Saturday, October 3, 2009

27. Cobalt



The first deliveries of asteroidal cobalt were flown down to the north central Pacific Ocean in the form of lifting bodies in the year 2116. The splash-point was just off the coast of Hawaii. By chance, this was not far from Poseidonis, the undersea city where lived the water-breathers who gathered cobalt deposits from the shallow ocean floor.

Each lifting body contained as much cobalt as could be mined from the Pacific in a year. Seven came down in the space of a single week. Before that week was over, twenty thousand merfolk found themselves out of work.

They had a mass meeting in the SubPacifica Amphitheater.

Just what are we supposed to do now? one signed. I paid my life savings for these—he indicated his gills—and now there isn't any work!

"We need welders and cutters to disassemble the lifting bodies for processing," said the government spokeswoman. A translator signed her words as she spoke them. "There'll be openings for—oh, maybe two hundred of you."

As one, the assembled mermen and merwomen rose to their feet and shook their fists in a silent howl of outrage. No! they signed, and Strike! they demanded, and Riot! it became.

They boiled up out of the amphitheater.

By the time the riots had at last been quelled, nearly a hundred ships had been sunk by the merfolk, and all the dock facilities in Hawaii had been trashed. A good third of the merfolk had been killed, and half those who remained were in the hospital.

That night the government spokeswoman returned at last to her home. She was exhausted. Her lover gently took all of her clothes off, and then gave her a hot oil massage. Whenever the oil beaded up and started to drift away, he darted out a silvery hand to gather it up again.

"Was it hard?" the spokeswoman's lover asked.

"Telling an entire race of people that they're obsolete? I can't imagine anything worse."

"It's done now, though."

"Well, no, not exactly." She flipped over, so she could see the Earth, floating big and fat and beautifully obsolete through the pressurized window, and sighed. "I really don't look forward to going down there tomorrow and having that same discussion with the air-breathers."

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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