By Cynthia Praski
It had rained in the morning, but the weather was beautiful now, with a tangerine sky and a few scattered, gray clouds. A gentle breeze wafted the lovely scent of aromatic nitrogen heterocycles across Jarundi’s hill. He played on the rocky side of his hill behind his home. His transparent, emerald-colored scales slid across one another as he scuttled around boulders.
Jarundi liked picking up ice-rocks and looking at what was underneath after a rain. Little creatures swam in the puddles under the rocks. He called them bugs.
Sometimes the ice-rocks he picked up formed around chemical crystals. Those were hard to find and what he really wanted because they were good for doing science. His tail spread in a flat fan with happiness as he explored.
Jarundi picked up an ice-rock and studied it. His sensor stalks waved above his segmented body as the creek gurgled a few feet away. He studied the rounded shape of the ice chunk in the light spectrum. It was white like all ice-rocks — boring! In the UV spectrum, nothing. In the IR spectrum it blazed, coated in methane from the rain — boring! No chemical core. He tossed it aside. Why were the chemical crystals always inside an ice-rock? Why weren’t the crystals free, jumbled with all the ice-rocks?
Jarundi’s ten legs spasmed and he jumped in the air.
“Isanden! Don’t sneak up on a guy like that!” he flashed across the spectrum using his photonic hypercrystals. “Best friends don’t scare each other.”
“Watchya doin’?” Iss asked as she wandered down the hill to the methane creek.
“Looking for bugs,” Jarundi said, as he followed her down to the creek.
“Not rocks?” Iss flashed. She walked into the methane up to her belly. “Ah, that feels good. It was a hot walk over here today.”
“Rocks too,” Jarundi flashed.
“Why are you so interested in them?”
“Bugs are neat!” he said, waving his three sets of manipulators.
“They’re creepy. Are rocks neat too?”
“Why?” Iss asked.
If someone took the chemical crystals out of the ice-rocks and mixed them, new crystals formed. It was science, and he was learning from his mommies. If he answered truthfully, he could get in a lot of trouble.
“Jarundi, don’t ignore me.”
“You don’t like me.” Her stalks trembled with hurt.
“You’re my best friend,” Jarundi flashed.
Iss’s trembling stopped.
He decided that his best friend could be trusted. “I’ll tell you why I like rocks, but you have to swear not to tell anyone.”
“That’s crazy! They’re just rocks.”
“Swear, or you’ll never know why.”
Iss opened and closed each of her six manipulators as she considered this.
“You can do science with some of the ice-rocks.”
“But we’re not supposed to do science!”
“You swore you wouldn’t tell!”
“I won’t. Science is dangerous. They pull your scales out for doing it.”
“I don’t believe that. My mommies have been doing it for a long time, and they still have all their scales. Come on, let’s find rocks.”
“Are you crazy? I like my scales! You know, you can die if they pull your scales out.”
“Can not.” Jarundi shook his talks in annoyance. “Are you going to help me or not?”
“Why do you do it?” Iss asked.
“I can’t stop asking why,” Jarundi answered.
“I noticed that about you… What rocks are we looking for?”
They hunted for rocks, but did not find any ice-rocks with chemical crystals. Jarundi’s mommies flashed to him it was time to eat.
“You coming back tomorrow?” he asked Iss.
“Yeah, but if we get in trouble for doing science, I’m telling them you made me do it.”
Jarundi’s legs quivered in amusement. No one could make Iss do anything.
The next day, Jarundi and Iss splashed through the creek by his hill looking for ice-rocks with chemical centers.
A flash caught Jarundi’s attention. A group of visitors was at the house. Jarundi recognized Elder Jontoni and Elder Garrari leading the group. Two burly Guards of the Pious accompanied them. Jarundi wasn’t surprised by the guards. The rank of Elder had Guards of the Pious assigned as a sign of respect. The guards were two sensor stalks taller than him and well muscled. Their size was impressive and he wished he’d look like that someday.
“Come on,” Jarundi flashed dimly to Iss. He’d seen the Elders two days ago at worship of the Holy Creator. What could they want? He and Iss crept closer to find out and hid behind a boulder, letting their stalks slide around the edge to see the conversation.
“… Holy Creator provides for all, and the workings of his universe are for him alone to know,” Elder Garrari flashed.
“You were grateful when…”
“No,” Elder Jontoni flashed. “Only the Holy Creator creates. What you do is unnatural.”
