Softpetal was the eleventh story I wrote for I Wouldn't Want to Be a Fish Right Now. It was created because I wanted to show a little bit more of Somen and Rikyu before those characters appear in Dragon Ball: Heart of the Dragon. Rikyu had yet to appear in any stories of mine, so he needed an appearance. As well, I wanted to give some backstory as to why Somen visits Lipanto so often (this is relevant to the very first chapter of HOTD). From that, and taking into account Somen's Yardatian abilities, I came up with the idea that he'd visit Lipanto every now and then to steal stuff. It was important as well to have upperclassmen teach him this, for I did not think that Somen's personality would lead him to doing that on his own.
Fairly simple idea, no? As it turned out, completing this story was much easier said than done. I wrote the first draft on January 30, 2020, from 11:10 am to 12:38 pm. I didn't write it all the way through in one go - there were a few breaks taken here and there as I went along. But that first draft was fairly easily-written, and did not foreshadow to me how difficult it would be to finalize in the future. After the first seven stories were posted in April, and then the first draft of Insatiable was completed on May 3rd, I decided to return to this story before moving onto Killing General Copper.
I began editing it on May 5th, doing mostly minor edits to the first few paragraphs in that time. On May 8th, I edited the entire story, producing the second draft. From then on, I edited the story every few days for many weeks, editing it in minor and moderate ways, and finally finishing the third draft on June 19th. Afterwards, still not satisfied with the prose, I continued editing it every few days, never editing it in a major way, but just changing wordings here and there throughout the text. On July 10th, I completed the fourth draft. I did some more minor editing the next day, but after that point, I considered it completed.
I only returned to the story again on October 4th to do a final polish. Of the six stories I released on October 7, 2020 (Three Foolish Monkeys, Killing General Copper One of Them, The Swindler, and How To Act Like a Professional Mercenary being the other five), Softpetal was easily the most polished and required the fewest changes in editing. I made only three minor edits to the prose. So overall, this was an exhausting process, but it produced a story with extremely polished prose, in my opinion.
We shall see in the endnotes below if I think the text holds up after all the revisions. I expect it will, but you never know. Anyways, onto the endnotes.
It was in the summer of Age 777 when Harusame and Hiyamugi took him to Lipanto. Being a good two years younger than them, he did whatever they asked. He never thought twice about it, for to do so would be to open himself to ridicule and ostracization. One night, being sure not to wake his father, he snuck out to meet them. They had not told him why they had chosen that world, and he had not pressed them about it. Inside an abandoned mill on the edge of town, Somen took hold of Hiyamugi’s arm, and they were gone.
Now that he had made the jump, he would be able to make his way back. The feeling of knowing was like a cask of sand spilling out from his skull.
Evening was creeping into what appeared to be a bustling street market. Merchants and patrons hailing from dozens of worlds had gathered by the thousands to sell and buy fresh foods and wares. It was sweltering; his eyes rising to the viridian skies, he gulped, steadying himself as a muttering reptilian shopper shoved his way past. A pungently smoky flavor permeated the air, making his throat itch. Simultaneously, the diluted scents of disparate restaurants were making his mouth water. Sensory overload paralyzed him. His schoolmates hardly seemed affected.
This was one of the few planets brimming with life following the devastation of Bahkaar’s Plague. That universal pandemic, and the war that had afterwards ensued between the Planet Trade Organization and the Corvos League (which, as far as he knew, was still unresolved), had left a majority of the universe uninhabited. There were fewer than a tenth as many people alive today as there had been fifteen years ago. Somen felt, above all else, overwhelmed by their volume.
“Alright Mugi, go on. Grab me some tamon if they have it.”
“I got you.”
The upperclassman lost himself comfortably in a sea of people. Harusame whispered in Somen’s ear, “Make sure you jump before they get you. I’m serious. You’re dead if they do. Alright? Can you make the jump?”
“I… think so. How fast are the guards?”
“As long as you don’t dawdle, you’ll be fine. But you have to be quick about it.”
He shut his eyes and soon became embarrassed with how long it was taking. Harusame remained patient. At last he could feel home pulling him back at the corner of his eyelids, that old comforting feeling. Yardrat was much farther away than he had hoped. “Got it.”
Harusame’s face was drawn tight. “Three blocks south of here, the Namekian’s got serrokin stashed in his ajisa plants. Every fifth one from the left. Knick one of those for us before returning home. We’ll make it worth your while. Take anything else on the way if you want, but we better get our serrokin.”
He came to a stop, blinking rapidly. A blue man in purple robes shoved him out of the way, and he nearly lost his balance. “What’s a Namekian?”
