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“Touch of Tides” by Luna Lindsey

Luna Lindsey is featured in our New Author Spotlight for Issue 8.
Read our interview with Luna Lindsey

I swim with no light, artificial or natural. A solid ice shell, seven kilometers thick, floats above me in this single ocean that covers the entire moon of Europa. All I can hear is liquid gurgling in my ears and I taste residual salt that leaks in around my gill breather.

My name is Mara. I am naked except for my equipment belt and a molecule-thin coating of nanoscale to protect me from the chill. The other biologists at my barnacle wear full wetsuits when they dive, relying on augmented reality. My gill could report water conditions, geolocation data, and radar sight, if I let it distract me.

I prefer to let the touch-colors lead.

There are no photons here, not really, but my brain perceives them anyway. The enveloping currents spark lights and shapes in my eyes, stirred by the slow crawl of twice-daily Rossby waves and by the languidly waving sedentary creatures which cling to the inverted mountains of the ice subsurface, meters above.

Ahead, a cold current nips at my skin. A red spike, a flare like a lightning bolt, overcomes the ink and fills my vision. It means ice has melted nearby creating a river-like flow within the sea. I get closer and feel the slush converge, cherries-on-sand. I follow it upward.

The ambient pressure feels tan and pale green against my arms and legs. In these lower temperatures, I know I will find starharts, ten-legged creatures about the size of my thumb.

In moments my vision lights up, orchid and gold with flecks of silver where the starharts dance along my body. If I could open my mouth without dropping my gill, I would laugh.

My belt vibrates with an incoming message and I am nearly blinded. With a little too much force, I tap the button to kill it. It takes me a few more seconds to silence my frustration and focus again on my work.

Hundreds of villi tickle my skin. The starharts’ fronds wave in the flows and currents, and with each motion, kinetic energy feeds their vital systems. They won’t eat me. They don’t eat anything. They borrow calories from undulating swells the way plants on Earth steal calories from the sun.

These creatures have never seen the sun, here nothing more than an over-bright star obfuscated by kilometers of ice. There is no reason to suspect any Europan animals have light-sensing organs. Nor have we detected any creature responding to or emitting sound.

Yet until we better understand what may affect the wildlife here, we avoid pollutants whenever possible, including light, sonar, heat, chemicals, and unnecessary noise. The team remains cautious, not wanting to alter the environment before we can study it.

Radar and radio are unavoidable contaminants. And me. I am a contaminant, the most foreign body imaginable, hovering in this world.

I don’t mind the darkness. Touch is enough.

My belt vibrates again and instinctively I wipe at my eyes before I remember the source of the brightness. I slap at my belt until it darkens.

Mentally, I log my coordinates. The information radios back to Barnacle 1 along with analysis of the water samples my equipment passively collects. I will carry the live specimens back myself.

Our bases hang fixed like barnacles from the subsurface ice. My work is to understand how Europan life so efficiently produces energy from the gentle tides so we can replicate it on Earth. Charly, who heads B1, runs power generation models using the data I collect. By studying the only life known off-Earth, I hope to revolutionize energy production back home and save our resource-ravaged planet.

I check my surroundings, on high alert for the synesthetic indication of a seaveil brush against my skin, like a snowfall of cotton and smoke wafting across my vision. Weighing enough to point downward in Europa’s weak gravity, seaveils hang like unfurled curtains for meters from the ice above. They are not particularly carnivorous, at least not for anything larger than jetters and starharts, yet I could easily become entangled, and an accidental death is death all the same.

Safe, for now, I gently catch an unusually large starhart – about the size of my fist. The silver flecks grow larger and the purple lightens two shades. The creature’s villi are longer and more narrow than normal, perhaps enough different to be an undiscovered species.

I tuck it into my mesh bag and turn back to warmer water.

Another visual sensation intrudes in the darkness. A message from Barnacle 1 forces itself through. Now no longer a vibration at my belt, words scroll across the inside of my eyelids:

Bots reported missing from Barnacle 3. Return immediately.

