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The Telepathic Sea Turtle

A Story using Scale, Clan, and Heir

By Alex CaseyPublished 12 months ago Updated 12 months ago 15 min read
2
The Telepathic Sea Turtle
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

“Step on the Scales of Ka’Wanta!”

The judge is screaming at me, which is unusual for her. I’m used to the stern voice that’s terrifyingly calm. This new volume is so frightening that I nearly lose my balance as I step onto the large gold disk hanging from six strong iron chains.

“Who is first?” she calls into the audience, calmer now, and I look around the room, eyeing my potential supporters–and accusers.

Accusers and Friends

An angry man twice my size and nearly as tall stands, pushing the water around him. He’s moving his hands as if he’s swimming when he’s obviously tall enough to walk on the OceanRiver floor; he’s a fraud. “He insulted my prize-winning yamberries!”

That’s because they’re gross! I think. I can’t vocalize this because the invisible string has stitched my lips together; it’s mandatory in these hearings. I am unable to defend myself, disagree with the members, or explain my actions.

An insult is only worth 500 grams, but he swim-walks to the floating shelf and removes a 500-gram gold brick. He sets it on the other side of the scale before smugly returning to his seat. It’s not enough weight to move the scales, but it’s a visual reminder that the hearing–the judgment–has begun.

There is weight on the other side.

A woman emerges from the depths of the water, and everyone turns to face her. Her scales are nearly translucent; she’s a Subaqua, a Swimmer. Subs are rarely seen above the surface, and those around her swim back two paces.

My heart races. The Sub is Ko’Launta, and as her black eyes drill a withering stare into me, I stop breathing.

Astyanax fasciatus (Mexican blind cavefish) by James St. John

“He broke my daughter’s heart!”

There are murmurs throughout the crowd, but Ko’Launta never takes her eyes off me.

The truth is that I did not break her daughter’s heart. I only chipped it a little. I know this because flecks of her heart fell and burned my skin; as I healed, they embedded into me. There are pieces of Na-nasin’s heart that will always be part of me.

I was honest with Na-nasin, and she understood. However, her mother hounded her about it for weeks; she wanted the exact reason for our split, and Na-nasin told her that I didn’t love her, which isn’t entirely untrue.

It is her mother’s endless judgment and hate that slowly broke Na-nasin’s heart, and with enough time, Na-nasin started to blame me.

Shan-la repaired Na-nasin’s heart. Her powerful magic was able to merge the pieces with only the smallest of cracks. Na-nasin is still missing chips, just like any of us, but her heart is no longer broken.

But, of course, I can’t say any of this, and without context, I look like a monster. Breaking someone’s heart is a truly cruel act.

To make matters worse, the most prejudiced, ignorant members look toward the judge to see if I will receive additional weight for dating a Swimmer. I’m a Walker, one day–hopefully–a Glider, and it’s uncommon for Walkers and Swimmers to date. Some of that is due to old ideas and discrimination, but some of it is just logistics. It’s hard for Swimmers to survive on the surface, and it’s hard for Walkers to survive in the Depths.

For a Swimmer and Walker to be together, they have to really love each other–be completely committed to each other. And I wasn’t in love with Na-nasin, and I knew I never would be.

I was slowly developing feelings for someone else.

The judge disappoints the bigots; she won't add weight just because of Na-nasin's and my differences. That’s not what these hearings are about.

Ko-Launta’s scales are already gaining color, mostly pinks and reds. I know she’s in pain; she’s not used to being up here. She hates me so much that she’s willing to exist in excruciating pain for as long as it takes to seal my fate.

I wonder if that’s what parental love looks like.

She swims quickly to the shelf and adds four 25kg blocks to the left side. It drops significantly, placing me much higher in the air.

I know I’m in trouble.

Ko’Launta is maroon and magenta as she swims toward me, and she silently glares at me one last time before diving and disappearing into the Depths.

Eagle ray in Bonaire by Chika Watanabe

Tall and lanky, looking not much different from myself, Hen’ray stands up suddenly, firmly. “He was the first youngling to befriend me when I transferred schools. I’ll always be grateful for that, and we remain best friends today.”

He walks to the shelf and removes a fragile ribbon of osmium. With a delicate touch, he weaves the strand through the scale’s chains, and my side falls a little.

Osmium by Periodictableru

Anyone can hurl and stack bricks of grudges and hate. It takes patience and concentration for friends to help you remember your positive qualities and remain optimistic about the future.

Hen’ray smiles at me before walk-swimming to his group. His father was a Sub, and when Hen’ray swims like this, I can still see him.

