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Fish Stocks Limited by Michael Summers - HTML preview

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Chapter 1 – Piscogenesis

Go to the Fish, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise!

- Ancient Piscador saying

Expiscor. Run that name over your tongue, let it drip like the branches of the great Hook Trees in the morning dew, let it shine like the Smug (that conceited little star), let it go out and catch a meaning like the Piscadors who bait and cast and wait.

Expiscor. To fish out, to find out, to discover - and what discoveries! Let us imagine ourselves falling in upon this most implausible globe from a great height, from the orbital path of Xiphias, its scimitar shadow moon. We see the curve of the globe. No blue to be seen on this sphere; like an emerald of deepest green and bearded wisps of cloud-white our little planet traces its ellipse through the black blanket of night. We fall further and discover the great Mist Sea, the pea-soup ocean that covers the globe and hides its maternal soil from view. Like islands the green swathes of the Hook Tree forests stand with their canopies above the mist. Falling further we can see individual trees, their foliage of myriad jade crochets riffling and rippling at the casualness of the lukewarm breeze. We see movement in the canopy of the Hook Trees – monkey men on the hop and skip and, of course, the cast and reel. Look a little further and we might even catch a glimpse of something elusive and sinusoidal in the Mist Sea below, that happy medium.

How frivolous the Creator's hand, or blind, for either such adjective would perhaps provide the explanation for the incongruous nature of this mist-bound world. Then again, perhaps it is wisdom in its purest form which pervades this land, like the Mist, and makes its true design so murky to the mortal eye. With this in mind, let us study the bizarre primary ecosystem that must surely catch the attention of any observer incident to Expiscor. We have mentioned in passing its three main species already, but let us go into some greater detail.

First, then, looms the stately Hook Tree ( Termes c amur). It is difficult to describe the dimensions of the Hook Tree, other than to say it is vast, for what familiar reference point should one use to describe its size? To say that the trunk of a Hook Tree is ten times as wide as a cloud and as tall as a small hill leaves much latitude for the imagination, but no better sense of scale can be given. Perhaps the most salient feature of these arborescent giants is, apart from their size, their foliage. Each leaf of the Hook Tree is a marvel, forming as it does that most useful of trinkets, the Hook, complete with a loop at the top which just so happens to allow the passage of a thread made from the fibre of the Hook Tree's outer skin. Just why the trees bear such convenient features is as yet unsolved by any thinker on the planet of Expsicor, or any other planet for that matter. Certainly it is difficult to see what evolutionary advantage the tree could gain from its Hooks. It could be speculated that they aid in transpiration, deter herbivory, facilitate gas exchange and various other more or less plausible explanations. Perhaps there is little advantage to them at all and they merely represent a very likely shape, a lowlying peak in the local fitness landscape. Roll the dice enough times and such things will emerge, so it is said. Just who it is who does the rolling is, of course, beyond the scope of science and reasonable speculation.

But what of the movement in the boughs of the Hook Trees? What creature lives in so precarious a fashion, far above the veil of the Mist Sea, lofty in habitat and nimble of feet, hand and tail? Our next species, Homo piscador, surely does, and does it well. Medium stature and wily, stupid, noble, base, sophisticated, crude, aloof and worldly (as all dominant species tend to be), the Piscadors are defined by their contradictory nature and their sole passion; Fishing. To pursue this activity they first take a Hook from the Hook Trees. They then take fibres from a nearby young bough, the skin of which must still be greenish, strong and lithe, and strip this to an improbably thin fibre. They do this many times and weave these fibres together until they have a thin cord of such high tensile strength that it could easily bear the full weight of two portly Fishers. To make the cord stronger they trample it with their feet for three days, a process known as “treading a fine line”. This fine line they pass through the convenient loop in the top of a Hook, tie it in a complicated figure called a Love Hitch (which takes a dexterous Fisher at least five years to learn how to tie), and wind the other end round and round the end of a severed Hook Tree branch of small or medium girth, depending on their preference, which is in the shape of an L. The next step is to drill holes in two other hand-sized pieces of Hookwood and slot the bail of twine into this fitting. In such a way, if something were to bite and pull on the Hook and move away very fast, the twine would pay out at a rate that the Fisher could control by pushing the two other pieces together to create friction on the bail. The unfortunate quarry could then be reeled in by rotating the end of the L. This is the basic apparatus of the Fishers, and it has remained unchanged for countless generations.

Thirdly and finally, we have already caught a glimpse of movement in the mist below out of the corner of our eye, and are no doubt wondering what it is. It is scaly and silver, whiplash quick and a muse of grace, a little like the light of Xiphias. Its name is Pisces infinitum, the Infinity Fish. It is good to know how such a peculiarly beautiful thing came into being, for the Infinity Fish is as old as Expiscor and older.

Indeed, the Infinity Fish is as old as the Universe (and it would be meaningless to say older), for in the chaos that preceded the Big Bang, in that maelstrom of improbability, into that bubbling, broiling, bumptious broth there came into being by sheer chance the archetype of fishiness.

This first Fish was heavy with roe, and it waited for its spawning place to form as it swam through the icy blackness of space, to the world of Expiscor. When this ball of rock had first coalesced, cooled and given birth to life, the Infinity Fish dove gladly into the new shrouds of steaming hot Mist and deposited its roe at the base of the progenitor of the Hook Tree. The Infinity Fish grew in numbers until the sea of mist was full of darting shoals, as numerous as the stars in the sky from where their mother had journeyed. The fish wallowed and bucked, the pisconification of joy.

The aeons passed and from the primordial mist emerged the first animalcules indigenous to Expiscor. Billions of years saw these microscopic movers and shakers grow until they were big enough to scale the rough trunks of the Hook Trees and proudly crawl the branches. And to crawl branches takes skill and a large brain. So the Piscadors became clever, and with cleverness came inextricably the ability to fish.

So the Infinity Fish had a predator, yet a sensitive one. The Piscadors fished only what they needed to cook their favourite dish, a sort of gumbo made with a good strong stock and thickened with the pulped starchy fruit of the Hook Tree. The stock was by far the most important part of the dish, and competitions have been and are still held each year to see who can make the best. It is said that the longer a fish takes to catch, the better the stock, and good fishers would deliberately spend hours teasing a fish to try and make the perfect ingredient. Perhaps they deceive themselves and the whole thing is a myth, but in a treetop world above the clouds without the slightest hint of science, myths are a form of truth. Whatever. The belief that a long battle with a fish leads to a good stock meant that for most of their history the Piscadors caught fish at a relatively gentle rate, for they savoured quality over quantity in their culinary endeavours. A balance emerged.

So the Infinity Fish still enjoyed its asymptotic freedom, the Piscadors were well fed, and Hook Tree seeds were spread far and wide by the discardings of the gumbo makers. It seemed that everyone was happy. It seemed this way, that is, until one young Piscador fell out of a tree.

This is his story.