by Sandra Murphy
Cantar was born in the twelfth hour, on the Twelfth Day of the twelfth month in the year
2212. The day of Wonder was an auspicious date for a young Neaerling to live up to. Since the time of the Returning, when
the Twelve Heroes saved the people of the world, a birth on the Day of Wonder was considered an omen of future greatness.
Cantar developed quickly as a child. He was a natural leader. The other children would
appeal to him to settle differences and create games. Even adults would occasionally find themselves captured by the
ideas spun upon their imagination by a child's sweet-pitched lisp. He was one of the first to train his thermal suit
and breathers to adapt to his particular tastes. Thermals normally require cycles of training before they will even
recognize their partner, but Cantar had achieved a complete symbiotic relationship in only 14 tide turns, thus allowing
him access to explore the world beyond the domes.
Neaerling younglings were trained and educated by a Teacher during their early years of
development. The Teacher was responsible for instilling within each child a code of honor, a sense of the history of the
Age, and the responsibilities of each individual to the environment. At the age of fifteen all Neaerlings were required to
complete a journey that marked their progression into more adult privileges. The journey of each child was a monumental
event that was discussed with the elders of the dome to determine the purpose and the goal of the journey. A typical
journey encompassed a visitation to a grotto of the Ancients and ended with the youngling arriving at a dome in a distant
cluster. A journey typically took a few weeks or even several months to complete, with the youngling returning to their
dome for an honoring ceremony where he or she would share the knowledge acquired during the journey with the community.
An exceptional journey was submitted from each cluster to a world council that choose twelve journeys to be telecast
world-wide, one on each day of the Returning celebration.
Cantar departed the Neaerling dome for his journey at the age of twelve. His parents were
concerned about him leaving for his trials at such a young age, but they agreed with the elders that he had exceeded the
skills of the Teacher and required the guidance that only the Ancients could give him. So it was agreed that he would
depart for Maoriís grotto, the oldest and wisest of the Ancients. It was said that she was alive even at the time of the
Returning, and that it was she that taught the Twelve Heroes how to attract thermal companions to live beyond the domes.
The way to Maoriís grotto was indistinct even in the Elders records. Cantar was being given a great honor by being allowed
to try and find her, for she allowed few visitors and rarely accepted a youngling into her presence.
Cantar inserted his breathers and called to his thermal at the decompression chamber of
the dome. "Be patient," advised the Elders, "Maori can be irritating and vauge in her methods, but you will learn from
her as no other." The only directions that the Elders were able to give him were that he needed to travel toward the
Abyss for two weeks, after he crossed the wastelands he would come upon the tangle of caves and grottos in which Maori
lived. There, he would have to search for her, and ask the local creatures for assistance.
Cantar shouldered his pack, gripped his pike and set out, he soon passed beyond the
perimeter lighting and was swallowed up by the darkness. The records of the Elders do not tell much of his journey to
the grotto, only slight mention is made of a great battle he had coming across the wastelands with a giant ray. Suffice
to say he fended off the creature and fled for the safety of the caves torn and bleeding, his pack lost to the terrors
of the wastelands. Cantar squirmed into the safety of a small crevice in the rock and, panting, watched the still, dark
shape of the ray whisper overhead. He would be safe here for the moment, any sharks attracted by his blood would not be
able to penetrate through such a small crack in the rock. Exhausted, he drifted off to sleep, lulled by a deep humming
that he could feel thrumming throughout his body.
Cantar awoke slowly to the dark. He had left his head lantern on and it now only emitted
a dim glow. He shut it off, knowing that the recharger was in his lost pack. He stretched cautiously, surprised that his
body was not stiff and sore after the battle and sleeping wedged into the cave. Tentatively he touched the gaping wounds
on his thigh and back only to discover that they did not hurt! Awed, but not knowing quite why, he crept out of the
crevice and began feeling his way along the cave system. He began to pass a cave lined with some type of prickly vegetation
when he once again felt that peculiar thrumming. To his astonishment his body began to glow with a luminescent light that
was answered by a light from the cave! He entered slowly, cautious of some kind of trap, but found only a plant of the odd
prickly vegetation with blooms on it. Cantar watched in astonishment as his thermal began the hum with the same deep sound
that he had thought he imagined the night before, the hum was answered by the plant as one of the blooms slowly opened,
and a soft glow of light projected a few feet in front of him. Reverently, Cantar picked the branch from the plant and
proceeded on his journey, now able to see the cave system before him.
Cantar wandered for several days, surviving on the ocean vegetation and a few fish he
caught in a net he made of seaweed. He watched the light begin to fade from the last bloom on his plant and began to
despair. The light would be gone in an hour or so, leaving him in total darkness, unable to see to find food or defend
himself. He stumbled forward in the dim light, feeling a sudden shift in the currents surrounding him. He surged forward
only to see the bottom drop out beneath him into a deep cold blackness as the current began to suck him down. Frantically
he fought the current, wishing for his lost flippers that would aid him against the flow as he was slowly sucked down into
the abyss. Cantar continued to fight, grimly determined not to give his body to the abyss, but it was a losing battle, as
he was sucked down by the swift current, the last light from the flower faded away, leaving his blind and helpless.
