Part Four: The New Buds
It had been a bit more than a week since Blue had left. I had, as it happened, come across one of the large predators with hard skin, luring it into a trap using what seemed to be a mass of blubberballs that had thawed within my fields. The thing had four legs, all identical, with one eye on each side of its large body, but a mouth on each side rather than the type on the top or bottom of its body as with the Osminog. The bark-like skin shone dark brown, making it blend in well with the trees and mud beneath them. Claws reached out of the legs, webbing between to help it swim a bit.
I captured the creature in a pit, then approached with the hopes that I could train it. It snapped at me at first, but I quickly let it know who was in charge by pulling the availability of blubberballs and associating rewards with obedience. The sturdy predator, not completely unintelligent, soon realized that I was the source of food, that I rewarded success with blubberballs, and allowed me to tie it into the harness.
The vines didn’t disturb the bark-like surface of its skin, instead working nicely with the creature as it pulled, chasing blubberballs that hung in front of it on the end of a fishpole-like device. The few days I had spent dedicatedly training the animal had been worth it, making it easy to plow the field. I was amazed at the progress I made, knowing that no animals would have worked with early humans so easily on Earth.
Perhaps it was because early man had been, in a way, a predator.
After the field had been plowed, I released the animal to do as it willed, but it remained nearby, looking to me for rewards just as a dog would. I thought about what I could do with it, knowing that it would be a shame to get rid of such a useful creature so quickly. I continued to feed it blubberballs, which had thawed after the winter and were so numerous that I considered sending them through the racemization column.
Instead, I now had a source of food for my predator beast. I put blubberballs in a bucket and dragged it over to the excited, increasingly loyal predator.
That made it a bit more difficult when Blue arrived again.
She stood still, scared stiff, as my pet looked at her. It pulled against the vines securing it to a tree, trying to reach her, but I wouldn’t let it. I threw a blubberball at it, getting its attention so that I could tie a vine onto its harness, hooking it to a tree more securely.
I looked to her, but she fell to a mush onto the mud beneath. I walked over and bent down, touching her to show her that I wasn’t going to harm her. “Blue – Blue, you’re back!” I said.
She looked about to pass out, but managed to squeak out, “Predator!”
“I’ve got it under control. I’ll teach you how to control it too. How was your visit with Chirchirrup?” I asked, helping her up. Blue, instead of staying outside with the predator, shot quickly to the house, opening the door and going in. I followed her, first tossing a blubberball to my new pet to settle it down.
First, she switched which face was her primary one so as to look at me, then said, “A Predator! What do we do, Creature?! You rescued me, Creature, but how can we get out of here until it’s gone?”
I laughed, then hugged Blue. “It doesn’t matter! I’m just so glad to see you. A predator animal isn’t a substitute for my best friend.”
She squirmed out of my grasp. “I’m serious, Creature! Did you not see its claws?”
I sat down on the mud, no longer concerned with the state of my clothes after having spent days in them planting. “Of course,” I said. “I have control over it. It dragged that piece of rock across the field, allowed me to start making plants. It is tied to a tree right now. I feed it those little animals that swim around in puddles, the ones that eat algae and are kind of cute in a strange way.”
Blue seemed upset. “Blubberballs? You feed it… little, innocent blubberballs?”
I nodded. “They are far too densely populated right now. The dead fruit bushes put a lot of food for algae into the water, making lots of food for the blubberballs, which will last longer if I feed the blubberballs to the predator. Blue, you don’t need to fear predators, but control them.”
She blinked a couple of times. “You are a strange thing. What… what are you? Predator or prey?”
I shook my head. “Both. Neither. My people have never, I suppose, fit either description. We do as we desire, not fearing for our lives. The only animal, predator or no, that we have to worry about is each other. We are the most powerful. So don’t worry, Blue the Osminog, I’ve got you. You’re safe.”
Blue looked at me warily and sat down, satisfied with her safety as long as she was in the house. “You are so very strange, Creature. I’m still not convinced that you’re not a Predator, but-“
“Not even yet? I can’t help but think that’s ridiculous.”
Blue shook her head. “No, not entirely. Our legends, passed down from bearer to child, speak of the first predators, how they and we were first one. Do you know the legend, Creature?”
