I watched the two young women take my sister away with mixed feelings. On one fin, there was the hope that her immediate purchase would spell early homes for the rest of us, but on the other, we were not nearly as colourful as she. Even our first human did not desire us because we were what breeders called "Wild Type." Whatever that meant. I was just happy to be out of the pyramids that we were transported in, and eventually it began to show. A few days elapsed since our sister was taken away, and the rest of us were beginning to despair that we would not find homes as our brothers began to leave the shelves below us one by one. Then a day arrived when they left us in pairs: even the boys with the fancy fins were leaving, but we never got more than the passing glance. Sometimes the humans that passed didn't even notice us where we were on the top shelf. The only other fish that never seemed to go anywhere was a blue plakat on the top shelf across from us: he swam around a much larger bowl than the others were housed in and waved his fins as excitedly as the rest of us, but the humans would look at the slip of paper on his bowl and declare that he was too expensive before taking one of the others home. We watched many leave before the two women who took our sister came back and started observing us.
"Look at this one," the smaller human said as she lifted my jar and put me down lower where she could get a better look.
"She's a dark one," the larger human replied, looking at me more closely.
"She's very eggy," the first one observed. I had been very self conscious of my burgeoning belly before now, but I never dreamed that it would earn me their favour.
"She's ready for breeding," said one of the humans who worked at this place. I had seen her often and she seemed to know these two women.
"I think we'll take this one," the small human replied, "but we'll need to take a closer look at these other girls..."
I watched the small woman take my sisters down from the shelf and place them among the boys to see their colours properly, hoping to find the perfect girls to take home with them. They had already chosen the darkest of us, and I could make out her barring from my perch. It was evident why they chose her. She was beautiful, active, and ready to mate. I was approaching this point as well, so it was in my best interest to imitate her actions as much as possible. While the small human watched the girls below, I waved my fins in an effort to catch the attention of the one watching those few of us still on the top shelf. She pulled me down to prove myself. At first I was nervous, but out of the corner of my eye I could see the young male flaring at me and displaying his fins. I could feel myself blushing and for the moment forgot that I was supposed to be taking part in the selection process to see who would be finding a new home. I focused on the male and returned his advances--even though I knew we would probably never get the opportunity to meet in the flesh. I felt the bowl move into the air and land next to my sister on the bottom shelf: I had been chosen!
The humans watched for nearly an hour and gradually eliminated some of the others from the pool of potentials. They put the smallest of my sisters next to me and resumed their trials, studying the two remaining sisters with patience and intensity. I could feel the tension in them and the two women, waiting for an answer to come. The small human finally pulled down another of my smaller sisters and left to find the humans who had been taking care of us. It was time for us to go to our new home. I was certain of this: I had seen many of the males leave in this manner. I saw the bag full of water and allowed myself to fall into it, knowing that this brief moment of torment may possibly lead to a happier life in a new place with new humans that would take care of all of us. Even as they wrapped the four of us in newspaper for the ride home, I couldn't help wondering what the future held in store...
When the newspaper came off it was like someone removing a blindfold. If I had eyelids, the sudden light after all that time in the dark would have made me blink. My sisters and I were in our bags still, but the humans had small containers lined up on the large, green topped desk that I assumed were meant for us. The small human carefully drained some of the water from my bag into one of them before she came for me. I tried to avoid her net, but she caught me anyway and carefully nudged me into the tiny basin that I prayed was not to be my permanent home. I couldn't tell: so much had happened that I didn't even know where I was. One by one, I saw them capture my sisters and put them in tiny little cells similar to mine before they sat and watched us for a while. We realized we could see through the sides of these containers; we could signal to one another to ensure that no one had been injured on the journey or in transit to these strange new confines. So far everyone seemed intact, but very willing to defend their own patch of water. We were all moving again before any of us really understood what was going on: when we finally stopped I could vaguely see a few plants and gravel beneath the plastic haze of my floating cell as it bobbed on the surface of the water. There was something moving down there--a pink something. I couldn't be entirely certain, but I thought it was another fish. I don't know how long we hovered in that limbo between torment and and our new home, but before any of us knew it, the containers were sinking and we were freed into the larger water that tempted us through the walls of our plastic prisons. We took a few minutes to settle in, but then the chase and the quest for dominance began...
I righted myself in the warm water and took a moment to look around me at this strange new world that I had found myself in: there were plants everywhere and various places to hide if suddenly living with my sisters became a problem. Out of nowhere, the pink blur came into my line of sight and nearly swam into me. It stopped in an instant, and as I looked at the fish that hovered and flared before me I realized that my sister was now before me. She seemed to have forgotten us, but that would likely change in time. At the moment it wasn't important. Our social order was currently a state of chaos, and it was high time that the role of leader was taken once and for all. I gave chase to all who crossed my path, and they often chased me back with threats to bite, but never actually using their mouths to offend. The smallest sister eventually gave up on trying to become the lead female and contented herself with hiding in the flora while the rest of us continued our "battle."
My dark sister--the one the humans called Hero--and I never could really figure out which of us would take the lead in the end, so we contented ourselves with continually giving chase to one another. My pink sister explained that the humans had named us all: they called her Ophelia, my name was Cordelia, and the smaller ones they knew as Silvia and Viola. She said that they would continue to take care of us, with abundant flakes, pellets and blood worms to satisfy our every need. I snorted with derision at the suggestion of these so-called food, but Ophelia pointed out that these people were inexperienced with us. Everything was new to them except the male that sat next to the couch.
Over the next couple of days the water that started as crystal clear became almost impenetrably cloudy, but the inexperienced humans failed to understand that this meant we needed new water on a constant basis and tried to control the murk with chemicals and products they brought back from the pet shop time and again. Hero abruptly developed a gauzy film that gnawed away at her tail in a matter of hours: when the humans noticed this they removed her to a smaller area with darker places for her to conceal herself. They were at a loss to determine what happened to cause the problem, but treated it aggressively. They brought a new female home in the time that it took Hero to recover, and she came with other challenges of her own...