Eventually, he felt the current ease even as the pressure against his ears and chest mounted. Cantar felt so tired,
all he wanted to do was sleep, but he roused himself from his lethargy. Fratically he thrashed around trying to break
free of the current. Cantar caught a glimpse of silver out of the corner of his eye as a huge shape hurtled into him,
his arms closed convulsively as the breath was knocked from his body. To his surprise he grasped some living creature,
with a soft and supple hide, he could feel the power of the creature as it fought the current. Gratefully, he lay his
head against the silver hide and hung on with all of his strength, trying not to impede its movements, until he felt the
"Are you going to thank me, or continue to try and squeeze the life out me youngling?"
a gravely voice whispered in his ear. Cantar slowly opened his eyes to find himself in a chamber lit with several of the
very plants he had found. He was being regarded with no small amusement by an enormous silver dolphin whose tail he was
still clinging frantically to. " P-pardon me please Ancient One," he stuttered, " I thank you most gravely for your
assistance. I seek Maori, the wisest of all Ancients, to teach me the wisdom of life." Cantar thought he heard the dolphin
chuckle, " So, you seek Maori do you, my fine tongued lad. Well, luck is with you, for you have found me, despite your best
attempts to rid the world of your troublesome hide, I suppose I must keep you around and teach you some of what you are
going to need to know.
And so, his apprenticeship began, for Maori did not keep him for a few months, but several
years. As he grew into manhood he learned the ways of the deep that too many of his people had forgotten. He learned of the
Malacia plants that grew blossoms of light, how to find and cultivate the plants as a light and food source. Cantar had
long believed that he knew all he needed of his thermal, a simple symbiotic creature that allowed him to function in the
deep by preserving his body heat, balancing pressures and cycling with his breathers, trading an oxygen-nitrogen mixture
for the carbon dioxide the thermal needed to survive. "Fools," raged Maori, "to have allowed so much to slip through their
fingers. Listen well, arrogant youngling, for the creature that allows you to survive these depths is more that a simple
pet. You humans take them for granted. Have you not ever wondered where they came from, have you ever tried to see if
there was more than they would show you?" Shocked, Cantar stepped backward from her wrath. " Those-thermals- as you humans
like to call them, are a species called Cholea that was genetically enhanced by one of the twelve beings that developed the
technology that allows you to live here beneath the waves. Listen to your friend, for she has a name and advice that you
would be wise to heed." And so, Cantar learned the name of Laorli, the Clolea companion who had saved his life. He learned
from Laorli how to use her abilities to communicate with other creatures of the depths, how to find pollutants in the water
and soil and that her peculiar thrumming hum could act as a cleanser for small amounts of waste. Cantar realized that these
creatures his people had taken for granted were really the ones responsible for keeping the water around the domes clean.
He also realized that more and more people were veering away from the waste recycling methods they had been taught and
were overtaxing the abilities of the Cholea. Cantar realized that both species needed to work together to maintain their
Maori also taught Cantar how to enter the flows of the Abyss and use them to take him to
far away places across the ocean floor. She showed him some of the lost sunken cities from when much of the polar ice had
melted and covered the land. He had many adventures with Maori and Laorli, each one enriching him with strength and wisdom
of the lesson Maori had brought him there to learn.
Finally, as she judged he had learned enough to return to his people, she took him on a
final journey through a long endless tunnel in the Abyss that he had never entered before. The tunnel ended in a large
cavern with a sickly greenish glow where she showed him the horrors left by a people long silent. The canisters and drums
were marked with a symbol that he recognized from his lessons as nuclear waste, some of the barrels were cracked and
leaking their fluid into the ocean floor. The few creatures living in the rocks and the wisps of vegetation that he could
see were grotesque and mutated beyond their natural forms. "The currents of the Abyss keep most of the contamination
contained in this chamber," Maori told him, "but there are other locations throughout the world that continue to turn
the ocean around them into a barren wasteland like the one you crossed to find me. Now, young human, it is time for you
to return to your people and teach them what you have learned here. We creatures of the sea have done all we can, the rest
is up to you."
Cantar returned to his people a young man of twenty cycles. His family and dome were
overjoyed to see him, having long since given him up to the dangers of the sea. The Elders of the dome listened to the
lessons of his journey and agreed that it should be passed on to the world council in consideration for the Returning
celebration broadcast. Cantar was asked to come to the broadcasting dome to explain to the world himself the major
lessons of his journey and to initiate a program to reintroduce the people to their Chloea and begin to adhere to their
responsibilities to the environment. Cantar began a school where he taught children from every dome the skills he had
learned in his years with Maori, eventually, he hoped to have a large enough group to address the problems buried within