The war had been going for ages. Like, a really long time. Just too long really. The battleground: the sprawling temple ruins that had been near-conquered by the ocean. Most of the lower buildings were entirely submerged, impossible to reclaim from the water. The upper storeys and the thrusting ziggurat at the heart of the temple were open to the air and fiercely contested. This is the war I was born into, and my father was the chief architect of that ongoing conflict. In the usual way of children, I was at first fascinated by my father’s role and responsibility, and dreamed of continuing his noble crusade to claim the land for our exclusive use. In time I grew disillusioned and the natural contrariness that comes from a new generation that cannot understand the motives of the elder became stronger. I mean, I get it, I think. The temple was the last remnant of liveable space. When the waters rose, only this vast ruin which lay on the very peak of the very tallest point in the region had been left dry. But even so, the waters hadn’t ceased their invasion. Every year it grew higher still. Desperation drove our people here, desperation drove us to embark on a bitter war to establish our exclusive right to dwell here. But without the excitement and horror of the world vanishing beneath the waves, born into this situation, the ultimate loss of all dry land seems inevitable, and lacks the intrinsic shock that pushed my father’s generation into action. Not that I think it’s hopeless, or that my generation dwells in despair about the future. On the contrary, just because we can’t stop the water clawing its way up the walls doesn’t mean we don’t want to live and be happy, and all those other things that father and his allies say they want. The problem is that we’re not the only people who want to live, and here is pretty much the only place you can live. I suppose there must be other survivors, other settlements that jut up above the waves, but they’re a long way away. We’ve even seen some of the mighty raft towns drifting in the distance. It doesn’t look like a terrible existence, but father has declared that such a life isn’t good enough for us. I’m not angling to get on a raft or anything, just saying that it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, we’re scrapping for shrinking space, and given that both of our peoples are fighting over the same land, there’s obviously enough space for both groups, otherwise we wouldn’t even be able to have the conflict at all. It just feels so damn wasteful.
So I descend through the upper reaches of the temple (because of course we live near the top, in the nests father and his cohorts established in the priest quarters and whatever the weird chambers where they did religious things were called), my feet easily pattering across the stone, weaving down the great blocks with all their handy textures for clinging to. I’m going down, much further down. Almost all the way down to the water. Down here is where the others live. Unlike me, in that they’re not all furry and warm, but just like me in that they have four legs, one tail, eyes and a mouth. I’ve tried to tell father that we’re really not that different. But he won’t listen. I do though, I’ve got the ears for it. A couple of years ago I got lost wandering around the temple, which is quite easy because it’s huge, and even we haven’t marked out everywhere with routes. It’s still filled with fascinating stuff left behind by the big people who lived here, worshipped and finally disappeared. I like to climb through the stacks of fabrics and textiles, those we haven’t salvaged and shredded for nesting material anyway. There are a thousand little cracks and holes we can squeeze through, and so I did. I was terrified when I popped out the other end because I was staring right into the face of one of those other people – they’d been about to squeeze through that same hole that I had. Maybe that’s what made it all click in my head – something about being the same size, their doing the same things I was. At first I was startled by that scaly face, often so still, unlike our constant motion. But once you get past the lack of ears and learn to read those same twitching signals in their tail or eyes, they’re not that different at all. She was my first friend among the enemy. From what they’ve said, both our peoples were always here. They used to live on the outside, basking in the sun and then scurrying off to hide in nice dark crevices at night. We’d always lived on top of and inside of the big people’s world. But now they were gone, so it was all just ours. They were scared of the rising water too. They needed a home just as much as we did. My father had described them as murderers, eaters of the young, and there’s some truth to that. Much like us, they’ll eat pretty much anything, except they’re not so keen on seeds and fruit, and we’re not as fond of flies and bugs as they are. I wonder if I’m being naïve sometimes, that father’s right that we’re just incompatible and one will have to win outright. But we never did before – before the waves. Maybe we weren’t friends then, but we coexisted, and I think we should again.
So I’ve been sneaking down here, through the tiny tunnels that run through the temple structure, and I meet my friend and we talk. She doesn’t want to fight either, doesn’t want to waste all that time and effort in stopping other people from living instead of just living ourselves. All she really wants to do is go up outside and lie in the sun. So we do, on a roof that’s just barely above the waves – it’s a little bit exciting and dangerous because a really big wave could splash up over the edge. But the sea is calm today. Looking a little higher up the temple we can see the fishing machines that our people built to snatch anything useful out of the water – floating seed pods, mysterious objects, seaweed to help fertilise the gardens that spread out over the field-roofs above. They’re still today, probably because the operators have been diverted into the usual tasks of blocking off holes and keeping the others out. My friend stretches right out in the sun and sighs. They’re a lot colder than we are but already her scales are growing hot to the touch. It is lovely and warm, so we lie together and talk about what it would be like if we all lived this way. Maybe one day, if there’s still land, and the older generation has gone and taken away all their reasons for jealousy and anger, we can live differently – better, together.