“The only reason you call it unnatural is because you’re too stupid to understand it,” Momma flashed.
Jarundi’s photonic hypercrystals all flashed at once in surprise at seeing Momma calling someone stupid. He watched the imagoes argue.
“The teachings,” Elder Jontoni flashed slowly and patiently, treating Momma like a child, “show that our ancestors crawled out of the sea and the Holy Creator blessed them…”
“And should even the least of you touch the forbidden, all will be cast back to the primordial,” Momma replied, showing she knew the Holy Book as well as Elder Jontoni.
“You pollute the Holy Book by quoting it, you dirty scientist,” Elder Jontoni flashed. “Your explorations are finished.”
“You must come with us,” Elder Garrari flashed.
He motioned with his manipulators at the guards, and they pulled out long daggers fashioned from sharp and pointed crystals.
Jarundi waved his tail up and down in distress. “They’re going to pull their scales out! They’ll die! What do we do?”
“We run.” Iss grabbed his tail with her large manipulators and pulled him toward the creek.
Jarundi flicked his tail hard and sent Iss tumbling. He ran to his mommies.
“You can’t help; you have to hide!” Iss flashed after him.
“I won’t let you pull their scales!” Jarundi flashed as bright as he could and charged at Elder Jontoni.
“Easy! Jarundi, we are—”
Jarundi plowed into Elder Jontoni and knocked her over.
One of the guards raised her dagger. Jarundi dodged and bumped into the other guard. Jarundi bounced off the solid guard and landed on his back.
Guard One pointed her dagger at his soft underbelly but did not move closer or attempt to stab him.
Jarundi realized that she didn’t want to hurt him. He clicked his mandibles rapidly in joy. He righted himself and charged at her. He lifted his large manipulators and ran straight for her underbelly. “Run mommies!” he flashed.
Guard Two grabbed him by the tail and flashed, “Got him!”
Jarundi wiggled all of his segments attempting to free himself from the Guard’s grasp, but the guard was powerful and didn’t lose his grip.
“Jarundi!” Guard One called.
Jarundi paused in his wild undulations and saw that Guard One had her dagger at Mom’s underbelly. “I won’t kill a juvenal, but I will kill a heretic.”
Her manipulator was steady and Jarundi could see an indentation in Mom’s belly where the point rested.
As he hesitated, Guard Two grabbed him and lifted him off the ground and flashed brightly, “Bind him!”
Jarundi hung limply, watching the dagger at Mom’s belly.
Elder Garrrari bound his manipulators and tied a rope between his fifth and sixth segments. The knot could slip and tighten to a point that could sever his segments. He was caught. The Guards bound and tied his mommies the same way.
Elder Jontoni marched them to town. On the way Mom flashed, “Jarundi, you were very brave.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he flashed, his sensor stalks drooping. “They still got you.”
“We’ll be fine,” Momma told him. “I wish you had hidden so you wouldn’t be here too.”
“Will they pull our scales?” Jarundi asked.
“The Pious,” Elder Jontoni flashed, “don’t torture. You will be imprisoned until the Purity Council makes a decision.”
“Then what?” Jarundi flashed.
“Then it’s whatever they decide,” Elder Garrari flashed.
They had reached the Chapel of the Holy Creator and walked past the large methane pool out front representing the ocean they had come from. Jarundi gazed into the pool, the Embodiment of the Primordial, wondering if any swimmers lived in it. He could not see the bottom and saw no swimmers. They walked past the altar behind the pool. There was a building behind the altar where the Shaman of the Creator lived and prayed.
“Why are we going to see the Shaman?” Jarundi asked.
“We’re not,” Elder Garrari flashed. “We’re going to the Gallery of Purification and Righteousness.”
“Most prisons don’t get such a nice name,” Momma flashed.
Jarundi saw Mom’s legs quiver in amusement.
“Keep dark, you,” Guard Two flashed with a lot of mandible grinding. He made Jarundi’s scales rattle, and Jarundi pressed up against Mom to keep safe.
They walked through a door in the back of the Chapel into a foyer. A fat Guard of the Pious sat at a table and a plate with crumbs was in front of him. He stood up and licked his fine manipulators free of crumbs. He took a ring of keys off the wall and opened a door and led them down a hall lined with doors. Each door had a barred window and an open slot. Flashes from the inmates reflected off dreary gray walls in emotionless patterns. The flashes that were clear made Jarundi’s stalks tremble.