And so it goes. Enemies and acquaintances pile gold bricks of hate; friends and acquaintances weave osmium ribbons of love.

But the scales aren’t balanced at all. I’m losing.

Humility is important in our community, and those who live a relatively pure, humble life can step out of the scale at the end of the hearing. They don’t need to climb, and rarely need to step down. They simply walk (or glide or swim) back into the water.

They are accepted as a full member, and their community life can truly begin.

This far up, I’ll have to dive to re-enter the community. I’ll be shunned.

And because of that, I will never be allowed to raise an heir. It would be unfair to bring a youngling into this life; the judge and her compatriots would never give their blessing.

I am ready to raise a youngling, or maybe even two, and I should decide the fate of my lineage. Whether I create an heir should be my choice.

But that’s not how it works.

Ka'Wanta

By Jesse Schoff on Unsplash

A white-haired woman with shimmering skin and unsettling eyes stands, and the crowd hushes. She is Ka’Wanta–the oldest member of our clan–and is deeply worthy of our respect. The legend is that she is a descendant of a green sea turtle, which accounts for her size, age, and adaptability. (For the record, for those who trust the legends, Ko’Launta is descended from a blind cave fish and Hen’ray is from an eagle ray.) I don’t know if I believe all of the legends, but Ka’Wanta’s essence being created from a sea turtle makes complete sense to me.

She glides toward me, the water barely moving around her, as if even it respects her. She is only a few inches from the scales when she leans up to pull on the chains with all of her strength. My side of the scale lowers, and she stares at me.

She looks through me.

She gently places her hand on my chest, and I can feel the energy pass into my heart. I want to close my eyes, but something forces me here, with her, keeping me honest.

She doesn’t smile nor frown; her expression is as blank as my fate was this morning.

“He has a good soul.”

That’s all she says before yanking on the chains and stepping onto the scale to join me.

Ka’Wanta weighs exactly 100 kilograms. That is the second reason the scales are named after her.

Shan-la, Ka’Wanta’s agile granddaughter (who always knows her grandmother’s intention) swims to the scales and examines the other side. Slowly, methodically, she chooses which bricks to remove, starting with the petty insults. Yamberry man noticeably huffs when she sets his 500 grams back on the shelf.

By engin akyurt on Unsplash

Next, she removes the small mistakes for which I apologized. Owning your mistakes counts for a lot in our society, and I’m often the first member to make amends–showing that I do, in fact, have a conscience.

While Shan-la takes her time looking for the blocks that represent the smallest of grudges, Ka’Wanta places her translucent hands against my face. She leans my head down, places her forehead against mine, and closes her unnerving eyes.

Her scales gently open and close; she’s breathing without using her lungs–just like I am.

Do you think you are worthy? She’s not speaking aloud, but rather transmitting her questions into my thought cavern.

I close my eyes and concentrate; I’ve never been good at this. I am overly reliant on my deep voice, sharp wit, and cutting tone. I’m good with my voice, which is why I seldom practice this rare skill that only a few clan members possess.

I concentrate, take a deep breath, and nod. Yes, I convey to her. Yes, I believe I am worthy.

I can tell my thoughts come with a bit of static, as if they’re clearing the cobwebs from the cavern, but I know she can understand me.

Are you capable of patience, love, and support? she silently asks.

I try to nod, but she holds my head still, forcing me to mindspeak. Yes, I am capable of all of those things. I do not go into this lightly.

Will someone here speak up for you?

That is likely the most important question and the hardest for me to answer. My focus is pulled away by the scale lowering incrementally; Shan-la is now removing my childhood mistakes–anything I did wrong before I was old enough to start Morality School. (This is a reminder of the pettiness of some members of my clan family.)

Will someone here speak up for you? she repeats, refocusing my attention.

I swallow. I think so. I hope so.

Is it him? Hark’Dames?

Again, I try to nod, but she holds my head firmly. Yes. Yes, it’s him.

Did you tell Na-nasin?

There are small tears in the corners of my eyes. Most clan members have evolved past the ability to cry, but I have not. Yes.

And Ko’Launta?

Something about that question cuts me a little, and I feel the creation of an aperture in my soul. Without speaking, Ka’Wanta places one of her hands on my chest, and I feel the puncture wound heal. She returns her hand to my face.

Ko’Launta? she repeats.

No. She doesn’t know. Na-nasin didn’t tell her.

She gently rubs her soft fingers over the skin that holds Na-nasin’s heart chips. You feel remorse for this?

Of course.

She steps back from me and looks toward Shan-la. I sway for a moment, abruptly aware of how much of my weight had been absorbed into the Elder’s body.

