all of them were Japanese.

           Hatsumi introduced me as a visitor from Earth without specifying why I was visiting. Everyone spoke English, although some better than others. After greeting me, everyone started unloading the hovers. There were twelve of them and thirteen of us, but Hatsumi said she'd ride with Taki so I could have my own. I was also able to borrow a wetsuit that was only slightly too short from one of the men. Within a few minutes the parking lot was filled with the sound of the hoverjets, and we set off down the road.

           Hatsumi also provided me with a helmet and radio. She explained over it that we were going to ride down the road a little ways-traffic was so light, she said, that we didn't have to worry about meeting anyone coming the other way-to a place where the land dipped down to the sea, and then go out over the water. "If we're lucky," she said, "we'll see some fish-whales up close! Sometimes they like to come look at the hovers."

           Sure enough, the land dipped down till it was level with the shore, and we turned left and went across the beach and onto the water. I had never gone hovering over the sea before, and I found out that even though it looked flat from a distance, it had considerably more swell than a lake. I kept smacking into the tops of the waves at first.

           We went around in circles for a little while, until I had mastered the waves and the others had gotten all the racing and cutting doughnuts out of their systems, and then we headed out towards the horizon. In a surprisingly short time we were out of sight of the shore, which made me nervous but didn't seem to bother anyone else. My hover had a compass and a Satellite Tracking System on the handlebars, but the readouts were in Japanese.

           We formed up in a circle again, and the leader, a very short girl named Tomo who had entertained us in the parking lot by doing flips over the hovers, starting cutting across everyone else's wake and doing jumps. Soon several others joined her, and it turned into a kind of game of tag, where each person tried to jump as many other people's wakes without letting anyone else jump their wake. The rest of us tried to keep circling sedately, but it was difficult with all the chop from the racers.

           "Look!" said Hatsumi's voice in my ear. "Fish-whales!"

           I looked off in the direction I thought was away from the shore, and saw several sleek backs appear briefly and then dive back down.

           "They're coming towards us!" I said.

           "Yes, I told you: they like to look. Don't worry: they won't come too close."

           At that moment Tomo saw the approaching fish-whales and shot off towards them. I heard Hatsumi shout something to her over the radio, and Tomo reply, but of course I had no idea what they'd said.

           "She wants to jump the fish-whales," said Hatsumi. "I told her it was a bad idea, but she's doing it anyway, and Aki and Yoko are following her."

           The rest of us stopped circling and watched as the three hovers raced towards the fish-whales. I could see Tomo heading straight towards a smooth slick spot where one of them had just breached. She crossed it and then said something in the radio.

           "She says it's no fun, they don't leave any wake," Hatsumi told me.

           Tomo turned around and starting coming back in our direction. The back of one of the fish-whales cut right across her path, and instead of swerving she jumped straight over it.

           "Wheeee!" she screamed into the radio. She circled around, and said something.

           "She says she can see it, it's right beneath her," Hatsumi told me. "She wants to jump it again."

           I was about to ask if she thought that was safe, but I didn't have to because just then a huge tail came out of the water and lifted Tomo's hover up into the air. It sailed several meters and crashed down on its side. The hoverjets sent it shooting across the surface, with Tomo underneath. Since she was still connected to the handlebars, the deadman's switch wasn't pulled out and the hover didn't stall. Several people screamed. Then they screamed again, because another one of the fish-whales had come up behind Yoko, grabbed the skirt at the bottom of her hover with its teeth, and started shaking it back and forth. Aki tried to go over to her, but a tail swipe sent him skidding across the water. When he brought his hover back under control and tried to go back to her, a fish-whale blocked his path, and every time he tried to swerve around it, it herded him back towards the shore.

           Meanwhile, Tomo had managed to turn the jets on her hover off, swim out from under it, right it, and get back on it. She started it up again and tried to go over to Yoko, but she too was cut off by a fish-whale and herded in the direction of the shore. She shouted something into the radio, and Hatsumi shouted back.

