(If you’d like to listen to this story, you can find the abridged audio narration at the podcast 600 second saga, narrated by Mariah Avix)
Somewhere above the endless sparkling blue of the sea floated a regal osprey. It had been a long exhausting day of hunting and he had nothing to show for it. The summer was almost over. He could feel winter’s encroaching fingers clawing at him more and more each day. The once abundant buffet below him was now no more than scraps left over by the sharks and dolphins. Scanning the glittering, undulating waters beneath him, he spotted plenty of loose kelp and bits of flotsam, but only the smartest fish must have been left because he couldn’t spot any lingering near the surface.
For a moment he allowed the flow of the wind to distract him. He tipped his wings just slightly and spun in a wide, slow circle, rising in altitude. Avid bird-watchers might have contrived some complex purpose for the movement – from the precise angle of the wings to the exact height to which he rose – but to the casual observer he appeared to have done it simply for the enjoyment. Casual observers were right more often than they realized.
He leveled off and, with a sense neither bird-watcher nor casual observer could ever be aware of, he zeroed in on one small spot of ocean. To untrained eyes it would seem identical to every other watery ruffle. To this predator, it was a target. He tucked his wings and sank, cutting through the wind and spray like an arrow.
A snap of suddenly outstretched wings.
The fish wriggled and squirmed in the hunter’s claws. Somewhere in its tiny brain it was aware of the great peril, but that awareness didn’t leave enough room for devising a way of escape. All it could hope for – though there wasn’t any room left in its brain for hoping either – was the slim possibility of a larger predator attacking the owner of the claws wrapped around its slimy body.
Then a loud screech split the air and the very thing the little herring would have hoped for – had it had any brain left to hope with – happened. A massive albatross swooped in on the now less regal looking osprey and the fish was free.
Another splash and the herring took a deep breath. The cool, tangy water flooded through its tiny body while salt, algae and other unwanted bits filtered out through its gills. It twitched through the water for a few seconds as its various systems got back into working order after the shock of all that stark air. Then it simply floated down toward a small bed of coral where it would hide for the foreseeable future. However, given that it was incapable of foreseeing further than a few seconds, it was unlikely to remain in hiding for very long.
The trip south was mostly unremarkable. The shallow water held not much more than algae and plankton and as the herring floated down, the sea simply grew murkier with added particles and minerals. Then it began to swim away from shore, following some mysterious instinct that told it where its safe haven was. And as it pushed further and further out, the murkiness began to fade away.
When the view finally cleared, it honed in on a small cluster of coral and mollusks a few yards away, though measurement was far beyond its limited capabilities. Had its brain capacity been slightly larger it might have been able to appreciate the vast beauty surrounding it. Its little heart might have warmed at the undulating shades of blue and green beckoning the courageous to explore. It might have sighed at the vibrant colors covering the ocean floor, the sandy bottom teeming with life of all kinds. It might have paused to take in the gentle sway of the kelp and seaweed as the tide pulled it to and fro. Perhaps it would have taken a scenic route, past all the sea star and muscle encrusted rocks and stopped to chat with the hermit crabs digging in the sand.
As it was, this particular fish was not equipped with the necessary brain synapses to appreciate, or even notice, the surrounding magnificence. In fact, it was so oblivious to its own surroundings, it failed to spot a new predator lurking in the shadows. Though, in defense of the simple fish, poor eyesight could have easily lead it to believe that the turtle shell was really just another rock.
The poor thing didn’t even make it past the first outcropping.
For such a large creature, with little to no streamlining, the sea turtle was remarkably fast. She was hailed as the best hunter in her bale. The rest of them were content with whatever food was easiest to get. She always went for the best first. The tough, stretchy mollusks couldn’t go anywhere, so she risked nothing by starting with the crunchy, textured fish.
Of course, once she snapped up the herring, the rest of the fish caught on and scattered, hiding in all the cracks and crevices she couldn’t reach. Oh well. She’d come back for them another day. Most fish had terrible memories anyway.
She yanked up a couple of the boring mollusks to finish off the meal, then with a swipe of her flippers, spun up and away from the rocks, heading to the surface for a quick breath. When she dove back under, she turned her tail east and swept toward her favorite ledge. She was going to take a nap.
Unlike the fish she’d just eaten, this dark green turtle took in the sweeping vistas around her as she stroked through the water. She luxuriated in the feel of the cool currents rushing over her face and flippers. She even spun around a few times, creating currents of her own.
Then the edge of a huge reef came into view to her right and she slowed. At this distance it was difficult to spot any critters along the sandy bottom, but she knew they were there. Only the smallest and least nourishing creatures lived that close to the nearby trench, though. She turned slightly and noticed a new patch of kelp growing just a few yards away. Another swipe of her flipper and she sailed toward the swaying plants. Closing her eyes, she let the soft strands glide along her belly as she swam over them. A cloud of rockfish swarmed out and she snapped up a few of the slower ones.
After one more dip to the surface, she turned back to the reef and her ledge. It was closer to the trench than most would be comfortable with. That trench hid many large predators. She probably should have been more wary, but she found the solitude peaceful. Besides, she’d never actually gone into the trench.
But she didn’t need to go in the trench to be spotted. The ledge itself might have been well hidden from larger, stronger predators, but she simply wasn’t prepared for the few predators smarter than her.
As she approached the reef, a strange untethered harpoon shot through the water. Before she could look up to determine the source of the strange eddy, it sank into her neck and through her body to pierce her heart.
She was just inches away from her ledge.
Her lifeless body sank to the sea floor, tracked by a hidden pair of strange intelligent eyes. With a speed surpassing that of the odd harpoon, the strange creature darted out of the shadows to trap the turtle in a small fishing net. His tail seemed normal enough, though one didn’t usually see a dolphin shaped tail covered in scales. With the dexterity of an octopus, the creature’s crustacean-like arms quickly wrapped up his kill. His oddly shaped head turned from side to side, seemingly watching for larger predators. Much like the turtle, his head looked as if it had been mashed onto the end of his body. No tapering, no streamlining, aside from the three fins on top with the center one trailing down his back.
But none of that detracted from his superior hunting abilities. Though most predators were larger than him, his species were by far the smartest in the sea. Smarter even than the dolphins, some believed. Superior to the sea turtle, the herring, perhaps even the osprey and the albatross. But the undines were still a simple species. Smart certainly, but lacking the passion and ambition that would drive them to seek to rule.
Not a single creature could become so elevated that a greater predator couldn’t knock them back down. All who lived in the sea or depended on it knew this. And so, as the hunters went their separate ways, the journey of life, the fight for survival, went on.