The First Ambassador to Crustacea (9)

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9. Revolt

Being below the shelf felt unnatural in every way possible. From her first moments, cartwheeling through the air above Crustacea, Huron had looked at The Drop Off with primal fear. From the air, it was the place where Crustacea’s bright blue ocean turned dark. On the ocean floor, it was the dead end always looming on the horizon. Others had needed more convincing. Despite her best efforts, several self-funded expeditions went over the edge, and each time, the result was the same. No transmissions came back after a certain depth. Next, scientists tried probes with the same result. The rules were simple: Send it over the edge, and it wasn’t coming back. Huron never understood why that was so difficult to accept.

            Now, sitting in a slowly moving cart, watching the last of the ocean’s light spiraling away above her, Huron felt the same fear she had always felt. She imagined broken shells in the shadows, the hidden bodies of those that had come before her, preserved on the deepest ocean floor, unmoving. With every ounce of belief she had left, she tried to imagine it would be different for her, but hope and belief were in short supply.

            “Your fear is natural,” said Gabriel. “When I first saw the edge of the world, it filled me with dread. We are born to look at it with dread.”

            Huron wondered where the common sense behind that dread had gone. Even the running lights on the sides of the cart were a risk. Sticking out in the darkness was a fast way to become prey. She didn’t need scientists to understand that fact.

            “Don’t worry about the lights.”

            “I don’t like it when you do that.” Being taken prisoner was one thing. Losing the privacy of her own mind was another.

            “Sorry.” There was a hint of genuine contrition in Gabriel’s voice. “Habits.”

            Huron pushed back the torrent of insults and jabs that would get her nowhere and instead found what remained of her diplomatic ability. “Why aren’t you concerned about the lights?”

            “There are many things that lurk in the depths below. While they might pose a threat to us, as with all things in life, something poses a threat to them. On one of our deepest expeditions, our team came across a creature with orange lights running along its back, bigger than anything we had ever seen. So, when they returned, we ran a test. We put out several decoys covered in orange lights. Behold, unlike our previous probes, they weren’t attacked.”

            “Camouflage.” Huron was listening enough to hear Gabriel’s words, but at the same time working at her bindings. While speaking, as with most egomaniacs, the lobster focused on nothing but himself. They were nearing the end of the rail. At the bottom, a makeshift platform was grafted to the side of the rock wall. Beside it, a lit tunnel led deeper into the rocks. That was where she would strike.

            “Camouflage indeed. So, you can see, we are perfectly safe here. Now, if these lights were to suddenly turn white… Well, that would be a different story.”

            Huron didn’t need the implied threat. She was surrounded by death on all sides. Huron kept her mind occupied by counting the different deaths as they passed them by. It was important that Gabriel see her as afraid rather than a threat. The rubber bindings around her claws were not budging. Metal rods clicked below the cart as they pulled into the platform. “What do you have planned for Ambassador Pilsen?”

            Gabriel let out a series of pensive clicks. “He must be made an example of. I know your intentions were good, Huron, we all do, but the UCP is nothing more than a gang of thieves playing ruler with the known world. If we were to join their organization, we’d be back in chains before we saw any benefit.”

            The guard hoisted Huron out of the cart.

            “And what of the UCP’s reprisal when they find their ambassador has been killed? Who is going to protect your people when they rain nuclear missiles from orbit?”

            Annoyance flashed hot in Gabriel’s voice. “There won’t be any reprisal, because the UCP doesn’t—”

            Huron took the moment in Gabriel’s anger to strike. Her claws were bound, but she was still a warrior. Turning her body sideways, she pulled her claws in and shot forward with the edge of her shell.  Surprise at the sudden assault was plain on Gabriel’s face. He didn’t have time to brace or counter. Huron’s shell grazed his forward antennae and hit him square in the face. Softer bits of shell cracked and broke and he skidded backward toward the wall, unable to catch himself. There was a muted thunk as his large form collided with the rocks.

            Huron was readying a second charge when sudden, blinding pain lit up her side. Electricity arched through her body on a mad dash to reach the ground. The world flashed different shades of white and yellow. Spasmatic pain shook her form, sending her limbs shooting out to the sides. Despite her best efforts, Huron fell to the ground. Only then did she see the extended truncheon attached to the guard’s claw. A fatal miscalculation.           

            Gabriel recovered, fussing over his face with his front limbs. Bits of flesh and shell floated in a haze through the still water. When he spoke, it was with pure fury. “Oh Huron. Here I was thinking you were starting to understand. Hit her again, full voltage.”

            Huron didn’t have the strength to flinch.  When the next hit of electricity came, the world went black before she could even feel the pain.

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