I jump. A glimpse of white smoke invades and I kick impulsively downward in panic. The brush of seaveil against my shoulder scares me, but not as much as the implications of the transmission.

Suddenly the water no longer feels safe.

***

Researchers still live at Barnacle 3, but they no longer dive. Not since they discovered the snow wheels.

I am back at B1. I feel no shame as I stand practically naked. The water that drips to the airlock floor falls too slowly and I grip the yellow handrail to quell the sense that my feet will leave the floor. I will never get used to the low gravity. Only in water do I feel normal on Europa. I glance behind me at the airlock pool.

My synesthesia is slightly less obtrusive here, with the lights on and my brain engaged with other concerns. Even so, the dry, warm air hits me with a splash of sepia and rust in waving streaks.

I rip the gill from my mouth.

Charly is standing in front of me. He barely notices my nudity; practical concerns override modesty after working in close proximity for so long.

“What’s happening at B3?” I ask.

“Why didn’t you answer the first three times I buzzed you?”

“I was concentrating. What’s happening on B3?”

He glowers at me. “You should be more considerate. How would you feel if you couldn’t reach me?”

I frown, impatient. He’s invoking the Golden Rule again. “Your flawed assumption is that I want to be treated the same as you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I didn’t want to be bothered and I thought you’d want the same. You should thank me for being so thoughtful.”

He sighs. It’s an old argument and he always loses. “Sensors on Units 11 and 33 cut out at the same time. Suresh sent Unit 22 out to investigate and it disappeared before it got there.” Charly’s voice is even, matter-of-fact.

I wrap my fingers tightly around the handrail.

“Those are all the self-guided drones,” I say.

“Every last one.” His voice is solemn.

We fear this, every day, living so far from Earth. Our dwelling is nothing more than a watertight anemone attached to the underside of a mantel of ice that shifts and quakes on a weekly basis. Above that there is only empty space. Below, a single ocean contains twice the water of all terrestrial oceans combined.

We’ve only explored a half percent of this space droplet – and only near the surface. Anything could be out there. We are fragile and weak and unprepared. We have only discovered a thousand species in an ecosystem we barely understand, where even the fundamentals are different.

Every grade school kid knows how habitats work: The sun provides energy to plants and algae, and from there, all other life competes in a cycle of consumption and death. Terrestrial beings spend light currency in a sunshine economy.

Not on Europa. The water here is liquid, thanks to Jupiter’s gravity and Europa’s spin. On Earth, we call it the tide. Here, the kinetic-feeders call it breakfast and dinner.

Could an unknown creature call us lunch?

The absence of large predators is notable. They must exist; we just haven’t found them yet. Or maybe we have, but haven’t seen them eating. The prime suspects are the snow wheels near B3, though I don’t agree with that hypothesis.

Charly taps his forehead and a three-dimensional radar model appears between us. He presents it as evidence in another long-standing argument.

When traveling, the snow wheel looks something like a teardrop. This one’s unfurled, and it’s big. Really big. The largest animal ever, not just on Europa, but anywhere.

A diver is shown for scale, swimming near the center. By comparison, the creature is a snowflake the size of a thirty-story building. Spokes extend outward from the center, strong flexible structures with connecting membranes. Each spoke ends in a rectangular flap, flat smooth arms that move independently. More flaps encircle the center, near where the prehensile tendrils extend, almost as long as the snow wheel is tall.

Except for the smooth flaps and tendrils, it is covered with a half million villi, just like the starharts.

“It has to be a kinetic-feeder.” I point to the villi. The model feels empty and unreal under my fingertip. Colorless. I’ve put in multiple requests to visit B3 and touch them firsthand. “We have more to learn than to fear from them.”

“Then what are the tendrils for? And the smooth flaps? We’ve determined they’re not for swimming.”

