“So,” Jot asked Richard, “Do you have any friends you want to see while you are here?”
Richard thought for a few moments. “Not… really. I never had that many friends. The ones I do want to see aren’t here right now, and the remaining ones… I wouldn’t turn down a chance to see them, but I could also do alright without.” Richard wondered if he felt more attached to his current friends because he was absorbing some of Jot’s Xevaronian ideals. He supposed that was part of it, but it really only made them become friends more quickly. If they didn’t mesh well, then they would have just remained acquaintances.
Richard and his friends went to visit a zoo. It was a different experience from the one on Maropa, since that had animals from different places. All of the animals here were from Earth. Or at least, they claimed such. Richard wasn’t an expert, so he didn’t know for sure. Still, he was certain about some iconic ones such as elephants and giraffes. There were some similar creatures from elsewhere, but in appearance they might be only as similar as humans and Noxians or Xevaronians.
Richard found it fun to read about where on Earth the animals first came from, and whatever else was written about them on the plaques in front of their areas. He was becoming something of a biology nerd, though before he had gone off to university it had only been a passing interest. Susan showed great enthusiasm as well, though of course almost everything was new to her. That was the case for Jot as well, though he didn’t show much enthusiasm on his face. Still, Richard knew he was enjoying himself. Hiroshi had actually already been to this particular zoo, which made sense because it was the biggest zoo in the nearby area so he had visited it while growing up. Still, he seemed to have fun re-visiting.
Mr. Smith also came along. Richard thought he could have convinced him to pay for the trip even if he hadn’t tagged along, but there was no reason to leave him behind. Except for potentially embarrassing stories, but that was just part of life. Richard’s mother also came along, which made their group look almost like a pair of brother and twin sisters. Susan and Anna had very different hair and clothing styles, which made them look more like normal sisters as long as nobody looked too closely. Jot and Hiroshi added some nice diversity to their lineup, and most people ended up drawn to Jot’s size or Mr. Smith’s very long hair.
On another day, they went to an aquarium. Jot commented, “It’s just… a zoo for things that live in the ocean.”
Richard nodded. That wasn’t an incorrect definition. However, since there were so many different kinds of life in the ocean, it made sense to be separate from a zoo. There needed to be massive facilities for the water and different varieties of fish and other aquatic creatures. Fish actually comprised the least interesting bits of aquatic life. There were starfish, which were not fish and also not shaped like stars. If they were the shape of actual stars, they would just be a ball. However, there was also the shape called a star, a five pointed object, and they were indeed shaped like those. Some of them, anyway. It turned out there were actually many that had more legs, which made them very different. After all, they were basically just a torso with legs sticking out in all directions, with stickers to climb things and a mouth on the bottom. Then there were jellyfish, which were also not fish and of course not made of jelly. However, they did look somewhat gel-like.
The aquarium was located next to the ocean, which made it much easier to obtain saltwater. Some of the creatures it contained had been introduced into the oceans of Maropa during the terraforming process, while the rest had been imported from Earth. Like the zoo, many of the creatures couldn’t survive naturally on Utopia, even if placed in the closest approximation of their natural habitat. After all, the planet couldn’t be exactly the same. One difference that couldn’t be compensated for outside of a limited area was gravity. Gravity significantly influenced the development of some plants, and the same was true of different kinds of animals. Richard hadn’t know as a kid, but most children were given supplements to normalize their growth in different gravity environments. Utopia was a significant 20% difference from the normal 1g, but not so much that it wasn’t easily compensated for.
Unfortunately, animals couldn’t do any of that themselves. Sometimes, they would end up fine if placed in a different environment, but if in an area didn’t grow the right kinds of plants or had predators they couldn’t handle, they might die out. From a certain perspective, that was the natural way of things, but Richard didn’t like it. Nothing should die out if it didn’t have to, and he couldn’t think of any reason they should have to. After thinking about it some more, Richard supposed he would rather not have certain bacteria and viruses. However, even animals considered pests should still have the chance to exist. Richard wasn’t sure about the bacteria and viruses, but he supposed if there was a way they could survive somewhere without hurting someone it would be fine.
Richard was feeling this way about the plants and animals he saw, because it reminded him of his own people. They didn’t really have a name he could say, but he supposed he could call them shapeshifters. In fact, he felt about the same way about plants and animals going extinct as he did about the shapeshifters. Not that he felt no connection to the shapeshifters, but rather he felt a connection to all of the plants and animals he visited. Richard felt a kind of empathy for them, not that the plants probably actually had any feelings on their own. Still, Richard began to feel the beginnings of a goal. Maybe he would find some endangered species and help make its situation better.