“Can I leave yet?”
“Is it time?”
“Don’t do this!”
Jarundi squeezed in between his mommies to stay as far from those mournful flashes as possible. At the end of the hall, they stopped at a door. The guards opened it and shoved Jarundi and his mommies into the room and locked the door behind them.
Jarundi didn’t know what to do, so he looked out the slot. Why was it in the middle of the door? He could see the Elders and the guards leaving through the other door at the end of the hall.
Jarundi turned toward his mommies and watched them explore the room.
Mom went to a dark corner and flashed, “Ew! Found the toilet.”
Momma was by a narrow bed with a mattress stuffed with kommari leaves. “I don’t know how we will sleep.”
Mom went to Momma and Jarundi joined them. They clung to each other and his mommies stalks trembled. After a moment they climbed onto the bed and sat, with Jarundi between his mommies. Jarundi’s scales started to rattle.
“Easy, dear,” Mom flashed. She stroked the base of his stalks and the rattling went away and his muscles loosened. Having his mommies pressed close made him feel safer. His attack on Elder Jontoni had tired Jarundi, and he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke to a thumping on the door. He thought he was in his own bed, and sat forward expecting more bed, but instead fell to the floor. He paused on the floor and the day flooded his sensors. He flattened himself on the floor in fear.
Mom had gone to the door and a guard passed a tray of food through the slot.
“That’s why it’s there!” Jarundi flashed.
Someone’s stalks peeped through the slot and flashed, “Jarundi, you in there?”
“Iss!” He ran to the slot and stuck his large manipulator through. He felt hers smack his in greeting.
“Jarundi, mom found a way to get you out.”
“Stand back,” a guard, not the fat guard, commanded. He opened the door and flashed, “The juvenal may leave.”
“Not without my mommies.”
“Go on, Jarundi,” Mom flashed. “They’ll release us next. One step at a time.”
Momma’s stalks trembled, but she flashed, “We’ll only be here a short time. Go with Iss.”
Jarundi slowly walked out the door and kept his stalks from trembling. Iss took his fine manipulator and led him down the hall. Her mother was waiting at the door on the other end.
“Where’s your dad?”
Once in the foyer with Iss and her mother, Jarundi flashed, “I don’t want to leave them.” Jarundi had a feeling in his segments that he would never see them again.
“I thought you might not,” Iss’s mom flashed. “We’re staying here in town with a friend. You can be close and visit.”
Jarundi’s legs collapsed in relief. Iss tugged him to his feet and they led him to a house of stone not far from the temple. Iss and her mother tucked him into bed and Iss flashed, “I know mom can find a way to get your mommies out. You’ll see.”
“Will she? Or will you tell her another secret?”
“I told my dad about the chemicals in the rocks,” Iss said. “Not that you and your mommies were using them. He kinda figured that out on his own.”
“You could have warned us,” Jarundi said, turning his stalks away from Iss, not wanting to look at the traitor.
“I didn’t know he was going to the elders!”
“Why did they let me go?” he asked Iss’s mom.
“You’re a juvenal and the Shaman didn’t want a juvenal executed. The Shaman convinced the Purity Council that your parents led you astray and it was our job to show you the way back.”
“Why are you helping my mommies?”
“We were friends once. My husband has forgotten that. Sleep now. We can talk more tomorrow.”
Iss’s and her mother’s words swirled in his mind. Maybe Iss hadn’t meant to get his mommies in trouble. Her dad could get you to say the sky was blue even when you were looking right at the tangerine above your head.
What if Iss’s mom couldn’t help his mommies? Who else could help them? This thought replaced all the others as he drifted off to sleep. Who? The question bounced around like it was trapped in the room and trying to get out.
Jarundi awoke with a start, visions of the Gallery and strong guards with daggers fading. He shook away the fear from the dreams. It was late morning now, but his thoughts picked up right where they had ended last night. He concluded that there was no one else to help. Jarundi made plans.
His mind looped through his walk of the Gallery of Piousness and Righteousness. He remembered where the keys hung and how to unlock the door. How could he get the keys? The fat guard had had a snack when they walked in. Jarundi could distract him with some yummy food and steal the keys.
