Saturday, April 26, 2014

Duck Duck Goose Symbiont

"Duck Duck Goose Symbiont" was inspired by a photo prompt from the Every Photo Tells podcast. You can download the audio version here.

Ducks were the best way to get around. They were fast, reliable, could move across water, air, and land with ease, and were generally considered nice to look at, even though there wasn't a huge variety in color schemes. And, most importantly, they were made completely of organic material and would decompose rather than having to go through a long recycling process once they broke down for good.

Perc loved roaming the land in his duck. Being nothing more than a collection of gaseous molecules made travel difficult unless he was contained in another living creature. It was one of the hazards of being what he was, but being at the top of the evolutionary ladder had its price. Stil, domesticating other species was easy, and finding hosts was no challenge. Ducks were just the most convenient and most versatile vehicles. Unlike most of his people, Perc had actually named his duck. When his clanmates learned about this, he was teased mercilessly. But eventually, the amusement at his naming of his duck wore off, and his quirkiness was forgotten.

Perc wandered around in his duck, whom he called Muck, and found clear ponds, shiny rocks, foliage, and all manner of animals. He particularly liked guiding Muck up into the low hills, where the two-legged, mostly-hairless creatures made their dens. A few generations ago, when Perc's people had first discovered these tall, slope-browed people, they had been decided to call them "humans".

Perc had no idea where the name came from, but he used it all the same. He loved watching the humans, perching Muck the Duck nearby and observing as the humans milled about, struck rocks together in their primitive manner of making fire, built crude tools, and grunted at one another. The scientists said that the humans might eventually evolve into something greater than the idiot beasts they were, but it would take ages. Muck the Duck would be dead long before then, and Perc would have moved through many other ducks. If it took too many millennia, even Perc might be dead by then.

Muck quacked softly as Perc watched through his eyes. The duck had foraged a large lunch from a pond they'd been in earlier, and the food was still being digested. Perc received a constant stream of energy from Muck as the duck went about its everyday routines, but Perc could take control of its body if the fancy took him. He did so less often than many of his friends. Some never let the duck control its own body. It was just a vehicle, they said, searching for a way to justify their actions. That was why the ducks were rarely named. Perc was one of few that saw value in ducks as creatures themselves.

A huge flock of ill-tempered grey-and-black geese alighted nearby, and Perc stiffened at the same time Muck did. Unlike ducks, geese were a nuisance and had long ago been deemed unfit to serve as vehicles for Perc's people. They were a problem of the worst sort, because they liked to attack ducks and eat their food, which made things difficult on the ducks and their inhabitants. Perc made Muck crouch low and attempted to waddle awkwardly out of their sight, but the geese spotted them, and soon all was a mess of feathers and loud honking.

The commotion was enough to draw the attention of the dim-witted humans, and several of them hurried over with their sharpened sticks and rocks, probably hoping to catch an easy meal. That was a highly undesirable situation for Perc; something about becoing a meal unsettled him. He urged Muck to action, but apparently the humans were ready for them. They had been creating a new type of weapon that proved to be developed specifically for this sort of situation. The humans had actually created a net! Perc and Muck were trapped, along with the majority of the geese.

The geese's size worked against them as the humans set to killing the birds with rocks and spears. Perc was able to hide Muck under a couple dead goose bodies. He kept Muck perfectly still, waiting for the net to be lifted and the bodies to be gathered. With the humans distracted, they could make their escape.

His ploy didn't work. Muck was discovered to still be alive— Perc couldn't stop him from letting out a gentle quack when the geese were lifted away— and one of the humans was quick enough to get her hands on the struggling fowl. Perc's life flashed before his eyes: being spawned in a cloud of goo and spores with others of his kind, selecting Muck as his vehicle, ages of wandering... and now he would die as some human's dinner.


Silently wishing Muck a quick death, Perc disengaged himself from the duck's body and consciousness and entered open air. It suffocated him and starved him. He had no incoming energy! The distance between Perc and the human woman suddenly seemed too great to cross!

Perc strained to reach her. Humans inhaled, just as ducks did. It heartened him to realize that Muck was still alive at this moment. The wild bird was flapping and squawking, no longer tempered by Perc's control. The woman struggled to hold on. Her nose and mouth were so close, but Perc was blacking out. He could feel himself growing thinner, blowing away on the wind.

Sweet sustenance! The woman must have breathed him in! Perc was immediately aware of the entire huge body of the mammal, the beating heart, the coursing blood, the taut muscles. And the crazed bird in her hands. Perc breathed deeply and willed calm to Muck. Surely there must still be a connection there. He loosened the hands' grip, and the bird settled, looking up at the human face Perc peered out of. Muck quacked once, loudly. 

The other humans moved in, rocks and sticks at the ready, but Perc raised a hand, cradling Muck in the crook of his other arm. He opened his mouth, intending to let out a distinguished oration detailing why this particular duck was not to be killed. In fact, no ducks were ever to be killed again! They were to be worshipped. But all that came out was a series of guttural sounds akin to coughing. But it seemed to placate the other humans, and they backed away taking the dead geese with them. 

Perc decided that the human mouth and throat wasn't yet ready to make any real speech sounds. He could teach the body to do it. Their bodies were capable of it, or would be eventually. His people had said so. So Perc could help them along a little. He stretched out in the vast space of his new vehicle. He thought he might wait a while before finding more of his people and telling them the humans were safe to inhabit. A few decades, maybe. Perc could live for a long time, switching human hosts when they expired. What a great chance to mold humans into what he wanted them to be. Ducks had reached the peak of their evolution; why not start on another species? Perc smiled.

He decided to name his human Cumin. Cumin the Human. Let the other duck-dwelling molecule monsters make fun of that!

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