Story for Shoreline of Infinity Artwork Competition 2018.
This image will be published full bleed to a page, so ensure that no important detail is within 3mm of the edges.
143mmx222mm (portrait mode),
greyscale (a colour variation is optional)
Full details and submission form at
The Observer spoke.
The single line of a circle disintegrated as twelve opalescent charge spheres split apart.
‘Polygon. Three vertices. Closed.’
The Observer scanned for irregularities or flickers of noncompliance, rebellious traits so indicative of the species. It stood motionless and without shadow, its dark casing sucking the light from the sub-terra viewing chamber. Hewn from gabbro and lined on one side by a thick wall of Espejan glass, the facility sat in the depths of what was once the Eurasian Basin. A loosely defined arena had been ripped from the heart of the kelp forests, ribboned lines of sickly fronds still fluttering like blackened lace around the edges of the barren ocean floor.
The Observer’s gaze shifted and locked. One sphere traversed too rapidly. It swerved, catching the edge of another causing both to lose their place within the configuration. In the space of a human heartbeat two forms became visible, their skins pulsing with intermittent light. Adults, limbs wasted and thin, each one cradling a charge sphere within folded arms. The Observer was obdurate, it did not hesitate.
The beings looked to each other and opened their arms wide as their charge spheres shattered and their bodies disintegrated within jagged flares of incandescence.
Replacement spheres dropped into view, followed by those chosen to carry them. They flickered before vanishing and becoming part of the ocean and their smooth sided weapons fell into line with the others.
‘What did he tell you?’ The Observer did not turn to address its prisoner.
A young female stood at the opposite side of the chamber, her long, fine-boned hands hanging loose, the web roughly folded, pinned through with a shard of metal. She could see her reflection in the curve of The Observer’s head-part.
‘You haven’t always been an Observer.’ The female turned exposing streaks of brown pin-head spores which had blossomed across the surface of her flesh. ‘Are you of the manumit, the unbound?’
The Observer continued to survey the charge spheres as they grouped to form a triangle. Its body was blackened and hardened by the fumes of the Audex mines and it had the short rigid feet of a rock dweller.
‘A warning. The Patience of The Opraesent is finite.’
‘Well, can I speak to them?‘ She was irritated, the informant had guaranteed an audience with the protector.
The Observer turned. It spoke in a calm, flat way, reiterating a point already made.
‘The Opraesent has no interest in you.’
The female pointed to The Observer’s chest-part, to the row of glistening pips positioned above the place a heart might sit.
‘Only the black Audax.’ She mocked. ‘You’re not so different to the ones you assume to be our gods.’
The Observer’s head-part shifted slightly. ‘Rosemary. That is your given name?’
‘Rosemarinus, from the sea.’
When first presented, The Observer had examined the prisoner thoroughly, as if having only seen her type for the first time. This one was unusual, smaller than the others, with hair the hue of rusted iron, skin pale and marked with swathes of mottled discolouration. Rosemary hooked her hands beneath the hem of her tunic and raised the fabric to the edge of her jaw. The pain of the pinning shot through her arms and across her chest where rows of frail gills sat shrunken and brittle. She placed a ruined hand on her belly and the skin flickered coral before returning to the lackluster grey she had become. Rosemary spoke without raising her eyes. She spoke softly.
‘We are all from the water. From the Saccorhytus, trapped for millennia between two grains of sand, to the sapiens who wallowed stupidly in their plastic age. The Atavist, the Éclairé. We are all from the water.’
Rosemary looked to the ocean and felt the echoes of her words returned to her. She staggered, her balance for standing weakened, unsteady on soft feet hardened by the rough baked earth of the lower levels. She focussed on a corner of the chamber, at the point where walls met in darkness. There were no corners in her world.
‘You will die soon if you do not hydrate.’ The Observer said. ‘Tell me what they told you and I will unpin you. I will move you to Aquatic where you will sleep immersed. Your mind will clear to the truth. Your wounds will heal and in the new dawn you will be reunited with your father.’
