Change Like the Tides: Complete rough draft

 

pexels-photo-189349.jpgHere is a very rough draft of Change Like the Tides. And when I mean rough draft, I mean rough draft. Lots of spelling errors. Choppy sentence structures. Not a very good flow. However, I will work on correcting it. Until then enjoy the story. 

Image: Body of Water During Golden Hour. Copyright by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels Photo. 

Kirk Carlson was excited for his shore-leave to Jybogia, a planet dominated by mainly water. With a surface covered in 95 percent water, it made the 71 percent of earth covered in water look pathetic. From out the porthole, he could see the planet radiating like a blue gemstone.

It had been a long two weeks with the Interplanetary Expedition (IX) in researching the soil of a desert planet a 600 million light years away. Even with the warping of space, it still felt like a long trip. Sure, the IX Explorer was equipped with virtual reality wires that sent someone to sleep, thus manipulating dreams into games, but it was still shades and not reality in and of itself. It got boring. But it didn’t get as boring as the expedition to the desert planet that Carlson and his crewmates had to go on. All for taking soil samples to see if there was once life. Granted, it IX prided itself on exploring all sorts of worlds, some with life, some without life, but some planets were more exciting than ever. Taking soil samples for two weeks hadn’t been Carlson’s idea of a good trip. But this water planet was a different matter. This would be a much needed vacation.

But it wasn’t so much the planet that he was looking forward to seeing again, although he did find Jybogia to be one of the most fascinating planets they had come across, but Thuuth. Thuuth was a Jybogian.

Upon IX’s later encounter with this semi-aquatic race, they found by taking some DNA samples (voluntarily given) that the Jybogians had 80 percent human DNA, solidifying the theory of panspermia from a common source. The other 20 percent was amphibian DNA. The first meeting with the Jybogians got off to a rocky start, as the translators initially had a hard time deciphering their language. Not easy, considering the crew wanted to learn the language of the native inhabitants to show good graces. Honestly, radio frequencies should have been used to pick up the Jybogian language first to be translated and studied before disembarking on the surface. But protocol had been foolishly ignored in their excitement, and the inhabitants had hid from them in the ocean for five hours, the amount of time they could hold their breaths. Still, after long months trust was earned. Particularly when Carlson and the others offered the Jybogians gifts, which the natives looked at as though they were magical talismans, and started to speak some of the Jybogian’s own language.

It was when trust was established that the crew had been invited to a dinner by the Jybogians. It was a risky endeavor, to be sure. Strange food on a foreign planet; would the human system be able to digest it? Dr. Valerie Brentwood had brought the food analyzer along, but scanning the chemical compounds of the food didn’t negate all the risks. There were occasionally stories of IX members of other ships and crews who died from eating alien food. Thankfully, such was not the case among the Jybogian cuisine. Their dishes of their own fish and their salads of their own sea-plants were not just edible, but tasty.

But it had been the dancers that intrigued most of the crew. They had come out on a platform, if it could be called a platform. It was more like a large stone tub full of water, stuffed with water flowers and planets, including Jybogia’s own type of lily pad. And on the pads danced four young Jybogian women. Lithe and slender, and of different colors, they danced on the pads in a mix that was like a human ballet and the way a fish would dance if fish could dance. Light yellow, pale orange, sky blue, and mint green, dressed in the pink and red petals of sea plants, moved their bodies in a symphony to the music being played, lightly leaping from pad to pad, graceful kicks in the air, to come back to arm and arm (as well as fin and fin; seeing as part of their arms had thin wispy, transparent fins lining them) with one another. It was the most beautiful performance Carlson had ever seen. Even his boss, Captain Gerald Jones, who was a stern man, hard to impress, had been enraptured by the dance.

Carlson had not expected to see the dancers again. But the blue one had asked him, in broken, but understandable English, if she could sit by him. In turn, Carlson had granted her request in broken but understandable Jybogian. That was how he had met Thuuth.

