To Dwell Forever

by R.H. Stevens

This story was originally published on the Antipodean Sci-Fi Radio Show, Issue 280. (https://antisf.libsyn.com/).

I had slept for a thousand years. I could have slept for a thousand more. I don’t know what awakened me. It could have been the strange songs echoing around me, so different from the ones I knew in my faraway youth. It could have been the shifting sea floor, sealing the mineral-rich vents that had warmed my body as I slept.

I was alone when I woke up. I had fallen asleep beside older, more powerful siblings. Our parents, locked in a primordial embrace, watched over us as the torpor took hold. The passage of years within the nutrient-dense waters had made me as colossal as my forebears, but this new strength brought me no comfort. What good was it for me to reach out with titanic limbs without another of my kind to reach back?

I spent a great deal of time singing the songs of the ancients into the darkness, to no avail. It became necessary to rise once again to the warmer waters where other beings congregated. My songs received replies of varying worth. Some, like the many-toothed creatures, sung only tales of hunger and wandering.

Others, like the ones who travelled in pods, were more gregarious. None of them had seen my family, but they were full of questions about the ancient Devonian sea and their ancestors.

Next, I sang to the mournful ones, their flanks peppered with scars from battling against their cephalopod prey. They sang of more abundant times. They warned me their seers had predicted an age of great scarcity, of waters polluted with poison muck and the ocean depleted of riches. They believed I could prevent this cataclysm, but I didn’t share their optimism. I was too young to reign and took my leave of them all.

I kept searching.

The singers of the past had disappeared, their choir had gone silent across the gulf of time, but my loneliness did not last forever. In my childhood, the surface was savage and pockmarked by pools of liquid fire. Now, everything had changed. In place of burning pillars, I found verdant landscapes. Unfamiliar creatures, alien beings, had bloomed like flowers upon the islands which rose from the endless sea. Long I spent observing these unusual creatures, and the dull minutiae of their brief lives.

Although they were weak and insignificant compared to me, I was wary of making myself known to them. I had witnessed scenes of harmony and contentment, yet I had also seen them craft weapons of war.

Would these creatures be afraid of me? Could these creatures destroy me?

The answer, I believed, was yes. They would be as afraid of me as I was of them. I resolved only to watch from a distance, but the cosmos has a way of forcing us to action when we wish to be still.

In time, one of the tribe came close to where I lurked beyond the shore. The creature was smaller than usual, and I deduced it was a child. From my position on the seabed, I could see the child struggle amidst the waves, and hear the distant calls of its brethren on the beach.

I rose to the surface. The little one was waging a losing battle against the sea. More of its people had congregated on the beach, their shrill cries rising above the ocean’s crashing roar.

I could see two of the creatures frantically pushing a vessel into the water, intent on rescuing the child, but each passing moment sapped the child’s strength.

These creatures could not survive underwater. The little one would drown before the boat could reach it. Tentatively, I reached out with one of my tentacles and coiled it around the small being in a way I hoped was reassuring. I wasn’t sure what to do. It would have been trivially easy to drag this tiny life into the depths, and hold them there until their heart beat no more.

Such an act would surely terrify the rest of the creatures, and they would know my power. The little creature struggled pitifully in my grip; I knew what I had to do. I gripped the creature more securely and lifted them up, high above the waves. When the boat came, I gently lowered the child into the arms of its kin. The creatures waved their arms at me and made melodic sounds. I didn’t know whether they were grateful for my interference or angry at my presence, so I retreated to my lair.

Time passed. The creatures didn’t pursue me, nor did they venture into the deep waters where I still waited. It was dangerous to linger by the tribe when the situation was ripe with ambiguity, but I remained. I was lonely and hungry for contact, even from a distance, even from these beings.

On a calm night, a fire bloomed upon the beach. The islanders had ensconced the flames in a pit of rocks, and around the pit the creatures moved to the rhythmic sounds of drums.

It was the height of madness to rise to the surface and draw close to the shore, yet I did just that. The tribe noticed my approach, but they did not chase me away. They raised their arms and sang for me, wading into the shallows. I saw an enormous effigy set high above their huts. A bundle of sticks, leaves and dyed cloth had been used to approximate a familiar shape. The effigy was of me! Even I, unfamiliar though I was with these alien customs, knew this was an act of reverence.

“Tupua! Tupua!” The creatures chanted, hands outstretched to me. I didn’t know what this word meant, or if it was simply the name they had given me. I suddenly understood: I was no longer kinless and alone. This world could be mine. I could create a new family, an empire in which to dwell forever.