The unvesseled traveller arrived at night, by sea, from as far away as the other side of the world, or further. Part-fish, the traveller’s neck was striated with gills, her fingers and toes wedded by thin membranic flesh. She was hungry for food, and for company, but most of all for sleep.
On the beach small groups of itinerants crouched by soft fires, and the tide swept back and forth over the rotting carcass of some vast, biomechanical sea creature. A man with a gun sat on the flange of an amphibious landing craft, oxidised the colour of blood, and dangled his leg – the other had been removed or blown off below the knee – over its side. Beneath him the craft rocked gently back and forth, something clanging against the inside of its hull.
The traveller scanned the beach, her senses quivering with new sensations – the smell of death, and of the smoke from the fires, and of something chemical that she could not name. She had been warmer in the sea than here, where a driving wind blew, making goosebumps creep over her flesh, and the fires contort into ugly, fleeting shapes. She could still taste the ocean, would probably always be able to taste it. The sand beneath her feet felt like nothing, like air under her scaly soles. She felt as weightless here as she had at sea, only the looks of the itinerants, their hard but indifferent gazes, seeming to give her body heft.
She looked at the sea creature, its grey-green body scabrous and pockmarked with spear wounds. In places its flesh had been torn away, its moonlit bones a crosshatch of blood and steel underneath. She pressed a hand to the top of its head, still intact, where a single, huge eye lolled in its socket. She wondered if, in her augmentation, she was more like the creature than she was the itinerants, and laid down beside it, on her side, one arm around the creature’s neck, the other outstretched towards the ocean, her body wracked by a tiredness as deep as the night.
She slept, afraid, and woke at dawn surrounded by an itinerant family: two mothers, each holding the hand of a small child, an old man, and a dog with a head that, ballooned on one side with some fleshy growth, drooped sadly. The mothers held spears, the old man a wooden club full of nails.
‘Don’t worry,’ said one of the mothers. ‘Another family ate the flesh of the sea creature and died. We think you are a creature of the sea too. Don’t worry. We will not eat you.’
The traveller tried to stir, to move her arm but she could not – somehow, in the night, it had become one with the creature’s putrid flesh, had woven together with it so seamlessly she could not even tell where it ended, and what she had thought of as her own body began. Memories that were not hers hovered at the edge of her consciousness. She flinched as the ghosts of spears grazed her thigh and chest, and was surprised to find that, as she did so, the creature’s great tailfin rose up.
‘Bring me water,’ the traveller said, though not with her own mouth. ‘I am so very thirsty, and high tide is hours away.’