When Piscine resurfaced, all was quiet in the calm warm waters. The coconut duck, along with Alder and Oak holding on behind its back, resurfaced not long after, creating a large splash.
‘That was so hot!’ Alder says excitedly, fist bumping his brother who looked as excited as he is.
‘Good coconut duck!’ Oak praised the coconut duck who meeped happily.
‘We should give it a name,’ Piscine said as she held out her hand to be helped up to climb the coconut duck’s back. Alder helped her up, ‘But we don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl.’
‘Give it a unisex name,’ Oak suggested.
‘Zod!’ Alder said as he looked at the coconut duck for approval. The coconut duck turned its head away. ‘I swear this coconut duck understands every word we say.’
‘Doz!’ Piscine said, looking contemplative.
The twins laugh in unison. ‘You just turned it around,’ Alder says, still laughing.
‘What about Coupe?’ Oak suggested, looking at the coconut’s reaction to the name. ‘What do you think, Coupe?’ The coconut duck looks at him and meeps happily.
Alder and Piscine shake their head. ‘I told you that coconut duck likes him,’ Piscine tells them.
‘Coupe it is!’ Alder says excitedly. ‘Oh man! This is the first time we’ve ever encountered anything like this! And it’s the first animal that we know that’s not predatory. I mean, let’s face it. Even those tiny fishes want you for food.’
‘The chutahs are not predatory!’ Oak defended.
‘Besides the chutahs, brod. They’d never hurt anything. So, where were we?’ Alder looked around the calm waters with a worried expression. ‘You know, we shouldn’t be out here at this hour. Well, we’ve never been out here at this hour.’ And as if on cue, the weather started to change. It suddenly became cooler.
‘Ahhh not good,’ Oak says as he can feel the temperature drop quickly.
‘Be a good coconut duck, Coupe. You swim around first, okay?’ Piscine tells the coconut duck as she takes out a small box in her waterproof pouch. Coupe meeps sadly. ‘Please hide, okay? Don’t let anyone see you,’ she instructs Coupe. Piscine pressed a series of buttons and they hear something above them. Alder and Oak look up and they see a cloud going down slowly.
‘What’s that cloud doing?’ Alder says, gritting his teeth because of the cold.
‘You’ll feel better in there,’ Piscine tells the twins as she looks at them concerned.
‘Why are you not cold, Piscine?’ Oak asked, his teeth started chattering.
‘Oh. Ahh, I don’t actually get affected by temperature changes, drastic or gradual. A gift but also a curse because we don’t know whether the cold or the heat will harm us – I think I told you this before. Anyway, we don’t have that kind of reaction.’ The cloud lands on the water, just beside Coupe and the twins finally managed to focus on the cloud.
‘Your ride?’ Alder asked.
‘Home, actually. It is home. Now, get on and get in there,’ Piscine commands and without any hesitation, the twins shuffled into the ship and straight to the navigation deck. It was so much warmer here and the warmth was a welcoming sensation. The twins collapsed on the floor in a heap. It’s been a while since they felt that cold and it’s not something that they ever wanted to feel again in a long time.
‘That…that was too cold,’ Oak said as he stayed on the floor, recovering.
‘It was never that cold. Nothing we could remember of…or maybe we just don’t have enough clothes, I don’t know,’ Alder said, a little confused. He was also on the floor, recovering like his brother, still shivering from the sudden cold spell.
Piscine came into the navigation deck, blankets in hand and a very worried look on her face. She covered Alder with the thick blanket and then Oak.
‘Wow, Piscine, you’re really not cold at all, huh?’ Oak told her, quite impressed, covering himself with the blanket.
‘I have already told you. I am immune to this.’ Piscine tells him gently. She was quite worried about them; they seem to have gone into a mild shock. ‘It is quite dangerous for us, as I mentioned. My people are not aware of it that it hurts us or kills us. There’s just no other way to undo it, it’s more or less like cooking. We eat our food raw, that’s just how it is. If we probably ate something cooked, we won’t be feeling too good either.’
Alder gets up first, but kept the covers around him. ‘You are right. We have never ever seen you eat anything cooked. You’d always snack on whatever you come across when we’re swimming.’
‘Hey, that’s not true! I have self-control on my food consumption, thank you very much for not noticing,’ Piscine said, a little defensive.
‘Have you not tried?’
‘No,’ Piscine answered, shaking her head.
‘Were you not ever curious?’ Oak asked, curious himself.
