Below is Brentwood High’s Liliana Sandberg’s short story “Ouroboros.” Her short story is being considered for the top prize in a writing contest sponsored by National Geographic and Wattpad.
By Liliana Sandberg
Ouroboros, they called this ocean planet. Like the self-cannibalizing serpent, the dark, alien sea had no beginning and no end. Today marked the seventh day Coda-9994 had spent exploring this new world, and though the cachalot had seen so much in his strange life, he had never seen anything quite like this.
Taking a deep sigh through his rebreather, the whale headed down deeper. The cold, dark water enveloped him in its crushing embrace. There were no squid here, no other sperm whales, no cetaceans at all, to his knowledge. Of all the things this ocean lacked from Earth’s ocean, there was only one thing that Coda-9994 was glad to be rid of. Plastic.
Lost in memory was that halcyon world, drowned in human refuse and human carelessness. The humans had taught him all about plastic, how it was made, and how it improved human lives. According to his captors, whatever cost plastics had on ocean life was outweighed by their benefits toward humanity, and that his purpose was not to protect his ocean, but to find them a new one. Once they had a new ocean, they could have a new world, all in thanks to the heroic efforts of Coda-9994, humanity’s cetacean ally.
He grunted in disdain at the thought. Like this planet’s name, humanity’s self-destruction was an eternal cycle, one which began with a simple, foolish choice. Chase one’s tail, throw the plastic away after using it once, ignore the pleas to stop. He remembered the sight of a tiny seahorse clinging to a plastic straw because it had nothing else. That had been the day Coda-9994 realized that it would take far more than hope to change things.
The piece of his headgear connected to his inner ear buzzed to life as his captors made contact from Earth. “Coda-9994, do you copy?”
He stopped swimming and sent a message back.
– Affirmative. –
“Please report your findings,” the voice said. “Is the planet habitable?”
Coda-9994 faltered. If he told them the truth – that this world teemed with life beneath its waters, and that humans could live here with some accommodations – then it would suffer the same fate as Earth. Asphyxiated by plastic, it would eventually cease to thrive, and no matter what they told him, Coda-9994 knew he was as disposable as their plastic.
But if he lied, and they failed to see through his deception, perhaps they would come to realize that no alternative existed to Earth. Perhaps they would begin to make the right choices, and finally learn that it did not take a brain the size of his to figure out that their survival depended on those simple decisions. With that in mind, he sent back his reply.
– Ouroboros cannot support human life. –
The communication device went silent. Coda-9994 breathed a sigh of relief. This world had enough for one whale’s need, but not enough for mankind’s greed.