Universe W-2020: Mikey’s Tails 1
July 24th, 2003
The Greater Valley War
For almost seven years now, the underwater kingdom of Europan has been entrenched in the bloodiest, greusomest, and most needless conflict the Grand Horseshoe Valley has ever known. It all started when the Prince of Eals (the Eals being a subterranean race of slimy beings) found a Warrata rat (the Warrata being an only occasionally subterranean race of equal parts slimy and scaly beings) bedding his princess.
In his bed. With the lights on.
And no music playing.
To the Eal prince, named Earl, this blasphemous perversion of all that is righteous and holy in the world was the blow that cracked the oyster’s shell – the two factions were already in choppy waters after no less than forty-nine Eal caravans mysteriously disappeared in the Warrata-populated tape grass tunnel-forest. The populations of the various end results of the same experiment in the Valley had always kept their distance from one another, the Eal controlling The Western Leg Of The Valley and the Warrata living it up on the East Side, with a healthy population of Bas settlements dominating The Northern Crest.
That’s not to say there was never any co-mingling, but after the clashing began, a certain segregation was enforced. Any Eal found in Warrata waters would quickly be snuffed out, and vice versa. The Bas, a more intelligent (and coincidentally superterranean and scaly) race of beings, didn’t join the fight until they were pulled into it by a hearty squad of Eals that were caught raiding one of their many communal food caches. Needless to say, the squad was devoured on the spot. That’s just the thing about the Bas; they are very peaceful, and they tend to keep to themselves… unless they feel as though they have been crossed.
As the saying goes, A hungry Bas crossed is a full Bas, indeed.
We are now in what won’t be remembered as the final days of The Greater Valley War; two of the three factions have grown tired of the constant conflict and slaughter, and the Eals are rapidly running out of willing soldiers. In fact, according to the majority of the Barsatta, the war ended some four or five years ago; daily life has long been back to normal and adorned with the blossoms of new cultural niches. The Bas have gone back to living among the Warrata and the Warrata the Bas; there’s even a little school that the children of both factions attend in an attempt to mix the cultures and bring a shred of unity back to the Valley. The Eal were invited on multiple occasions to cease the throwing of their untrained, ignorant, and ill-equipped soldiers at the armies of the aquatic superpower that is the Barsatta, but Earl of Eal is far too proud to admit defeat. He literally said in an interview once, “My kingdom’ll fall and my peasants’ll go extinct before I admit defeat to the open-water dwellers!”
One can only hope the good prince comes to his senses before the vast majority of his subjects abandon him and, out of extreme loneliness and self-loathing, he activates the canisters of nerve gas planted in the secret tunnels that run under every single settlement spread across the vast Valley floor. Such is the way of irreplicateable super-intelligent life; it brings about its own destruction.
Anyway, very little of that matters in relation to the story at fin.
Wally and his friends Ralphy and Benjy are all sitting in their last classes of the day, Wally’s and Benjy’s being Ealish II. They’re but second year students at the culturally amalgamated Europana Unity High School, situated on the border between Warrata Heights and North Basdon. In this school, children are taught about all the basics: math, languages, science, factstory, technology, blah blah blah; it’s a high school, if you’re reading this you likely know how they work, as well as how mind-shrinkingly boring it is to be stuck sitting in one all day.
Wally is really coming to grips with this fact now – he still has two more years of sitting at a desk and getting talked at by someone who’s paid to sit, and occasionally stand, at a bigger desk to talk at many classrooms full of once mortal enemies every single day. And all for a soggy piece of paper, what a world!