I withdraw my hand. He taps the virtual diver and it is replaced by the image of an automated sub, speeding past. The simulated snow wheel reaches out with a tendril and crushes it, then pulls it to the center. The flaps close around it like a mouth.

Those arms could just as easily wrap around this metal building and rip it, screeching, from its anchoring.

“There are other explanations,” I protest. “A magnetic field or electrical problems?”

“In the event of internal failure, backup systems would have come online,” he responds. He’s right.

Though it hurts me the wheels have fallen under suspicion, I can’t help but suspect them, too. In the end, we’re all animals, and survival is our first instinct.

“What about a strong solitary wave, a soliton, positive feedback, mathematical anomaly?” I am arguing with myself as much as with him.

“Pressure readings would have indicated that. We would have recorded a preceding wavefront. And that couldn’t have taken out the third bot, sent later. I’m sure they were taken by…”

“What?” I ask flatly, challenging.

He motions at the image floating between us. “…the snow wheels. Obviously.”

He pronounces “Wheel” in a lazy way that could easily be heard as “whale”. I hate his careless use of the language: not an accent really, just a drawl because he can’t be bothered to pronounce words all the way.

Though in this case it is fitting.

“Maybe,” I say, guarded. I don’t want to give any ground. “Suresh has radioed Earth?”

“Of course. Earth saw the bots go offline before Barn 3 did.”

I also hate when he calls them barns. I can’t help but picture the station full of farm animals. “Are they going to send another drone, one of the manual ones?”

“And lose the whole fleet? Of course not.”

I feel useless here, too far from the action. Something dangerous could threaten not just the research at B3, but the lives of those based there. Worst of all, my work here.

If it’s not the snow wheels, it could be something else. Something strong enough to devour three exploration subs the size of cows. And the research stations.

“What are they planning to do?” I ask.

Charly puts his hands on his waist and keeps his eyes steady on mine. “Wait it out.”

On Europa, I never take a breath for granted. I suck one in right now. “That’s suicide.”

He pauses a long time, uncertain how to placate me. But he agrees. I can tell. There’s a feral, almost animal fear creeping into his eyes. Our environment is too small, too delicate.

Finally, he says, “I don’t have to like it. I just have to–”

I push off the rail. In the low gravity, the momentum sends me off the floor and I bump lightly into the wall. Once my feet connect to the ground, I grab the next rail and fling myself into the passageway.

Charly is more aware of my anger than I am. I can tell by the way he holds back a little.

What Charly doesn’t know is that I get mad when I’m scared.

“I’m going to B3,” I announce without turning.

“What? You want to take a sub out when our machines are getting eaten?”

“It’s better than sitting around here, waiting to be eaten.”

He pauses, and I can almost hear the gears turning in his head. “What do you think you can do that they can’t?”

“I have some ideas. You won’t like those either.”

***

“You can’t stop me.” I keep my tone firm and flat. I have no patience for refusal.

I stand on B3, in the rounded metal portal to Suresh’s cluttered office, which smells like… I don’t care about smells actually. They’re uninteresting.

“Doctor Skyberg,” he says decorously. “Three of our bots are smashed or eaten or falling to Europa’s floor. And you want to swim?”

Suresh underscores his disapproval by using my title. No one really uses last names, not up here, not after everything we’ve been through. Protocol loses power in the face of practicality. His formality is as unpersuasive as his reasoning. I’m glad he’s not my boss.

“I can just swim. I swim every day.” I make a little fin motion with my hands. I am probably pursing my lips. Blub blub.

Likewise, my mockery fails to sway him. “I won’t allow it. I won’t even risk sending out another drone. Not you, not on my barnacle.”

I laugh. I can’t help it. That seems to irritate him. He commands B3; he’s in charge. Technically he can have me manhandled into a bunk compartment and handcuffed to a bed. I ought to show him more respect.

“You ought to show me more respect,” he says.

I cross my arms and glare at him. I feel real anger and the light that crosses my vision flickers only for a moment before settling down.

