Girl With the Sea-Green Eyes
|This story is a work in progress.|
|Xanadu story universe|
- 1 Chapter One: Between the Vader and the Deep Blue Sea
- 2 Chapter Two: Dead Bird Roasting or Thanksgiving With the Mendenhalls
- 3 Chapter Three: Water Dancing and the Silent Sisters
- 4 Chapter Four: The Pilgrim Mers
- 5 Chapter Five: Saltwater Exodus
- 6 Chapter Six: The Suffering Knight and Bacon
- 7 Chapter Seven: Shards
- 8 Chapter Eight: Hope and Fear
- 9 Chapter Nine: From Out of the Shadows
- 10 Chapter Ten: The Maiden Without Hands
- 11 Chapter Eleven: The Colony
- 12 Chapter Twelve: What Lurks
- 13 Chapter Twelve: What Lurks
Chapter One: Between the Vader and the Deep Blue Sea
The unusual demise of the Secretary of Defense did put a damper on the evening, but only for a while. Because, for the first time since my unwilling transformation into a Mervulcan almost two weeks before, I was looking at the possibility of actually getting to live life in what was now my natural environment, the sea! Better yet, my own true love and husband would be able to live there with me! Add to that, we have a child on the way! Just try to keep me down!
We spent much of the evening before Thanksgiving watching the unfolding drama on the news networks and debating what to do. Well before bed-time, we decided to just tell Master Harding/Windu what Vader told us and then leave the rest to the new Jedi Council. We ordered a pizza (extra anchovies) then retired for some serious cuddling.
On Thanksgiving day, I fixed pancakes for breakfast. Alex watched the news and took in a football game. I spent part of the day sorting through my clothes for things I couldn't wear anymore, like slacks, jeans, shoes, panties, hose, socks and soforth. I was thinking a big yard-sale or maybe just a big donation to the Salvation Army. I was also sorting with an eye to what I should wear to what probably will be the most important meeting of our lives. The rest of the afternoon I spent on the computer, looking up everything I could find on the Bahamas, Bimini, the Gulf Stream, artificial reefs, the R.B.O.S., Eric Winters, etc.
"No!" Alex groaned, "You're two scores down with less than five minutes! You can't punt! What are you thinking!"
"What's wrong sweetie?" I asked. "Tampa Bay coaching staff gone stupid again?"
He just growled and flipped his fin. "I don't think I can watch anymore of this." He changed the channel to where we were treated to yet another angle of the Secretary of Defense being Force-choked to death.
"Yuck! I don't think I can watch anymore of that."
"I agree." He sighed and started channel surfing. "You know they're only one Star Wars fan away from figuring out what killed him. That will put suspicion on all Force users."
"Perhaps, as more of his misdeeds come to light, they'll be less motivated to find out who dunnit."
"Perhaps, but I wouldn't count on it." Alex finally turned the TV off. "Find out anything interesting on the 'puter?"
"A few things. We won't be the first research station on or near Bimini. There's the Shark Lab or Bimini Biological Field Station. Also, according to legend, the Fountain of Youth is there."
"You're kidding. We're not gonna have folks hunting us down for our tears are we?" Alex chuckled.
"Seriously, we might want to keep tabs on any Jack Sparrows, Black Beards or other POTC4 Strangers that show up in our neighborhood."
Alex shook his head, "Sweet Mother Mary! You are serious!"
That evening, we ate out at a restaurant that served turkey with all the trimmings. I wore the little black dress we bought in Orlando last week. Alex looked especially handsome in some more formal Jedi stuff. We invited Edna to come with us, which made it a family occasion as far as we were concerned. She found something nice that she hadn't worn in ages and was still at least somewhat in style. We attracted a lot of attention rolling in, but everyone was nice.
I really like turkey and I'm afraid I ate a lot of it. Even Alex noticed. You're gonna get gravy in your cleavage, he thought.
Oh dear! I thought back. If I keep eating like this, and don't get to burn it off in the water, I'm gonna start putting on weight.
You are eating for two now.
True, but one of us is only about the size of a peanut!
I konked out from the tryptophan on the way home. I kinda missed Alex being able to carry me, since I had to wake up and roll myself into the house. Next morning, I actually out-slept Alex. This made me consider the possibility that turkey has an even bigger effect on Vulcans than humans.
Friday and Saturday we did very little. During the day, we kept to ourselves, sort of the honeymoon we never got to have. Friday evening we were invited over to Edna's for dinner. We found that cooking is a major challenge when everybody in the house has a tail. We had to use Alex to 'Jedi' stuff off of the upper shelves. Even so, three Mers rolling around a kitchen is the very definition of chaos. We all had a good time, none-the-less, and dinner turned out better than expected. We invited Edna over Saturday night. I wimped out, however, and ordered Chinese.
Late Saturday evening, we got a long email from the R.B.O.S. They were going to meet us at the lake. We felt good about this. It would allow all of the Mers to take part in the discussion. A select group was going to be sent to Bimini and the Sutherland Express a week later, to inspect the site and determine what would be needed to make it habitable for Merfolk. I was so eager to get started that I could almost taste the sea!
Sunday, the two of us and Edna packed to leave. We also started deciding on what would go with us to Bimini. Everything else, except non-waterproof memorabilia, would be sold with the house. It would be put on the market as soon as we had a confirmed place to move to. This could not be too soon. One of us not walking was an inconvenience, both of us is a bitch.
Our plan was to stay in the lake Monday and Tuesday, then head for Ashville Wednesday. We considered leaving the van in Orlando and flying, but we felt we needed a means of escaping my folks house from time to time, or even leaving early, if the drama got too thick. We were rather curious, however, about how the airlines would go about accomodating us, and how the TSA would react to Alex's lightsaber.
By noon we were packed and ready to go. Just before leaving, we recieved a short email from Skye, asking us to come visit as soon as we could. It's hard to gauge emotion in an email, or any letter for that matter, but there was something so forlorn in that short little note that it made me want to weep. I convinced Alex that we should go there that very afternoon and Edna agreed to come too. Mr. and Mrs. Walker were very glad to hear from us when we called for directions, they were a bit worried about their younger daughter.
It was a little past one when we arrived at the Walkers' farm. It had been a small orange growing operation at one time. There were still a lot of orange trees on the property, which gave it a very green and pleasant atmosphere. Alex and Edna wheeled down the path to the pond. I hung back a bit to talk with Gina Walker. Skye was not happy with with the swimming part of her world being confined to a small farm pond.
"At the Xanadu Center lake, she was surrounded by people like her," said Gina. "Here, she's constantly reminded of how different she is."
"Isn't it the same with Jamie?" I asked.
"Jamie's different, but at least he can run and play with the other kids. Also younger kids tend to be more accepting. Skye can only really play here in her pond. At the public pool, the chlorine hurts her gills."
"I know what that's like. What about school?"
"The district keeps dragging its feet about accommodating her. She's very mobile, even without a chair, but the way she has to move attracts a lot of attention. Also, she still needs to soak in water every few hours. We're trying to get her back into her old school, at least she has friends there. And, being in Orlando, there are a couple of Xanadu survivors among the students."
"Any of them Mers?"
All this was worrysome. I told Gina about the research facility being set up near Bimini. She thought it would be a very good idea to let her spend time there, especially if we could arrange to get her some schooling while there. I asked permission to take her with us to the meeting Monday, since the decisions would concern her. It would also give her a chance to spend some more time with Merfolk.
I wheeled on down to the pond and leapt in. Though she didn't let on, it was plain that Skye was not her usual self. Even Edna, who hardly knew her, noticed. Only after Alex climbed up on the bank grabbed onto a rope suspended from an overhanging tree, swung out over the water and splashed in, did she cheer up.
"I'm next!" She slid up the bank and, with a boost from her dad, swung out and did a flip into the water.
I had to do it too, then Edna. Not to be out done, Alex climbed up to the diving board and, hopping on his tail, bounced out onto it and dove in.
"Hey! No fair!" I complained. "You know we can't do that."
"I bet I can!" said Skye. She crawled out, pulled herself up the short ladder and managed to balance long enough for a couple of bounces before jumping in. "See!"
"Yeah, see!" said Alex.
"Well, I'll try it sometime, but not today," I said.
Soon, Gina and Jim both joined us. Eventually, even Jaimie did, though he was reluctant to get his fur wet (I'm glad to say, he was not creepy at all, despite his size, but cute like Stewart Little in the movies). Only Erica abstained from swimming. She sat grooming herself, just beyond splash range. After, perhaps an hour, all except Skye, climbed out onto the grass to dry under the sun.
We told Skye about what was going on. She was more than happy to come with us. Both parents agreed, so her mom went inside to pack some overnight things for her.
Late that afternoon, we piled into the van and set out for the Xanadu Center. Things there were stabilized into a sort of new normal, Normal 2.0 you could call it. Most of the visible wreckage had been cleaned up (We still needed to do something about our cars!). There was talk about the Center hosting an event early next year, though it was hard for me to imagine who would come. All the physical damage would be fixed by then, no doubt. However, I can't imagine this place being able to live down all the lingering wierdness anytime soon.
We parked, then made our way down to the lake; Skye eagerly bouncing on my lap the whole way. Alex, with the help of Aurora, Julia and Angeline, gathered the Merfolk and explained to them what was going to happen tomorrow and what was at stake. It didn't take long to reach a favorable consensus. For one thing, there was a rumour circulating that the EPA was going to force the Center to close the lake. This would take away our original 'homeland'. Even those of us who didn't live there, and that was the majority now, come to the lake to keep up with what is happening in Merdom. A new, permanent home was all the more vital.
After that, it was time to talk to the Jedi Council. I could tell that Alex was worried. I offered to go with him, but he turned me down.
"If there's any fault, it's with me for not trying to dissuade him. Not that I could have, but still, I didn't try," he said, just before climbing out of the water. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Keep the water wet for me."
It was dusk and I was beginning to feel a bit hungry, so I began foraging about for some fishies. They were getting to be a little scarce I noticed, one of the reasons, I'm sure, that the EPA wants us out. I was just about to surface and sing for my supper, when I spotted Skye coming my way.
I surfaced and said to her, "Want to sing a duet with me for some sashimi?"
"Maybe later. Jackie's really sick!" Skye looked worried.
"What's wrong with her?" I remembered that I didn't see her at our gathering.
"I don't know. Can you talk to her? I think she might need a doctor."
I followed Skye. We found Jackie under an old cypress tree. She was wrapped around a root, pressing it against her abdomen. I swam up carefully and touched her arm so I could talk to her underwater.
You OK? I thought.
No! she groaned inwardly, My belly hurts!
Did you eat something bad? How does it hurt?
I don't think I did. It's an ache that kinda comes and goes. And...I think I'm bleeding from somewhere!
You think...Somewhere... I motioned for her to surface. I raised an eyebrow and stared at her.
"What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Jackie! I know you used to be a guy, but really? Talk about denial!"
"What do you mean?" suddenly, her eyes widened in horror. "You don't mean? Oh no! Why...?"
"Because you've got two ovaries and a womb! That's why!"
"I meant, why now? Why do I have to be first?"
"Somebody has to be." A little more gently, I added, "Welcome to womanhood."
"What do I do? What will I do when we're in the sea?"
I sighed, "I don't really know." She had a point. What will we do when this happens out in the open sea? "I'll mention it to the others."
"Don't tell 'em it's me. I'm afraid they'll laugh."
"Nobody'll laugh sweetie, believe me." I swam back to where Skye was waiting.
"It's the moody monthly ain't it," said Skye solemnly.
I looked at her and nodded. "You and I won't have to worry about it for quite a while yet dear. You're too young and I'm preggers. I hope we'll get it figured out before we do have to face it ourselves. Now, how about that duet. I'm hungry!"
It was getting near midnight when Alex came back and slid softly into the water. I was floating on my back, looking at the stars and thinking.
I'm over here. How did it go? I asked.
He swam up to me and gave me a hug, Not too bad. It was just me, Harding and Yoda. We decided that there was really nothing we could have done, and the bastard didn't deserve any warning. I still don't feel very good about it. I just didn't think Vader'd actually kill him.
Don't fret yourself over the likes of him. I held him close.
Oh, I won't, at least not much. Should such a thing ever happen again, I won't be so naive about the Sith; even when they're on our side.
you hungry? Want me to sing up some fish? Skye showed me how she does it.
Nah. I just want to sleep.
This was the first time either of us slept underwater. The other Mers do it all the time. I have to say it's quite relaxing and comfortable, kinda like being weightless. We hung on to each other and floated just above the bottom. If there'd been a current we would've needed an anchor to keep from drifting. I woke up early and refreshed. Alex was still asleep. I was starting to get used to nearly always being the first one awake. I gently disengaged myself from my sleeping merman and flicked my tail for the surface.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning with a crisp breeze from the north. A non-Mer might actually have found a chill in it. It was also quiet, there didn't seem to be anyone about. Then I spotted a figure sitting in a wheelchair on shore, about a hundred yards off. Curious, I submerged and swam toward it. I popped to the surface a few feet away. It was a man in late middle-age, long gray hair and beard, dressed as a pirate with an eye-patch. Ben Musgrave! He sat with his legs sprawled out, chin on chest, snoring loudly.
"Ben! Oh Ben! Captain!" I called to him. The snoring continued. He was only ten feet away, so I finally just filled my mouth with water and squirted him on the cheek.
"Huah! The devil and damnation!" He spluttered. I couldn't help but giggle.
"Missy! 'Tis you! I knew 'twere some fishy-tailed wench!"
"Where's Maddie? Since you're neither handicapped nor lazy, that can't be your chair."
"Huntin' fer you, I'd wager."
"Found you, I'd wager!" Came a voice from behind me, followed by a fin full of lake. A lot of splashing, giggling and chasing ensued.
Alex popped to the surface. "Hey! Can't a fellow get some sleep around here?"
"Evidently 'tis forbidden in these parts," said Ben.
"Ooo!" exclaimed Maddie. "So it is true! Alex is one of us now." She ducked under, swam all around him and resurfaced. "I approve of the new MerJedi version of Alex. Ben! You need a tail!"
"You'll have to drown him first," I said ruefully.
"A Merpirate she wants! Now I'll be afear'd to so much as take a bath in Milady's presence, lest she push me head under!" Ben shook his gray locks.
"I'm delighted to see you, but I thought you-all were sorta in exile," I said, changing the subject.
"We were assured that there were no charges against us and that none would be filed, if we attended this meeting," said Maddie.
"We got a special invitation too," I said. "Ours came with no implied threats."
We crawled out of the water and sat near Ben. He left Maddie's chair and sat cross-legged with us.
"When does the meeting start?" I asked.
Ben fished a watch out of his waistcoat and squinted at it. "We have almost an hour and a half."
"Who else has gotten an invitation?" said Alex.
"Tara Hayes," said Maddie.
"Never heard of her," said Alex.
"Oh, I have. I think. Would that be Dr. Tara Hayes-Williams, PhD. marine biologist and Director of the Gulfport Aquarium?" I turned to Alex. "I ran across her name when I was surfing the web last week.
Maddie nodded, "Yeah, and her husband is Samuel Williams, another PhD. He's a marine paleontologist. She's going to head our little venture."
"She is?" Alex looked disappointed. "No offense Ben, but I was hoping they would choose a Mer, not a biped. How is she going to keep in touch with what's going on? Wear scuba gear all the time or live under a dome?"
"How about an office and bungelow on Bimini," said Maddie. "Actually, it might be best for us not to be too closely supervised. More freedom."
Alex smiled and nodded, "You have a point there."
At about that time, some workmen emerged from the woods carrying a large table.
"Looks like they're getting ready to set up," I said. "We should go to the van and get ourselves ready."
"Not before we get some breakfast," said Alex. "Didn't you say something last night about singing up some fish?"
"Yum!" said Maddie. "Sounds good! Can I join you?"
"Sure!" I grinned at the captain. "How about you, Ben?"
He shuddered and shook his head, "Thankee, but no. I'll be headin' for yon inn and see what they might be servin'."
After a breakfast of fish (so juicy sweet!), Alex and I made our way to the van. I climbed into the back and pulled out the dress I had chosen to wear. I began to have second thoughts. Should I dress up, knowing that many of my friends didn't have access to their wardrobes? Anything Maddie puts on, for example, turns into a black bustier. A few can wear no clothing at all. I can look good without being too fancy, I decided, and picked out a lacy, white top. I rummaged for a skirt. Do I really need one? Nothing inappropriate shows anyway. Am I not being silly for insisting on one? I glanced up from my revery to see Alex grinning and shaking his head.
"You realize you're fulfilling a stereotype of women don't you? Spending that much time and thought on what you're going to wear?"
"Oh hush! I am not. In fact, I'm done. This is what I'm wearing. Just be glad I don't have to think about shoes anymore!"
Alex's only choices are naked or Jedi. He went with Jedi. Of course, being a Merman, he can go nekkid without causing a stir. Sometimes I envy him for that.
We wheeled back down to the lake to find the table already set up and a few Mers already starting to gather. We deposited ourselves near the table, next to Ben and Maddie. The table was rather low, only about eighteen inches high. There were no chairs.
"They must think we have a problem getting into and out of chairs," speculated Alex.
"At least they're making an effort to accomodate us," said Maddie.
"And they're willing to set on the ground with us. Both good signs," I said.
"Looks like there's room for two more Mers on our side of the table," said Alex, "three, if we curl our tails tightly. Who should we invite?" He said it loud enough for the Mers in the water to hear, so a general discussion began. Julia, Aurora and Angeline were chosen.
"Skye!" I said. "She should be up here too! She rescued me and helped save Alex. She can sit on my lap." This was quickly agreed to. Excited, Skye climbed out of the lake and I sat her on my lap, where she tried not to bounce. "Well, guess we're ready now." Just then, I was distracted by an odd feeling, a sort of fluttering in my lower abdomen. What's that? I thought.
What's what? Thought Alex.
Whoa! I think I just felt the baby!
Really? Sure it ain't gas?
I searched with my mind. There came another flutter. Yep, it's Baby!
"Ooo!" Skye brought me out of myself. "She's the prettiest Mermaid I've ever seen!" I looked up. Emerging from the path to the Xanadu Center was a mermaid carried by a large Black man. Her tail was long, the scales alternating from gold to silver, depending on how the sunlight hit them. Her fin was crescent-shaped. She also had large, pelvic fins, almost like wings. Her hair was long, straight and colored like her tail. I recognized her by her face and her husband who was carrying her.
Alex! I thought. That's Tara Hayes and Dr. Williams. I've seen their pictures on line. Only she wasn't a Mer then!
"I've seen them before!" Aurora whispered in my ear. "She was mermaiding with the rest of us when the Change happened. Her man came and took her away shortly after. Wonder who they are?"
I told her what I'd just told Alex. She was suitably impressed. "She was having fun. A good hobby for a marine biologist in my opinion. And an appropriate transformation. I bet she's thrilled!" Word was starting to spread, causing a stir among the assembled Merfolk. Angeline and Julia started to make room for the new comers to sit.
"That's OK," said Tara, "I'll just sit at the end here." She gave Williams a brief peck on the lips as he gently sat her down and took his place at her side.
A group of respectable looking people with some media then appeared on the path along with a man who looked like he'd just stepped out of a Broadway production of 'Cats'. A closer look revealed that he wasn't wearing a costume, the fur actually grew from his skin.
"That must be Winters' aide, Felix," said Julia, "Actually, he's kinda hot."
"Careful," said Aurora, "He looks more likely to see you as lunch than dating material."
"Where's Winters?" wondered Maddie. Her words were almost immediately followed by the sound of feathers slicing the air. A large raven flew over the trees and settled on the table near Felix.
Hmn...a clear stirring in the Force from this guy, mused Alex. As big as, if not bigger than Yoda's. I wonder if he knows his potential?
I stared, fascinated. Magic or no magic, he was a magnificent bird. So he's somehow the source of all this! I glanced down at my tail. Wow!
Chapter Two: Dead Bird Roasting or Thanksgiving With the Mendenhalls
Eric Winters lost little of his business and negotiating skills when he became a bird. He gave a brief presentation of the proposal then allowed the invited parties to introduce themselves. I let Alex do the talking for us. Then the Royal Bahamian Oceanographic Society told us what they wanted. Finally, it was time for questions and answers. It was Nina, one of the younger Mers that asked the most important question.
"How will we govern ourselves?" she asked. "Will we be allowed to choose our own leaders? Or, will they be chosen for us?"
Tara rightly guessed that the question was really intended for her. "I'm not really anybody's leader," she said. "I'm the liaison, the go-between for the scientific community, the R.B.O.S. and us Merfolk. How we govern ourselves is entirely up to us."
Though she was sincere, I doubted that that was entirely true. I was sure we wouldn't be allowed to set up a pirate republic, for example, without somebody intervening. I have little patience for politics. I'm embarrassed to say that I leave all that for Alex. Just then, as one might suspect, all that was on my mind was raising kids. I only wanted us to be left to live our own lives as best we could.
Everyone seemed satisfied with Tara's remarks. All that was left now was to choose who would go inspect our future home. The ten of us who sat at the table would go. They had room to fly fifteen. Jackie, Nina and Elena immediately volunteered. After some discussion and persuasion, Edna and Chrissie consented to come. We would meet again one week to the day, at noon at Orlando's airport.
At the word fly, Ben blanched and seemed inclined to decline, but Maddie took him by the arm and managed to settle him down.
"Tisn't natural, this flying business," he grumbled.
Upon the meeting breaking up, someone suggested lunch. I mentioned the Japanese sushi house Alex and I had patronised before. This proved overwhelmingly popular among the Merfolk and Felix and tolerable for the other bipeds, including the lone winged biped. Some planning and logistics were required to get us non-walking types there, but it proved a good opportunity to get to know the people we would be working with. Tara had a gentle, lilting laugh that seemed to come easily to her. She was also expert with her chopsticks, even with fully webbed fingers. Sam, her husband, was the quiet, studious sort; only holding forth when the subject of trilobites somehow came up. He looked more like a football player than a professor and had actually played for the Gators as an undergrad. A Professor Blake was the head of the R.B.O.S. delegation. He was a tall, thin Black man who smiled much, talked little and possessed the easy graciousness of the Oxford Don that he was. Felix looked a bit frightening when he smiled, but seemed harmless enough. He ate like a cat, somewhere between fiercely predatory and dainty. Eric alternated from pecking at his food to hopping about the table, taking part in the conversations.
