Finnegan says he can't take it much longer. Says he's hallucinating about waves. Sebastian just rolls his one remaining eye back into his head and nobody says anything. We've all seen this before; arguing is a waste of time. It will happen, and that's how it goes. It will happen, and afterward all we can do is wait for the replacement to arrive a few days later, sheathed in plastic, twitching. Yes we'll be upset at first, but give it a while and we'll forget him, too.
The tank is still reeling from the latest incident when Finnegan's dumb mouth gapes open and here comes the inevitable. Day one, me and Sebastian had him pegged. Sebastian's been here longer than anyone, back when the Frog was still around, before he started sucking eyeballs out of skulls and was removed to an undisclosed location. (Heard he got the Freezer, and I hope it's true. It's what he deserves, the albino bastard.)
Sebastian's taught me about spotting them, those like Finnegan. Something around the gills, he says. Discoloring. But this kid only arrived a few days ago. And already? We don't need another incident. Professor Charles Esquire and Doug are still holed up in The Castle, keeping vigil and fasting because of Captain Kirk. They feel terrible about it after. He was the most recent: just stopped feeding. What can you do about that kind of thing? You can't do anything. We waited for the cleanup net to collect him after he passed but it was too late showing up. His little body sagged against the glass in the back corner, growing paler and paler. Then Professor Charles Esquire and Doug, you know, just because the type they are… Couldn't really help it, I guess. They ate him. They ate Captain Kirk. Felt terrible.
Now here's Finnegan, saying this stuff at the community meeting. We're all crowded around the entrance to The Castle, talking to Professor Charles Esquire and Doug through the archway. They still won't come out even though last time we asked why they were demonstrating they couldn't remember. The Words are above us, blue letters embedded in grey plastic: Castle of Aquatic Enchantment, the Words to live by, and Finnegan says just like they mean nothing at all, "There isn't enough room for all of us. Not enough space. It might be getting to me." And like I said, we just stare… What can you do about that kind of thing?
The timing couldn't be worse. Yesterday a small white pyramid was dropped into the tank. Finnegan dove behind The Castle, horrified as the ivory mass settled on the bottom, one corner leading the way, burrowing slightly into the black gravel. A few hours later Finnegan was still behind The Castle, his dorsal jumping up and down like he was being shocked repeatedly. The pyramid started to bubble soon after, and earlier today it released our first ration of food. Sebastian and I haven't seen this kind of thing since December. We don't know if it will last three days, seven days, ten…but we do know how ugly things can get.
Day three the water is slightly cooler. Finnegan asks about electricity, and I make the mistake of answering honestly.
"Aerator's on, so we must have. I dunno. It must be an Outside thing."
Finnegan blanches. "My god," he says.
Day five the water starts clouding up. Professor Charles Esquire and Doug move past the whole we-ate-Kirk thing and emerge from The Castle. I find them sucking rocks off the bottom and spitting them out. Doug's smiling. "Overcast today, innit?" His accent is from Northern England but he's from PetSmart. I never get it.
"It sure is," I say.
Day six Finnegan is spending too much time in the far corner. Sebastian has noticed. He wants to talk to me in private. We meet by the Current Source, where the water is noticeably clearer. He wears an eyepatch over the empty socket these days.
"Finnegan only has a little while left." Sebastian is straight to business.
"How can you be sure?"
"Don't be an idiot. Haven't you seen him? He's got no color? Floats sideways? He's in The Castle all the time."
"He's still eating, though."
"He's not Captain Kirk." Sebastian's eye stares at me.
I don't know what to say.
"Unrelated note, but I think parts of the Val plant are missing," Sebastian says.
"Which one's the Val plant?"
"The stringy one."
On the eighth day the feeder releases rations and I tell Finnegan we're in for at least two more nights. The particulate in the water makes us wheeze and we move sluggishly in the cold.
"My bones hurt," Finnegan says simply. I don't respond. Finnegan soon goes rigid and sinks to rest against the rocks, covering his face with his tiny yellow fins.
Professor Charles Esquire is nearby in the fake coral and comes over when he sees us. "What's happening here? He alright?" I can tell panic is on its way. This whole place is one slip-up away from seething with it, and it feels like I'm the only one who can tell, let alone do anything.
"Not feelin' well at the moment," I say.
"Terrible conditions recently. Climate change, I say. We haven't been careful enough." Professor Charles Esquire shrugs and moves off to perform his afternoon ritual of bumping his face against the glass, a practice that can't be interrupted, not even by climate change.
"Finnegan'll be fine," I say, to myself as much as anyone else.
Day nine. Sebastian finds me in the early hours. He takes me to The Castle without waking Professor Charles Esquire and Doug. I can guess what has happened by the glum protrusion of his underlip.
Inside the structure, we have to climb. Weak light comes through slats in the stone, glimmering off suspended particles as they rotate in flickers and winks. The quiet is exceptional.
He's there, near the top. He was alright, as far as Crazies go, but instead of feeling sad about it like I want all I can think of is getting him out of here, into plain sight where the cleanup net will see him. Before Professor Charles Esquire and Doug…
Sebastian and I are held by a natural silence, as if we're waiting for something different to happen besides the ugly movement that keeps repeating in front of us. Finnegan's limp body floats out from the wall, pushed by the moderate current, and drops back again with a gentle bump. He rolls a little to one side, a little to the other. Each swollen, round scale is drained of color. The angle of his neck is extreme where the green Vallisneria nana girdles it. His eyes are unblinking.
And Sebastian just says, "So that's what happened to the goddamned plant."