Wally looks from his watch to Benjy, to the clock on the wall, and then back down to his watch, feeling the slow flow of eternity through his gills, crushing him, rendering him incapable of breath. A short minute later, class ends and everyone swims outside into the open water in a frenzy. Wally and Benjy, more refined, wait behind for Ralphy to slide out of Bas Etiquette X class. All Bas students are required to take a special, race-exclusive class on proper etiquette because they’re born especially rowdy, but that’s heren’t nor there; Ralphy’s friends stopped berating him for his nature semesters ago. See, Wall’ and Benj’ are both members of the Warrata tribe, proud of it, too! The Warrata pilot long, slender bodies compared to the Bas’s shorter and, how you say, more stout composition. They’re also a lot more pleasant to be around, and everyone is aware of this, but the Bas aren’t all bad. It’s not like they’re Eal.
The Eal are also tall and slender like the Warrata, but rowdy like the Bas. They don’t have as many appendages as the other two races either; one can guess why the war really started.
After a few rounds of conversation, Wally and Benjy start into an argument over a video Wally was watching the night before on KelpTube (not to be confused with KelpHub, a… different video website). Just as the conflict is reaching its pinnacle, Ralphy stouts his way outside and readies himself to play judge.
“All right fellas, what’s the hubbub about today?”
“Ralphy?!” They both shout in unison, so caught up in heated debate they didn’t notice their only other friend swim up.
“So,” Wally begins, eager to share his side of the argument first. “I was watching a video on KelpTube last night, it was about the sky cei–”
“Homie thinks there are aliens or something living above the sky ceiling,” Benjy cuts in, wearing a grin as sneerish as it is toothy.
Ralphy raises an eyescale.
“Oh come on, y’gotta at least let me say it. These guys, a group of high nautitude swimmers, they were up near the ceiling and they saw something up there. Something big, and black, and it was fast, faster than anything they’ve ever seen! Plus, there’ve been all those rumors of Warrata and Bas and even Eal disappearances lately, and there’s the whole strange shiny objects that fall from the sky only to go right back up a few hours later thing… it’s weird, fish, it’s really weird. I think there’s something living up there, something that’s trying to show us that it’s up there.”
A silence emanates between the triad.
“Is,” Ralphy starts, looking to Benjy for emotional support in this most uncomfortable of times, “is that it, buddy?”
“What do you mean is that it? What else do you need dude, a decapitated head with seven eyes and no gills? Come on!”
Wally is slightly perturbed that neither of his friends are sharing in his new interest.
“Well, I mean, that’s a bit Ealish, but it wouldn’t hurt your case.”
“What case? The dude’s lost his pebbles, fish!” Benjy cries out in a fit of laughter. Ralphy joins in but stops short of full-on hilarity when he sees Wally’s frown. “Listen, it isn’t like we don’t believe you specifically, the idea of life existing outside the valley is just… I don’t know, it just doesn’t make any sense. They’d have visited us already, don’t you think?
“No, I don’t,” as Wally turns his back to his friends. “Because they haven’t visited yet. You guys will see… I’m going for a swim in the forest. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, if the aliens don’t abduct you, haaaahhhhhhhhh,” Benjy shrieks before giving Wally a high-fin and heading back to the reef with Ralphy. After a few strokes Ralphy stops and looks back, but Wally is already gone; there’s nothing but a cluster of slowly rising bubbles in his place.
In The Weeds
The water in the forest is tinted a kelpy green. The entire jungle emanates vibrations of peace, serenity and privacy. Wally is the only one in his class, nay, his entire school that spends time in the weeds for the sake of being in the weeds. He likes the solitude, sure, but there’s something scale-raising about being out in the kelp all by one’s self, something almost badtail feeling. Wally can’t quite put a fin on it, but for some reason, he knows he’s going to find something out here today. He’s sure of it.
He takes the murkier, less traveled path that runs between the stalks of the coontail weeds and follows it as it zigs and zags through the massive forest, keeping his eyes focused on the sky above him. Only a few more hours of diligently searching around later and he sees it – just a flash, a shiny object zooming up through the water until it penetrates the sky ceiling through some sort of portal which closes up shortly after. Once Wally picks his jaw up from the sandy muck, he turns around and darts home, the words to his journal entry already forming in his head.
