Tales from the Stream Ch. 23

Ariel Winters

Author’s Note

Previously on Tales from the Stream…

“The harvester crabs put out the fire and repaired the damage,” said Mia. “There are times when they act autonomously without my direction.

* * *

“We’re not kidnapping you,” said Jade. “We’ll get you to the shelter. They’ll keep you safe until somebody can come pick you up.”

The young woman clinging to Captain Joan sighed. “I… I don’t have anybody to pick me up,” she said.

“Oh,” said Joan. “Oh. Come here.”

Atop Jade’s shoulder, Reg began tapping with his pincer. Jade nodded. “Mia wants to know how many extra tea cups to put out,” she said.

Captain Joan surveyed the group. “Tell her nine.”

And now…

* * *

Chapter 23: The Secret Language of Crabs

The language of the birds is said by religious legend to be a divine and perfect communication, a language known by all peoples before the confusion of tongues at Babel, and the scattering of people.

Attributing this language to birds is an error, of course. But in their defense, these scholars were unaware of the existence of harvester crabs at the time.

* * *

In the Black Prince galley

Lúcia, Amaliya, and Emily stood side by side in front of the counter, with Lúcia next to a stack of rice cakes, nine high. Reg stood on the counter at the opposite end, next to an empty platter.

Lúcia reached over to pick up a rice cake from a stack on her left. In her right hand, she held a pouch labeled Emergency Ration 500mL, with Marmite scrawled below with felt tip pen. Lúcia squirted a dollop of brown goo from the pouch onto the rice cake. She handed it off to Amaliya.

Using the butter knife in her right hand, Amaliya swirled the Marmite around the circumference of the rice cake, covering it to the edges. She paused to examine it for a moment, turning the rice cake this way and that, and then handed it off to Emily.

Emily accepted the Marmite covered rice cake in her left hand. With her right hand, she dipped a spoon into a bowl half-filled with diced cucumber, tomato, onion, with bits of chopped mint and parsley. She pulled forth a heaping spoonful and mounded the mixture in the center of the Marmite covered rice cake. Emily placed the spoon back in the bowl and laid the finished rice cake on a platter to her right.

Using a pincer loosely encased by two fingers of a nitrile glove, Reg arranged the rice cake on the platter with the others. As he turned his eye stalks to Emily, Reg began tapping and scratching at the table, pausing every now and again.

“I’m sorry, Reg, I don’t understand Morse,” said Emily.

Reg poked at the rice cake and began tapping and scratching again. He turned to Emily and pushed himself up on his frontmost legs.

“Sorry,” said Emily. “Maybe Captain Jade can help?”

Reg threw his pincers in the air and rolled his eye stalks.

Emily shrugged and turned her eyes to Lúcia at the other end of the galley counter.

Lúcia pulled another rice cake from the stack, baptized it with brown goo, and handed it to Amaliya. Amaliya slathered the Marmite to the edges and handed it off to Emily, waiting with her spoon. The assembly line continued until the platter was stacked with seven completed rice cakes.

As the eighth Marmite covered rice cake reached Emily, she scraped her spoon against the bottom of the bowl to gather the last vestiges of salad to place on top. Amaliya paused, holding another half-completed rice cake in her hand, as Emily stared at the empty bowl.

“Hold on,” said Emily, holding her index finger in the air. “I’m out of salad.”

“You can skip it on mine,” said Amaliya. “I already had some.”

“You already had some?” said Emily. “These are for our guests.”

“Just the salad.”

“You just ate the salad?” Emily frowned.

“You know my feelings on Marmite,” said Amaliya.

“Your feelings on Marmite have thrown off the whole recipe.”

“You may have the salad from my portion,” said Lúcia. “I too have already sampled.”

Emily put her hand on her hip. “Et tu, Lúcia?”

“With a bit of bulgur wheat, it makes a fine tabbouleh.”

Amaliya turned to Lúcia, cocking her head. “You know how to make tabbouleh?”

Lúcia nodded.

“Why am I just finding this out now?” said Amaliya.

“I didn’t know you liked it.”

“Like it? I love tabbouleh.”

Reg turned his eye stalks to the trio and began tapping and scratching at the counter. No one noticed.

“Now that I know,” said Lúcia. “I will be sure to inform you next time I make a batch.”

“Thank you.” Amaliya leaned in and kissed Lúcia on the cheek. “You’re the best.”

Reg threw his pincers in the air again, this time turning a tiny circle as he cast glances at the three women in turn. Finally, he reached out with a gloved pincer to tug a rice cake from the platter.

“All those granola bars I ingested,” mumbled Amaliya, “and Lúcia knows how to make tabbouleh.”

Lúcia shrugged.

