The metal scrap is twisted, no longer than my daughter's body, with a pattern like a cuttlefish hide. Its timbre is rich and sonorous, nothing like the heavy, dull echoes I sense from the Death-Bringers. It sits on the muddy seafloor, glinting in the faint light that reaches the ocean bottom, free of algae or corrosion.
My daughter Flo presses her snout against the metal. She tries to tilt the object, but I push her away with a fin.
"Don't touch strange things, Flo. Not here."
"I just want to see it better." She eyes the object, turning her head first one way, and then the other. "Weird," she says. "I think it's safe. I don't think humans made it."
"Of course it's human, dear. None of our kind could've made this."
"It echoes weird." Flo clicks again, and I hear it too: the eerie, vibrant echo-pattern like nothing I recognize.
Flo darts around me, proud fins catching the light, and prods it again.
If she saw a Death-Bringer explosion, she wouldn't be so flippant. But she's young, not full-grown, and this mission is only her third. She has seen just one Death-Bringer, and it was still intact, its round body rusty and caked with mud. She has never seen one triggered, has never felt the terrible heat, the pressure that rips flesh apart, and the awful sound, worse than a thunderclap, which blinds our kind's sonar for hours.
The human fish-givers bring us here to scout for Death-Bringers left by their wars. They give us markers to place near each Death-Bringer and reward us with salmon and mackerel. Afterwards, they take the Death-Bringers away. I don't know where they move them, but I hope it's far away, to the land outside the water, where they can't destroy the sea.
Flo prods the object again and leaps up in a joyous whirl. "I see more of them ahead!" Her voice vibrates with excitement. She whips her tailfin and darts across the seafloor.
I follow, skimming high above the mud. A scattered mess of objects looms in the distance. Each is the size of Flo's body, maybe smaller. I probe the objects with a barrage of clicks. Sounds echo back to me, vivid and strange. They are not the sounds of a Death-Bringer.
Still, I'm wary. Humans love tricks. When I was younger, they lured my son Finn with a bait of fresh fish and then wrapped him in nets before I could stop them. If they take Flo away too, I will swim to the bottom, let out my breath until there's none left inside, and let the water take me. But I hope it never comes to that.
The objects Flo found in the mud are not nets. Nor are they Death-Bringers. One object is a cylinder, long and thick like a conger eel. On its side, an image glows like concentrated sunlight.
Surrounding the cylinder are more twisted metal shards like the one Flo found earlier. Perhaps they once surrounded the cylinder but broke off as it fell.
Flo ignores the twisted metal. She interrogates the cylinder with clicks, high-low-high, fast-slow-fast. Echoes assail us, an exhilarating tempo that floats through the sea like whale-song. Perhaps Flo is right; perhaps humans didn't make this.
I study the image on the cylinder's side. There are three circles, and each contains a different number of dots.
"It's a riddle," Flo whispers. "A picture riddle, like the humans give us sometimes." She vibrates with excitement. Before I can stop her, she taps the circles with her snout: first the circle with one dot, then the circle with two, and finally – hesitantly – the circle with three.
The cylinder emits a singing trill, and a sheet of dust streams from its side. Flo and I leap backward. A mirage appears on the dust, like the cylinder just gave it life.
"What is –"
A creature moves in the mirage. I know it's not real; it's just a projection on the dust. Still, I shake. The creature is like nothing I have seen. It reminds me of an octopus, but with three legs and three eyes. Slits like gills run up each leg, between its eyes, and on its forehead. Its legs wave in gentle rhythm.
The mirage shifts. Now I see not one creature, but dozens, meandering across a seascape of glittering coral. Metal walls rise from the coral, glinting in the sunlight. The creatures swim about their home, unhurried; they greet each other with soft touches. They pull plants from the ocean floor and place them in their mouths.
Two beings draw near. One is as large as I am. The other, tiny, rests upon its arm. The tiny one blinks at me, all three eyes in concert, and then scuttles behind the big one to hide.
The mirage shifts again. Five creatures assemble an object – the cylinder. They buff it and polish it and place it in a metal shell. Then they launch the object out of the water, high, high, into the clouds and out of sight.
The image fades, until only the dust remains, and then it dissipates into the water.
"W-who are they?" Flo's voice is small. "What are they? Are they dangerous? Will they hurt us?"
I don't answer. I try to imagine the three-legs hunting us with nets. Perhaps they, too, make Death-Bringers that shatter the sea with explosions. It is possible. They could be like humans. They could destroy.
"Will the humans give us fish for finding this?" says Flo, louder and more hopeful. "We should tell them... right?"
I think again of the tiny creature on its parent's arm. I imagine its ocean polluted with foul tastes and poison. I think of it trapped in human nets.
Slowly, I scrape away the silt beneath the cylinder. Little by little, the object sinks into the mud. I push silt over the top of the cylinder with my fins, cloud after cloud of dirt and rock, until the lights on its side are not visible. Then I start covering the metal scraps.
"Help me, Flo."
Someday, the humans will find the cylinder. I know this like I know the marks on Flo's skin. They will descend to the sea floor in their odd suits with fake fins, dig the cylinder out of the mud, solve its riddle, and see the beings with three legs. Then they will build ships that will carry them into the sky, to the other world where the three-legs live. And they will imprison them and study them and poison their ocean.
But perhaps – just perhaps – the humans won't find the cylinder in time. Perhaps, buried beneath the sea floor, the cylinder's cracks will fill with silt; its sleek body will decay into ruin. Free of its luster, maybe – just maybe – the humans will think it's trash, unimportant, a scrap of loose junk.
"Come, Flo," I say.
Flo pushes a parting cloud of silt over the now-buried cylinder. I swim by to check that it's hidden. Then we glide back to the surface, into the sunlight, where the fish-givers wait.
A/N: If you enjoyed, or even if you thought it was terrible and want to leave feedback, please consider leaving a review! It really makes my day. :) This is definitely the most unique perspective I have ever attempted and I'm interested in your thoughts.