My story begins with hatching, just like everyone else's does. Like most of them, I also went to a pet shop in a dark vehicle that jostled us roughly about and like everyone else, I was there for a little while; at least until the woman with the accent unlike the others that handled us came to call. She took many of us that day, and as I heard later, bettas were hard to come by in this new land for a few weeks to come. We were taken to a small room filled with many tanks that were about half filled and lined with colourful gravel: there was one for each of us, and we all relished the new water. We were relatively happy at the place that the Keepers called a "pet shop," but we had more space to roam here, and as much food as we could eat. We were warm and happy--at least until they allowed the young humans to experiment on us.
I learned that we were in a laboratory for a group called a "class," and the class was studying this thing called "Animal Behaviour." They made us look at each other though transparent partitions and the walls of our tanks. They wanted to monitor our aggression as we flared at each other in an effort to defend our territory. The group I was with wanted to know how I would respond to other body shapes and sizes using these synthesized fish on a very annoying device they called a "laptop." It was ridiculous. Naturally, I made them work for it: if they were going to toy with me, I wasn't going to make it easy for them as my brothers would. The pictures they showed me weren't even of the same species and didn't move until one of them decided it would be more effective to shake the laptop to try to make things more realistic. Her efforts made me laugh and I decided to be a little more co-operative for her sake.
One day I heard one of the keepers tell the humans that they could take us home at the end of the day's experiments and I felt a chill of fear: one of the boys in my group had spoken of dissecting my brain to see how everything worked. The girl who shook the laptop rolled her eyes, however, and said she already had a home ready for me.
I couldn't believe the betrayal that I now faced at the hands of the people who had rescued me from the pet shop, the Keepers who had cared for me and given me the space to be myself. They were going to pass me off on someone else, and the person that they intended should take care of me was none other than the young woman who suggested waving her computer in my face to synthesize other fish! As the balding male Keeper put some of my tank water into a large bag, but I avoided it at all costs until he came into the corner where I was hiding with that awful net they sometimes used to remove the dead from tanks that had more than one inhabitant. I did not want to go, and even as I felt my body leave the water I struggled to free myself from its clinging folds. To my disgust I found myself in the bag once I was free of the net and immediately sought to escape, biting at the seemingly soft walls to no avail. I would not stop, however, and continued to furiously pace around the perimeter of these new confines to try to find a weak point that I could turn into a suitable hole while the humans discussed everything necessary for my care.
"I think we have everything we need," the woman said. "I'll talk to you if I need more information."
Great. A newbie. That's just great. I was going home in the hands of an amateur who had never taken care of fish before. I was doomed, and I knew it, but even as she shrugged her backpack onto her shoulders and took me from the Keepers, I waved my fins at them frantically, hoping they would reconsider. When they did not, I renewed my efforts to escape.
"Even if you could get out of that bag," she said to me in a tone she must have thought was rational, "there is no water out here for you to live in, so you may as well stay where you are."
I had absolutely no intention of ceasing my struggle, but I could hear the wind blowing as she approached the door to the building and shivered in spite of myself. I had nothing to fear, however, because the human opened her sweater and nestled me into the soft warmth of her body, away from the bitter weather that still raged around her. I would have gladly stayed there, but she placed me on the seat of her car so she could remove her heavy bag and take her place behind the wheel. Unfortunately there was more air than water in my little prison, so I was forced to lay on my side until she came to my aid, but I was subjected to further indignity when she placed me in a cup holder and used the storage area of the arm rest to hold up the knot tied in my bag. I struggled even more to try to free myself. Before I knew it, I was in the darkness of her sweater once again, with no idea where I was going, except for the fact that she seemed to be climbing a steep incline. I heard a door creak open and slam closed before she took me out of the blissful warmth. I felt like someone who had been kidnapped, blindfolded and taken to a new location: the sudden light after the sweater was blinding, and before I could determine where I was I heard the excited squeal...
I knew that small humans made that sound, but I never, EVER expected to hear such a high pitched squeal from an adult human in my lifetime. And yet, I just had. The science girl held me up until her eyes were level with mine and gave me an apologetic look after giving her a very concerned one.
"I'm sorry little guy," she said to me. "And what was that?" she asked the other human.
"Feeshie!" She replied with a slightly quieter squeak, though still obviously excited. "I'm just happy he came home okay. Did he have a good trip?"
"I had to put him in the cup holder with the knot under the lid of the arm rest so he had some room to swim around."
"Poor baby," the new human cooed sympathetically. "I've got something you'll like even better."
Promises, promises, I thought. This was going to be another disappointment, I thought. I was wrong. Instead the new human took me over to a large jar full of water and some large plants and placed the plastic bag inside. The water was slightly cooler than what I was currently in, but the space I hovered above looked very inviting and I wanted to explore it since--unless this was just another tease--this appeared to be my new home and it was the nicest thing I had seen since I had been taken away from my family.
"I have to hurry or I will be late for Shakespeare," the scientist said.
"Okay. I'll see you later."
Lovely. The person who was just experimenting on me less than an hour earlier had now abandoned me with the squealer and I was being teased with a vision of paradise. I nipped at the bag in a fit of pique as my water gradually cooled by a few degrees. I wanted to get out of my stupid plastic prison to explore the new world beneath me and get away from the larger human that made such a horrible racket and continued to watch me very intensely. I hoped this wasn't another experiment intended to see how I responded to the promise of a new environment, because I had no intention of co-operating with her if it was. The next thing I knew, there was the taste of strange water in the bag as the larger human cut a small slit in this little movable prison. I swam to it gratefully and gulped the new water with enthusiasm, waving my fins at the human to tell her I wanted more and was nipping at the walls in an effort to make the hole larger. The plastic refused to give way to my teeth. The slit continued to get gradually larger and larger, but it still wasn't large enough for me to slip through as the human continually punched at a little electronic device with her thumbs. Occasionally it would make a noise, then she would look at it, glance at me, and then punch the device with her thumbs again. She explained that she would let me go when I had adjusted properly, but I had no intentions of waiting for her to decide when that would be, so I sneaked between her fingers the minute she reached toward the bag to enlarge the hole again.
I WAS FREE! Now it was time to explore these new surroundings. My world was round, and lined with brown, black, and white rocks that looked like they would comfortable to rest on, but there were also several plants growing out of them, one of which had enormous dark leaves that were comfortable to rest on and large enough for me to hide under if I needed to. As I swam more I discovered what looked to be a very large white shell with brown stripes and small spurs that jutted from it in a spiral: on further exploration of this monolith I found a large opening on one side that formed a cave just large enough for me to hide in, oriented in such a way that I could rest my head on the ledge and still watch the outside world if I so desired. I came up to the surface to take a very contented breath and blew a bubble toward the large human to let her know that I was happy with my space.
The two humans I now resided with seemed very odd compared to the other humans I had seen in my previous travels: they came and went frequently, rose at irregular hours and often stayed up well into the small hours of the morning. The scientist often seemed to be glued to her computer, doing all sorts of odd tasks. The larger human often sat staring at a larger screen at a much larger desk, while something from inside what appeared to be a thinking box made all sorts of ungodly noises. The little human called this "gaming," and the larger human often enjoyed this activity in her absence, or when the little human was busy. The longer I stayed there, on the table next to the couch, the more I came to realize that this was indeed my new home and these humans were my new keepers. I often stared at them quite intently from my jar and watched them for hours. Big Keeper was much broader in frame than little keeper, not to mention taller and paler in all respects. Her long wavy hair was a slightly lighter shade of brown than Little Keeper, and her eyes often shifted between blue and grey depending on her mood. She was the one who made the awful high pitched noises whenever she was excited. Little keeper was smaller, and her curves tended to go in more than out, but she was by no means what she called a "stick," whatever that meant. Her hair was still brown, but darker and shorter than Big Keeper's, and very straight. Just as her skin had hints of gold the way Big Keeper's was more ivory, her eyes were darker than Big Keeper's. They reminded me of Big Keeper's greatest weakness: a substance called chocolate. Just as their physiques were very different, so were their reactions to the world around them: when Big Keeper got angry, her eyes turned blue and she cried a lot; when Little Keeper was mad, her eyes sometimes seemed more red and narrowed and her face would darken slightly as her voice deepened to a growl. Sometimes she would strike at something inanimate until she felt better. Sometimes she would notice me watching her and would stare back at me until I had her transfixed by my gaze...eventually she would relax. Little Keeper seemed to want things neater, where Big Keeper seldom worried about it; eventually Little Keeper would run out of the energy required to guilt Big Keeper into helping her, so chaos eventually became the natural state of the room in which I was kept.
What made them odd compared to other humans was the thing they did for fun: they sometimes left dressed in very strange--and in Little Keeper's case sometimes very large--clothing, carrying swords and shields, only to return hours later and change back into their normal clothes. I sought to understand this behavior, but realized I probably never would without being able to follow them.
I hated water changes, but they were an inevitable part of all our lives. They would often fill a very odd looking bucket with some of my old water and use the dreaded net to put me in it. I watched them from the counter in a room they called the kitchen as they rinsed my jar, gravel and plants, when I wasn't circling angrily around trying to escape these smaller confines. I later learned that this bucket was in the shape of a "skull," and they used it because of the fictitious person who also bore my name. My plants would join me in my skull and I would eventually be taken down the dark and narrow stairs to be placed in my jar again.
Their feeding rituals were often to my displeasure: having never owned fish before, they had only the food that came with a little starter kit containing a mix of flakes and blood worms. I detested the flakes, and would often let them sink to the bottom to make a mess of my jar. Little Keeper noted this with displeasure, and set about sorting out the worms at feeding time...foolish humans. I had them wrapped around my ventral fins...