For Sabrina, to Her Guys.
Prana floated above the silty ocean bottom, shifting her skin color to match its color and visual texture. She spotted a shrimp scuttling along, but she didn’t have time to stop for a snack. Her Teacher had sent for her.
She squeezed through the narrow opening to his cave and looked around. She couldn’t see him. But then, she never could. She’d only glimpsed him once, as a flash of movement out of the corner of one eye.
His voice seemed to come from all around. "Good morning, Prana."
"Good morning, Teacher."
"You have proven yourself a worthy student, and I feel that it is time for me to give you your final test."
Fear flashed through her, and Prana fought to control her skin. "I don’t know if I’m ready."
Prana shrunk around her cuttle bone and sank toward the floor of the cave. "I’m listening."
"Your final test is to survive a full sun cycle in open water."
Prana’s first impulse was to squirt ink at him. Or at least in whatever general direction she guessed he was in. "How will getting eaten help me master my skin?"
"It won’t. Staying alive will."
"That is wise. You came to me, Prana. If you wish to take what you’ve learned and leave, you are free to do so."
Prana remembered that fleeting glimpse of him. She had seen his striped limbs–that was how she was certain he was male. "What if I pass the test?" she asked.
"Then we will be equals."
"Would you mate with me?" Prana asked. Her Teacher was the only male she’d ever encountered who hadn’t offered her his spermatophore, and she would gladly accept them.
"I would," he said.
She wanted to give her eggs the best chance she could. "I will try."
Prana floated toward the open water. Her skin rippled blue and green. She imagined herself growing transparent. She imagined a shark crushing her soft body in its jaws, grinding her cuttlebone to powdery fragments.
Schools of fish swam by, and she matched their silver flanks. The sun cycle crawled by. She focused on the tiny variations in the light, and matched them with her skin. The subtle work was draining.
A shark swam by.
It didn’t even slow down, and she bobbed in its wake.
The light of the sun cycle finally faded, replaced by the silvery glow of the moon. She matched the patterns in the dark water almost effortlessly.
She floated back to her Teacher’s cave. She squeezed inside, and showed him what she’d learned.
His striped arms appeared in front of her, and she reached for him.