It was still a fish, after all. Dora had swum as hard as she could, as fast and as nimble as she could, but she wasn’t a fish and underwater it was best if you were a fish. The fish had no need for the surface, it took its oxygen directly through its two-meter gills, a forest of capillaries as delicate as Megalodon was vicious. Dora was of the surface and needed to inhale that precious five percent of the atmosphere that was oxygen. Her brain was bigger, by an order of magnitude and complexity, all made possible by her lungs and the warm, wet climate of the last three hundred millennium.
Dora pushed hard against the warm water and her meter-long head broke the surface and she took in what was to be her final gulp of air, feeding her complex brain the fuel needed to recognize the massive kelp forest ahead of her. She dove at a 75 degree angle, offsetting her vector from the giant shark’s and making her escape route well within the turning radius of the apex predator that a moment ago had ripped a small gash in her left back flank.
Still holding her breath, which she could do for as long as two hours and to depths of thousands of feet, Dora settled into the bottom of the massive kelp forest. She took a taste of the kelp, so unlike the squid she ate for sustenance and, in her own way, marveled at the biomass from which it came. Dora made herself very still and closed her eyes and listened for the return of the fish, which is what she did until enough of her blood had spilled into the forest and she died.
FIVE AND A HALF MILLION YEARS LATER
Sarah pulled her leather jacket closed and grasped her zipper with shaking hands and wide eyes as she stood on the wind-swept grass rectangle just south and east of the Golden Gate that was known as Chrissy Field. The air was filled with an oily smell, a mix of smoke and grease and of something coming to like again after untold eons, one cylinder at a time. Each of these cylinders was a miniature hell, filled with exploding kerosene, driving a piston down with the banked life energy of millions upon millions of long-dead plants and animals, that downward force chained and vectored by a rod that had started life as a taconite pellet in the Iron Range of Minnesota, half a continent away. Sixteen of these infernos were harnessed to the driveshaft of the internal combustion engine, or ICE, that turned the sideways wings that would push Sarah’s aeroplane forward and into the air above the grass.
“You expect me to get in that thing,” Gustave asked, pointing at the collection of bent plywood, cotton canvas fabric and a metallic paint that was as much a putty as a decoration, known by all as “dope.”
“Of course I do!” shouted Sarah over the sound of her biplane’s radial engine.
“You crazy bitch! I love you!” Gustave exclaimed as he swung his leg over the leather cuff of the forward cockpit.
Sarah took a deep breath, the air was a mix of nitrogen, petroleum smoke, salt, water vapor and five percent oxygen. She smiled.
“We’re going to fly.”