346: Out Of Water Experience

on January 29, 2009 in Book 12

In Which Feejee Is Adrift

Feejee wouldn’t be dissuaded from following me to the lunchroom, though she didn’t get much on her tray and just picked the meat off her sandwich.

“I’ll just watch you eat,” she said. “Are you sure you’ve got enough?”

“Uh… for now, yeah,” I said, half-hoping that one of the staff would decide she was loitering.

“You’re so scrawny,” she said. “You’ll be a lot better if you fill out some more.”

“Feejee, seriously, you’ve…”

“Dinner’s the only meal that’s any good here,” she said, ignoring me. “They almost always have some pork or chicken, and sometimes they even put out fish. They never have any fish for breakfast for some reason, and hardly ever for lunch. Not that the stuff they call fish here is all that great. Old and covered in crusty stuff.”

“Breading?” I asked, hoping that’s what she meant. I thought fish was kind of gross to begin with, but the idea of it being “old and crusty” was about enough to turn my stomach.

“Yeah, whatever it’s called,” she said. “It isn’t much like the bread I’ve seen, though… and then you get it open and it’s been cooked so much it’s all tough instead of flaky… well, it’s the best under the circumstances, I guess.”

“There have to be places that sell seafood in town,” I said.

“Is it going to be any better? We’re a long ways from the sea.”

“Expensive restaurants can probably get it fresher than the school,” I said. “And they’re sure to cook it better. I’m not big on fish, but I think the breading’s kind of a hallmark of the cheap stuff.”

“I wonder… I wonder if they’d give me a whole one, bones and all,” she said, looking up at me all scared and tentative, like she thought for sure I was going to tell her that no, they wouldn’t.

It might have been cute, if she hadn’t already seen what her kind of money could buy from a person like Mercy. It was amazing and a little scary that she could know she could buy a human life if the mood struck her but worried about procuring fish. It was that disconnect again, or still… there was no sense there that the one was many magnitudes greater and more terrible than the other. It was simply two kinds of food, two commodities.

Well, if it was fish she was hungry for… might as well encourage it.

“Feejee, I don’t think you understand what all that gold you wear means up here,” I said. “Whatever you want, even if they don’t have it in Enwich, somebody will order it for you because they get to charge you money for it. Fresh fish, or even live, not frozen… whatever kind you want. If you get a place off campus like you were talking about, you could even get an aquarium put in.”

“A what?”

“A tank full of water that fish swim in,” I said. “Like for pets.”

“People… pet… fish?”

“They keep fish as pets,” I said. “Noun, not verb.”

“Oh,” she said. She scowled. “Language again.”

“You don’t have any pets in the ocean?” I asked.

“Not if I’m understanding the meaning,” she said. “We have… relationships… with some sorts of creatures. Helpful, friendly ones. But that was mostly with other intelligent races, like dolphins and cuttlefish.”

“Cuttlefish are an intelligent race now?”

“Always have been,” she said.

I figured she meant they were really, really smart for animals, but I didn’t press the point. If humans had been the only race created on land, they might have been lonely enough to make too much of the thinking abilities of apes and elephants and other clever beasts.

Of course, I didn’t even really know what a cuttlefish was. I heard the word and I pictured a fish, maybe one of the ones with some kind of blade-like arrangement on its nose or back… I didn’t know what “cuttle” would mean, except that it sounded like it had something to do with cutting.

So, maybe I was being a little too presumptuous in dismissing the possibility that there was an intelligent fish. It was just that on land, all the intelligent races were organized physically along more or less the same plan… some of them might have had a few more limbs or a few fewer, but the shape that humans called “humanoid” was pretty close to universal.

But then, Feejee’s other face was a lot fishier than the one she showed to the world. In their most natural state, her legs were joined together into a tail. Who knew how far the full transformation might go? There might be nothing about her natural form that resembled the races of the surface beyond the features that were also common to animals.