           "I've contacted the station," she explained to me. "They're coming out, but I don't know if they'll be here in time."

           "Look, it's letting her go!" I said. The fish-whale that had bitten Yoko's hover had let go of it and given it a hard nudge with its nose. Yoko tried to ride off, but because the skirt was damaged, the hover kept sinking down on its left side and drifting off to the left.

           "It's coming back!" screamed Hatsumi, but Yoko's fish-whale didn't attack, it only shoved the hover in the direction it wanted it to go in, which was towards us. Every time the hover drifted too far to the left, it would shove it back on course. Aki tried to go over to her again, but another fish-whale cut between them and stopped him.

           "We should go," I said when they started drawing close to us. "Probably they want all of us to go."

           "We can't leave them!" shouted Hatsumi, seconded by several of the others.

           "What can we do?" I asked. "They're not hurting them now, and I doubt they'll let us get close."

           "We can't leave her!" repeated Akira, the person nearest to me. He powered up his jets and started out towards Yoko. A small fish-whale that must have been swimming under the surface suddenly breached in front of him and swept at him with its tail. It didn't make contact, but the waves it created drove him backwards. Every time he tried to turn, it cut in front of him like a cutting horse separating a calf from the herd. He was close enough I could hear when he increased the power to his jets.

           "NO!" I shouted without even meaning to, but he didn't hear me, or didn't pay attention, and tried to jump the fish-whale's back. It was only about ten meters long, so it was agile enough to jump as he went over it, catching him with its back and sending his hover flying. He and the hover hit the water separately, several meters apart. Everyone screamed.

           "It eats him!" shrieked Sakiko.

           The fish-whale didn't eat him; it waited a few meters away as he righted his hover—which had stalled as soon he had been thrown off, jerking out the deadman's switch—got back on it, and started it up again.

           "Hatsumi, tell him to come right back," I said into the radio. "I don't think they're going to hurt us if we leave."

           "Yes," said Hatsumi. She spoke into the radio. I didn't have to understand Japanese to know that Akira and Aki both argued with her, but Tomo agreed immediately, and Yoko, her voice trembling as her fish-whale escort nudged her back on track, chimed in in support.

           We all powered up our jets and started going slowly towards the shore. None of the fish-whales tried to stop us, but several of them—there must have been more than twenty of them—circled around us, making sure we didn't try to bolt off anywhere. One came quite close to me. It must have been at least 25 meters long, and looked sort of like the world's biggest dolphin, only with gills. It rolled slightly sideways as it went past and eyed me intently, and I was aware of the intelligence behind its gaze.

           Our escort remained with us until we reached water shallow enough I could see the bottom, and then waited just offshore until we rode up onto the road. When we turned right and started back to the cars, I could see the pod shadow us down the beach until we reached the parking lot.

           By the time we got off our hovers, Tomo had recovered enough from the shock to laugh through her chattering teeth and claim it as a great adventure. Aki and Akira were both angry as well as cold, though, and Yoko was in tears. It turned out that one of the fish-whale's teeth had grazed her leg as it was shaking her hover, and it had ripped her wetsuit and scraped her leg.

           "So big!" she sobbed to me. "Big teeth! I thought—eat me!" We bundled her, Tomo, Aki, and Akira into one of the cars with lots of warm clothing, and started loading up the hovers. Yoko's hover was barely functional by then: the left side of the skirt was ripped all to shreds.

           The Station must have deployed its fastest boat, because it had already arrived by the time we had loaded up the hovers. They hailed Hatsumi over the radio, and told her to take the four who had been attacked back to the Station to be checked out and also interviewed, while they drove the pod back to the station.

Unusual Intelligence

           Once they got to us, the people from the Station conferred for a little while over what to do with the renegade fish-whales.

           "This group was about ready for slaughter anyway," I heard Bob say over the radio. "We'll probably just go ahead and get the job done while we've got them."

           Hatsumi told me someone else would take me back to the Station, since she couldn't fit any more people in her car, and drove off. The rest of us stayed by unspoken agreement—or maybe only spoken in Japanese—to watch the boat drive the pod to the Station.