“You have put in requests to dive here before,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “And now you want to go when it’s most dangerous?”

“When better? If I don’t come back, I’ll at least be out of your hair.”

His mouth hangs open for a moment, and it seems like he’s almost considering that advantage. “No. I would be responsible for whatever happens to you,” he says.

“And if this barnacle is destroyed, you’d be responsible for that, too.”

He leans forward. “If I’m dead, why would that matter?”

I stare at him and it’s my turn to gape. “Are you even listening to yourself?”

I hate power games. People would rather be right than do what makes the most sense. Suresh would rather win, clinging to his tiny atoll of power, than live.

I would rather be filling in this gap in human knowledge than standing around debating what should be obvious. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, which is what I should have done in the first place. I’ve just grown used to Charly being more sensible.

“You should have stayed on your own barnacle,” he says.

“And you should have stayed home,” I say. Home only means one thing here. Earth.

I know the look he gives me. It means I’ve gone too far and lost whatever chance I had to persuade him.

So I turn and walk out.

He follows long enough to see where I’m headed.

He doesn’t wait to see me strip off my clothes. He disappears while I string the gill around my neck. Before I can grab the equipment belt, two other crew members, Preeti and Regan, rush in. Suresh follows.

A bottle of nanoscale is close by. I grab it, and the two are on me, trying to hold me still. Their grips almost blind me with sharp pains and bright flashes and our voices ring around inside this tin can. The three of us struggle to maintain our footing in the low gravity. The ground always seems a little too distant whenever my foot loses contact.

I clutch the bottle in one hand and free that arm from Preeti’s grasp. I rip the lid off with my mouth, the chewed plastic aching in the roots of my teeth. I close my eyes so I can see better when I fling the contents at Regan’s face.

He lets me go and I throw myself into the airlock pool.

“You’ll die of hypothermia!” Suresh shouts, the salty water sloshing in my ears. “Come back! We can talk–”

The gill isn’t fitted yet, so I hold my breath and dive until I’ve smashed the button to open the inner lock. I have time to put it on while the inner hatch closes.

Red lights blare. Actual red lights, not just my synesthesia. I’ve never actually seen the alarm go off. I worry about light pollution leaking through the now-opening waterlock hatch. At least it’s in the red spectrum. Not that we know whether any of it matters.

When the outer hatch opens enough, I press through into the darkness where I can barely navigate, because my eyes are filled with ruby light.

If I live, I’ll ask forgiveness later.

***

I will not die in B1, passively clinging to a safety rail as our barnacle is ripped from the ice above. If there is any way to directly take on this unknown peril, I will do it.

I am doing it.

Ahead of me the water grows colder and crimson spikes appear in my vision. That is the only thing I see.

I am not as naked as I look. Forget the snow wheels or an undiscovered predator; the water here could kill me. Which is why I’ve been wearing nanoscale since I boarded the sub to Barnacle 3.

But there is something important I left behind – the equipment belt with the radio unit.

I am alone. No one will know what happens to me. I silently curse myself. I can’t possibly go back to get it. They would never let me out. After what I’ve done, this will be my last swim on Europa, one way or another.

At least the gill can give me basic readings. I know how deep I am. I have coordinates to the last known location of Unit 11.

I am swimming fast, about forty meters a minute. My arms and legs burn with effort and I see the plum ache with spots of gray rot. The ocean grows lukewarm, a comforting yet disconcerting aquamarine and lilac-speckled bath of strange colors, pressures, and temperatures.

This is deeper than I’ve ever been, two-hundred meters. In the low gravity, I will be well out of the danger zone, pressure-wise, for at least another hundred meters. Two-hundred meters beyond that will cause mild narcosis symptoms, and another two-hundred past that, things get bad.

I won’t need to go that far. I am close, twenty meters from the last known location of the bots.

And I am completely blind. Nothing here is recognizable – no crimson ice flows or even the brush of seaveil. I am about to resort to radar when I notice something even more unusual.