Shan-la swims toward her grandmother and places her forehead against Ka’Wanta. After a few seconds, she returns to the other side of the scale and removes three of Ko'Launta's four blocks. Loud murmurs ripple through the crowd.

I’m sure Ko’Launta will learn about this, and she’ll feel it is a direct betrayal of her status in the clan. Who knows what she’ll do to retaliate.

But, for now, there are 75 kilograms that are no longer held against me.

By Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

While I feel bricks and ribbons being added around us, Ka’Wanta again presses her forehead against mine.

She takes a deep breath, and I know this is exhausting for her. She needs rest, not to worry about my soul.

She takes a second breath. Anything you want to confess? Now is the time. Things always come out eventually, and I can help protect you if you tell me now.

I think about the terrible things I have done over the last 41 years, but nothing comes to mind that hasn’t already been said at the hearing. I’ve never broken any of the 8 Great Morality Clauses. If I had, I wouldn’t have bothered proving my worth for an heir in the first place.

Somehow, I’ve transmitted all of this to her, and she gently squeezes my face before taking another breath through her scales. Humility is a worthy trait, but you should set it aside and think of your best qualities. Is there anything you want to tell me that paints you in a positive light? Anything that others don’t know or won’t say? Now is the time.

I pull my head away, and she lets me. I look at the numerous osmium ribbons interlaced through the strong iron chains. Most are woven vertically through the links, but clan members with steady hands have connected the chains together, starting at the top of the scale. By removing 100 kilograms of minor infractions from the left side, Shan-la has only left the greatest wrongdoings, and the pile suddenly looks small compared to the shiny streamers of love.

Ka’Wanta sits on the scale and pulls on my arms until I join her.

The scale sways as we cross our legs and reposition. Then, it settles.

The water hugs her shoulders and gently encircles my ribs, and I realize how much lower my side is now.

But I also remember that I’ll lose 100 kilograms when Ka’Wanta glides away and leaves me to my fate.

She’s looking into my eyes, and I shake my head. She gently holds my face and returns my forehead to hers. Show me. I can help you, she conveys. Show me.

I open my scales to inhale deeply, let the memory flow organically, and press my palms against the scale to keep myself upright.

The Memory

By David Clode on Unsplash

Hark’Dames and I had been seeing each other for a few weeks when we went to the Subaqua Art Show with our Swimmer friends. As Walkers, we both looked out of place, but Hark’Dames especially so. According to the legend, he is descended from mandarinfish, and those markings are still visible when the light bounces against his scales.

Hark is unapologetically who he is. He’s confident, fearless, and comfortable in his colorful skin. He’d already started transitioning into a Glider, years ahead of my journey. I thought it was adorable and admirable, but it made him look a bit awkward, especially around Subs.

He’d gone ahead of me, mesmerized by a glistening osmium sculpture of fins and hands holding chipped hearts. I’d been stuck in a conversation with our lovable but loquacious Len-ara.

I saw them first in my peripheral vision: Six Subs and three Walkers, their hands wrapped in iron chains, brass knuckles, and–

By Tim Marshall on Unsplash

I try to pull myself out of this, but Ka’Wanta places her hands on the back of my head. No, she sternly conveys. Keep going.

I take a deep breath, letting the water filter through my scales. I can’t.

She splashes the cool water on the back of my neck, and the room feels strangely quiet and still. This is no time for fear–especially for something that happened so long ago. Locate your strength, even if you need to dig deep.

She returns her hands to the back of my head, cooling the skin. Find it, and show me the rest. Don’t tell me; just show me.

I play the memory without narration or explanation.

By engin akyurt on Unsplash

The punch that sent Hark stepping backward–his gliding ability temporarily broken.

Placing myself between Hark and the mob.

Loving and learned Len-ara holding Hark and swimming away, keeping my secret.

The first hit that breaks two of my ribs.

The next three blows that add color to my skin and the surrounding water.

The four Enforcement Officials watching without interference.

And me finding enough strength to perform my powerful–but previously classified–ThunderClap, which loudly pushes all nine members 100 meters back, allowing me enough time to stumble away.

Things go dark until I awaken in a medical pod with Hark to my left and Len-ara to my right.

Len-ara places her forehead against mine. He doesn’t know. He thinks it was a miracle.

As she swims away, Hark interlocks his fingers with mine, and we exchange a kind, loving smile.

By Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The Judgement

Ka’Wanta pulls away from me and splashes water on my face to hide my unevolved tears. She looks toward Shan-la who swiftly joins us.

“You have seen who placed each brick?” Ka-Wanta whispers, clearly for my benefit; she already knows the answer.

