The Kalypso III sailed onward toward the bright center of the muddy red nebula they’d taken to calling the mantis. The visual required a touch of imagination and some squinting, but the name had stuck. The brain is funny in that way; latching onto any idea, no matter how implausible, is better than the shapeless chaos of the unknown. That’s what Torin thought, anyway.

“Can you see the mantis?” he asked Laxmi.

She barely glanced up from her book. “Sure, it’s right there.”

Torin pressed his nose up against the viewport. “I know the nebula’s right there. I mean the shape—like the man in the moon. Do you actually see a mantis?”

Laxmi shut her book, the pages clapping together loudly, and sighed. “Yeah, I guess. There’s the head, and the body is down that way, and there’s the tail.”

Torin looked away from the window. “Huh? Mantises don’t have tails.”

Laxmi groaned. “Of course they do. How else would they swim?”

“Swim?” Torin left the window behind and joined Laxmi on the couch. She didn’t scoot away, he noticed. “They don’t swim.”

She scrunched her face. “Yes they do. They’re like a cross between a dolphin and a tiny whale. Like a walrus maybe. What are you thinking of?”

He was thinking he could feel her warmth through the cushions. “I don’t know. I thought a mantis was an insect.”

“No, you’re wrong,” she said, sounding more confident than him. “They were like 500 kilograms. Definitely not insects.” She picked her book up again and flipped through the pages, searching for where she’d left off. “Who cares? It doesn’t matter. They’re all dead now anyway.”

The Kalypso III moved along, inching ever closer to the shapes within the cosmic clouds.

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