And Carlson soon learned that Thuuth had an appetite that was hungry for the cosmos and all the wonders it held. Carlson had planned to ask her everything he could about Jybogia, but she was more interested in learning about Earth. She couldn’t fathom that there was something called ‘continents, when her planet was made up of a bunch of different islands. She was particularly impressed by the number of land mammals, considering there weren’t any land mammals on her planet. In turn, Carlson couldn’t help but be impressed by the young Jybogian’s gregarious attitude as well as her curiosity. She was incredibly gentle. The friendship she and the rest of her people showed the crew was nothing short of extraordinary, considering there was a lack of trust to begin.

Staring out the window, Carlson could see that the shuttle was rapidly approaching the surface of the big island, out of a long chain of islands. Dubbed the coil, the island chain almost formed a perfect question mark except the top end part of the mark curved downward and then into itself, islands meeting islands. Aside from that, it was nearly a perfect question mark. Even the last dot on the opposite end was spaced far enough apart from the other islands to look like the period portion of a question mark. A bright green one at that. It reminded Carlson of when he lived back on earth and has visited Ireland.

The shuttle came to a landing on a soft pasture of grass and the Carlson un-boarded the ramp with the rest of the crew. That fresh sea breeze hit him, not that much different than earths.

But what was different was the fauna. Carlson never got tired of it. Flowers about twelve feet tall loomed over them. The petals were as big as a dinner plate and they shone a transparent violet when the sun hit them. A violet ray of light was bathing Carlson as he stopped to admire the flowers roots. He loved how the jutted out from the earth, and bent over like a bunch of poles to hold up a tent. These huge flowers weren’t all that different than some of the mangroves back on earth. Like the mangroves back home, the violet flowers needed strong roots to withstand the onslaught of not just storms, but the waves. Since the planet had two moons, the tide was much more powerful and stronger, able to cover all the islands, including the big one, during high tide. Underneath the large violet flowers were smaller yellow flowers, glittering like scattered pirate’s gold. Their vines made a covering, wrapping themselves around the roots of the giant flowers. And while the giant flowers protected the smaller ones, the smaller yellow ones helped filter out much of the salt for the bigger ones; a symbiotic relationship if there ever was one.

But the most impressive site was what the Jybogians called the Talylul trees. There were many of them further inland on this island that was only three square miles. Clustering close together for protection from the harsh ocean, Carlson could see them from a mile away. They were tall. About half the size of a full grown redwood, and their roots and branches curled around one another, give each other extra support. It was in spaces between the branches of the trees that the Jybogians built their homes. From this distance, Carlson may as well have been blind, but once he and the crew got up into the foliage, the dwellings would become visible.

“Get your butts moving,” said the gruff voice of Captain Gerald Jones. Carlson could blame the captain’s ill temper. Like the rest of the crew, he was tired.

“You coming lover-boy?” teased Dr. Brentwood.

“You don’t need to tell me twice,” said Carlson.

All seven members of the crew made their way towards the Jybogian capital within the trees. With heavy luggage, even a mile long walk could feel like an ordeal. Thankfully, all the luggage, Carlson’s included, were loaded onto a hover pallet, meaning no one had to carry it. The pallet gave off a light humming as it hovered a half-foot off the ground and followed the procession.

“Did anyone remember to activate the force field on the shuttle before we left?” the Captain stopped dead in his tracks.

“Don’t worry, sir,” said one of the crewmates, the engineer Burt Babbit. “I made sure that the force field was activated just as soon as we stepped off the ship.

“Are you sure?”

Carlson had to stifle a laugh. It was amazing that Henderson had ever made the rank of captain. While being vigilant and secure was a virtue, there were times that Henderson almost bordered on obsessive-compulsive to the point that he would go back and check something, including making sure a force field was functioning, again and again. Carlson wanted to see Thuuth, so he hoped this wouldn’t be one of those moments.

“Sir, I promise you, I put in the program myself before we disembarked.”

“I fear high tide. I don’t need forty foot waves washing away the shuttle.”

“I promise you, sir, we are not going to be stranded on this planet. I even looked back to see the force field go up.”

“Fine,” barked Jones. “But if we are stranded here, I’ll throw you to the fishes of this sea.”

The engineer nodded and shrugged.

“He certainly has his uniform on too tight, doesn’t he?” whispered Brentwood. “You’d think that he doesn’t know that IX headquarters doesn’t know where we are or that they have our DNA safely in a computer bank that they can track us with by sending out a signal to read for our signs.”