‘I was but I did not want to change my ways. And besides, I am scared that I may contract something that I would not understand and could probably avoid if I did not try eating something that is not meant for me or my body. But don’t get me wrong, I do think about these things. What if I ate something that you cooked? Or what if I ate the fruit that you can find around Krakatoa? Will it poison me? Make me sick? There are several things, even traditions of my people that I do not comprehend and of course, there are a number of things and ways that we still do have similarities with. All is not lost, as long as both the city people and the Freedom clans breathe through their nose, I guess,’ she tells them as she gives them her best tooth smile.
‘Has anyone tried it before? Cooked food, I mean.’ Oak asked, still lying on the floor of the navigation deck.
‘There are some but there were changes. Some got sick eating cooked food, we did try to evaluate the problem but we always come to a conclusion that we are just not meant for cooking. If we were, we’d have a feast at your table. But the feast for us Freedom clans is always in the sea. Everything is there. It would be frightening if everything that we know of is gone from the sea.’
‘I still think your clans are quite a mystery,’ Alder says, shaking his head, ‘But you know a lot about the city people, don’t you?’
‘Not really,’ Piscine admitted. ‘I know some things but I am not as well versed on these things like the elders, like my father or my mother. My brothers have been studying about different things and my sister is a genius. I think so anyway.’
Alder and Oak look over at each other quickly. They already knew what the other is thinking. They both realize that they know very little about Piscine. She taught them how to sing, to swim, to hunt, to salvage, how to breathe under water but she rarely talks about herself or her family.
‘Piscine, where are your family?’ Oak asked, gently enquiring, hoping not to scare her off in any way.
Piscine sighs. She is quite aware that she has not spoken about her family or anything about her clans, she did hint some of their ways but she knows that it is not the same.
‘My family is gone,’ she says sadly.
‘Gone?’ Alder and Oak ask in unison.
‘I don’t know where they are,’ and then, Piscine did what she has not done in a very, very, very, very long time in front of anyone.
Piscine felt tears in her face and she was as surprised as Alder and Oak at what is happening to her.
‘We don’t – ’ Alder was cut off by Piscine, holding up her hand.
‘Please give me a minute,’ she pleads. The twins wait for her to recover, concerned that they might have scared her off. Alder and Oak give each other looks that can only be translated into the following:
Alder: Why did you ask her that?
Oak: I just wanted to ask a question!
Alder: You don’t ask her anything personal, omg she is crying what are we going to do?
Oak: We wait for her to stop crying.
Alder: That is not good enough. Do something.
Oak: What do I do?
Alder: Anything. Don’t cough. That’s not going to make her feel better.
Oak: I am on the floor. I am cold. I can’t move.
Alder: Do something or I will take off your shorts.
Oak: You can’t take off my shorts.
Alder: Dare me.
Oak: I don’t know what to do.
Oak: I can’t sing, I can’t even move.
Alder: Toot! (rolling his eyes at his brother)
Oak: Hug her?
Oak: Well I can’t hug her. I am on the floor.
Alder: Move then.
Oak: Oh she’s looking up, stop looking at me.
Alder: I am going to take off your shorts!
Alder and Oak look like they did something wrong when Piscine looked up at them.
‘Are you guys talking to each other again?’ a toothy smile emerges from the crestfallen face.
‘No,’ Alder says.
‘Yes,’ Oak confesses.
Alder closes his eyes slowly. Oak can never lie. Ever, ever, ever, ever, never.
Piscine smiles at this and starts wiping her face. ‘I am okay,’ she tells them.
Oak starts to crawl towards Piscine with the blanket around him so he looks like a caterpillar. Alder just stares at his brother crawling his way to Piscine.
‘I’d sing if I can but I’m on the floor. And I am still a little bit cold. I hope you feel better, Piscine and I am sorry,’ Oak tells her, his face full of concern.
‘It’s quite alright,’ Piscine smiles at Oak.
‘I’d hug you but…’ Alder says, not looking at them, ‘…I got distracted,’ Alder starts to fake cough. ‘Good thing I didn’t coz I think I’m going to get sick,’ Alder says as he continues to fake cough and Oak shakes his head in disbelief.
‘I’m sorry,’ Piscine says suddenly. ‘I should have talked about myself as well. I just never thought that I’m that interesting nor my family.’
‘That’s nonsense! Everyone is interesting!’ Alder tells her.
‘That’s true! I agree with brod!’ Oak says.