I briefly became the center of attention when my maternal condition was mentioned. It was well past time for it to become common knowledge anyway. I blushed a bright green as toasts and congratulations were offered. Our little one fluttered as though aware of all the well wishes she was getting.
I consumed a hefty amount of sashimi and seaweed, but abstained from the saki this time. By midafternoon, we were back at the lake.
We decided to leave for Ashville the next day, instead of waiting for Wednesday. Alex, it seemed, was a bit concerned that driving the whole trip in one day would tire me out.
"Tire me out?" I said. "I can bench press you over my head without straining! I'm sure I can carry a finger-tip sized Mer-person about inside me. Save it 'til about May or June, sweetie, I'll need your concern then, I'm certain." I have to confess that I was underestimating what growing a baby can take out of even a Vulcan woman.
Edna had already told us she would stay at the lake while we were in North Carolina. "Making up for lost time," she called it. We brought Skye back to her parents Tuesday morning. Then we were off.
Driving from Orlando to Ashville is a long ordeal, but not complicated; I-4 to I-95 across Georgia, switch to I-26 in South Carolina, then just keep driving. Altogether, about nine or ten hours, depending on how often you get gas, eat or use the restroom. We traded off driving every two hours. I cranked up the radio and sang along. Eating at drive throughs and paying for gas at the pump would give but minimal exposure of our Merness to the world. A little past Jacksonville we got gas and I had to pee.
I dreaded this. Using standard biped facilities as a Mermaid is a peculiarly undignified process at best. Crawling hands and tail in a public ladies room was out of the questian. That meant wrestling the wheelchair out of the back of the van (the lift was just too slow). I wheeled in to get the key from the stupified clerk, got in, did the necessary gymnastics on the porcelin and wheeled out. A mom and her little girl were waiting just out side. The little girl was cute. Her eyes lit up and she oo'd and ah'd. As for the mom's reaction, she must have thought I was the Loch Ness Monster. I smiled and tried to hand her the key. She turned and walked off, dragging her little one behind her. Guess she didn't have to pee all that bad afterall. That sobered me up. I didn't sing for another fifty miles. On the other hand, how would I have reacted in her position? One doesn't see a Mermaid emerging from a ladies' room every day. I would like to think, however, that I would recognize friendliness on all but the most alien of features.
We stopped at a motel near Hardeeville, South Carolina. After my gas stop experience, I was envisioning pitchforks and torches, so I was all for driving on through to my folks. Alex insisted, despite my argument that anxiety from being chased through the piney-woods would be more fatiguing for me and Baby than driving. I waited in the van, chewing my nails, while Alex crawled into the lobby. He crawled out a few minutes later, with the key in his mouth, trying not to laugh. The clerk was a male vulpine anthro who had just gotten back from Orlando a few days ago.
We both had a bath and a good night's sleep, followed by breakfast at the Hardees in Hardeeville. It was my turn to drive. I found a Bluegrass station and tried to get Alex to sing along with me. He's always been shy about singing in public, but never had problems belting out a good Irish ballad alone with me, 'til now.
"What's wrong, sweetie? You could croak in time to your farts and it wouldn't bother me none."
"I don't know. I just feel more constrained about singing since becomming a Mer." He looked thoughtful as he watched the passing countryside. "I have my own way of using the Force, I don't know if I could control it when I sing."
"Nonsense! I'm talking about doing it for fun."
"Even so, I worry about unleashing something."
"You might not even have that power. I've never heard of a male siren, have you?"
"Hmn...no. How 'bout I sing the same day you hop on your tail?"
"Deal! But I might need help. Maybe you should make me your padawan?"
"Only if you promise not to get pissy when I go all Yoda on you."
"That might be worth it. But that's a hard promise for a cranky, hormonal, pregnant Mermaid to keep."
I wanted to drive the final leg, so we switched again at the last rest area before Ashville. We both lapsed into silence. It's usually a good idea to spend a little time psyching oneself up for getting together with my parents. Add my sisters and their families and anti-psychotic drugs are indicated as well. My oldest sister, Sarah, is five years my senior. She has two kids; a girl Taylor, eight and boy Eric, four. She had married a Durham lawyer Named Matthew Davis, who made a tidy sum defending tobacco companies. He's not a bad sort, just ambitious and very competative. Debbie is only two years older than me. She married Allen McAfee a physics professor who teaches at Duke. She has a one-year-old boy, named Isaac. Allen mumbles a lot and is always fused to his Ipad. Isaac is as cute as a button and is the one person there I most looked forward to seeing again.
Neither of my sisters are particularly responsible people. It's a wonder to me that one or both didn't end up either prematurely pregnant or buried in a shallow grave. Instead, both are raising kids for two rather ordinary, boring men. I'm the careful and cautious one, the one who ended up with a tail. Of course, so long as I can have Alex Harris, I'll be content with whatever Fate throws my way.
I pulled up in front of my old home and shut off the van. "Wee're heear," I said with a spooky voice.
"For what we're about to recieve, may we be eternally grateful." Alex crossed himself and then smiled sweetly at me. "You go first."
We weren't really dissappointed to find that the front entrance didn't have a ramp, it was probably too soon to expect that. Alex hoped no one was watching as he levitated first me, then himself with the luggage onto the porch. I took a deep breath then rang the door bell.
"I'll get it!" That was Debbie's voice. I was sure Momma would have told everyone what to expect, probably in graphic, if not gruesome, detail. Nevertheless, when the door opened, I could almost see Debbie's brain do a double back flip. "Whoa, dang! You folks really are mermaids!" Sarah shoved Debbie aside to take a look. Eric peeked around his momma's legs and ran shrieking, "Auntie Han's a mermaid, she's got a fishtail!" Then there was an awkward pause.
"You girls gonna let your sister and hubby in?" I heard my poppa say, "or are you-all content to just stand there trappin' flies all day."
"Oh, uh OK," They bumped into each other a couple of times trying to get out of the way. Sarah has Momma's brilliant red hair. Debbie is a dark brunett like Poppa. They are both still quite good looking. I rolled in where they each hugged me.
Sarah began to cry, "Oh dear Lord! You're both all crippled up. What're you gonna do?"
Dear Lord indeed, I thought Is this the theme for this holiday? "I 'spect we'll do a lot of swimming and living in the sea." I smiled cheerfully.
"What about your poor baby?" sniffed Debbie, who was also about to open the sluices.
"'Spect she'll do a lot of swimming, since she's a Mermaid too." I was already starting to plot our escape.
"And Alex," said Sarah, "He's a mermaid..."
"Merman," interjected Alex.
Sarah really began to boohoo.
Have they been drinking? thought Alex.
Dear God, I hope not. Help me or I'll start too. Crying is contagious among women!
Of all people, it was my mother that rescued me. "What are you silly girls bawling about?!" She stood at the kitchen door, her fists on her hips.
"We're just worried about Han," Sarah wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Debbie nodded in agreement and sniffed.
"Well, you're getting her all upset, not to mention the children." She walked over and hugged me, "How you getting along sweetie?"
"I can feel the baby Momma! She started moving Monday!" Both sisters squealed and the mood changed instantly. The three mothers present began comparing experiences with each other and the mother-to-be.
After a few minutes of this, my Dad cleared his throat, "I'll just take you-all's bag and put it in your room. You might want to freshen up. Supper will be ready in just a few minutes."
I closed my old bedroom door behind me and exhaled, "Well, that wasn't too bad, was it?"
"Not hardly so bad as a barium enema," Alex smiled agreeably.
I rolled to our bed, unzipped the bag and started rummaging through it, "I brought a long skirt. Maybe if they don't see so much of my tail..."
"We can hide our tails, but we can't hide the fact that we can't walk. That's what got them all worked up. They think of us as being handicapped."
"What can we do about that?" I asked, "It took me a while to get past that way of thinking myself."
Alex shrugged, "I have no idea. Perhaps it will just take time."
I nodded, slid off the chair, then looked under the bed and sniffed. I crawled over to the closet, opened it, then sniffed and poked around.
"What?...Oh." said Alex.
"You know, just something I gotta do sweetie. Have to see if the place is safe for me and Baby." I checked behind the dresser and desk. "Just be glad I don't feel the need to examine the whole house."
"That would start an interesting conversation."
There was a quiet knock at the door. "Can we come in?" It was Taylor.
"Sure honey, come on in." I glanced at Alex, then smiled and shrugged.
The door opened slowly and Taylor peeked shyly in.
"Hi there, Tay-Tay, come on in." I was sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, my tail stretched out, still in the mint-green blouse I put on in Hardeeville.
Taylor walked in and sat cross-legged on the carpet next to me. Eric sat opposite her. I grabbed them both and hugged them tight.
"You really are a mermaid now, Auntie Han," said Taylor.
"Forever and ever?" said Eric.
"So far as I know, sweetie."
"Can you swim and breathe underwater like Ariel and Spongebob?" asked Taylor.
"Wish I could be a mermaid."
"Me too!" said Eric. "Mommie said I have a cousin in there," he poked my belly, "Can I listen?"
"You can try. She's real small," I showed them the end of my little finger.
"Can I touch your fishy part?" asked Taylor.
I nodded. She ran her hand up and down my scales while Eric listened intently to my navel. "That tickles!" I flipped my fin.
"Taylor! Eric!" Sarah shouted down the hallway, "Time to wash for supper!"
Taylor jumped up, then whispered in my ear, "Take me swimming, Auntie Han!" She turned to her brother, "C'mon Eric!"
As they left, I looked teary-eyed at Alex, who smiled at me, "I love my family. I'll always come back to visit them, no matter how long we've lived in the sea."
Alex and I each bathed, changed clothing, then rolled into the diningroom. I briefly thought about hop/crawling, since it was more natural, but we decided it would be more jarring than wheeling would be. Matt and Allen were back, they had gone golfing earlier. They did a good job pretending that everything was completely normal.
By tradition, supper before the big feast was light; home-made vegetable soup and peanut butter sandwiches, this year. Conversation rolled around from topic to topic then settled on golf.
"Allen and I are going out to the course again tomorrow," said Matt. "I'd invite you too Alex, but it looks like your handicap has increased a lot since we last played."
Alex smiled politely, "You might be surprised."
"Does that mean you'll come?" asked Allen.
"Sure, if you-all don't mind driving me around in a golf-cart."
Or waiting patiently while you swim around in the water hazards.
"You can play golf like that?" Debbie looked amazed.
"Yeah, why not?" Alex sipped some milk.
Are you up to something Hon?
"You sound confident," a predatory look briefly crossed Matt's face.
Alex nodded and took another PB sandwich off the platter. I could almost smell the testosterone.
"Confident enough to play skins?"
"Uh-huh," Alex nodded while munching.
"Same stakes as always?"
OK dear. Just promise me you won't fleece your brothers-in-law too badly. And no cheating!
I'm shocked! You know I would never use telekinesis in a game!
After supper, the guys retired to the TV room to play with the X-Box, the rest of us to the kitchen to start the holiday baking. Debbie plopped Isaac on my lap.
"Ooo, hello cuteness," I coo'ed. He was a lot bigger than he was four months ago.
"You can watch him while we're baking." said Debbie.
"Sure, but I wanna bake too," Isaac smiled at me, I smiled back, "Later."
I went into the livingroom, which was doubling as a playroom, slid off the chair and played with my nephews and niece. We played 'pirates versus mermaids' which involved me and Isaac growling and hissing while chasing the other two around on the floor. They 'captured' Isaac and hauled him up on the couch to collect his tears, but I managed to rescue him and drag him away before they could make him cry. Finally, I collapsed, exhausted on the middle of the floor. It had been a long day. Taylor and Eric ran off to see what was on the X-Box. Isaac crawled up to my head and sat down. I began to smell something bad.
He looked down at me, grinned and said, "poo!"
"Whew! No sh... er kidding! Guess Auntie Han will take care of it. Wonder where your mommie keeps the diaper bag." I sat up. "Taylor!"
A couple minutes later, "Yeah?"
"Bring me Isaac's diaper bag. He just poo'ed." I'm gonna have to get used to doing this...Actually, there won't be any diapering under water. Will that make things more icky or less?
After I got Isaac all cleaned up, I noticed a much nicer smell wafting in from the kitchen, pumpkin and pecan pies baking. I wanted to go in there. I hauled myself up into the chair and reached down for Isaac. He giggled and crawled off. I rolled up to him and reached again. He crawled off again. "Come back here, varmint!" This time he placed himself between the couch and a chair where I couldn't reach him. I slid back off the wheelchair and grabbed him. "Gotcha! Now!...What?" There was no way I was getting back up there with one arm, not even with help from my tail. Isaac was a laughing, kicking, squealing bundle. One arm might not be enough to hold him. I couldn't run off and leave him by himself. Crap! This is embarrassing! Finally, I gave up and hollered for Taylor again. This time Debbie appeared.
"Everything alright, Han?"
Even more embarrassing. Poor Han needs help with the baby! No avoiding it now. "Yeah, just need an extra hand here."
"Sure!" She scooped her little one up in her arms.
He squealed again then began pawing at her blouse, "Mu-muh!"
Debbie blushed, "Must be feedin' time."
"I shouldn't wonder," I plopped myself into my chair, "considerin' how much he unloaded a few minutes ago." I laughed.
"Did you make a nasty for Auntie Han?"
I followed Debbie into the kitchen. "Didn't you-all leave me any baking to do?"
"Uh, 'fraid not," said Sarah sheepishly. She and Momma were sitting at the table, sipping some hot cider.
"Sorry, Sweetie, we got carried away." Momma poured a cup for Debbie and me from a steaming pitcher. "We'll let you do the turkey tomorrow. You've always been best at that anyway."
"OK." I was just somewhat mollified. My fin still twitched with annoyance.
"Han changed Isaac all by herself!" Debbie was trying to be positive, but she said it like it was a major accomplishment.
"It's not like I haven't done it before!" (twitch-twitch)
"Well, uh...It's the first time since...since."
I was tempted to say, "Since I got all crippled up?" but I refrained.
Debbie stumbled into silence and went back to feeding Isaac.
"I think it's time everyone settled down and went to bed," said Momma.
"Yeah, I agree. Cleaning all that poo really tuckered me out." I couldn't help jabbing just a little.
Isaac started making rude fart noises on his mommie's breast. We all giggled.
"I think you've had quite enough mu-muh!" Debbie turned beet-red and the tension melted away.
I was quite spent by the time we turned in. I don't remember anything after we turned out the light. When I awoke, just before daylight, I was lying in the same position with a drool-soaked patch on the pillow. Despite the long nap, I felt out-of-sorts, a little light-headed. I crawled to the bathroom in my nightgown, I didn't care if anyone saw me, pee'd, then bathed in the tub. That's my dirty little secret. I do both in the tub; being sure to rinse everything out real well in between. I know, it's not very tasteful, but better than wetting the floor while trying to use a human toilet. I dried off, brushed my teeth then crawled back across the hall.
I was sitting on the corner of the bed, brushing my hair when my mom softly knocked on the door. She poked her head in and motioned for me to follow her. I rolled into the kitchen to find her sitting at the table. She handed me a sheet of paper.
"Please don't be offended," she said. "We just want to help."
It was an advertisement put out by a Dr. Nehemiah, claiming to be able to treat the Xanadu effect. There were before and after pictures of a faun. I sighed, "They just clipped his horns and bobbed his ears. They don't even show his lower body. This man's a fraud. Anyway, Momma, there's not a plastic surgeon alive that can give me working legs, I'll keep my tail." I flipped my fin a bit. "I've grown rather fond of it, in fact."
"I'm not talking about surgery. Read on down."
I continued to read. "Magic? He claims to use magic? Only Xanadu survivors have magic and none of them are powerful enough to undo the Effect, and only a few can modify it. The baby and I have been through three transformations, can't we count our blessings and just leave well enough alone?"
"It's not about this," she tapped the wheelchair. "Or how you look. We just don't want to lose you."
"To the sea. We're afraid you'll go off to the sea and never come back," she put her face in her hands. "I just couldn't bear it!"
"Oh Momma," I put my arms around her. "Nothing could keep me away forever, certainly not having to use a chair to get around while here."
"Promise?" she took off her glasses and dried her eyes.
"Cross my heart."
"Well," she began tearing up the ad. "We'll speak no more of this. And, sweet Hannah, you do have a very pretty tail."
"Why thank you, Momma." My eyes filled and we hugged again.
I crawled back into bed about when Alex crawled out. "Have fun at your golf game." I was back asleep before he left.
I dreamed that I was deep, deep underwater. It was very cold; there was some kind of wet suit covering my body and tail. I was inside of an old wreck, searching for something. Suddenly there was a knocking sound. I turned my flashlight to a half-rotted wooden door. Bits of it flaked off as the knock was repeated. Then it opened to reveal a zombie sailor which reached for me and said, "Get up sleepy-head! I've been knocking and knocking!" It was Sarah.
I yelped and rolled out of bed onto the floor.
"Careful now! You've got a baby on board. Hop up in your chair and follow me. The turkey's waiting."
I quickly changed into a sweater-top, there was no hopping, and followed Sarah to the kitchen.
Debbie was sitting at the table feeding Isaac.
Momma was standing by the sink spraying tepid water over the bird. "It's just about thawed sweetie."
"Great!" I smiled and wheeled toward the sink. Then it hit me, the scent of raw turkey. My stomach did a triple back flip. I just had time to exclaim, "Auugh! Bahfroom!" and clapped both hands over my mouth, effectively immobilizing myself.
As a general rule, my mother is terrible in a crisis. Under threat of having her nice kitchen sprayed with stomach contents, however, she knew exactly what to do. She sprang forward, grabbed the back of my chair, spun me about and charged down tha hallway to the bathroom. I slid off, stuck my head in the toilet and unloaded. I barfed everything in me but the baby. I barfed stuff I'd only thought about eating. I lost ideas down that toilet.
"Here sweetie, let me get your hair outta the way!"
"Don't care 'bout my haarrgh!"
Finally, after what seemed like years, I was able to lean back against the tub and relax. "Help...me...get this sweater...off, Mommie." It was filthy. While she was taking it and my bra to the laundry room, I looped my tail over the side of the tub, pulled myself in and turned on the shower. As the cold water soothed and washed me, I rubbed my belly and thought, Hope you won't mind being an only child, dearest.
Matt stopped at the first tee. "This is the men's tee, they don't have mermen's tees, is this OK?"
Alex nodded, "No problem." He turned and pulled the driver out of his rented bag. His clubs were left, unthought about, in Florida. They would have been too long for his new 'stance' anyway.
"Who goes first?"
"Age before beauty, that means you Matthew," said Allen.
"Yeah, sure," said Matt. He seemed distracted. Perhaps Alex's unnatural calm before an impending thrashing disturbed him. Surely to God, he thought, He can't golf like that. He's practically on his knees, or would be if he had knees. Matt teed up and drove. The ball flew straight and true and stopped a respectable distance down the fairway. Allen was next, his ball hit the rough, but bounced back into the fairway and rolled to a halt, just a little short of Matt's.
Alex slid out of the cart and crawled up to the tee area. He fished about in his pockets for a moment, produced the ball and tee and stuck them in the ground. Next he raised himself on his tail, hopped a couple of times, until he was satisfied, closed his eyes and swung. The ball landed on the fairway about ten yards past Matt's.
Oh...shit, he's gonna beat us with his freaking eyes closed.
A few minutes later my mom came back with a bathrobe. "Here you go sweetie...Oh my goodness! That water's frigid! How can you stand it?"
"I tolerate cold a lot better nowadays." I reached up and turned off the shower. "Can you hand me a towel please, Momma?"
All dried off, in the warm robe and back in my chair, I felt better, but dared not go back into the kitchen and told Momma so.
"Don't you worry, we'll take care of the turkey. You go lie down. Should we call Alex?"
"No sense spoiling his fun. It's not like it's something he could help me with." On the other hand, I thought wickedly, He did knock me up. Maybe I should spoil his day.
I laid myself down on the bed and closed my eyes. I wasn't sleepy, so I just lay there, trying not to think about food, especially turkey. There was a light knock at the bedroom door.
"Come in." It was Taylor.
"Can I lie down next to you?"
She jumped onto the bed and cuddled up to me. "Are you OK, Han? We could hear you barf all over the house.
"I'm OK so long as nobody talks about barfing."
"You shoulda heard Debbie summer before last, she cussed at Allen and said the baby was turning her inside out!"
"OK, I'll shut up." She made a motion as though zipping her lips together. She was quiet for a few moments, her head resting on my shoulder. Then she whispered into my ear, "Han, make me a mermaid."
"I can't do that sweetie. What would your mother say?"
"What about Alex, you turned him into a mermaid."
"It was to save him from drowning. It's way too dangerous and there's no going back. What if you find out you don't like it? It ain't all frolicking in the sea. There are fun things you can't do like run or ride a bike."
"Still, it's what I want!"
"Tell you what, when you're all grown up, if you still want to, and it can be done safely, we'll talk about it again."
"Well, I guess so. That's an awful long time, Han."
"Important things need to be thought about a lot and while you're grown up, especially when there are no do-overs." That seemed to pacify her, but our conversation set me thinking, How did we change Edna? Was it her desire or our power? Could we do it again? Dare we ever try? It wasn't even our intent.
After seventeen holes, Alex and Matt stood at four apiece, Allen had three. Alex's Jedi abilities allowed him to shoot straight, but there was no getting around the fact that, when it comes to distance, a tail just doesn't have the leverage of a pair of legs. He lead through much of the match, but could not put Matt or Allen away. On the last hole Matt hit into the water hazard (Alex offered to retreive his ball). That left Alex and Allen in contention. Allen got on the green first and managed to drain the put. The final score was four all. After that the three brothers-in-law sat on a bench and argued for a bit. Alex ended up slightly ahead in cash, due to winning some side bets (including one wager on how fast he could swim across the duck pond). Matt conceded that Alex suffered no net loss in his golf game.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, Taylor was gone and Alex was sitting next to the bed with my hand in his.