“Um, Mack?” Feejee said. “Hello?”

“Huh, what?” I said, looking up.

“I was talking there,” she said, irritated. “You know, I’m interested in your body, too, but I don’t let that get in the way of knowing you as a person.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I was thinking, and my gaze… drifts.”

“It’s okay,” she said. She hefted her breasts and jiggled them. “I don’t mind you staring… everybody does. Io calls them our ‘beer lures’. It’s just when you’re not paying attention, that bothers me. Sara and Tara are kind of prickly, but they do listen when I’m talking, sort of.”

“What kind of things do you talk about with them?” I asked. The more topics I had, the more comfortable conversation was likely to be. Maybe it was crazy or stupid to hang around with Feejee with everything I knew, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was a better influence on her than Iona.

That had to say volumes about Iona.

“Well, I guess it was more them talking and me listening, but I was learning,” she said. “They listened to my questions, anyway… which was good, since when I came here I didn’t know anything.”

“Why did you come here?” I asked. “I mean, there are schools on the coasts. Big ones.”

“I wanted to go someplace new,” she said. “Do you know how hard it is to even picture the concept of land when you’ve never seen it before? ‘Like the bottom, if it was at the surface’. That’s how my dad put it to me. I could never make any sense of it. Even when he took me to my first island. When I saw the shallow water, with all of its reefs and stuff, I thought so that’s what he was talking about… the bottom, at the surface. But then he took me up to the surface and I saw it… I couldn’t make sense of it. What I was seeing didn’t add up for me. Do you understand?”

“Not really,” I said. I’d never seen the ocean but I knew what water was. I’d seen rivers and lakes and ponds and pools.

“When he told me that the ‘land’ the boats came from was like the islands but it kept going, I pictured lots and lots of islands,” she said. “And even after I’d learned how to walk on them, I’d catch myself picturing humans swimming around in sand and rocks. I knew it was wrong, but that was the only way I could think of it.” She laughed at herself a little. “I’ve finally broken that habit, I think… it’s been really educational coming here, even outside of the classes. When I picked Magisterius University, I knew it was ‘inland’… and I’d learned that it was more like one unimaginably huge island than a bunch of them going on forever… but I still had no idea what that really meant, how far it really was from the ocean.”

“How’d you end up going to college in the first place?”

“Well… our tribe’s never had a lot of contact with humans… apart from, you know. We’re deep dwellers. But we’d been improving relations with the folk who live in the shallows and among the islands, and some of them had regular trade with the surface. I spent a couple of warm cycles staying with one of them, and learned a little bit about surface cultures from a girl who’d taken some semesters in the Mother Isles.” She shrugged. “It sounded interesting.”

“But you ended up here?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Feejee said. “I’d seen islands. I wanted to see something bigger.”

“Did you have any kind of schooling before you came here?”

“There isn’t a lot to learn in the ocean,” she said. “We have what I guess is called an oral tradition, though we didn’t actually call it anything. Just stories about the way things are. Not history you like have.. Iona had to tell me about years and seasons a bunch of times before I got it.” She laughed. “She hates the cold. I told her she should keep your coat, if… well. You know.”

Yeah, I did. She leaned forward when she said it, smiling and whispering all conspiratorially. A secret between friends, isn’t this fun?

“They sell coats just like this at the Walled Market,” I said. “And you’d have a hard time convincing anyone you didn’t have anything to do with me disappearing if she walked around wearing my coat.”

“Oh, right,” Feejee said. “I’m so glad you’re here to think about that kind of thing. I’ve never had to worry about anything like that before… it was always just ‘chow down’!”

“I’m actually not trying to help,” I said. “I’m trying to show you how completely unfeasible it is, so you’ll realize it’s in your interest not to… since the legality and morality and my thoughts on the matter don’t seem to bother you.”

“I wouldn’t do it immorally,” she said. “And the legality’s why I’d have to be careful, if I did. Would it bother you less if it was just me?”

