by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published by Furvana, June 2019
Sandbeard the pirate otter, fiercest of the fierce, fuzziest of the fuzzy, and the best bewhiskered of all sea otters, steered her stolen space-trawler into the curving gravity well of a small oceanic moon. The lunar ocean was beautiful beneath her trawler — purple and choppy, swelling with swirling water, but toxic as a scorpionfish. Nice to look at; useless for swimming. But Sandbeard wasn’t here for a vacation; she was a pirate, and she was ready to pillage and plunder.
With a catching kathunk that betold the trawler’s age, Sandbeard deployed the grappling hook. The metal claw sailed through the sky, trailing its nanofiber chain behind it like a comet tail, until it plunged into the purple ocean. Splash-splish, the waters parted as Sandbeard hoisted the grappling hook back up, reeling its nanofiber chain in.
Amethyst drops of water dripped down from the edges of the milky, pearlescent shell that the grappling hook’s claw had sunk into. A clamshell the size of a whale. If only the clams on this moon were edible, Sandbeard’s band of jolly pirates back on New Mercury would eat like queens and kings for a year. But alas, the alien clam’s flesh was as poisonous as this ocean was toxic.
The shell itself, however… Invaluable.
Sandbeard revved her little trawler, roared the engine — a rich, glorious sound in her little bubble of atmosphere. Then paw to pedal, pedal to metal, her trawler screeched silently away through the vacuum of space, crenulated seashell sailing along behind it.
The purple moon’s ocean reached up for the shell, tidally pulled by its shiny mass, but the treasure was already too far away. The wine-dark marine arms splashed back down and the ocean sighed at its loss.
Zip and zoom, Sandbeard karoomed her stolen trawler from planet to planet, working her way inward through the solar system. She daisy-chained between asteroids, swooped along the curve of a gas giant’s rings, and sling-shotted off the gravity well of a dismally dark ultra-dense planet. Finally, her trawler screeched to a stop in a geosynchronous orbit over the lush, luscious, scrumptious green and blue of New Mercury — a planet where the oceans were warm and inviting, the trees dripped with golden fruit, and the local cetaceans — a dolphin-like people on the edge of inventing their own space travel — had welcomed Sandbeard’s pirates, offering respite from their life on the lam, so long as they told stories of the universe beyond.
The only problem: New Mercury’s moon had recently hatched into a space dragon, leaving their planet exposed. Where a smooth round space egg had once eclipsed their yellow sun, protecting New Mercury from its harsh, heated, boiling rays, now there were only broken shards shining in the sky.
With the clamshell carefully placed in position, Sandbeard released the nanofiber from the grappling hook, spiraled her trawler down to a splash-landing, and watched as her work took effect.
Up in the rosy-pink sunset-colored sky, the grappling hook — far too small to see, exploded inside the crenulated clamshell, forcing the bivalve shell to hinge open. And open. And open. For the shelled molluscs from the purple moon were no ordinary whale-sized alien clams. They were TESSERCLAMS! LARGER ON THE INSIDE!
As the tesserclam unfolded with the multi-dimensional powers of a tesseract, it grew and grew, blocking away the sun’s harsh rays, too small to see at first, but then a dark creamy middle inside the yellow sun. The yellow light cooled; the harshly bright sky dimmed; and the sun’s corona danced like a ring of fire in the sky. Beautiful to behold and supernally essential.
Sandbeard’s pirates swam to her through the already-cooling ocean, swishing their rudder-like tails and splashing each other in glee. The dolphin-people jumped from the ocean and performed complicated aerial acrobatics in joy. All was well, and the otters would feast on sweet mango-like fruit sautéed over sumptuous rock shrimp tonight, all under the shade of a fractal seashell.