"Hi there! I didn't hear you come in."
"They told me you had a rough time earlier. Dinner's ready, do you think you're up to eating?"
"I'm ravenous, but kinda aprehensive, if you know what I mean."
"I think so. Want to give it a try?"
I didn't even make it all the way to the kitchen. Even the smell of cooked turkey, something I usually really like, was too much. I ended up in the rec room eating mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole and cranberry sauce. The cranberry sauce made me feel better, must have been the tartness. I also ate a piece of pecan pie with no ill effects. Altogether not too bad, considering. Alex sat next to me and sweetly refrained from eating turkey in front of me. I've decided to let him live.
Chapter Three: Water Dancing and the Silent Sisters
After dinner we watched Christmas specials for a while, then listened and sang along with some Carols and classic Christmas songs on the stereo. Altogether, not a bad evening at all.
I awoke before dawn with a strong urge to swim. The bathtub wasn't going to cut it this time. Fortunately, I knew what to do, but I wasn't going to do it alone.
I whispered in Alex's ear, "Sweetie. Honey. Wake up."
He grunted, turned toward me and opened one eye.
"Time for some splashies! Sound good?"
"Not talking about the tub neither. There's an old swinnin' hole couple hundred yards back in the woods behind the house."
He opened both eyes. "OK, Darlin', you have my attention."
I had never mentioned the swimming hole to Alex before. I hadn't thought about it in years. Sarah discovered it the Spring after we moved here, ten years ago. We thought it was our own little secret. Later, during the Summer, we used to sneak out there to cool off. Sarah and Debbie would skinny-dip, but I wasn't comfortable doing that. I was the cautious one, remember. I would wear a swimsuit under my clothes. Well, as one might imagine, it wasn't just our little secret. There soon arose an intelligence network that would have done the resistence in Nazi-occupied Europe proud. Within minutes, of us sneaking through the back fence, every adolescent boy in the neighborhood knew that the Mendenhall girls were on their way to the swimming hole again. How we managed to not know we were being observed can only be attributed to our utter cluelessness. This might have gone on indefinitely, but one day some young lad got too ambitious and stole our clothes. Since I was the only one with a stitch on, I had to walk the gauntlet in my pink pinstriped two-piece to fetch something for my elder siblings to wear. How Mom and Dad managed to not find out can only be attributed to their utter cluelessness. I'm only thankful that no one thought to make a video of us and put it online. Sarah never went back there again. It took a couple of years and an especially hot Summer for Debbie and I to work up the nerve to return; and we only did so after finding the most unappealing swimwear we could imagine.
Today, being a land-locked Mermaid, nothing could keep me away. In any case, I figured that it being the first of December and forty-five degrees, our privacy was safe. We dressed quietly, mounted our chairs and slipped out the back door. It was foggy, with the eastern sky just barely beginning to brighten. Alex levitated us off the porch. The yard was almost too wet and soft for wheeling. The back gate was overgrown and hard to open as well. The path to the creek was narrow and bumpy but firm. When we got to it, the misty stream was so beautiful, we had to just sit there and contemplate it for a while. Finally, we stripped and slipped in.
The water was gloriously brisk, but not at all chilling for a couple of Mers. The hole was a fair size for humans to swim in, but we hadn't room enough really to build up any speed. It was also so shallow that I could do a hand stand with half my tail in the air. We gave no thought to complaining, however, and just enjoyed it.
A few feet out from where we entered the water was a large, flat rock. My sisters and I had actually named it Mermaid Rock. We would climb up on it to sun ourselves and talk and giggle. Right then, I was circling it underwater, when I surprised a bluegill. I whapped it on the noggin and stuck it in my teeth.
Alex Dear, I found a snack. Meet me on the rock and we'll share.
I had just pulled myself up onto the rock when I heard a gasp. It was my dad and Sarah. They had apparently been there just long enough to find the wheelchairs and clothing but not long enough to absorb the implications; when I emerged, naked with a fish wriggling in my mouth.
Oh shit! Major faux pa. I thought to Alex, while covering my boobs with one arm and grabbing the fish with my other hand. I had tied my hair up, so I couldn't use it for cover. Why does this always have to happen to me! "Hi Poppa, hi sis!" I began to lose my balance. I had to either let loose the boobs or the fish. The bluegill got away. "Just enjoying a refreshing swim!" I giggled nervously.
"But...it's...freezing out," said Sarah.
My dad did a marvelous imitation of the bluegill's face, then averted his gaze. Alex stayed under the surface.
Help me! Do something! I slipped back into the water and loosed my hair. "Has to be pretty darn cold to keep Merfolk from swimming!" I said aloud.
I don't care! Just stop hiding!
I am not hiding! I'm being modest.
Modest! You don't have boobs and they can't see your...your. Just get up here!
Alex breeched like a dolphin and splashed back in. Sarah couldn't help but applaud. I could sense what Alex was intending and quickly joined him. Soon we were frolicking and leaping as much as we could in the little shallow pool (I had to keep stopping and rearranging to make certain no nipples were exposed). After a bit, even my dad was getting in to it. Finally, we stopped to catch our breath and slowly swam up to our audience.
"Wow! That's fantastic! I didn't realize you-all could do stuff like that!" said Sarah.
"That's why we sneaked out here," I replied, "After several days cooped up on land, we really needed to stretch our tails."
"You didn't really have to sneak," said my dad. "We would have understood."
"Sorry about snooping up on you. We were a bit concerned when we saw you were gone." said Sarah. "I even forgot this was out here." Suddenly her eyes lit up, "Hey! Everyone, especially the kids, would have loved to have seen that. Could you do it again?"
I looked at Alex, who winked at me, "Sure! We ought to be rested up by the time you herd them all out here. Only," I added quietly, "Could you hand me my bra first."
About a half-hour later, we did a repeat performance. The children were thrilled. It was all her mom could do to keep Taylor from jumping into the (what was for her) freezing water.
"That was wonderful!" said my mom, "But you all need to come out of there. You may not be cold, but just seeing you in there is chilling me to death!"
"How do you stand it?" asked Debbie.
"I don't know," I said. "I guess it's just the way we are now."
We hauled ourselves out and started getting dressed. Our lack of legs didn't seem to bother anyone anymore.
Saturday morning, we packed to leave. We said our good-byes, made promises to return and extracted promises to come visit us at our new home. I felt better leaving than arriving, but not because we were leaving.
The day's journey was quiet and uneventful. I was a little concerned about motion-sickness, but it didn't happen. So far, Thursday was my only attack of morning sickness. Once again, we stopped to spend the night in Hardeeville. There, at the motel run by the fox-guy, we knew we would always be welcome.
I had been skeptical about tales of pregnant women being subject to strange food cravings. This is despite observing both of my sisters. I just thought it was their imaginations at work. That evening, however, while soaking in the tub, Alex asked me what I wanted for supper.
"Hmn...How about pizza?"
"Sounds good. There's a place that delivers."
"Deluxe with extra anchovies."
Alex crawled into the bathroom and sat next to the tub. "Did you say, sauerkraut?"
I smiled sweetly and nodded.
"I don't think they make them like that."
"Please? We passed a super-market on the way here. It's just a couple of blocks away. You can get a jar of kraut and be back before the delivery guy." I bounced and flipped my fin; sloushing water onto the floor. "Pretty please?"
"Sure, OK." He looked doubtful, but got dressed, hopped into his wheelchair and left. I drained the tub, dried off, put on a robe, crawled to the phone and called in the pizza. I ordered some hot-wings and garlic-bread as well. I was hungry and, after all, eating for two.
Alex did get back before the pizza with a big jar of kraut. I couldn't wait. I popped it open and stuck in my fingers.
"Want some?" I slurped-down a handfull. It was the most wonderful-tasting stuff ever! I giggled as the juice ran down my cleavage.
Then there was a knock at the door. The delivery guy got through the transaction OK, despite the Merman in the wheelchair who answered his knock and the obviously deranged, cackling Mermaid in the background sitting on the bed and noisily munching sauerkraut out of a jar. Alex separated out his half of the pizza while I dumped most of the rest of the jar on my half. It was wonderful!
Finally sated, I belched, rolled myself into the covers and slept the sleep of the blameless.
I didn't feel so well when I woke up later that night. While pregnant, it's always wise to keep in mind that you might be seeing again what you've just eaten and plan your meals accordingly. I was very queazy with terrible heartburn. Fortunately, Alex, a prescient Jedi and considerate mate, had picked up some antacids with the sauerkraut. I managed to keep supper down and felt better in the morning.
We started off after breakfast (rather bland in my case). I decided to drive the first leg. I'm less prone to motion sickness when I drive. We listened to music and speculated about what it would be like living underwater. We quickly ran out of stuff to say, simply because we had no clue what it would be like.
Early that evening, we pulled into the Convention Center parking lot, found a spot, then made our way down to the lake. We were greeted by a large orange sign. The EPA wants us out in ten days.
We slipped into the water together. The first mer we met was Jackie. She was so happy to see us, she did a little twisting dance then motioned for us to surface.
"I'm so relieved! You saw the signs?"
"Yes, bummer!" said Alex.
"That doesn't give us much time," I said. "We don't even know what we need to do to make the Sutherland Express livable!"
"No need to get upset just yet," said Alex. "They're not going to net us all and toss us onto the grass. As long as we're making progress, I doubt they'll do anything at all, if the deadline expires on us."
"I hope so," I sounded doubtful.
"Hannah, we need you to talk to the Silent Sisters," said Jackie. "They know something's up, but we haven't been able to explain it to them yet."
The Silent Sisters are Mers who are exclusively water-breathers. Originally there were six. Two died before they were able to reach water. Without vocal-chords, lungs or even tongues, they cannot speak at all, while we can only speak above the surface, where they cannot breath. My contact telepathy has been our only means to communicate with them, though they've been developing a form of signing among themselves.
The three of us swam toward the corner of the lake where they usually kept to themselves. I took Jackie's hand. We should all learn the Sisters' sign language. We're all silent under water and the Sutherland is under dozens of fathoms. We can't just pop up to the surface every time we need to talk, and Alex and I can't be everywhere.
Jackie nodded, I'm not going to like that very much, I enjoy talking.
And I enjoy singing, I thought back. There's gonna be a lot of things to get used to.
Don't fret, the surface won't be that far above us, thought Alex to us.
I spotted Elise first. Even in the evening's fading light, she was easy to see. With long, wavy golden hair, a violet tail and lacy, flowing, blood-red caudal, pelvic and dorsal fins, she seemed almost to glow. When she saw us, she smiled and extended her arms toward me. I swam a little ahead of the others and embraced her.
How are you?
Good. Who's the Merman?
That's Alex, my husband.
Hello, thought Alex.
Elise raised her eyebrows, He's a telepath too? Without needing physical contact?
Yes, he only needs physical contact to 'hear' non-telepaths.
Interesting. She waved at Alex. We saw Jackie and a Black Mermaid with a striped tail...
That would be Aurora.
They were trying to tell us something. They could only talk in the air, that distorted the sound too much, we couldn't understand.
Yeah. What they were trying to say...Well, it's like one of those good news/bad news jokes.
OK. Let's have the bad news first. Elise smiled, revealing her long, pointed teeth.
The EPA wants all the Mers out of this lake in ten days.
Her smile faded, Well, we all knew we probably couldn't stay here forever. What's the good news?
We already have a new home lined up. It's in the Atlantic near Bimini.
That is good news! She swam a little dance around me, then took my hands again. How are they going to transport us?
I don't know, but this all seems well planned. They'll have something thought out. I saw Sallie and Annie, two of the other three Silent Sisters, swimming toward us. The remaining Sister, Honey, was further away, slowly circling. Honey was the shyest one. She's never let me close enough to 'talk' to her. I don't even know if Honey is her real name.
I hope so. They can't just load us on a plane or bus like the others.
Sallie and Annie came up and we linked hands. I motioned for Jackie join us. They were a little skittish about Alex, so he kept his distance. Honey continued to circle at the edge of sight. I repeated what I had told Elise.
Who are 'they'? asked Annie.
I told them about the Royal Bahamian Oceanographic Society, Eric Winters and Tara. They were happy to hear that Tara was a Mermaid and would be our contact with the surface world. Finally, I asked them how they were progressing with sign language.
It's not easy making up something like that from scratch, thought Elise, Especially when we have no other way of communicating.
Would it help if we found someone who knows American Sign Language? I asked.
Maybe, but, she held up a hand and wiggled fully webbed fingers, I don't know if that will work with these.
We'll see what can be done, I thought, We'll all need it in our new home.
It was fully dark by the time we left the Sisters. Alex and I found a likely spot and turned in.
Chapter Four: The Pilgrim Mers
It should be no surprise that, with all the anticipation, I was unable to sleep. At some point, I gave up and allowed myself to float to the surface. Someone had built a small fire where the Walkers had had their camp. I submerged and swam closer. A few feet from shore, I went up to take a peek. There was Captain Ben and Maddie sitting near the fire. Closer, with her back to me was another Mermaid, who I recognized as Jackie. I didn't want to sneak, so I made a noisy little splash.
"Who's there?" asked Maddie. Jackie also turned to look.
"It's me. I couldn't sleep."
"Oh, hi Hannah. Want to join us then?"
"Sure, if you don't mind." I crawled out of the lake and flopped down between Jackie and Maddie. "Whatcha doin'?"
"Just enjoying the fire," said Jackie. "I've always liked fires. I'm gonna miss 'em."
"I know what you mean," I sighed and stared at the crackling flames.
"We won't be able to cook will we?"
"Nope. If we didn't already like sashimi, we'd have to learn."
"Now, now, it's not as though ye'll be leavin' the world entirely. T'will be but a few fathoms up." Ben took out an old clay pipe and began filling it.
"Ben, Maddie, what will you two be doing?" I asked.
"I fear I won't be livin' in any sunken freighters." said Ben.
"I go where he goes," said Maddie, who then leaned her head on Ben's shoulder.
"That shall always be on or near the sea. Ye can be sure of that lassie." He leaned forward, took a twig from the fire, lit his pipe, then put his arm around Maddie.
"I wonder why they were so insistant that we come?"
None of us had an answer for her.
We all drifted off into our own thoughts and eventually, I grew sleepy. I bade everyone a good night and slipped back into the water. I found Alex, curled myself around him and finally fell asleep.
Alex kissed me awake. The sun streamed down on to us, the beams going here and there according to how the ripples on the surface moved.
What time is it? I yawned and stretched.
Alex shrugged. Time we got up and got moving. Want to come to the surface and sing-up some breakfast?
I yawned again. I thought I'd never get to sleep last night. I'll come up and get some air in just a minute. I tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Alex circled and jumped, making a huge splash. Then he charged out of the cloud of bubbles, grabbed my tail and drug me along behind him.
Don't mess with me! I ain't in the mood! I twisted around and bit his tail fin (not hard). Soon, we were thrashing, wrestling and tickling. We became flushed and excited, especially when his frills brushed against my tail. I just can't resist that. Ooo, OK. You have my permission to mess with me now. Our tails entwined and we spiraled slowly to the bottom of the lake.
A few minutes later, we were swimming hand-in-hand toward the shore. Ben had built the fire back up and was toasting some fish Maddie had caught. She broke surface a few yards ahead of us, a fish in each hand and a third in her teeth. She motioned for us to follow her. Near shore, she tossed them one by one to Ben, who deftly caught each one and began cleaning them with his knife.
"Want some?" asked Maddie. "I caught more than enough."
"Sure," I said, "but ask him not to cook mine."
"Don't worry!" she laughed. "He's only roasting his own."
"Cool," said Alex. "We're used to just ripping into them. Filets will be just like eating in a sushi house!"
We were soon enjoying a pleasant breakfast. Not long after we were joined by other residents of the lake, who playfully tossed fish to Ben, who equally playfully tossed filets back to the hungry mermaids. Eventually all twelve who were to go to Bimini were sitting, laughing, talking and eating around the fire.
"You're marvelous fast at that Ben!" I said.
He chuckled as he finished the last filet and handed it to Angeline. "Not such a marvel. I started out as an assistant to a ship's cook. A lad has to work right smartly to keep up with so many hungry bellies. You should see how fast I can peel a hogshead o' taters!"
About that time, I saw Professor Williams carrying Tara down the path from the parking lot. We waved and made room for them. They sat themselves near Ben.
"We just came down to say hi, and I wanted to swim the lake. Believe it or not, I've never been in it!" said Tara.
"We just finished up breakfast, would you like us to catch more. It's really not a bother." said Maddie.
"That's OK we already...ooo! You left the best parts!" Tara picked up a fish head and popped it into her mouth (CRUNCH, Crunch crunch). Ben blanched. Sam turned away; he couldn't look at what his wife was eating. I got a little queasy, but most of the Mers agreed with Tara. Soon the fish heads were passed around and consumed.
"I was a little surprised to see you all out on land." continued Tara.
"This is a bit unusual for us," said Alex. "We usually eat separately in the lake."
"Away from the eyes of more civilized folk...ow!" Ben rubbed his arm where Maddie punched it.
"Would you like for us to give you the grand tour?" I asked.
"Sure, let's go," said Tara. In an instant the Mers swarmed into the water, like seals being chased by a polar bear.
Ben sat puffing his pipe and shaking his head. Professor Williams turned to him. "I see you like tobacco, may I offer you a cigar?"
"You most certainly may." Ben tapped out his pipe and accepted the gift.
"Don't tell anyone," Williams smiled conspiratorially, "They're Cuban." He pulled a second out for himself.
"I see that yer a gentleman as well as a scholar, perfesser."
"Call me Sam."
"Sam, let's go fer a walk and compare the winsome ways of fishy-tailed wenches."
I had never seen Tara swim before; I was quite impressed. Her large pelvic fins probably slowed her a bit, but the grace and manuverability they gave her more than compensated. I felt like a cowboy-booted line dancer next to a ballerina.
It didn't take long to show Tara the lake, It was less than ten acres, and to introduce her to the remainder of the inhabitants, including the Silent Sisters (I served as go-between). I was a little dismayed to learn that she didn't know about the sisters. She promissed, however to oversee the special arrangements that would be needed to transport them across land to the sea.
Soon, it was time to leave. Winters had a van sent to the lakeshore for us. At the airport, we were driven to a spot on the tarmac where a small turboprop charter was waiting. Also waiting were the Walkers, Jim, Gina, Skye and Jamie, who was carrying Erica. Jim cradled Skye in his arms. There were chairs enough for all of us, even those who didn't have one of their own, but I've always been glad to carry Skye on my lap. We hugged her and all the Walkers, and stroked Erica, who purred and swished her tail, then we were carried one by one onto the plane. I made sure Skye got a window seat, she had never flown before (except on her sister's back). Alex sat just behind me.
Despite having legs, Ben was one of the last to board. Maddie had to coax and embarass him onto the plane. When he finally boarded, he had the look of a condemned man mounting a scaffold. "Flying is fer birds, bats and bugs not daysent folk," he muttered under his breath.
The flight to the airstrip on South Bimini was less than an hour, but since it was lunch time they decided to feed us. I was still feeling a bit queasy but figured eating something was the best way to settle my stomach. Shortly after take-off, the plastic trays were passed out and I opened mine. It was...TURKEY! My morning sickness nemesis! "Oh Gawd, mmmfh!" I passed the tray to Skye, grabbed a barf-bag and flopped out into the aisle. I tried to crawl to the restroom using one arm while holding the bag over my mouth with the other hand. I shoulda known that wouldn't work. Alex can't carry me anymore, so he was helpless. The flight attendant knelt next to me about the time I gave up and started heaving.
"Morning sickness, she's preggers." said Skye solemnly.
I didn't see the attendant's reaction, she just rubbed my back, handed me another bag and cooed, "That's all right hon, I've been through it twice, second time with twins!"
Only a lunatic would do this more than once! I thought. Alex! This is all your fault!
Sorry! He sounded genuinely miserable, which gave me some solace.
Eventually, I started feeling a little better, especially after the offending tray was taken away. Pretty much everyone else was finished as well. Nothing like listening to someone retch to cure one's hunger. They ought to record me and sell it as a weight-loss aid. The flight attendant (bless her!) helped me back into my seat and gave me a cold Coke (The South's sovereign remedy for stomach troubles).
You OK sweetie? Alex reached his hand around, I took it and pressed it against my cheek.
Yeah, I feel really embarassed now. I made quite a scene.
It helped the trip pass. We're getting ready to land.
Upon landing, we were transfered to a van and within an hour were on board the Gulfstream Explorer a small research vessel belonging to the Gulfport Aquarium. The Sutherland lay about ninety minutes away.
Our chairs were available but, somehow, a Mer using a wheelchair on board a vessel just seemed wrong to us. Flopping and crawling on the deck of a ship at sea is simply more natural, or maybe it's just all the ladders. So long as one can hold tight and use the rails, ladders are not a challenge to a Mer.
Not long after getting underway, I made my way forward, pulled myself up and looked down. I liked watching and listening to the hiss of the bow slicing through the water. I was also eagerly watching for dolphins. I wondered how they'd react to us. Would they be friendly? Or, would they see us as interlopers, even more annoying than surface-dwellers.
Want to recreate that scene from Titanic? It was Alex.
No! I tried not to giggle. I think I've made enough of a spectacle for one day.
Oh well, It's been so long since I've seen it, I can't remember the lines anyway.
"You all going to recreate that scene from Titanic?" It was Maddie. She pulled herself up and looked out over the water.
This time, I did giggle. "Nope. We're leaving that to you and Ben. Where is Ben anyway?"
"He's up on the bridge," she turned and waved. "He's getting the grand tour from his fellow sea captain."
"Cool," said Alex. "Didn't you want the tour?"
"I was afraid I'd slow them down. Maybe some other time. It's that other ship I really want to see anyway." she motioned towards the horizon. "Think we'll get to go down and see it today?"
"Probably," said Alex. "We should have a good two hours of daylight left when we get there."
"Like to see them try and stop me." said I. "They'd get Mermaid-bit and tail-slapped."
"I'd help you," Maddie giggled.
"Me too!" It was Tara, crawling up between the anchor-cables. She sat on the capstan. "I'm hoping we'll actually be able to spend the night!"