That wouldn’t work. The fat guard would be there waiting for them once he’d freed his mommies. He could hit the fat guard on the first segment. When he was unconscious, Jarundi could steal the keys. He and his mommies could be out of there before the fat guard woke up. Jarundi didn’t know what to do after that, but his Mommies would!
The fat guard had been there in the afternoon when they arrived yesterday. Jarundi would go to the jail to visit his mommies this afternoon and carry out his plan.
Iss burst into his room and flashed, “The Shaman wants to talk to mom! That means she’ll be able to keep your mommies from execution!”
Jarundi rushed out of his room and Iss flashed, “Kitchen!” and showed him the way.
“Jarundi!” Iss’s mom flashed. “I can take you to see your moms now.”
“Not now, I’m hungry.” He couldn’t carry out his plan with her and Iss around.
“I’ll take you when I come back from my meeting with the Shaman.”
“Iss, show him where breakfast is,” she flashed as she left for her meeting.
Iss took a plate from the counter and put it on the table. “It’s some fancy nutera bread.”
“It’s food,” Jarundi flashed and shoved a slice into his mandibles. How could he get rid of Iss so he could sneak out?
“You know,” he flashed after swallowing the bread, “I don’t have the elixir for my weak stalks. You could go to my house and get it.”
Iss went out the front door and a few moments later Jarundi went out the back door. He carefully closed the back door.
His legs spasmed and he jumped in the air.
“Iss! Don’t sneak up on a guy like that!”
“You don’t have weak stalks. What are you doing?”
“Tell me or I get my mom.”
Jarundi tapped one pair of legs at a time on the ground, creating a wave along his body and did this several times as he thought. “I don’t trust you.”
“Everyone should have a chance to redeem themselves.”
Iss was talking about a passage from the Holy Book that they had studied together a cycle ago. He had commented on the passage, and those were his words. He clicked his mandibles and flashed, “I’m going to rescue my mommies.”
“I knew it! What’s the plan.”
Jarundi explained his plan.
“Where are you getting the treat from?” Iss asked.
“Come on, my mom has another friend we can get the treat from.”
Once they had the treat and were on the way to the Gallery, Jarundi found a large rock to hit the guard with. Iss didn’t even pause at the door, she shoved it open and walked in. Jarundi followed her, keeping the rock out of sight.
“Hello!” Iss flashed at the fat guard.
Iss went to the far side of the room and the guard watched her. “This is for you,” she flashed.
The guard turned his back on Jarundi to accept the food, and Jarundi hit him on the first segment and he fell to the ground. Jarundi grabbed the keys and ran down the hall. He skidded to a halt in front of his mommies’ locked door. He unlocked the door and flashed, “Run mommies! I’m rescuing you!”
They ran down the hall with Mom flashing, “How did you manage this?”
They burst into the foyer and found the fat guard holding Iss and the guards from yesterday brandishing their daggers. They slid to a stop. The fat guard grabbed Jarundi and hauled him away from his mommies.
The burly guards pointed their weapons at his mommies and flashed, “Back into your cell.” The guards escorted them back into the hall.
“If you fight me,” the fat guard flashed, “It will go badly for your mothers, Jarundi.”
Jarundi and Iss stood still.
“You are coming with me to the Shaman.”
Jarundi sulked, but followed him. Iss walked alongside him and flashed dimly, “My mom’s with the Shaman! I’m in such deep trouble!”
“And it would be shallow trouble if she wasn’t there?”
Iss’s legs quivered in amusement.
They went to the front of the Chapel, but did not go in through the main entrance. There was a door to the left of the steps and columns, and they entered through that. It put them in the Shaman’s study, where the Shaman and Iss’s mom were talking.
“Oh my!” Iss’s mom flashed in alarm. “What is going on here?”
Fat guard explained what happened. Iss looked at the ground and Jarundi looked the Shaman in the eye.
“Thank you,” the Shaman flashed to the guard. He left and the Shaman looked at the two juvenals. “Jarundi, I worked very hard to get you out of that cell. Do you really want back in?
“Iss, do you know what the punishment is for helping heretics?”
Neither Jarundi nor Iss answered.
Iss’s mom’s legs collapsed. “Please—”
“I understand that his love drove him to do this. I will not consider this helping heretics, but rather a lapse in judgment because both of you are young. Now you know this is wrong. If it happens again, you will face the punishment. Do you understand?”
Jarundi and Iss flashed, “Yes.”