“That’s great. We all love tabbouleh. But şişli escort we still only have eight rice cakes,” said Emily, pointing at the platter. “And there are nine guests to feed.”

“Seven,” said Amaliya.

“No,” said Emily, “there’s nine girls.”

“Right,” said Amaliya. “I meant seven rice cakes.”

Emily stared at Amaliya with her lips pursed. She turned her gaze back to the platter. Emily chewed her lip for a moment. She poked at the air above each rice cake as she mouthed numbers. “Seven. Huh.”

Amaliya nodded.

Lúcia picked up another rice cake from the stack and placed a dollop of Marmite in the center. She handed it off to Amaliya. “Perhaps we could ask Reg if he would chop some more vegetables,” said Lúcia.

Emily heaved a sigh. “I swear there were eight.” She looked around. “Reg, have you seen… Umm… Where is Reg?”

“He was just…” Amaliya looked around the galley. “Hmm…”

“Look,” said Emily, pointing at a small bit of diced tomato just on the other side of the doorway.

Amaliya walked over to the doorway and picked up the piece of tomato. She held it between her finger and thumb as she turned it over. “Interesting.”

“And there’s parsley,” said Emily, pointing to the floor again. “Right there.”

“It appears we have a mystery.” Amaliya stood rubbing her chin. “Reg has been abducted.”

“I don’t think it’s a mystery,” said Emily. “I think Reg made off with our rice cake.”

“Why would he do that?” said Amaliya. “Harvester crabs don’t eat… do they?”

“Another mystery,” said Lúcia, grinning. “The game is afoot.”

“Seven. Seven rice cakes.” Emily threw her hands in the air. “What are we going to do with seven rice cakes and nine girls?”

* * *

On board the station, in Mia’s meadow

Eight young women sat on the grass forming an arc around Mia’s command and control interface. Mia was adorned with her fraying straw hat and Hawaiian shirt woven of wildflowers. The women were dressed identically in coveralls emblazoned with Takahashi-Ono, Agricultural Sciences over the left breast.

Each woman held a flower, pinched between finger and thumb. Occasionally, one of them would raise the flower to her lips and pretend to drink. Aidoru stood in front of the group, next to Mia.

“Let’s try it again.

“This time with call and response.

“Group A.” Aidoru pointed left. “And group B.” Aidoru pointed right.

Amaliya, Emily, and Lúcia approached. Emily, in the center of the trio, was holding the platter of rice cakes.

“They’re going to notice,” she whispered.

“You can’t tell,” said Amaliya, looking at the platter.

“Re-proportioning was a good idea,” said Lúcia. “Nine rice cakes, each with a little less salad, but all with salad nonetheless.”

“They’re going to notice,” repeated Emily.

“They won’t notice if you don’t say anything,” hissed Amaliya.

Aidoru raised her hands. The arc of young women all stood up. Amaliya and Emily fell silent.

Aidoru tapped out four beats in the air. She pointed to group A, and they began to sing. “Petite fille, petite fille, où iras-tu?”

Aidoru turned her gaze to group B and nodded.

“Je vais là où souffle le vent froid.” they replied.

Aidoru smiled and turned back to group A. “Dans les pins, dans les pins, là où le soleil ne brille jamais,” they sang.

“Et je frissonne toute la nuit,” replied group A.

Aidoru clapped rapidly. Amaliya, Emily, and Lúcia joined in.

“Hello,” said Mia. “We’re having tea. Would you care to join us?”

“Interesting song,” said Lúcia to Aidoru.

“It is, isn’t it?

“An Appalachian folk tune.

“With no copyright.”

Lúcia grinned and wrapped her arms around the Aidoru closest to her.

“Um,” said Amaliya, gesturing to the platter. “We brought snacks.”

The young women widened their semi-circle, making space. A trio of harvester crabs skittered over with flower heads in their pincers. Amaliya stooped to accept them, passing a flower head to Lúcia and setting one on the tray for Emily.

Emily offered the tray to the young women on her right. “It’s Marmite,” she said, “You like Marmite?”

The woman shrugged and plucked up a rice cake.

Emily picked up her flower head as the platter was passed up and down the line. When it came back around, Emily fixed her gaze on the single rice cake remaining in the center.

“Guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t like Marmite,” Amaliya mumbled, smirking slightly.

Emily turned her eyes to one end of the semi-circle of young women and looked down the arc. She paused to focus on each pair of hands. Each woman clutched a flower head and a Marmite covered rice cake. Several had already taken a bite.

“Hmm,” said Emily. “I’m sure we made nine. But we have one left.”

“Because there are eight girls,” said Amaliya.

“But, there are…” Emily moved her eyes up and down the row again. “Eight.”

