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|Xanadu story universe|
|Constructive criticism and in-depth critiques are welcome|
After talking to Alex, my fiance, I returned to the Darknight booths to take Beth's place at the register while she went on break. Todd's instincts about this year's Kubla Con had been right. The line of people waiting to buy stuff was quite long. I expected to be busy.
I'd only been at it for a few minutes however, when Randal tapped me on the shoulder. "Todd wants to see you. He's with Amy. I think it's time for you to change," he said.
He was trying to supress a grin. Todd has a reputation as a joker, so I got suspicious. "All right, what's he up to this time?"
"I can't say, but it has to do with you hating sushi."
"Oh Lord." I rolled my eyes. I would have grilled Randal further, but I didn't want to keep the customers waiting in line. Todd had made a fuss some time ago about me not liking sushi, and didn't seem to want to drop it. Well, one doesn't introduce a girl (or anyone else for that matter) to something new by plopping a tentacle down on her plate. If he had started with a Calafornia roll or something like that, I might have tried it, but I don't eat Cthulu, especially not raw.
When I got to Amy's booth, she was working on Todd's new costume. He had been a ringwraith all morning, and at six foot five, the effect had been quite awsome. Now he was being done-up as a Hobbit. Yes, a Hobbit. At least he wasn't afraid of poking fun at himself as well as others. Todd's not a bad guy, in fact he's a pretty good boss, once you get past the practical jokes. He's honest, fair and, sometimes, even considerate. His business instincts are also good. He had built his publishing firm up from nothing. And, after less than four years, it was now one of the top five producers of fantasy and sci-fi books and games in the country. Darknight, however, was not so big that the senior editor couldn't lend her hand at the cash register or dress up funny when asked.
Being on Darknight's back doorstep, Kubla Con always played an important part in Todd's plans. This year, with all the additional resources plowed into it by Eric Winters, the Con was going to be much grander and Todd was prepared to go all out to match. We rented space for ten tables and brought books and materials to fill them all twice over. Some of that space had been given over to Amy. Todd decided, almost at the last minute, to hire Amy to create costumes and make-up for him and all the Darknight employees in honor of this Con's costume theme. Beth, for example, was Arwen from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films, Randal was a Star Fleet medical officer from the early Trek, I was made up as a female Vulcan officer from Wrath of Khan, with the red jacket and everything. Amy was a real pro, she had actually worked for Universal before she went free lance. In other words, we looked great.
She was working on Todd's hairy prosthetic feet blending them in to the flesh of his ankles. It was fascinating, I had to pull up a chair and watch. I wasn't alone, quite a crowd had gathered to watch Amy apply make up, almost as big as the one of people waiting to buy stuff. A lot of her business cards were being picked up and passed around as well. Todd was just as absobed as everyone else, watching her work, but he finally turned to me and grinned. "Ready for your next role?" There was more than a little mischief in his voice and look.
"Uh-huh," I nodded, still watching his feet being done.
Amy pointed to one of the tables with her brush. "It's under there, in the cardboard box."
I reached over and picked it up. On top, written in black sharpie was the word 'mermaid'. Todd giggled like a school girl.
"You're kidding, right?" I pulled it open, fully intending to take the tail and strangle him with it. I was already preparing my defense, justifiable homicide. The costume was pretty though, no, I take that back, it was gorgeous. I couldn't help but, "Oooh" when I pulled it out of the box. The scales were translucent tourquoise and silver in alternating bands, each individually hand-stitched into the material. The fin was large, delicate and lacey, with violet and gold veins. "This took a lot of work!" I said.
"Yes, it did," Amy beamed. "It was actually made for someone else, but Todd happened to see it in my shop and said it would be perfect for you. I have to agree. With your red hair, you'll look just like Ariel!"
"You don't say." I'm more copper-blonde than red, but I could see her point.
"Let us know when you're ready," Todd grinned even more evilly. "We'll carry you out and put you on a table, with some ginger and wasabe."
I gave him an "I'll kill you later" look, but said, "OK, I'll wear it." I'd never be mistaken for a supermodel, but I have been told I look pretty good in a swim suit. And if I couldn't take my eyes off it, how would Alex react to me in it? I was getting a warm feeling just imagining it.
