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June 20, 2022

The Beachcombers

By Dan Mulhollen

Thalia slowly emerged from the ocean. It took her six spiny legs a moment to adjust to her weight out of water. She turned and looked out at the ocean. It was a beautiful morning with the sunshine reflecting off the gentle, rippling waves. And she knew the last night's storm was sure to have left plenty of food washed ashore.

"Come on, Arianna," she said, using the short-range telepathy all in her species were endowed with. "We should be able to gather enough food for at least the next three days."

"Do you see any mussels?" her companion said as she climbed ashore.

"No, but there are bound to be some. Personally though, I don't understand your fondness."

"They're yummy!" Arianna said, joining Thalia on the beach.

"All that work cracking open the shell for a small bite of food. Give me a nice fresh salmon any day."

The younger crustation pointed her foreleg a little further along the beach. "Or a tuna, maybe?"

"Now you're talking," Thalia said, scampering over to the beached fish. She dug a pincer into the tuna's body. She tore of a large piece of flesh and put it into her mouth. She made a contented moan as her reddish-brown mandibles chewed the piece of fish.

"You know," Arianna said, joining her at breakfast, "I do hate storms. The bother of rushing into the deeper banks and that eerie sensation of calm while all hell is breaking loose at the surface."

"Coward," Thalia said with a smirk.

"Hey!" Arianna protested. "You know, as a member of the Royal Family, I could have you banished for that sort of seditious talk. Maybe even have a leg removed."

"After having three or four limbs regenerate, it stops being such a big thing," Thalia admitted. Her attention was broken by something she saw in the distance. "Look over there, by that reef," she said. "Looks like an airplane that crashed."

"Silly humans," Arianna replied. "Don't they know better than to fly their contraptions during a storm?" Then she walked a few steps closer to the crash. "Tempting though."

"You're not thinking," Thalia began, warily.

"Naw, getting too full on this tuna," Arianna replied. "Seriously though, you've never eaten human?"

"It is against the law," Thalia replied. "Besides that, I do have some trouble with the thought of eating another sentient life form."

"They're not that tasty either. Most are on one sort of medicine or another. That ruins the flavor."

"How can you even consider it?" Thalia asked, put off by the idea.

"As I see it," Arianna said, sounding very much like a young royal, "an occasional human is compensation for their poachers who break the law and eat us."

"Odd talk, considering your grandfather sat on the council that accepted the treaty between the two species."

"He also said this was a far better world before they arrived. I do wish I had been around during the war. Tens of thousands of us overrunning the human camps. That is an inspiring scene."

"Before my time," Thalia responded. "But my parents had stories, like how an uncle was captured and cooked."

"But we treated our prisoners well," Arianna said, pride in her voice. "Feeding them, treating their wounds, convincing them we were sentient."

"Remarkably, the treaty has held," Thalia said. She looked down and the skeletal remains of the tuna. "Want to stay on the surface a while longer?" she asked.

"Why not?" Arianna replied. "It is a gorgeous day. Maybe we should go a little inland." With that she nimbly climbed over the rock outcroppings separating the beach from a grassy area.

"Wait up," Thalia called. "I'm nearly ready to molt and my shell is rather creaky."

"Or maybe it's just age catching up," Arianna joked. "Personally, though, that is one advantage humans have. Their bones on the inside."

"Supposedly they come from a world that's seventy-five percent water. Then they come here and take over one that's ninety percent water. Which of our species is better suited to living here?

"Do you really think they're going to stay?" Arianna asked. "I mean, every few weeks we find the remains of a suicide." Then she shook herself. "I don't understand how anything with consciousness can take its own life. It's depressing."

"They reject the fact that they can't duplicate the structure and morals of their home-world here. So they enact rigid laws to keep the illusion alive. It's odd, we seem to be evolving because of them, but they have not because of us."

"How are we evolving?" Arianna asked, confused.

"Friendship itself is a new phenomenon to us."

They heard some human speech draw nearer. Two people, apparently a father and son, were walking along a stone pathway.

"There is another example," Thalia said. "Look at how much better they are with their young than we are with ours. I've had over fifty children. Eighteen are still alive. Yet I'm not really close to any of them."

"You sound guilty."

"Maybe spending most of your life undersea doesn't created the emotional bonds living on land does. Maybe having one mate based on mutual likes is better than being impregnated by whomever can outfight his rivals.

"Maybe you should just have a human keep you as a pet. I understand pet crabs are very well cared for."

"Be led around on a leash, and be expected to do tricks?"

"To be honest," Arianna admitted, "I wouldn't mind. Reliable meals, a clean pools to live in -- all in all, sounds like a pretty nice existence."

"Come on, it's time to get back underwater," Thalia said, laughing. "The air is getting to you."

"I'm serious," Arianna said, joining Thalia, "why have to hunt for food when you can have it given to you?"

Thalia's laughter continued long after they were both submerged.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-02-01
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