‘And my mother?’
‘What did they tell you?’
A tear fell to the floor, a reminder of what Rosemary had been and what she still was. She could not afford such a loss. ‘They said you command them, as the sapiens did the Delphinidae.’
‘To spread your ruin.’
‘Is that what they told you?’
With a sweep of its arm The Observer directed Rosemary to cross the chamber. It raised a slim metal finger and pointed out towards the charge spheres.
A light flashed within the water and the shape of a being appeared and glimmered as the sphere shattered and it was gone.
‘The ruin is yours Rosemary. It is your silence that destroys them.’
Rosemary felt the chill of their bodies. She could hear them clearly now but their pitiful cries at the touch of her gaze had altered. They signalled. They could see her and they were ready.
A flame consumed another.
‘End this now.’ Rosemary rested her forehead against the glass but her eyes remained open and bright.
She took a breath, her stomach soured, her muscles tight with anticipation.
‘They told us nothing we did not already know. You arrived. You misled us. You blast apart our shelters. You poison us. You ravage our world for the Audax.’ Rosemary paused. ‘That’s all they said. Please, I am of no further use to you.’
The air in the chamber grew heavy.
‘You are lying Rosemary.’ The Observer turned again to the spheres as Rosemary took a step towards him. She appeared hesitant.
‘They told me to come, that I could talk to The Opraesent. That it would let me see them. My father. My mother.’
The Observer did not betray its response.
Rosemary leant her aching spine against the wall. She took one hand in the other and started to ease her fingers apart. She pressed gently at the fine bones which felt frail as avian. She uncurled them, a slow tearing as the pins pulled through the tender folds. The Observer spoke.
‘There is nowhere for you to go, Rosemary.’
Rosemary raised her hands in tattered fans to flatten them against the glass, curves of tortured cartilage lit by the ocean.
A ragged flash and another gone.
Rosemary looked to The Observer, a smile reflected in its head-part. Beyond her the soft fog of the water swirled and twisted and the five remaining spheres dropped from sight. Rosemary spoke, her tenor steely.
‘You look tired Observer, why don’t you sleep, it will clear your mind to the truth.’
She tipped back her head and pressed her hands harder against the glass as her mouth fell open and her lungs filled with hot loathsome air.
‘Rosemary.’ The Observer did not move to contain her, its words crushed by the silence which now filled the chamber. ‘End this now.’
Five forms became visible at the window, their restored colours flickered and flashed as they moved forward together to lay their hands on the glass. They tipped back their heads and opened their mouths to resound the command of their young deliverer.
‘Your parents are dead.’
Rosemary tipped her head to the side, eyes flooded with bioluminescence. She smiled at The Observer, her lips parted, soft and full and heavy with salt.
Beneath the hands the glass snapped to filigree and a fat bead of sea water squeezed through to settle on Rosemary’s skin before bursting to a glistening trail. Then another, and another and as the fissures leapt across the glass Rosemary’s arms were soaked then her body, her legs, her lovely face shining as bright as the silver scales of Scombridae armour. The Observer did not move. It did not pull at Rosemary or speak her name but only watched as the Espejan glass exploded into and across the chamber. The Observer rose and dropped, powerless against the surge and heft of the ocean. Its blackened form sank to the earth where it lay watching, as many arms reached out to Rosemary to take her and wrap her within them, webbed hands and feet flared wide to protect her as she crashed against the walls of the chamber.
The world stilled and Rosemary glided silently above The Observer as the waters equalled. She peered down at the incapable carapace rocking gently as a child’s cot beneath her.
‘Goodnight Observer.’ Her skin shimmered as she prepared to leave. ‘Sleep well.’
Rosemary flicked her body to pass through the portal which was once a wall, and Rosemarinus vanished with her kind into the icy freedom of a cherished world.