“What?”

“I kind of get the feeling you maybe don’t like Iona that much,” she said. “I’d hate to be a bitch to her, but you’re my friend. Would you like it better if it was just me?”

“Feejee… can you please think about what you’re asking me?” I asked. “Just for one second stop and think about that?”

She stared at me, not comprehending, her big green eyes blinking.

“I think about it all the time,” she said.

“From my point of view,” I said.

“Well… if I were prey,” she said quietly, “and I happened to be friends with a predator… I mean, think how much easier your life would be if your human friends were a little more willing to go along with your nature? Wouldn’t you enjoy helping me like that?”

“I wouldn’t want them to ‘help’ me like that,” I said. “And I don’t feel like prey.”

“Part of you isn’t,” she said. “And that’s got to be weird, and maybe that’s why you’re conflicted about the whole thing…”

“I’m not conflicted,” I said. “I don’t want this… and there’s no need to go looking for a reason. It’s simple survival instinct.”

“I’d expect that from a fish,” she said. “But you’re a thinking being. Is it really too much to expect you to be reasonable?”

“Apparently,” I said. “But Feejee, you have to realize that it’s not going to happen. You’re never going to make it work out. I have too many friends, you’re too inexperienced… you’re a fish out of water here, literally. You’d forget something, you’d slip up, or you’d say something to somebody… and that’s ignoring Amaranth.”

“You don’t think maybe she’d be okay with it?” Feejee asked. “She seems kind of easygoing to me.”

“She wouldn’t be okay with that,” I said.

“She’s the one who told me about… T.M.’s.”

“That was a special circumstance,” I said. “She was only doing that so I wouldn’t end up on the menu.”

“Oh,” Feejee said, disappointed. “So she probably wouldn’t turn around and…’

“Yeah,” I said. “And you couldn’t get rid of her. She’s immortal, as long as her field’s intact.”

“And her field is…?”

“Very, very far away,” I said. “Remember how big and vast this land is?”

“Right,” Feejee said. Her face lit up. “Oh… but…”

“But?”

“You keep telling me my money can do all this stuff,” she said. “Could it get me to her field? Or could I pay somebody else to go do something to it?”

Me and my big mouth.

“But then you’ve got a whole bunch of other crimes,” I said. “And how do you hide them?”

“Tell me,” Feejee said.

“I’m not offering to help!” I said, way louder than I’d meant to… almost yelling.

“Oh, you don’t have to yell,” Feejee said, hurt, and in spite of everything my cheeks turned red. Okay, I hadn’t just almost yelled, and Feejee was technically a friend… there was no way I could not tell Amaranth about this.

I realized then that I’d never sat down and told her exactly how sharply focused the mermaids’ predatory impulses had become. She knew they had a taste for me, she knew about how we’d played at it, but had I ever thought to mention that they’d started scheming about whether and how they could do the real thing? Amaranth was my only real trump card over them, but that wouldn’t be worth anything if she didn’t actually know.

“Thinking again?” Feejee said sardonically. I looked up to see an expression on her face that suggested she suspected I wasn’t really thinking at all… or maybe she was just pissed that I’d yelled at her and then spaced out again.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to yell. I’m sorry. But, Feejee… this is like the island/land thing. There’s something big and huge that you’re just not grasping, and maybe you can’t grasp it, but if you want to survive among humans you’re going to have to at least fake it.”

“Okay,” she said doubtfully.

“You can’t do what you’re thinking about, with me or anybody,” I said. “It’s just not going to work. I’m not even going to try to convince you it’s wrong, but you have to trust me when I say as your friend that you can’t do it.”

“Amaranth said it was legal when we…”

“That was legal,” I said. “Also wrong, but… look. What a couple of obscenely rich and bored and evil humans and elves do is one thing, but you’ve seen how people react to demons. Do you want that for you and your people?”