The Sky Ceiling
The next day, Wally swims into school with an especially giddy skip in his stroke. In his first class, Factstory VII, he has the pleasure of being sat next to both Ralphy and Benjy. He doesn’t know what the teacher, a very disgruntled and child-despising Mister Stinger, was thinking when he assigned the seats, but hey, the Water Gods work in mysterious ways.
Just as teacher is getting into his lesson about the Great Valley War, Wally tunes out and gets Ralphy’s attention with the flicking of a small fragment of sinkwood.
“OWIE MAMMA!” Ralphy shouspers, almost disturbing the class and catching a Stinger gaze. As he turns whilst picking mushy splinters out of the back of his head, “What the fuh… oh, what’s up Wally?”
“The aliens, my friend. The aliens are up!”
“You pelted me with sinkwood to tell me that? Okay,” the okay said more under his breath than over. “What uh, what makes you so sure of this, buddy?”
“Remember yesterday after class when I said I was going for a swim through the forest?”
“No, not specifically. That sounds like a you thing to do though, so sure.”
“I saw something out there Ralphy. I saw this shiny, this shiny… thing, I guess, flying through the lighter water. Do you know what happened what it got up to the sky ceiling?”
Ralphy entirely lost interest halfway through that sentence and turned back around in his chair. However, Mister Stinger’s droning on about this piece of primitive wartime technology and that, it’s somehow less interesting than Wally’s alien nonsense. That’s why, when Wally finishes asking his question, Ralphy answers, aloud, after turning back around, chin in his fin, “It… crashed?”
“Yes!” screeches Mister Stinger, the sole member of the Manta tribe that immigrated to the Valley a few years ago. “Who said that? You, there in the back, what’s your name?”
Ralphy spins around so fast that he almost feels pain in his neck – almost. Caught completely off guard like a band of Eals raiding the Bas food storage cache, he hesitates before revealing his name to the not only the old bottom feeder, but to all the fish who didn’t already know it.
“Ralpholy, very good job. Yes, during the Great Valley War, the Watertight Republic of Eal’s dreadsubnaut did crash, sinking near the massive site of the Ruins de la Circ.” Diverting his attention from the one student that doesn’t have sand in his gills to the rest of the class, Stinger says, “I’m quite glad somebody read the textbook last night. Now, as I was saying, blah, blah blah…” before trailing off to the mumble he normally teaches in.
Today’s lesson: how a tribe of beings native to the Valley, called the Blahranians, allied with the United Eal Empire against the Bas Confederacy during The ciValley War, and how their involvement lead to their extinction.
Ralphy returns to his social triangle and does his best to contain his laughter while Benjy, to Wally’s left, is catching his breath from deciding against the containment of his laughter. When Ralphy’s done, as Wally confirms with a snooty question, he continues their conversation.
“No, Mister Smarty Fins, it didn’t crash. It went through.”
“It busted a hole through the sky ceiling? C’mon fish, even you have to admi–”
“No, the hole was already there. It was, it was like some kind of wormhole or something, I don’t know. Aren’t you taking physics? Whatever; regardless, as soon as the shiny thing went through, the hole closed up. It was like nothing ever happened.”
Ralphy draws silence for a moment. That moment turns into a few minutes, then an hour, and then smoothly into the remainder of the class period. Before then though, Wally takes the hint and stops trying to share with the closer of his two friends his new discovery.
So he turns to Benjy.
“Hey Benj’, I know you don’t believe in aliens, but do you want to skip the rest of scho–”
Benjy’s eyeballs pop and reveal a pair of brilliant lights, and his normally slouchy stature straightens upon hearing the magic words.
“GOD YES I don’t even care what we’re doing. We won’t be here, and that is all I want in life.”
“Okay sweet, we’ll slide out the door near the shellshop and… wait, all you want in life is to not be in school? Really?”