“You would think,” Carlson whispered back.

“You would think he was going old and senile and that he forgot his meds,” she chuckled.

Carlson cocked a sly eyebrow at her. “I would think that you as doctor would make sure he remembered to take them.”

Brentwood laughed.

Jones shot a glare back at them. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. Just a funny joke Dr. Brentwood told me,” said Carlson.

Grumbling, nerves obviously frayed from the stress of the last trip, the captain kept leading the procession. Meanwhile, Carlson couldn’t help but take a look at the doctor. Beautiful! With her tan skin and black hair. But her personality was incredibly attractive with her wicked sense of humor and easy going mannerism. If Carlson wasn’t so infatuated with Thuuth, he would have tried to kindle a deeper relationship with Valerie Brentwood.

As it was, Carlson couldn’t contain his excitement. Though a practical man and not a romanticist by nature, he couldn’t help but feel his heart tugging him towards the grove of Talylul trees. He liked to think that he and Thuuth’s heart were just as entangled as the branches of those trees.

Relax, he told himself. Take in the natural beauty of the surroundings. Though he had seen it all before, he never got tired of the rich variety of flora and fauna of Jybogia. In a deep puddle were some crescent flowers of neon pink and green and resting on them were a type of snail the Jybogian’s called geelaks. These snails had hard shells that were almost the same color as the crescent flowers, enabling them to camouflage themselves from all the sharp tooth beasties that wanted to eat them. The snails themselves were a dark purple color, with a silver strip running horizontal on their sides. Soon they passed some rocks and boulders, though in truth they were giant blue salt crystals. They glittered like blue ice in the sunlight, but didn’t melt. Perched one of them was a white lizard, a brub, wings two feet long outstretched to absorb the sunlight. Head craned down, as though weighed down by the horn in the middle of its head (though it wasn’t weighed down, as the horn was light and hollow) it looked quizzically at the procession as the passed along.

No matter where Carlson turned his head, there were just too many wonders to see, and though he had seen them all before, it felt like he was looking at it all with the fresh eyes of a child discovering the wonders around him for the first, especially since his trip to the desert planet.

This sense of wonder helped the time pass by and moved him closer to his goal, until he was the Talylul tree grove. High up, the trees towered over him with many branches knotted around one another in a firm grip to withstand the raging waters at high tide. Carlson touched the silver bark of one of the trees, smooth under his fingertips. If not for the branches, he didn’t know how anyone could climb these trees. For that matter, even if the branches, it was slick enough that he wasn’t sure how even the most nimble of human children could grip onto them without slipping and falling on their backs. But the Jybogians were different. Light and nimble, they were good jumpers as well as good swimmers. Notwithstanding, they still didn’t like always jump. Sometimes they were too tired after a day of fishing and hunting for birds that they just wanted to conserve their energy and take the makeshift elevator up. This was not just beneficial for the Jybogians, but serendipitous for people like Carlson.

The makeshift elevator, attached to a long vine and operated with a crank, came down and out of the wicker basket stepped out Jubul, the advisor to the chief of this tribe of Jybogians and well respected among all of them. Carlson had seen him before landing. The advisor was conspicuous among the green foliage of the trees with his red skin.

In perfect English he said, “Ah, friend Jones, Brentwood, Carlson, Babbit, Suski, Griffith, and Morgan, welcome, welcome! It’s always so good to have your company. Will you be needing lodging for the night?”

“If it’s agreeable with the chief, we were hoping for a couple of weeks,” said Jones. We are on shore-leave.”

Carlson had to give the captain credit. Despite his prickly nature, he could be quiet diplomatic when need be. Of course he had to be. IXP’s goal was good relations with all life-forms, and if a captain acted up, he or she would be demoted faster than light sucked into a black hole.

“But of course,” said Jubul. “Chief Biguk has instructed me that you are all to be our honored guests as long as you wish, and not to bother him over such trivialities of when you come and go. You know, he is still fond of the gift you gave him. For that matter,” and the advisor reached into the pocket of his leafy smock to bring out a small, circular holo-projector that fit perfectly in the interior of the palm. An image of a wife in a long leafy dress holding a child popped up; Jubul’s wife and child. “Because of your lovely gift, I can take my wife and child with me wherever I go, in a sense I can that is.”