           The main boat deployed three small hoverboats with two people each on them, and two more people on hovers. They formed up on three sides of the pod and began to move towards it. The fish-whales remained stubbornly still. One of the people in the hoverboat nearest to us fired a gun into the air. The fish-whales milled around a little but still refused to move. The same person fired directly at one of the fish-whales—the gun must have been loaded with birdshot or blanks, I thought. The fish-whale turned and lunged at the boat, driving it backwards with the wave they created. Several of the people in the parking lot cried out.

           The people on the boats and the hovers appeared to hold a little radio conference, and then went back over to the main boat and got different guns. I assumed these were loaded with real bullets or tranq darts. They went back to their positions. Someone fired into the air again. The closest fish-whale dove down into the water and came up under the hoverboat containing the shooter, lifting it up into the air and throwing it sideways. Both the people in it fell out, and the shooter lost his gun. In the parking lot we all screamed "Oh!"

           The fish-whale ignored the two people swimming back for the main boat, concentrating instead on smashing the hoverboat to pieces. Several of other members of the pod came over to investigate.

           One of the two remaining hoverboats picked up the swimmers and brought them back to the main boat, while the people in the other hoverboat and on the two hovers all opened fire on the fish-whales. I saw that the people in the hoverboats were armed with harpoon tranqs, and the ones on the hovers with guns. The fish-whales nearest them were soon covered with darts and also bullet holes, but that didn't slow them down. In fact, they made several feints towards the boats.

           I was wondering why they didn't just attack when I saw several more members of the pod circling around behind the hoverboat and the hovers. Taki saw the same thing, and shouted a warning into the radio, but it came too late: the fish-whales came up under the boat and the hovers and threw them into the air.

           There were now four people in the water. Their bright red life vests and wet suits stood out sharply against the gray ocean. Three of them started swimming towards the main boat. They crawled along, flailing and awkward compared with the fish-whales, but the fish-whales ignored them.

           The fourth person had kept a hold of his gun, and instead of dropping it and trying to escape, he fired it at the nearest fish-whale. The bullet caught it in the eye, and I could see the blood gush out. The fish-whale bellowed and jerked all over, and then went still.

           "It's dead," said Taki. "They will leave now."

           But they didn't. Two other fish-whales closed in on the shooter. He fired at one, but the bullet buried into its side without appearing to do any damage. It thrashed angrily and then lunged at the shooter, catching him by the shoulder and lifting him up out of the water and shaking him. The final remaining hoverboat came zooming over, but before it could reach him, one of the fish-whales broadsided it and knocked it over. The two people in it floundered around in the water, splashing and shouting. One of them tried to swim over to the main boat, but he was intercepted by a fish-whale, who nudged him towards the shore. Other fish-whales started driving the second man in the same direction.

           The fish-whale that had been shaking the shooter let him back down into the water, but didn't let go of him. It also began swimming towards the shore, quickly passing the other two people. It beached itself, dropped the shooter, and pushed itself backwards off the sand and into the water with its flippers. It snapped at the other two men as it passed them, but only, I thought, to scare them. Then it started swimming powerfully towards the main boat. More and more members of the pod joined it.

           "They.... They..." said Taki, but his English left him and he couldn't say anything else.

           "Can we go down to the beach?" I asked Taki.

           "Yes, let's go help them," he said. He said something in Japanese, and we all began jogging hurriedly down a narrow sandy path that cut deeply into the bluff face and ran steeply down to the beach. The others were yelling in Japanese as we ran, their voices rising into shrieks when at least eight fish-whales converged on the boat from all sides. It tried to speed away from them, but two of them leapt out of the water and crashed onto its deck, while two more grabbed its skirt with their teeth.

           Distracted by this sight, we ended up sliding on the snow and sand to the bottom, and struggling across sand and piles of ice to where the man who had been bitten was lying. He had been slowly crawling away from the water without making any apparent progress, and I realized the tide was coming in and soon the entire beach would be under water, judging by the tide marks on the bluffs. I looked back up to see what was happening to the main boat.