That brought a squeal of delight out of Maddie and myself. Alex laughed.
"I depends on whether the advance team of divers were able to rig up a secure place for us to sleep." said Tara. "Sharks hunt at night."
I felt a slight chill. "We're gonna really need your knowledge to survive, Tara. For all our gills and scales, we don't have a clue about what's waiting for us out there. I hope you don't think it rude, but I'm very, very glad you were caught in the Xanadu Event with the rest of us."
Tara looked down at her tail, then out over the water. She had a wistful look. "I don't think it rude at all. I wished for it...if only..." She smiled at me, "We'll talk about it later."
After a few minutes, they cleared us off of the foc'sle so they could drop anchor. We gathered on the well deck, where we were given a safety talk and headlamps. All of the Mers were welcome to go over the side. There were also four non-Mer divers, three from the Aquarium and Professor Williams. Ben, since he was not scuba-qualified, would have to stay behind. When the bipeds were ready, we all went in.
The S.S. Sutherland Express was sitting upright in about forty fathoms of water. Much of the superstructure, anything that could come loose, had been cut away before she was scuttled. The vessel herself should be perfectly safe for even surface dwellers to dive in. Also, having been on the bottom for less than a year, she was remarkably, even eerily clean. She looked like she was riding a sea of sand while we flew down to her. The amount and variety of sea life we could see on the way down was stunning. There were corals and sponges, rays and fishes of all sizes and colors. I could identify only a very few of them; which were good to eat, which to leave alone. In some cases, which were animal and which plant.
Tara stopped just above the gaping hole where the freighter's funnel had been and motioned for us to wait with her there. The biped divers were so slow. I took her hand.
Tara! This is so beautiful! I thought to her, But so strange. I'm totally bewildered!
She nodded, It'll never grow old, no matter how many times you see it! And we're looking at it with our own eyes, not through a porthole or mask! Worth a tail, don't you think?
Tail! My God, it's worth a life!
Isn't that what we all lost, Hannah, our old lives?
I had to agree with her.
When the divers, with their silly tanks and bubbles caught up, we went down inside. We switched on our headlamps. Two of the Aquarium divers carried powerful lamps. The third held a camera as well. We swam down the funnel-shaft into the boiler room. It was empty, the huge oil-fired boilers had been salvaged. A shoal of bright yellow fish, no larger than the palm of my hand flitted past me in a panic. Skye picked up a spiny lobster, grinned and rubbed her belly. She's always been partial to crustaceans. I wagged a finger at her and shook my head. I wanted to wait for Tara to say it was OK. The young Mermaid shrugged and released the lobster.
We swam back to the engine-room, it was also empty. The trough where the huge propeller-shaft spun was partly full of sand. Tara placed a hand on my shoulder and pointed upward. There was a catwalk and a large hatch.
That leads to the crew's quarters and offices, where most of the scientific instruments and such will go. We're gonna try to put in a dry-room too; a place where we can talk.
Tara next led us forward to the cargo hold, the largest space on board. It was impressive, larger than a highschool gym. Nets had been stretched over the open hatches far above our heads. More nets blocked off the rest of the ship. Tara made a biting motion and pointed at them. I swam up to her.
That's to keep large predators out. This is where we'll be sleeping tonight!
Tara looked at her watch then held up a small school bell and rang it. This was the signal for everyone to gather around Alex and me, so we could communicate. The divers were told to head for the surface, the rest of us had about an hour before dark to explore and forage for food. When the bell rang again, we were supposed to enter the hold and close the nets. Meanwhile, we were all to move about in groups of three or more, no one should swim alone. They also warned us to watch carefully while eating, the remnants are likely to attract sharks. All these precautions were kinda taking the bloom off the rose for me, but I knew they were necessary. We were in the wild ocean now, not a suburban lake. There was more to worry about than the occasional fat, lazy gator.
We all stuck rather close to Tara, she knew what was safe to eat. We spotted only a few small sharks who seemed respectful of the large school or pod of big predators that we were. If worse came to worse, of course, there was always Alex and his lightsaber, which he wore hooked to a belt around his waist. I swam next to him.
Will that thing work down here? I asked him.
I don't see why not. It's been in deep water before without ruining it.
Have you ever turned it on in water before?
No. You want me to test it?
We stopped. I grabbed Jackie as she went by, to keep the three swimmer rule. We waited for the others to go round the hull, out of sight, then Alex switched on the saber. It was incredibly bright in the dimness. It was also rather loud, making a bacon frying sound as little steam bubbles popped and crackled around it.
Jackie nodded and gave us thumbs up. Alex switched off and we started after the others, only to see them ahead, staring at us. The noise must have brought them back. Tara grinned and held her hand in front of her mouth as though she were giggling.
Just seeing if it worked. thought Alex sheepishly as we rejoined them.
As the sun went down, the bell was rung again. We swam into the hold where we counted tails. all present. There was a camp-out feel to the whole thing, only there was no fire and no singing of Kumbaya (or anything else). The inability to talk proved rather annoying. In the lake one could simply make a hand-motion and surface right away, here it took several minutes to get up-top. Alex and I were kept busy, flitting about as Mers waved their arms to get our attention. Altogether, however, it was a fun evening. One by one, the headlamps were switched off as people settled down.
Skye shyly told me that she wanted a night light. It was so much darker here than the bottom of the lake. We took Alex's lamp and set it in a corner and left it on. This gave the whole hold a faint glow. Edna volunteered to curl-up with her. Soon the young Mermaid was sound asleep. Mers floated here and there about the hold, singly, by couples or small groups; tails and fins moving gently or not at all. It looked alien and peaceful at the same time. Finally, I settled against Alex and drifted into pleasant dreams.
I opened my eyes. What was that?
I was fully awake now. That had to be a telepathic communication! Very faint and nearby. I looked at Alex. His chest was gently rising and falling as his diaphram slowly pumped water through his gills. It wasn't him.
There it was again! Where is it coming from? I thought about waking Alex up, but I worried that he may be too powerful. The tiny signaler may get frightened off. I allowed myself to drift away from him, then swam slowly and gently to the middle of the hold.
swim, swim, it thought.
...? It seemed confused.
Don't be afraid.
Then, like a bolt of lightning, I understood. It's coming from...
Chapter Five: Saltwater Exodus
I felt like singing, but that wasn't happening. I twirled and shimmied, did loops, forward and backwards.
Hi, baby, It's Mama!
Wanna talk to Dada?
Dada? Warm. Sleepy, sleepy.
I descended on Alex like a pregnant divebomber and tackled him about the waist.
Aargh, what the f**k!
Stop that! I thought. You'll teach her bad words!
Teach who, what? Alex was still groggy.
Say hello to your daughter! I pushed his face against my belly.
Have you gone...
...crazy? Whoa...did that come from...
My womb? Yes.
Oh my...Oh my! Hello sweetie!
I could feel her move, as though snuggling into a more comfortable position. I think she's fading fast.
Well we mustn't keep baby up all night. Alex hugged me and gave me a nice, long kiss. I settled into his arms, ready to try and go back to sleep, but we were both too excited.
Since we're communicating with her now, thought Alex, she needs a name. We can't just keep calling her baby.
I hadn't really thought about it yet, but you're right. Have you thought of any good names?
That's pretty cool, I thought, I like it.
Alex looked confused, That wasn't me.
Whoa! Did she just name herself? We both stared at my belly.
Oceana sleepy...sleepy, sleepy now.
Alex looked up, his eyes wide, Guess that means we should shut up.
Somehow we managed to get to sleep. When I awoke, a pale sun was streaming in through the open hatches above. Oceana was quiet. That'll probably change after she's born. I thought. Except while we're down here, of course. Will we have to take her to the surface to teach her to talk? I shook my head. Wheelchairs or silence, there's no perfect place for us it seems.
I noticed other Mers awake and starting to move about. One of them was Tara. She made eye contact with me and looked relieved. She swam up and touched my arm.
I'm so glad you're up, she thought. I didn't want to wake you, but we're stuck with hand gestures and making faces at each other without you.
I smiled, It's nice being needed.
It wasn't necessary to organize breakfast. Mers wandered about, foraging both inside and outside the ship. A reminder to stay in groups was only occasionally needed. Alex and I, with Skye this time, floated about some coral. Skye was on her back, finally getting to munch contentedly on a spiny lobster. I played with a sea cucumber, only mildly curious about its edibility. Alex was hanging upside down, finishing his portion of a small flounder we'd flushed out of the sandy bottom.
One would think, since we couldn't make any noise ourselves, that it was silent down there. It wasn't. There were grunts and pops, which we figured must have come from fish or crustaceans. Sound carries very well under water. We could even hear far off groans from whales and squeals, clicks and titters from dolphins. Also, every now and again, there was a clank or thud from the ship above as some crewman dropped a tool or slamed a hatch.
Later that morning, divers came down again and made their leisurely way to the Sutherland. A bunch of us rose to meet them. We cavorted about, running rings around them as they filmed us. Tara got too playful and grabbed her husband about the legs and tried to tickle him. Sam shook her off and wagged his finger at her. It's easy for us, even one as experienced as Tara, to forget that this environment is hostile to surface dwellers. There was no harm, so the mood remained light. I mugged for the camera, making faces and flipping my tail fin at it.
I wonder if my family will get to see this, I thought.
Others did the same, or smiled, waved and posed. The camera and its lights attracted us like moths.
Soon, it was time to leave. I was ambivelant about that. There was a lot to like about the Sutherland and its environs, and there's nothing that can beat getting to swim free. But I kinda wanted to breathe air again, see the sky, but mostly I just wanted to be able to talk again. I'm certain most of the others felt that way too, only more so, since they didn't have the outlet of being telepathic. As soon as we broke surface, the chattering started, and didn't let up for quite some time. Everyone had something they wanted to say.
Finally back on board, Alex and I sat on the deck, our backs to a bulkhead, looking out over the sea.
"Has our little darling spoken up again?" Alex whispered. We decided not to say anything to anyone about our communications last night. Even with all the fantastic things that have already happened the last few weeks, it was difficult to imagine it being believed. Also we were becoming more and more determined to keep as low a profile as was possible.
"Not a peep. She was so soft and faint that I probably wouldn't have 'heard' her had I not been lying still and quiet."
"I would never have believed it if I hadn't felt her mind myself." Then he changed the subject. "Well, what do you think about the Sutherland?"
I could tell by his tone that he felt as I did. "I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"It's beautiful. It's comfortable. It's...It's..."
"Not quite right."
"I can't put my finger on it. Sure, we can't talk but that shouldn't matter much to you and I, or to Oceana." I felt her stir within me, as though reacting to hearing her name, but she 'said' nothing.
"It's too deep," said Alex with a sigh. "We're shallow-sea creatures. We have lungs for a reason."
"Most of us have lungs," I interjected, "but I know what you're saying. shallow waters, that's our environment. Like Peter Pan's Mermaid Lagoon."
Alex nodded. "The Sutherland is a refuge and a workplace, but it's not home." He rolled over and raised himself on his hands and tail. "I'm going to the wheelhouse and look at some sea charts. I want to see if there are any shallow lagoons that are within swimming distance of the Sutherland." As it turned out, there wasn't enough time to look. We'd have to see if we could use our laptop when we got back to the van in Orlando.
We were a little early, so there was some time before our flight back to Florida. We decided to have a meeting in a tidal pond near the airstrip. The consensus was favorable, but everyone was bothered by the communication problem. Sam and Tara were asked to look into using American Sign Language. Her fingers were fully webbed, so we concluded that if she could work it any of us could. If she couldn't, then perhaps there could be some modifications made to the original signs.
We were back at the Xanadu Center Lake by late that afternoon. The excitement was such that we gathered the Mers to give our report right away. I was surprised to find that our number had increased. Some of the Mers who had tried to return to their old lives had somehow gotten wind of the Sutherland and had already come back. The outcome was never in doubt, despite reservations about communication. Our testamony was met with cheers. Afterall, we really had no alternative. Sam and Tara promised to begin the transporting within twenty-four hours. The R.B.O.S. had already chartered a full-sized bus and airliner.
I noticed that three of the Silent Sisters were there. They would come to the surface to listen for a while, then dip below to breathe. I swam out to them to get their thoughts. Elise had just come up when I approached. She nodded and smiled at me, then motioned for us to go under. We hugged. I noticed that she had a waterproof packet of papers in her hand.
What's that? I asked. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been so nosey.
I don't know, Elise replied, I found it on the bottom near where we usually stay. It has my name on it. Indeed it did, 'Elise Jordan' was written in red waterproof marker. I'd open it, but I'm afraid the water will ruin the paper inside.
If you want, I'll take it where it's dry and read it for you.
Would you please? I'm rather curious. She handed me the packet.
What do you think of moving? I motioned the other two silent Mermaids to join us.
Elise smiled. Her long pointed teeth made her look fierce. It sounds wonderful. I can hardly wait! The others agreed enthusiastically. Though I still don't know how they'll move us so we can breathe.
I'm sure they'll find a way. I continued. What about Honey?
Elise frowned and shook her head, Without you, we can't really communicate with her.
Annie shrugged, I don't know if she'd listen if we could. It's almost like she's feral.
I'll come back later on. We can try one more time to get her to let me touch her.
A few minutes later, I crawled out of the water; the packet in my teeth. I sat down, looked it over and then opened it. Elise's husband was filing for divorce. This was how he served her the papers.
Elise was not entirely surprised. He was never interested in my mermaid thing, she thought to me as we swam hand in hand. He thought of it as just a silly and expensive hobby. He wasn't even in Orlando the day this happened, she pointed to herself. I know him well enough to know that he would have no interest at all in a wife who cannot live with him or speak to him.
Still, that was rather...no make that very cold, I responded. I can't help but think he's an asshole.
Of course he's an asshole. I just understand him.
Didn't he ever come and see you?
Yes briefly, about a week after the Event. It was a rather one-sided conversation. All I could do was nod, shake my head, smile, frown or whatever while he stood there and complained about how miserable his life had become because of me.
Oooo I woulda crawled out and tail-slapped the sonofabitch.
I considered it, but eventually I just submerged and swam away, free.
Being speachless and confined to water didn't seem terribly free to me, but I wasn't married to the jerk.
We continued for a short time, thinking our own thoughts when Elise stopped. There she is, she thought.
It was obvious how Honey got her name. Her waist-length, flowing hair and long sinewy tail were both honey-gold. Underwater all the time, like the other Sisters, she didn't bother with clothing. Her pale skin was a contrast against the lake's green in the fading light. To put it simply, she was quite good looking. Honey approached for a few moments until she saw us. She paused for an instant, then did a U-turn and flipped away.
Dammit! I thought. She won't even let me get close! Angry, I flitted to the top and slapped the water loudly with my tail. She stopped and turned to look. So that got your attention, did it? I thought, How about this! I did a wonderful imitation of a temper tantrum, thrashing and splashing about. I couldn't have done better with a hook in my mouth. I finished up by flipping her off with both fingers and my tail. She hovered there for a few moments, mouth agape, then she grabbed her belly and rolled over and over again in laughter. I was quite out of breath, my gills flaring as my chest muscles pumped away. I tried to stay serious, but I couldn't. Soon I was doubled over; my tail fin curling and shaking as I laughed.
After a few minutes of this Honey stopped, took on a look of resignation and motioned for me to come closer. I swam up to within about six feet of her when she held up her hand for me to stop. She crossed her arms and looked at me. I spread my arms and shrugged. I can't talk to you from here, I thought. How do I get that through to her? I stretched out my hands toward her. She didn't move. I touched her.
A feeling came through strongly, I don't like being touched!
Sorry, I replied, that's the only way I can communicate with you.
Her mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. You can hear me? I can talk to you? She broke contact momentarily as she put her face in her hands. I gently touched her elbow. OGodOGodOGod!
Of course I can, honey. Did you think I was just being all touchy feelie with Elise and the others?
Who's Elise? she lowered her hands.
Oh. Then Honey's face abruptly changed. That bastard! I'm gonna kill him!
Matthew...uh Matthew Bonnie. You have no idea what he did to me! He was supposed to be my boyfriend!
OK, tell me. I decided to let her run with it. It was evidently something she'd been chewing on for weeks now. I was also beginning to wonder at my luck in having Alex.
First he talks me into doing this sexy mermaid thing with him, then, when the shit hits the fan, he runs! RUNS! Left me on the bed gasping! Dying! I had to drag myself to the tub, run water and crawl in. I almost passed out! I coulda died! HE NEVER CAME BACK! I couldn't call out! All I could do was pound on the wall with my fists or tail. It was horrible! I was there all that day and part of the next before someone came. They hauled me down from the hotel room to the pool in a wet sheet. That took forever and I couldn't breathe. Finally they drug me down to the lake in a plastic kiddie pool. I've been here ever since! She paused and shook herself.
You're alright now though, I suggested.
Alright! Look at me. I'm a freak! I can't talk, I can't walk, I can't drag myself out of this stupid lake without suffocating!
Now, she was starting to irritate me. Her's wasn't the only horror story from that weekend. Sure, one could argue that she had a worse experience than I did, but there were hundreds who were worse off and some who didn't survive at all. Nice rant dearie. You had it rough and you have every right to be mad at this Matthew guy, but it's time to settle down. No more of this freak talk, 'cause what does that make me? I twitched my tail. and them? I pointed at Elise, Annie and Sallie.
For a brief moment, she looked sheepish. I'm not mad at you. then her face hardened again. What do you want with me?
I explained to her all about the EPA evicting us and our new home in the Atlantic.
OK, the whole Atlantic to ourselves, not bad. If I'm stuck with this body, I might as well learn to enjoy it.
Later, on my way back to Alex, I was thinking about Honey (I still didn't know her real name). I didn't know what to make of her. At some times she seemed OK, at others, like a spoilt teen. Then ahead, in the moonlight, I spotted two Mers top-side, evidently talking. One tail I recognized as Skye's. The other, a koi, was strange to me. I flicked my tail and surfaced.
"Hi, Hannah!" said Skye. "We were just looking for you. I'd like you to meet a new friend." She indicated the young Merman next to her. "This is Paul, 'til recently the sign-language interpreter for Broward County District Court!"
"Hi there!" he both said and signed.
Chapter Six: The Suffering Knight and Bacon
I was overjoyed. "You're about to become a very busy man, Paul..." I offered my hand. He shook it enthusiastically.
"Lorenzo, Paul Lorenzo. Just pleased to help my fellow Mers!" He had short curly hair the same color as the orange in his tail. He smiled warmly, but when he shook my hand, I had to shudder.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“Yes…Yes of course,” I lied. “Just got a chill. Must be the night air.” I laughed nervously. When he touched me, I received an unbearable sense of sadness that cut me to the core. Even Oceana reacted, flitting about frantically inside me. It’s rare for me to get an empathic impression and here I’d gotten two in one evening: Honey’s anger and Paul’s shattering grief. I knew there was an important story here, but I feared to ask. Paul must have guessed the reason for my unease, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about it either. I held my tongue, however, I couldn’t get out of my mind a story from Parzival, which I’d read as a girl, where a young knight, through mistaken courtesy, refrained from asking a question of a suffering knight that could have relieved his suffering. When Skye excused herself to turn in for the night, I took a chance. I was very awkward in my asking and immediately had second thoughts, but after only a moment’s hesitation, he told me.
Paul’s maternal grandfather was deaf. That was his first introduction to sign and the source of his fascination for what is truly a complete language in itself. He became adept at it and eventually was certified as an interpreter and instructor. He picked up his interest in Mermaids from his girlfriend, Abby. He had swum with her several times as her ‘mertender’. It was only recently, however, that she had talked him into making his own tail. Kubla Con was their first outing as a Mer couple, and that is what they became at 4:05 on the afternoon of November 11th. Unfortunately, her inner vision of Mermaids included breathing water only. She literally died in his arms, only a few minutes after the transformations. Just before losing consciousness, she was able to sign to him, “I love you.”
Crushed with grief and guilt, Paul despised his new body; blaming it for his inability to help Abby to water. He tried to return to his former life without success. It wasn’t being confined to a wheelchair that caused problems, but the fact that his tail was a distraction in the courtroom, despite being tightly wrapped up. It would be only a matter of time before they would have to let him go. He also had difficulty resisting the new instincts implanted into his psyche; the desire to swim and the longing for salt water.
At one point, he even considered suicide, but his religious beliefs kept that from being a serious option. Finally, while lying in his tub praying about what he should do, he heard a radio news story about the Mer colony being formed from the wreck of the Sutherland Express and their need to adopt sign as a new underwater language. Everything seemed to fall into place. He had found a new purpose in life.
By the time he finished, I held my face in my hands and quietly wept. I understood his grief and loss, and because of that brief empathic connection, I felt it as though it were my own. He didn’t shed any tears. Not because he was a guy, but because, as he said, “I’m all cried out now.” I wished him well, hugged him tightly (being careful not to touch his tail with mine) and parted company. I had to get away, but I was no longer in any doubt that I had done the right thing.
I swam just beneath the surface, looking for Alex. Some clouds had covered the moon, making it too dark to see a thing under water. Finally, I called out to him. Alex! Sweetie, where are you? Over here. He surfaced with a splash over to my right. I rushed over to him as fast as my tail could propel me, then curled myself about him as tightly as I could. “Don’t you ever die! At least not while I’m alive. Promise me!” “Well!” Alex laughed nervously, “I’ll try not to! I can promise that much. What brought this on?” “I’ll tell you in the morning, not right now. Let’s get some sleep.”
We awoke just as the sun was peeping over the horizon. Alex foraged for breakfast, pulling up some weeds that Lisa had told him were tasty, before hunting up some fish. I surfaced and took a deep breath of air. I smelt wood-smoke and… I looked around to see that the Walkers had returned to their old campsite. Mr. Walker was crouched near a fire cooking…bacon. My tummy growled and my mouth watered. Bacon! It had suddenly become the most desired substance on earth. I began swimming for shore, determined to beg, borrow or, yes even, steal some of that precious substance. Alex surfaced behind me.
“Hey! Where are you going?”
I swam on top of the water, so I could sniff every molecule. “Can’t you smell it? When’s the last time you had bacon?”
