Turtles are supposed to be dumber than mammals. All they should do is eat, sleep, and move linearly-at least when referring to box turtles. Hence the name, the people at the PetCo were unaware they were selling animals to a scientist who saw more. Thus, Ben and Bouyance were bought, named, and exposed to radium. The chemical did not cause them to die or cause any mutation at all. But as the lab was raided by government authorities for performing illegal experiments-the lab specimen ultimately became a ten year old son's pets.
They were alright with their circumstance. The scientist who had experimented on them would measure them every couple of months to check for changes-he worked retail now as his license to publish was suspended and he had no other option-but otherwise, they stayed in the son's room undisturbed. It was a quaint quiet life.
Bouy, as he preferred to be called, was the more laid back snackaholic, while Ben was adventurous and interested in things that were incorrect for his species. He was awoken by the racket of his irritable younger sibling.
"BEN!" Bouy had endured enough of his brother's antics and waddled over to the upturned bowl his brother called home. He was getting ready to launch into a tirade when he saw that Nathaniel-their caretaker's iPhone-was propped up against the edge of the plastic house. The phone was playing a CNN News broadcast. The static from the too big earphones on top of Ben's ears were what had shattered the reptile's afternoon nap.
Bouy was adamant his brother not rile up the teenager, but he knew he would have to approach the situation rationally or Ben would start doing it specifically to irritate him. "Benjamin, what is all this? What are you doing bro?"
Benjamin paused the video and turned to his sibling. "Oh I'm sorry for waking you up Bouy. I was just trying to see if Trump was president or not. I was hoping the humans in the secret service would assassinate him already because he has shady ties to the Kremlin. It was really good so I was trying to listen in, apparently there's another e-mail scandal and its-"
Bouy felt his head spinning. His brother had an annoying habit of creating insane unrealistic theories about news stories. He always ended up disappointed. "What's the probability of that being true?"
"Oh the assassination? It's currently at .000004 percent. So it is statistically insignificant that this country will revert back to Obama era politics."
Bouy shrugged. He literally had no clue about the specifics, but he did want to ask for the sound to be lowered. "Well, he is the more intelligent human, He kind of looks like a Cheeto, but otherwise we should start our day off. Why not turn the sound down, Ben?"
Sluggishly, Ben complied as Bouy got some water from the hamster feeder in a ceramic doll's cup. He had to get up on his hind legs to access the water dispenser. As Bouy was doing this Ben mused, "I wish turtles had to wear clothes like humans."
Bouy gave a slow shake of his head as he lapped up some moisture from the cup. "No, it's better our way Ben. It's much easier to clean ourselves off and we don't get skin irritations as quickly as Nathaniel does." He looked up to see his owner frantically searching through his room for something. The pile of dirty clothes on his bed were thrown to the floor. His straightened books were shoved to the floor. A razor was unsheathed from his indiscernable pile of things and hit the wall of the glass case with a resounding thud. Nathaniel's head swiveled to the box turtle abode and his eyes narrowed.
Bouy turned to where Ben was squatted next to the iPhone. "Ben I think Nate is looking for his phone, you shouldn't have taken it."
There was a blinding brilliant as the house above them was removed and an enormous hand reached down. There was a brief moment when one glass covered eyes with his magnified eyes peered into the two turtles' home. Ben had retreated into his shell and Bouy couldn't believe that he'd had the nerve to steal it. The hand slid the slim electronic out from under Ben's grasp and lifted it out.
His voice boomed above them. "Stupid turtles, why do you guys keep doing this?"
Then his head cocked to the doorway as his sister thrust her head in to see what the commotion was all about. She laughed. "It's because it's warm and vibrates. He was just probably trying to mate with it and make little baby turtles."
The roof of the house was gentle placed back on them and the voices became muffled as the lid of the glass case was slid back into place. Nathaniel recoiled. "Ewwww, Sally, that's really disgusting and-"
Sally flipped her brown hair in her younger brother face and said flippantly. "Whatever, they are your smelly animals."
Bouy sighed dejected. "That's not our world, Ben, we might be given a lock so we can't slide the cage open when Nate's asleep and eat pizza or watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on iPad anymore."
Ben rattled his shell back and forth to get it upright. Once he had achieved this, he let out a loud irritated groan. "I wasn't done, Nathaniel." Nathaniel at this point had already vacated the house so he was speaking to no one. Not that Nathaniel would've been able to hear him, even if he was in the room.
Bouy patted his brother on the head. "You could filch it from him when he takes his afternoon nap."
Bouy was unconscious and he knew even in his state that the tank was moving. He could hear Ben snoring beside him so he knew it must be early morning or very late afternoon. He assumed it was the mother taking them to the vet. The soft jostling of the car as they were on the way there. The sterile gloved fingers lifting them, prodding them slightly with instruments. Maybe it was the old man measuring them again. He was considering them easier to measure in their groggy state. He was probably just doing what he always did.
It wasn't until he felt something wet that he startled out of sleep. His whole body was submerged until he struggled to breathe. He woke up and immediately switched to breathing from his gills. He-no, they had-been left outside in some sort of rocky pond enclosure. He floundered for a second before washing up on the ceramic tiles that were slated around the pond. Ben looked lost and confused. He was sitting on a bottlecap that was the last thing he'd stolen from Nathaniel. Bouy expected him to cry or show some outward sign of hopelessness. But he was strangely calm, like he'd been expecting this all along.
"Ben? Are you hurt? Is everything alright? You're thinking of a plan of what do we do now kind of thing?"
Ben started speaking very quickly in a calculated monotone. "I've seen a hundred movies with this type of thing, Stuart Little, Moana. We have to build shelter and find the mice. The mice were experimented on before us. Therefore, we must conclude that they should possess a hierarchy and an advanced society that would sustain us. Theoretically, since we are older they should worship us as gods."