“Perhaps after so much tea, someone had taksim escort to pee,” offered Lúcia.

“It’s not real,” said Emily. “You can’t drink tea from a flower head.”

Lúcia shrugged. She pinched her flower head between her finger and thumb, slurping loudly as she brought it to her lips.

“Don’t tell them it’s not real,” said Amaliya, holding her flower head in her hand while gesturing at a trio of women in the grass. They were sitting cross-legged with three harvester crabs that had taken up residence in their laps. The crabs were upside down and busy having their tummies rubbed, while their human companions nibbled rice cakes and sipped from flower heads.

A bit of diced tomato fell from one woman’s rice cake and landed on her crab companion. She picked it up and popped it in her mouth.

“That reminds me,” said Amaliya. “Has anyone seen Reg? He was helping us in the kitchen and then he sort of… wandered off.”

“With a rice cake,” said Emily.

“Perhaps he is with Alma,” offered one of the women, between bites of rice cake.

“Where is Alma?” asked Amaliya.

“Exploring.” The young woman gestured up the side of the hull off in the distance.

“That explains the extra rice cake,” said Amaliya, looking at the platter.

“And the one Reg snagged?” said Emily.

Amaliya shrugged.

Five more women sat on the grass, and five more harvester crabs skittered over to sit in the remaining, unoccupied laps. Each crab flipped over, letting its legs loll as the young women grinned and rubbed their bellies. Occasionally a crab would raise a pincer to tap at his companion’s fingers.

* * *

Amaliya, Emily, Lúcia, and Aidoru trudged through the tallgrass and flowers, midway to the hot spring where Alma was reported to be exploring. Amaliya balanced the extra rice cake on a napkin in the palm of her hand. Aidoru and Lúcia sang in four part harmony.

“Petite fille, petite fille, où iras-tu?

“Je vais là où souffle le vent froid.”

“Is it just me,” said Emily, “or do they seem a little… I don’t know… vacant?”

“The girls?” said Amaliya. “They just got sprung from a cult. You might cut them a little slack.”

“Dans les pins, dans les pins, là où le soleil ne brille jamais.”

“I wasn’t suggesting…” Emily stopped walking and turned to face Amaliya. “I’m not judging, I was just worried, that’s all.”

Amaliya draped her hand on Emily’s shoulder.

“Et je frissonne toute la nuit.”

“I suppose it takes time to adjust,” said Emily. “When every aspect of your life is controlled by someone else, and then suddenly it is not… that can be overwhelming.”

“You mean the cult?” said Amaliya.

Emily nodded.

“It is a difficult transition. Suddenly being free,” said Lúcia. “I was fortunate to have my sisters of the Hildegard von Bingen to help me in that respect.”

Aidoru reached for Lúcia’s hand and wove their fingers together.

“And Moira, and Alma, and the others,” said Emily. “Who do they have?”

“They have us,” said Amaliya. “They have us. And when we find Alma, I’m going to give her this rice cake and hug her until she can’t stand it anymore.”

Amaliya turned her gaze to Lúcia and Aidoru, then Emily. She nodded once and set off through the meadow and up the curve of the station’s hull.

“Wait.” Emily pointed.

“What?” said Amaliya, turning around.

“That flash of light.”

“Up there?” said Amaliya, looking in the distance. “Looks like…”

“Harvester crabs,” said Emily. “I’d say a dozen of them. And one of them’s got my rice cake. I’d bet money on it.”

Emily caught up with Amaliya and began marching faster.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later

“Hi,” said Jade, leaning on a shovel and wiping the sweat from her forehead. She was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, unbuttoned, and cargo shorts, hanging loosely with no belt.

“Hey, babe.” Amaliya leaned in and kissed Jade on the cheek. She touched her index finger to the notch in Jade’s collarbone and dragged it over Jade’s sweat glistening skin to her her navel. “Love the outfit.”

Jade grinned. “Mia pulled it out of storage for me.”

“I see you have some friends.” Amaliya turned her gaze to Alma and the half dozen harvester crabs arrayed around her. One of the crabs reached to tug at the leg of Alma’s coveralls while Reg skittered over with a rice cake in his pincer. He was still wearing a nitrile glove.

“Reg,” said Emily. “We need to talk. You can’t just take other people’s stuff…”

Reg ignored Emily and held the rice cake out to Alma. She squatted down to meet him. After the hand-off Reg slipped off his nitrile glove and began tapping and scratching at the ground between them.





Alma smiled and extended a finger to rub under Reg’s chin. She began tapping and scratching at the ground, herself. Reg bounced excitedly as she finished and then flipped himself beşiktaş escort over. Alma rubbed his belly.

“What’s going on here, exactly?” asked Emily.

“We’re building a fort,” said Jade.

