We also noticed there were two or three distinct kinds of Atlanteans. There’s one ‘caste’ that carriers itself a little more aggressively, that moves a little more lithely. They’re not any bigger, or look noticeably stronger, but they move like better athletes. I saw one wearing armor. No one treated her any different, not when she emerged from one of the central, larger pools, carrying something that looked like a tire iron, a long spear, and some manner of kick board. And no one especially looked at her as she glided through the market, receiving treats and conversations like all the rest of us.
If I’m not mistaken there were also another group who had gills. This was unique even among the Atlanteans, with long slits behind their jaw line, back against the ear. I didn’t get a close look at these guys, but they did seem to receive a little extra attention. A little more space and some gravity. We saw a few children, and though they were introduced to us and greeted us warmly, I noticed that there really weren’t many of them. Perhaps they’re in school.
Lithe didn’t seem worried, but I noticed the Prince looked particularly uncomfortable when the Queen informed us we were going after the Atar’Atah. “Pincoy,” I began, “what is the Atar’Atah? How would I call it?”
“It is hard to say for you. It is a swimming thing, an angry thing. A demon, I think you might call it.” Great. This thing – loosely translated – means angry water demon.
I did manage to pick out several clumps of the spinefish. These clumps looks like aggressive cancer cells under a microscope. They blended together and were squishing the life out of everything nearby. A molecule of anti-life. Mostly these spinefish just floated in place, quivering. Sometimes they would move together like a scurrying school, a troupe of dancing pincushions. Since I’d never gone so far (and certainly not so fast) before I couldn’t be sure if my impressions were accurate, but it did seem like there were more and more and more of these things every time we got into the water. Hitting one at such speed would be like being hit with a sniper rifle.
The little boy was thrashing madly, yelping, and kept yawning violently. A gnash. A slow snarl crouched behind a sonic knife. His rolling eyes had turned red and his veins were black through his ashen skin. He was suffering. He looked like a porcupine, black needles stuck out him at all directions. He must have tangled with a spinefish or gotten caught up in a bramble or thicket or whatever they have down here. He broke free from the men holding him for a moment and the circle of Atlanteans quickly stepped back two paces. But one of the men was on him – fast! – and tackled the boy to the ground. When he got up, he was holding the child’s hands behind his back. But, looking down, his expression fell. One of the black darts was stuck into his chest.
When I turned and looked behind me I saw something from out of my worst nightmares. Looming over me like a judge was that terrible, scriptural serpent. What else could I call that dread creature, except by his name?
my King of old,
work your salvation beneath the earth.
You have divided the sea in your strength,
and broken the heads of the watery serpents.
Brake now, this head:
More dragon than serpent, more intelligent than beastly, he was neither lobster nor crocodile nor giant squid nor blue whale nor megalodon. He had seven heads. They looked like the tentacles of an octopus, inverted, but on the end of each was a snapping jaw and a pair of green eyes. His body was beneath the waters of the pool, and I thought he was Death.
I spun onto my back and looked down the plane of my body at a fish like an elephant. It had to have been ten thousand pounds of toothy appendages coming out from a mottled grey blob with big ears. It was a Babar-shaped float at the Macy’s Day parade. Its distinguishing feature was the large trunk and tusks, and the fifty thousand angry teeth they concealed. I’ve always thought of elephants as cute. Now I know all of their cuteness is due to an unequal exchange in which their underwater counterparts were given an extra measures of mean.