There are rhythms. Patterns.

Lilac dots grow into orbs within a sea of aqua, and they are pulsing. They are rotating. There is regularity to both movements, and the spots dip slightly, as if to a beat.

At first I think maybe the depths are affecting my eyes, as though I have been pressing on my closed lids. But I am only at 220 meters. Not deep enough.

I stop swimming and the lack of momentum clarifies my vision; the plum of my aching muscles fades and the browns of my forward movement no longer distract me.

The color changes, two shades of mauve playing seemingly at random…

…no, there is a pattern there too. A more complex one.

A natural wave can create regular pulses which recede completely and come crashing back again, on and off, imposing, simple, constant. Brute force.

These patterns are soft, gentle, subtle, varied. Like a symphony of touch.

I have no rational way to explain it. Never in all my experience, either here or on Earth, have I encountered a natural phenomenon so orderly and so intricate at the same time.

I try to ignore the colors to be conscious of how they feel on my skin, to understand what is happening in the water itself.

There it is; a little waft of cool water hits my back before retreating, like it has been sucked away. As if in reply, a series of quick pulses rises from below me.

Could this be naturally occurring? Could the patterns have been here all along, waiting for me to visit? Does some construct of the subsurface ice or landscape kilometers below create special currents that could only be observed at this exact depth?

Unlikely. Especially as varied as these colors are.

I wonder what to do next, but not for long.

My view fills with fiery ambers and yellows. Instinctively, I turn my head to look at my right wrist, which I can’t actually see. It hurts, because something has wrapped tightly and sharply around it.

I yank my hand back, trying to free it, but now something has my leg. From below.

The fingertips of my free hand explore what has my arm. It feels rubbery, like a starhart without villi, a slick cord about the diameter of a power line. It is wrapped around me three times, and looks like neon viscera under my fingertips.

My relative freedom ends as the arm I offered up becomes captive to a new tendril, just above the elbow. My hands are near one another but I cannot pull them apart. The creature is strong.

I mentally review the model of snow wheels. I can see it in vivid detail. These appendages fit what we know of them; they are the right diameter.

Judging from the directions of waves and the direction of the tendrils, there must be two here – one some distance in front of me, I’m guessing eighty meters, the known length of their tendrils. The other is somewhere beneath.

They are talking to one another.

Again, my instincts force me to look around, to try to make them out in the darkness. I switch on radar just long enough to confirm my assumptions.

I switch it off so I can see the patterns superimposed over the dark, now shifting and flowing, blinking quickly between scarlet and white.

It can be nothing other than a language. They must speak by moving water with the flaps at the ends of their spokes, or from the center where the tendrils originate.

I have no idea what they are saying. Are they arguing? Is the one below threatening to rip me apart? Do they want to drag me home to feed their house-sized children?

The significance of my discovery is nearly lost in my desperate focus on survival.

Humanity is not alone. The Snow Wheels are intelligent.

I stop myself from pondering the implications. Survive first. Live long enough to tell the team. To tell Earth.

I must do more than that. I must keep the snow wheels from destroying our research labs. That’s why I came here in the first place. If they speak, then they can be reasoned with.

Again my instincts compel me to do the wrong thing. I want to yell at them, scream around the breather with sound-based words: “I’m just like you. I’m smart! I am self-aware!” I am desperate to appeal to their morality.

But I don’t have that luxury. Even if I could speak, they will be incapable of recognizing sound as communication, as oblivious as we were that water motion could constitute language.

For now I am just an animal to them, a strange animal that looks like food or has earned their ire. The simple concept, “I am from Earth,” is too complex to convey. They’ve never even seen the stars. They don’t have eyes.

In the moments I have left, I can’t even say, “Don’t eat me!” in their language.

Their pulsing patterns are interrupted by the raw ruby and ochre of the tendril tightening around my ankle. My leg stretches uncomfortably.

The one below is winning the argument. If that’s what it is.

There is only one message that is possible to get across. I need them to understand what I just learned, in reverse.