“Bacon? You can’t just invite yourself. It’s not polite.”
I turned to face him, “I wasn’t going to invite myself. That would be rude. I was just going to go sit by their fire and drool til they offered me some. Baby Oceana needs bacon, doncha now honey-pie.” I cooed at my belly.
“What if they don’t have enough?”
I noticed the weeds in Alex’s hands. “What if we had something to share with them? I’m thinkin’ that stuff would be good with hot bacon grease poured over it.”
He looked doubtful. I was beyond shame.
“How ‘bout I go to the store and buy us some bacon? I’m sure the Walkers wouldn’t mind us using their frying pan and fire.”
I was torn. “But I want it now.” My eyes filled with tears.
“Aww, come on.” He hugged me and handed me the lakeweed. “It won’t take me long. Nibble on this til I get back.”
Finally, I took a deep breath, summoned up some shards of my adulthood and nodded. Alex swam to shore, mounted his wheelchair and took off.
I floated there for a while; desolate, with my hands full of wet weeds. I then looked at the green stuff and with some trepidation bit off a piece. It wasn’t bad, kind of spinachy; but that made me want bacon all the more. I wished now I’d thought of asking Alex to get some vinegar and honey so we could make a proper hot dressing with the grease. I crawled out of the water, dumped the weed into the seat of my chair and laid myself down on the grass. I stared up at the sky and tried not to think about brown, crispy, crunchy…
My reverie was interrupted by the sound of wheels approaching. Could he be back already! No, it was Tara wearing a big grin. I had seen her smile before, but it was always with a wistful, far-away look, never a grin.
“Hannah! Just the person I want to see!” She stopped, put on the brakes and slid off onto the grass next to me. “Guess what!”
“We can start the migration today! They can take the first planeload this afternoon!”
I sat up and smiled. “That’s nice.” That was nice, but surely that’s not why she’s so excited. There isn’t even any bacon involved.
“That’s not all!” She actually bounced. “I’m a month behind you!”
I stared at her blankly.
“I’m not even late, but I had a feeling! I just knew! Finally, I spotted Dr. McCoy. He has that tricorder. You know he looks just like the guy in the original series, uh…uh.”
“Yeah, that’s who. Anyway, you told me about him finding out with his tricorder…” At last my hormonal-craving induced fog began to clear. My eyes widened and I gasped, “You mean…You’re…”
We squealed, bounced and hugged.
“What about Sam?” I asked.
“I called him first of course. He’s in Bimini right now.”
“Boy or girl?”
“I asked McCoy not to tell me. We want it to be a surprise.”
“Mer or human?”
“Don’t know that either. He said it was too early to tell. And something about watching what happens with you.”
I noticed Skye coming our way. She could move more swiftly and smoothly on hands and tail than most of the rest of us Mers in a wheelchair.
“What’s going on?” She must have heard our happy squeals.
“We’re talking grown-up stuff, Skye,” I said.
“Oh,” she sat back on her tail, disappointed.
I glanced over to Tara, who nodded and smiled almost imperceptibly.
“But you can come on.”
Skye grinned and bounded the rest of the way over to us. “What’s the good news?”
“We get to start the migration this afternoon!” I said.
“Great!” said Skye. Then she looked at each of us quizzically. That news didn’t seem quite squeal-worthy.
“And I’m pregnant!” said Tara. More squealing and hugging erupted.
A head popped out of the water. “What’s going on?” It was Julia.
“Tara, you might as well make a general announcement, or you’ll end up having to tell everyone one by one.” I said.
Tara giggled, then palmed her forehead. “I almost forgot, we found a way to transport the Silent Sisters. We now have a Mermaid tank.”
“A what?” I asked.
“It’s a two-thousand-gallon reinforced plexi-glass tank. It was used by a performing Mermaid at Renaissance festivals.”
“A real Mermaid?” said Skye, wide-eyed.
“Of course not, sweetie. It was a woman wearing a tail. Right Tara?”
“Right. But she heard about our problem and lent us the tank for free.”
“Cool!” said Julia as she crawled up and sat next to us. “But that’s not what all the squealing was about, right?
“Right!” said Tara. “I’m expecting!”
“The flippity-flip of little fins!” said Skye.
There were more joyful noises, bouncing and hugging.
“What’s with all the squealing?” It was Alex, rolling toward us with a grocery bag on his lap.
“This is girl stuff!” I said, trying not to giggle.
“Yeah,” said Skye, “No guys allowed.”
“OK, I know when I’m not welcome,” he said. “I guess I’ll just have to fix and eat these BLT’s all by myself.” He turned his chair and started toward the Walkers’ campfire.
“Wait! Wait!” I scrambled into my own chair and hauled tail after him.
Sometime later, I was lying on the grass again near the Walkers’ tent, full of bacon and contentment. Alex was helping to wash up. Sky was sitting on the bank, rolling the left-over bread into little balls and feeding them to the ducks. I closed my eyes and fell instantly into a light sleep.
I opened my eyes. It was Tara whispering.
“Did I wake you up?”
“No,” I lied.
“Good, may I talk to you for a bit?” she laid down next to me.
“Sure.” I rolled over on my side and propped my head on my hand.
“The bus to take the first group to the airport should be here about one o’clock. The truck with the mermaid tank should get here about the same time. We’ll have a fire truck to pump water from the lake to fill it. The truck also has a crane. A sling will take each of the silent sisters from the lake to the tank. They should each only be out of the water for about thirty seconds. State troopers will escort them to Coco, where they’ll be put on a fishing boat (the holding tank’s been cleaned). It’s only a few hours from there to the Sutherland. We can have them there by evening.”
“Sounds like a good plan.”
Tara sat up. “Hannah, I would really like for you to accompany the Sisters. They know and trust you and, of course, you can communicate with them.”
I nodded, “Sure, no problem.” It only made sense, but I had a bad feeling. “What about Alex?”
He should go with the first group and stay at the Sutherland. We’ll need him to get everyone settled there.”
That made sense too, but we would be separated for hours, if not all night. Bad things tend to happen when we’re apart. I just nodded and said nothing. I didn’t want to whine like a little girl with separation anxiety.
“Also, it’s important that Ben and Maddie go with the first group. It’s a surprise,” she smiled.
“Surprise?” I raised an eyebrow.
“A ship! We always intended for Ben to have a ship, to get supplies and researchers to and from the colony. It took a while, but we finally found a suitable one.”
I sat up and took Tara’s hand. “That will be so nice for them! I wish I could be there to see his face when he sees it!”
She smiled, looked down at my hand, then took it in both of hers. “There’s something else.” She looked almost embarrassed. “How did Edna Linzky become a Mermaid?”
“What?…Oh…So you’ve heard about that.”
“Not that it’s a secret. We just haven’t talked about it. You see, we don’t really know.” I looked at her. “This is about Sam isn’t it?”
Her eyes were pleading.
I took a deep breath and told her about those terrible hours we spent as mute prisoners in the hold of the Boss’ submersible Vindicator. Not being a Mer, Edna was the only one of us with a voice. I told how we all held onto her and tried to channel the Siren Song through her as she sang what we thought. We succeeded. The Vindicator was disabled by our magic, but Edna was changed forever.
“We didn’t really intend for that to happen. We don’t know if it was a side effect of the magic itself or what Edna’s desire to be a Mer did.”
“Yes, Edna’s desire. What about Alex?”
“Alex was drowning…had drowned really. It was more straight forward but much more risky. An act of desperation.”
“Desire and desperation.” Tara sighed.
“It’s all very iffy,” I said. “Does he want to be a Mer that bad?”
“Well…Yes, and I want it for him too. We’ve had to be apart so much lately. It’s so painful; especially now. Is that how it was with you and Alex?”
“We hardly had time to think about being from two different worlds, let alone deal with it between my change and his. I would have given up the sea for him though.”
She smiled. “I feel the same. Truthfully, now that we’re talking about it, it wouldn’t even be so drastic. We had the sea together before. I would only have to give up the Sutherland. And I would, gladly, if it wasn’t that I feel responsible.”
I laughed. “Sam and the little one are your first priorities. Us Mers can get along, I’m sure; at least I think I’m sure. Maybe if you just stuck around for a while; ‘til we get our tails straightened out. It doesn’t have to be forever.”
“Of all the oceanographers who would have loved to become a Mer, I end up being the only one.” Tara laughed and hugged me. “I feel better now; less desperate, but the desire is still there. Especially if this,” she patted her belly, “turns out to have a tail.”
The bus arrived at one o’clock, sharp. Alex and I had frolicked in the water. It would be our last swim together in the old Xanadu Lake. We gave the keys for the van to the Walkers for safekeeping. Mrs. Walker tried not to cry as Skye hugged her and was carried by her father to her seat on the bus. Alex tried to reassure me, but I still trembled when we kissed and parted. Finally, as the big silver bus pulled away, I waved, turned and crawled back into the water. It was time to get the Sisters ready.
Chapter Seven: Shards
It didn’t take long to find the Sisters. They were waiting eagerly. Sallie was circling like a nervous shark. All four, even Honey, zipped forward as soon as they saw me. They latched onto whatever part of my body they could and pummeled me with questions. They were soon satisfied, so I began asking my own. The first had to do with clothing.
None of the Sisters wore clothing. Being underwater all the time, they hardly needed any. They would be exposed to quite a few eyes during the transfer to and from the tank, however, so I wanted to give them the option. I had several spare tops I could get to quickly. That’s when I found out that Sallie was subject to one of the Xanadu clothing curses. Anything she tried to put on to cover her body immediately dissolved to nothing. The other Sisters decided to do without as well, to show their support for her. I even thought about it briefly, but figured that I would be talking to a lot of people (mostly guys) today and I wanted it to be face to face, not face to boobs.
We had just gotten this settled when I heard a horn. I surfaced to see a large flat-bed truck waddling its way across the pasture to the lake. They found a good solid spot near the water then blew their horn again. The Sisters surfaced around me.
“That’s our cue girls,” I said.
We swam toward the truck; me on the surface, so they could see we were coming. One of the truckers spotted me and waved. I stopped to wave back.
“Hello!” the man said, “Are you the folks we’re supposed to pick up?”
“Yup,’ I replied. “Where’s the engine to fill the tank?”
“It was right behind...There it comes!”
He was right. A big classic, red fire engine emerged from the wooded path and slowly made its way toward us. While they were setting up, I took the opportunity to crawl out and examine the tank. It wasn’t nearly as large as I thought it would be. I’ve never been very good at estimating distances and volume. I had thought I would ride with my friends, but it looked like five mermaids would be too tight a fit. I pulled myself up onto the truck bed. A gray tarp was hung around the sides of the tank to provide some privacy. The top was open to provide light and allow the occupants to see over and out. I knocked on the Plexiglas. It was thick and seemed good and solid. I smiled and gave the Sisters, who were watching my inspection, the OK sign. And, finally, for good measure, I gave it a thorough sniffing over.
“Ma’am?” said one of the firemen, who had a length of hose over his shoulder.
“Oh, sorry,” I got out of the way.
Before going back into the water, I told the men that though the Sisters can’t talk, they can hear and should be treated with respect in any case. They nodded solemnly. They seemed nice and probably didn’t need the reminder.
We watched as the engine started up and began pumping. One of the firemen waded out with the hose to make sure it didn’t pick up too much muck from the bottom. Elise decided to be playful and swam around him a couple of times. Then she reared out of the water and planted a big, wet kiss on his cheek before splashing away, laughing noiselessly. The man’s face reddened and his fellows teased, but he didn’t falter. Once the pump got going, it only took five minutes to fill the tank.
Finally, one of the guys sat himself behind the hydraulic controls for the crane and swung the arm out over the water. Dangling from the end was a sling, rather like a child’s swing. He then lowered it into the water. Elise volunteered to go first. She swam into the swing then seated herself. I surfaced and gave the thumbs up signal. Elise swung up and out of the water. She made a coughing sound as water streamed out of her gill-slits, but she made the OK sign and after only a few seconds, she was lowered into the tank. Honey was next, then Annie. Annie swung her tail and actually got a little pendulum action going before sliding off into the tank. Sallie is one of the few Mers to have a vertical tailfin. This made it difficult to sit like a person, so she sat sideways and it worked out.
Then it was my turn. Once over the tank, however, I asked the operator to stop. It looked really crowded in there. The trip would take almost two hours. I worried about me using up the Sisters’ space and oxygen. I touched hands with Elise and spoke to the drivers as well. We decided that I would ride in the cab until we met with the police escort. Then I would ride in one of the cruisers.
I pulled and wiggled my way into the cab next to the driver. The other guy gingerly squeezed his way in next to me. It took a little while for me to figure out what to do with my tailfin. Finally, I curled it up onto my lap and held it. This was so awkward, I had to laugh, which made the two men laugh as well.
We waved goodbye to the firemen, who were taking advantage of the opportunity to test their equipment some more, and started off. The weight of the water (eight tons, they told me!) made the truck a bit top-heavy. It rocked and bounced its way across the grassy areas, slopping and sloshing water. I wondered if the Sisters could be any more uncomfortable than I was. In the parking lot we met two state police troopers with their cruisers. I chose to be in the following cruiser; it would be easier for me to keep my eyes on the tank. The trooper gently carried me to the open passenger side and sat me down. I buckled myself in and made sure my fin was clear of the door when he shut it. I was kinda excited. I’d never been in a police car before (except for a rather embarrassing incident when I was a teen that I won’t go into right now). The trooper had short-cropped light hair and a broad smile. I would not have minded getting a ticket from him. He talked a lot as he drove, but for the life of me, I can’t remember anything he said. I just nodded and smiled and kept both eyes riveted to the truck.
After we got onto the freeway, it became clear to me that he was flirting. Feminine instinct told me to begin paying attention to what I was nodding and agreeing to. The flirting was friendly, almost shy, but I still wished I had a wedding ring to subtly flash. He seemed like a nice guy, so I slowly and gently began backing him down.
Supposedly, pregnant women have a heightened sense of smell. I can’t say whether that’s true or not, but I was the first one to notice the smoke.
“Can you smell that?” I asked. “Where’s it coming from?”
He sniffed. “Don’t know, but I bet it’s a brush fire. It’s been awful dry here for the last month or so.”
Just as we came around a bend, the wind changed. It was like dropping a curtain. Everything ahead turned into a blank, gray sheet.
“Dammit!” The trooper slowed and turned on all his lights. I could just barely see the truck’s brake lights. Suddenly, the air between cleared just in time for us to see the truck collide with a car in front of it. A column of water shot at least ten feet above the tank. I screamed. The trooper stomped on the brakes and managed to avoid the same fate. He leapt from the car and ran forward. I rolled out of the passenger side and hop-crawled as quickly as I could to my friends. The tank looked OK and was still on the flat-bed. I climbed up and swept aside the tarp. A good third of the water was now gone, but they all four looked OK. Elise seemed especially worried, however. She knocked on the glass to get my attention, then pointed down to one of the corners. I looked closely. A web of cracks was slowly growing and spreading, like something alive.
I raised myself on my tail and screamed and shouted for help, but there was too much noise and confusion already. There were horns, tires squealing on pavement, more collisions and terrible screaming. Somewhere, there was a car on fire fire. I looked around; the wind was beginning to change again. About a hundred yards away there was a small farm pond, no larger than a back-yard pool. Between us and the water, however was a metal fence topped with barbed wire. It would be impossible for any Mer to get over it without a lot of effort and risk of injury. I tried to communicate with the sisters, but the glass was too thick and none of us could reach over the top. I pointed to the pond. Elise nodded and began trying to calm the others. I had to do something about the fence.
I slid over the edge of the truck and flopped to the ground. In front of me was the police cruiser, its lights still flashing. I crawled over to it opened the driver-side door and slid in. I put it in gear. Now what? I couldn’t even see the pedals for my long tail and fin. I tried ‘stomping’ where I thought the accelerator was, but I kept hitting the brake too. I growled and pounded the steering wheel in frustration. Finally, I calmed myself down and looked about. I spotted the trooper’s night stick slung under the dash. I grabbed it, curled my tail out of the way and punched the pedal with it. The engine roared and the cruiser leapt forward.
Then there was a sound like a rifle shot. A wave of water hit the cruiser as I passed. To my horror, a mermaid also bounced off the side of the vehicle. I picked up speed as I rolled down the grassy slope. A little too much, I thought. I took the nightstick from the accelerator and tried to apply the brake with it. It slid off. It was too late to try again. I hunched my shoulders and yelped as the cruiser hit the fence. There was an explosion of white, then everything went black. In the back of my mind, I heard a small voice, Momma hurt? ‘Fraid!
I don’t know how long I was out, but it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. My face hurt and it was hard to open my eyes. When I did, the air was full of a swirling white powder. I heard Oceana again. Momma hurt? I could feel her moving.
“Momma’s OK! I think.” I said aloud. The car was still moving forward, very slowly. I put it in park. Everything was coated in a thin white powder. The steering wheel was also obscured by a limp white rag. I must have set off the air bag! I thought. Oceana, are you OK?
We’re OK dear. We really are. I gave myself a bit of a start, however, when I looked in the rear-view mirror. I looked scary. My face was pale-white from the powder except for a line of green blood that trickled from each nostril. My hair was jungle-wild and streaked with white. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or scream. I was too sore to do either anyway. Having an airbag blowup in your face isn’t very pleasant. But being thrown through the windshield would have been worse.
I opened the door and half-crawled, half-fell out of the car. The first thing I saw was Elise crawling toward the gap I had just made in the fence. She was gasping, but moving well. A moment later, she was scooped into the arms of the state trooper I’d been riding with. He carried her past me toward the pond. Honey had been following her. She also seemed to be alright. One of the truckers ran to pick her up, but she hissed and rolled over to tail slap him.
“Honey, no!” I shrieked.
The man backed off and she continued on her way. As she crawled past me I picked up a strong wave of anger, Outta my way!
The same man tried to pick me up. I shook my head no and pointed to Sallie, who was struggling to slither down the slope. “Help her! I’m alright.” Her vertical tailfin and side to side swimming musculature made crawling difficult.
Where’s Annie? I thought. “Annie!” I hop-crawled back up toward the highway. The trooper who had helped Elise passed me at a run. At the back of the truck, he stooped and picked up a still form. It was Annie. She looked terrible, limp and pale with blood streaming from the left side of her head. As he headed down the hill, I reversed course for the pond and followed as fast as I could. He waded in until hands reached out of the water to take Annie.
My head was pounding by the time I reached the bank. I paused to catch my breath before sliding into the thick, green water. It was difficult to breathe and so full of algae that I could hardly see a foot ahead. I held a hand out to keep anything from bumping my sore nose. I brushed a tail.
Who is it?
We’re holding her.
I groped forward ‘til I was touching her. Annie? Nothing. I felt for her gills. There was water moving. She’s breathing, thank God! I surfaced. The pond was so shallow; all I had to do is stand on my tail. The trucker was still standing on the bank. The trooper had already gone to help elsewhere.
“Mister!” I waved my arms. “We need an ambulance down here!”
“OK!” He nodded, then looked up at the developing horror on the highway, “I’ll try!” He called back over his shoulder and began running.
I could hear emergency vehicles, but how long would it take them to get to us? Would we be overlooked in this little pond? I felt a hand tugging on my arm. I went under. Annie was convulsing and vomiting. Honey tried to hold her head. Elise and Sallie hung on to her tail. I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless.
After a short while, Annie settled down again. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. I surfaced again, and took several deep breaths. The water was stagnant and terrible. I was worried for the others. I couldn’t see the highway from where I was, but above it were several columns of black smoke. There were no more crashes but I could still hear a lot of chaos. I went under and popped up several times with increasing anxiety. Just as I was about to crawl out and hunt for help, I thought, Can I sing an ambulance and paramedics here? I hesitated, What if I sing them away from someone who needs them even worse, perhaps a child? I looked up at the black smoke. I can’t take that chance! Elise’s head emerged. She looked at me, then the highway, questioning.
“I’m going for help. Do what you can for Annie!”
She pointed at the road, cocked her head and frowned.
“It’s not so dangerous now. I don’t hear any more collisions.”
She nodded, but still looked doubtful.
“Wish me luck.”
She gave me the thumbs up sign, then submerged. I crawled out of the pond and started up the embankment. Even if I did find an ambulance for Annie, how could we transport her? At the very least, she needed a constant stream of water through her gills. How long could she live without that, on top of a head injury?
I was partway up when I saw a man at the top of the slope. It was the trucker I had sent off for an ambulance. He motioned to something behind him, and an ambulance came in sight and started down the embankment. I wilted with relief, tears streaming from my eyes.
I turned again and headed back to the pond. By the time I got there, the paramedics were getting out and grabbing their equipment.
“Where are the casualties?” asked one of the medics, sounding a bit irritated.
“In the pond,” I said from behind him.
“The Hell you say!” He turned. When he saw me, his eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open.
“There are four mermaids like me in there, only they can’t breathe air,” I said. “One of them, Annie has a serious head injury.”
“OK.” His skepticism was gone, “Let’s take a look.” He waded carefully in with me following close behind. I submerged and swam ahead. Nothing had changed since I’d left.
I surfaced again. “She’s right under here.”
He sloshed out to where I ‘stood’. “Can you bring her as close to the surface as you can?”
We brought her up to where her mouth and nose were just under. He took her vital signs and examined her head. “This isn’t good.” He frowned. “She needs to be transported stat!”
“How?” I said. “She can’t breathe air. She’ll die without water!”
“She’ll die if we don’t move her!”
Just then Elise’s head emerged. She looked at us questioningly, then touched my shoulder. What’s happening?
“We’re trying to figure out a way to move Annie,” I said. The paramedic nodded in agreement. He looked at Elise in amazement.
This is a farm pond. What kind of farm is this? She looked around.
“I don’t know,” I said.
She squinted. I can’t see very well out of water. Is that a barn or house? She pointed away from the highway. There was still some smoke in the air, but I could clearly see…
“It’s a barn with a house just behind.”
They used a kiddie-pool to move us from the hotel pool to the lake. A washtub or anything like that will do! Please hurry! Elise ducked under to take a breath, but clung to my arm.
