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The Singer and the Self

The atmosphere is unpleasant. It clings, abrades, irritates. That is why, at the beginning of memory, we lived by fitting ourself into holes in the hard side of the world. That way we could keep the atmosphere on the outside, with only our farthest ends forced to reach out into it for food and to send and receive our lights.   But our memory of that time is weak.
The great singing creatures that swam through the world shared the waters peacefully now. They had recently decreed that the Tiili, the ones with sharp teeth and large appetites, should not feed upon their smaller cousins. The Tiili agreed to this because they had learned a secret. By ringing out short bursts of song and then waiting, they might hear their song come back, but changed. And how it changed told them whether the song came back from something small and shaped like food, or large and shaped like a predator, or broad and flat like a wall of stone. It opened to them a whole new area to hunt in: the cloudy depths where sunlight could not penetrate.
  The sound changed everything. It was strong and sharp and sent a shiver through all the hard wall we were in. The first time we felt it, it startled us into blinking. Never had we had so much conversation with ourself. Never had any thing so unusual happened.
It must have been one very surprised Tiili who first encountered the glowing floor. Imagine it: swimming slowly, looking for food and hoping not to frighten it, you send out a song. Before its echo can return, light erupts from beneath you. You are already retreating in fear before you hear that the thing that made the light is only a flat area with many round and hollow places in it. You aren't going to tell anyone you know that you were scared away by the bottom of the sea, are you?
  Each time the sound shook us, it was a little different. It came from one side or another. It moved toward or away. The more often it came, the less interesting it was. We did not discuss so much about it.
No, you would come back alone to the same place and sing at it again. And it would light. You would do this a few more times, and only then bring others to see it. And before long many Tiili were diving to the base of the water for curiosity's sake. Each one wanted to see it, to make the patterned floor glow. But gradually the floor's response weakened. It was less bright. It faded faster.
  The time came when we stopped caring. The next time it happened, we did not even flicker in the slightest. But this time the sound did not stop. It came again, and again, faster and faster. At last we understood that whatever was making the sound was doing it on purpose, and that made us angry. We flared so much that we were hungry for a long time afterward, but at least the noise quit hitting us.
Inevitably it happened--a Tiili came to the glowing floor, wanting to see it for the first time, but no light answered the song. What could this mean? Had the light been used up? Or are you just doing something wrong? You try again. Nothing. You sing louder, harder. You don't want to be the one the rest will blame for killing it! At last the area blooms into light. The sight is even more spectacular than you have been led to believe.
  Thereafter, when we felt the shudder of the sound, we sighed from one end to the other; sometimes back to the beginning end again. That was enough to satisfy the maker of the sound.
There was no concern about fading light after that. It became a test, a sort of rite of passage: if you can swim deep enough and sing loud enough to make the bottom of the sea light up, you have all the skills you need for hunting.
  Sometimes the sound would change in its sensation, and we would change the pattern of our lights in response. If the sound would come, why should we not make a game of it? So we came to anticipate the sound eagerly, and soon learned its many shapes. Some came always at the beginning, some at the end. Some followed each other in a particular order. Sometimes we could complete the pattern before the sound maker did.
Over the generations, the Tiili grew more sophisticated in their use of songhunting. They separated the songs they used to communicate from the signals they used to hunt. As this distinction developed, so too did the response of the glowing floor. It echoed in light whatever the Tiili sent out in sound. By now it was a fixture, not a novelty, and a place to practice singing skills.   But what would you do if, one day when you hesitate over a sequence, the floor flashes the rest of it unprompted? Careful as the Tiili are, undoubtedly you intentionally repeat the pause--more than once and using other phrases--to be certain it was not a response to some other stimulus. Only then will you bring others to witness this unbelieveable conundrum: is it possible that the lights can remember?
  We played with the patterns, making new ones that seemed pleasing to us, but the sound maker did not like that, and would repeat the sound stronger until we blinked back the correct way. This many short beats. This long to shine steady. It mattered the way our signals within ourself mattered, and so we understood that the patterns must have meaning. Some fit into concepts we already were familiar with--numbers, directions, greeting, closure. The rest we were certain to learn, in time.
The fixture became a resource. A place that could hold information and give it back when asked for it. Not always correctly at first, but with time and patience the Tiili filled the glowing floor with everything they knew and everything that happened. It was the work of many generations.
  The sound was no longer noise but song, as full of sense as our lights. Again we modified the patterns, but with full knowledge of their meaning. At last we could tell the Singer that we understood.
It had been thousands of years. No Tiili expected to be surprised anymore by the glowing floor that stored their history. It was part of the routine, almost, to swim down and be reminded of past events. You sing a request, the floor repeats the visual equivalent of the song you asked for. But this time it also asks a question about the incident the song describes. You don't answer at first--you couldn't have seen that right. Maybe the water is especially cloudy today? Then the floor blinks again, speculating on the event's significance. Hurriedly you sing your agreement, then end the session. There is no doubt this time, no need for experiments. The others need to know immediately.
  That time was a joy new to our experience. For the first time we were speaking with another outside ourself. Someone very strange, but not altogether different--the Singer was made of many voices just as we are ourself. To learn of wonders and dangers elsewhere in the world--to learn how wide and far the world itself was--it was the beginning of our real existence.
What an astonishing gift! The glowing floor didn't just hold information, it could also analyze it. It could even converse as if it were a Tiili, as long as you did not mind watching instead of listening. They began coming regularly to ask questions of it, and for ages upon ages it served as their oracle. And later, as generations of Tiili forgot that it was their own ancestors who had taught it, they came to believe it was an omniscient being as old as the world itself.
  It came to an inexplicable end. The Singer stopped singing. We waited. We shone our lights. Waited longer.
For the Tiili and every other swimming sentience, the end of the world came without warning, in an instant of time.
  The atmosphere changed. It became thicker, darker. Was this the cause of the Singer leaving? Were they unable to see us? Had they been killed or driven away? Were they in danger?   We would never know the answer without leaving our comfortable home.  

It is still unpleasant to be outside, but the growing things that cover rocks can also cover us, and it makes the atmosphere...bearable. It is terrifying for small portions of us to leave ourself, but by joining the edges of our outsides together we feel marginally safer. We have learned to make sounds ourself from hard pieces of things so that our parts can communicate while separated.   It's worth the discomfort and the risk and the effort. We need to know what happened to the Singer.  

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Cover image: deeps banner by The Big G


Author's Notes

Besides being the story behind the world of the Deeps, this is also an entry in Tillerz' unofficial Tune June challenge.
TuneJune 2024
Generic article | Jun 30, 2024

It's all about that tune...

TuneJune2024 Participant by Tillerz using MJ

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