I shrugged and sat on the ladder, reaching up to take a jar of nutritional paste that I popped open. In a few weeks, I would be able to taste the first of my fresh vegetables. “No, I don’t know it. But I can guess how it goes – there was once only six gods, but then a god got mad at itself and split into two, one being the Predator and the other being the Protector. Half the Osminog turned into predators, and so things are.”
Blue looked at me strangely. “No, Creature. That’s not how it goes at all. Besides, there are eight gods, not seven.”
I lifted a brow. Eight gods would have always made more sense, what with their obsession with the numbers eight and four, but I had only ever heard of seven of the gods. Finally, I sat up straight and waved her off. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got a predator that helped me make plants, now I’ll try to teach you how to control the predator. Now tell me about your tribe: what happened? Are you welcome back, are they coming here?”
Blue hung down, her body shrinking again despite the protective walls of the house. “Why?”
I rolled my eyes. “Come on, Blue. You really think I’m a predator? You really think I got that animal so I could turn on you or your people now? If I’m a predator, why didn’t I eat you earlier?”
Blue didn’t respond immediately, but tapped her tentacles together. “My tribe is gone, now. They were going to stay a little longer, but they saw me and decided that now was the time for the tribe to seek out new lands and new fruit bushes. They won’t be anywhere near for several years. I’m… I’m alone like you, Creature. I just… I just don’t want my loneliness to be eased by the presence of a predator, of all things.”
I crouched down on my knees and got closer to Blue. I reached out to her, grabbing a tentacle, and pulling myself near. She shook up and down, but grabbed me in return as I swayed gently.
“I know how you feel,” I said. “I really do.”
“Can you?” Blue asked. She pulled away and looked at me. “I know what you are, even if I have never allowed myself to admit it. I can smell it whenever you open some of those food holders. Even if you eat plants while you’re on this world, even if you can survive off of that stuff you make from the fruit, that’s not who you are.”
I blinked and fell backwards. “No,” I said, “I am not a predator.” I thought about Earth, about steak, about pork, about poultry. I salivated and licked my lips, thinking of our domesticated fodder. Humans had, over the thousands of years of advancement, become much heavier meat eaters. Even so, I wouldn’t consider us predators.
Blue crept away. “You are confusing, Creature. You are a predator, whether or not you admit it, but you’re not the same as other predators. You’re… you’re a predator by choice, not by necessity. You’re the strong one, the one who could kill and eat me. I run the risk of angering you, of doing things to anger the Protector and make her stop influencing you to help me. Your breath smells of a strange flesh, Creature.”
I went to the ladder and sat, looking away from her. She was right. “I’m not a predator, Blue, and I would never eat you. Remember that Osminog that died trying to get here with Chirchirrup? I didn’t even eat her, even though I had all the pieces of her body and could have.”
I thought about those pieces of her body which had not been made into soap were actually stored in jars, in case of emergency, and considered how I could now dispose of them.
Blue’s eyes looked at me, then she scampered up, placing a muddy tentacle on my knee. “There are eight gods, Creature. The seven gods you know of all came from one, the God of Justice and Balance. Though we praise the Protector, since she is the patron of our species, we know that the First God required balance, that the God of Predators must exist to keep the Protector in check. You, and maybe your people dear Creature, are predators… but you also act as protector. I think your people are so old that, perhaps, the Gods hadn’t split yet when you were made.”
I shook my head. Blue didn’t know how wrong she was, not yet, not right now. She couldn’t possibly understand how imbalanced humans were, how justice was dead and fear was alive throughout the universe.
“Does this mean you forgive me for bringing home a predator as a… a something we call a pet?”
Blue blinked quickly and stood. “I don’t like that. Not one bit. I trust that you, Creature, can do whatever it is that you want, but Osminogs cannot work with the predators. It is a divine impossibility.”
“I thought you said I was a predator?” I asked.
Blue switched which face she focused on, her eyes facing me glazing over. “But you are also of the Protector. I can live with you, Creature, but I won’t live with that predator. Like you, I want to see my people again one day.”
I nodded, understanding her predicament. It would be years before she would be able to see her daughter again. She was, like me, stuck in this isolating situation. I would respect her wishes, keeping the predator locked up when it wasn’t needed for work or being released for play. I would need to start harvesting blubberballs for winter as soon as possible.
“Alright, then,” I said, “Let’s live long enough that we get to see our people again. I will deal with the predator myself until you decide you want to.”
Blue agreed. Our pact of loneliness was sealed.
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