Without much arm mobility, I spread my palm flat and tap out numbers in sequence, swishing water in what I hope is the snow wheel’s direction. I wave a rhythm. The meaning doesn’t matter. Just a pattern. Something to show I’m not a dumb animal.

1… 2…

I force myself to pause between each number, even though my heart is beating and the sensation causes a distracting, throbbing glow around my sight’s edges.

1…

The snow wheels don’t seem to notice. Their patterns continue much the same as before.

2…

The argument ends in a burst of night-sky color. Silence.

I am not certain if I have their attention, so I keep going. The tendrils slip off my wrist and I feel some sense of elation, until I am yanked, speeding downward through the water, pulled by my ankle. There is no way for me to tell if the snow wheel is swimming downward or pulling me towards its awaiting maw.

They can’t have heard me, and if they did, they can’t have understood.

I feel a fool. I have yet to wrap my mind around just how immense they are. The flaps they use to speak are the size of galleon sails. With my hand, I could move only a trickle of water, below the volume of a whisper. I am an insect humming in their ears.

I am still being dragged. I worry it will take me too deep but I am too dizzy to check my readouts.

One of my legs is free. Against pressures and speed, I draw my heel close to my restricted ankle until I can feel its slick, spongy arm.

As animals, no starhart or seaveil will know how to count in sequence. I hope the snow wheels do.

One tap… wait.

2… force myself to wait.

3… a deep inhale from the gill.

4… an exhale.

5…

I am grateful that all the numbers up till now are small so I can rest between them, and yet I am dozens of meters deeper with no sign of slowing. The water makes even tapping difficult.

6…

The tendril goes slack but I am carried by my forward momentum. I brace myself to impact something. I don’t have time to think about what.

My motion stops when the muscles in the appendage tighten and I am lurched to a halt. The sensation of the water still moving around me confuses my vision and muddles my thoughts for a moment. We float there in uneasy silence. I hesitate before tapping again.

7…

I force myself to not rush into the next number.

8… 9…

My vision is filled with patterns again and I imagine it chattering at me in incomprehensible babble. This means something, I just don’t know what. I imagine the wheel is asking me questions I have no way of answering.

So I continue. The wheel stops speaking to me, out of courtesy, I suspect. I hope.

10… 11…

My leg starts to get tired and I wonder if I should change to a more interesting sequence, to prove my sentience beyond any doubt. I think of pi, but though it is a constant ratio, the number I know makes too many assumptions about base and calculation method.

So I start on the prime numbers. 2… 3… 5… 7… 11…

When I reach thirteen, the chatter resumes, sunset and chartreuse, like he’s yelling. I have no idea whether he… she… or it… is really yelling, but it seems like something I might do if I were him. I would be frustrated, trying to talk to a mathematical mantis.

Whether he’s asking me or scolding me or inquiring to see if I taste good on crackers, I cannot answer. Just to be sure he understands the one thing I can communicate, I begin the primes again.

He lets go when I reach five.

I’m sort of sorry he’s let go. Suddenly I feel very alone and I am at the edge of depths which will start being bothersome. Three-hundred and fifty meters up is a long way.

I review myself, checking for early signs of narcosis: euphoria, memory difficulties, anxiety, laughter, slow thinking, poor decision-making, over-confidence. If I had remembered the equipment belt, it could monitor my vital signs.

I shrug. I’ve made it this far without help. I can keep going.

Assuming this guy doesn’t eat me. Now that he’s not touching me, I have no way to talk to him.

I notice new patterns in the water: a white background with red flashes. They blink. Seven times. Eleven. Thirteen. I think the next number is seventeen, but it’s hard to keep count.

There is no way to communicate back, to say yes, to even smile at him.

Something pokes me in the back. Twice. Slowly I turn and it pokes me again, this time in the chest. Hesitantly, I reach out to feel smooth, hard metal in a rounded cone slightly wider than I am.