“Says the Warrata who’s tryna get me to go alien hunting in the middle of a school day. You and I aren’t that different, fish,” Benjy replies without making eye contact.
“You know what?” Wally postulates, answering his question with, “That is fair enough.”
With that, the boys suffer though the remainder of the class by doing everything in their combined yet existentially limited powers to avoid paying attention, succeeding with flying colors. Ralphy bids his schoolmates a fond farewell as he heads to his next class, ShellShop III; Ralph’s a very talented shell-shaper, you see, having tested out of ShellShop I and directly into ShellShop II as a freshfin. Wally and Benjy, on the other fin, glide over to the cafeteria to snag some leftover breakfast flakes before ditching their government-enforced childhood obligation. The lunch ladies hook them up; these two elderly Ealish sheilas were the first of the Ealish population to ditch the miserable Earl and join the Barsatta, they started working for the unity school the day it opened. They’re Wally’s neighbors, too – Wally’s the fish who got ‘em hired at this all-encompassing school in the first place. What a story that is; there was a whole wrestling match, a few turtles, some gigantic unidentifiable strands of hair, and a shiny opal pebble that supposedly crashed through the sky ceiling, although that was never proven. Wild shit, fish.
Anyway, so the boys, their tummies full of oyster-flakes and zooplankton juice, make their way to the opposite end of the school, snacking merrily as their peers look to them with bulbous eyes of confusion.
“Why do those fish look happy?” Jimmy asks a friend as they’re waiting in line outside the room that will host their next class as soon as the teach’ decides to get his hungover tailfin out of bed. “We still have seven classes left today.”
Because they’re getting the fuck out of Leg, Jimmy; what a lad.
Our two crustacean-crunching cohorts skate through the halls, bobbing and weaving themselves through masses of schoolfish until they finally come to their golden archway: the school’s back door. Wally, as he’s passing the door to the shellshop, catches sight of Ralphy locking lips with that Sandra girl they all know but none of them talk to. Wally didn’t know Ralphy had a girlfriend, he didn’t even know Ralphy learned how to talk to girls yet! What reason could there be for this tomfoolery, why the underhandedness? No matter – Benjy is waiting outside and the alarm will get triggered if Wally doesn’t spin fin quickly – out into the open water he goes.
The boys have never been out of school this early; the campus is dead during the day, aside from the two or three hall monitors who’ve decided to shirk their daily duties. It’s almost creepy, the vibe a horror film as the current instills a whooshy sway amongst the groomed coontail weeds that vegetate the school’s courtyard. Wally checks the right, Benjy the left, and when all is determined to be clear they dart, making a break for the treeline.
Luckily enough, nobody’s paying any semblance of attention to the boys, so they make it into the forest without complication. Not bad for their first jailbreak, if I do say so myself.
The creepy midday vibe of the school fades into the eerie, murky vibe of the forest – Wally is all too familiar with the groove. Benjy isn’t one for hiking though, and after about five minutes, he starts to think they’ve lost their way, but Wally knows better. Despite his comrade’s pleas and whines, the pair take the path less traveled and meander towards their destination – the spot where Wally saw the alien, allegedly.
“Are we even going the right way, fish? It feels like we’ve been swimming in circles for a while now, everything looks exactly the same.”
Wally turns towards his friend and, as they continue to swim forwards, “We’re in the weeds, fish, everything looks the same. Just follow me. I know where I’m going.”
“You sure, fish?”
“Yes, I’m sure Benjy. This is the aliens we’re going after right now, I couldn’t be more sure if I tried.
“You sure, fish?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Jeez…”
“Okay… but are you sh–”
Benjy swims directly into Wally’s tail, causing his sentence to go unfinished until the end of time because that’s when everything gets finished. He begins to get all pissy (fishy?) and he even almost questions why his guide on these trails had randomly broken his finstroke without saying anything, as if Wally saw something ahead, something spectacular.
Then Benjy sees the shit and stops dead in the lack of tracks he leaves in the sand because our fishybois are swimming, not walking.