A chapel acolyte burst into the room and flashed, “Shaman, the Purity Council has reached a decision!” She handed the Shaman a clay tablet that recorded the decision.
“You must all leave now,” he flashed. “We will have a meeting of the pious in ten metrics.”
Jarundi didn’t notice where Iss’s mom led them or the ten metrics passing. When they returned to the Chapel, they stood in front of the Embodiment of the Primordial facing the altar. A lot of people stood behind them. The Shaman of the Creator stood at the altar. A platform had been put to the left of the pool. His mommies stood on the platform, bound. He waved his fine manipulator in a tiny arc and they waved their stalks in reply.
When he stopped in front of the pool, each of Jarundi’s ten legs bent at exactly the right angle to show respect to the Shaman without showing weakness. His stalks stood straighter than the edge of an ice rock, showing his complete attention. He didn’t quiver or tremble. He was proud he could maintain his posture after seeing his mommies tied like that.
The large number of people and their flashes made him nervous. Iss’s fine manipulator covertly took his and held it gently. He gave hers a quick squeeze.
The Shaman of the Creator banged his ceremonial rock on the altar top and flashed, “Darkness! This is a very serious meeting. I must determine the fate of the Cashimri juvenal.
“Rone Cashimri and Wardav Cashimri have broken the highest order Rule and have committed explorations of the forbidden. The break has been willful and egregious. The sentence is return to the primordial.”
“What!” Jarundi flash-bursted across the spectrum. His legs spasmed and stiffened and his tail lifted in alarm. “You can’t kill them!”
The Shaman of the Creator flashed somber and sad colors. “It is with heavy hearts that the Purity Council made their ruling. Their purpose is to protect us from being cast back into the ocean. Your parents have ignored the Rule and have put all at risk. The council has chosen to sacrifice two to save all.”
Iss’s mom put her left manipulators across Jarundi’s back, trying to comfort him.
“I must ask,” the Shaman flashed, “is the juvenal Jarundi provided for?”
“Yes,” Iss’s mom flashed. “We have been caring for him since his parents’ arrest.”
“Do you pledge to bring him up in the ways of the Holy Creator?”
“Yes, may the Holy Creator protect him.”
“Then you hereby become his parent.”
Jarundi’s scales rattled and his stalks trembled. He didn’t belong to them! He jumped toward his mommies, but Iss’s mom had expected that and held him tightly. “Help them!” he flashed across the spectrum to all the people watching. “Do something!”
Iss darted forward, but a guard caught her tail and dragged her back.
Iss flashed terrifying colors at the crowd trying to motivate them.
They flashed sad colors and gently clicked their mandibles.
“Why don’t you care? They helped you!” Jarundi flashed jabbing a manipulator at an old man. He turned his sensors away from Jarundi.
“I hate you! You’re horrible! I hope you all die!”
Guards tied large ice-rocks to his mommies feet and left the platform.
He was shaking in Iss’s mother’s arms. He flashed at his mommies as brightly as he could across the spectrum, “I love you!”
“We love you!” they replied.
“Stay strong!” Mom flashed.
“Don’t forget us!” Momma flashed.
The part of the platform on which they stood gave way and they sank below the surface, leaving a trail of bubbles behind.
Jarundi struggled and kicked. He pinched as hard as he could with his manipulators. He even bit and tailed-slapped trying to get to his mommies.
The bubbles in the pond stopped. He flashed brightly to the Shaman and Iss’s mom and anyone that could see. “Murderers! Betrayers! They didn’t stop exploring and neither will I!”
About the Author: Cynthia Praski is a tech writer by day and a fiction writer by… well, any time. She’s had her short stories published with The Alpha Female and with Teleport Magazine. In another life she was a research scientist and college professor. She has been writing since the third grade when her teacher introduced the class to writing prompts. As a child growing up in southeastern Michigan, she labeled herself a chain-reader after she learned about chain-smokers. A few years later, she started stealing her mother’s science fiction books and her father’s mystery books. Her younger brother introduced her to the fantasy genre when she stole his set of Lord of the Rings. She sums up her motivations this way: “I can’t not write. I must read. I do science because I can’t stop asking ‘Why?’”. She lives near Baltimore now, with her wonderful husband, amazing children and a boxing bunny, grumpy she-turtle, and the most serene dog in the world. Her writing can be found at https://CynthiaPraski.com and on twitter (https://twitter.com/
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