It’s a meaningless bunch of sounds unless you know ancient Maraquan, which most people don’t. Not even most Maraquans, if you think about it. But menaru is a word everyone raised in Maraqua knows.
At its simplest, it means depthless. But more than that, it means a place that goes on forever. It’s used to describe the sea. Nobody’s ever found any limits to the water, after all. The land, now, that’s mapped. It’s hard to map the ocean, though. How do you mark the currents that are as real to us as rivers are to the land-dwellers? The crags and canyons that mark the ocean floor are the same as any mountains or valleys the land-dwellers have. The kelp forests, the reefs – there are as many different kinds of ‘terrain’ here, as many different biospheres as any place on land.
But that’s just part of it. It’s hard to explore all of the ocean well enough to map it. Few people want to. The Divers, the one organization that wants to, doesn’t usually manage to. Nobody explains why they don’t, not even the Divers themselves. They just shrug helplessly, the same way they do when they receive the news that one of their specialized ships is lost at sea and probably won’t return.
I went with one of those ships.
Let me start at the beginning. My name is Elem. I’m a Maraquan Hissi, so my scales are a light blue-gray, tinged with green and deeper blue, and I have lavender frills along my spine and over where my ear-holes are. Contrary to popular belief, my fins only use up three of my fingers, leaving my thumb and first finger alone. I can hold things, even write. It’s harder than it is for most people, but I’m used to it.
I volunteered to go with one of the Diver ships, a submarine as they called it, because it’s a bit of a tradition among my schoolmates. There wasn’t much of a crew on the Diver ship. The captain, a red Ogrin named Maven, was also the pilot. Driver. It’s hard to tell which word is more appropriate. A quiet blue Acara named Rin was the navigator, for whatever that was worth. Then there was Jan. I never figured out what his job was. He was slick. His green fur shone whenever I saw him, and there was always a half-smile on his face.
That Kougra was probably the source of all our problems. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I signed onto their ship. It had a pretty name. Serendipity, or something like that. Maven welcomed me on enthusiastically, with a lot of hand-waving and explanations of the technology that flew right over my head. The ship was air-tight, of course, and as I slithered around, Rin watched me with a look of disgust on her face. I looked right back at her. It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t walk around like they did. Besides, I swam better than any of them.
My ability to swim was why they let me join them. All Diver ships had to have a Diver who could survive the ocean. I was Serendipity’s. It’s interesting to note that the first thing Rin and Jan asked me once we left Maraqua City was ‘How much of the ocean has already been explored?’
I looked at them for a bit, trying to figure out a way to explain. In the end, I settled for saying ‘It’s hard to tell.’ Then they asked me the question I’d been dreading.
‘How large is the ocean?’ they asked. ‘Surely you know that.’
‘Menaru,’ I told them. Before they could press further, I told them what it meant. ‘Depthless, edgeless, without any end. The sea goes on forever, and there’s no end to what you can explore.’
Rin frowned at that. I braced myself for some scientific response, perhaps something about how that’s not possible. But she didn’t say anything. Instead, the Acara turned and walked away, towards the bridge. It was Jan who gave me the response I expected. ‘That’s not possible,’ he said, ‘everything must have an end.’
‘The ocean doesn’t,’ I replied, turning away from him. The Kougra glared at me then, the force of his gaze a physical thing. I ignored it as best I could, waiting for him to go away.
The days that followed were simple enough in form. During the day, Maven guided us through the ocean and Rin watched out the windows, marking things on a map. Jan paced the ship, restless, and gathered food for Maven and Rin when they were hungry. I swam alongside the ship, as it was going at a slow speed. There was no rush, after all. I knew how to gather the food of the ocean, and as days passed, Jan joined me out there. He could handle himself better than most land-born, but never answered when I asked him about it.
I taught him how to hunt, what plants were good to eat and how to find them. I showed him hidden places that held beauty. When we reached a reef, I forced Rin and Maven to come join us, and showed them the colors of the sea. Rin was antsy. Maven marveled at it, but soon the Ogrin returned to the safety of his ship. Rin followed. I watched them return, red and blue and blending into the coral and sea. Jan stayed with me out there, pacing the ship as it carefully navigated around the reef.
It was after at least one month, perhaps two, that we discovered the trench.