           The two fish-whales that had landed on the deck started thrashing around, knocking down the cabin and large pieces of the railing. The two who had bitten into the skirt began ripping out large chunks of it, and the rest started throwing their bodies against the boat, smashing in the sides. It tipped over, spilling several people into the water. Again, the fish-whales ignored them, concentrating instead on tearing up the boat. One of them got hit by a powerjet and reeled back, startled, but recovered quickly and threw itself against the underside of the boat. The powerjets suddenly went silent.

           "We must do something!" said Taki in my ear.

           "What?" I asked him. "I don't think the fish-whales want to hurt them."

           I didn't know how many people had been in the main boat, but seven of them were now in the water. The fish-whales made no move to attack them. The people gathered together about ten meters off from where the fish-whales were destroying the boat like sharks in a feeding frenzy, and started arguing and shouting at each other. I couldn't hear the words, but from their hand gestures I was willing to bet they were arguing over whether to swim for safety or to try and fight off the fish-whales. Five of them began swimming to shore. The other two hung back for a moment before reluctantly joining them. The three from the hovers and the hoverboat had almost reached the shore.

           Taki and Makihiko had knelt down by the man who had been bitten and were trying to stop the bleeding from his shoulder. Keiko, Tadashi, Sakiko, and Haruaki were huddled over them, offering suggestions. The man tried to sit up, but they pushed him back down. Then a wave washed over the whole group, drenching the feet of those standing and causing the injured man to cough violently.

           "Take me to the cars," he said in English. Taki and Makihiko lifted him up and began carrying him to the parking lot.

           "They take him to hospital," Keiko told me. "We wait and help others."

           The three from the hovers crawled up out of the water then. One of them was Lin.

           "I'm going back to China!" he shouted, kneeling by my feet and coughing up water. I asked him if he was okay, and he said he was, but he didn't ever want to see another fish-whale in his life, and he was never eating fish again and in fact he was going to join a monastery and spend the rest of his life contemplating the eightfold path and never having anything to do with animals, Americans, or Japanese ever again.

           The first five from the boat came staggering up out of the ocean. None of them were hurt. Most of the fish-whales had retreated and were waiting out on the horizon line, but two of them were still smashing up whatever parts of the boat were left.

           The sixth man came onto shore and joined us. He turned around and saw that the seventh man had stopped in chest-deep water and was standing there watching the destruction of the boat.

           "Bob!" shouted the sixth man. "Bob, dammit, come on!"

           The biggest fish-whale turned from the remains of the boat and seized a hover that was floating nearby. It reared up, shook the hover in its teeth, and then hurled it up in the air and dove down and struck the hover with its tail. The hover burst into pieces, which flew thirty or forty meters before splashing back down.

           "God damn you!" shouted Bob, shaking his fist at the fish-whales. A big wave came and washed over him, knocking him off his feet.

           "God damn you!" he shouted once he was standing again. Another wave came and knocked him back over, and the fish-whales continued to ignore him. There were no pieces left of the boat longer than two or three meters. The last two fish-whales turned and swam out to the rest of the pod.

           "Bob, for crying out loud, come out of the water," yelled the sixth man, crossing his arms over his chest and hopping up and down. His wetsuit had gotten ripped in two places, and there was a cold wind blowing off the bluff.

           "Bob," I shouted, "come on, Bob, there's nothing left to do, we have to go home."

           "Listen to the girl," called the sixth man. "We've got to get everyone home."

           The pod had disappeared over the horizon.

           "Bob," cried the sixth man, "we'll track them from the Station. We can't do anything here. Come on, we have to go home. I'm freezing my ass off."

           Bob reluctantly half-swam, half-walked to the shore. The waves kept knocking him down. "We have to find them," he said as soon as he reached us.

           "We will," said the sixth man soothingly. "From the Station."

           "It must be an aberration," said Bob. "A genetic aberration."

