Prequel to The Rabbit Who Ate the Moon– this won’t be in the final draft, just playing around with the story. 🙂
She spends the first month along the shore, following the pod as it works it’s way along the lake. She stays far enough inland to avoid their grasp, sometimes the younger members will lunge at the shore like orcas chasing seals. They know she isn’t one of the normal prey species, but the island chains are vast and she doubts they think of her as anything other than an unusual meal.
Once she’s established she’s no threat, she starts to work herself out of ‘snack’ and into ‘smart-not-snack’. The pod roams the shores of the massive volcanic lake in order to cultivate a variety of foodstuffs; they are primarily plant eaters for all their youthful omniovoring. The older pod members shells have thickened, precluding land-based hunting. She watches them as they weed and scatter seedpods, impressed by the careful manipulations done by beak and water. She waits until they are far enough away that danger isn’t imminent, and then mimics their behavior.
She’d chased away almost immediately, but she does it again a few days later. There’s a sort of dance to it, moving in and out like repelling magnets. A handful of days after they stop chasing her away, one of them shows her how to nip off the buds of the bright purple flowers, to thin the crop for better fruits.
There’s a moment where she hesitates, because elders are dangerous, even if they can’t reach her, and the flowers are partially on land, and partially in water. But the elder simply waits for her, and she finally starts the pruning. The elder grunts and she can feel the water currents whisper against her ankles. She thinks it might mean something akin to ‘Good Dog’ and that’s a start.
The youngsters still rush her, now and then, but it’s bluff and obviously so. They pull up far short of her at first, sending soaking splash of water, then continue closer when they she doesn’t run. She splashes back, one day, feeling comfortable enough to play, and they take off with overly dramatic squeaks that are completely ignored by the elders.
Two months after that she is spending more of her time in the water than not, and the pod as a whole displays a friendly disinterest. She plays with the youngsters, slowly picking up the basic ripples and water distortions that pass as language among the pod. There’s very little vocalization between them, but she notices they use it more with her. She answers them back, as best she can, and goes from Dog to Parrot.
The step from talking at her to talking to her takes much longer, but after a half-year of following the pod along it’s migratory route to the sea, she wins herself an adoptive place among the pod. They still don’t think of her as one of them, but they don’t think of her as not one of them, and that’s what she’s been sent her to do.
So when she sends that night’s transmission back to the diplomatic core, she sends along the command to bring her home.
Four months later the ship bringing her replacements crashes with a single survivor, and suddenly she’s not alone.