I took the box into the curtained off part of the booth and set to work. I removed the dark Vulcan wig and got my hair into some semblance of order, then stripped down to underwear and teeshirt. The tail was a tight fit, evidently made for a slightly smaller person than myself. It just barely reached my hips. I feared it wouldn't zip, but it did. I feared it would show some butt-cleavage, but I never got a chance to check. At that moment, there was a 'pop'. It was more something in my head than a sound, but it got my attention. It must have gotten everyone else's attention too, because it got very quiet for a few moments. Then, all Hell broke loose.
There were screams, bellows, shouts, curses, roars and other less definable noises. There were also a few crashes. Something bad was happening and I wanted to face it mobile. I tried to unzip, but now I couldn't find the zipper. I struggled to roll the edge down, but I couldn't get a grip on it. There were more crashes and I heard Amy scream. Something bumped hard against the curtain just above my head. One way or another, it was time to move. I noticed a small space between two crates of books. I rolled off the chair I was sitting on and crawled/wriggled my way into it.
That was all that I needed for me to realize what had happened to me. No one with legs could move like that. I felt a scream comming on, but used both hands to stop it. Revealing where I was just when I couldn't run away seemed like a bad idea. The curtains fell and blocked the light. I heard the crashing of bookselves being knocked over. It all felt and sounded like a mine cave-in. I made myself as small as possible and waited.
I had no idea what had happened to the World outside my former dressing room, now hiding place, but judging by what had happened to me, it couldn't be good. I waited until the noise slackened off a little, then, with considerable difficulty, I dragged myself out from under the tangled curtains, books and splintered shelves, and looked around. The first thing I noticed was that my fingers were webbed together at the first knuckle. That did not improve my disposition. I calmed myself down again, then really looked around. There were still a lot of people about, wandering around singly or in small groups. There was a woman in teeshirt and jeans tugging at foot-long antlers that sprouted from her head. An impossibly-large tabby cat zipped by yowling, "Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear!". A normal-looking woman was wandering about shouting, "Jimmy! Jimmy!". Many people had solidly attached additions that looked suspiciously like the novelty nose and ear coverings that had been universally popular that weekend. It didn't take long to figure out that, as with me, people became the costumes they wore the instant that pop occured.
"Now what?" I thought to myself. No one had yet noticed the mermaid sitting among the ruined book-stalls, wearing the faded Orlando Magic teeshirt. That alone should give anyone who wasn't there an idea of just how weird the whole scene was. My natural inclination was to just sit there and wait until Alex found me, but I rejected that. Partly, because it didn't seem safe here, but mostly, I just didn't want Alex to see me like this. I knew him well enough to know that he would be all noble and such, but how would he really feel when he found out that the woman he intended to marry wasn't quite human anymore? If this wasn't permanent, everything would be alright, eventually. But what if it was forever? I really didn't want to deal with that just then. Until I knew for sure, I wanted to put off any encounter with him.
How do I get out of here? I examined my new 'situation'. My range of motion at the hips was about the same as it had been. The tail, my tail, was almost disturbingly flexible. Despite the fishy scales, my tailfin was horizontal, like a dolphin or other sea mammal's, not vertical, like a fish's. I did, however, have some side to side motion, more than I did with legs. The muscles throughout my lower half were very firm, considerably stronger than those on my legs had been. No doubt about it, I was built to swim, and swim hard, not walk. I found though that if I rolled over on my belly, bent forward at the hips and arched my tail back, I could do a kind of tripedal hop-crawl, on hands and tail. "Not too good on loose debris," I thought. "But, it's the best I can do."
At that moment, I heard a cellphone, my cellphone, with Alex's ringtone. I froze for a moment, then started frantically hunting for it. I flopped, slid, skidded and dug about, but couldn't tell where the sound was comming from. After about a dozen rings it stopped. I growled and pounded the ground in frustration. He has to be on his way now, but he mustn't see me! I had to go. I began making my way toward the exits.