           "Yes," agreed the sixth man. "We'll go back to the Station, we'll put them down, we'll look at their genetic records, and we'll stop breeding from that line. You know, I had my reservations about that shark blood."

           "It wasn't the goddamn shark blood!" yelled Bob.

           "Bobby-chan, let's go, we're cold," said Keiko, coming up and taking him by the arm.

           "Don't touch me!" shouted Bob. He slapped her face, making her stagger back and almost fall. She started to cry.

           "For God's sake, man!" The sixth man took him by the other arm. "You're not thinking straight. Lin, take the others back. Bob: you, I, and you," he nodded at me, "we'll all go back by ourselves, and we'll get warmed up, and we'll start tracking them, okay? Okay? Come on, man, let's go." He started marching Bob up to the parking lot.

           "Take Keiko's car," Lin said to me, tossing me the keys he had taken out of her pocket. "I'll stuff the others into the rest of the cars somehow or another. For God's sake, keep Bob away from everyone else, okay?"

           I said I would do my best, and followed after Bob and the sixth man. Bob had started to shout about the fish-whales again, and then, when we got to the car, he began shivering violently, and wretched up a bunch of water on the car wheel.

           The sixth man opened up the car, rummaged through the front compartment, and brought out a first aid kit. "Here," he said, handing Bob a small pill and bottle of water. "This will make you feel better. I'll drive, you stretch out in the back and relax, and you'll," he nodded at me again, "sit in front with me, okay?"

           We all got in and took off. I could see Lin stuffing people into the remaining cars. At least they'd be warm. I introduced myself to the sixth man, and he said his name was John and he was the Station chief. Bob abruptly dropped off to sleep.

           "Tranqs," said John with satisfaction. "I hope he doesn't die of hypothermia on the ride back."

           I said I hoped not too, although since we were all sweating heavily in the wetsuits we'd never had time to change out of, I thought it wasn't too likely.

           "The man's distraught," said John. "That was a bad business with Keiko."

           I said uh-huh, and then John went on to tell me Bob had been having an affair with Keiko for the past several months, even though she was young enough to be his daughter and Bob had a wife who was living back in New Kyoto because she couldn't stand living at the Station, and all in all it was a big mess but he'd been afraid to speak to Bob about it before, but now he'd really have to do something, even though he hated interfering in the personal lives of the people at his station.

           "Do you think it was the shark blood?" I asked.

           "That made them go crazy like that? Yeah, what else could it be? I kept telling Bob we were mixing in too much shark DNA and it would come back to bite us, but he kept arguing it wasn't the sharks we had to worry about, it was the orcas."


           "Yeah, see, for the past year or so the fish-whales have been showing signs of what we've been calling 'unusual intelligence,' as well as violence. Bob always insisted it was the orcas. He said they were 'making themselves smarter,' whatever that means, and he blamed the orcas. I guess the worst incident was when two of them turned on one of our assistants during a slaughter."

           "Oh?" I said.

           "Yeah, it was terrible. See, they'd been giving us more and more trouble, refusing to come in, attacking people, that kind of thing. Then about two months ago we were doing a routine slaughter, only five of them, and it all went wrong. We were moving the second one into the tank, and it must have guessed what was going on—like I said, they'd been getting smarter about it, more suspicious—because it just leaped up and knocked Wang into the tank, and then the next one in line started throwing itself against the gate until it broke it down, and the first one picked Wang up in its mouth and tossed him into the air, and the second one caught him with its tail like a tennis player catching a ball, and threw him out of the tank and against the far wall."

           "Wow," I said.

           "Yeah, poor guy, he had major lacerations, a broken collarbone, concussion, the works. As soon as he got patched up he handed in his resignation and moved back to New Shanghai. Last I heard, he was selling shoes. And now this. The way they went after us, it was like they had planned it."

           I told him about how Tomo had jumped one of them, setting off the whole thing.

           "Hmmm," John said. "Like I said, it looks like they're getting smarter. We're going to have to do something. Change the breeding program for sure, and maybe go ahead and slaughter all the current lines. Although I don't know how; that was our best boat they smashed up. We'll have to call for reinforcements, I guess."