Jan was fascinated by it. He badgered Maven about it for hours, until it was impossible to be on the ship without hearing the argument echoing through the cramped halls. I took to sleeping outside, lightly bound to the ship with kelp. I didn’t want to take part in the argument, especially because Maven was firm in his decision not to explore the trench.
But even the strongest resolve can shatter, given time. The trench extended so far that we couldn’t see an end on either side. It was wide enough for me to not want to swim out and try to see the other edge. Maven took Serendipity on a course that traced one edge of the trench. It gave Jan enough time to crack the captain’s resolve about not entering the trench.
I almost left them when Jan beckoned me inside that day. Maven stood tall and proud in front of the controls. Rin sat beside him, looking resigned. Jan was smiling, teeth glinting in the artificial light. ‘We’re going into the trench,’ Maven said, smoothing down his deep red hair. ‘I understand that nothing in your contract forbids you from leaving, but I would appreciate it if you joined us.’
I hesitated. I didn’t want to go into one of those trenches. The reason the ocean was menaru was because of them. Water entered the sea through them. Water left the sea through them. And they were deep enough themselves that it was impossible to tell which way the currents ran until you were inside them, too far inside them to effectively run away.
Jan looked at me, pleading. I ignored him. It was Rin’s whisper that made my decision. ‘Please,’ she said. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I stayed. I couldn’t help it, after that. Maven declared the rest of that day a time of rest. He anchored the ship there, and I returned to the water. If this was to be a day of rest, then so be it. I’d spend my time away from the influences of the land-born crew. I’d offer my words to the lords of the sea, and hope that they found my heart true enough to let us not be destroyed in the trench.
The trenches are called sorene when they go deep enough to let water in and out of the sea we live in. I knew that this trench was sorene, even without entering. It’s not hard to tell, for the ocean-born. We have instincts about water that the land-born don’t.
I returned to the ship as light faded from the water. I bound myself to the ship once more, knowing that this would be the last night I dared do so for a long time.
The next morning, I entered the ship. Maven was at the helm, guiding us down. Jan stood by his side, watching. Rin was off in the observation dome. I joined her there, sitting in the little bubble on the bottom of the ship. She was quiet, as usual. I’d known that. Wanted that. The loudest sound was the recirculation of the air. The only other sounds, the hum of the engines, our breath, and the scratch of her pen on paper.
As we went deeper into the trench, the exterior lights flickered on, illuminating the rocks. I turned away, then. There were some things we were not meant to see. The inside of trenches where light did not naturally touch were one. The sorene, of course, were such places. But the technology that these Divers brought with them let them see.
I hated it. I spent the rest of the day cooped up in the center of the ship, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I refused to gaze upon that which was forbidden even our ancestors, who were closer to the sea than anyone now could be.
When the ship came to a halt, everyone came together in the kitchen, and I left. They told their stories, but I didn’t need to hear about things I didn’t want to see.
The next day, Jan came and asked me why I wasn’t outside.
I didn’t answer him, merely turned away.
I lost track of time, then. I slept when I could, recited the legends when I could not, and ate whenever I felt the need. It wasn’t often. If nothing extraordinary had happened, I suspect I would have starved.
I did not, obviously.
No, then we crashed. I don’t know how it happened. I just know that Maven’s voice filled the ship, warning the others that we probably had a leak. I knew, then, that the lords of the sea were displeased. I slipped into the airlock and let it cycle, swimming determinedly upwards as soon as I could.
I didn’t look back.
I couldn’t look back.
All that was below me was a speck of light intruding upon the darkness. All that was left was the shell of pride’s folly. There are places we were not meant to go, not meant to see. The Maraquan know this. We have traditions that speak of nothing else.
The land-born do not.
And this is why I write this tale, though my fins are not well equipped for it. Friends have offered to scribe it for me, but I refuse. I swam back to Maraqua slowly. It took me months. I don’t know how many. But it was my penance for going with the land-born crew of Serendipity, and this is my warning to others.
The ocean is menaru, depthless, and the trenches that make it so, the sorene, should never be entered. Entering them, as my story tells, brings nothing but danger.
I don’t know what happened to Serendipity and its crew. I believe that the lords of the sea took them as a sacrifice. But I will never venture down to see, and neither will anybody else.
They are lost to the depthless sea, now, and only the depthless sea knows what will happen to them.
And that is how it should be.