“Green guys with little antennae coming out of their heads. You’ll notice them. Him and his son. Only ones around. Remember, it’s every fifth ajisa from the left.”
“Bundled plants with pink flowers. You can’t miss ‘em.”
Before he could speak again, he was shoved into the crowd, and Harusame was gone. Not a single Yardrat was walking the streets amongst the merchants and buyers. It felt like their glances were oddly lingering upon him.
It was a lonely feeling, this. Somen was not one for people–not this many this close to each other. Forcing himself to do it was perhaps for the better, for he soon found the so-called Namekians at their stand, aliens to all those around them. Both the man (and he was a wrinkly old guy at that) and his son (who looked no older than Somen himself) were attending to customers. They were hopelessly outmatched in the awareness department, dealing with a horde of patrons. Apparently half the planet was addicted to serrokin. It was too easy to swipe an ajisa plant of his choosing. They were stacked fifteen rows high. He didn’t need to resort to Instant Transmission.
Throwing himself into the street-lurching horde, he was almost dragged over to the corner of the nearest road, where he caught his breath, focused on another stand farther off (what it was selling, he could not read), and teleported to it. The stand-owner, a fat Jolean, grunted, having been startled by Somen’s sudden appearance.
“Get out of here, Yardrat. Your kind ain’t welcome here. This is imperial space, you lawless cretin.”
“How much for one of those?”
“I wouldn’t sell you one of my abevho were you the last customer in the universe. Security! Security!!”
Somen looked around with a sardonic grin. When he noticed that no one was coming for him, that none of them cared, his cheeks grew hot, he drew himself up, and spat on the ground in front of the Jolean’s stand.
His neck twisting in exasperation like a malfunctioning crane, the merchant waved a stubby finger in the air, shouting, “Soldier! Soldier! Yes, Soldier! Here! Soldier, to me! To me, soldier! That’s right, soldier. Here! To me! I’m here, soldier! There’s a thief! Thief! Get the thief, soldier! Here, soldier!”
It was impossible to tell if there was a soldier or not. It was true that this was imperial space insomuch as Lipanto lay in the heart of the Planet Trade Organization (and one could even say it was the capital of the empire), and it was also a fact that Yardrat was a free world that existed at odds with the Planet Trade. He had known the risk before coming. He wasn’t going to prison over a vegetable.
Without wasting another second, he swiped one of the wrinkly blue peppers, closed his eyes, pressed his fingers to his forehead, and returned home. He half-expected to feel swollen fingers wrapped around his ankle when he landed.
A second later, he beheld the familiar landscape of Yardrat in the dead of night. It was more beautiful from the outskirts of town than in its heart, where light pollution prevented one from viewing the dimmer stars. Hiyamugi was munching on what looked like dried meat, while Harusame was looking over a golden necklace.
“Got the stuff?”
“Nice, you’re quicker than you look, Somen. C’mon, let’s get high.”
He held up his second stolen prize. “Look at this. I took it. Do you know what it is? Is it safe to eat?”
“No idea. Go ahead and try it. I don’t care. We’re going to get high.”
That had been his chance. Instead of doing serrokin with them that night, Somen took a bite out of his abevho pepper. Suffice to say, but in his thirteen years of life up until that point, that had been, unquestionably, his worst decision yet.
For weeks, the three of them snuck to Lipanto in the dead of night and stole whatever they were craving at that particular moment in time. They always took an ajisa plant, for it held the best of treats. After nearly killing himself from eating so much of the abevho pepper, a mistake he had sworn thereafter to never make again, Somen had been allowed to try serrokin after their second trip. From then on, he had been hooked. He would sometimes steal galin jerky, although he was not nearly as adventurous as the upperclassmen.
There was little in the way of describing it, or rather, that which transpired in the days following. The only thing he was certain of was that he wanted more bliss, more focus, his brain feeling right and good like he was flying through a wind tunnel and never hitting the edges.
The great thing about robbing a drug dealer was that they could have no recourse from the law (the ephemeral guards) over lost product.
Some two months later, the three of them returned to Lipanto for the twenty-sixth time to try their luck in the streets. They were thirsting for serrokin bad. It was Harusame’s turn. The other two watched from a nearby alley, their fingers twitching, their minds dull and restless. Somen no longer cared about how many people were around.
It was only after he had taken the ajisa plant that a soldier in full Planet Trade Organization armor sprung at him from across the street (appearing so swiftly that they could say nothing) and tackled him to the ground. The schoolboy let out a cry as the soldier beat him. Shouting, Hiyamugi ran over to the man in a futile attempt to make him stop, but he slapped the Yardrat to the ground and continued shaking Harusame by the shoulders, his head smacking against the stone road, leaving wet streaks behind.
