Prompt: What do Atlanteans think our world is like?
Miles below the Pacific ocean, on part of the ninety percent or so of the seabed that had never been sea with human or camera eyes, there stood a city of spires that spewed billowing clouds of boiling black chemicals. Life at the tips of these vents was nearly impossible, but polychaete worms and ghostly crabs and bacterial mats managed.
These organisms were responsibly harvested, only a few times a year, by the organisms that lived at the base of the towers where the water was slightly more tolerable. They were Atlanteans, but their city was not the original megapolis that spawned their species. No, they were a newer breed: Astralopithecus atlantis lupus.
The original Atlanteans were beautiful, not unlike their depictions in Greek statue. They had silken hair left from their ages on land and eyes full of a luminous substance that looked like juice squeezed from the moon. They had delicate hands, and with them they crafted their own versions of technology, utterly unrecognizable to the humans of the surface.
There was one man who recognized them, but only as a threat. The Atlanteans, those centuries ago, came to the surface bearing gifts: vegetable grown in mere moments by the most fertile seabed to ever exist, flying machines that just pretended the air was water, and their Geothema magic. He thought it unfair that these creatures, constantly flapping their gills like open wounds, were the ones to crack the deep part of the Earth and find the power inside.
His name was Oxitrus, and he was the first and last of the human wizards. He hoarded Atlantean gifts, extracting Geothema and twisting it to his own ends. When he’d amassed enough power he used it to forge his own magical device: a net. That was how you caught fish after all, but this wasn’t a net for a single fish or even a single city. It would ensnare them for all time and sink them permanently. No Atlantean child could be born without Oxitrus’s snare around their neck.
And so they receded and forgot the surface world. They split up, moving to different vents in pilgrimages from nourishing whale-fall to magma-heated ravines. Over time their species drifted and their bodies adjusted. The lupus subspecies was the most desperate. Their faces were gray and their jaws drawn. Their bodies only had enough calcium for three peg-like teeth united at the front of their bottom jaw. Their hands were mostly gone, back to fleshy lobed fins with twelve flexible fingers. They looked like wolf fish, but suffered the way only humans could.
It was the second harvesting day of the seventh current cycle. Axer wanted so badly to snag one of the colorful shrimp near the vent he climbed. It had green spots and pink eyes; its shell would make a perfect decoration for his little sister’s noose. Even the shrimp, with its sand-grain brain, knew it was safe. None of the Atlanteans could reach that far, and no matter how much he stretched, Axer couldn’t do it either.
His noose was around his neck, pulling him back as it had since his only successful escape, the one from his egg. He grabbed at it with one fin, but he couldn’t even get a finger under it. His family, ages ago, had been able to drag their net across the seabed, but now that they were settled it never moved. Each and every Atlantean had a noose connected to the others, and altogether they made Oxitrus’s cursed net. The black smokers poked up through the holes, freer than them even though they were stone. At least the smoke made it all the way to the surface.
Axer reached again, but the noose pulled. His vision blurred. A specter of his grandfather growled in his ear, telling him to hurry up and get the food. A crab leg was only good if you sucked the meat right out of it while it still lived.
“I wonder what my punishment would be for bringing an ornament like you home,” he told the colorful shrimp. The words bulged out of his mouth as a bubble, growing and shrinking with each syllable but never leaving his tongue. “I don’t even get to know… because I can’t…” He stretched again, but the effort was too much. The light in his eyes dulled to nothing and he passed out of consciousness. So hungry. So empty.
When he awoke he was back inside the hovering dome of the main net. He was moving, but not through any effort of his own. The other citizens of his city were swimming back and forth delivering the crabs they’d managed to pull from the vents. All their heads were connected by the same bindings, so Axer involuntarily followed the path of his nearest neighbor. The magical rope about his neck dragged him around corners and toward the tower where the worms were cultivated.
“Axer!” his sister cried, appearing over a small mound. She swam for him, holding out two freshly ripped white crab claws. He could smell the meat already cooking in the high temperature of the water around them. She came close, but somewhere behind her she was tangled with someone else. She couldn’t quite hand them off, but her brother didn’t reach for them anyway. “Mom says you have to take this! Nobody has seen you eat anything since last current. I don’t want you to die.”
She stretched again, so much that she dropped a claw. A current much weaker than the ones they used to measure time rolled through, sending it end over end in the sand. In a few moments it would be free of the net.
“I was going to get you something colorful,” he said, his voice as loud as he could manage, barely an urchin’s whisper. “A hat for you.” He smiled. He was so weak now that the current pulled him as well, away from his sister.
“Axer come back!” she squeaked, but her noose was no more lenient than his own. It was fine. He never got the chance to use Geothema, so he had to use find another tool. Hunger was all he could find. It was in abundance, but the others were afraid to use it. They always gave in at the end, stuffing their faces with slimy crab to keep their eyes from going out.
Axer let it happen. He gave away ever twitching leg that came to him, and the others thought he was such a kind child. It was all strategy. His body folded from its hollowness; he was barely more than a moon jelly. His lights went out, letting his mind build his favorite paradise in the blackness.
The surface world. Oxitrus wanted it all to himself, so it must have been grand. That evil man surely sunk everything gross and awful down for the Atlanteans to take as their table scraps. The surface would be spires of coral, alive yet still pure and white as their shells. Winged fish would mingle with bird, sharing odd kisses in the peace of two worlds united. He saw that every time the hunger nearly took him, but now was the time. The time it could actually, truly, take him away.
The magical net tightened around them individually, but it never shrank after growing. Axer was so emaciated from his fasting that his neck was down by a third of its original size. The current pressed him against the outer net. All at once he slipped through, surely too thin to be alive.
His life energy came roaring back. It was perhaps just enough to get all the way up, to see the sun for the first time. He swam. Even though his lights were back his vision of the surface stayed with him, almost scarred onto his mind. It was the glowing light above, so incredible, so piercing…
Axer lost track of all time until he broke the surface. Even now, after generations of degradation, his lungs proved they weren’t vestigial. Air. It was like his blood turned to happy rushing bubbles. The water cleared form his eyes and he whirled around.
A plastic soda ring threatened him with another noose; he batted it away. Bottles and bags took its place. Wires. More netting. Shards of plastic and little balls of it trying to make its way into his gasping mouth.
This wasn’t the surface he’d imagined, it was the great Pacific garbage patch. He sensed no life, nothing to eat, but there would be enough energy to escape it and find something. The light in his his eyes turned red with a rage that had nearly been choked out of his species. After a meal he would find Oxitrus, the man who dared destroy even his own world, and make him pay.
With the invigorating energy of his fury, Axer swam. The garbage bounced off him as if it didn’t exist.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by habermax during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!