I turned to the paramedic. He was thoroughly confused by our strange half-conversation. “That house and barn!” I pointed. “We need to find something that’ll hold water and is large enough for Annie! She’s not very big and she’s very flexible from the hips down!”
“I’m on my way!” He waded to the bank. I noticed that the trucker was still there and had been joined by the state trooper. Soon, all three were on their way to the farm buildings. The other EMT stayed on the radio to make preparations. I settled back down under the water.
Annie was still quiet. Sallie was cradling her, her shoulders shaking every now and then. Elise floated nearby with her eyes closed. Honey also floated nearby, frowning, with her arms crossed. She would look over at Annie on occasion. When she did her face would soften, but then her fin would twitch and she would look away and frown again. Finally, she flicked her tail, coasted over to me and grabbed my wrist.
This is terrible!
I nodded in agreement.
The water smells like cow shit!
Sorry, this is all I could come up with on short notice. I was starting to fume inside.
It’s not for me. I’m worried about her!
So am I! We all are! So hush! You're not helping things!
She wilted and drew back. After a few moments, she gently touched my arm again. I’m sorry. Her remorse felt genuine. Sometimes I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut…or my thoughts to myself. Do you forgive me?
For an answer, I hugged her.
I’ll try to think before I think from now on.
I’ll take that as a promise and remind you if you don’t. By the way dear; what’s your name?
My name? Why Honey, Honey Maye Davis.
In a way, I wasn’t really surprised that we had gotten that right.
At about that time, I heard voices from above. I broke surface to see the three men on their way back. They were carrying on old galvanized-steel washtub. I was skeptical.
“Will it hold water? Will it leak?” I asked.
“We checked it,” said the trooper. “It’ll hold water long enough to get her to the hospital.”
That’s all I could ask for. They dipped the tub into the pond and the first EMT and us Mers gently pushed her into it. She lay there in a fetal position; only part of her shoulder and tailfin stuck out of the water.
The paramedic frowned. “I sure hope there’s nothing wrong with her neck or spine.”
With a lot of slipping and sliding, the four men managed to haul Annie out of the pond and into the back of the ambulance.
Then the first paramedic came back and stood on the bank. “Don’t worry, we’ll get her there alright,” He said.
Just as he was about to turn to leave, Elise surfaced and waved frantically at him. Then she pointed at me and made a baby-rocking motion with her arms. He looked confused. “You have a baby down there?”
She shook her head and mouthed the word ‘no’.
Again, she shook her head and pointed at me.
He pointed at me. “She's the one that’s pregnant.”
Elise nodded vigorously.
“You need to come with us then,” he said to me.
“Are you sure? I mean…I’m OK.”
“You don’t look all that OK.”
“Is my nose that bad?” I covered it with my hand.
Elise swam over to me. We want you to stay with Annie. She needs you more.
“What about you?”
“We won’t forget them,” The man said to me. Looking at Elise, he said, “We’ll see to it you get to where you’re going.”
Elise nodded. See. We’ll be fine.
I crawled up on the bank, where the Paramedic picked me up and carried me to the ambulance. I noticed his name-tag: ‘Alex’. I leaned my head on his shoulder. It was a name I could trust.
Chapter Eight: Hope and Fear
I helped the EMT named Alex keep the washtub containing Annie from sliding as the ambulance bounced its way up the slope to the highway, then sat curled up in one corner and watched him work on my friend. He pulled one of her hands out of the water and started an IV. Then he attached a monitor to her finger and shined a flashlight in her eyes. He exuded an air of quiet, calm confidence that began to give me hope. “Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked.
“You can talk to her.”
I smiled. “I can do better than that.” I scooted up to the tub and took her other hand. Annie. Annie, can you hear me? It’s me, Hannah. You’re in an ambulance. We’re taking you to the hospital. You’re gonna be OK. Squeeze my hand if you understand. There was the slightest tremor of movement in her hand. I could have done back flips. “I think she heard me!”
“Great! Keep it up! Whatever you’re doing.”
Hear that Annie? You’re doing great! Squeeze my hand some more! Again there was movement, a little more definite this time. I kissed her hand and wiped my tears with her fingers.
The EMT held his hand up to the small earphone he was wearing. “ER’s saying her sats are low. We need to find a way to get her oxygen.”
“It’s that damned stagnant water.” I said. “Wait! Could we blow oxygen into it; like an aquarium?” He shrugged. “It couldn’t hurt.” He took the oxygen hose, popped off the mask and stuck it in the water near Annie’s face. Soon, a stream of bubbles began emerging. After a few minutes he smiled and pointed at a monitor. “Look, it’s actually getting a little better.”
It took about twenty minutes to reach our destination, a small hospital in Brevard County, near Cocoa named Good Samaritan. They took Annie away. I was left sitting in the ambulance. There were a lot of people hurt today. I expected to be triaged out for a while, so I waited patiently, or tried to.
Now that it was quiet and I had no one else to worry over for the moment; I began to notice my own discomfort. My nose throbbed and echoed in my brain. I worked up the nerve to look at myself in one of the shiny surfaces that surrounded me. I was appalled. Algae clogged my hair. My face was streaked with it. I could taste it. Fresh and dried green blood was smeared over my lower face. Believe me; nothing is grosser than a Vulcan with a nose bleed. As for my nose, it was enormous, discolored and wouldn’t stop bleeding. I didn’t know whether to laugh or barf or cry, so I did all three. It made me feel better.
That’s how they found me, on hands and tail, giggling, gagging and wailing out the back door of the ambulance. A nurse and an orderly helped me onto a stretcher and wheeled me into the ER. They gave me something for pain and a wet washcloth and towel to help me clean up, then left me alone again. I felt better, though a little loopy.
A few minutes later, the nurse returned with a chart. “A doctor will see you as soon as possible.”
She gave me a quick examination. First, she had a hard time finding my heart. I had to guide her stethoscope. Its rate made her think I was on something. She took my blood pressure three times before she accepted it. Finally, she started to ask me some questions; checking down a list, then: “Alex said that you’re pregnant, is that right?”
“Well he oughta know! He’s the one that did it!”
She gave me yet another very strange look.
“Sorry,” I giggled. “Wrong Alex.” The rest of the interview went more smoothly.
Sometime later, I don’t know how long it was, a doctor came in to see me. She was a young woman with hair almost the same color as my own, but a lot shorter. “If you tell me your name is Hannah, I’ll scream,” I said.
“I’m sorry.” I rubbed my temples. “Whatever you-all gave me for pain is making me silly.”
“It shouldn’t,” She looked at the chart. “I had them give you plain Tylenol.”
“Are you sure?”
The doctor took out a small flashlight and shined it in my eyes. “Hmn…There is something going on here.” She then pushed my hair back to reveal my ears. “Perhaps it’s your…’situation’.”
“My ‘situation’? Oh, I get it. Tylenol might make Vulcans loopy.” This was a new complication. I had not taken any 21st Century ‘Human’ medicines since my change. I had no idea what would be safe or effective for me to use anymore. What if I took something innocent like aspirin and it caused me to miscarry or something? Scary!
“We’ll have to keep an eye on you and not give you anything else ‘til we find out what you can tolerate. Do you have a Vulcan doctor?”
“Not really. I’ve been seeing one of the Leonard McCoys at Holy Family in Orlando. Any of them would likely know or can find out.”
“We’ll try to get hold of one.” The doctor scribbled something on my chart. “Meanwhile, let me take a look at that nose.” She turned my head about and looked up my nostrils. “Can you breathe through it?”
“We’re going to get you an MRI as soon as we can, but I can tell you right now it’s broken.”
“It’s not displaced though. We’ll probably just dress it, give you something for pain (if we can) and release you.”
“OK. But what about Annie?”
“The other mermaid?”
“I don’t know anything, but I’ll tell you what I can when I do. Does she have any next-of-kin?”
I sighed, “I’m afraid I don’t know. They’re keeping her in water aren’t they? She can’t breathe air and her skin and scales need to be kept wet. Also, they should know, for when she wakes up, she can’t talk.”
“You can be sure they’re doing everything they can and, for a small hospital, we have a very good neuro-surgeon.”
I knew that was the best I was going to get for a while, so I tried to relax. “I imagine you-all don’t get mermaids every day.”
“No,” the doctor chuckled. “None except for the Weeki-Wachee type. You two are the first Xanadu survivors we’ve seen here. I wish it were under happier circumstances.” She put the chart down. “Do you mind if I do a complete exam? And when we do the MRI, it’s a whole body scan?”
“Not at all. I’m always a bit curious myself.” I threw the blanket off me.
She began feeling around my tail and took a small rubber mallet out of her pocket. She frowned, then looked at me in surprise. “You don’t have knees do you?!”
“Nope!” I curled my tail up to where the fin was under my chin. “See!”
“Wow!” That seemed to impress her more than my ears, misplaced organs or weird vital signs.
“Now where’s your…uh…”
“Right there.” I showed her.
“Really? But won’t that cause a problem when you give birth? The angle I mean.”
“I hope not!” I giggled nervously. Damn, I wish she’d stop giving me things to worry about! I need to have a long talk with Bones.
“How far along are you?”
“According to McCoy’s tricorder, I conceived on October 24th.”
“Today’s December 6th, so you’ve got plenty of time yet. I’d definitely see an Ob-Gyn about this, though. You might end up with a c-section.”
“Oh.” Well, lots of women have c-sections; if that’s the worst I have to deal with… “Some are different, but most of us mermaids are built this way. Are we all going to have this problem?”
She shrugged. “I’m just an ER doctor not a specialist. I do trauma not childbirth (unless a momma comes in with the baby’s head already sticking out). It might turn out to not be a problem at all.”
“I certainly hope so. You know I’ll likely be the first mermaid ever to give birth.”
“That’ll be history. Wish I could be there. Wonder if they’ll televise it.” She got a far-away look.
I got sick. Televise it? Oh God! She’s gonna cause me to have a stroke! “I’m feeling kinda nauseated now.”
“Let me get you something to throw up in.” She smiled sweetly.
Fortunately, I managed to keep my precious bacon down. With luck, my natal notoriety will be diluted by the likely arrival about that time of the first centaur baby, the first faun baby or perhaps one of the Lois Lanes will deliver the first Superbaby.
When my stomach settled, she packed my nose. We never did get a response from Holy Family; not surprising sense they were much more swamped than Good Samaritan with casualties from the pile-up. I’ve found over time, however, that Vulcans have a high pain tolerance, so I didn’t suffer overmuch from the lack of a pain-killer.
By the time she had finished with my nose, the MRI was available. When they were done running me through, they let me look at the printouts. It was fascinating, but didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t already found out through Bones’ tricorder. In gratitude for me letting them examine my body, my treatment was gratis. They even found a bathtub for me to clean up in. That made me feel a lot better, especially after I stuck my face under and flushed fresh clean water through my gills.
They set me up in a room after that, because I had no place to go. My wheelchair and my bag with phone, ID’s, debit card and so forth had been left in the van, back in Orlando. Alex was probably at the Sutherland by now. I could have called Todd or the Walkers, but I didn’t want to leave Annie. I was worried about the other sisters too, since they were, so far as I knew, still in that nasty little pond.
I was anxiously waiting for news of Annie’s condition, so I was only half-paying attention as I flipped channels on the TV, until I came upon a report on one of the cable news networks about the pile-up on the Anderson Beachline Expressway. The video was terrible; seven killed and over thirty injured. I sat for several minutes with both hands over my mouth. After that, there was another news story; one that shook me to the core.
Chapter Nine: From Out of the Shadows
Alex sat on the tarmac considering how similar Mer-herding and cat-herding are to each other. For example: Some of the Mermaids who owned them decided at the last minute to keep their wheelchairs. Alex hadn't anticipated this, in fact no one had. Apparently nobody considered the need some might have for the occasional shopping trip to Bimini or Nassau. Or the Mers' attraction to the water park at the Atlantis resort. (Alex wouldn't admit it, but he was not immune to the fascination all Merfolk have with water parks.) Alex and Tara decided that they would send for the chairs later and keep them on board Captain Musgrave's supply ship, so anymer who needed to could use them. That seemed to make everyone happy.
Loading took a long time. Every Mer had to crawl or be carried to their seat. It was worse boarding the plane than boarding the bus. Climbing the long stair to get on the big jet is a slow process when one has a tail. It's also slow for bipeds, when carrying an adult Mer. Alex knew from experience that descending a stair was even harder. He wondered if he and Tara could persuade the pilots to deploy the emergency slide when they arrived at their destination.
As the boarding continued, Alex grew increasingly uneasy. He didn't know why. Eventually, he wheeled himself a short distance away from the plane to clear his thoughts and search his feelings. There was a threat, but it was vague and diffused. Some of it was neutral, as though it were a natural event, like a storm or earthquake. But he also felt a presence, faint but full of malice. There was something familiar about the presence, but the link between the familiarity and the hate made no sense. Suddenly the presence began to grow and take shape as though…
Alex somersaulted from his chair and activated his light saber in time to deflect a blow from a glowing, red blade. He landed upright on his tail and parried another blow. Thwarted in its initial attack, his opponent backed away a couple of paces and regrouped. His attacker was smaller, cloaked, hooded and female. She attacked again. Alex hopped aside, parried and counter attacked. He drove her back. He could feel her surprise and dismay that an enemy so obviously at a disadvantage was overmatching her.
[Was it the wheelchair? Or did someone tell you I would be easy prey?] He thought at her. All he got back was a wave of incoherent rage. This was not like when he fought the Vader. Vader was controlled, his anger focused like a laser. This person, though powerful, was wild, reckless…and not very skilled. Alex suddenly realized that he could kill her in only a few blows. He quickly put aside his anger, however. He wanted to know who this stranger was and why she attacked him. He also wanted to know why she was so familiar. "Stop! This is useless! You'll only get yourself killed." He added a strong pulse of Force persuasion to his voice.
She was only momentarily shaken. "No!" she shouted. Then she smiled and used the only advantage she had; her legs. She sprinted off to one side and rushed toward the plane.
[Dear God! It's not me she's after! But why?] Alex knew he couldn't catch up. Fortunately, he could see that the loading had been completed. [TAKE OFF NOW!] He thought at the pilots, throwing every ounce of persuasion he had at them. All four engines on the liner roared and it began moving.
She changed course from the stairs to the landing gear, but Alex cut across the angle and arrived first. Almost simultaneously, they each leapt onto the wing. Alex attacked fiercely to keep her from cutting into the plane with her saber. Soon the liner was moving too fast to stand on the wing. Frustrated, she leapt back off. Alex somersaulted to bleed-off speed and managed to land upright on the runway. His opponent rolled, but was almost instantly on her feet. The jet-wash then blew her hood off.
Finally, Alex recognized her. Sarah West. Sarah was one of the Darknight employees who had been at the Xanadu Center and had been changed. He remembered Hannah telling him she had been dressed as a Dark Jedi from The Knights of the Old Republic role-playing game. They had all been friends, but Sarah dropped out of sight; until today.
Sensing his dismay, she threw out her hand. A wave of telekinetic power knocked him off his tail. She pounced. Alex rolled from under a blow that would have cut him in half. Instead, the tip of her blade traced a furrow across the front of his tail just above where his knees would have been. He grunted with pain and bounced back upright. She launched a series of wild two-handed blows at his head. Alex had been drawing heavily on the Force just to move. Her Dark side energy seemed inexhaustible. He was running out of time. "Sarah! Stop this! Please!" She laughed derisively and continued her attack. Finally, he whirled his blade and swept her light saber away…along with her hands.
Sarah shrieked with pain and fell to her knees. Exhausted and overwhelmed, Alex sat down on the runway, turned off his light saber and wept.
I sat stunned in front of the television; watching two Jedi, one with a mertail, ferociously dueling on the wing of an airliner that was taking off. At the end of the report, it said one was now in the hospital and the other, for the time being at least, was under arrest. To add to my horror and frustration, they didn't say which was hurt and which was in jail!
I had to find out how he was. [Alex! Are you OK? Call me if you can! Please!] I gave him the number. Next, I picked up the phone, called Todd, told him the situation and asked him to come and get me. Meanwhile, I cycled through the news stations hoping to find out more.
Within a few minutes, the ER doctor returned with the neurosurgeon, a Dr. Kearney. I felt both eagerness and dread.
We shook hands. "How is she, doctor?"
"She has a skull fracture and a subdural hematoma." His manner was serious but not solemn, which gave me some hope. "We drilled a small hole and inserted a catheter to relieve pressure on her brain. We're hoping that the bleeding will stop soon. We're also doing what we can to prevent swelling." He paused for a moment. "We're also treating her to prevent infection, because of her wound's exposure to stagnant water."
"Can you be a bit plainer doctor? Is she going to be alright?" I pleaded.
He took a deep breath. "It's too soon to say, but we're hopeful. The damage didn't look too extensive. Also, she seems to be strong and healthy."
I smiled and nodded.
"I was wanting to ask, before I go," he said. "Is there anything else we need to know? About her 'uniqueness' that is."
"You already know about her need for water, and that she can't speak, right?"
"Yes, we noticed no lungs or vocal cords and her skin dries out quickly. We had to improvise to get the MRI. Now," He looked at the chart in his hand. "Her temp is 96.4. Is that normal for her?"
"It's hard to say, we're all a little different. Mine is 99.5 now; warmer than human, cooler than Vulcan. That's all I know about that.
"We'll contact Holy Family and find out what's normal for human-based mermaids." Said the ER doctor.
"Anything else?" he asked.
"I think you've covered what little I know. Thank you so much for helping her!"
"No problem." He smiled and we shook hands again.
After Dr. Kearney left, the ER doctor turned to me and asked, "You found a way home yet?"
"Yeah. There's a friend coming to pick me up. He should be here in about an hour, if the road's open again."
"Good." She handed me a card. "Contact me when you want to ask after Annie. You're the closest she has to next-of-kin so far, and as a friend, you deserve to know."
"Thanks!" I looked at the name on the card, Hannah Ryan MD. I laughed, but didn't scream.
I resumed my news-channel surfing until Todd arrived. I was happy to see him and even happier to find that Beth had come with him (She had to do the driving). They too had been caught in the Xanadu event with the rest of us. Todd became a Halfling, Beth an Elven princess, both from Tolkien's Middle Earth. They were also engaged to be married next June.
We hugged. I cried. Seeing their familiar faces was such a relief. They wheeled me out to their car and I bounced into the back. Normally, I would have been tempted to sprawl my tail all over the back seat, but the day's events helped me to be good and buckle up.
I poured out my story on the way back to Orlando; still occasionally crying (it's a great stress reliever). Beth and Todd knew no more than I did about Alex. Then Todd's phone rang, it was Alex! I stayed calm and didn't blubber (much) while talking to him. He was at the Federal building. He had just been released, but they didn't want him to leave town while their investigation was continuing. Todd offered to let us stay at his place. He had a pool, so we quickly accepted.
It was after one a.m. when we picked up Alex. He looked terrible. His face was drawn and haggard. He had a bandage about the middle of his tail, where Sarah's lightsaber had raked him. Above his fin, the tail was abraded and missing scales. Mers were not made to bounce around on tarmac. I decided not to tell him my story until he had slept. I hugged him and leaned my head on his shoulder during the ride to Todd's.
We slept in Todd's spare bedroom. The pool still had chlorine in it. Alex actually needed to be helped into bed. I undressed him and tucked him in. He fell asleep almost instantly; which I took to be a good sign. I crawled into bed and lay next to him. I listened to him softly breathe and resolved never to leave his side again; not even for an afternoon. Bad things happen when we're apart.
Though I was very still and it was very quiet, I couldn't sleep. The day's events kept bouncing around inside my head. I felt Oceana move and opened my mind to her.
[Swim swim. , Mommie feel me swim?]
[Wow! A complete thought! Yes, Mommie feels you swim.]
[Where? Uh…in my belly of course.]
[Uh… How do I explain this to a two-month-old fetus?]
[Fetus? Where Mommie…at?]
[You mean, 'Where is Mommie?'!]
[Hmn. This isn't easy either. Mommie is all around you.]
[What? No, sweetie, Mommie not God.] I couldn't help but giggle out loud, then clapped my hand over my mouth to keep from disturbing Alex.
[Mommie not God. Sleepy sleepy.]
[Mommie agrees.] I yawned. [Let's sleepy sleepy.]
And that's the last I heard from her that night.
It was late morning by the time I awoke. In the stark light of day, it was hard to believe the conversation I'd had with my daughter the night before. If she can do this now, what's she going to be like by the time she's born? The thought was both thrilling and frightening. It also made me wonder just how dependent thought was on mere brain tissue.
Alex was still sleeping. Already he was beginning to look better. I hoped his spirit was also healing.
I rolled out of bed and scooted over to the window. It was a bright and sunny day. I could see the pool. It looked very inviting. I decided to take a dip. So long as I hold my breath underwater, chlorine doesn't bother me any more than any other human. I hauled myself into Alex's chair and wheeled myself into the hallway. I heard voices in the kitchen and decided to be social. Beth and Todd were sitting at the table, holding hands.
"Hello there!" greeted Todd. "We were wondering if you all were ever going to get up."
"Shush now!" I mock-scolded. "Alex is still sleeping."
"Want some blueberry pancakes?" Beth asked. "We just finished, but there's plenty left; and still warm."
"Love some!" I wheeled up to the table. Places for Alex and I had already been set.
"You'll love 'em," said Todd. "In fact, I wouldn't mind a couple more. They're from an old Elvish recipe."
"They are not! And you've already had your second breakfast, Todd." Beth stood up, smiling. "But for later, I am thinking of fixing a seed cake recipe my mother (in this case, Celebrian) used to make. I hope I can find all the ingredients."
I slathered butter over a couple of nice big, fluffy ones and glopped too much syrup on them. Despite Beth's denial, there had to have been some Elven magic in them. Each bite seemed to make me happier.
"You sure you wanna finish those? You don't wanna get fat."
"Todd!" Beth glowered.
"Never come between a mermaid and her prey," I growled and bared my teeth. "Besides, I'm eating for two now."
Alex woke up a few minutes later. I brought the chair back for him to use. He doesn't mind crawling, but his wound was right where his tail touches the ground when he's on all-threes.