With pleasantries out of the way, people were then loaded two at a time up the wicker basket. Carlson was one of the last to get in. Up he went, past the tangled branches and the leaves as thick and as wide as him. Knock, knock, went the wicker basket, sometimes bumping up against branches and leaves. Immersed in a jungle, it was hard to tell that they were 80 feet up, and that the trees rose 150 feet at the highest points.

Wrapped still among the leaves and shadowed by the branches, he was now on the platform where a stairway lead up to the first wooden structure, the welcome hall of the gods where the Jybogian’s had carved idols out of salt of all their gods. Walking through the hall, Carlson and company came to the exit where wood bridges and steps branched off in in every direction through the branches and to the different structures. Here the crew split up, leaving Carlson to do his own thing. Everyone knew where the guest quarters were and that the hover pallet with their supplies could get their own its own, drop off their supplies and park itself in a safe crevice of the trees until it was needed again. As for Carlson, he knew that Thuuth was likely in one of two places, her home or the performance hall.

Remembering that Thuuth usually performed in the evening, and it was still midday, and it would be a midday for a long time as the two moons slowed down Jybogia’s rotation, he decided to try her hut. Traversing the path, Carlson found himself having that same wild, exhilarating sense of freedom he first felt when he arrived. He was a kid again, and though he had walked these paths many times during his last visit, it all felt new and fresh, as if he were exploring a tree fort anew, in which anything could happen. First he walked a solid bridge leading from one large branch to another, then a longer wooden bridge greeted him, a rope bridge, swinging from the light breeze. Carlson held tight to the vine ropes of the bridge and steadies himself as he walked across. In a flash of fluttering color likes leaves blown in the autumn wind, orange, gold, and yellow neekal birds took flight, taking away Carlson’s breath. Resuming his walk, he came to the wooden planks that were nailed into a huge tree, forming a set of stairs that wound around the tree.

He walked up the planks until he was a good twenty feet higher up than before. There, nestled in the crevice of where the branches branched out even further and where other stairways lead up to other huts. A silk curtain, or a material that was like a silk, hung at Thuuth’s doorway. Regardless, the material for the doorway came from worms, but these black worms were as large as cats, covered in spines, and highly toxic.

“Thuuth, I’m back,” he called out excitedly. No answer.

He moved aside the curtain and looked inside. Her cot with silk blankets was at one side, (there were no fur blankets, but there didn’t need to be; due to the planet mainly being water to regulate the temperature, it never got that cold) was undisturbed. Her little table with salt crystal idols was over at the other side. Neat and tidy, just like she liked it.

No matter. The performance center wasn’t far from her home. Carlson walked up the steps of one of the nearby branches and then crossed a bridge to another tree. Winding his way further up another set of stairs, he came to the performance center. It was just like he remembered seeing when he saw Thuuth first perform, with the purple curtain hanging on the door frame and the etchings of the native wildlife on the door frame. He walked through the door, under the slanted roof with a carved symbol of a dancer.

Inside were the dancers practicing over that same stone pond that he had watched them perform over during his last visit, and sitting in front on a wooden chair was Thuuth. He could recognize that blue skin and the shape of the head.

“Thuuth,” her name bubbled out from the confines of his soul, gushing forth joyfully. “Thuuth, I’ve missed you.”

She turned her head and looked at him with those same pale white eyes. How beautiful! How elegant! How a humanoid creature that was primarily human in form but with a little bit of amphibian could look so lovely.

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” the Jybogian said in a deep, masculine voice.

“I’m sorry,” Carlson apologized. “It’s just you look so much like her.” He bit his tongue and blushed, fearing that his words may have come across as offense. People back on earth didn’t like being mistaken for the opposite sex. He couldn’t imagine Jybogians would feel any different. “Again, I’m sorry. I seem to be a real klutz.”

The man shrugged and stood up from his chair. He wore a long leaf tunic, his bare arms exposed. He had exactly the same fin structure down his arms as well as the same webbed fingers and toes that Thuuth had.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s obvious why we would look alike. I’m her twin brother.”

