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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Fossil Wars

Contributor: Leilanie Stewart

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“Go on. Get lost! This wave-cut platform isn't big enough for two!”
“What on earth do you mean?” The lamellibra peered under the hinge line of his protruding umbo at the calcareous shape of the brachiopod next to him, and flipped his upper shell in disgust.
“I mean that this part of the oolitic limestone is mine. Mine, you hear? My territory. Take off!”
“I don't understand you. We’ve both been here for several millennia sharing this rock and you never had a problem before.”
The brachiopod clicked his umbo beak, his quartz glinting in the sun as anger washed over him. “Us? Sharing? I would never fix my pedicle within a million diatoms of a specimen like you.”
“What a thing to say! You’re an awfully aggressive fellow, are you not?”
“I can say what I want, thank you very much. I’ve been here since the ocean swept me by my vibratile cilia as a larval brachiopod,” he said, raising his curved, ventral valve shell to show his authority.
“Now look here,” said the lamellibra, “The only reason you can see me and I you is that this rock has been eroded. This isn’t a wave-cut platform, it’s a bedding plane. And we are exposed fossils!”
“Speak for yourself, you demented bivalve!”
“Look, can't we get along? We’re cemented into this rock, so we should at least try,” said the lamellibra, with a sigh. “And besides, we have a lot in common. We both have a most beautiful rounded umbo, joining our ventral and dorsal shells, do we not?”
“Ventral and dorsal valves,” said the brachiopod, with a tut. “Not shells.”
“Oh alright then, if you must be so pedantic,” said the lamellibra, grinding its hinge plates.
“I must. I can’t help myself. You and I are as different as chalk and cheese!”
“What’s cheese? I know chalk-- we live in it!”
“Cheese is nothing I’d expect a half-wit like yourself to know about.”
“Well, really! I daresay you have issues. You must have had a terrible childhood.”
“I had a most lovely childhood, if I do say so myself. I spent many idyllic summers cruising the warm Triassic seas, pursuing microscopic prey, until I was thrown up onto a shore by a violent storm.”
“Hmph!” said the lamellibra, with a snort. “Typical Atremata. Spoilt rotten.”
The brachiopod’s tone softened. “How did you know I’m an Atremata? I’m an Obolacea, to be precise.”
“I thought so. All you short pedicle sort do, is leach off floating seaweed, hanging onto it all day. You’re nothing but a bunch of lazy, ungrateful-“
“I’m impressed,” said the brachiopod, cutting him off with an edge sharper than a cuttlefish-bone knife. “Who would’ve thought you lot had brains under your leatherheads?”
“I beg your pardon?” The lamellibra clacked his hinge-teeth. “If you’re referring to my conchiolin, it is a brown, elastic ligament and not a leathery mass. I find that offensive!”
“Well, I’m ever so sorry,” said the brachiopod. “It’s just, my sort came first and your kind copied us, what with the concentric rings on our valves, and the perfectly curved umbos...”
“I say! I’ve never been so offended in all my life. I ought to cast you uncouth Obolus into the sea until your valves separate and drift apart on a lonely tide.”
“Nonsense! My valves are of the most primitive order. They are divergent, assymetrical... and their imperfections make them unique. Their awkward shapes would cling to one another. Try to separate them if you will!”
“I could, with the mirror-image valves of mine that nature has perfected through more advanced evolutionary techniques. My anterior and posterior valves could pry yours apart.”
“Oh stop. Stop with this petty tosh. You and your contracting adductors... you forget that time has made fools of us both.”
“I’m not entirely sure I know what you mean.”
“You harp on about evolution-- and in other words you refer to the passage of time to oversee your biological development. But what you fail to realise is that time has reduced us both. Long pedicals, short pedicals, they’ve gone. Time decayed your elastic ligament the moment you took your first step towards fossilisation. The tension of the elastic ligament required to open and close your adductors is gone. Therefore, you cannot clamp or prise anything. Therefore you cannot tear apart my valves!”
“Oh bother!” said the lamellibra. “You’re old. You're not supposed to be smarter than me.”
“Well, maybe old age comes with wisdom after all. I’m Triassic, you're Jurassic. Who knows, someday metamorphic processes might act on our rock and your valves might fuse with mine.”
The lamellibra spun on his umbo. “That might not be so bad. I am, after all, a Trigonia and my species no longer survives. It might be a way for me to live on in the fossil afterlife.”
“The fossil record, my friend. You and I shall live on, gracing the marbled fa├žade of a stately building or on display in a world-class museum. May we do it with our bivalves entwined. May we do it umbo on umbo!”


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Leilanie Stewart's fiction has appeared in magazines such as Carillon, Monomyth, Blood Moon Rising, Wufniks, The Crazy Oik, Sarasvati, The Pygmy Giant, Ariadne's Thread, Stanley the Whale and The Neglected Ratio.