‘You can tell us what you want to tell us, Piscine, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you are comfortable with,’ Alder tells her.
‘I guess I have to start from the very beginning,’ Piscine says. ‘This is going to be a very long story. Don’t interrupt or I will lose my train of thought and I won’t continue,’ Piscine warns. Alder and Oak nod in unison.
‘The Freedom clans are salvagers, as you already know. But we don’t just salvage things. We salvage technology. It has been like this for hundreds of years for us. We use the technology that we salvage, study them, try to improve them but since resources are scarce, we just make do. So far, we’ve made engines that can run electricity using sea water as fuel. We just had to modify some parts here and there. One day, I will show you both how it looks like. I am still learning how to make one from scratch. Oh, this ship is run by sea water. That reminds me…’ Piscine stood up and went straight to the ship controls. She pulled a lever up and suddenly the ship started to ascend slowly. Alder and Oak started to look panicky. The sensation of ascending like this is new to them.
‘Permission to speak!’ Alder says with an urgent tone in his voice.
‘Yes?’ Piscine asked, turning to face the twins.
‘Is this safe?’ Alder asked, looking a little sweaty.
‘Nothing is safe,’ she answered truthfully. ‘But this is quiet safe,’ and as if on cue, the engine stalls for a second and it shakes the ship a bit.
‘Woahhhh,’ Oak eyes wide open and Alder doesn’t move.
‘I feel very helpless right now,’ Alder says, still not moving.
‘It’s very stable.’ Piscine tells them then proceeded to jump up and down.
‘No, don’t do that!’ Alder and Oak pleaded as Piscine continued to jump up and down with a toothy grin on her face. She stopped jumping when she saw the colour from both the twins drain.
‘I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I forget that you are not used to this.’ She sits back down in front of them and waits for them to calm down. ‘Believe me when I say that it’s the safest place you can ever be if you travel around the seas.’
Piscine waits for another minute to ask, ‘Are you both alright?’ The twins nodded in reply and she continued, ‘As I mentioned, we tried to modify things that we salvaged. It was not something that they planned on. From what I remember from the stories, is that they wanted to get the technology back from what they had before all this,’ she waves her arms to prove the point. It started with the ones that floated back up or was left floating. As time passed, they started to swim for what they needed and here we are. I have one eldest sister and nine brothers. My brothers have a group name, ‘The Nines’. They are great. It’d be nice if you both meet them. They would love to meet you both.’
Oak raised his hand. Piscine acknowledges him by raising both her eyebrows. ‘They know about us?’
‘Yes,’ she confessed, smiling at the memory. ‘When I rescued you that day, I had second thoughts because we’re not allowed to associate with city dwellers but as you can see, I didn’t actually follow the rules. When I got home that night, I was scared out of my wits. I am not very good with lying especially with my family because they can tell whether I am telling a lie or not. It was also the first day that I got permission to swim further than my usual perimeter. Anyway, it was quite a day. I avoided speaking, eye contact, anything that can thwart any suspicion but maybe I was being too careful because my sister and my brothers felt something was wrong with me but they did not push me to speak to them or say anything. I was the one who eventually confessed or maybe that’s not the word, it’s more about opening up to them. It took me months to find the courage. They did not blame or judge me or tell me what I did was wrong. But maybe the other clans will say otherwise because they are pretty strict. For weeks, I was scared that Huginn and Muninn will find out about me doing a rescue to two city dwellers.’
Alder raised his hand but did not wait for Piscine to acknowledge him, ‘Huginn and Muninn?’
‘Yes. They fly around the seas. They are the Sage’s, Sebleng’s right hand man but he controls them all the same. They show him what happens everywhere. He’s been the leader of the Freedom clans for a hundred years so you can understand the power he holds. He’s a good leader but I’ve never actually met him.’
‘They fly?’ Alder asked, confused. ‘I don’t follow nor does Oak,’ Piscine looked at Oak who already has a confused look on his face as well.
‘They’re not birds,’ Piscine says, trying to make them understand.
‘We know what birds are, Grandpa Melon told us about them,’ Oak says, satisfied that they actually have some knowledge on creatures that don’t exist in this world anymore. ‘If they aren’t birds,’ Oak continued, ‘then what are they?’
‘Machines? How big are these machines?’ Alder asked this time.
‘Small, like a bird. Actually, they look like ravens. They have this device to record anything they come across and the feedback goes back to the Sage and then he reports directly to Sebleng. Do you get it?’ Piscine asked the rather confused looking twins.
