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Ms. Caner brings us another fish tale… it was thissssss big.

What Lies Beneath


Resha Caner

The sea commanded silence. Every time an oar creaked in its lock, or the keel scraped past some ice, Saul winced. He didn't believe the myths about the demon, Matig, who guarded the gate to the underworld palace of fallen angels; they weren't even his myths. The Graseq may look human, but they weren’t human. Still, it was they who worked the oars, and their reaction to any perceived monsters of the deep would have direct consequences on Saul’s life. One of the Graseq stood in the bow with a pike, looking like the Colossus guarding Rhodes, with a squarish face and red hair greased to stand out in spikes. He tried to move the small fragments of the ice floe from their path, and poled the boat away from the larger bergs. Progress came grudgingly as the skiff sidled back and forth, looking for a passage to carry them forward.

Leaning heavily on his pike, the Graseq muttered a curse. The bow turned away from one berg, aiming toward the next razor edge of frozen sea waiting to consume them. The sailor dropped his shoulders with an exhausted huff, then stepped from port to starboard and seated the pike for his next thrust.

"Your turn soon, Astar," the Graseq grunted as he leaned his weight against the ice.

"Three bells isn’t here yet," Astar answered. He lay under a tarp just behind the feet of the first. The tarp was pulled up so only the top of his bright orange hair shown from beneath, and his voice sounded like the distant muffle of a dream.

Saul sat atop the cargo, exposed to the frigid breezes rolling off the ice floe as they whispered lies in his ears. As the only human in the venture, his job was to explain how to repair the disabled oilrig banished to these chill waters. Silent glances questioned why he would betray human technology to them.

He looked at the red-haired giants pulling the oars. In traditional fashion, their clothing fit tightly, and muscles rolled beneath the cloth as they strained forward and backward. Saul may have been small, but the Graseq stood above even the largest human.

Red cloud swirled overhead, giving shabby light to the crests of the waves. The same stifling blanket covered the whole Graseq planet.

"The ice is thicker now," the first Graseq spoke again. "I need a break."

Astar threw back the tarp with an angry growl. He rose to take the pike, snarling as he did so. "I was dreaming of Sara."

"Get your ugly face out of my way."

"Sit down, Jaran," the captain commanded. The others never spoke directly to him, but amongst their whispers, Saul heard him called “The Seredai”.

Jaran dropped down onto the deck of the skiff, giving Astar a gleaming face of satisfaction as he pulled the tarp over his body to warm himself.

"Ah, Sara." Astar licked his lips as he jabbed the pike into the ice.

Saul breathed through his nose. He wasn't sure what made him more uncomfortable, the possibility of a fight or Jaran's incessant discussions about women. The Graseq reveled in the entertainment provided in the city of Abadi by human women.

"She was the best of the lot," Astar continued to dream.

"Then why did she pick you?" Jaran's muffled voice drifted through the tarp.

"The human women always go for the brightest hair." He let go of the pike, watching it float by as he ran his hands through his long locks. The Seredai grabbed the pike from the ice and flung it back toward Astar.

Saul released a deep breath, and looked back across the expanses. Abadi had long ago melted into the seam between water and cloud. He felt no special attachment to the place, as his arrival two days ago was the first time he had ever seen it. Still, the lonely, wind-battered hovel seemed symbolic of his plight. Hungry eyes from desperate human women haunted his every step. They had come to the north shore in the first rush of excitement, when discovering the Graseq was new and invigorating. Now, with the disappointment of reality setting in, they seized any pale illusion promising escape.

Saul made no judgments, and ignored their advances. His heart belonged to an amazing Graseq named Claudine ...


“What’s her name?” Saul nodded toward the tall redhead across the room.

“She’s Graseq,” his friend answered.

“She’s cute.”

“She’s Graseq.”

“I’m going to ask her to dance.”

His friend placed a restraining hand on his shoulder, but Saul brushed it off, taking the required drink of encouragement. As he began to cross the bar, weaving in and out between the customers, the girl’s eyes met his. At first they were blank, then slightly confused, then horrified. By the time he stood before her, he felt stupid. He had to look up to meet her eyes, and the surrounding friends gave him sneers and disapproving looks.

“Would you like to dance?” After saying it, he decided the words were a mistake. He made a half turn to leave.

“Give me a reason,” she said.

“Because I don’t use clichés.”