“She never told me she had a twin.”

“She couldn’t speak very good English then.”

Carlson nodded in agreement. “Can she speak good English now? You speak perfect English.”

“Thank you. I practiced with the translators you left us. How about you? Can you speak perfect Jybogian?”

If Carlson had been embarrassed before, he was ten-fold now; the blood running to his face. He felt like a bad guest not taking more time to learn their language. “No, I’m afraid I can’t.”

Again, the male Jybogian shrugged as it to assure Carlson that it wasn’t that big of a deal. “No matter,” he said. “You’ll see Thuuth when she comes back, if she comes back.”

“What do you mean if?” Carlson felt a sick sensation creep into his stomach. He had heard stories about Jybogians going on dangerous quests to prove themselves to their gods, but he didn’t know that the females did it too.

“She is on a long journey, swimming a great distance to the land of our ancestors in order to commune with them. It’s not an easy journey. The seas are full of dangerous creatures who make us their diets.”

“I guess I could try tracking her,” said Carlson.

“She is not to be disturbed. Would you dishonor our traditions?” he glared at Carlson angrily.

Carlson gulped. No, of course he wouldn’t. IXP had a strict code of respecting other cultures. Interacting with them was permissible, but breaking the codes they lived by was not. “I’m sorry. Once again I have shown ignorance.”

“Don’t let it trouble you any further,” the man’s face softened. “I worry about her, too. But we must respect the traditions of our ancestors. Now, I’m afraid I’m at a loss; you are?”

“Kirk Carlson.”

“Ah, nice to meet you. I am Gabigot. If things go well, my sister should be back in another month.”

Carlson’s heart sunk even further. He only had two weeks on the planet. “Any chance she could come back sooner?”

“Perhaps, but not likely.”

Carlson thanked him and left the performance hall. As he was making his way up a set of stairs up a large branch, he was confronted by a female Jybogian; a mint-green one who was one of the original performers he had seen dance with Thuuth. At first she had startled him. For she had followed him by leaping from branch to branch before taking a bigger leap off a branch nearest to him, somersaulting in the air and landing smack on her feet in front of him.

“So sorry,” she said. “Mean not to you scare.”

Her English was broken, but Carlson didn’t care. He could understand her.

“It’s okay,” he said, breathing heavily. “What’s up?”

She looked at him confused. “More tree,” she finally said.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Sky.”

Carlson sighed. It wasn’t her fault, but his own for not being clear. “I mean is there something you wanted to tell me?”

“Yes,” she nodded, smiling at herself as though she had finally got it.

“Okay, then. What was it you wanted to tell me?”

“Thuuth! Her you forget.”

“I never forgot her,” he scratched his chin, puzzled.

“No! Need!” And she pointed at his chest. “Her you need forget.”

“But why?”

“Because she you is dead. Dead. Brother eat her.”

Carlson didn’t need a mirror to know that his face turned ashen.

The dancer gave him a look of pity and pointed herself. “Sorry, I am,” she said. Then she took a huge leap and leapt on the branch of another tree.

Sick. Carlson was sick to his stomach. If Jybogia had only one moon, it would be a long day, but with two moons the day was going to be longer. Night would be a long time coming.

For that matter, there was hardly any night. The two moons lit up the sky, making it difficult for Carlson to sleep. Awake upon the soft silk bedding and under the soft silk sheets within the guest room, he couldn’t feel any comfort. The sounds of the native fauna, which had seemed tranquil during his last visit now sounded hostile. On a planet with two moons, most of the fauna had developed ways to camouflage themselves from nighttime predators, but Carlson didn’t have any way to blend in like a chameleon back on earth, or some of the animals on Jybogia could. He felt vulnerable.