‘More or less, yes,’ Alder says, looking down at Oak in agreement. ‘Does he know what you are doing now?’
‘So far, I actually do not know. We have not heard anything from them concerning my misadventures. All they have been focusing on since I was ten was the Ark.’
‘The ark??!’ the twins exclaim.
‘Yes, the ark,’ Piscine answered, stammering. The twins took her by surprise. ‘What do you both know about it?’
‘We got a map,’ Oak answered.
‘A land map, to be exact,’ Alder added.
Piscine went quiet. She looks like she was concentrating on a decision. ‘I must see this map. Where is it?’
‘At home,’ the twins answered in unison. ‘What happened to your parents?’ Alder asked this time.
‘The ark happened to them. I went back there two days ago because I have not heard from them for three years. It didn’t occur to me that it has been that long since we’ve communicated and with the situation at hand getting worse, I wondered what had happened to them so I went back but I found nothing,’ Piscine reveals.
‘Nothing?’ Alder asked, confused. ‘You did not find them?’
‘The scan says differently. My ship can detect my family’s ship but it detected it where I can’t find it. Either it is below in the deeps or above, which is quite impossible,’ Piscine says shaking her head, trying to control her emotions.
‘So far, with what we’ve seen, nothing is impossible,’ Oak tells her, ‘We will find them eventually. Mamu and Papi always said that you have to have faith in order for things to flow.’
Piscine nods in agreement with the twins. ‘Yes, we will. Thank you both!’
‘Wait, which ark are we talking about? The ark of cove or Noa’s ark?’ Oak asked, making sure they are talking about the same thing.
‘Oh, you both know about that too?’ Piscine is surprised that they are well versed with mythology.
‘Our relatives have their own thing, collection and such,’ Oak tells her, smiling.
‘Collection of what?’ Piscine is smiling. Wide, toothy smile of smiles. It did not occur to her that there are still things that she doesn’t know about the twins. Three years of seeing them almost every day too.
‘Artefacts that they have salvaged. Your family is not the only ones that salvage schtuff. But not as serious as your salvaging. Ours is just little things like plastic stool and what not, little things,’ Oak says, becoming a little shy, not sure if anything that they do have in the collection is worth anything as grand as Piscine’s clan members.
‘They do know a great deal about mythology and history. The family isn’t actually very popular with the common city dwellers. We know what they think of us and we keep our distance, just to be safe.’ Alder replied.
‘That’s nice! So you will know what I’m talking about if I do bring up some mythology?’ Piscine asked excited.
‘Maybe. I hope we do,’ Oak answered, looking at Alder for help.
‘Anyway, onwards to the mysterious ark. The one that I am speaking of is Noa’s ark. The legendary circus trainer who wanted to catch all the creatures of the world. Except there’s a twist to the story.
‘So it is true!’ Oak exclaimed, ‘Wait a second, a twist?’
‘They say Noa is actually not a legendary trainer but a scientist. He collected animals of all sorts and cloned them, made them into different animals but he had a purpose from what I heard that it was for medicine. He managed to fund his obsession back in the old world and he built the facility. What we don’t understand is how the creatures managed to survive all this time. You see, when we found out its location, we wanted to get the technology. We were hoping to advance slightly with medical technology. When we checked the area, we didn’t get anything on radar which of course, is not accurate. When we opened the gates, all these creatures came out. At first, they were of the small variety and then they grew in size. We closed off the gates but they manage to get out, no matter what we try doing. We made a mistake and now they have infested the waters.
‘How are they getting out of the gates if they are closed?’ Alder asked, confused.
‘That’s what we were trying to find out. As far as we know, all the known gates are all closed off. But what we don’t understand is, these creatures are still getting out somewhere,’ Piscine said, shaking her head. ‘We’ve been looking for these gates for years.’
‘How long have you been doing this?’
Piscine shrugs. ‘I was ten when the elders of the clan spoke about the Ark. The Freedom clans assembled at a meeting point at the Other Waters. We were passing by this area to check on some schtuff we can salvage, parts that we needed for the ship for my brother Un’s wedding which sadly did not happen,’ Piscine remembered.
‘Wedding?’ Alder asked.
‘Yes. It’s a ceremony. I believe the city dwellers stopped the practice but it used to be a ceremony when two people who want to be each other’s companion and they will have this ceremony to celebrate the unity.’ Piscine explained.