Somen backed up, running deeper into the alley. Hiyamugi let out a cry of horror. The boy closed his eyes, humming to himself. He didn’t want to hear what was about to happen. Pressing his fingers to his temple, he inhaled and made the jump.
Only when he reappeared on the outskirts of Yardrat did he realize someone had grabbed his ankle.
“Gotcha, thief!” The Namekian darted away, hunkering down into some kind of fighting stance once he had gained enough distance between them. He bounced on the balls of his feet, as if daring the Yardrat to attack.
“What in the name of Ramen was that? That guy was killing Harusame!”
“He killed them both, I’d bet. Father requested it. We’re tired of your kind stealing our ajisa. We sell those to survive. People like you deserve what you get.”
Somen shrugged; he couldn’t care less. The Namekian frowned, shooting his fist out with an elastic arm attack. Falling back from the force of it, the Yardrat gasped, his face exploding in pain. The Namekian hit him again, and again, and soon he tasted blood.
“I’m going to put a stop to you!”
The idea came to him late–only when the green fool tried it again. Spitting blood, he parried the incoming fist, as much as it hurt, and held on desperately, pressing his fingers to his forehead and leaping across space in one motion. So what if the upperclassmen had died? They had forced him to go with them to Lipanto. This had been their fault. He wouldn’t mourn them.
Instead of leaving his foe in a busy street, Somen transported him halfway across the planet, to a desolate part of Lipanto, where snowy mountains rose over a bleak wilderness. Maybe he would be able to survive that, maybe not. The Namekian swore the entire time, threatened that soldiers would be coming soon, and even tried to shoot a few energy beams at him at the end, yet the boy, with his Yardratian dexterity, had plenty of time to make the jump back home before getting hit, sore as his jaw was.
- The name of this story refers to the definition of "soft-pedal", or going slowly. I changed pedal to petal, though, as this story deals with ajisa flowers. The original name of this story was Flower Snatchers. That was too basic, so I changed it to Pretty Little Flower. That also felt tonally wrong the longer I edited it, so I ended up changing it to Softpetal. I am very happy with the name I settled on.
- Harusame and Hiyamugi are named after types of noodles, just like Somen and Soba are.
- Lipanto will be featured heavily in Heart of the Dragon. I spent some time in the opening paragraphs exploring the setting (which was, in some ways already set due to Lipanto having appeared in numerous stories of mine before this one). It will be one of the few bustling trade ports still in existence as of Age 778, due to Bahkaar's Plague, as well as the war between the PTO and the Corvos League. As early as the first chapter of HOTD, I will devote a large portion of time to this planet and its culture.
- I tried to use all of Somen's senses in the opening paragraphs to give an indication of what it's like on Lipanto. I've noticed in the past that I've neglected the sense of smell in particular when describing scenes, so that was something I tried to consciously fix in this one.
- It was tricky writing about Bahkaar's Plague here. I have only shown the outbreak of that plague in chapter VI of volume IV of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Planet Trade Organization. I have also written one more scene of the outbreak on Faeri, though chapter IX remains unpublished as of me writing this commentary. Overall, though, I haven't dealt with Bahkaar's Plague much yet, so writing a story after it's swept through Universe 7 was difficult to say the least. I tried to go at this from an introvert's perspective by giving Somen an uncomfortableness around large groups of people because he grew up with the universal population being roughly a tenth of what it had been before the plague had swept through. This is not to say that the plague hit every planet (certainly, it left Yardrat and Earth untouched, to name a few), so oftentimes the lack of population is not evenly distributed across cities or worlds.
- The way that Harusame and Hiyamugi act on Lipanto shows, I hope, that they have done this sort of thing more than six or seven times already.
- Somen lacks agency compared to the upperclassmen. Doing exactly what he's told is one thing, but he doesn't even question why he's putting his life on the line for serrokin. Somen has no idea what serrokin is at this point in the story.
- I am sure that everyone knows that Nishi and his son supply serrokin. Nobody would want to buy so much ajisa. The PTO soldiers are surely in on it too, otherwise their business would not have flourished for so long.
- The Jolean was so hostile to Somen because Yardrats are not members of the Planet Trade Organization. Truth be told, they could be killed on sight because of that.
- "Somen looked around with a sardonic grin. When he noticed that no one was coming for him, that none of them cared, his cheeks grew hot, he drew himself up, and spat on the ground in front of the Jolean’s stand." - this is the moment Somen realizes he could get away with stealing whatever he wants on Lipanto. A very influential moment for him, as he returns to Lipanto quite often after this, even after Hiyamugi and Harusame are killed.