He couldn’t stop thinking about what that dancer said about Thuuth. Dead. Consumed by her brother. Had Gabigot eaten his own sister? Carlson controlled the urge to retch. He didn’t need to wake his sleeping companions, some of whom were snoring like rocket jets near him. Some, such as Valerie Brentwood, had earlier asked him if he was okay when they saw that he looked paled. Oh, how wanted to tell them the truth, especially to the gentle doctor. But he lied, assuring them that he was perfectly fine, that he just got a bit dizzy swinging from a long vine. He had no right to ruin their shore-leave. Cultures were different and he had to accept that. Besides, this humanoid civilization had a little bit of amphibian DNA in them, and didn’t some amphibians eat their young? It wasn’t unheard. Back on earth it was normal for frogs to eat their young. A sad but true fact of the animal kingdom.

That’s what the Jybogians were like. Frogs. The way they leapt from trees. How far they could hop. And fish. They were like fish with how they could swim. Eating one another wouldn’t be out of the question. For them it might even be logical.

But then was lying logical too for this species? Was Thuuth’s brother Gabigot a liar as well as a cannibal? Despite feeling upset, Carlson had to sickly chuckle to himself over how he had prioritized that thought. It was as if he was prioritizing lying as more abhorrent than cannibalism. Not just any cannibalism, but family cannibalism. The whole thing was a morbid family affair.

Not able to sleep, Carlson pushed the covers aside and went out onto the deck. The moons glowed above him, one brighter than the other because of the active volcanoes on the surface. The brightness of the moons illuminated the high tide. It had already come in, and the waters were winding around the trees. Foamy flecks of surf struck the trunks of the trees. The surf was far from gentle. It was fierce.

With a high tide that washed over and drowned out all the island chains, Carlson couldn’t imagine the hurricanes on this planet. How did the Jybogians survive? One thing was for certain, what once seemed like a peaceful planet now seemed like Darwin’s survival of the fittest magnified tenfold.

He looked back up at the moons. One day one of those moons would crash into the other moon, and there would be only one moon. The tide wouldn’t be as strong. Perhaps there would even be a little more land because of it. But for now they were a symbol of the hostility of the planet, with the volcanic one glowing a hellish orange.

Amazing how perceptions could change. For not only had once Carlson’s eyes perceived the planet in a more positive light, but it wasn’t long ago that he had gazed at the moons with a different set of eyes. That was when Thuuth was alive. He had walked out on one of the balconies with her, and together they had admired both the moons and the high tide that cleansed the islands. The idea of an ocean engulfing a whole island would have been a scary thought to those not accustomed or native to the planet, but to Thuuth it was life and a natural order of things. The vegetation wasn’t just prepared for the flooding, it thrived off it, and Thuuth had helped Carlson to see the order of nature the same way she did.

“Look at the two moons,” she had said, pointing to them. “Don’t you love how one of them is brighter than the other?”

In turn, Carlson had said, “That’s because the first moon, the less bright one is tugging on the brighter one, instigating volcanic activity.” This had led to a talk on gravity and physics. Most importantly, it had led to stronger emotional connection between the two of them.

Thuuth helped Carlson see life in way that he had never seen, and he had helped her look at life in a way that she had never seen. Carlson had initial concerns about talking to her about science, worried that it would destroy her faith. But the opposite had happened. It had helped her see her gods work in a different way, giving more meaning to the myth. On the other hand, her unwavering belief in her gods had helped Carlson remember the importance of the mythopoeic mind.

Their trust had grown so strong that Thuuth had barred a part of her body to Carlson. She had removed her top let him see tattoo above her breasts. It was a refined symbol. It was about the size of his fist, and it was a cross between their sun and their ocean. It was circular with what could have been either choppy waves or fiery sunlight. Nestled in-between the circle were the inkings of one of a god bird and a goddess fish. The two of them encircling each other almost like the Ying and the Yang of Taoism did, symbolic of the harmony between the two, which created a mix between land and water creatures, the Jybogians the most blessed. Two graceful lines swirled down to her breasts and encircled her nipples, a reminder that the gods gave women the gift of life, birth and milk. Though, in the case of the Jybogians, while the women gave milk, they still laid eggs.

“Do you trust me?” Thuuth had asked Carlson.

“Yes.”

“Then you have nothing to fear with me.”

Carlson had come to find out that that meant that Thuuth had hoped to show him a hurricane someday. This had scared Carlson, but he had to remind himself their trees were of a stronger substance than back on earth. She had assured him that he would be safe, and that she wanted him to see their gods as their best.