Not entirely smooth. It is dented and torn, causing flashes of pink haze in the still night of the sea. I almost cut myself on the jagged edges.

What does this mean? Does he ask, “Is this yours?” Is he saying, “Here, fix it”?

The water lights up red and it feels again like he’s shouting. Accusing. The force of the water is strong enough to push me backward and I churn my arms to stop.

Something destroyed this bot. It had to be the snow wheel. But why?

It is poking me in the chest again with the torn machine which vibrates under my fingertips. The tentacle tightens as he crushes it more.

He hates the thing. He wants me to know.

Why?

Then it dawns on me.

I recall my words to Charly about the flawed assumption in the Golden Rule. We tried to treat Europan life well. We tried not to bother them, avoiding all the pollutants we could think of based on our human senses, even though we know the wheels have no way to perceive light. Maybe not even sound. But pressure and temperature and motion – these they are well adapted for.

And we sent this self-propelled drone to shoot streams of highly pressurized water everywhere, willy-nilly. I imagine the ways this “noise” pollution could harm their kinetic feeding, communication, their very senses. Their entire habitat.

No, I can’t think of it as a habitat anymore. It is their home, their land, their property. He presents the shredded bot as an indictment. Evidence of the crimes of humanity against his race.

Not knowing how to respond, I go slack. Perfectly still. I have to let him know I understand. Moving water is bad, I think, as if we are both telepathic.

He shoves the bot into my chest again. It hurts a little, exploding in a flash of brilliant scarlet, highlighted by the burgundy of my worry.

God, I hate it when I start seeing my emotions. It makes concentration that much more difficult. For now I concentrate on remaining immobile.

I feel a suction in the water, periwinkle and white. I move my arm slowly forward to feel that the drone has been pulled away.

The tendril touches my face, like pure silk and snowfall. Like a seaveil. Instinctively, I shove it away.

He pokes me again, in the shoulder and I touch the neon cord lightly.

The water fills again with patterns, this time from above. The argument begins anew and then goes silent until a tendril touches my ankle.

This time it does not wrap around. I realize this is the way I first spoke to it, so I reach out with my toe. I begin counting in sequence and when I get to ten, I stop.

It taps back at me. 2… 3… 5… 7… 11…

He gets it.

He prods the bot at me again and I force it away. I came here to find the machine, but I don’t want it anymore. I need the snow wheel to know I don’t want it anymore. I need him to know I get it.

We may have started out on a poor foot for negotiation, but I have reached the first interplanetary understanding between intelligent races.

And I’m still alive. My elation is emerald and flaxen and azure.

***

I am back on Barnacle 3. Suresh didn’t get a chance to chew me out. All I had to say was, “They can talk.” That got him off my case faster than prime numbers can shut up an alien.

The snow wheels let me swim home, with the mutual plan to resume the conversation later. At least, I think that’s the plan.

The work begins. The Barnacle 1 engineering team is building a mechanical flapper to mimic the wheels’ speech-limbs. I will be the first human xenolinguist and I will teach our machines to translate.

I look forward to the day when I try to explain to the snow wheels where we’re from. They’ve never seen a single star.

In the meantime, I go swimming. This time, I take a light.

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About the Author

Luna Lindsey lives near Seattle, WA. Though she has never been to Europa, she does have grapheme-color synesthesia, and when she writes, polychromatic words paint the page. Her stories have been been published in Penumbra eMag and the Journal of Unlikely Entomology. She tweets like a bird @lunalindsey and intermittently blogs at www.lunalindsey.com. Her novel, Emerald City Dreamer, is now available on Kindle.

Luna Lindsey is featured in our New Author Spotlight for Issue 8.
Read our interview with Luna Lindsey

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  1. […] in Freezer Three, Corinne’s service animal, Macy, uses color to convey emotion. In your story Touch of Tides, which appeared in Crossed Genres Issue 8, your main character sees physical sensations as color. […]

  2. […] Touch of Tides […]

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