Radiant sun shone across the surface of Crustacea’s beautiful, blue-green ocean. Huron stood at the edge of the freshly built negotiations center, watching the progress of their guests on a wrist-mounted screen. Calculation of arrival time at warp was not an easy feat with even the latest technologies at one’s disposal. Using metal scraps built from ocean debris made it more akin to reading tea leaves than science. She wondered about where the metal that had been reformed into her data pad had come from. Who had lived on Crustacea before the crustaceans? Huron shook such questions aside. There was no room for distraction. Soon, the most important negotiations of her life would begin, and if they didn’t go well… They needed to go well.
The fact that the UCP had finally responded after years of cold calling was either a hopeful or an ominous sign. Below the surface, both outcomes had taken root in the more creative minds giving rise to bold innovation and doomsday profiteering. On her way to the surface, Huron had passed an old timer, larger even than herself. He was clicking furiously about the coming apocalypse and how the UCP’s idea of negotiation was a nuclear boiling pot filled with his brothers and sisters. Huron had politely averted her eyestalks and pretended to have her mind busy with other matters.
In reality, the doomsayers were only a reminder of the deep fragility in their young society. While screaming in the streets was annoying, the more concerning elements were quieter. Lobsters, already known for keeping to their own, were moving out of the city in droves. They had moved off the edge of the continental shelf, right where the water darkened and dropped off to unimaginable depths. While their structures still clung to the cliff’s edge, half-buried in rock, it was risky. No one knew what lived over the edge, and no one had cared to find out. At night, low, warbling wails echoed from the deep.
In a way, it was reminiscent of the early days on Crustacea. New and terrifying threats had lurked around every corner. Huron’s memories were fuzzy, but she did remember a cold, dark tank, rattling around in the belly of a space cruiser. Then sudden, blinding light as they were dropped and forgotten in an unfamiliar ocean. Panic, mixed with nothing but evolutionary instinct led them to settle on the sea floor not far from where they fell. Real thought and planning would take months to enter the collective consciousness, but their congregation formed quickly.
Fights and plays for dominance filled the first week, but as the ocean water seeped past their thick carapaces, a change took hold. None of them could precisely explain what a psychic ocean was, only that they had been exposed to it. Thought sprung as sudden as a leak, and soon, life was far beyond what any of them could have ever imagined. A few hundred years later, Crabopolis, a name born out of a severe lack of creativity and the dominant species, was thriving. Now, to take that civilization to the next level, they needed materials and help. In short, they needed a seat at the table.
Huron watched the waves lap at the shoreline, placid and calm. It was a hot day, and with each passing moment, she could feel the liquid evaporating off her back. A series of intertwined tubes pumped cold water off tanks strapped to her side, but only when it was necessary. It left her in a constant state of near dehydration, but functional enough to conduct negotiations. Once inside, the humidity and stabilized climate would help things. In the meantime, Huron had to suffer, bearing her burden in the name of good manners, and hoping it would pay dividends when the time came to ask for favors.
A shrimp, around five feet tall, bright red, and attempting a clumsy bipedal walk approached from one of the bunkers. It was Tom, Huron’s aid. Watching the precarious nature of each mincing step set Huron on edge. A bad fall and Tom would end up with another cracked shell, and assistants were no good to her when they spent most of their time in the infirmary. Still, he tried hard, and always believed in the mission, which was more than could be said of the other council heads.
As it turned out, contacting the UCP or humans in general was not a favorable position among certain sects of the population. Many still carried memories of what it was like to lose loved ones to fishing boats or to spend their early years staring out at the human race from behind glass walls. The psychic ocean imbued them with lives that were abnormal in length, and it seemed memories as well. It tended to leave many conversations stuck in the past, focused on a war against the planets that they would never win, all in the name of honor.
“Good afternoon, Huron,” echoed a hollow, mechanical voice.
Huron started and turned to see Tom staring at her, a look of pride, well as much emotion as a shrimp could muster, spread across his face.
Tom’s antennae twitched quickly, touching a small metal box on his head. It produced a grating chuckle that sounded equal parts disturbing and genial.
Huron stared, unable to muster any form of communication to explain the leap in technology she was witnessing.
“Pretty neat, right?” asked Tom.
Neat was a massive understatement. Controlling her excitement, Huron rubbed her claws together making a sound that was the equivalent of ‘yeah, that is pretty neat.’ It sounded somewhere halfway between a cricket and a tin can being opened poorly. The clunky quality of Tom’s mechanical voice was singsong in comparison.
“Well, don’t get jealous just yet.” From beneath his body, Tom produced another silver box. “Hold it between your claws and rub them together like you were going to say something.”
Huron eyed the box suspiciously, and then scuttled over to Tom. She took the object as gingerly as she could between the points of her large claws and held it out in front of her. Delicate movements were not something that had historically been a part of crustacean culture, but with the evolution of their mind, changes had to be made. It’s all well and good to have complex thought, but without the nuance to carry out hopes and dreams, it would have been entirely useless.
Huron rubbed her claws against the box, feeling familiar grooves on either side of it. “I’m not sure if this is going to work.” She scuttled backward suddenly, shocked by the sound of her own voice, and nearly dropped the box. The rapidity of translation and clarity of her intention was remarkable. While she had been thinking in common language for some time, to hear it aloud was another proposition entirely.
Tom’s beady eyes twitched in excitement, racing back and forth like they were conducting a strong electrical current. His excitement was clear and well deserved.
“And to think I initially balked learning Common.” Learning was too strong of a word. The syntax and understanding had come as a part of the psychic collective they were all a part of. Yes, sentence creation and articulation of thought had to be studied, but the language came from the sea with great ease. Even the lowliest among them could understand, even if they could not grasp the greater complexities. “Thank you, Tom.”
Tom bowed. “I think this should help the negotiations, eh?”
At that moment, a bright light illuminated the western sky, descending from the sparse cloud cover like a comet, bound to wipe them off the face of the planet. Huron tensed and checked the datapad. “That’s them.” There had been a moment where she wondered if it had indeed been a nuclear strike, but the data showed an incoming ship. Small miracles to start what was going to be an exceptionally long and difficult day.
“Is it shaped like a pig?” asked Tom, squinting in the bright light. Small tubes attached to his stalks misted the inky black surface of his eyes.
Huron looked up at it. Her knowledge of pigs was severely lacking, but the tusks protruding from the front of a rotund body were familiar. “Isn’t there the old myth of pigs that could fly?”
Tom bobbed his head up and down. “Yes, it appears to have been a more impactful proverb to some.” Tom pulled out a small terminal and tapped quick notes with his free appendages.
The great, surly, beast of a ship glided through the sky as if it had been designed with aerodynamics in mind, despite its appearance. Other than Tom, she had never seen a clumsy object look so graceful. It approached the landing pad with a roar as stabilizing jets roared out of concealed compartments in the pig’s underbelly. Huron’s hand terminal blinked red with a security alert from below the surface. Probably another demonstration. She dismissed it. Under normal circumstances, it would have been her top priority, but as the ship settled onto the landing pad, she could think of nothing else. “This has to go well,” she muttered to herself, forgetting the box between her hands.
“It will.” Tom straightened up. “And if it doesn’t, we can just eat them.”
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