Friday, March 1, 2013

Prompt: Fighting the Goo

Darryl jumped up and pulled the lever, letting his weight draw it down to his waist. As the system started to move, he heard the groans and creaks of hundreds of paddles pushing the goo out of the OWPA—the Open Water Protected Area. The workers all called them Zones. They fought a daily battle to keep this small area of ocean water clear of the encroaching goo.

Darryl looked out over the surrounding gelatinous surface while he waited for the system to clear the goo that had crept in overnight. He was so attuned to the sounds of the paddles and engines that he didn’t have to consciously pay attention any more. He knew he would hear if anything went awry.

A cloud of goo and water burst into the air about 100 yards out, and he looked for the whale that must be surfacing. Not much could push through the goo anymore. Darryl hadn’t seen a dolphin in over five years. Some of his buddies claimed there were still pods in the largest Western Zone, but he missed them out here. Looked like a fin whale, with its narrow ridged back and low dorsal fin. It rested on the surface, and Darryl was glad of the company. He used to enjoy all the critters that hung around the kelp bed farms. Back then, he dove down to check all the nets surrounding the beds every day, and he saw dolphins, sharks, turtles, orcas, otters, you name it. When he was working from his raft, harvesting or doing water tests or any other chores, he always liked when the big birds came by to check out the easy pickings on top of the beds. The pelicans, gants, albatross, even the little gulls and terns were entertaining to watch. None of them were left out here, anyway. The Gulf of Mexico was a wasteland as far as Darryl was concerned. Nothing but kelp, goo, and the occasional whale.

Darryl watched the fin whale prepare for a dive. The whales had adapted surprisingly well to the goo. They seemed to understand they needed a little extra effort, or preparation, to go under and come back up through it. The fin took in deep, rasping breaths, like it was filling its enormous lungs with all the air it could muster. Fins used to be shallow divers, mostly, when Darryl first started watching them. Now the only ones he still saw around always dove straight down under the goo. He knew it was over thirty feet deep around the beds here.

When it first took hold, Darryl used to swim through the filmy layers of goo on the surface, and it was nothing more than an annoyance. As the layers deepened, it became more of a chore, and then a challenge, to get through them every day to dive down and check all the nets. By the time it was a foot deep as far as he could see in any direction, the kelp beds he managed were declared one of the first OWPAs, and the 1st gen clearing systems were installed around the surface.

Now there were no nets to tend, and not much down there to worry about getting into the kelp beds anyway. The Zone clearing systems reached fifty feet deep, an intricate system of paddles that swept out any goo from the clear water surrounding the kelp beds. Darryl knew eventually the goo would reach farther down than the systems could cover, and then it would be game over.

He shook his head as he heard the systems’ creaking and groaning slow at the end of their cycle. It was pretty easy to push the lever up to shoulder height, but that last couple of feet overhead felt harder and harder every day. He grunted with the effort as the lever locked in place. On to the next one.

Life on the ocean with salt and water meant constant maintenance. There hadn’t been a system yet that didn’t need pretty much hands-on attention for long-term success. Darryl started out years ago doing underwater maintenance on oil rigs and ferries. He remembered when the corporate scientists introduced the goo. It was going to clean up the water, they said. Fix all the damage that decades of environmental abuse had wreaked on the marine systems, especially the delicate estuaries. Darryl had been working on the kelp farms by then, and he couldn’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea. How did these eggheads miss the message over and over that introducing a species into an ecosystem never ever worked. Ever.

The goo didn’t look like it did now, of course. It was supposed to be like a sea lettuce, just floating on the surface and absorbing all the bad stuff, the oil, tar, chemicals, whatever we had been pumping into the oceans. It was supposed to float there and absorb it all, which would create a biochemical change to make it heavier and denser than the water, so it would sink to the ocean floor and contain all the gunk forever. They touted the goo as the building block to renew the coral beds and the overall health of oceans around the world. Except it didn’t quite work out that way.

Darryl wondered how long the scientists had tested the goo in labs, because it was only a matter of months before it became an obvious problem. The delicate sea lettuce did its work of absorbing oil and chemicals all right. And it transformed into massive floating beds of goo. It seemed perfectly content to float on the surface and never sink to the ocean floor. Another few months, and it was gumming up ship’s engines, then it shut down the oil rigs. And the ocean life was dying day by day. It wasn’t toxic by touch, but all the animals that ate it or even ingested it in the water became floating corpses. They also failed to sink to the depths of the ocean. Cleanup became an international crisis.

Dogs in house:

Delta Rae, Carry the Fire

February word count:

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, if I continued this story, I think I would make the goo the result of ecoterrorism, leveling/devastating the global economic playing field as it wiped out the ocean life, including the primary food production in the kelp beds.