The sea is nothing special; it is like the land only a little more difficult to imagine. The waves are nothing special; they are like the wind only a little easier to see.
We slide along the surfaces of our boats, spanning whole generations with our sizes. We are easily sixty feet in length and these wooden structures must contain us. Our decks are the lengths of small newly-recognised countries; the walls of our decks marking boundaries, crudely hoisted structures between what is ours and what we would like to be.
We slide along the surfaces of our boats and observe the climate changing in the process; from the brute North to the more temperate East. We have been sailing for one calendar month or more, and still our sterns touch the coast of the places we last called home. Our tails are splashing in shallow water while our heads and dry land have never been more out of reach.
Our front halves are in the deepest part of the ocean that the Earth currently has to offer. We hang our devolved fins over the side and admire the view. We are here because there is nothing like exploring. We are here because we have been given knives and tools.
We spend our days peering off into what we take to be the distance. We look beyond the sides of our boats into an uncontainable stretch of blue. Our eyes are set into the sides of our heads, granting us the possibility of simultaneously observing two horizons; as such our peripheral vision is unmatchable, our huntsmanship unrivalled. We watch the way the waves rise and fall, shifting prey.
We are expertly designed, having evolved into perfect creatures. We, too, used to live like animals down there, beneath the waves. We studied hard and, step-by-step, our fins learnt to hold hammers, our flukes to strike enemies. We learnt to hold our breath until our bodies reconfigured; mastered the art of redistributing our proportions. We learnt about air pressure and how not to collapse under the weight of our enormous skulls.
We were trained for this, our bodies have been building up since the beginning of forever. Our fins and this bloodshed are nothing less than next of kin.
We slide along the surface of our boats looking for things to plunder. We have devoted one whole level of our ship to empty chests, waiting to be filled with something extraordinary for our return. We work on a series of rotating shifts; one third of us watching the ocean, one third resting and getting stronger, one third polishing the chests. You may think us vain, but we like to treat our treasure with the upmost respect. If one shows no dignity around the death of others, what hope remains for ourselves?
We kill because our bodies make us; we kill because these tectonic plates taunt us with food. We kill because what citizen would still choose krill and uncooked plankton long after we have caught them herds of cows and brought them home? We kill and we are heroes; in their eyes and in our stomachs. We kill and, as the life drains out of the veins of our opponents, so blood surges in both directions and pride fills up our own.
We sharpen our knifes and rehead our arrows; we press the butts of our guns to the level surface of the water and we strike a pose.
The sea is nothing special but we need to know what’s in it. I, for one, cannot live my life on such a small percentage of this globe. We pull them out quite methodically, our findings. We lay them down and spread them out like rats waiting to be condemned. We peel off their limbs, one by one, then, when the meat looks ready, when the eyes look tender, we leave them to petrify and turn our heads once again to the sea.
There is not one part of them we waste; we are not frivolous or arrogant beings. If they truly deserved to live, they would evade our gunshots like proper creatures. Our bullets would bounce off their rubbery skin, become assimilated, digested or otherwise made use of. That’s not cruelty, it’s competition; it’s just one thing trying to survive at the expense of another; it’s basic economics. We didn’t build these ships to reign in plankton. We didn’t beach up onto dry land just to lay down our swords and settle in.
We hang their entrails over our doors to ward off strangers. Their hearts, we boil down into gelatinous liquid, freeze and then eat; a rare delicacy, this dish provides us with vital, and otherwise unattainble, proteins, keeping our skin smooth and our cholesterol levels in shape. We hang their fingernails off small metal hooks we embed into the ridges above our eyes. This ritual, although purely decorative, was passed down from our ancestors, and thus, in this manner, we help keep tradition alive. We eat their fat and their guts like we couldn’t (we can’t) get enough of it. We sell their hair and their teeth and we chew on their bones.
We wipe our mouths with the smaller extracts of their clothes. Those pieces remaining entirely intact throughout the lengthy priming process, we use to line our babies. Our babies, not yet being used to a life without water during infanthood, are made to feel safe cloaked in the damp salty cloths. Later, we use these same pieces as bait: our prey has a remarkable knack for nostalgia and will tread water for as much as a hundred kilometres just to inhale the scent of a lost relative one more time.
The sea is nothing special but, as we dip a soaking rag below the surface and watch these creatures flock around us, it sometimes feels like it is.
It has been one calendar month or more since we set sail and so far we’ve seen nothing. Other than the sky and the sun and the clouds and all that beauty, there has been nothing so much as an event worth writing home about. We tip our infrasonic ears over the boat’s edge and listen for a clue.
I see them hanging just beneath the water’s rim. I spot them by their signature jets of water being pushed up and out into the air. They hang long and slender, tiny blowholes to the surface. Forever opening and closing their main breathing channel, forever flapping their strange forked fins.
They breathe inefficiently, second after second, never staying down in the water for long enough to allow their previous breath to sink in. They seem more suited to the air than a life under water; the water appears to hinder them and, to my knowledge, even floating, for this species, doesn’t come entirely naturally. I have never seen one of its kind in a state of relaxation or at what some might call “play.” They flap their elongated fins incessantly, in what can only be seen as a ridiculous waste of energy on the part of the animal.
Experiments were conducted a few generations ago, when we first began to sail our boats through their habitat. The two fins and long split tail were tied together, the creature then tossed back into the ocean to see what would be. It transpired that without the animal’s manic flapping it couldn’t even hold itself up at a useful angle. Within minutes the specimen was dead; back raised out of the water, face and breathing holes down below the water’s lid.
I have never before heard of a creature whose own body could kill itself without its moving. At least, when our predecessors died belly-up on low-slung beaches, it was down to an error of location, an unknown and unfamiliar landscape, and nothing so pathetic as this. The younger ones of our crew played games, catching the stragglers, tying their two-part tails together, and throwing them to the wind. The young ones reasoned they would learn, that they would flip themselves over, but they did not.
I see them hanging just beneath the water’s rim. They crowd together, hanging almost one astride the other. Weak and old ones cling to the backs of others, those in their prime taking on extra flapping for their elders. It is a beautiful scene, so many delicate bodies slung together. I see the detailed forks of their fins entwining, between flaps, with the forks of another. It is said they love. I am not sure a creature so small could know what love is.
The clothes they wear drape about them like legends; handed down from previous millenia, when their ancestors were land-dwellers, travelling upright on the bent edges of their long split tails; these clothes fall about them now, sometimes torn and mostly grey. This is the only species I know to believe in relics.
They birth their babies straight out and onto the backs of their fathers. The father holding his back out like a table for the best part of four years until his offspring’s tail and fins become accustomed to the task of moving back and forth without a break. Between these ill-prepared babies and our own I notice parallels. We try to avoid taking the new fathers when we can.
It is said they lament. I hear nothing over the inaudible crashing of waves.
I see them hanging just beneath the water’s rim. I raise the flag, I call the captain. We move into position. We were born to kill.