Jianyu hadn’t realized how much he missed swimming. It wasn’t a strict requirement of his father’s species. Eridani were naturally amphibious, but their lungs worked just as well as their gills. The rest of the species that had formed the Coalition were strictly air breathers, and so Coalition ships had been built to favor the survival of the majority over the comfort of the minority. There were no water tanks on board the Benevolence besides the filtration and storage systems that processed grey water.
This sea wasn’t the environment he preferred most. The ancestors of the Eridani had developed their tolerance for salt water in the brackish water of swamps and estuaries, moving over land from one ideal habitat to the next. They could only tolerate open ocean for short periods of time. Jianyu, testing his tolerance, found that he could only stay under the waves for thirty minutes before the salt started burning his gills.
Near the beach, there wasn’t much seaweed at all, and the only living creatures he could find under the water were translucent blobs covered in fine hairs they used for locomotion. They scattered when he disturbed the water. If he kept very still and moved slowly, he could get close enough to touch them. They could sting when threatened, not enough to really hurt, just a brief sparkle of pain like a static shock.
Where the sand dropped away and the water was deeper, Jianyu found the really interesting part of Lotan. The seaweed started in patches and tufts at first, but soon enough it became a forest, clinging to the rocky bottom and sending up ribbons dozens of feet long. Some of the plants grew thin and flexible, while others were thick-trunked and nearly as solid as the stone beneath them. Life had filled this niche completely with animals that scuttled across the bottom, leapt between the thick fronds, and undulated through open water. A couple of times, Jianyu saw the plants swaying and caught a glimpse of something dark and massive moving through the forest. He stayed well clear of whatever that was, and thought that maybe he should have looked up the local predators before he’d ventured quite so far out.
After the third time he’d come up for air, the burning in his gills was too much to ignore anymore. A crust of salt was building up on them, itchy and tough to scrape off, so he headed back to the shore.
Xrrt was standing on the beach, swaying from side to side as she tried to keep her purchase on the shifting sand. Centaurians’ claws were inflexible, perfect for the hard rock of their homeworld but prone to sinking into softer surfaces. She made her way across the treacherous ground and met him as he was wading through the shallows. She put her two more delicate foreclaws on his shoulders and spoke for a long time, clicking her mandibles and knocking her thicker foreclaws together. Her translator interpreted this as, “I was worried about you.”
“I’m fine,” Jianyu said, laughing. He did feel lighter, less tethered to the ground, even though he was still adjusting to this planet’s gravity. For the duration of his swim, he’d been able to avoid thinking about how his parents were currently on a stranger’s ship, bound for a planet where they’d have to start over. He hadn’t worried about the messages Weyland kept sending him about neurological readouts. He’d even forgotten that he still hadn’t made a choice on whether to tell the captain about Sera’s little secret.
He’d been the first out on the beach, since he was the only member of the crew who still owned a swimsuit. The others must have gone shopping during his dive, because Weyland was huddled under a beach umbrella and Sera was sitting just out of reach of the waves and throwing rocks in the general direction of the water. The suit she’d found was a grey two-piece, with shorts and a tank top that left her arms bare to the shoulder. Her most recent injury was a darker line in the mass of scar tissue on her left side. Jianyu hadn’t seen so much of it before; the marks went all the way up her left arm and disappeared beneath the tank top, and there were more where the top gapped at her midriff.
She looked up when his shadow fell over her. “Hey, help me convince Weyland the sun isn’t going to kill him.”
Jianyu shaded his eyes, still adjusting to the unfiltered light above the waves, and looked up the slope of the beach at Weyland. He was still wearing an oversized t-shirt, although he’d put on an equally outsized pair of swim trunks instead of his usual dark pants.
“Enjoying your vacation?” he asked Sera.
“I don’t know,” said Sera. “I’ve never been to a beach before. Except for that one time, you know, where those mutineers tried to kill us.”
“Maybe this is your chance to make some better memories,” said Jianyu.
Sera made a noise that Jianyu chose to interpret as affirmative. He scratched his gills, flaking off the accumulated layer of salt, and headed back to the sea.