We were born in the tears of God.
When the First Creator wept at the fate of His Creation, His tears fell like burning rain to melt the polar ice and swell the seas, the cradle of all life. His grief swallowed the mighty human cities of the coast and gave them over to the realm of Mother Ocean. Humanity, who did not aggrieve the Maker out of malice but out of ignorance, wished to atone for their sins against the Earth. We are that atonement. We are Humankind’s offering to the First Creator, the Maker of All. The Great Father-a man, and nothing more-crafted his transforming virus and infected his own kind, so that we might be born as the children of Man and Mother Ocean. Humanity became the Second Creator, Aquarius the Second Creation, and we the stewards of its bounty.
We owe much to Man, who is our father and our brother. We must honor our debt to him. But we must always remember this: he who has the power to Create also has the power to Destroy.
- Delphis, Third Pod Leader of Tillamook Reef Colony, from a speech to commemorate the Fiftieth Aquarian Birth Day
1. BIRTH DAY
Ocypode dove through the turquoise waters of Tillamook Reef toward the fringes of the celebration. Revelers floated everywhere. Strings of limpets, whelks, and periwinkles glittered around their necks, clicking when they moved. Brightly colored pigments stained their skin of blue and gray and silver with pictograms symbolizing the history of Aquarius. Ocypode ghosted through the crowd in silence. His own flesh bore no ornaments.
Ocypode of Tillamook had no desire to draw attention to himself.
He slipped through the window of an ancient building-its barnacle-encrusted frame long devoid of panes-and hovered in the opening like a misshapen eye thrust into the socket of a skull. Birth Day throngs made him want to flee toward open ocean. He preferred to watch from the shadows.
The surface shimmered overhead as sunlight filtered down to paint the reef. The drowned Human city had been reborn, bones of steel and concrete covered with a growth of corals. Fish darted between caves marked by crumbling doors and windows, danced across the reef like fragments of a shattered rainbow. Waves soughed beneath the chatter of the crowd. When he listened, Ocypode could almost grasp the secrets hidden in that ceaseless whisper.
Ocypode hated secrets. They had ruled his life for far too long...but not today.
"Are you avoiding me, Ocypode? Or are you avoiding everyone?"
Auriga floated a few meters away, skin gleaming silver in the sunlight, the fin ridges along her arms and legs and ear channels paling to a milky white. She had smeared her body with stripes of ebony and gold to mimic the markings of the butterfly fish from which she took her name. The sight of her made him ache. Foolish. Pointless. The Pod Leader’s mate was beyond the reach of anyone, especially an Atavism.
"Stop gaping and come with me," said Auriga. "It’s finally finished, and I want you to see it!"
Ocypode swam from his refuge and joined her as she kicked toward the center of the reef-toward the heart of the massing crowd. A thousand eyes impaled him. Most Atavisms either learned to ignore the stares or avoided them by hiding in the Archive caverns. Ocypode preferred the second strategy. But, on Birth Day, he could not deny his duty. He could not deny Auriga.
They glided into an open space that had been a park when Tillamook lay above the waves. The coral-crusted facades of ancient storefronts encircled it like the walls of an undersea amphitheater. So many Aquarians packed so tightly into this place! Ocypode felt like an injured dolphin ringed by schooling sharks.
"There, Ocypode, in the middle, beside the banquet nets. See how he rises to share our feast?"
Ocypode saw. A statue towered above the sand, massive limbs and torso shaped from interlocking chunks of stone. The head had been chiseled from a block of basalt, its features sharp, aquiline. Disturbing. Seaweed hair grew from the top of the basalt head, swaying in the current. Keyhole limpets formed the eyes, lustrous shells gleaming with intelligence, but hard. Unyielding. Could the others not see that? There was no mistaking the subject: Peter Cydon-the Great Father-the biosculptor whose peculiar genius had given birth to the Aquarian species.
Auriga bubbled with pride. "It’s taken months, but it was worth it. I felt him guiding me, helping me place each fragment. He wanted to be here. He wanted to celebrate the two-hundredth Birth Day of his children, and he chose me to make his presence tangible. My greatest work, Ocypode. My greatest honor."
Ocypode could not find the words to praise her without betraying himself. She would deify a man who was as much a devil as a god! If only she knew the truth.
It was time for all Aquarians to know the truth.
A hand clasped his shoulder. "Welcome, Ocypode," said Rhincodon. "I was beginning to fear you wouldn’t show."
Ropes of muscle twitched beneath Rhincodon’s mottled skin. The Pod Leader had been named after the whale shark, largest fish to swim the oceans. An apt spirit-name indeed. Both were intimidating in appearance; both generally possessed a gentle nature. Yet only a fool would rouse the anger of either.
"My apologies. I got busy in the Archives and lost track of time. A lorekeeper is more slave to his lore than master."
"Ah," chuckled Rhincodon, "then you must be the Great Father’s most loyal servant. I trust you will share some of your mysteries with us on this special day?"
Dread squirmed in Ocypode’s belly. Still, he nodded as he knew he must. "Of course."
I will share more than you ever imagined.