Clymene swam just below the sunbreak, testing the limits of her own courage. The reef was behind her, its unexplored pinnacles rising into sunlit waters. She cut a lazy circle around the coralline towers as she drifted upwards with each circuit. Luidia watched from a distance.
Clymene cast an elegant profile as Luidia looked up from her sentry. Her tail was long and graceful, slimmer than Janthina’s, with a broader fluke. Her arms were long and limber; her fingers reached nearly to her peduncle, where there powerful muscles of her tail met the wide blades of her fluke. Luidia admired her sister. Her own stumpy hands barely reached past her waist, and hers was a bulkier build. Luidia had one advantage over her more streamlined sister. The massive pelvic fins that sprung from the base of her tail were fantastically versatile, she could to pivot and turn with exceptional precision. Where Clymene was constantly frustrated by the tight narrow corridors they continued to discover within the reef, Luidia could traverse them with ease.
Catching herself absentmindedly admiring her own fins, Luidia snapped back to attention, scouring the reef for her sister. Clymene was out of sight.
Clymene swam beyond the edge of the reef as she stalked the strange creature. It was unlike anything she had seen before. A round tube, barely the length of her outstretched hand, it hung in the water column, moving forwards (or backwards? She could not discern head from tail) through gentle contractions of the many muscles she could see through pulsing within its transparent body. Its head (tail?) held a large, colored mass. Clymene thought it was curious that the only visible part of an otherwise completely concealed creature would be its vital, delicate guts. Two appendages protruded from behind, slightly tinged with the same pigments that colored its intestines.
She followed behind it as it pulsed, gently gliding away from the reef. Like the mermaids, it hovered below the sunbreak.
Clymene was entranced. The pulsing creature was magnificent. She crept closer. A gentle current brushed against her face, the rhythmic beat of the ocean made flesh. Though only a few centimeters away, the creature didn’t notice her. Carefully, she reached up and caressed it with her long, deadly fingers. She felt the muscle within its tough outer tunic contract, startled by the contact. Here was an animal that journeyed its entire life without experiencing a solid surface. She pulled her hand back, conscious of the terror the poor creature must feel. To it, she was as massive as a bull sperm whale. She shivered at the thought of something so massive stalking her through the darkness.
As she backed away, Clymene became aware that she was beyond the seamount. She had followed the creature out past the reef and now blue water surrounded her. She looked down. (Or is it up?) The sunbreak faded with the onset of night. She spun, desperately searching for some reference, anything to tell her which way was up, which way led back to the safety of the reef. She peered into the abyss and was afraid. She couldn’t stay. She had to go.
Clymene chose a direction and flexed her tail, propelling herself into the deep unknown.
Something grabbed. It was Luidia. Her face was ashen as she directed her sister back towards the reef, which lay just out of sight.
“You were going down, sister. What compelled you?” Luidia asked her as the seamount came back into view.
“I did not know. I was disoriented. I could not tell the surface from the deep.”
“And yet, you dove?”
“I had to move. I couldn’t just stay, waiting for a nocturnal predator to pick me off. I thought if I left it up to my instincts, that I would choose the correct path.”
“Your instincts failed you, sister. Had I not caught up to you, you would have plunged into the abyss, never to be seen again.”
“I am grateful, Luidia. Thank you.”
“What were you doing out there?” Luidia asked.
“I was following…” Clymene concentrating, probing her subconscious, searching for the ancient, inherited memory that would allow her to name her prey. “…a salp.”
The name resonated through Luidia’s jaw and, before the vibrations even reached the tympanic bones that turn vibrations into words, she had an image of the creature.
“You would risk so much for something so insignificant?”
“It would seem so, sister.”
“Come.” Luidia ordered, tired and frustrated with her kin. “Let’s return to the reef.”
“Luidia,” Clymene still clung to her sister’s hand. “Thank you.”
The salp continued its journey, unconcerned with the mermaid it had nearly let to her death. It feared no creature. It felt no pain. It knew no danger. It dove deeper, skimming sustenance from the sea that flowed through it. It’s death was as insignificant as its life.
The amphipod rose from beneath, claws extended. she grasp the salp, pulling back the delicate walls of its buccal aperture, snipping muscles as she burrowed into its flesh. She curled up within her new home, its last panicked pulses bringing her comfort. It would live a while longer. Days, maybe weeks. Long enough to serve her purpose.
With her mandibles, she carved a small depression in the salp’s side and deposited her eggs. They would hatch, hungry, and the hapless salp would finally know peace.
Carrying the eviscerated creature like a suit of armor, the amphipod continued her endless journey through the darkness.
If you can’t wait until this novel is finished, check out some of my other maritime science fiction adventures.