I couldn't believe my ears: they were talking about finding females to put me with to beget fry. I didn't know if I was more excited, frightened, or betrayed. I hadn't seen a female since my own fryhood and couldn't even remember the way that they looked or smelled. Roughly a week after Little Keeper's school term ended, the large tank I saw them bring home graced Little Keeper's desk--only half-filled with water, strewn with tacky ornaments and sparsely planted with small Java ferns that had budded off my own. I didn't know what was happening, but my keepers were excited and very animated. They're happy talk was occasionally punctuated by infrequent coughing fits, but both keepers darted here and there attempting to get everything ready. Then they left again.
When they returned they had another fish in a bag. As much as I pitied it, I was enraged at first to find that they had the audacity to leave that bag floating near the surface of my jar while they waited for the heater in the large tank to get the temperature right. I was angry until I noticed that it wasn't another male...it was a small female, and she was terrified. She had a pink body and red fins shot with strands of blue and blue eyes, but at the moment she was very pale with fear and anxiety. I approached the side of the bag and tried to speak to her, but she paled further and retreated into the opposite corner of the bag. She was very young--judging by her size--and had not been in the area long. I can't imagine the excited squeals from Big Keeper helped to abate her terror, but I was glad to see that the Keepers were happy. They left almost immediately, and in their absence the female began to relax enough for me to talk to her...
I was happy with my family at my first home, but before I knew it I was in a tiny plastic pyramid, being drugged and shipped away from everything I knew. I found myself in a larger bag surrounded by other pyramids containing more of my siblings and all were just as distressed. My brother was always a nervous eater, but in the absence of our normal food he tried to soothe himself by biting his tail instead; his frantic screams occasionally broken by quick yelps as he took another bite of his tail. When we came out of the darkness, our bag was floating in a large pool of water and those near the surface of the water could see a small forest of plants below. We all hoped that this would be our new home, but we all knew full well that our brothers would not get along at all. Humans came and opened the large bag. All the pyramids scattered across the surface of the pool and I finally believed my brothers about the plants below: perhaps we had all died on our journey and this was paradise? I could see other fish moving through the blue haze of the drugged water, but could not approach them to find out what they were. The only thing I was sure of is that they weren't bettas.
Our pyramids were gently placed in a large bucket and taken over to a much darker corner of this strange building than the pool we had previously been floating in. One by one, our plastic prisons were torn open and drained over a large net: I dreaded my time coming, but could not fight my fall through the air into the net. Below me I could see the blue pool of water from the others before gentle hands lifted me and dropped me into a small bowl of warm, clear water. Once I had overcome the shock of being moved around and handled time and again, I found myself on a brightly lit glass shelf with some of my sisters lined up in a row beside me. They were all plain: their normally dark bodies and red fins were stress striped and pale, but in their plainness, my wild-type sisters were also in a way very beautiful. They flitted about in their own bowls, signaling to one another to assess the new situation when the humans came in. The large one saw me first and picked up my bowl with an excited sound.
"Oooh! They have females! Come here!"
"She's pretty," said the smaller human that came over from her survey of my brothers.
"We have to take her: she won't be here long if we don't."
"Why don't we go see when your mother's bus comes in and come back?"
They spoke briefly with the human that put us in the bowls and left, but returned after a short interval. Once again I found myself in a bag, wrapped up in paper and being transported yet again. When I was finally exposed to the light again, it was not the fluorescent glow of the shelves that greeted me, but a soft and gentle light that fell on a rather chaotic nest of furniture and papers strewn about. The little human looked at me with concern and wonder before holding me close to her body so I could feel her warmth, but they were in a hurry: before I could properly enjoy the heat, I found myself floating again. This time, I could see below me a rather large red blur that took the shape of a male betta. When his angry remarks subsided, I noticed a soft blue sheen that covered his body and felt my own colour begin to rise, but I was still afraid. I hoped against hope that the humans weren't putting me in with him.
"Hello," he said softly.
"He-hello?" I replied, frustrated that my voice quivered when I tried to speak.
"Have they given you a name?"
"Have the Keepers given you a name?"
"What are the Keepers?"
"The humans that brought you here."
"What is a name?"
"They call me 'Hamlet,' for example. Every time I hear it I know they're talking about me."
"Oh," I replied, trying to remember if the humans had called me by any sort of name. "I think they called me...Ophelia?"
"Ophelia?" Hamlet said softly as the humans quickly left, dimming the light in their wake. "I'm glad to see you Ophelia."
"And you, Hamlet."
"How did you come to be here?"
We talked in the dark for a while before the humans returned. Hamlet explained to me that he had been a laboratory fish before he came here, but since he had settled in he was left wanting nothing. "The Keepers" would take care of her, he explained. Compared to some of the other places she could be, he thought of this place as paradise and he seemed to love the humans as much as they did him. This was a heaven where blood worms fell from the sky and pellets flowed in plenty.
The (I assume) stairs creaked as the two humans returned from wherever they went a couple hours after they left. The small human wasn't around long before she dashed out again, but in my distraction by this behaviour, I barely noticed that the larger human had lifted me out of Hamlet's jar. I paled fearfully as I hovered over the chaos strewn over the floor and landed in a large pool of water on top of a desk under the window. Once I was left to float again for a while, I realized the pool of water was a sizable tank full of lush plants and hiding places that I wanted to explore. I noticed a certain rock in particular; it was roughly the same colour I was and had a large hole in the middle. I could taste something sweet and foreign in the water around me as the large human poked a small hole in my plastic prison, and I understood that this was to be my new home. Perhaps he was really telling the truth. Perhaps I had died in transit and this was going to be heaven and all I had to do was leave the bag of existence. The slight jostling of the bag as the human enlarged the holes reminded me that this was very real. I was alive and about to be turned out into the huge world that shimmered beneath me.
I was fairly patient, but when the human finally freed me, it was very abrupt. I was tipped from the bag in a torrent of water and fell with its current for a moment before righting myself and attempting to get my bearings. I swam quickly toward the rock and hid in the hole to keep the human from trying to pull me out again, but she never came for me. I peeked out and saw her watching, but she still never reached for me. After I while I felt comfortable enough to swim about and explore my new home. The Big Keeper left a few pellets floated on the surface for me to eat at my leisure and retreated to the couch until Little Keeper returned from her excursion. She sat in the chair next to me and watched for a while. I came to the corner of the tank next to her and stared back, wiggling my tail in such a way that I hoped might get her approval. She pressed the tip of her finger against the glass and spoke to me: