The puppy wakes up abruptly from another nightmare.
The details fade almost instantly from her mind, disappearing behind a wall of forgetfulness. That’s not normal, she’s dimly aware, and for a moment she gropes after the dream: there was something terrible, she knows that… and there’s water… but it’s gone. To consciously analyse memories requires language, which she doesn’t have. Instead of thinking with words, she uses an intuition-driven ebb and flow of feelings and concepts. This one ebbs, and she doesn’t pursue it any further.
The one with legs is asleep beside her, one arm around her. At least she hasn’t bitten him this time. She’d almost died of shame when that happened.
The puppy considers waking him, but as the miasma of the nightmare recedes, the silence of the house starts to grow on her. There’s something different about it when she’s the only one awake.
She drifts there for a few minutes. She could go back to sleep. Or…
Carefully, she wriggles out from under the one with legs’ arm. He snorts, and rolls over in his sleep. The puppy freezes for a moment. She’s not sure she is doing anything wrong, but it feels like it; she’s vaguely aware there’s a difference, but she can’t quite tell how.
So she sneaks out of the bedroom, feeling deliciously naughty.
The house is silent and still, and is worth only a few moments’ investigation. She stays well clear of the cousin, who’s asleep in her own bedroom. She likes the cousin, but she’s not sure that the cousin likes her very much. Better to leave her be. There’s only one place to go, then; so pausing only to dart into the kitchen for a drink from the orange circle, she noses her way under the door curtain and out of the house.
The street outside is still and dark. Nothing moves anywhere. She’s fascinated. It’s always like this—but it’s never like this! She looks about; wide, dark eyes, designed for seeing into the underwater gloom, have no trouble here, and she can see into every violet-tinted alley and shadow. Spotting a likely looking patch of darkness a few metres away, she quickly slides into it with a couple of precise strokes of her tail flukes. Nothing seems to have seen her.
She carefully moves down the street, slipping from shadow to shadow, sometimes low down, hiding behind a balustrade, sometimes high up in a blank window frame; thinking in three dimensions comes naturally to her. She’s reminded of playing in the kelp back home, before… before she was here. There were fish there, though, weren’t there? There may be some here. She doesn’t see any; maybe they’re hiding. Maybe they don’t like the dark. She knows there’s light here somewhere. Where is it?
After a while the street comes to an end. It’s not a cul-de-sac or a dead end; the ground just stops, and there’s nothing but nothingness over the edge. Without thinking anything of it, she swims off the edge and looks around.
To each side, the ring stretches away in both directions, the walls of the city curving away downwards. Above and below, the violet spiral of the Snarl stretches away into the distance, but she’s seen that before and isn’t really interested. More to her liking is that just below her feet, on the other side of the ring, are more buildings, upside down.
She swims straight down. Smoothly, her suit adjusts its internal gravity and then she’s swimming straight up; she’s spent nearly all her short life in suits like this and barely even notices.
The puppy crests the top of the building into direct light, the violet rays almost thick. She amuses herself briefly with her shadow, long against the roof, before heading on: there are adventures to be found…
The puppy finds her adventure in an open space several blocks away.
The streets here are full of non-people. She doesn’t quite know why they’re not real people. The one with legs and the cousin are terrified of them; she can tell that from the way they speak and move, and it makes her very uncomfortable. She wishes she could let the one with legs and the cousin know that they’re not really dangerous, but all she can do is reassure them with her presence. The puppy isn’t scared of them but she does find them interesting. They look like people, although not people like she’s seen before; so how can they not be people?
When she sees the furry one, however, she forgets all about the non-people.
The furry one is sitting on the edge of the ring, looking out at the Snarl. It doesn’t seem to have noticed her. The puppy immediately hides behind one of the non-people.
The puppy is fascinated by the furry one. She’s never seen anyone quite as big before, or as hairy; she’s got whiskers, but the furry one has even more hair than the one with legs does, and the one with legs is pretty hairy. The furry one also seems rather sad, and the puppy doesn’t like to see sad people.
She sneaks forwards, staying very low, always keeping out of sight by hiding behind the non-people. This is a good game; the non-people move around, so she has to plan carefully when she moves.
The puppy eventually gets within a few metres of the furry one. Up close it’s even more interesting, and much bigger than it looked from a distance. Its fur is a kind of golden brown that defies even the purple light’s ability to leach the colour from things.
Suddenly, the furry one’s head snaps round to stare at her. Its eyes narrow. She’s been caught. They stare at each other few a few moments, and then the furry one is flying towards her, having turned and leaped in one boneless movement.
The puppy makes one mighty spasm with her flippers and is out from under just as it hits the ground. It leaps again, instantly, and she avoids it again, but by then she has the time to collect herself and start swimming away as hard as she can. It chases after her.
The two of them are quite evenly matched. The furry one can run faster than the puppy can swim, but the puppy can dodge things more easily. It tends to bound over obstacles instead, and the puppy thrills to watch it gracefully slide through the air, strength and elegance in harmony. She twists and turns, and darts down alleys and through narrow arches and nips between groups on non-people, but it stays on her tail, mere body lengths behind. She’s having a wonderful time.
Eventually she turns up a blind alley. The walls here are solid, unperforated; there’s nothing resembling a door or a window. The puppy reaches the end and turns at bay, watching it coming towards her like a juggernaut; then at the least moment she darts straight up. Beneath her, the furry one slams into the wall, and collapses to the ground.
The puppy is suddenly distraught that the furry one might have hurt itself, and descends again to make sure it’s all right. It’s trying to climb to its feet, shaking its head in confusion. It looks like it’s fine, if rather shaken. The puppy is now close enough that their fields touch, and she is suddenly distracted by its scent; exotic and exciting. She feels like she could swim in it.
But now it has seen her, and they’re off again.
This time, the furry one is cleverer, not trying to outrun the puppy. It’s hanging back, maintaining some distance, and it’s some time before the puppy realises that it’s herding her; it’s noticed that she tends to turn away from it, and is controlling her motion by moving from side to side. It’s trying to get her into parts of the overcity where the streets are overhung by other buildings. It’s trying to cut off the puppy’s escape route! She feels a sudden wave of admiration. She’s going to have to do something clever in return.
She gets her chance when they near a district of spires. They’re finely filigreed into interesting patterns at the top, but at the bottom they’re narrow columns only a metre or so wide, and arranged in a fine rectangular grid. The puppy leads the furry one into this maze and then starts twisting and turning between them. It does its best to keep up, but it simply can’t corner quickly enough, and it eventually loses sight of her.
Instantly, the puppy darts behind another column and waits until it goes past, and then creeps out and follows it.
The furry one’s got really good peripheral vision; the puppy knows that from the first time she surprised it. So she has to stay exactly lined up behind it. She manages this, watching with glee as it slows down, stops, and then starts methodically searching the rows of columns for her. Eventually it simply shakes its head in frustration and sits down on its haunches.
Staying low, and having a certain amount of difficulty staying still from the sheer excitement bubbling through her, the puppy sneaks up behind it… skims over its back, mere centimetres away… and then, in a possibly regrettable overflow of enthusiasm, sinks her teeth into its ear.
The furry one spasms, goes rigid, and then slowly relaxes. The puppy’s won! She lets go and goes into paroxyms of delight, rubbing herself through its fur and face.
It seems stunned, watching her with bewilderment. Finally, it speaks; the puppy can’t understand its words, of course, but she understands its tone of voice: surprise, shifting towards respect.
After a while she curls up between her new playmate’s front legs, and spends some time just enjoying the sensation of its fur, while it watches over her. Then she goes home.