“I hope that means you don’t believe in stereotypes.” A tiny smile invaded the corners of her mouth, and Saul thought he could detect a sparkle fighting off the dread in her eyes.

“Prove them wrong,” he said.


"I see it!"

Saul awoke from troubled sleep. He tried to wipe the fog from his eyes, and then realized it hung all about him. The Seredai stood in the bow, silhouetted against a pink, misty curtain by a lantern held above his head. The pike stood ready in his other hand.

"Reminds me of my grandpa." Jaran emerged from beneath the tarp. "When I was a boy, he told me stories of how the clouds used to be thicker, closer to the ground. He said the demons are leaving us and taking the skies with them."

"Myths," Astar grunted. "The clouds are the same as they've always been. Next you'll be seeing Matig himself rising out of the water."

"I see it!" The Seredai repeated. As if his words could summon an image, a dark, vertical stripe emerged from the mist to ripple on the edges of Saul’s vision. "A bit more starboard, boys."

"Matig is real," Jaran said. "I don't need to see the creature to believe, and I have no reason for him to prove himself."

Astar shot Jaran a withering look. He unlocked an oar and flung it toward Jaran.

Jaran raised a defensive arm, but the oar struck him in the head.

"Batten it down proper," Astar laughed.

"I want all the equipment unloaded before anyone eats or sleeps," The Seredai ordered.

Saul knew he was considered part of the equipment. He slid off the cargo onto the deck, balancing his way toward the ladder bobbing near the bow.

* * *

“Where are the samples?” Saul asked. His hands were out, and he looked about the infirmary as if he expected the Graseq technician to place them in his grasp. He had time before the equipment would be unloaded. While he waited, he could attend to his real business—the reason he was allowed to leak drilling technology to the Graseq.

“Matig ate them.”


The technician pointed to a table where a plastic tub over half a meter long lay full of water. Saul stepped to the side and peered into the murky soup, but he saw no demon. The flip of a tail stirred mud from the bottom, throwing a thick cloud toward the surface.

“Is this a joke?” Saul turned to look at the technician.

“It attacked the diver and ate the samples,” the technician explained.

“It ate five aluminum flasks?”

“Yes, sir.”

Saul was still not sure if he was being played, but he decided to call the bluff. “Cut it open.”

The pale green eyes of the Graseq grew large, and he took a step back.

“Cut it open,” Saul repeated, nodding toward the fish in the tub.

The technician thrust out his jaw, then turned and walked to a cabinet of cold, stainless steel. He removed a scalpel and syringe, came back to Saul, and held them out. “You do it.”

Saul considered his options. If he pushed the technician too hard, the Graseq would start asking why he needed these samples to fix drilling equipment, and he would not have a convincing answer. After all, he wasn’t looking for oil. He was looking for Litrium. Whoever found the next lode would be rich beyond the ability of a temporal mind to calculate.

“You may leave,” Saul said. He took the instruments from the technician and turned toward the fish. Standing over the tub, he held them out like swords brandished against an enemy, and waited for the soft footfalls of the technician to disappear through the door.

In the dark water he spied a shadowy shape. Looking at the syringe in his right hand, he gripped it firmly, and then took aim at the outline below. With a quick strike, he plunged the needle in. The fish jumped from the tub, landing on the floor. Its tailed whipped, propelling it toward the door. Saul watched in amazement as water dripped from his face and shirt. Gathering himself, he took off after the creature. The fish, with the syringe waving from its back like a flag, began to slow. Saul gave the knife a flourish, and swept down to open the fish’s belly.

Eggs spilled onto the floor, spewing stench and filth. Saul wretched.

“Why?” a thin voice whispered.

Saul covered his mouth and nose, and spun on one heel to survey the perimeter of the room: books, records, swabs and bandages, a closed door. He was alone.

He looked back at the fish. Could it be? He didn’t ponder the question long, for he spotted the shine of aluminum swimming in the bile.

* * *

“I want the scrawny human here. Now!” the oilrig foreman growled at The Seredai.

“I delivered my cargo,” The Seredai responded.

The foreman stared at the inoperative equipment lying on the deck. “Telam’s blood!” He spit over the railing into the water. Turning to one of his men, he barked, “Go get the infidel.”

“I’m right here.” Saul, covered in blood and filth, rounded the buildings clinging to the deck. He held a shiny tube in one hand and part of the fish in the other. “I need a diver.”

