The ocean’s surface is somewhere above me. No one down here seems to know what air is. I’ve long since grown accustomed to the bubbles exhaled by everyone’s breathing, noticed by no one but myself.
I awoke this morning from a dream, and it was a dream of the surface: air in my lungs, and the ocean somewhere far away. My body was warmed by the sun, not the deep vents of the seafloor. My awakening eyes would’ve been wet with tears.
The vivid memory of that delicious land rolled through me, and I was struck with a profound sadness: How could I ever have forgotten my life above the ocean’s surface?
My addict’s body reached through water towards the Aqueum pipe waiting at my bedside, and I had the first clear, human thought I’d had in months: If I didn’t find a way to the surface soon, I would die here.
The addiction to Aqueum was slowly but surely consuming me, transforming me into a citizen of the deep. To be sure, the drug had its appeal: No thoughts but the thoughts we all have, no sense of sovereignty or uniqueness. With the Aqueum-trance came sweeping dream visions of unsurpassed majesty, and an osmosis-like fluidity of awareness: I’ve spent hours in these city streets, still as a statue as thousands thronged around me, my eyes locked on a starfish, as my consciousness explored every nuance of its bumpy, pink skin. No memory remained after of what I’d seen; the entire experience had been swept away by the liquid currents of the city. No doubt hundreds of others had amazing hallucinations of starfish that day.
I no longer remembered clearly why I’d left my chambers in the north of the city, and I noticed with some surprise that my feet were taking me somewhere, swiftly and surely. Plainly, a sense of urgency had sparked my steps this morning…pillars of blue-black coral passed to either side of me, rising thousands of feet above my head. Random pools of radiance drifted along the ground, their source the bioluminescent fish drifting overhead. Natural tunnels that would later be completely filled with waterhumans, were now mostly empty.
The few waterhumans I did pass were obviously locked in the Aqueum-trance: one was staring at the walls, one was staring at nothing at all. Another sat on the ground, talking aloud to no one in particular. Passing each one sent my mind wandering on hallucinated pathways of the other’s experience, but my feet just carried me straight through them and out the other side.
Some part of me was afraid to be still. There was something about waking up this morning…something we remembered. Thinking about it made the front of my head tickle; put an itch in my feet that forced me to keep walking.
“What is the sun,” I murmured to myself, then stopped in the street. Where had that come from? Those particular sounds, at that particular moment? What in the hell was a sun?
“Yeah, what’s a sun?” a woman said behind me. The sound was a jolt that set my feet to walking again, even before thought. Steps could be heard following behind. I could’ve turned to see who this follower was, but we were in the Aqueum-trance, and I didn’t need to see with eyes. This waterwoman was me, as I was her.
I knew her blue skin, and I knew her green eyes. Thick blue cords of hair flew out behind, drifting from her head. Swiftly through my mind went her memory of earlier this morning: she had been one of those standing in the street, staring at nothing. She had been exploring (with her mind) the rocks of a crater, somewhere…somewhere off to the west…well, maybe she’d made it up. The crater had shown her small pink veins of luminescent coral, and whether the place was real or not, those pink veins had held her fascination for hours.
Now, this stranger walked behind me, captured in the urgent current of my steps. I could tell the movement felt good to her—she hadn’t moved that blue body since last afternoon. “Warm,” I felt from her mind. “This walking is warm…like the breathing of a lover against a neck.”
Like all the waterhumans who came out of the trance enough to actually notice my body, I felt her wondering at my pale white skin. Her mouth was half-open as she walked behind, caught there in a question. She read in my open mind what knowledge was there: “I have no idea why I’m white. You could stare at those freckles on my shoulders for days, though.”
The wide streets now became narrower, and darker. The glowing fish that provided light down here were few and far between. We were drifting into the east part of the city: a cramped, criss-crossing warren of alleyways, with hundreds of man-sized holes dotting walls that reached a thousand feet up into darkness. The presence of waterhumans could be felt rolling from most of those dark holes, the fantastic colors of their different Aqueum trances drifting out and down, through the dim waters.
My new friend stopped walking, the same moment that I stopped myself. “Where’s the pipe?” she whispered into the water. She was still deep in the trance, but my body hadn’t tasted the drug since early dusk, in my chambers. I hadn’t noticed the pangs in my stomach signaling the need for a fix, but now she had, and she’d mistook the craving for her own.
“There’s one in our right hand,” I replied, and I settled gratefully to the floor of the alley. The Aqueum entering my lungs immediately relieved the pain in my body, replaced it with a spacious feeling of contentment. The waterwoman sat down in front of me, smiling at the open wonder that blossomed across my face.
The cords of her hair seemed to grow mouths, and they began to sing, a slow crooning that swept through my self in notes of pink and violet. No longer was I restless. No longer was I even me. For the thousandth time, my land-bound heart forgot itself in the wonder of living in a city-under-the-ocean.
This eastern section of our city-under-the-ocean was a dark, cramped warren of small cave-homes rising vertically up the blue-black walls of coral. The luminescent fish that light the city were few and far between, here. One would easily lose their way in these dim waters, if not for the telepathy of Aqueum: the drug swept every resident into one hallucinating organism; all thoughts shared by every person, but no memories of what came before, and only a passing sense of individuality.