“No, but…”

“Feejee, it’s safest if you just pretend that places like Mercy’s don’t exist, and that all the people walking around… including me… are the same as you, not prey, not food,” I said, dropping my voice for the last bit, as it was more explicit. The lunchroom was pretty empty, and nobody was sitting very near us, but there was no sense blowing the secret while telling her how to best protect it.

“I think there’s got to be some kind of middle ground,” Feejee said. “Whatever happened to compromise?”

“Humans don’t compromise on some things,” I said. “Man-eating monsters is a big one.”

“That hardly seems fair.”

“Welcome to my world,” I said.


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13 Responses to “346: Out Of Water Experience”

  1. pedestrian says:

    All of us land animals are fortunate that the cephalopod life spans are only a few years. Or evolution could have taken a whole different tack.

    Current score: 1
  2. Sleet says:

    Cephalopods are /terrifying/.

    Current score: 1
  3. Cedjuct MacMan says:

    What is there to stop mermaids and other man eaters from producing golem people, who from the moment they are made are virgins, then raising them and/or eating them?

    It would be like synthetic people being eaten, bled, and healed with or without being killed.

    Current score: 0
    • Moridain says:

      Dangerous ground.

      Firstly it is a really dangerous precident to say that eating THESE thinking people is okay, but those are not. It may start off well regulated, but thats one of those slippery slope situations…

      Secondly, this breaks the RFED laws, I think.

      Current score: 1
      • Kanta says:

        I think you can make nonthinking golems. They did mention that the rune which gives Two intelligence is separate from the one that gives her life; right?

        Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      It would be simpler to just breed humans like chattle. Golems aren’t easy to make, and it’s extremely expensive. Furthermore, only demons AFAWK actually have to eat bits of thinking beings… and a golem wouldn’t work. Mackenzie might think Two looks yummy (and she might be) but even if she were a virgin it she wouldn’t actually be any better for Mackenzie than your average steak.

      Other man eaters do it because the like to, or just don’t see it as an issue – therefore they would have no reason to use golems. Those who do have a moral issue… would just eat cows and chickens.

      Also, the virgin thing is kinda specific to Mackenzie (not unique, but specific). Some demons require other things, sometimes things that necessitate killing (heart, brain, etc).

      Current score: 1
  4. Arakano says:

    Seriously, Feejee has to know that there are SOME cases in which prey actually fights back against predators, and often injures or kills them, too. Most predators, by instinct, avoid prey that’s not worth the trouble – a wolf might eat a young piglet if it finds it alone, but the wolf sure as hell won’t bother a wild boar unless it is starving. Feejee can get plenty fish if she wants, so… if anything, SHE is the one being unreasonable here, not Mack. Mack, who usually is so smart, seems to miss this argument against Feejee’s plans here…

    Current score: 5
    • Anthony says:

      Probably her mind is clouded, since Mackenzie, being a demonblood girl, is irresistable to predators.

      Current score: 0
      • Tuukka says:

        Wish people would stop commenting with spoilery information.
        Some of use are reading this for the first time..

        Current score: 10
    • Mugasofer says:

      “I’d expect that from a fish,” she said. “But you’re a thinking being. Is it really too much to expect youto be reasonable?”

      Current score: 4
  5. JustMe says:

    I hope this isn’t a spoiler or anything like that, but I keep remebering scenes that are no longer here, like Amaranth and Mack trying to talk to Miss. RUTH from Hearts of Clay when they are trying to arrange Two’s party and Moeli (sp?) The hobgoblin hitting on Mack before the dance. Did AE remove chapters and things when she cleaned out the comments?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I don’t think so. I belive you are remembering bits of bonus stories in the wrong order. For instance Amaranth reflects Mrs. Ruth in a bonus.

      As far as I know, the only retcon was the KhKhKh (at the welcome festival) being changed to CCKh do to readers thinking ‘KKK’ (not to mention the comtinuity issue of that being incredibly blasfemous in-universe). I don’t think anything has been removed.

      Current score: 0