There, in the clearing, floating just a few tailfins off the sandy, algae-infused muck, is a shiny object. It’s shaped like… well, it’s shaped like a Blaranian, except that is has two curved metal rods dangling from its belly. The mere sight of the thing is absolutely astounding, the boys have never seen anything like it, at least not up close. Benjy, firmly planted behind the meat shield that is his friend Wally, suggests that said meat shield should go and grab it.
“I’m not fuckin’ grabbing it, are you insane?” Wally shouts, curious over the fact that Benjy seems interested in alien contact all of the sudden. “It could attack me, it could steal my soul, it… it could get me! You go touch it.”
Benjy looks his dear, innocent friend straight in the eyes and says, “I think you and I both know that’s not going to happen.”
Wally rolls his eyes and looks back at the thing, the alien device, or lifeform, technically, ‘Who can really say?’ that’s floating a mere ten tailfins ahead of them. The moment he’s been waiting for since last week has finally arrived – he has proof that alien life is real, and it’s sitting right in front of him, yet he’s too afraid to move.
“So…” says Benjy. Then, a few moments of silence later, “You gonna grab it or what?”
“Well I… you see, the uh, the thing is… I, uh… fine, I’ll do it. You better tell my story if this thing eats me though.”
“Oh come on dude, I’m already writing it down in my head.”
“All right… and you better rub Ralphy’s face in it too. I mean really make him eat it, force-feed him the shit.”
“Oh dude come on, I’m going for the funnel right now.”
“All right… hey, did you know he has a gir–”
“You doing this or what, fish?”
Wally swims over slowly, cautiously, approaching the potential skycraft with care, as to not startle it. That long, slender body, the pair of shiny metallic rods glimmering in the sunlight as it floats, motionless, beckoning someone to come to it, to grab it, to challenge it.
Wally is that challenger.
The closer Wally swims to the unidentified submerged object, the smaller he realizes it is – the whole thing could probably fit into his mouth if he really tri–… ‘Wait a minute.’
“Yo Benjy… watch this.”
“Hm?” Benjy says, looking up from the leaf he was pulling apart. “Watch wha– WALLY NO!!”
Wally, his mouth full of alien object, goes beaming up through the water at high speeds, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust and a trail of tiny air bubbles. Up higher and higher, faster and faster, the sediments afloat in the water feeling like small needles pricking his scales as he crashes through them, interrupting their suspended dance. He manages to cast his gaze back down to the Valley’s floor but he can no longer see the forest, nor the muck, for that matter; everything below him is a dark, murky blob, and everything above him is radiating a pure, white glow.
Wally makes out a small hole in the sky ceiling, an opening that appears to grow wider and wider as he approaches it until, finally…
He breaks through.
“He’s on! I got him, here he comes, baby! Quick, get the net!”
“I’m looking for it Daddy, where did you leave it?!”
“It’s over in The Shack, run! But don’t fall, the ice is slippery!”
Mikey struggles with the line, pulling back and spinning the reel with the strength of an average human that builds mansions for fun. Meanwhile, Harley is running as fast as her little legs can carry her, occasionally slipping and sliding around like an out of practice figure skater until she reaches The Shack. One wrestling match against the zipperlater and she’s inside, the warmth of the propane heat lamp greeting her with an airy hug. The Trooper climbs up on the bench and leans over to dig through the massive amount of supplies her Daddy always brings along on their ice fishing trips: tip-ups, jiggin’ rigs, buckets of bait, tackle boxes, spools on spools of fishing line, and… Ah! one fishing net. Harley grabs the net by the netting and ducks out of The Shack, allowing all the pent-up hot air to steam out above the frozen lake.
“DADDY I’M COMING!!!” she cries out, the excitement nearly causing our littlest cherub to burst at the seams.
