Today's Reading

"Will you miss the fish?" Abdi said. And then: "Why are you laughing?"

She was laughing because Abdi had used the same brisk tone even for "Will you miss the fish?" as if that was just another automatic pleasantry. "Nobody ever asks me that. Yes, I will. But I hope I can see them again soon." By "them," she meant the species in general—Cyclopterus venenatus—not her experimental subjects in particular. She'd grown fond enough of those that she would be delighted to see them again, but of course she never would. Their strange secondment in the human world was over.

"Yes. I feel like I've barely begun."

"Wow, okay, so... ?"

She didn't reply, but she gave him a little tilt of the head. She knew what he was asking and the answer was yes.

Perhaps even the tilt of the head was a mistake. Never discuss your findings before you submit the report. That was the rule in her field. Certainly not with the client, or anybody who works for the client—and least of all when those findings are likely to be disagreeable to that client. That suited her fine, the not talking, because she had never been the kind of person who could only digest each day with a willing listener as her ruminant organ. And on top of that, she had other, non-professional reasons, reasons nobody knew about, for her interest in the venomous lumpsucker, which made her especially cagey about the whole subject. Even with Abdi.

Officially she was here on the Varuna to evaluate, on behalf of the Brahmasamudram Mining Company, whether the venomous lumpsucker exceeded a certain threshold of "intelligence"—a word so scientifically and philosophically embattled that it was almost useless, churned to mud, but that nevertheless had implications for a company who might want to mine a species' breeding ground. And now, because of that tilt of the head, Abdi could guess what her report was going to say. But perhaps he had already. There had been evenings when he couldn't have failed to notice how excited she was about what had happened in her lab that day. No scientist sat down beaming to dinner because they'd found out that a fish was nothing special.

"Do you want to celebrate finishing?" Abdi said.


Abdi hesitated, searching for ideas. There weren't a lot of ways to cut loose on a mining support vessel. Resaint had a bottle of Absolut in her lab, but Abdi was forbidden from drinking by both his religion and the biosensor Brahmasamudram made him wear on his forearm. Then there was karaoke, which was popular on board. But Resaint was barred from karaoke sessions by 'her' most deeply held beliefs, in the sense that she believed karaoke ought to be a taboo punishable by stoning. "Cake?" he said at last. "We could eat some cake."
The mess did indeed offer a decent kladdkaka, the Swedish sticky chocolate cake. "I think I'm going to stay out here for a bit longer," Resaint said. "It's my last night at sea. I'll see you later, though."

"I'll get you a PFD." Meaning a life jacket.

Resaint waved him off. "I'll be fine." Technically she was supposed to strap on a hard hat just to come out on deck, even though there was no danger of anything but gull shit falling on her head, but in her case the safety manual was never enforced to the letter.

After Abdi had gone back inside, Resaint stood at the railing looking out to the north, the hood of her anorak raised against the wind. The Baltic was one of the filthiest seas on the planet, full of chicken-farm runoff and birth control hormones and even nerve gas from old munition dumps, but from a vantage like this you could forget all that. The last of the sunset had died out of the mist and the sea and sky were both darkening iron. Her drone had already shrunk beyond sight, but the spindrifter was near enough now that she could make out the ridged shape of its rotors, like three gigantic spinal columns scudding over the ocean, and the red warning lights at their tops, fifty meters above the water. She could feel a change in the air, too, the outer touch of the spindrifter's storm.

The plan, originally, had been for a few thousand spindrifters, scattered all over the planet. A spindrifter's rotors looked like masts but were really more like sails, in the straightforward sense that they propelled the vessel forward by getting in the way of the wind. But because they were always rotating at high speed, they could harness that wind in unstraightforward ways, like a tennis ball backspinning off a racket. And as they rotated, they pumped seawater up into the sky, spraying it through a silicone mesh to create a mist of droplets so tiny that a flu virus would have called it a fine drizzle. The clouds that formed around these droplets were softer than usual, more cashmere than cotton wool, and because of this they were also whiter, which made them reflect more radiation from the sun. So with enough of these spray vessels seeding enough of these clouds, you might be able to hold back the warming of the earth.

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