For what we are about to receive.
It is dark, and it is cold, and we are hungry.
The first two of these conditions have always been and always shall be, so it is said. And thus there is no cause for complaint. We would not know if the darkness were to lift in any case; we have long since given up our useless eyes. And the cold does not bother us. Sometimes we drift upwards in the current and the water grows fractionally warmer. We are grateful, but we neither expect nor crave such beneficence. We know our place.
But the hunger is different. The hunger gnaws at us. It has been a long time, an almost immeasurably long time, since anything fell from the heavens but the slow sleet that continually drizzles over us. Please do not think us ungrateful. We graze on the snow as we drift in the currents, and it is enough – barely – to keep us from the brink of death. But we could not endure if were not for the knowledge that one day a Fall will come. We hope and pray that it will be soon.
But what if it is not?
It is sometimes difficult for us young ones to keep the faith. We were spawned during the last Fall, or so we are told. Our flesh was made from its flesh. But we were still infants when the Fall was exhausted and the colony dissolved into a cloud, each of us tracking our own lonely course through the void, reaching out to snatch the wayward scents of neighbours, friends, lovers. To us, the Fall was never anything more than a distant tang in the water. More the fading memory of a taste than the taste itself, receding as the current carried us into the vast desert of the ocean.
Small wonder, then, that some of us think stories of the Fall to be nothing more than superstitious legends. Perhaps our prayers for deliverance do nothing but breed false hope that our destitution will one day come to an end. But is it better to live in false hope than to live without any hope at all? There can be no hell without hope, after all. Perhaps our dissatisfaction with our station in life infuriates the Almighty. Perhaps if we asked for less we might be given more. Perhaps we need to learn humility.
The males are complaining again, squirming in their clusters along my flanks. They have no mouths, or limbs, but they have their own ways of making their discontent known. Gentle infusions of waste into our shared blood; bursts of pheromone clouding the water around us; feeble, futile assaults on my fertility. The time is not right, I gently remind them with my own packets of scent. If the fall comes, perhaps then there will be time and energy to spawn. Until then, they will have to remain patiently celibate.
Of course, the elders have little time for our doubts. Their faith is constant, unyielding. It will come, they say in chemical bursts carried piecemeal on the current. It will come. Be patient. There have been hard times before, long hard times. But there will be a Fall. There is always a Fall. We must be unyielding in our faith, stay true to our beliefs. We must not anger the Almighty by showing anger or fear, or by succumbing to scepticism and heresy. The Fall will come.
Some of the most venerable, their scents thin but redolent of age, insist that they can already smell the next Fall coming. It would be disrespectful to suggest that this is a delusion, but they have been claiming this for as long as I can remember. Age takes its toll. Even now, a wave washes over me, carrying word from a distant senior: the Fall is coming, it says. Prepare yourself. Repent your sins. I have smelt it all before; and it has never amounted to anything.
And yet, there is something in the water.
There is a ripple of fragrance. It is coming, the elders spray into our shared current. It is coming. And I can feel the truth of it. I have not tasted this scent, this oily luxuriance, since I was newly born, but the sense memory of it rushes back. I reach out, eager to taste it, to grasp it. It is growing stronger every second: and yet it is already the sweetest flavour I have ever known. The sulphide bouquet is around me, within me; I am bathing in it, swimming in it. I hardly dare breathe for fear that its glory will overwhelm me.
My doubts and fears are melting away, just as the snow fades into the deep darkness below. The time of reckoning is at hand. The rapture is here. I can feel the waters swelling, the pressure mounting beneath the Fall, and I pray that the dividing currents will not carry me away, that I will be found deserving of salvation. Erstwhile neighbours are swept along eddies, spiralled into vortexes: their scents fade and disappear. Not all have been chosen: some are vanishing into the trackless void.
I am grateful that my faith, though sorely tested, has proven strong enough to pass this final judgment. How disastrous it would have been if my faltering had turned into denial! How disastrous it would have been to stray from the path! Glad I am to have been chosen, and I feel myself gathered into the calm circle directly beneath the Fall. And then It is upon us, its immensity too vast to be reckoned. As far as I can smell, in every direction, It is there.
A cathedral of flesh and bone, majestic in Its ponderous descent, Its magnificence stuns us into submission as we spiral in reverence around Its form. It takes a seeming eternity to slow to a halt, to offer Itself up to us. I cannot wait for this moment to end; and yet I hope it never will. And as Its bounty of rich oils bursts through the water, as scraps of Its flesh drift free and as Its bones settle into the muddied floor, we fall upon it, exultant and jubilant. And as we do so, we sing in an ecstatic chorus of scent; a song of celebration, of joy and of thanks. ##