Roughly halfway between The Shack and her Daddy, who’s keeping the smelly fish at bay right underneath the ice, Harley trips and falls, konking her forehead against the slick surface of the lake that will be melted in a few weeks’ time. This is one of the last ice fishing trips Harley will get to take with her Daddy until at least November or December, and they haven’t caught a fish all winter. Mikey decided to pull out all the stops this time: the best lures, the most nautically aromatic bait, the tip-ups; he even busted out The Shack and the portable grill so they could cook up some cheese steaks after they release whatever they don’t catch. The sled was heavy and he had some trouble pulling the damned thing all the way out to Muskie Cove in the middle of Skunksville, but he knew it would be worth it; even if they didn’t catch anything today, they could always go back out tomorrow – at least they’d know where not to fish. Not wanting to ruin the trip, Harley bodies the spill and gets right back on her feet, spazzing ahead to her destination.
“Here Daddy, the net,” as she hands it to him, her greenish-brown eyes lighting up like the fireworks her Mommy and Daddy shot off for her and her little brother on New Year’s Eve a few weeks ago.
“Thaaaank you very little! Check it out, he’s really close now. What a fatty! Can you see him? Here, look ri–”
“AHHHHH!!” Harley squeals at the top of her lungs.
Mikey discretely maneuvers the line back and forth, making it seem like the fish is swimming around underneath the ice. Harley giggles and reaches her hand in the water to pet the smelly creature, but when she realizes how frigid the water is, she quickly changes her mind.
Standing back, Harley says, “I thought there were no fish in Skunksville, Daddy!”
“Well there usually aren’t any, honey, they’re too busy in their schools to be caught!” with a wink. “We must have gotten really lucky today!”
Tip-up firmly in his left hand, Mikey grabs the net by the handle and very carefully inserts it into the hole, capturing the fish and pinning him, er, it to the side of the ice. He asks Harley if she wants to do the honors and she says yes, but she holds her hands up to her mouth and shrieks instead. Mikey pulls the catch out of the water and lays it on the ice, the accompanying spillover turning the white ice shavings into a slushy bed for the fishy. The fatass lil’ bugger flops around a few times before succumbing to the abduction, eyes wide as it fixates on its alien captors.
“Check it out baby, it’s a walleye. Pretty big one too, it felt heavy coming out of the water. Did you bring your camera?”
“YEAH!” Harley asserts as she pulls out the little disposable camera her Mommy gave her for Christmas, the roll of film already halfway full of pictures of herself wearing various princess outfits that she keeps her closet overstuffed with. A few winds and a click later, the photo is taken – actual, indisputable scientific evidence that fish do, in fact, exist in Skunksville Reservoir. Imagine that!
“So,” Harley says after taking a few more blurry pictures for good measure, “are we gonna eat it??”
“Nope! No ma’am. They’re mighty tasty, but we don’t need to kill this guy – we already took him out of his home. I’ll just take the hook out of his mouth an– hey, have you seen my pliers?”
“They’re sticking out of your pocket, silly!”
Mikey looks behind him to see the pliers are, in fact, sticking out of his pocket.
“That they are,” Mikey says, slapping his butt until he connects with the pliers. “That they are.”
“AHHH be careful Daddy, don’t hurt the stinky!”
“Don’t worry honey, it’s just a fish. They don’t feel pain.”
Carefully removing the hook without causing too much damage to the fish’s bottom jaw, Mikey works like a surgeon, his lifelong experience removing hooks from the maws of fish serving him well and leaving a lasting impression on his daughter. His goal is to make a fisherwoman out of her, but the truth of the matter is that Harley doesn’t give a fish’s tail about fishing; she just likes spending time with good ol’ Daddy. Once the hook is out, Mikey picks up the fish and poses with it, giving Harley one more wacky picture to bring home and show Mommy and Jarome.
With a careful hand, the fish is released back into the hole, the father/daughter duo watching as it swims down into the darkness. Above them, the sun rises high into the sky, signaling noontime.