Now Carlson was so worried about what happened to Thuuth that he would have gladly taken weathering a monster hurricane with her instead of facing the unknown of what happened to her, worrying if he’d ever see her again. Yes, it would be a long night, lasting over twenty hours because of those two moons. Long days, long nights. And unlike the Jybogian’s, Carlson couldn’t sleep for over twenty hours, even though it had been a very long day, a day that last longer than a day on earth.

He wanted to go back to the shuttle to sleep in a more comfortable bed, but the high tide was up. It intrigued Carlson to know that the trunks of the trees below him were now mired in water. It made him think back home to the Louisiana Bayou or the Florida Everglades. But come day, the trees would be nourished, their roots having filtered out the salt.

Carlson went back to his bed and climbed under the covers. Listening to the surf lapping up against the trees, he eventually fell asleep. But anxieties from unanswered questions plagued him and he needed answers.

Tossing aside the blankets, Carlson made his way back to the Thuuth’s hut, the double moons giving him ample light. Heart full of determination, and hope, he would surprise Thuuth when she came back. Surely she was coming back. She must be coming back. For his sake she had to return. But did she? Logically she didn’t have. Compassion and human emotion didn’t dictate the universe, but cold, hard scientific facts. Carlson had traveled the galaxy enough to know that it was an unforgiving place. From the surface of a planet to the depths of outer space to the close proximity of a star, no place was truly safe. Either Thuuth had died in her spiritual quest or that Jybogian was lying about the quest and they had killed her. It was a drastic thought. Carlson reminded himself that just because the Jybogians were frog-like didn’t mean they were frogs. There was more homo-sapian in their DNA. And homo-sapiens didn’t eat each other, at least not normally. Then again, the Jybogians were more like the ancient earth tribes, so add their little bit of frog DNA and put into consideration that they were like old earth tribes, maybe cannibalism wasn’t that off the wall. Then again, it was foolish to look at primitive tribes of earth and frogs and then say that the Jybogians would be cannibals because of those two examples. Science was determined by hard-empiricism more than it was innate ideas, or, as Carlson like to think of it, of preconceived biases.

A soft light illuminated from the windows of Thuuth’s hut. Heart pounding, Carlson had to stop himself from rushing to the door, lest he take a fall from the tree. Thuuth was back!

At least that’s what he thought.

When Carlson pulled back the curtain and called her name, it wasn’t Thuuth who looked up from the table but Gabigot.

For a moment, Carlson almost lost control of his emotional faculties. He wanted to take Gabigot and slam him to the floor, pinning him down, shouting at the top of his lungs if it was true whether he ate his sister. Instead he gently asked, “Is it true?”

“Is what true?” Gabigot looked at him quizzically. “And what are you doing in my – I mean Thuuth’s house?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” said Carlson, pulling up a chair from the opposite end of the table and taking a seat. “A Jybogian woman came to me today and told me that you had eaten your sister. I am hoping that’s not true.”

Gabigot peered at him with sad eyes, and Carlson was for certain that with a look that manifested such guilt that it was true. Thuuth was eaten. By her own brother. Carlson felt sick to his stomach.

“So, it is true?”

Gabigot nodded. “Yes, but not for the reason you think.”

“I loved her,” Carlson’s voice strained, holding back a shout. His fists were clenched on top of the table, the nails of his fingers dinging in his hands, and his face was burning red as he gritted his teeth. It was the only thing he could do to keep from lashing out.

“She is alive in a sense,” continued Gabigot, undeterred by Carlson’s anger.

“So you did eat her?”

“That’s a crude way of putting it. But it’s an analogy my people have lived with for a long time, and if you talked with a Jybogian who hardly knows English, well, I get why you might think that. But the truth is, I am here. I am Thuuth.”

“What?”

Without the least bit of grace, Gabigot ripped his tunic off of him, and though he was flat chested, the same tattoo was on his chest, the fish and the bird conspicuous. “Remember when I showed you this?” he asked.

“It can’t be,” Carlson slapped a hand to his head. “I was told that every Jybogian has a tattoo unique to them, and that was unique to Thuuth.”