The foreman cracked a smile. “The equipment is right here on the deck.”

“Forget the equipment,” Saul waved off the dead, hulking machines. “I need a diver.”

“I need a drill.” The foreman’s smile disappeared.

Saul pointed upward with his gaze locked on the foreman. “We did secret studies of your clouds. We were trying to figure out why they transmit light to the surface. They found traces of Litrium.”

The foreman looked to The Seredai with a blank face.

Saul huffed in exasperation, throwing out his hands. “Don’t you get it? All the pieces fit! Your oilrig is standing over a huge crater on the ocean floor. The cloud layer is getting thinner. The dust is settling from an impact thousands of years ago.”

The sailors and riggers began muttering, but Saul strode forward, thrusting out the fish to silence them. “Barmoor take your myths! The Litrium is not native. It came from somewhere else. The impact generated the clouds and threw debris into space. But from where? The last samples were taken too deep. I need samples from the crust.”

“What samples?” the foreman tilted his head with a threatening growl.

Saul had gone too far to stop now. He had to tell them everything.

“Don’t be a fool!” he cried. “Oil is nothing! You can buy a hundred rigs with the money you’ll make off Litrium. But I have to know where it came from! I need a diver to take another sample from the crust.”

The foreman snarled, and stepped back to spit his salty disgust over the railing. “Can’t do it. My diver was injured.”

“Astar is the best diver on the north shore,” Jaran giggled as he poked his fellow sailor.

“Mother of Barmoor,” Astar cursed. “I’m not goin’ in that water.”

“We’re heading back to Abadi,” The Seredai affirmed.

Saul marched up to Astar until his chin touched the chest of the massive Graseq. He lifted the head of the dead fish toward Astar’s face. “Are you afraid of this?! Think of it! You could buy Sara and every indentured servant on the north shore.”

Astar’s mouth folded and unfolded, evolving from a scowl to a smile. After chewing his lip for a few seconds, he looked to the foreman. “Where’s your diving gear?”

The foreman gave his position long thought before a twitch of his head conceded permission. Jaran helped Astar into the wetsuit, snugged down the mask, and mounted the oxygen tanks. Saul explained how to take the samples, and after one last look, the diver was put into a gurney and lowered into the water.


"Do you love me?" Tears poured from beautiful emerald eyes.

"Of course I do, Claudine," Saul said, looking for his vanished heart. "You're my wife." He reached out to push back a strawberry tress clinging to her thin face. An ugly paisley shift hid her pregnancy, making her more beautiful than Saul could ever have imagined.

"So," sobs punctuated angry words, "you just never considered what a child would mean?"

"No, I didn’t," his soft voice fell to the floor. "Things ..." He tried to look at her again, but couldn't bear the pain. "Things have changed, Claudine. Ever since the mines since the depression began, humans and Graseq are not getting on well."

"It's our baby," her voice trembled. She reached out a hand, and he felt fingers doused in tears touch his arm. "I won't kill her."

"It's not killing!" Saul exploded, spinning away. "We just ..." He rubbed his mouth, modifying the words. "We need to give it some time. We have to let the trouble settle."

"We need to change people's minds," Claudine's voice turned brittle.

"It won't be us." Saul started pacing. "We're asking a baby to take on something horrible. What right do we have ..." He couldn't finish.

"Yes," Claudine nodded. "What right do we have?"


“There!” one of the riggers shouted.

Saul pulled his thoughts back to the deck and the ice-cold sea. Leaning over the railing, he searched the churning waves below, and saw nothing but a fish. It was difficult to track it under the bloody streaks of dark sky. The wind whipped his hair, and the smell of salt was strong. He looked up at the churning clouds, not knowing how to read them.

“Storm’s coming,” The foreman answered his question. Then he directed himself to the fish in the water. “Kill it!”

The rigger released a harpoon, and with amazing accuracy the tip impaled the creature.

Leave us.

Saul started, and looked about at the sailors and riggers. “Who said that?”

“Said what?” Jaran asked.

“Very funny.” Saul looked back into the water. Dark, oily blood spread from the fish’s body, and two more bodies poked through the slick. “More fish!” He pointed into the water.

The foreman brought out a rifle, and put several shots into the water.

“What about Astar, you idiot,” The Seredai reprimanded.

“That’s who I’m tryin’ to save,” the foreman retorted.

