Tuesday, August 15, 2023

“A Helping Feeler” • by Matt Krizan

Karbo and his goons were picking on Bari again.
Tavas rubbed his feelers together in agitation at the sight of his fellow Thwip surrounded by the much bigger Alati. The six of them had trapped Bari against the bright blue flower of an adlila bush and hummed excitedly as they took turns poking him with their proboscises. The summer winds buffeted Tavas, and he clung to the stem of a losarnia, wings flat against his back. Bari’s pheromones, full of pain and fear, washed over him, the strong emotions drowning out, briefly, Tavas’ own fear of getting blown away to Gods-know-where. 

When the winds died down, Tavas let go of the losarnia and flitted toward Bari and the others. He had no hope of fighting off Karbo and crew—while Bari was their favorite target, Tavas was no stranger to their harassment—but maybe he could get them to focus on something other than Bari. Something other than Tavas, too, preferably.

He flew past them, as if he hadn’t noticed what was going on, releasing his own pheromones as he pretended to excitement.

“Hey, mouthparts,” Karbo called after him, using the derogatory name some Alati used for Thwips because of their vestigial left mandibles. “Where you going? You got something for me?” Following their leader, the Alati left Bari to surround Tavas.

“Oh, hey, Karbo.” Tavas shied away, the fear pouring from him not entirely pretend.

“You know the drill.” Karbo’s proboscis twitched. “Give it up.”

“I don’t have any nectar.” When Karbo poked Tavas’ thorax, he yelped and added, “But that’s where I was going—to get some. There’s a whole grove of aritas over there, just dripping.” He motioned with a feeler in the direction he’d been flying.

“Oh yeah?” said Karbo. “Thanks, mouthparts.” He poked Tavas again, then gestured to his cronies. “C’mon, boys.”

As they flew away, Bari flitted up alongside Tavas. “Isn’t that the field where the Serhus sprayed their chemicals yesterday?”

“Sure is,” said Tavas. “Karbo won’t know that, though.”

They both released amusement at the thought of the Alati, with their less-developed olfactory senses, getting sick and vomiting up the tainted nectar, although Bari’s amusement was tinged with sadness.

“Are you okay?” said Tavas.

Bari bobbed his head in resignation. “I guess. What happens when they come back tomorrow? Or the next day? What happens when you’re not around to help me?”

Tavas touched a feeler to Bari's. “I’ll always be around, if you want.”

Bari was silent for a moment, then twined his feeler around Tavas’. “Thanks.”

“We can get beat up together.” Tavas released amusement, and this time, Bari’s came back with warmth and affection.

The winds picked up again, and they darted to the adlila bush. As they gripped a leaf, Bari said, “Do you ever think about just letting go and opening your wings?”

Tavas mostly succeeded in hiding his horror at the thought. “I’d rather have to face Karbo every day.”

“That’s just it—we wouldn’t have to face him ever again. We’d be somewhere new, just like Weg.”

Tavas’ feelers jerked at the memory of their podmate, wings outspread, legs and feelers waving, as the winds swept him into the sky.

“He was so excited,” said Bari, wistfully. “Happy, even. Didn’t you feel it?”

Tavas shook his head. He’d been too terrified to feel anything from anybody else.

“Think about it. No Queen telling you what to do anymore. No same old adlilas and losarnias every day. New groves for you to explore, new flowers to find.” Bari’s feelers twitched, his excitement rolling over Tavas like the summer winds.

“But what if it’s the same, though? Or worse? There could be something even meaner than Karbo out there.”

“Maybe.” Bari waggled his head. “Maybe not. Who knows? Maybe there’s a paradise for Thwips out there, just waiting to be found.” Bari's excitement left Tavas feeling all tingly.

A paradise for Thwips, he mused. With no Karbo.

That did sound nice. Exciting, even. But then, just the thought of being swept away from the only home he’d ever known to some strange new place made his heart race and his feelers twitch with fear.

“I don’t know.” Tavas dipped his head. “I’d be too afraid to do that all by myself.”

Bari touched a feeler to Tavas’. “Who says you’d be by yourself?”

Affection washed over Tavas, which he returned as he wrapped his feeler around Bari’s.

“You wanna do it?” said Bari. “If we don’t like where we wind up, we can always keep trying until we find someplace we do.”

“We’d stick together the whole time, though, right?’

Bari fluttered his wings. “Of course.”

With feelers intertwined, the two Thwips waited in silence for the winds to pick up again. When the branches of the adlila bush swayed, they let go of the leaf and held onto one another’s legs. Tavas fought to hold back his fear, although he was sure Bari must have felt it.

Then they spread their wings and let the winds carry them away.



Matt Krizan is a former certified public accountant who writes from his home in Royal Oak, Michigan. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including Factor Four Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and Martian Magazine. Find him online at mattkrizan.com and on Twitter as @MattKrizan.

If you’d like to read more of Matt’s stories, we have lots more on this site, all at this link.

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Made in DNA said...

Transhumans or aliens or fantasy, anyway you roll it, it was pretty darn good.