Shan-la nods. “Of course.”

Ka’Wanta leans her forehead against Shan-la’s face before Shan-la swims away.

Ka’Wanta places her hand on the back of my neck. “Watch,” she whispers, so quietly that only I can hear.

Shan-la swims around the scale and removes a 20kg brick. Instead of returning it to the shelf, she swims toward EO Ra-kone, drops it in his hands, and swims back to the scales.

Ra-kone’s jaw is open, as is mine. Every clan member stares at him, and a few members whisper to those next to them.

Again, Shan-la swims around the scales, removes a brick (this time 10kg) and places it in someone’s hands (this time known bigot Yi’Jar).

It only takes a few minutes for Shan-la to return nearly a dozen bricks to clan members–a public disgrace–and other members swim, walk, or glide away from them.

Ka’Wanta places her hands against my left side, and I nearly double over from the powerful energy seeping into my ribs. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s intense, and since I am incapable of screaming, I simply crumple into the water.

But when she removes her hand, I feel my ribs re-form, as if they have finally healed properly.

She leans her forehead against my temple. You should have told me a decade ago. I could have spared you so much pain.

I wanted the reminder, I convey, surprising even myself.

She taps the chips of Na-nasin’s heart. You have enough reminders. She splashes cool water on the back of my neck. Saving a life is admirable.

I only did what should have been done.

Yes, that was my point. She places her hands against the side of my face. You think he will stand up for you?

I hope so.

Well then, now is the test.

We both stand, and Ka’Wanta glides off the scale and into the water. Even with her absence, I’m much closer to the floor.

She glides to the shelf and chooses a long ribbon of osmium. Slowly, she weaves it through the chains, connecting them together, as if her embrace has transferred to the metal, and it will protect me.

The scale falls significantly as she silently glides back to the Elders. But when she turns around, her voice is stern and loud. “Judge, I demand a new hearing of the members to whom Shan-la has returned their bricks.”

The judge nods. “It is so ordered.” She looks around the room. “Does anyone else have anything to add to the scale?

Silence.

“Very well. Will anyone stand up for this member?”

The Decision

By Moon on Unsplash

Without hesitation, Hark’Dames stands. “I will. He once saved my life, and we have happily shared our love for 10 years.”

I’m not sure why there is so much murmuring. This is a statement, not a revelation; almost no one here should be surprised.

Without waiting for a response, Hark seamlessly glides through the water, takes the special osmium ribbon from the floating shelf, and flawlessly weaves it under Ka’Wanta's ribbon.

My side of the scale touches the OceanRiver floor.

The judge, who screamed at me only 25 minutes ago, now smiles. “You have not lived a perfect life, but you have done good things, and those ultimately outweigh the bad.” She glances at Ka’Wanta, then turns back to me. “You have a good soul.”

I walk into the water, and the scale nearly returns to balanced. The invisible string leaves my lips, and I take a deep breath, feeling the stretching in my freshly-healed ribs.

Hark interlocks his fingers with mine, and he glides me to the front of the audience, to the judge watching me from several meters above.

“The clan finds you worthy of an heir!” she says with great exaggeration. “You may now raise a youngling of your own!”

Other than the members still holding their bricks, everyone claps for us, and Hark and I take a long bow.

When the clapping quiets, and members gather their items to return to their reefs, I walk over to Ka’Wanta, who is patiently waiting for me.

“You saved me,” I whisper. My voice sounds strange after its hiatus. “I couldn’t have done that without you.”

She smiles and nods.

“Why did you do that? Why did you save me?”

She uses two fingers to point at her own disquieting eyes, then at mine. I block out the chatter, kneel in the water, and stare into her eyes.

Flashes of memories-to-come swarm into my thought cavern.

By Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

My twin heirs laughing.

The kind deeds they do as younglings.

The significant goals they accomplish as middlers.

The wisdom they share as Elders.

Ka’Wanta blinks, stopping the visions, then places her forehead against mine. The clan needs you.

She brushes her fingers just below my eyes as a reminder of the tears I shed earlier. You are not unevolved. You are exactly as evolved as the clan needs for what follows.

She places her hands against my face. You, my child, descended from an angelfish, but I see a wrasse. You will make a kind protector.

By David Clode on Unsplash

She smiles before gliding away, and the crowd parts for her.

I watch the wise turtle, well-disguised as a loving Elder, leave me to face the future, raise a family, and save my clan from the dangers that lie ahead.

By Kris-Mikael Krister on Unsplash

Fantasy
2

About the Creator

Alex Casey

I'm a full-time educator and part-time writer. My best ideas usually end up on Vocal.

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