After breakfast (Alex had also eaten heartily), we frolicked in the pool. Todd had put something in it to neutralize the chlorine earlier this morning, so we could breathe the water freely now. Then, the two of us rested on the bottom.
[How do you feel?]
[Much better. This wound will be gone in a day or two.]
[I mean here.] I put my hand over his heart.
His gills flared a little. [Sad. Sad and disappointed.]
[If I were a better Jedi, I could have stopped Sarah without maiming her.]
[Even Obi-Wan couldn't do that for Anakin! Don't be unrealistic. I saw what she was like! She tried to kill you! She tried to kill a planeload of people; our people! I think she got what she deserved!] I can be merciless when loved ones are endangered.
[There was something wrong, though; something not right with her.]
[I thought someone had to have an emotional connection with their costume before they could become a stranger. Somehow that wasn't Sarah.]
[Maybe she had a secret desire to be a Darksider. You know none of us are quite the people we were, mentally as well as physically, before November 11th. We were all affected differently. Perhaps she became unhinged.]
[Then it wouldn't have been entirely her fault.]
[People always have a choice! I've heard of Darksiders, even Sith, who have renounced their powers so they wouldn't do evil.]
[If you had seen her eye-to-eye as I did. I don't believe she was in control.]
[As in possessed?]
[That's exactly what I mean.]
He hugged me and smiled. [You're right to remind me about Obi-Wan and Anakin. That makes me feel better.]
We spent Thursday relaxing and recuperating as guests of Todd and Beth. Friday morning, we got the good news that Elise, Sallie and Honey finally got transport to the fishing boat and were on their way to the Sutherland. Sam Williams had managed to round up a stainless steel water tanker truck that had a top hatch large enough to let the Sisters through. They left the hatch open to allow light in and gave the sisters some water-proof markers and plastic sheets to communicate with.
That was one load off my mind. I called Dr. Kearney to ask about Annie. There was no change in her condition, but at least it looked like there was no significant swelling and she had avoided any infection.
Early in the afternoon, Alex received a request to come before the Jedi Council. They wanted to find out all they could about the attack at the airport. They made it clear that he was not in any trouble with the Council. I was still determined to not leave his side, so I went along. Todd took us to the Walkers, where we said hi to Gina, Jaime and Erica and reclaimed our van. We were to meet the Council at the Convention Center Hotel.
The meeting was less formal than we thought. There were only a few members in attendance: a Yoda, Windu/Harding, a pre-fall Anakin, an older Luke and Leah and a Jedi woman I didn't recognize. I brazenly rolled in and parked myself next to Alex, as if I belonged there. It wasn't going to be that easy however. Yoda informed me that the meeting was for Jedi only. I didn't move. They would have had to carry me out flopping and tail-slapping. Finally, Alex broke the awkward silence.
"I request the Council allow me to take her as my padawan."
I looked askance at him. [What are you doing, Honey?] I thought, forgetting that we were in a room full of Force sensitives.
Yoda leaned forward and frowned. "Yes, what are you doing, Honey, hmn?"
"It is a legitimate request, Master," said Harding.
"Later, this will be considered. For now, leave she must."
Alex dug in his fin. "I keep nothing from her. If she is not trusted, neither am I."
Anakin grinned mischievously. "Master, she is his wife."
Yoda shot Anakin an irritated look, then sighed. "Very well, stay she can, but she must become the Harris' padawan first." He squinted at me. "Do you accept training at the hands of your mate? If you do, no longer truly equals will you be."
I hadn't thought of that, but I hesitated for only a fraction of a second. "Yes."
Yoda leaned back, seeming to be satisfied. "Good. Good. His padawan she now is." It was still hard for me to believe he had been a six-year-old boy.
"Now that that is settled," said Harding. "We talked to Miss West this morning."
"How is she?" I asked.
Yoda's eyes widened and Harding/Windu cleared his throat and looked at Alex.
"Uh dear," said Alex. "In the presence of Masters, a padawan may only speak when spoken to."
I opened my mouth. Thought again and closed it. I then nodded meekly. [What have I gotten myself into?]
"How is she?" asked Alex. There was a roughness in his voice that only comes out when his emotions are running high.
"About as well as can be expected," said Harding. "She's still in shock, but wanted to talk to us. She claims to have no memory of the attack."
"Do you believe her?" asked Luke. Alex listened and stared at the floor.
"Yes," said Harding. "I felt no deception."
"Could the loss of memory simply be due to shock?" said Luke, who unconsciously flexed his artificial hand.
Harding shook his head. "Not likely. She claims to have no memory of the past week, which happens to be when our Darkside contacts lost track of her."
"Young Harris, what do you think?" asked Yoda.
Alex looked up. "I have nothing definite, just a feeling."
"Feelings are important. That way does the Force speak to you."
Alex drew in a breath, then let it out slowly. "When I fought with her, I could feel a wall of hate and anger. Not surprising, I know. But something about it troubled me. I think now I know why." He paused.
"Please continue," said Harding.
"The hate didn't belong. It wasn't hers. It's almost as though it were a mask, hiding something else. Something more powerful."
"Are you sure? The Darkside is very good at creating hate without reason." Said Leah.
Alex shook his head. "This was hate without desire. As though imposed upon her from the outside."
Yoda turned to Harding. "Remember what I told you. Fear and anger I saw in her, but not yet the consuming hatred."
I squirmed in my chair. I really wanted to say something, but I held my peace.
Yoda smiled and half-closed his eyes. "You wish to say something, young padawan?"
"Yes, with your permission Master. What is to become of Sarah? She used to be my friend."
Harding spoke up. "She faces Federal terrorism charges. Then there's assault with a deadly weapon…"
"For my part; I won't press any charges." Said Alex.
"What about her hands?" I persisted.
"Our medical droids can produce artificial limbs that neither the patient nor the world can distinguish from the originals," said Harding. "We only have two, however, and with millions around the world in need; she may have to wait her turn."
"I would like to see her," I said, wondering if I would provoke a rebuke by speaking again.
Yoda squinted at me. "Indeed, arranged that will be. There is something only you among us may do. Something that might help her as well as everyone else."
Chapter Ten: The Maiden Without Hands
I sat outside Sarah's hospital room. Even with Alex sitting in the room just behind me, I needed to work up the courage to enter. It wasn't the Federal marshals guarding the door that intimidated me. [What do I say to a friend who tried to do something so hateful to us?] She had never been a close friend, just an acquaintance at work, but she had always been nice to me. So I dreaded seeing what she had become. Finally, I took a deep breath and nodded to the guards. One of them opened the door and I rolled myself in.
Sarah was sitting up in her bed. She wore Jedi garb in violet and gray. Her long dark hair was in a ponytail draped over her shoulder. She rested her wounded arms on her lap. When she saw me, her eyes widened as though in fear, but they quickly narrowed and her mouth twisted into a smirk.
"Why hello Hannah. You are Hannah aren't you? You're so…different."
"Yes, it's me." I tried to keep the tension out of my voice.
"I had heard that you got all f****d up in the big change, but I didn't know it was that bad. Tell me, what's it like being a cripple?"
"You tell me."
"Touché." She giggled and lifted her bandaged wrists. "But at least I'm not an alien freak."
"If we're just going to waste time insulting each other, maybe I should leave." I put my hands on the wheels and started to turn away.
"You're awful touchy. And I haven't even mentioned your broken nose yet." I continued to turn.
"No! Don't go!" There was panic in her voice, but Sarah quickly composed herself. "I mean, how's a girl to entertain herself here alone? I can't even channel-surf."
I began to feel some pity mixed in with my feelings of anger and betrayal. I knew, however, that showing it would only provoke her. I kept my face neutral as I turned back to face her.
"I know why you're here," she said quietly. "You're going to do that Vulcan thing and look inside my head."
"We need to know who sent you." [To kill my husband and murder my friends you bitch!]
"If I cooperate." She said, sounding just a little like her old self. "Will I get hands; I mean good ones?"
"I don't know. There will certainly be less resistance to it."
"Do you think they'll let me have claws?"
"Don't push it."
"OK!" she grinned maliciously. "I hope you like what you see!"
I raised the head of her bed and Sarah leaned back, still wearing that smile I was beginning to hate. I placed the fingers of my right hand on her face and head and closed my eyes.
I found myself floating a couple of yards above a grassy surface. I looked around me. I was in a pasture, all yellowed and choked with weeds, but not entirely unattractive. Not far was a line of trees; the outskirts of a dark forest. On a mountain beyond the forest was a castle, gray and foreboding, with crumbling walls. Above that, the sky was dark with rolling clouds. The air was charged with the electricity of an approaching storm. [So this is the inside of Sarah's mind.] As for Sarah herself, I knew without having to be told that she was within the castle and I had to go to her if I was to get any information.
I tried to move and discovered that I could swim through the air as easily as through water. I approached the edge of the forest. Its resemblance to Mirkwood in Tolkien's Middle Earth was strong and probably not accidental. I swam into it, staying low to avoid the touch of the tendrils of the vines and cobwebs that hung from the limbs. The hair on my head stood up and my scales prickled. I felt naked and vulnerable. Even with my sensitive eyes, I could only see a dozen yards ahead of me. Soon, I was completely lost.
I stopped and tried to get my bearings. In all directions, there was nothing but gray. Gray vines, gray trees even the air seemed gray. My head began to hurt from the eyestrain. Finally, I detected Sarah's presence and swam in that direction. I could feel that she was increasingly frightened and agitated, and that I wasn't the cause. [What is she so afraid of?]
I continued, but progress was difficult. I had to constantly change direction to avoid the impenetrable clumps where the trunks were so close together that I dared not try to squeeze through. I was very aware that this wasn't reality, but the mind of a mad-woman. That's why I didn't trust the trees.
I was afraid of being trapped here. Did I really know what I was doing? Are there risks to the Vulcan mind meld that I'm not aware of? Is my fear rational?
Finally, I stopped. [I have to get out of this damned forest!] I looked up. [I can swim through the air, for goodness sake! Why didn't I go over the top? I know, I was afraid something might be up there, watching. Like what, silly girl? There's…] My internal debate was interrupted by a soul-shattering scream of fear and despair. "Damn you, Sarah!" I shouted aloud when it was over. "Why did you have to go and do that for? I almost peed myself!" I was trying to sound brave, but my voice was puny and quavering.
Then, from the direction of the castle, I saw a wave of shadow, like a black fog rolling rapidly through the trees toward me. I didn't know what it was, but I instantly feared it. Seized by panic, I turned and fled. But, like in a nightmare, the air I had been swimming through became just that, thin air. I fanned my tailfin, my body undulated rapidly with the effort, but just crept forward. I screamed and clutched at the vines and branches that I had been avoiding until now; anything to pull myself away from whatever it was.
Next, I found myself on the ground, a prisoner of gravity. The forest floor was too soft to hop-crawl. I drug myself over the moss and dead leaves, my tail a dead-weight holding me back. I turned over. I was now too frightened of the shadow to keep my back to it. I watched it in horror while I tried to drag myself backwards.
Finally, a wispy tendril touched me. It was icy. I twisted my tail away, but it was no use. Now instead of advancing like a wave, it was all gathering towards me. Surrounded, I stopped and curled up defensively. It swirled about me, then pounced.
It was like being wrapped in freezing cold fiberglass. It stuck to my skin like tar and tried to work its way into my body. I squirmed and thrashed about, but it did no good. I felt my child move and her incoherent fear burst into my mind and heart. Then I released all my fear, anger, hate and despair into a scream.
I awoke, confused. I didn't know where I was or what had happened, then my memory flooded back.
[Are you OK?!]
I opened my eyes. I was lying on the floor, next to Sarah's bed; Alex was bent over me. The look of worry on his face was heartbreaking.
"Are you alright?"
"I don't know. Where is it?! Where is that thing?!" I sat up and looked around desperately.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I saw it leave."
"I was sitting across the hall; meditating and trying to listen in on what you were doing (Not very successfully, I'm afraid). I came as soon as I heard Sarah scream. The guards seemed stunned. I hopped past them into the room to see you writhing on the floor and Sarah rolling on the bed. " He looked at me, troubled.
"Sarah Force-pulled my lightsaber away from me and was fumbling with it, trying to turn it on. All the while, she was shrieking, 'Cut it out of me! Cut it out of me!' I'm afraid I had to hit her, hard." He glanced guiltily up at the bed. "Then you screamed. It was terrible…knocked me off of my tail! This black tar-like stuff came boiling out of you and her. It congealed together in the middle of the room and condensed into a solid black, obsidian ball. I struck it with my light saber. There was a flash." He held the weapon up.
I nodded and looked questioningly at him.
He pressed the activating button. Nothing happened. "It's completely drained."
"And the thing?"
"It flew through the window, gone."
"So it's still out there." I laid my head on his shoulder and cried. "It's still out there and it wants me...No!" I raised my head, eyes wide with horror. "It wants Oceana!"
An hour later we were sitting in a doctor-patient conference room with Harding/Windu and the Yoda. Alex was angry. He stood on his tail. "I think she's had quite enough today!"
I sat next to him, more than a little stunned. Windu and Yoda had just asked if I could go back into Sarah's mind. I agreed with Alex, but I knew that the two Jedi masters were right. I put my hand on Alex's arm. "I'm ready."
He looked at me as if I'd sprouted antennae. "Are you...are you serious?"
"That thing is still out there. Do you think it's just going to leave us alone? We need to find out all we can. Besides, you will be with me this time."
"Yoda and I will be in the next room as well," said Harding/Windu.
"What good will that do?" asked Alex as he sat back down. "I didn't drive it off. It was your voice, your scream that frightened it away."
I didn't have an answer for that. I just squeezed his arm. "I know what I'm doing."
[What about Oceana?]
[She's why I must do it.]
A half-hour later, I was once more at Sarah's bedside. She lay there, staring at the ceiling, arms stiff at her sides.
"Spoken she hasn't since the thing attacked." said the Yoda.
"I detect no foreign presence in her now," said Windu.
"We didn't detect one before either," said Alex. There was more than a hint of bitterness in his voice.
I smiled at him. [I'll be careful sweetie.]
He put his hand on my shoulder. [I wish I could go with you, even if I can't help.]
[I wish you could too.]
I placed my hand on Sarah, just as I had before. She shuddered, but said nothing.
In moments, I was standing in the same open field as before. [Whoa!] I thought. [Standing?] I looked down. I had legs! [Well, that's different.] I was also bare-bottomed. [I never seem to be ready for this sort of thing.] I thought, exasperated.
I noticed some cloth hanging on a bush nearby. [I hope that means Sarah's provided something for me to wear.] I took a step and fell flat on my face. I tried to get up, but my legs twitched and didn't want to move right. [Well, it has been a month since I walked on them. Oh Hell! It's been a month since I even had them!]
By the time I crawled to the bush I had begun to feel a little steadier. I pulled the cloth down; it was an ordinary, green, wrap-around skirt. I got up on my knees and put it on. I tried standing again and managed to stay upright. I took a small step, wobbled a bit, then took another. By the time I reached the first trees, old muscle memory had come back and I was walking like a biped again.
I was worried about entering those woods a second time. I had been rather hoping I'd be able to 'swim' over them. Instead, I was going to have to walk through them barefooted. They didn't look nearly as threatening in the sunshine, however. I could see green where before all was gray. There was even a broad path. I didn't dare relax. I hugged myself, shivered and then went in.
It was only a few minutes until I was standing in the sunshine again. The path widened into a road paved with stone and ran up to a drawbridge into the castle I had seen last time. It too was no longer so grim as before. Brightly colored banners fluttered above intact battlements. The drawbridge was down, the portcullis open.
I tried to look and feel more confident as I strode through the gate. I can't say about the look, but the feel had only mixed success. Then, across the courtyard, I saw Sarah. She wore a long, red dress of medieval design. Her hair hung loose about her shoulders. She sat on a paving stone, her back to the keep's wall; hugging her knees. I walked toward her. Her gaze met mine.
"Hello Hannah. I've been waiting for you."
"I'm here." I sat next to her.
"What would you like to know?"
"Everything, from the beginning."
For a few moments, there was no sound but the flapping of the banners, then she spoke.
"It's impossible for me to describe the pure exhilaration of those first moments after the Change; knowing that the Force was with me! Has Alex described it to you?"
"Has he felt the power of the Dark Side?"
"He's avoided that."
"Then he doesn't really understand. Vader's right. You can't know the power of the Dark Side, unless you've given yourself to it. It gives you enormous potential," She seemed to struggle with her emotions for a moment. "But it demands absolute obedience."
"How so? I thought it was supposed to give you freedom."
"That's the Big Lie. It offers freedom, until you give in to it, then you become its slave. The Dark Side is like a drug, Hannah! A drug that delivers everything it promises, except freedom!"
"Couldn't you have fought it? Alex has, and he's not Superman."
"I was told that my costume represented a Dark Jedi when I put it on. That's what I became. That's what I am."
"But how? What about free will? You can't become evil because of something you wore! It just doesn't seem fair!"
"The Dark Side itself isn't evil. That's a mistake you lightsiders make. It's only power, you can do good with it, but the temptations are too strong. If you're a Darkling, like me, you're even more susceptible."
"You make it sound like Sauron's ring."
"It's pretty much the same thing. I struggled. I had big plans, but I could never go through with them. I didn't want to hurt anyone, and that's where the plans always led."
"You had a conscience."
Sarah laughed. There was a hollow sound to it. "Believe me! A Dark Jedi with a conscience is no one you want to be!"
"I'm so sorry." I found myself, for the first time, beginning to feel for her.
"Thanks, I was in a very dark place back then." She tried to giggle at her own joke.
"That's when he found me." She winced.
"Who?" I raised my chin from my knees. "Who found you?"
"Only...the most wonderful..." Beads of sweat formed on her forehead. "I'm sorry, it hurts to...talk about him." Sarah was clearly in agony now. She leaned back against the stone wall, clutching at the air. I noticed, when she had changed positions, that she wore a necklace with a large, green stone. It tightened around her throat. The stone's interior seemed to shift and move in the light. It was fascinating. I couldn't move or take my eyes off of it.
[Get rid of it! Get rid of it, now!] Without thinking, I turned my head away and snatched it off of Sarah's neck. It writhed in my hand, like a snake trying to bite me. I dropped it. It slithered its way back toward her. I grabbed a fragment of paving stone and smashed it down hard on the green gem. There was a puff of smoke and a sickening squeal. I sat there breathing hard for a moment, then I got up on my knees and smashed the thing with the stone several more times.
Sarah rubbed her throat. "Thank you. I guess he put that on me to keep me from talking about him. Beware of creeps bearing gifts."
"Is there anything else he gave you?" I was exasperated and more than a little terrified now.
"Not unless I'm pregnant!" There was a strong undertone of hysteria in her laughter this time. She was about to 'lose it'.
I took her by the shoulders and shook her. "Not now! Don't think about that now!"
"OK, OK. I'm alright. You can take your hands off me!"
I released her and sat back down on a spot farther away from the wrecked 'gift'.
She took a deep breath and continued. "As I was trying to say, he seemed like my ideal man; kind, considerate and in the same boat as I; a Dark Jedi with a conscience. I'm sure now he was just playing me." Her eyes smoldered. "I should have been more cynical. That he should have taken me so easily!"
Though there was something absurd about listening to a wielder of dark energies talking like a deflowered teenager, I tried not to let it show. "What did he look like?"
"Does it matter? He can make himself look like what he wants. You know what I'm talking about. You felt him too!"
"This man you're talking about, that thing was him?!"
"Did you think I was just talking about some boyfriend?" Sarah stood and paced back and forth in front of me. "On the other hand, I was in love with him. We were alone together several times. We even made love!"
"We were talking alone, about a week ago," She continued, waving her arms, "when he just took me. I'm not talking about in a good way. I mean in the way he tried to take you! He changed into this black shapeless mass and engulfed…he entered me through every pore. It was like being raped."
She sat again and put her face in her hands. "I was so in love with him that if he had just asked, I would have let him. He wanted to violate me. And as he did it, he mocked me!" Her voice became weary. "He just wanted a tool."
I knew what she had gone through. I had had a small taste of it myself. I shivered. The sun now seemed unable to give any heat. "What happened after that?"
"Not much that I can recall. He had complete control. I saw only what he wanted me to see; heard only what he wanted me to hear. Felt, well, he let me feel losing these!" She held up her hands, then stared at them. "I know, they will be gone when I wake up. I can already feel them starting to fade." She flexed her fingers. "I think eventually they won't even exist in my dreams. Do you ever dream about your legs, Hannah?"
"No. I mostly swim in my dreams. It's really not the same. I rarely miss them anymore."
"Then I guess you're right. It's not the same.
"After that, he withdrew inside me, but I knew he was there." She looked me in the eye. "It was your scream, Hannah that drove him out of both of us. Thank you."
I reached over and squeezed her arm. I would have taken her hand, but I could see that it was already becoming transparent. I could feel my dream-body starting to change as well. The mind-meld was coming to an end.
"You are very powerful in the force," she said. "You do realize that, don't you?"
"I've been told." I said. "Before this ends, Sarah, I need to know why? Why were we attacked?"
"I don't know," she shrugged. "He didn't make me privy to his plans. He was awful intent upon you though."
[That's comforting to know.] I thought.
Then, everything started to fade. I felt my legs wither and dissolve as my spine lengthened. I heard Sarah give a short, anguished cry. The meld was broken. We were back in the hospital room.
I raised my head and blinked. It was starting to get dark outside. Sarah raised herself on her elbows.
"Why hello, Alex, I didn't know you were here."
Alex nodded. "Hello, Sarah."
She grinned mischievously at me. "When a man and a woman fight in mortal combat with each other, they share a special bond, don't they Alex dear?"
"I can't say that's true." He kept his face blank.
She frowned for just an instant. "Well, it was worth a try, don't you think Hannah?"
She continued, "I believe I shall always hate Alex for what he did to me, but don't worry. I was serious when I said that I don't want to hurt anyone. Besides, your master is very powerful in the force. I knew he was my superior even before he mutilated me. One thing we darklings respect is power."
She lay back down. "I feel fatigued now. You can leave."
