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Almyra broke through the sea surface, grabbed the boat ladder and climbed up.
"Marina," she said, breathless, "I saw a city down below. A real, big city.”
Her excitement was easy to understand. Sometimes we found mountaintops near the surface, but never a city; only deep-divers could reach cities, and our clan had none.
Almyra had dived naked, so now she reached for her diving-suit. I took off my clothes and put on my diving-suit too, then I strapped on the oxygen bottle.
It might have been prudent to gather more clanswomen before diving to the city, but our boat was many days from the main Cluster as we preferred to hunt alone -- and we also cherished the privacy. Besides, we were too excited to wait.
We dived, and the city was there, no more than thirty meters below the surface. It was as big as I had imagined, and then ten times more. The sea was full of buildings; we were swimming near the roofs of the tallest ones. The sea bottom was so far down we might need deep-divers after all, but the parts of the buildings within our reach were so many we could explore for days. This was way too big an adventure for the pair of us; it would be best to enter a couple of buildings to take stock of the situation, and then go tell the elders.
As Almyra was approaching a building, a couple of shapes detached themselves from the wall and swam towards her at an impossible speed.
Biters! I thought. We'd lost many clanswomen to their attacks, but it was the first time I saw them myself. I had to warn Almyra, but they were moving too fast.
I shot one with my trident-gun and missed. They were too far away. I swam faster than ever I thought I could. I saw one of the creatures bite Almyra on the calf, and she writhed in pain. But my wife was tough; she took out her knife and fought back.
They were two, and they moved much faster than Almyra. She had no chance, unless I could reach her fast.
Their fighting gave me time to move closer. I once again took a shot at one of the Biters with my trident-gun, and this time I got it at the back of the head. It sank in a spray of blood.
The other one turned towards me, giving Almyra the chance to stab it in the back. Then she grabbed it from behind, so that it was unable to use its hands. That was brilliant; if we could take a Biter prisoner, the clan would sing of us in years to come.
We broke to the surface and I helped Almyra up the ladder with the prisoner. We threw the creature on its back and then we could see it clearly -- and I gasped. It looked too human, out there in the open. It -- she? -- looked very much like a young woman, with tiny arms and the lower part of her legs fused together in some kind of a tail.
She hissed and I saw her teeth, pointed and filed.
I stopped thinking about our prisoner for a moment to tend to Almyra's wound. We took off our diving-suits. Her wound wasn't very deep, but she was bleeding a lot. We'd run out of antiseptic some months ago, so I licked the wound clean and then I stitched it tight.
I caught the woman-creature look at us wide-eyed. Then it was my turn to go wide-eyed, as I heard a thought in my mind. I knew some of the deep-divers mindspeak, but I'd never experienced it before.
You are human, she thought. You are like us. We thought you monsters in that black skin you shed. So sad to fight you.
Then, I'm Ey'whe'la. Ey’whe'la.
Then, I can't breathe. I'm dying. I can't live outside the water. Put me back, land-woman. I can't breathe.
I tried to reply. I tried to focus my thoughts and mindspeak to her. To no avail; she didn't seem to understand. Maybe it's easier to mind-listen than mindspeak.
"When I was little," said Almyra, "my mama used to sing to me of the ones who sank their boats and went to live under the sea when the waters rose up. Maybe they became the Biters.”
I stitched Ey'whe'la's wound and then we lowered her to the sea. Thank you, land-women, were her last mind-words to us. May your waters be sweet. I will think of you, in the calm of the deep.
Then we set course for the Cluster. The Elders were in for a surprise, if we could only make them believe us.
Almyra came up behind me and rested her chin on my shoulder. I stood there, watching the sun set and letting her warmth fill me. We would find a way to make the Elders believe us, I thought, if it was the last thing we ever did.
George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Greece, and a member of Codex Writers' Group. His stories have been published in Galaxy's Edge, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four, Grievous Angel, The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Best Vegan SFF, and many other magazines and anthologies.