There were only six modules left on the Neptune4 space station, currently orbiting Earth’s moon. Mankind hadn’t gotten much further than that, so their interests in space had branched out. There was one station run by genetically modified chimpanzees in order to test the limits of animal astronauts. That station, Bananabunch3, had been such an incredible success, despite one or two acts of ape cannibalism, that they’d branched out even further.
Bananabunch3 had been filled with hydroponic and botanical experiments, providing plenty of natural greenery to keep to keep the apestronauts healthy and sane. Neptune4 housed modified cetaceans, so it was full of perfectly balanced salt water and bobbing colorful toys.
Ceri woke in that water on the five hundredth and thirty-seventh day of her stay. She had tasks, every morning. If you missed even one the jerks back on Earth, the jerks who lived in Houston, resolutely so, like barnacles, would pull your authorization and ship you back to Earth. They were always terrified of animals going rogue. One parrot accidentally destroyed one lander, and things had been so much stricter after that.
Ceri tapped her data screens with the end of her snout. She was a spinner dolphin so her coloration was a bit darker than the commons that used to be on the station before they were pulled back. Now it was just her and the orca Glenn. Glenn could only fit in two of the modules anyway, so most of the time, while they each manned their own experiments, they just spared glances at each other through the portholes of their horse shoe shaped station.
Temperature readings looked good. The weather data was the same as always: chaotic. Earth sure was having a rough time with its climate. Sometimes Ceri was glad she didn’t have to be back in the regular ocean. They didn’t tell her much, but from what she gathered it was full of jellyfish now. Sometimes she thought she saw them, even from where she was, as great pink and purple patches in the sea. The heat of those waters had boiled away almost everybody else.
She was about to go for her morning swim, her biorhythm trackers, small white patches around her fins, needed to get her heart rate data for the day anyway, when she noticed an unusual blip on one of the data screens. It was the one meant for her socializing. Ceri worked well alone, unusual for a dolphin, and that was why they’d let her be the last one on Neptune4. She didn’t talk to the chimps or parrots much, and Glenn understood that she liked her privacy.
It didn’t change the fact that suddenly she had more than 170,000 E-mails. All since the prior night cycle. Her heart rate monitor shot up. Irritated, she tapped that beeping screen to silence it, and then stared dumbly at the list o E-mails. What were these? She had no family left on Earth; that’s where they were all from.
She messaged Glenn before she read any of them. Apparently he’d been delivered a similar number of messages, and had read them all morning. He said they were fan mail. Ceri looked through a few random ones. He was right. Suddenly the whole world seemed obsessed with the dolphins in space. What on Earth had happened to convince them that science was now important? They ignored it most of the time. They did have the animals doing it after all, so they wouldn’t have to risk their bone density or their sanity spinning around the moon.
Dear Ceri. We love you. We promise we’re going to make the ocean all better for you when you get back. -love Jenny, age 8
Ceri! MY girl! WHADDUP! It’s your boy Johnny Bitmap from streameyes.com! Ten K people watchin me writin you right this very now. I’m high as a kite. You have to be to write to a space dolphin. How many high in stream right noooooww??? 1400 CERI! Get that science girl.
Ceri all the other dolphins are dead. Please come back. Sea Palace doesn’t have a show anymore. You need to come back. Also P.S., Ceri, please do tricks and send me pics. -Matthew age 11
She couldn’t read anymore, especially after the last one, which was from Houston. It was a return protocol. Science had always been beholden to the prevailing culture, but Ceri thought she had escaped it. It was not so. All of Earth’s megafauna that remained was concentrated in zoological theme parks. They wer the only ways the children could still see the bears, the whales, the tigers, and the crocodiles.
Houston told her there was a shortage of dolphins. They were pulling the rest of her program, and bringing her back so she could jump through hoops and pretend to clap for the hairy thumbed masses. She was to get into module three so they could separate it and reclaim her.
She would do no such thing. This was her home, and she’d done her job, and she wasn’t doing any damn tricks for Matthew age eleven. She tried to swim to Glenn’s module, but he was already sealed off. He stared at her through the window, trying to squeak something to her. She knew what it was. He wanted her to escape his fate.
As Glenn’s module began its voyage back to Earth with a lackluster firing of its engines, Ceri struggled to come up with a plan. She could get to the main computer and trigger a protocol reset. No modules would separate after that for at least twenty four hours. She swam, pumping her tail through the white corridors as fast as she could.
Too slow. The main computer module sealed itself and fired its engine. They were cutting her off on both sides, reclaiming the whole station piece by piece. She moved to the center module and stared at the moon. Alone on a dead world was better than Sea Palace. She tapped at the data screens like mad, delivering commands via sonar as well.
Only humans had the access codes to trigger descent, but she’d gotten one out of a lonely Houston operative ages ago. He liked to tell Ceri all his problems late at night, when nobody else monitored the station. She input the code. It triggered before the recall procedure. The module descended toward the moon.
Ceri thought it would be just fine if she died on impact. She pictured herself leaping from a dying sea and landing in the sky as a constellation. The humans gave her her mind, but she knew how to use it better than they did. She wouldn’t suffer the indignities that now made up their natural habitat, like birds learning to fly in smog or fish learning to breathe in fertilizer runoff.
The module slid across the moon’s surface, spraying dust in all directions. Nothing cracked. She still had water and oxygen and enough food for half the rest of her lifespan. It would be good enough. Ceri liked to be alone, so she assumed she was, but the socializing screen flashed again. She swam to it warily, trying not to pressure the fin she had bruised on impact.
It was the parrots, hailing her. Their base was nearby. They could squawk at the humans in their own words, but they could also keep a secret for a fellow animal. They told her they were readying the perch-controls for their rover. They would be there within three hours, ready to drag her module to its new quiet home, away from the blazing seas and the horrible clapping joy of human beings.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Maddyn13 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop bytwitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!