Chapter Eleven: The Colony
Chapter Eleven: The Colony
Paul's first hint of trouble was after he boarded the plane. He was chatting with a young mermaid from Glasgow, named Lorena, who had returned to the States after hearing about the Sutherland Express. He felt and heard the engines throttle-up and saw the flight attendants frantically rush to close the hatch. [We're leaving without Alex?] He thought. [Why the rush?]
Then the Mer he had been talking to screamed and pointed out the window. There on the wing was Alex in desperate lightsaber combat with a strange woman. Seconds later, they were both gone and the plane climbed away safely. There was still no word as to what was going on when they landed near Nassau.
After some discussion, Tara and the majority of the Mers decided to continue on to the Sutherland. That was when Ben and Maddie got their surprise. Instead of the Gulfstream Explorer, there was another ship, a wooden sailing vessel at the dock.
Ben was a bit stunned, but overjoyed. He carried Maddie up the gang-plank and took command. The ship was a reproduction of the USS Ranger, a sloop-of-war built for the War for Independence. He rechristened her the Merry Maid, in honor of his first mate, and began supervising the loading of the Merfolk and their supplies. By evening, they set sail.
Early in the morning they were over the Sutherland and ready to unload the supplies and disembark the Mers. There was relief when word came over the radio that Alex was not seriously hurt, followed by more worry when Annie's injury and the Silent Sisters' stranding became known. All went well over the Sutherland, however, and soon the Merry Maid set out once more for Nassau with Professor Williams aboard, to coordinate the Sisters' rescue. Tara, with Paul's help, was left in charge of the new colony and seventy-five Merfolk.
Paul was not happy. Neither was Tara. As soon as they hit the water, the mermaids scattered in all directions, swimming furiously in the sheer joy of their new freedom. Getting them together again was going to be quite a chore. Fortunately, there was no hurry; darkness was a long way off.
Communication, however, was going to be a big problem. Neither Hannah nor Alex were available. Paul had only been able to give one brief lesson in sign language on the deck of the Merry Maid. Unfortunately, due to all the excitement, few attended and even fewer paid attention.
Paul floated above a pile of supplies. He saw Tara swimming close by and motioned for her to come closer. [Now's as good a time to start as any.] He thought.
Tara swam up and raised her eyebrows.
<We need help moving these supplies.> he signed.
Tara looked at him curiously, but shrugged.
Many gestures in sign are iconic, that is they resemble the meaning they try to convey. There are not enough of these to make learning it easy, however. Paul repeated his sentence. Tara continued to look at him blankly, but pointed upward and swam for the surface. Paul followed her.
The surface was about forty fathoms over their heads. 250 feet is a quick swim, but even Mers have to be cautious about rising or diving such a depth too quickly. Even though they took their time, Paul's ears were hurting when he breached the surface.
"What were you trying to say?" asked Tara.
"We need help moving these supplies," Paul said and signed.
"You're right; we need to get to it." She started to dive.
"Wait! Repeat after me, in sign." He repeated the phrase, slowly.
Carefully she made the symbols. She had trouble because of her webbed fingers. "Was that OK? I couldn't do some of them," she said, frustrated.
"Close enough. We might have to develop our own Mer dialect."
Jackie and Julia popped up. "What's going on?" asked Jackie.
"A language lesson. You're just in time," said Paul.
Soon, he had all three mermaids working on the sentence. Jackie had some problems despite having no webbing.
"Darn! Now how did that go again?"
"Like this," He took her hand and shaped the fingers.
"Oh, OK," Then Jackie blushed and took her hand back. "I got it now, thanks." She looked in every direction except Paul's.
"I'll do this every day here topside," said Paul. "I'm afraid I've not much experience teaching. If I did, I'd teach on the bottom, like we were all deaf."
"I'll try to get everyone organized and up here first thing each morning." said Tara.
He shook his head. "No need. Everyone will eventually realize that they need to learn this. I'll come up each morning after breakfast and whoever wants can come up with me. I'll teach 'til people's attention starts to wander."
"Sounds good to me, "said Julia.
"Yeah!" said Jackie, a little too loudly.
"Great! Let's move those supplies. The four of us ought to be able to handle it," said Tara.
As evening approached, the bell was rung and Tara counted tails. There were five missing. [Damn it!] She thought. She swam up to Paul and showed him five fingers. He nodded and signed.
<I'll grab a couple of…> Paul realized for the first time that there was no sign for mermaid or merman. He made the sign for girl, and then waved his hand like a fish swimming. <…and try to round them up.> [I have a feeling we're going to have to combine and make up a lot of words as we go along.] He thought.
Tara was able to get the general idea of what he was saying and nodded vigorously. Paul swam over to Aurora, tapped her on the shoulder and motioned for her to follow. He saw Jackie and moved towards her. She saw him and froze, like a deer in headlights. He raised an eyebrow.
[She's an odd one.] He thought. He pointed to Aurora, himself and the hatch, then motioned for her to come with them. Once outside, he got their attention again. <Look for strays, but stay together.> They nodded in unison. He hoped they understood.
They had hardly started out, when the first turned up. She was a brunette with a silver tail whose name Paul didn't know. She smiled sheepishly and ducked quickly into the hatch. [One down, four to go.] Thought Paul. Two more were rounded up a couple of minutes later.
Finally, after several minutes of searching a widening circle, off in the distance in the fading twilight, Aurora spotted a couple, hand in hand swimming slowly toward the sunken freighter. She brought them to the attention of Jackie and Paul. Paul sighed with relief then swam toward them to make sure they didn't dally too long. Jackie and Aurora followed. He kept watch on them as they closed; it was one of the guys, Phil, and a female he didn't know. They spotted the search party and waved.
Paul was waving back when his eyes caught movement behind the Mer couple. He puzzled for a moment at the large and indistinct shape, then his blood froze. Shark! It was swimming at a leisurely pace but was clearly interested in the unusual creatures in front of it. Paul was in no doubt that it would try a 'sample bite' on one of the two Mers. He waved his arms frantically and pointed, but they just waved again. He wished he had some way, any way of warning them.
Suddenly, something swished by him, it was Jackie, swimming furiously. She darted left to put space between her and her companions and then began flitting and thrashing about as though in distress. The endangered couple stopped, confused, but the shark's attention was now fully on Jackie. Paul was stunned, [What the Hell?]
Jackie plunged downward toward an outcropping of coral, the shark fully intent on intercepting her. Its wake nearly bowled Paul over, but he managed to grab its tail, momentarily distracting it. This gave Jackie just enough time to wedge herself into a small crevice and draw in her tail. The frustrated beast slammed against the reef breaking and gnawing parts of her refuge away. Paul tried to grab its tail again, but was slapped away. Finally, Aurora picked up a chunk of coral and bashed it against the shark's gills. It convulsed as though electrocuted and then swam rapidly away.
The sand and silt on the bottom was stirred to where it was impossible to see. For a few nightmare seconds, Paul didn't know the shark was gone. He tried to find Jackie. He found the sides of the crevice then reached in and felt a tail. He pulled. It was definitely a Mer-tail. He hoped Jackie was still attached to it.
He swam above the silt cloud, dragging Jackie behind. She was curled into a fetal position, eyes closed. She was bruised and bleeding from being slammed against the coral, but seemed otherwise unhurt. Paul cradled her in his arms and swam for the Sutherland.
After a minute or so, Jackie opened her eyes and gently wiggled out of Paul's grasp. She smiled, pointed to herself and made the OK sign. Paul was skeptical. Aurora shook her head and mouthed the words, 'What you did was batshit crazy girl!' The wayward couple just looked sheepish. Paul frowned at her but could not help being impressed. They all swam to the freighter, entered and closed the net behind them.
Later, after everyone had settled down and no serious injuries were found on Jackie, she floated near the forward bulkhead, unable to sleep. The day's events kept racing through her mind and she couldn't get Paul's look of obvious admiration out of her head. To tell the truth, she didn't want it out of her head. She also remembered how he held her and began daydreaming about what his lips might feel like against hers. She squirmed and flipped her tail, almost propelling herself headfirst into the bulkhead. She opened her eyes and looked about, hoping no one saw that. If anyone was awake, they didn't notice.
Her eyes fell on Paul, halfway across the hold, asleep. She watched him breathe for a while and began wondering what it would be like if he wrapped his tail about hers and pressed his frills against her.
She shook herself and rubbed her temples. [I can't believe this!] She thought. [This can't be happening! He's a guy and I'm…]She looked at herself and sighed[…I'm so not a guy anymore. Damn!]
Early the next morning, Friday, December 8th, Paul leisurely gathered and ate his breakfast then headed for the surface. More than a dozen Mers showed this time, including all those from the day before. Jackie stayed farther away and said very little. Paul thought she might have been a little embarrassed by the chances she took last night. He approached her intending to reassure her that she did the right thing. Again she got that deer in headlights look. This time she 'eeped' and dove out of sight.
[Eep?] He thought. [She really is strange, but very cute.]
The day's lesson began with <Sharks hunt when the sun goes down.>.
Chapter Twelve: What Lurks
Alex and I returned to Todd's place. Neither of us did much talking. Even Beth's seed cake helped only a little. She had a good idea what the problem with us was, so she didn't get offended and kept Todd from prying. After supper, we retired to the pool and tried to get some sleep. Eventually, we gave up trying.
[You want to 'talk' to Oceana? It's been a while since you've communicated with her.] I thought.
[Might as well. Why should she get to sleep when we can't?] Alex grinned.
[Oceana. Mommie and Dada are both here.]
[Swim, swim feel me swim, Dada?]
[Ah, uh.] Alex looked at me.
[I shrugged. You're inside Mommie not Dada. He's next to me though.]
[I think we've confused her.] Thought Alex.
[Oceana sleepy-sleepy, OK?]
[So much for that. Thought Alex. We confused her and she shut us down again.]
[She probably just needs time to think about it.]
[By the way.] I hugged him. [I haven't sufficiently thanked you for helping me defeat that 'charm' that was around Sarah's neck.]
[It had me befuddled. If you hadn't intervened, I'd have just sat there and watched it strangle her.]
Alex looked at me blankly.
[You have no idea what I'm talking about do you?]
[He shook his head.]
[Then who was it? It was a shout, right into my mind. Could it have been…Oceana?]
[Nope. Sleepy-sleepy. Mommie hush.]
Alex and I stared at one another. [We'll have to discuss this later.] He thought.
Neither of us got much sleep, but when morning came, we still felt better than the evening before. We crawled out of the pool and enjoyed the sunshine. It was just cool enough to let us appreciate the warmth.
"I think it's time to head for salt water." Said Alex.
"What about the investigation?"
"The Feds now know everything we know. They might get more out of Sarah, who knows, but they're pretty much done with us."
"I'm not so sure they'd agree."
Alex shrugged. "I'm willing to chance it."
Just then Beth emerged from the back door carrying a towel and wearing a swimsuit.
"I saw you all out here and decided to jump in for a bit," she said.
"That's fine with us. We'll be getting back in in a minute," I said.
Beth dropped her towel on the patio table, walked out on the diving board and gracefully dove in.
Alex grinned at me mischievously. "And I thought she looked good in a long dress."
"Don't tease the pregnant Mervulcan, she bites!"
"Have I ever told you you're cute when you're jealous?"
"If I were really jealous, I'd a tail-slapped you head over fin."
"We're starting to sound like an old, married couple," he laughed.
"Are not!" I gave him a shove with my tail, rolling him into the water. I started to follow him, but decided on something else. I crawled over to the diving board, pulled myself up the short ladder, and then inched out onto the board. I raised myself on my tail, both arms flailing for balance, until only about two feet of fin and tail were touching the board; bringing me to my full, pre-mermaid height. I managed one bounce before falling off sideways into the pool.
I surfaced and shook water out of my ear. Alex clapped.
"Don't you make fun of me!" I frowned at him.
"Seriously, I'm not!" he replied. "That was a very good first attempt, my padawan."
"I didn't even know you could do that," said Beth.
"I didn't either, 'til I tried it."
"That reminds me that I need to actually start training you," said Alex.
"After we decide how we're getting home," I said. "And after we finish playing! Your turn to dive off the board sweetie!"
We cavorted and splashed about for a few more minutes, then enjoyed breakfast with Beth and Todd next to the pool. We decided that we would fly with the second and last batch of Merfolk when they left for Bimini tomorrow morning. There was one thing I needed to do first, however, check on Annie.
I called Doctor Ryan. Annie's physical condition had improved, but she still had not regained consciousness. I was now determined to use the Mind Meld on her. I would bring it up with Doctor Kearney when I saw him.
We loaded ourselves into the van and headed for the hospital. I put on a long sweater and settled into the passenger seat. When we got to Good Samaritan, we were greeted at the entrance by Doctor Kearney who escorted us to the ICU, where we met Doctor Ryan. She was off-duty but elected to stay to talk to us (and, perhaps, coax Alex into the MRI). Annie was breathing on her own now, they told us, and was resting comfortably in her tub, but she was unresponsive and showed no signs of waking up. That was when I brought up the Vulcan mind meld. Kearney had never heard of such a thing, but Ryan, who proved to be a bit of a Trekie, immediately jumped on the idea and helped persuade her colleague to let me try it.
I had never entered the mind of a person suffering from a traumatic brain injury before, so I was a bit nervous as Kearney wheeled me up to Annie's room. I was sure however that it couldn't possibly be as bad as either of my two visits into Sarah's psyche. The room was darkened. The only sound was bubbling from the large stainless steel tub.
"Hmn, the heart monitor's not working." Kearney stepped to the side and checked the connections.
I wheeled over to the tub and stood on my tail to look in. It was empty! "She's gone! Where is she?"
"What? That's impossible!" Kearney rushed over and stared, stupefied into the tub. He reached into the water as though Annie had somehow turned invisible and was still there.
He hit the call switch. "Nurse! Where's the patient that was in this room?"
"I…I don't know." The voice from the intercom sounded befuddled, as though its owner had just been awakened.
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
I began to feel sick. I dropped to the floor and looked about. If Annie had crawled out of the tub, there would be a lot of water on the floor. [How long could she live without breathing?] I thought. There was water on the floor, but not enough. It was a trail of drops…and a footprint!
I looked up in time to see Alex open the door. Doctor Ryan was behind him. "Stop!" I said. "Don't come in here yet!" I pointed at the trail of water. "Can you turn on the lights?"
Alex froze; Ryan reached past him and flicked on the switch. The trail led straight to the door. It was crossed by wheel tracks (mine) and more footprints (Kearney's). The first print I saw was clearly different, made by a heeled boot. Doctor Kearney was wearing sneakers. In the hallway the trail was crossed and stepped on too many times to yield any more signs but was headed for the ER exit when it petered out.
"Someone was carrying her!" said Kearney as he stared over my shoulder.
"The security cameras!" Said Ryan. "And the ICU cameras!"
"They can't have gotten far," said Alex. "Can you lock this place down?"
"We have security at every door," said Kearney. "There's no way they would let somebody walk out of here carrying an unconscious patient."
Ryan called security, but no one seemed to know what she was talking about. We barged into the nurses' station. The duty nurse was wide-eyed and overwhelmed.
"Run the tape from ICU3," said Kearney. "Take it back about a half-hour."
The tape showed the darkened room and the tub, with Annie clearly in it.
"Fast forward it…There!" A shadowy figure crossed the screen. It was a man, wearing a long, dark coat and a wide-brimmed hat that hid his face. He calmly walked over to the tub, disconnected the monitors, picked Annie up and wrapped her in a blanket.
"How could I have missed that?" The nurse gasped. "I wasn't asleep. I swear!"
The figure then calmly walked out the door.
About that time the chief of security brought the tape from the cameras monitoring the exits. They showed the same man with the same burden, walking unimpeded, unnoticed through the busy halls, out into the parking lot; where he carefully placed Annie into the back of a dark colored pickup truck.
"It's like no one could see him!" The chief was dumbfounded. "Look, you can even see her tail fin! How could no one notice that?"
"I know how," said Alex, grimly. "A Jedi Master could do that."
She awoke and opened her eyes. [Where am I?] Then a second, more disturbing thought entered her head. [Who am I?] She looked about and saw that she was under water. That did not bother her. She saw the tail of a large fish. That did bother her, especially when she followed its lines to see that it was attached to her at the waist. This led to a third and even more disturbing thought. [What am I?]
Then a word came to her: [mermaid.] It was such a funny word. She sounded it out in her head. [Merrrrrrmaaaaaid. That's it! That's what I am!] This made her feel better. She flitted and spun about, happy that she had solved one riddle at least.
The word aroused some memories, but they swam about in her head like little elusive fish. They were all disjointed and seemed to make no sense. In some of them she was a mermaid, in others, she wasn't. It made her head hurt. She reached up to rub it and felt a bandage. Even this did not distress her as much as the fact that her head was shaved. [All my hair is gone!] She remembered that it was long, beautiful and…And what? [What color was it?...Brown, light brown, wasn't it?] She put her face in her hands and cried. [I'm bald and there's something wrong with my mind!] Then another word came to her. [Amnesiac. Amneeesiac merrrmaaaid. That's me, a clueless fish-tail girl.]
She stopped crying. [Silly, my hair will grow back. As for my mind, maybe if I find out more things, more memories will come back to me; like puzzle pieces.] This brought her back to her first question. [Where am I?] It was dark, but not so dark that she couldn't see. She was in a very large pool. She swam about its perimeter. It was rectangular and, perhaps, as much as an acre in area. It was also surrounded by a vertical concrete wall. Large boulders and pots containing aquatic plants were scattered over the bottom, which was about thirty feet down.
There were also fish of all shapes colors and sizes. They made her hungry. In truth, she was ravenous. It must have been a very long time since she last ate. She stalked a small school of foot-long, black and white, striped fish. She grabbed one with both hands and quickly bit it through the spine, killing it instantly. Then she hovered in the water and ate it. More memories emerged. There was a time when she would have been very disturbed and disgusted by what she just did. She was too hungry to worry much about it now, though. She filed them away with the memories of having legs and walking on land. The bones and scales she spat out attracted other fish, which risked getting her attention to grab some morsels. She was sated, however, and ignored them.
Her eyes ventured upward. [What is there, I wonder.] She flicked her tail, breached the surface and took a deep breath. It was terrible. She choked. It was so dry that it burned! [What's wrong? It's just air.] Then she remembered. [Oh, yeah. I can't breathe air anymore.] More fragments and snippets from her past life came to her. There always seemed to be more of them from when she could breathe air, walk and talk. Being a mermaid, however, never seemed far from her thoughts, especially when she was a child. But she wasn't actually a mermaid in any of her childhood memories. That must mean that she had become a mermaid recently. [That really doesn't seem like something that would just happen at random though.]
[Wait a minute! …and talk? What did I mean by that?] She then tried to make a noise and found that she couldn't, she didn't have the means to. Also, she noticed that her tongue was very small and clumsy, not at all useful for speaking. [So, I'm mute.] That disappointed her, but again, didn't surprise her. It was like being reminded of something obvious that had been foolishly forgotten.
She swam back to the surface. This time, she kept her mouth and nose submerged so she could breathe. It was night. The moon was full and near the horizon. In front of her was a very large stone house with a lot of balconies, stairs and tall windows. [It's a Western Mediterranean style.] She thought. [Probably built in the 1920's or 30's. How do I know this? Architect! Yes! That's what I used to be! Arrrchiiitect. Now I just wish I could remember my name!] She thrashed her tail in frustration. [If I could just remember that, I'm sure a lot of other things would fall into place!]
[Everyone has a name! I can't just introduce myself as Amnesiac Mermaid. Oh. Introduce myself how? I would have to write it down. And to whom? The fish? I seem to be alone here.]
That's when she noticed a slight movement out of the corner of her eye. She spun around. It was a figure, a man, kneeling at the edge of the pool; looking at her. He wore a long, black trench coat and wide-brimmed hat. His mouth was covered by a gray scarf wrapped about his neck. The rest of his face was ordinary, its only outstanding feature being the nose, which was longer and sharper than average. She fought the urge to submerge and swim away and met his eyes with hers. There was compassion in his eyes, but also hardness and repressed anger. He reached up with one hand and pulled down the scarf. His smile seemed genuine.
"Hello Margo, I'm glad to see you're awake." His voice was warm and friendly, as though the greeting was meant for any ordinary morning.
[Margo?] She thought. [Is that my name? No, it couldn't be.] It awakened nothing. 'Margo' landed on her mind like a dead fish. [Why did he call me that? Does he really think that's my name?]
"How are you feeling?"
She continued to stare. He looked confused. Finally, she brought her head completely out of the water, pointed at her mouth and shook her head.
"You mean you can't answer me?" He seemed shocked.
She shook her head again.
"Oh Margo I didn't realize! How could he have done such a thing?"
It was her turn to look confused.
"I'm such a fool. Of course you don't know what happened."
She shook her head yet again. [Perhaps we're getting somewhere now.] She thought.
"You were in an automobile accident and struck your head."
She touched the bandage on her head and nodded. Yes! Yes!
"You were taken to the hospital where you were kidnapped by Cyrus Zorn, the infamous Dr. Z. Who bound you in one of his infernal machines and transformed you into a creature of the sea!"
Her mouth dropped open. Then she waved her arms and shook her head so hard it hurt. [Whoa! Whoa there! I've lost my memory, not my mind! I know I was a mermaid before my head got bumped and shaved! Where did this guy come from? He's even more clueless than I am!]
"It's horrible, I know, but you must calm down dear." There was genuine concern on his face.
[I've gotta have something to write on!] She pantomimed writing on her palm.
"Oh yes. I must have something to write with on me." He searched his pockets until he drew forth a small notepad and pencil.
Though she was nervous about getting close to him, she swam eagerly to the edge of the pool and snatched away the writing instruments. Her fingers being fully webbed, she had to hold the pencil in her fist. *I AM NOT MARGO* She wrote in big block letters.
"But of course you are my dear."
She shook her head emphatically, ducked her head under for a quick breath, then wrote again. *NO, I AM NOT!!!* She showed him the sheet, tore it off, then wrote on the next. *AND I AM NOT YOUR DEAR!!!!!* The pencil point broke at the last exclamation. She threw it and the pad down on the grass in frustration. The paper was turning to mush anyway.
"I know your face," he said. "Who else could you be?"
She sighed. [I wish I knew.]