The Evolution of the Predator

The Evolution of the Predator (Part 4, Chapter 1)

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Part Four: The New Buds

Chapter One

I stepped outside, the first time since the beginning of winter without a coat. The snow was gone except in a few places where tall piles had built up underneath heavily shaded trees. I breathed in a fresh, new breath and looked out at the muddy fields before me, realizing just how much work needed to be done. The cracked and rotten fruit bushes from last year laid on the muck, floating in the newly melted snow.

I bent down to a puddle, algae growing nicely and blubberballs happily swimming around, back from their winter freeze.

Blue stood next to me, the pads of her tentacles squishing the mud playfully beneath them. “What do your people do in the spring?” I watched her almost shiver with delight at the return of her mud.

“Most people do nothing different. We control our weather and live in eternal summer. Me and you, though, we’ve got to grow new fruit bushes.” I would of course need to make another lifted planter box for my Earth plants, but I wondered if we needed to plow for the fruit, considering what tools we had that could be used as a makeshift plow. I would need some steel, could probably use some of the plates that covered my escape pod.

I walked around the house to where the pieces of my escape pod were, picking through the pieces until I found one that I liked. I could probably rig something up in a couple days to pull the plow with, but then I wondered which of us would pull and which would direct.

“I don’t think I can help you make plants. The Osminog are forced to move every spring, searching out a new place with fruits. We don’t have that ability,” Blue said.

I pulled up the piece of steel and walked it to the front of my house, facing the fields.

“You do have the ability,” I said, “You just don’t know how and you don’t have the words for me to tell you.”

I dropped the piece of steel into the mud and looked at the pipe sticking out of it, thinking about how much effort it would take to set this whole thing up. I didn’t have any materials with which I could cut small holes in steel, no torches or drill bits. It would be nice if I could find an easily accessible source of coal with which I could heat the metal, though.

Blue watched me closely. “I don’t understand what you’re doing. Are you sure you aren’t magic?”

I laughed aloud, speaking with my gloves, “I’m sure.” I stood from the piece of steel, then looked to Blue with contemplative eyes. “Have you ever seen any black rocks, Blue? They’d be a little shiny, fairly light.”

Blue lifted a tentacle to the space between her eyes, copying the gesture from my rubbing of my chin. “I don’t know. We don’t see rocks very often, really, what with them being at the bottom of the swamp and all. Why?”

I shook my head. “I need them to make a fire hot enough to melt this thing. I need to make a device called a plow so we can make plants. If we don’t know where they are, though, I’ll have to make do without. Go fetch me the vines from the house – we’re going to do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Blue rushed off as I thought about how to make a harness. The Osminog leather would, sadly, likely be the most comfortable thing to put between the vines and the person pulling the plow, but I couldn’t expect Blue to accept that. Moss, at least until I found an animal or plant more suitable and ethically acceptable, was going to be the harness material of choice.

As soon as Blue returned with the vines, I began manipulating them, tying them around Blue in such a way that we both accepted the harness as comfortable and functional enough.

“You do understand that this is going to be the hardest thing we’ve done yet, right? And that I don’t intend to make you a… an Osmiog who does things for me with no reward, right?”

Blue ran her tentacle over the vine and moss harness, marveled at the steel plow, and looked at me with a different face. “I see how this took most of the day to make, but it’s no harder than anything else. What do you mean?”

I pointed to the field, held the stick I tied on so as to be able to direct the plow, and said, “We have to drag this through the mud and get air into the soil. It’s not easy, I think. I’ve never actually done this part before myself.”

Blue happily looked at where I had pointed. “Then we shall learn this magic together. What is it I am supposed to do?”

I took my part of the plow and strapped in. “Pull in a straight line towards that tree. I’ll push and try to direct the thing.”

She pulled and I felt the plow move beneath my hands. The stiff, dense mud beneath it moved out of the way, the black loam underneath pulled up and exposed to the spring air. I kept the plow pointed down as Blue pulled, hoping that I wouldn’t move it in such a way to hurt us. As the plow moved and we turned, coming down a second row, I realized just how slow the work was going and how much of a physical toll it was taking.

It wasn’t four rows before the tiresome work with the cumbersome, ill-formed plow became unbearable. I looked at my hands and saw them rubbed raw from the wood, saw Blue’s skin peeling apart where the vines wrapped around her.

“Stop!” I cried out, wiping my brow and holding the handles steady until Blue stopped pulling.

She fell down, letting her body slither into the mud while she breathed heavily. She looked at me with what had been her rear face, then asked, “Is this the blood price for your magic?”

I shrugged, the motion lost on her. “I suppose you could say that.”

“Then who did you get to do this in your home? This is terrible! If you’ve never done it, who has?”

I leaned against the plow. “Right now, no one. There’s machines, things we make, that do it for us. Large rocks that are powered by fire and lightning run across the fields, tearing them up so that more flaming rocks can proceed to make rows and start the plants to growing.”

“Then why don’t you make these… these things?”

I took the bottle of water tied around my waist and handed it to Blue. “It would take a long, long time for me to find all the things I needed and make one. I’d have to build other machines that would help me build the one we need here. Many years would have to pass. We don’t have the time to wait on that.”

