I have a much better understanding of several characters, which makes me happy. Thanks for reading!
Nine-year-old Tas didn’t know this would be her last trip with her parents. Perhaps her mother suspected, but when they boarded the shuttle to Europa, Kiminoki skipped onboard as if she were the child. “The fanciest party lights ever,” she said. “Look.”
Tas followed her mother’s gaze. The blackness stretched out forever, points of light scattered in all directions. “It’s like we fell into an ocean. Which way is up?”
“Whichever direction you want,” her mother replied. She leaned back in her seat.
“You’ve never seen an ocean, Tassie.”
Her father, Abeo, stretched out his long legs and prepared to settle in for the flight. “She’ll see one of the most amazing oceans in the universe soon. Before we finish our coffee.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Tasanko stood on the shore of the Charcoal Ocean, mouth agape. The black water reflected the black sky and its stars and the incredible form of Jupiter, looming overhead. How could anything else exist? She reached her hand up, pretending to touch the turning planet and its mesmerizing red spot. The endless storm. “Can we go up there too?”
Her parents laughed. “Not this trip,” her dad replied.
“You’ll see all the planets one day. I’m quite sure of that,” her mom said. “But not today.”
“Tasa, my mad mad girl. Look here. Look at the ocean in front of you. You’re staring at what is up there when you have this.”
She impulsively hugged her father. “Thank you, dad!” Then she pushed herself away from her, spun wildly in the blue-black sand, and ran. She immediately learned how heavy legs became when trying to run on a beach. It was nothing like her runs through the woods on Hask. This fact really struck her. She thrust her arms out in opposite directions and turned. No trees. The sparse Europa woods edged the horizon behind them, but in front of her was water as far as she could see.
A wave managed its way to her shoes, and it was pulled back to join the other tumbling, constant waves. Tas stepped closer. Something was strange about the water. No. What did she know about oceans to know if something moved as it should? But she couldn’t help thinking something was happening beyond the rolling water.
Her parents caught up with her. “Do you see?” her mother asked, pointing.
Tas squinted. “Is there a light? Not a reflected star, but…like something from the water? Is it an animal?”
“Wait,” Kiminoki said. “Our eyes will be better adapted soon. You’ll see.”
“This is why we’re here,” Abeo said.
Tas didn’t doubt. Every trip they’d ever taken was in pursuit of some creature her mother wanted to see or to take. Maybe her dad wished to go to where no odd organism attracted Kiminoki’s eye, but Tas loved the things her mother pointed out. And where could they ever go where nothing interested Kiminoki Rhyse? Only the driest, most barren moon. And even then…
“Only once in Europa’s summer season can this be seen, Tassie,” Kiminoki whispered. “Watch.”
The breeze washed around them. They were the only ones on the beach.
“Every year it’s smaller than the last, and by the time you’re grown, it may be next to nothing at all.”
The glowing light grew. She’d have walked further into the water if her dad hadn’t placed a hand on her shoulder. She glanced sideways. He had his other hand on the shoulder of his wife. He knew them well.
The water bubbled and the light rose from under the gentle waves. Tas pulled forward, but her dad kept in her place. “Be safe,” he said.
It was not one light at all, but dozens of lights, pulsing and moving, up over the water. “It’s…” Tas doubted herself.
“The Europa cephalopods,” her mother finished. “They’re babies full of mint fish and moonlight. They’re born in a collective and on this night, they rise over the water, float just a while—we don’t know how or why exactly—and then they’ll scatter, each going its own way, vanishing into the ocean, and living solitary lives until it’s time to mate.”
The family stood on the shore, close together, in the Europa night, watching life ripple and move and glow. Jupiter looked down at them, but they forgot about the giant. The creatures rose a little bit higher, and for a few seconds, appeared to come together. Tas would forever believe they were telling each other goodbye.
With a jolt, the cluster of tiny cephalopods broke apart. They separated. Each darted over the water, balls of light speeding in dozens of directions. For no discernible rhyme or reason, some plunged back into the ocean, while other venture further still. Then they too were gone.
The moon felt much darker.
“C’mon, Tasa,” her father said. “Let’s go eat.”
The three of them turned away from the moon’s ocean. “That was the best thing ever!” Tas said. She hugged her mother’s arm and the entire universe felt like home. By the time she dropped into bed, she’d planned the other adventures she was going to take with her parents and the creatures they would see. That’s all they talked about at dinner, planets, moons, and the animals that lived upon them.
So drifting off to sleep, Tas imagined many things, cephalopods and Plutonian hawks, Martian bears and fire horses of the nebula fields. It seemed too glorious not to happen.