“A fort,” whispered Amaliya, grinning. “On a space station.”

Lúcia smiled and clapped.

“A what?” said Emily.

“A fort,” said Jade. “A safe place to hang out.”

A new pair of harvester crabs arrived. One was dragging a spool of Kevlar twine and the other a three meter long carbon fiber conduit. Both were wearing hard hats fashioned out of flower heads.

“Thanks, boys,” said Jade. “You can put it with the rest.”

“Why are you building a fort?” asked Emily.

“It’s for Alma.” said Jade.

“Okay…” said Emily, looking over at Alma, who was sitting cross-legged, surrounded by three harvester crabs, all waiting their turn for tummy rubs and back scratches.

“The boys were worried about her.”

“So Reg nabbed a rice cake and marched half way around the station, because he and his friends were worried… about Alma?”

Jade nodded.

One of the crabs flipped over. Alma rubbed his belly. Another crab began tapping and scratching at the ground.





Alma smiled and held her hand out flat in front of the harvester crab, who immediately scurried up her arm and flopped onto her lap with the others.

“What are they doing?” asked Emily.

“Tummy rubs,” said Jade.

“Duh,” said Emily. “The other thing. All that pawing in the dirt.”

“It’s Morse code.”

“I guess I figured that, but what are they saying, exactly?”

“Oh, said Jade. She laid her shovel on the ground and took Emily by the hand.

Jade led Emily off to the side. In the dirt at Emily’s feet was the alphabet, with Morse code translations for each letter. Jade pointed to the H and its four dots. She pointed to the three dashes of the letter O, the M, with two dashes, and finally the E with its single dot.

“Home?” said Emily.

“Home,” said Jade.

Alma was rolling on the ground now, laughing as a dozen harvester crabs crawled over her. Occasionally, one of them would reach up to tap and brush at her hand with a pincer.

“You taught her Morse code?” said Emily. “So she can talk to crabs?”

“Not me,” said Jade. “It was they boys’ idea. They taught her.”

“The crabs?”

“It’s like I said, they were worried about her.”

“So they taught her Morse and got you to help them build a fort while Reg steals the last Marmite snack?”

“That about sums it up,” said Jade. “We’re going to make it like a teepee. There’s thirteen pieces of salvaged conduit for the poles. We’ve got twine to lash it together at the top and a few Mylar blankets to wrap around everything.”

Emily looked at Jade sideways for a moment. “How can I help?” she asked.

* * *

In a patch of wildflowers, several hours later

Jade lay on the grass with her back arched and her eyes squeezed tight. Every so often, her mouth would gape, but no sound came out. Amaliya was straddling Jade, high up on her left thigh. She held Jade’s right thigh to her chest, her arms locking it in close as she rocked back and forth. Neither woman wore a stitch in the way of clothing.

“Oh…” Jade finally managed. “Oh, fu–uh–uck… yes!”

Amaliya grinned. She continued rocking her hips until she herself let out a squeak. Amaliya shivered for a moment before letting go of Jade’s leg and collapsing in a heap.

“Baby,” said Jade. She tugged at Amaliya’s hand and Amaliya curled up with her head on Jade’s chest.

Amaliya snickered. “You alright?”

“Mmm. Mm-hmm. I should be asking you. You did all the work.”

Amaliya grinned and began drawing a lazy circle on Jade’s chest. “I’d say it’s your reward for a good deed, but I was kind of planning it ever since I saw you digging holes with your shirt unbuttoned.”

Jade took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she trailed her fingers over Amaliya’s arm. “I’ll have to ask Mia if I can borrow more of her Hawaiian shirts.”

“It was really nice what you did for Alma,” said Amaliya.

“I told you, it was the boys’ idea. I just helped on the stuff that required a tall person.”

“Still, it was nice.”

Jade twirled her finger in a length of Amaliya’s hair. “I’m not arguing with my reward.”

Amaliya sighed and scooted closer.

Suddenly, Amaliya propped herself on an elbow and looked down at Jade. “Should we go check on her? Alma? I feel like we should check on her.”

“She’s fine,” said Jade, reaching for Amaliya’s hand.

“She’s all by herself up there. Like Aidoru’s song. In the pines. Shivering.”

“In the wildflowers. And she has one of Mia’s quartz heaters. It’s like camping.”

“You sure? She just escaped from a cult. And now she’s all alone in a teepee on a space station. Away from everyone.”

“She’s fine.”

“We could at least go check on her.”

“She’s got a dozen friends watching over her tonight.”

“The crabs?”

Jade nodded. Amaliya sighed again.

In the distance, the wildflowers rustled. Jade turned toward the sound. She watched a dome of silver, reflecting a glint of the dim evening light now and then, weaving through the meadow.

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