The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XIII

“And this way, there are rooms of no interest. You will disregard them.”

Gartuda Felhbron was a seasoned veteran of Corporate receptions, and knew not to expect much from the translation interfaces. Chemical signals lacing the water, combined with a complex body language, simply could not be translated readily into verbal cues. The Tanturians undoubtedly enjoyed a rich tradition of communication, and had well-developed characters, but there was no way to see it unless one could fully understand their means of communication. In the Molran’s case, this would entail growing extra sensory organs, and enhancing most of the others. The most acute sensory apparatus on a Molran’s body, the ears, were practically useless for aquatic communication. Although many species did use sound, they used it in ways, and at frequencies, he just couldn’t utilise.

In these situations, he watched the Corporate aquatics. They couldn’t understand the language either, but they didn’t need chemical-verbal decoders just to know whether the dignitary to whom they were talking was hostile or friendly. To Gartuda’s irrepressible survival instincts, a shark almost invariably looked hostile. He was ashamed to admit it, but it was the eyes. Oh, and the teeth.

The Shallops, Golden Cheem, Hraki and assorted others on the Standard 3 Aquatic Environment Diplomatic Team all seemed quite pleased with how things were progressing. Even the tiny Broltian was almost fully extended from his protective polyp. And the Tanturians had undeniably been pleased to see fellow piscines. Indeed, most of the aquatics weren’t even wearing filters to breathe in the water of Tantur – although they did admit, on private channels, that the atmosphere was unpleasantly thick with pollutants. This was more or less standard for any non-Corporate world, forced to support industrial-grade life without the assistance of the Power Plant.

Felhbron swam between a pair of Fliei attendants. He moved with the ease and manoeuvrability of long experience, his breather-field far sleeker and less awkward than the metal-and-plastic bubble-helmets of the large mammals, but compared to the natives he was little more than a floundering land-crawler. These two were introduced as ‘third sons’, which meant that not only had they been born under the sea, so too had their parents, and their parents’ parents. They were white-pink and hairless, with great muscular arms and wide, scarred feet. They could not live permanently in the water, but had small ‘bubbles’ where they could dry off, sleep, and eat in their spare time. The Molran had learned that the adult Fliei grew long claws on his toes, and spurs on his ankles, when the time came for him to mate. These coincided, naturally enough, with hormonal imbalances and behavioural shifts, all of which the Tanturians controlled as a matter of public safety. A Tanturian had little to fear from even the most formidable Fliei, but they curbed the instinctive aggression with medication, and removed the growth nodes in their feet surgically in early childhood. The Fliei themselves declared that they were happier that way. They lived longer, and had less hostility to come to terms with. Most of the higher-ranking Fliei attendants that the Standard 3 Aquatic Environment Diplomatic Team had met had never actually been to the surface of the ocean, and wouldn’t have been able to survive on land in any case. After just three generations, psychology as well as biology were against them.

Of course, Molran and Fliei alike looked graceless in comparison to the flitting grey-blue shapes of the Tanturians; the wide, winged shadows of the Shallops; the silvery, blunt-ended torpedo that was Cheem. Nothing compared to the grace of an aquatic in its natural environment.

The Tanturian ‘Spokesman for the Twelve Seas’ swept in a tight spiral and his opaque grey-black eyes bored momentarily into the struggling collection of landbound.

“Now we head to the upper chambers,” he said. “Can you manage?”

“We can,” Felhbron replied, and he and the Fliei began paddling swiftly through the blue-green haze towards the row of openings far above.

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