The way is blocked, and no one may enter. Leave us.

Saul felt his back and shoulders tighten, but he refused to fall for the joke again.

“Look!” someone gestured frantically.

Saul looked to the sea again. The water began to seethe, and scores upon scores of fish kneaded white foam into velvet waves.

Why do you kill us? Leave. You will not find the way. Stringy voices wound their way up the columns of the rig to wrap about the deck. He comes.

Astar’s body popped from the surface of the sea like a cork released from a bottle. His arms flopped loosely at his sides, as his body rolled and pitched amongst a swarm of fish.

“Haul him in!” The Seredai ordered.

* * *

“Well?” the foreman asked.

“How is Astar?” Saul looked up from the microscope. Spots danced before his eyes, and he tried to wipe away the sleep.

“He’s dead,” the foreman answered. “What did you find?”

Saul paused for a moment to consider the mercenary tone, and then carefully formed his answer. “The Litrium is heavily mixed with silica.”

“Which means what?”

“The crust in this area is limestone. Only one place in the solar system is primarily silica.”

The infirmary door opened, and Jaran scrambled in, fighting wind and rain.

Saul shifted his eyes to focus on the frantic Graseq sailor. “The storm is getting worse.”

“I’ve ridden out many a storm,” the foreman brushed off his comment. “Where does this stuff come from?”

“It wasn’t a meteor. I think it came from Nemesis.”

“Nemesis!” the foreman exploded. “Telam’s blood! Nemesis! There isn’t a rocket can reach Nemesis. How are we going to get there!”

“We?” Saul felt his hands tighten around the microscope. He didn’t like the look in the foreman’s eyes.

“Sir,” Jaran broke in. “The Seredai is asking for you. There must be a million fish surrounding us now, and … I’ve never seen a storm like this.”

“Calz!” the foreman cursed. “Forget the storm, you idiot!” The Graseq used his height to bear down on Saul, leaning in and grabbing his shoulders. “How much Litrium is underneath us?”

Saul shrugged. “A few million tons.”

The foreman’s face turned white, and he stopped breathing. Releasing Saul, he stepped back to grasp the edges of the counter. A shadow passed over his face. Without a word, he turned and left the infirmary.

A click sounded faintly against the roaring wind outside. Jaran stepped to the door and tested the handle. “It’s locked.”


Claudine’s sad face watched Saul packing for his trip. “When will you be back?”

“It should only take a few weeks,” he said.

She handed him a locket, and he knew it was a memento—a lock of her hair according to Graseq tradition. He took it, but kept his eyes focused on how many pairs of underwear were in his suitcase. “Your mother?” he asked.

Claudine shook her head as moisture collected in the corners of her eyes. “No, not yet. She still won’t take my calls. Your sister said I could stay with her until you come back.”

Saul nodded. Priscilla was the only family member who would acknowledge them. He looked at Claudine’s large round belly under the shift. How he loved and hated that ugly paisley. He reached out a hand to touch where the baby lay. “When they see her, they’ll love her.”

Words broke in Claudine’s throat, and she lunged forward, throwing her arms about his neck. Long curls of hair wrapped him with her essence. He returned the embrace. “Claudine, this trip will change everything for us. I promise. I love you. I love the baby. After this trip everyone will see it our way.”


“What is he up to?” Saul asked The Seredai.

The remaining sailors, who had recently been forced into confinement with him, stopped milling about the room to hear the captain’s reply.

“I think it’s obvious. He can’t possibly get to Nemesis, yet he’s sitting on a million tons of Litrium. If no one knows about Nemesis, he has the only viable source.”

The answer gave the sailors reason to redouble their efforts in searching the infirmary for a means of escape. The shadow of the guard paced across the small square of glass in the door.

“Why doesn’t he cut us in?” Saul asked.

Jaran snorted to indicate the stupidity of the question, then pulled open a drawer and began to rifle through the contents.

Saul answered his own question. The sailors had brought an infidel human with them, so the foreman didn’t trust them. He looked toward his suitcase where the locket still lay, and began to wonder if he should compose his last letter to Claudine. It didn’t matter. If it came to murder, they would search his belongings and remove any incriminating evidence.

“You’re the engineer.” The Seredai stabbed a finger at him. “Get us out of here.”

“Maybe the fish will do that,” he tried to make a joke.

