"Songs From a Conch Shell Whistle"
- Greetings, guest!
For the fans of my alien species, here is an introduction at last to the Tsipia-seekers (later called the Tsipia-aliens when they left their planet). These egg-layers hold with a philosophy of peace-found-in-the-storm (what "tsipia" means) and were born to a storm-torn world. Our first story about them picks up with the Midnight Wave clutch, and a girl, Kelennet, who loves her brother enough to look out for him.
On the ninth day, we spied another clutch on the horizon. The ten seekers of the Sunset Stripe, all female, joined us on the sands for food, news and trade. They were a large clutch, and we sat on the beach to comb one another's hair and admire one another's spots and stripes . . . a gentle ritual leading to necessary and lately unpleasant conversation topics.
"So are there any new clutches that might need teaching further south?" my sister Doseli asked.
"None," the speaker for the Sunset Stripe said. She was a handsome female1, coral-red with black stripes. "We found several dead nests, but no new ones."
"This is strange," murmured my second sister, Nemene.
"Not so strange as one might suppose," the speaker said. "Clutches are laying fewer eggs. Fewer eggs means . . . "
" . . . fewer hatch, and even fewer survive to stand together," I finished. "But why? Why are people laying fewer eggs?"
The speaker shrugged. "Look to your own, Midnight Wave. You have three female1s and only one female2. How many eggs can she carry? Things are coming up backwards. Clutches are smaller. There are fewer female2s. Males aren't as virile. Speaking of which . . . " The eldest Sunset Stripe set out a selection of wooden beads, shells large enough to use for bowls and a bag of burrowing clams wrapped in kelp: a delicacy, for we rarely swim out far enough to dive for clams. "We have heard that your male is honest about his capabilities, and capable in his honesty. We offer these in return for his services."
"We will confer," Doseli said.
The speaker waved a casual agreement, exposing pale and flaky skin on the underside of her arm. I wondered that I hadn't noticed it before; she seemed so otherwise healthy.
The four of us withdrew. Somewhere behind us, Ojune was watching the ocean while we decided his duty.
"Clams!" Nemene said. "I haven't had clams since we traded with the Long Purples. When was that? A year ago?"
"It would be nice to have the beads," Mula murmured.
"Clams! I'm with Nemene," Doseli said. As the first of us to stand out of the nest, she had the last word on decisions. "What do you say, Kelennet?"
I folded my arms and tried not to twine my tails. "Maybe we should ask Ojune what he wants."
Doseli frowned. "We don't ask Ojune if he's willing to trade. He's one of the Midnight Waves. He will think of the good of the clutch."
"And if he doesn't want to trade?" I asked.
Entertainingly, this is the story I almost sold to multiple-award winning editor Gardner Dozois when he was at Asimov's. He sent me a personal letter about it when he read it, asking me for a rewrite. Alas, he didn't buy the rewrite, but it delighted young-me to have attracted a real signature on a not-a-form-letter.
There's some good art for this story; not directly of the characters, but pictures of Tsipia-seekers in caves, checking their eggs, making babies (in case you wondered about the whole "kissing to reproduce" thing) and even a cute piece of baby Tsipia-seekers in the nest. I also threw in the full cover illustration... and the old piece it was based on, which I couldn't find so I decided to re-draw/re-paint. I believe several of you watched me do it on that livestream, even!
Anyway. This story in particular is pretty densely non-human, so if you've been wanting to really get into alien heads (and away from people!), then here's a story that should give you that long-journey feeling. Check it out if that's what you've been missing!
You can pick up my other stories in print and in e-book form, including many free and 99-cent nibbles, at Smashwords and Amazon. And as always, if you like what you read, please drop back by and give it a few stars or a review. Your opinions help other readers make their purchasing decisions! Help an independent author out. :)