Jacob’s Naked Aquarium
by Sean Monaghan
Seyma tried to concentrate on her teleflex as the subway car clanked away from Lafayette. “Magistrate declares cellular a bastardization,” the headline read. “Calls for American Bell to take magic hybrids off the market.” She smiled, flicked through the pages to the re-obituaries. No one she knew.
The train jerked and sparked, the lights dimming a moment, then it picked up speed and brightness again. An inspector waded through, shining his flashlight at people’s tickets. Seyma held up her battered pass.
The train pulled into Chronna, and Seyma stepped out, waiting on the platform for a moment, letting the commuter maelstrom subside. As the train left she joined the stragglers heading up the iron stairway to Madison Street.
She hesitated outside the Seven-Eleven on the corner, then went in and bought a Coke. She levered the cap off and took a swig, looking up at the blue glow from Jacob’s third floor apartment.
Time to do this.
Seyma waited for the crosswalk light to change. The air was littered with smoke as ferrywheelers plugged along the cobbles.
Jacob was nice enough, but his direction was different. It wouldn’t really surprise him, they’d been talking around each other for weeks.
Traffic came to a grunting halt and she crossed, went up the steps to his building. Someone was coming out, recognized her, so she didn’t have to buzz for Jacob.
Inside, Seyma pulled the lift grates open, stepped in and pressed 3, closed the grates again. Jacob had talked about his idea to make cables obsolete with weightless lifts. He had strange ideas.
Seyma tapped his door. It didn’t seem right to use her key, not when she’d be returning it anyway. She knocked again, harder, then heard the chain engaging.
The door unlocked and opened a fraction. Someone in a welding mask appeared. Seyma jerked back.
“’Sokay,” Jacob said, ripping the mask off and smiling. “In the middle of something. Come in.” He closed the door, rattled the chain. Then the door opened wide.
Seyma stepped in, wondering what he could be welding. The door to the living room was closed and Jacob dashed ahead of her, grabbing the handle.
“Ready for a surprise?” he said.
“This is exciting.”
“Look, we need to talk.”
His smile dropped a little and she gave him a glum look. Sometimes that was enough.
“Sure,” he said. “Yeah, I get it.” He smiled again. “Still, let me show you this. Close your eyes.” He opened the door a little, then stopped, watching her. He seemed stiff and still. She swallowed, then closed her eyes.
“Good,” he said. He took her hand, drawing her into the living room. It was warmer, and she could hear slippery movement in the muggy air.
“Okay,” he said. “Open.”
The main lights were off, but shaded lamps on the floor and coffee table created a blue cast.
Fish drifted through the room. Angelfish and carp, blennies and pufferfish, and others whose species she didn’t know, all swam through the air as if in water.
“Oh,” Seyma said.
A butterflyfish darted at her from above, turned and hovered before her, fins wafting for a moment. It darted away with a flick of its tail. As it went, she noticed a metal crease across its back. She didn’t get a good look, but then noticed that the other fish all had metal pieces too. She saw small pipes leading from the metal casings to their mouths.
“What is all this?” she said, watching a school of ten or twelve clownfish swim out under the sofa. They turned together, sneaking back.
“Well,” Jacob said. “Remember we discussed mini-gravity shifters?”
“But fish?” she said, recalling the tiny magic card he’d made to levitate bicycles and cars.
“Yeah, strange, huh? I couldn’t get enough magic wired down into them to make it work for transport. Not yet anyway. But the fish were easy.”
Seyma stepped further into the room, reaching up to brush a small groper. “But how do they breathe? How do they eat?” She realised the tubes must have something to do with their breathing.
“Yeah, that took a long time, but they get an oxygen spray across their gills. I have to keep the air pretty moist, it all comes through their back packs. And there are feeding stations.” Jacob pointed to a hanging stick coated with tiny brown pellets. Fish jostled and plucked at the food. “I did that like a bird seed feeder. Good idea, huh?”
“Great,” she said. She walked around feeling weightless as fish swam through from the kitchen, hovered near the ceiling and swam in front of the translucent curtains.
“How can they swim? The air’s not dense enough for them to—”
“Yeah, that’s real magic.”
“Real magic?” Seyma started out of her reverie. “Real?”
Jacob sighed. “Yeah, I know. It’s illegal. I just wanted to show you, before you leave.”
“Leave?” Seyma’s mind spun. He’d be sent to San Quentin.
“Aren’t you breaking up with me?”
“‘We need to talk’? This has been coming for weeks, but I wanted to complete the fish.”
“You’re not angry?”
“Come to the bedroom, let me show you the really special part.”
He gave her the lopsided grin she’d once found so endearing. “Not that. The best part of this. How I can get around using true magic, make it look like it’s all at least partly technology.”
She was intrigued. “What?”
“Come look.” He went through to the bedroom door. “The best fish of all. Close your eyes.”
Seyma smiled, closing her eyes. Even if illegal, it was amazing. Perhaps she was beginning to change her mind.
She heard the door open and felt his hand on her back ushering her through. Then a sudden push and the door slammed behind her.
“Jacob...” She opened her eyes into stark white light and more fish turning towards her through the air.
Copyright © 2010 by Sean Monaghan