Will you help us?

Saul looked to see if The Seredai heard the voice. Trying to appear casual, he looked over his shoulder toward Jaran. Neither indicated anything.

Do you believe in us?

“I don’t think I’ll be much help. I think I’m going insane,” he said.

Jaran slammed the drawer closed. “He’s talking to you, isn’t he?”

“Jaran …”

Jaran held out a hand to stop The Seredai. “We can all sense it,” he stated. “All Graseq have the ability to feel him, but we don’t want to admit it. We were raised to pretend the demons don’t exist, but they do.”

“You’re an idiot,” one of the other sailors scoffed.

“We can call him if we try!” Jaran slammed his fist onto the counter. Then he pointed toward Saul. “Matig likes this one. He’ll help us.”


The lobby of the squat, barren hotel couldn’t have been more than six meters long by two meters wide. The ancient Graseq behind the counter had to step back and squint after he scrawled each word on the bill, and Saul felt his patience slipping away. The sailors waited for him on the Abadi dock to depart for the rig. He didn’t want to irritate them.

“Hurry up.”

One of the human women who infested the area made the lobby feel even smaller. Her hair was ragged, and she used too much rouge. She paced back and forth behind him, as if waiting to pounce as soon as he finished. The attention he gathered, being the only human male within a hundred kilometers, made him uncomfortable.

“Done,” the clerk said.

Saul grabbed the bill and spun about to find the woman leaning in toward him. She smiled, rolling her shoulders back and forth. “Come see me when you get back.”

Think of our baby.

Saul started, and looked about. How silly. Claudine couldn’t possibly be here. His guilt played tricks with him. She used to tease that someday she would teach him to use mind kinetics like a proper Graseq, and he always replied that she needed to appreciate baseball first.



“What?” The Seredai asked.

“My wife. She’s Graseq. She’s talking to me.” He squeezed his fists and wrinkled his brow, trying to concentrate.

“It’s not your wife,” Jaran insisted. “It’s Matig.”

Saul ignored the Graseq, and continued straining his mind, searching every corner.

“You’re gonna hurt yourself,” The Seredai laughed. He gave Saul a shove on the shoulder, then wandered off into the corner to study one of the air vents.

Warmth soothed the back of Saul’s neck, spreading up his scalp and down across his shoulders. The lights began to flicker, and he stopped with a gasp. Could it be working? All the sailors except Jaran ignored him. The sensation must have been his own. He tried again.

Jaran touched his arm, and an electric shock surged through him. The window in the door exploded, sending glass missiles across the room as the gale bathed them in salty mist.

The guard abandoned his post, and The Seredai rushed to reach through the ragged opening. As soon as the latch released, wind threw the door inward, slamming it against the wall with such force that the hinges twisted.

The wind began to moan, and Saul looked out the open door, across the deck toward the sea. A shadow rode the waves. It paused, as if looking back at him. All the sailors except for Jaran panicked, and fled the infirmary. Where would they go?

We must protect this place.

“I know.”

We cannot protect you.

“Then make sure she gets this.” He held out the locket toward the dark, hungry sea.


Claudine lay on the couch, smiling as she watched Saul’s sister, Priscilla, play with the baby. News of Saul’s death had sent her into premature labor, and the birth had been hard. She praised God the baby came out healthy. Priscilla was the one who found her, clutching the locket and mumbling, “I can’t read it.” Because of her hysteria, the doctors let her hold onto it while they worked. It was all she had of him. The rescuers recovered Saul’s suitcase with the locket stuffed into one of the pockets, but little else survived the storm. Even the lock of hair was gone. In it’s place she found a grainy substance wrapped in paper with some cryptic letters, as if Saul had known the end was coming and scratched out a hasty note.

Priscilla lifted the tiny girl with gentle hands, and tiptoed across the floor, making a swooshing noise as she bent to bring her face close to the baby. The little girl responded with an endearing giggle.

“You’ll fly and you’ll sail,” Priscilla said. “Up, up, up! Up to the stars you go! Your daddy always wanted to be a space pilot when he was little, but he became an engineer instead. Well. Maybe you’ll finish Daddy’s dream” She leaned in and blew on the baby’s cheek, extracting another giggle. “Yes, we’ll show them. Up, up, up! Up to the stars you go!”

Claudine watched her little girl, and then squeezed the locket as if she could feel Saul’s presence.