           He stopped talking, which let me think my own thoughts. I thought about the report I'd read, and the possible mutinogenic properties of fish-whale flesh, and whether they themselves were mutating. I also thought about the fact that I'd seen a major safety breach at both the large-animal facilities I'd visited since I came offworld. That seemed like a big coincidence to me. I couldn't believe someone was arranging for me to witness the large-animal attacks, because for one thing it would be crazy, and for another it would be almost impossible to set up. So all I could conclude was that things were badly wrong on both Draconia and New Arctica, and I had come along at just the right time to witness the problem.

           Bob was starting to wake up again by the time we arrived at the Station, so John and I were able to get him out of the car and into the medical center without too much trouble. John asked me if I'd been hurt, and I told him I hadn't gotten anywhere close to any of the fish-whales, so all I was was cold, and I just wanted to go back to my room, which I did.

Leaving New Arctica

           I came out of my room at suppertime, looking for something to eat. There was a cafeteria on the second floor of the Station, and I had been given a card with free meals on it. The cafeteria was mostly empty when I showed up, so I didn't feel so self-conscious as I went up and down the line, looking for something that didn't have fish-whale products in it. I ended up eating cheese pizza. It had been sitting out for a while, so the cheese had gone hard and nasty, but I was pretty sure it was safe.

           Hatsumi showed up just as I was finishing. "Is it good?" she asked.

           I told her it wasn't, but I had been missing pizza and even bad pizza was better than no pizza.

           "Oh, good," she said. She looked worried, so I asked how everyone was, and she said they were all fine, just bruised and cold. She ripped a paper napkin into shreds as she asked me what it was like back home. She took a piece of burned crust off my plate and broke it into lots of tiny pieces while I told her. Then she said, "You see we have big problems here, Honey."

           I said yes, I'd noticed.

           "And, the thing is, you see, is that, well, they think it might be better if you left. Because there's a lot they need to do right now, slaughtering a lot of fish-whales and so on, and they're afraid you might get hurt if you joined in, and there won't be anything else for you to do."

           I said I understood, and asked when they wanted me to go, and she told me tomorrow, and I said that was fine, and she said she'd drive me back to New Kyoto in the morning, and I said I had to go pack, and I did.


           I sent a message to my boss while I was packing, asking what I should do now that I was being kicked off New Arctica, and when I got up the next morning, there was a reply waiting for me, but it wasn't from Mr. Thwaite, it was from Senator Bryson, whose idea it had been for me to go on this trip. The message said:

Dear Ms. Tremaine,

It seems you're causing quite a stir wherever you go! This is a good thing. The New Arctican and Draconian representatives have been bending my ear about Terran interference and trade monopolies. Too bad you couldn't stay longer on New Arctica. There's a flight in the afternoon to Pangea: go there and see what's up: the Pangeans are desperate to import live birds to Earth as pets, and they've been leaning on me pretty hard.


           I was excited about finally getting to go to Pangea and see the birds, so I was cheerful to Hatsumi and Taki on the drive over to New Kyoto. When we arrived at the spaceport, they gave me a little package of freeze-dried red caviar, a souvenir, they said, of Little Tokyo. I don't like caviar, but I thought it might come in handy, so I said thank you very much and put it in my suitcase. Since it was freeze-dried and hermetically sealed, I was allowed to take it with me, although I was warned I wouldn't be allowed to open it on Pangea. I told the customs official that was no problem and arranged to have it sent to Novy Mir instead. Then that afternoon we took off.





copyright 2006 Elena Clark.

Elena Clark:

I have had the privilege to engage in a fast-paced and lucrative career of animal and child care, with occasional forays into food service and administrative assistance. I am also abnormally over-educated. I currently live in North Carolina.

Previous publication credits: 1st place, novella division, Bardic Tales and Sage Advice, 2005

Reader's Choice, Flash Fiction, Bewildering Stories Contest 2

Also, my short story "Witch Light" will appear in the October issue of Worlds of Wonder

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