"Ben, what are you talking about? Is this the shock speaking through this logic driven autopilot." Bouy picked up a twig that had been floating in the pond and measured himself against it. "Get out of your head and help me put this branch into some kind of tent."
Ben cross his arms indifferently, "It's going to rain, Bouyance. There's no point in building a collapsable structure. That twig would also attract lightning. I would prefer to be an alive turtle rather than a fried turtle."
Bouy couldn't believe his brother. "Ben, I don't want to just sit here. Wait, where are you going? Wait, I'm coming with you."
Ben was crawling down the side of the stone pond by using a sprig of dried ivy. Bouy lost sight of him as he crawled into an awning. The place where Ben was a small stone alcove cut into the rock. A predator would see it as the rock itself with natural shading and lighting. The optical illusion was well thought out. Not made by a normal woodland critter. Bouy wondered if there had been some truth to Ben's rambling. He'd never really believed that Ben could read and when he'd said he'd read the professor's research, Bouy had relentlessly heckled his younger brother. Now, he wasn't so sure that was warranted.
Bouy caught up to Ben with a sluggish kind of awe. There was a door tucked into the rocks with a house number and a shiny brass doorknob. Ben and Bouy exchanged glances as they wondered if it could be real. They knew they were different, but they'd never met anyone else who was openly adaptive of human customs. Ben was the one who knocked. Bouy reflectively grabbed his hand, but before he could comment on the absurdly of all this the door itself opened.
Inside was a warm miniature sitting room furnished with bits and bobs from the humans world-some doll furniture, pet store bits, and then strange what they could only assume were handmade pieces. There was real bound books on the shelf-real human minature additions, a tiny Picasso, a doll's teaset. The detail was mind boggling. Ben could've sworn there was even a microscope.
The door was opened by a rather foul looking rat. One eye was glassy grey and the other had a gash like someone had tried to rip it out. His fur was patchy in places and his small spidery hands were oddly discolored blue and yellow. Over this he worse a course oven mitt that had been stitched into an apron. But his toothless gummy smile was calm, collected and genuine. There was a softness to his house that conflicted with the harshness of his being-pink window hangings, cherubs tucked in everywhere, and soft purple orchids that looked well tended.
Before they could move a koi fish wheeled into view with a big smile. "Oh hi dears, new castaways are you? Come on in before the cold'll get to you. It's harsh time of year. Oh, this is Felix by the way, he rescued me from the pond while he was trying for some minnows. I'm his companion, I organize his work, with this chair he's built me. It helps me to breathe, I'm a bit pathetic in what I can and cannot do."
They both quietly walked in, in awe of their surroundings still. The dollhouse sofa was softened with bird down. Bouy ate everything that Saoirse the koi handed to him to her utter delight. There was a small water bed that she would sometimes roll over to for a breathe or two before cheerfully picking up whatever chore she was doing previously. Bouy was tempted to feel sorry for her, but had to admire her spirit and tenacity to make it look effortless. Ben, on the other hand, was in deep discussions with Felix about setting up a sustainable garden and an insect disposal site, where ants would leave their dead.
Ben would at intervals, confer with Bouy, "That doesn't sound bad does it?"
"For now, that sounds good. But how will we watch tv or have water or any of the human necessities they have?"
Felix spoke to Bouy directly, "I work with a lot of FHPs like yourself evenly. I have many former roommates that I've set up in discrete locations to minimize their human interference. If you don't trust me, it is perfectly understandable." There was a soft accent when he hit the letter r. It was charming and odd.
Bouy considered this. "I don't like taking things, if I can't offer anything in return. I mean I didn't know my parents, but it's the first time we've met critters other than ourselves. It's a hostile world. I'm a careful person."
"That is a good life policy. Saoirse I'm sure can keep you both busy. It's been awhile since she's had a real vacation with my advocacy work and research keeping me occupied. You can earn your keep if that's how you like it. I want Ben as an assistant, maybe collaborate on some work. Bouy I don't know you well enough to see what you'd like. I'm sure you could find a lady friend or a gaming system if you wanted company or cash. The arrangement is mutually beneficial. We both win."
Bouy oddly, even with this reassurance could not bring himself to trust Felix. He had no qualms about the koi, who seemed genuine to her very bones so spending the rest of the day helping her was something he did reverently. She was simple and very easy to get along with. Felix left to do something he called 'observations.' Saoirse was eager to get them on their feet so she showed them the trade market.
It was located in a long narrow tunnel leading from the pond to under the Nathaniel's house. Both the turtles were surprised that there was this whole other world outside of their glass tank. The trade market itself was like a supermarket of fresh produce and pet supplies. It was run by a small family of mice who were so cheerful and cheeky that Ben wondered whether they were real. A lot of this seemed like a daydream, they'd accidentally seeped into.
Ben had some woodchips shoved inside his shell which strangely was a hot commodity here. They filled a drawstring bag with a water feeder, a slightly cracked iPhone 4, and bedding enough for the both of them. Saoirse was kind enough to get them some seeds and a plastic bag of dried crickets.
"This should last you awhile," she said simply, "Think of it as a welcome to our neighborhood present. You are the first turtles in our community after all."
There were food pellets as well similar to the feed that Nathaniel would feed them. The mice would take nothing for them other than real coins. Ben's mouth watered longingly. Bouy comforted him. "Haven't you always wanted to try organic living?"
"Yeah, but not out of necessity, I can't believe how expensive these are. But I also used to think we were the only real anthropomorphic animals in existence."
"I didn't think that they made turtle specific comforters and bedding. We'll figure this out Ben. Everything will turn out okay."