by T. F. Davenport
As we made for the low ridge encrusted with vegetation, the sun peeked over the valley wall. Tendrils and blossoms unfurled in the light and grew. Insects followed scent roads among the stretching plants, and the wordless odors of morning blew over my pores. To me, these were the raw smells of life, but they seemed only to irritate the youngster trudging beside me. My companion was small and pale, and picked through the undergrowth as though repulsed by it. Boredom and resentment spiced the air.
Behind us loped the broad-haunched gather beast. It snuffled noisily, inhaling spores for nutrition, veering wide to bypass a herd of enormous flame-colored slugs. The gastropods cut swathes in the foliage; behind them stretched trails of barren dirt. One could watch the trails fill in again: sprouts and mold-stars blossoming, insects hustling in with their eggs. The gather beast caught up to us, devouring the unfamiliar growths to which I directed it.
The youth and I had been arguing all morning. We kept the traditions of civil debate, picking evocative features from the landscape and using them to make our points. I was framing a challenge around the scent of the titan slugs when I noticed the youngster lagging, its attention already fixed on them.
â€œLook at the trails they leave.â€ The words dispersed in the flagging breeze and seeped into my pores. â€œIâ€™ve never seen bare soil outside the enclave. See how quickly it sprouts again?â€
The gather beast was straying. I tightened my mental grip on it. Try this one, I urged. Over here. I extended my mind to the foliage around us; every unrecognized animal, fungus, and plant I found, I commanded to hold still while the gather beast swallowed it.
â€œQuickly, indeed.â€ I mimicked the slugsâ€™ musk as a reference scent. â€œAnd now I suppose youâ€™ll compare them with our kind. You can admit it. I know your beliefs.â€
Without shame, the youth clawed a yes.
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"Nature's Children" is roughly 10890 words.
After two years pursuing teaching and travel in central Europe and the Middle East, T. F. Davenport has returned to the womb of the university. He is pursuing a doctorate in cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego. His fiction has appeared in ChiZine, Nature, and other publications.