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The house-sized carcass exploded, spewing rotten entrails across the beach. Dlujan grunted and mopped the mess off his visor. Its glass shield protected his face from the worst of the splatters, but did nothing to block the stench. The deathfin had plainly expired days before it washed up on the warm Southern beach. Author's Notes
"At least now we don't have to set up the block and tackle to hoist the organs out," Meivun said brightly. At six feet, the giant woman towered over the rest of the dissection crew.
Dlujan glared up at her from his own four-foot height. "Yes, but now they're out of order and so is the harpoon's penetration path," he pointed out. "We'll have to reassemble them, or at least try to reconstruct the path."
His classmates groaned.
"Draif, Bleffen, start looking for everything damaged by the harpoon. Put a numbered survey flag in the sand next to each piece. Meivun, get a fresh sketchbook and start drawing the carcass in its current position," said Dlujan.
"I think I can salvage the first illustration," Meivun said, looking at the soggy sketchbook she held. "I had it pressed against my chest when you, um..."
"... opened the case," Draif sniggered.
"Good," Dlujan said shortly. "Now let's get back to work so we can finish this phase of the project." The flensing knife, easily as long as his arm, flashed in the hot sun as Dlujan made the next cut.
The dissection crew worked throughout the day. They hauled the decomposing organs close enough together to show the harpoon's path. They found the broken tip of the harpoon wedged in the bone that had broken it. They searched the main carcass for signs of further damage. They calculated the time of death from the state of decomposition. The conclusions were clear.
Dlujan sighed. "It's just not working," he admitted. "We aren't getting enough penetration for quick kills on the big deathfins. They're just dying of blood loss or infection, days later."
"The harpoon nicked the liver before cutting into the intestine," Bleffen said, nudging the cushion-sized organ. "A direct there would've worked."
Draif shook his head. "The spine and fin provide too much protection."
"We could try skyflares again," said Meivun.
"Not after the way our first model of a chemically powered harpoon gun blew up," said Dlujan. "No warsailor would risk that on the open ocean, and rightly so. They'll stick with the spring-powered guns."
"We need a way to make more serious wounds," said Draif.
"I'm out of ideas," said Bleffen. "Our final project is sunk."
"We still have the data," Meivun said. "That's enough to fulfill the assignment and earn a passing grade."
"What about you, Dlujan -- do you have any more ideas?" asked Draif.
"Only one," Dlujan said grimly.
* * *
"You're going to the mainland?" Glariim shrieked. Her thick-soled wooden clogs raised her to his height, so that she could scream directly into his face.
"I have to," said Dlujan. "None of our ideas for killing sea monsters have made more than minor improvements. The attacks are gradually getting worse, Glariim -- we have to do something."
That stopped her. Glariim had lost an uncle to a deathfin last year.
"Why does it have to be the mainland?" she asked, quietly. "Why can't you stay here? There are plenty of Assistant programs you could take."
"We don't have any big cities on the islands. Our libraries are small, too. The great universities are all on the mainland, and they have whole mountains of books in their libraries," Dlujan said. He rubbed a hand through his sandy hair. "I need to learn more than I can learn here. Those universities are full of scientists, experts in everything -- maybe there I'll find a solution."
Glariim sighed, playing with the promise necklace she wore. The matching half of the bivalve shell hung around Dlujan's neck. "We were planning to get married," she reminded him.
Dlujan winced. They had, in fact, already sent in the license application, and expected to receive a reply shortly after graduation. Now they would have to file an amendment. Studying on the mainland would lower that license's chance of approval for a couple not living together. "I know," he said.
"You don't even know if you'll score high enough to get a scholarship," said Glariim.
"I think I will," said Dlujan. "I have some money saved, just in case. Even if the government won't pay my way, I can talk to the warsailors -- they've helped other students who wanted to research sea monsters."
Glariim flung herself on him, her short strong arms crushing the air from his chest. "I'll miss you so much!"
"I'll miss you too," said Dlujan, when he could breathe again. "I'll come home every vacation. I promise."
"You better," said Glariim, her sea-bright eyes glittering.
As he walked down the shallow steps of her house, Dlujan wondered if he had just blown up his love life like the deathfin on the beach. Then he stopped, still, where the walkway met the sidewalk. Could there be a way to blow up sea monsters from inside? The escaping gasses had certainly made an impressive mess of the carcass. That kind of damage would kill a live deathfin quickly, if not instantly.
Dlujan shook his head. He couldn't think of a way. Maybe, just, maybe, a mainland education would give him new and better ideas for fighting the sea monsters that strangled trade and threatened the floating villages every storm-season. He would just have to go and find out.
This story came out of the March 2010 Muse Fusion. It was inspired and sponsored by Mikka. Here a team of young Duurludirj students are studying a deathfin carcass in hopes of figuring out better ways to kill or deter sea monsters that threaten ships. This shows why one of them, Dlujan, decides to pursue advanced education on the mainland, despite the personal drawbacks.