I sat crosslegged in the alley, the waterwoman stranger across from me. We gazed into and through each other; bubbles rose from our synchronous breaths. We’d stopped here to take Aqueum, as our mutual addiction demanded, some time in the day.
Night had long since crept in while we surfed the drug-induced visions, our consciousnesses joined into one, osmosis-style. The fluidity of awareness brought on by the drug had swept away the strange bout of restlessness that had brought me here, to the east part of the city.
Atoms shaking. Leaves look like flames. Our blue skin is many layers of many old leaves, falling outward from the inside. Half of our existence in the water, drinking it up. Half of our existence in the air, breathing it in, and then down.
We were deep in the trance. My eyes crawled along the walls above us. I could feel which cave-homes were inhabited (like the warmth of another body), which inhabitants were asleep (like gentle waves of faint, green feelings), and which were in the Aqueum-trance (like a castrophany of silence, desire, violence, and wonder).
Awareness came and went in waves…in this moment I could discern my body, and where I was, but a few moments before, I had known nothing. Then, the cave-homes around me had not been structures at all, but one living stretch of skin, and the entrance holes had been pores, breathing the water with me.
My eyes kept drifting toward one particular cave-home: three holes up and two to the right above my partner’s head. “There’s a brightness there,” I thought. “Is it an Aqueum-trance? Someone dreaming? But no, it’s something else…”
Yes…above my partner’s head. Three caves up and two to the right. My mind went there, into the darkness shrouding the apartment’s interior. I could feel a sense of warm illumination, and I couldn’t understand it, but I knew it came from before, from another lifetime…I clambered easily up the coral to the entrance. My waterwoman friend remained behind, wrapped in many blissful layers of Time.
Rushes, intense hallucinations, leaving as suddenly as they appear. It is light, and clarity, and there are creatures, things impossible in recognition, but somehow, they were ‘possible’ somewhere. Creatures of the air. Birds flew through the sky like stingrays, but without water! A stag, with his proud antler-crown, and his deep, brown eyes… In their reflection lies a forest, and it is not a forest of kelp, nor of sulfur columns. It is a forest of trees, and each one reaches up, proudly, into—Nothing. What is air? What is Nothingness?
With these questions, I felt a sense of uniqueness rising inside of me. Waves broke upon a landmass I realized to be myself.
“This man…this person! Who is this person? This person that I was…” I murmured the words repeatedly, held trembling hands up to my eyes, saw the pale white skin that had never been blue, not like everyone else here, not even for a moment. I stood still, right there in front of this cave that, just moments ago, had been three up from the ground and two to the right. My shaking hands gripped the edges of the entrance. Part of me knew survival depended on entering this cave, and part of me—a small, shrieking, frantic part—wanted desperately to escape what awaited.
I was completely paralyzed by conflicting desires, but I was also blissfully high on Aqueum. Sitting down right there in the entranceway to the cave was the obvious choice. I was just too scared to look inside! And at the same time, I was too fascinated with the delicious, warm emanations to leave. Half-remembered feelings and pictures continued to dance through my mind, tantalizing me into expectation. Finally, the exclamation, “Well, if I sit long enough, something’s bound to happen!”
More pictures came: wonderfully impossible things…
I saw trees, and knew what they were, yet I couldn’t say how I knew, much less how they could possibly exist without complete submergence in the bottom of an ocean…
A thin, gnarled hand grabbed mine in a firm grip, and I looked up into an old man’s face. A slow smile pulled it into wrinkles. “You should come inside,” he said, and that voice! Oh, if you could hear it! It rang with a clarity I hadn’t heard in ages. I said nothing, but I allowed him to help me up and into his apartment.
He sat me down on a large, flat rock serving as a coffee table, and he sat in a chair across from me. He had a long, thick beard: white, with an equal share of grey streaking through it. He exuded peaceful patience while I absorbed visually all the life in his beard…small fish, moss swaying in the water, a small sea urchin. I spent a very long moment watching two small seahorses (the size of my thumbnail) chasing each other through the facial forest.
Finally he said, “Do you know how you got here?” That voice again! Startling, and stimulating! Its strength and clarity were at odds with the obvious age of this man.
“Who are you?” Was the question I asked in return, chosen from hundreds of questions that swirled in my mind. The paralyzing fear of the doorway was gone in a wave of curiosity. “Do I know how I got here? The same way I get anywhere, I guess…I took Aqueum, and now I’m here. That’s just how it goes, you know.” A moment of thought, then, “Why are we even talking? Why can’t I feel your thinking?”
“Because I’m not on Aqueum. I haven’t taken it in about two months now.” He had reached to hold my hand in a firm grip as he said this, and it was good that he had. I tried to pull back in fear and revulsion, my addict’s mind repulsed by even the idea of going without Aqueum.
My body kept trying to pull away, but I was glad he was holding me in place. Those half-remembered things called ‘trees’ came to mind again, those plants that grew into Nothingness…I didn’t know this man’s secret, but I had to have it. It was impossible, but here it was, smiling at