She opened the bottle with her tentacle and tipped the water into her mouth. After a second, she said, “So how did you do this before machines?”

I tapped the plow. “We used animals and harnesses made out of leather.” Hopefully that would satisfy her, hopefully she wouldn’t pry into what leather was.

“What if we just had more Osminog?” Blue asked. “This winter, even with getting sick, was the easiest one I’ve ever had. Any Osminog would trade a day of pain and blood for that experience.”

I shook my head. Though the plan was sound in theory, but I really didn’t want to risk my people any more than I already had. This was a good deal for Blue, was a good deal for me, and I couldn’t take back any of what I’d already done anyway.

“I don’t think so. What would you have thought had a spotless old Osminog come and asked you to pull a rock until you bled for a creature that looked like a predator?” I pulled from my bag a couple of cloths, undoing Blue’s harness and tying the raw spots. I wished I had aloe or something to soothe her.

Blue blinked. “You are right about that… but we don’t have to present the idea that way. You could just show up with fire and say that you’re the messenger of the Protector, tell Chirchirrup and the others that they don’t have to move, but stay here and learn magic from you.”

“Ah,” I said with my voice, realizing what was going on. “You’re trying to get Chirchirrup to stay here with you. You’re trying to get back into your tribe. I’ve told you before, Blue, that I can’t be with anyone else in your tribe. I can’t afford to teach more people than you how to do these things lest the predators come and slaughter everyone.”

Blue seemed unimpressed. “From what I’ve heard of your stories, your fellow creatures may have already been destroyed because of talking with me.”

I harrumphed and untied the last vine to release Blue from her harness. “Thanks for your concern, Blue. I’m sure all the other Creatures will appreciate how I killed them to help an Osminog learn how to make plants.”

Blue stood from her harness. “I should have known you wouldn’t care about what I want. It’s always about ‘Do this, we have to for my magic to work. Do that, I’m in charge.’ Well, I want to stay near my daughter. I want to see her become an assistant, maybe even live to see her become a bearer. I don’t know how long Osminog live after becoming suspects if they’re not eaten.”

I realized that Blue had a genuine desire that I didn’t understand, but that I wouldn’t easily be able to argue against. Tales about a vague society of Sky Creatures wouldn’t hold as much sway as the possibility of never seeing your child again.

I thought about my mother, her face as she waved Kyle and me off. She stood behind the chain linked fence as we were launched from the surface of Earth to the space station where our tiny little ship was. She’d said she’d miss me, wished I didn’t have to go, and hugged me before I went through that locked door.

At that time, I hadn’t known Kyle terribly well. He’d tested well and gotten into this program, same as me, but we’d by no means fallen in love yet. I was worried about what kind of person he’d turn out to be.

Even so, I couldn’t help but shake at that look my mother had given me. That was the last thing I’d seen of Earth, the last thing I’d remember. It hadn’t crept back up in my mind often recently, but that tear that had fallen down that face full of disappointment would never stop haunting me.

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I won’t help you if you bring in other Osminog. I have a chance to see my own bearer again someday assuming what I do doesn’t get her killed. I helped your daughter and your tribe by giving them fire, something far past what I was supposed to do, and can’t do anything else.”

“The chance? You would stop me from getting to stay with my daughter for a chance to see your bearer again?”

“It’ll be eight years since I’ve seen her when the other creatures even realize they need to come looking for me. Eight years, Blue, since I’ve seen another one of my kind besides Kyle who is now dead. I’m not giving that up.”

She seemed to be confused, blinking a bit. “Why so long?”

I shook my head and waved her off. “It’s something Osminog wouldn’t understand. Come on… We’ll finish plowing eventually, even if our bodies must become tough and worn, but we should rest for what remains of today.”

Blue hugged herself tight, as if scared, and looked up at me. “I… I’m scared, Creature.”

Every once in a while, she got in this mood, scared of me because of the temper I seemed to be in. I tried to relax and seem shorter, sloping my shoulders. “Why? I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong.”

“It’s not you, not this time, not really.” Blue closed her eyes and tensed, pulling in even further. “I am afraid what you’ll do when I tell you that… that I don’t want to stay here with you if I have the option to see Chirchirrup otherwise. The tribe hasn’t moved on yet, seeing as she hasn’t come to say goodbye, but I don’t want to wait eight years to see my tribe again.”

I thought about it, then looked at the plow. I had an idea about how to finish this job with or without Blue, but I had a deep desire to see her stay. It was a selfish desire. It was something I shouldn’t ask for.

I nodded and said. “Fine. I’ll pack you some fruit in a jar and you can go back to your tribe whenever you want. I’m not going with you, though, but will find an animal to pull this plow by myself.”

Blue shrunk, recognizing that I was upset even though I had conceded to her wishes. “I hope you understand. You’ve been very nice to me, Creature, and I wouldn’t have survived the winter without you. I can’t just let my daughter leave me so easily, though.”

I walked back toward the house. “I understand,” I said.

I clenched my fist, feeling abandoned once more.

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