“Just as unique to her as it is to me,” nodded Gabigot thoughtfully. “You see, her and I are one.”

“But you don’t mean one as in you ate her?”

“No. Not like the way you are thinking. But I still fear telling you the whole story.”

“Please tell me,” begged Carlson, having left his chair and gotten on his knees. “I need to know.”

“I will if you promise you won’t judge me harshly,” said Gabigot.

“I promise. Just tell me.”

Gabigot sighed as he took Carlson by the hands. He allowed himself to be gently raised up by this strong male Jybogian. Eyes to eyes, it felt like an eternity before Gabigot said something. When he did, it hit Carlson hard. “Like a frog, I’m a freak of nature.”

Carlson felt like he had been punched in the stomach, the air knocked out of him. He had told Thuuth, but not Gabigot, that some species of frogs on his planet changed sexes. From birthing from their backs, to pushing down food with their eyes, to changing their sexes, he had joked that frogs were freaks of nature. But that couldn’t possibly mean…

“Do you change your sex?” the words came out of Carlson’s mouth slowly like molasses through a filter.

“Yes,” said Gabigot. “I am your Thuuth. We do change our sexes. Not on our own accord, but because we believe that’s what our father god, the bird, and our mother god, the fish, decided. It is believed that long ago the two sexes grew prideful in their own femininity and masculinity, and feelings grew so bitter between the two that they came to blows. Mother God and Father God then put a curse on us, so that we could change our sexes. Of course, I know that you have a scientific explanation for how they do it.”

“I’m sure I do,” said Carlson. “But didn’t you tell me that you’ll change back into a female in a month?”

“I might,” Gabigot walked over to the window to look out at the night sky. “But it’s not for certain.” He turned to look back at Carlson. “Didn’t you say something about genetics?”

“I did.”

Gabigot looked back out the window. “I imagine that genetics play a role whether I will turn back into a female or remain a male. It’s hard to tell. It’s different with each one of us of my species. Some are born male to change female, to never turn back. Some are born female to change male, never turning back. While some of us fluctuate for a while before choosing one form for the rest of our lives whereas others of us are always changing until the day we die. Gods, genetics, call it what you will, but it’s the way of things.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.” Carlson couldn’t help but remember all the science classes he had to take before joining IX. One thing that was bombarded into his brain was that with all the wonders of science coupled with the limited understanding of people, to have an open mind when out exploring the cosmos.

“I need to know,” said Gabigot. “Do you still love me? Can you still love me?”

This was a question that Carlson had never thought he’d be asked and he didn’t much like it. Could he love Thuuth when she was Gabigot? He was a man who loved women, always had, and now his notions were being challenged. It would have been easier to love Gabigot if he knew for certain that he would change back into Thuuth, that this male body was only temporary. It’s not to say that Carlson only fell in love with Thuuth for her body. Goodness no. He had fallen in love with her for her gregarious personality, her kindly disposition, her inquisitive nature, and a brilliant mind that laid dormant, just ready to be woken up. Then again, those were features that could never be taken unless Gabigot changed his personality for the worst. But when it came to sexually attraction, Carlson was straight and he could do nothing to alter that orientation.

Mind made up, Carlson stared Gabigot straight in the eyes, took his hands and said, “Thuuth, I know you are in there, and I have a feeling you will always be in there, even if your body never changes back to what it was before. So relax. I will always love you, Thuuth. I will love you now and I will love you forever.”

“I don’t know if Thuuth will ever come back,” said Gabigot.

“I don’t think she ever left,” said Carlson.

“So, you still do love me?”

“Yes. And I always will. As for reverting back to female, we’ll see what happens. Besides, a romance doesn’t have to be physical. Are you okay with that?”

That old twinkle sparkled in Thuuth’s eyes, and Carlson felt like he was looking back at how he first saw her when he first met her. “Yes, of course, that’s okay.” Thuuth, in the rough arms and body of Gabigot, held Carlson tight and Carlson returned the embrace, feeling Thuuth under that body.

“And you’re not a freak,” Carlson said. “I’m sorry I ever used that analogy.”

And for the rest of the night, the two of them sat on the balcony, looked up at the moons, and thought about what could be.

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