A family of Bou Sain Guo floundered nearby, struggling in the thick mucus ooze of the swirling river. Somah hesitated, transfixed by the fires illuminating the boxy stick-like bodies, their rake-like hands outstretched and pleading.
“Keep moving, kiddo.” Pavel pushed his son ahead. “Stay with the others.”
“They look so sad, daddy. Can we help them?”
“Never mind the Bou Sain Guo.” Brilliant white flares ripped through high greenish clouds, leaving shredded wisps against the jaundiced sky. Rising fires lit the horizon. Pavel pushed forward, keeping pace with his two husbands and their children as the ground trembled with each strike. Small groups sloshed beside them, their shadows jerky and uncertain in the flickering light. “They know the way.”
“But they look stuck.”
The Bou Sain Guo bobbed in the water, caught on a sandbar. Mankind’s accidental entry into their world had changed their ecology, disrupted their habits, and the Bou Sain Guo could not adapt.
“They’ll figure it out.” Pavel glanced away, troubled.
The unexpected biobloom made the tumultuous river difficult to cross, but they needed to find shelter in the caves before the sky fire reached the dry grass at the edge of town. The strikes were more intense this year, and a lot closer. It was the last of the great ship, the remnants of their ark breaking up in the system’s tidal forces and plunging planetward.
Pavel turned back in time to see Somah lose his footing and slide beneath the viscous fluid, arms flailing. He lunged. Oily flesh slid from his grasp. His heart pounded. Bitter liquid filled his mouth. He swallowed, gasping for air, gagging as he struggled to hold on, but Somah slipped away, lost in the dark waters.
Strong arms dragged him up. His husband Brace held him as he struggled, pink-tinged mucus slime falling like drool back into the water. “Calm down. It’s okay, he’s safe.”
“Leave me!” Pavel jerked away, turning angrily. Brace pointed.
One of the larger Bou Sain Guo had scooped Somah from the water, holding the boy above the swirling ooze in long gracile arms. Somah didn’t appear hurt, but he fidgeted against the thin yellow-orange bodies, his hands sliding squeamishly over greasy proto-feathers.
Pavel panted, gobs of gelatinous biomass slithering down his body. His skin tingled, but he brought himself under control. Somah was safe. That’s all that mattered. He inhaled deeply, then spat. The algal bloom, too alien to pose a threat to humans, tasted and smelled like moldy citrus.
“Go on ahead.” Pavel glanced at Brace, and then back toward Somah. “I’ll fetch him.”
“Are you sure?” Brace glanced nervously toward the Bou Sain Guo.
“Get to the caves and keep the others safe, go on.” Pavel turned, pushing deeper into the opaque water, back in the direction of the growing fires.
The Bou Sain Guo released Somah into Pavel’s arms. He nodded at the creature. It blinked, wide violet eyes closing sideways like curtains over a wedge-shaped face.
“Thank you,” Pavel whispered.
In the twelve years since the crash and humanity’s first contact with the Bou Sain Guo, they’d learned little about the creatures. Infrequent communications consisted simply of hand gestures and a few hushed, repetitive sounds.
Pavel backed slowly away. Somah clung to his shoulders, shivering as they left the Bou Sain Guo behind and joined the few groups still struggling to cross the river. Janie Voong, the colony’s agriculturalist and de facto leader, stumbled by with her two daughters. They were among the last to evacuate, the young girls looking ghostly pale in shadows thrown by falling ribbons of flame.
Somah hugged him close. “Can we help the Bou Sain Guo now, daddy?”
Pavel glanced at Janie. “What about it?”
“I’m sorry, but humans first.” Janie shoved her girls ahead, nearly sliding under as they struggled past. “We need to help our own people. There’s too few of us, and plenty of them.”
Pavel frowned. It had always been just about the numbers with Janie. “Our people are doing fine.”
“Leave them. That’s an order.”
“They helped me, daddy.” Somah twisted to look back, and Pavel nearly dropped the boy. “Do they have to be people to get saved?”
“It’s not as simple as that…” Pavel pushed ahead, trying to put some distance between them and the agriculturalist. “It’s just….”
How did he tell his son colony policy made the Bou Sain Guo more expendable than humans, that sometimes you had to do bad things when you’re confronted with a world not built for you? It’d never sat quite right with him. The creatures were intelligent. They made tools. They had a complex society that included laws and morality, and they cared for their young. The Bou Sain Guo deserved at lease a measure of deference. It was their world, after all.
“Over here!” Brace waved, standing on the bank with a group of about ten humans. He looked relieved, a smile playing at the edges of his thin lips. Pii, the final third of their triad, stood beside him. Their other sons, Aiden and Tran huddled in the shadows behind.
Pavel set Somah down on the strange coin-shaped grass. He grabbed the boy’s hand as they started walking up the sloping embankment, but Somah hesitated.
“Daddy, if we won’t help the Bou Sain Guo, doesn’t that make us…” Somah stumbled on the concept. He was young, the world still painted in blacks and whites. “What kind of people does that make us?”
Pavel knelt, glancing at the confused look in the boy’s dark, brown eyes. What lesson would Somah learn here today from Pavel’s actions? What sort of man would he become if he were taught some lives had less value than others?
Pavel looked at Janie, at the humans lining the embankment, then back at the Bou Sain Guo. He sighed.
“You go on, join the others. Tell them I’ll catch up soon.” Pavel stood, slowly rolling up his sleeves. “I have some people to help.”
D. A. D’Amico is an enigma wrapped in confusion and stuffed head-first into a fish-flavored paper bag. His writing style is Jackson Pollock meets Scanners, a surreal exploding-head mess of genres and styles where almost anything is likely. He’s had more than sixty works published in the last few years in venues such as Daily Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Shock Totem… among others. He’s a winner of L. Ron Hubbard’s prestigious Writers of the Future award, volume XXVII. Collections of his work can be found on Amazon, and on Facebook he’s authordadamico.