‘Oh! Brod, I read something about that! Something about gathering all your family and friends together and the other person’s family and friends together in one big banquet.’ Oak recalls. ‘There are more things that they have to do but I do not understand why we stopped it. There was a lot of food involved.’
‘I think it’s pretty obvious why…I mean, there isn’t much land to work with…’ Oak gave his brother a disapproving look. ‘It’s true! Most of the city people are related one way or another except our family.’ Alder shrugs. ‘I heard our ancestor did not approve or such things – this is probably one of the million reasons why we are not very popular.’
‘Why was the wedding cancelled?’ Oak asked.
‘She died.’ Piscine said, without pausing.
Alder and Oak look mortified. ‘Oh toot! I’m sorry, Piscine. I shouldn’t have asked…’ Oak said apologetic. He doesn’t understand why he keeps doing this.
‘It’s quite alright. It was a long time ago. My brother named this ship after her and he’s given this to me so hopefully, it’s a good sign that he’s doing better. Anyway, when the elders first met, they were speaking of something about a large facility where we can get better equipment to make medicine and better research for everything else. It was promising and it was something new that we can work on. Everything was positive and they calculated every possibility. But they did not foresee the creatures.’ Piscine trailed off, her gaze on the ship’s floor, staring into space; sweat beads can be seen on her delicate face. ‘The creatures got bigger and much smarter. Even with the Freedom clans’ skilled swimmers and hunters, they were no match for them. They just didn’t know what they were and to them, they were unpredictable. But we got by.’ Piscine stood up to look outside the windows. It is snowing heavily. She watched her ship enveloped by the white snow which wasn’t there just a few minutes ago. Her ship is sturdy, warm and she knows she’s safe here, right now. ‘They studied them carefully over time. We had to learn to outsmart them quickly. Soon, we learnt how they moved, they defended, they breed, and what they ate, their mannerisms, everything you can think of. But the problem is not the creatures, it’s the variety. Once we’re done studying one, there will be another species, and then another, and soon, another. It was a very frustrating time and it still is. I know this because my siblings tell me how they struggle with training every day but they do not complain outwardly. They follow orders, it is all about survival. Our survival.’ Piscine checked the meters one by one if everything is functioning as normal. This is the only ship she’s seen after she went to the other waters, she must be careful with it. She noted in her mind that she has to keep fuel with her, just in case.
‘Creatures that we’ve never seen before or even heard of are coming out of that facility. We’ve estimated the scale of the facility to be more or less half the size of the globe.’
Alder and Oak, despite the cold, started to sweat. The gravity of the situation is becoming more serious as they hear more about it. ‘Have any of your clans gone in the facility?’
‘No. We couldn’t. Many tried to go past but none has come out alive. You have to understand, different creatures come out from wherever it is from that Ark. The Redoctop came from there.’
‘Redoctop?’ Alder asked.
‘The one that got Oak three years ago. It was called Redoctop. I thought they have killed or contained it in the Other Waters until I saw it that day. I killed it on the day,’ she told them reassuringly.
‘You killed it?’ Alder said, pointing at her. The twins were shocked at how casual she made it sound like.
‘Yes. It wasn’t as difficult for me but the ones that you helped me out with would be impossible to defeat just by myself. I have to thank you both for being so helpful.’
The twins look at each other, smiling. ‘No big deal,’ Oak tells her shyly.
‘I have been meaning to ask…’
‘Maybe its booby trapped!’ Oak half shouts, wide eyed with anxiety and a little excitement. Oak can hear his heart thumping in his ear. Adventure is all he can hear being whispered to his ears. Alder, on the other hand, has adventure and glory being whispered to his ears. His heart is thumping as hard and as loud as Oak.
Alder and Oak look at each other. The exchange is not what people normally do but this has been quite a normal means of communication with the twins. Perhaps any twins but we would not know that but what we do know is that these brothers use this as a means of communication on a daily basis, especially when they need to get out of trouble, escape things and debates, to name a few. Translation of their ‘communication’ is as follows:
Alder: We can do this!
Oak: We can!
Alder: What are we going to do about Mamu and Papi?
Oak: I don’t even think we can just get permission…(shaking his head, wide eyes, petrified look)
Alder: We could just go.
Oak: That is even worse, what are you thinking?
Alder: Do you want to leave a note?
Alder: They will find us.
Oak: Of course they will.
Oak: We can’t go yet.
Alder and Oak: The road map!
(Written for 2013 NaNoWriMo.)