- "His neck twisting in exasperation like a malfunctioning crane, the merchant waved a stubby finger in the air, shouting, “Soldier! Soldier! Yes, Soldier! Here! Soldier, to me! To me, soldier! That’s right, soldier. Here! To me! I’m here, soldier! There’s a thief! Thief! Get the thief, soldier! Here, soldier!”" - there was probably a soldier somewhere off in the crowds, but he likely could not hear the merchant's screams. With that said, the soldiers aren't obligated to protect any of the merchants, so it's not like it was guaranteed that one would intervene had they heard the Jolean.
- The shibumi feel permeates this story throughout the entire text, but one area where it becomes more pronounced is here: "A second later, he beheld the familiar landscape of Yardrat in the dead of night. It was more beautiful from the outskirts of town than in its heart, where light pollution prevented one from viewing the dimmer stars".
- I have an affinity towards spicy foods, and peppers in particular. I don't think Somen made the wrong choice by eating the abevho pepper, but he wasn't really ready for it. He needed to build up his spice tolerance before doing such a thing.
- Somen trying the abevho pepper rather than getting high showcases his innocence and curiosity, two of his more dominant traits.
- "There was little in the way of describing it, or rather, that which transpired in the days following. The only thing he was certain of was that he wanted more bliss, more focus, his brain feeling right and good like he was flying through a wind tunnel and never hitting the edges." - I suppose this paragraph was my description of what it feels like to trip on adderall (when taking too much), which is what serrokin is based on.
- "Somen no longer cared about how many people were around." - the serrokin did that to him. It's not so much that he doesn't care, but that he needs the serrokin more and his addiction in and of itself lessens the anxiety he feels around others.
- The lesson of the second scene is that the Yardrats tempted fate too much, and they grew comfortably lazy in a dangerous situation. They handled their stealing operations poorly. They are just kids, of course, but that is no excuse, given that they knew the risk they were taking by merely visiting Lipanto.
- Somen never liked Harusame and Hiyamugi. Hiyamugi ran off to save Harusame, but Somen did not follow him, as the upperclassmen did not treat him very well.
- The idea to have Rikyu confront Somen was something that came to me late in the plotting of this one-shot. Originally, they weren't going to interact. I wanted Rikyu to have a stronger presence in the story, so that was changed. Also, there wasn't a clean ending originally. It was just going to end after Somen teleported back home following Hiyamugi and Harusame's deaths. That felt a little lackluster, so I added in one more plot point.
- Somen doesn't care that Harusame and Hiyamugi died, but the brutality of that will definitely make him act more cautious when he returns to Lipanto in the future. He also doesn't care that the Namekians would struggle to survive with all the thievery going on. They're drug dealers, and they clearly aren't suffering for customers, so Somen knew that Rikyu's sob story was a lie.
- Rikyu is somewhat of a warrior, but Somen is not. He would've been dropped by just about anyone.
- The end of this story goes beyond killing someone because they deserve it in a darkly comedic way. The prank that Somen pulls is quite dastardly, and it shows the evolution of the "you get what you deserve" theme in IWWTBAFRN. This evolution notably continues in How To Act Like a Professional Mercenary. Sometimes letting your foes live produces more suffering. The important thing to note, however, is that neither Rikyu nor Somen are good people. One is a drug dealer and another is a thief. There is no moral argument occurring between them. They are merely laying judgment down upon one another, for better or for worse, to the best of their powers.
- It goes without saying, but Rikyu could definitely find his way back home. He can fly at a minimum. Probably can't sense ki, though.
- The story originally ended with a dreadful paragraph about Somen having some fantasies about Audacci and getting all worked up from them as he drifted off to sleep (while simultaneously thinking about how little he cared for Hiyamugi and Harusame). I removed that because it was a horrible paragraph, so the story ends a paragraph earlier now than it did in the first draft.
I quite like this one. Very good prose. The descriptions of Lipanto are excellent, in my opinion. Everything here works. The use of serrokin to parallel my use of adderall in real life was a nice touch. Somen got some good characterization here that I will have to keep in mind when I write Heart of the Dragon. The scene with Rikyu at the end was pretty funny, too. Also, like Somen, I don't much care that the upperclassmen died, but that's probably because I've known some people like them in my life. Anyways, this was a good beginning for the shibumi-themed section of I Wouldn't Want to Be a Fish Right Now. The evolution towards the punchline not being a death, but a prank, is significant for the development of the collection as a whole.
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Part 138 ---->