I had gotten about two-thirds of the way there, about thirty yards, when I heard a very loud hiss. I tried to look around. I've always kept my hair very long, so with my current posture, and nothing to tie it back, it was like wearing blinders. I was feeling very vulnerable. Finally, I saw what it was, a big tawny mountain lion, looking at me very intently. Was it a person? I couldn't tell, it didn't look at all anthropomorphic. I tried to remember if anyone had brought any big cats to the convention. Person or not, I couldn't help but feel that it was sizing me up for a meal. Could I really become sushi? I tried talking to it. "Go away! I don't feel like chatting right now. Just leave me alone!" It laid its ears back, hissed again and crept closer. That was too close for me! I screamed, rolled over on my side and gave it as hard a tail-slap as I could manage. What followed was rather satisfying. The big cat tumbled backwards, shook its head and ran off screaming. I lay on my side panting for a few moments, then got up and resumed my hop-crawl for the doors. I didn't feel quite so vulnerable any more.
The door to the breeze-way was difficult. I pinched my tailfin in it. It hurt like hell, but didn't seem to be damaged. A nice bear-man opened the ouside door for me. There were hundreds of people scattered over the grounds in various states of distress. A few, however, though shocked, were not entirely unhappy. A very few, were ecstatic. Sometimes, the strangest thing about this very strange weekend was the unexpected ways people reacted to their changes. I spotted an open place in the shade of a tree and made for it. I needed to rest and think. I settled in next to a woman with red, weepy eyes and an elephant's trunk who was trying to nurse a baby. The baby, who seemed just fine, was playing with her trunk. I wrapped my tail about me as tightly as I could, I was afraid of being stepped on.
Like everyone else around me, I was pretty self-absorbed. I sat there wondering what I was going to do with my life, how I was going to deal with the changes and how long I would have to deal with them. I noticed that I had skinned my arm during my encounter with the cougar. It oozed a little bit of blood, green blood. In a panic, I felt for my ears. They were pointed. Even my human half was not really human! That was too much, I started to sob. I cried until I hiccuped and my nose ran. I hadn't carried on like that since I was eleven. I ached for Alex but felt hopeless. All I could imagine was him recoiling in horror from his alien fiancee. I would rather he thought me dead.
It took some time, but I finally got it out of my system and could think somewhat clearly again. What's next? I wanted water. I wasn't desperate for it. I could stay out of water indefinitely, so far as I knew. But I felt a longing to be immersed, to swim free, to not have land under me. I remembered looking over the hotel pool when I first arrived, last Thursday night. I knew the general direction and that it was about a hundred yards away from where I was, a long tiring hop-crawl. I thought about waiting where I was. I could see lights from emergency vehicles in the parking lot. It might take a long time, however, for the EMT's to work their way to me, and I knew they had more urgent things to do than carry mermaids around anyway, so I started out.
This journey was even less pleasant than the previous one. The grounds were quite crowded and I was constantly fearful of having my hands, tail or, even worse, my tail fin stepped on. Also, I was starting to get self-conscious about my mode of locomotion. I felt like people were staring at me. Of course, if I'd have taken the time to think about it, I'd have realized that nearly everyone there would be stared at on any normal day.
"Lookin' for somethin' missy?"
"Was someone talking to me?" I thought. I looked, but my danged hair was still in my eyes!
"I thought perhaps ye may have dropped somethin'."
"Is he making fun of me!?" Angry, I straightened up as tall as I could, which was about the same as if I were standing on my knees. I found myself looking up into the face of a pirate, grizzled beard, eye-patch and all. I was about to speak up when I tipped over. Not having knees, I couldn't balance without holding on to something.
"I meant no offense missy," he said, as he caught me under one arm. "I din't see ye were a mermaid at first. Ol' Capn' Ben is blind in one eye an can't see out t'other. Would ye be needin' some help there?"
"No!" I said and tried to shake off his arm.
"Ah! You need to get to yon pool!" Before I could protest, he swept me up and deposited me over his shoulder, like a sack of loot. On top of that, he swatted my behind with his other hand. I yelped and began to struggle to make myself as hard as possible to hang onto, but he kept me balanced. I tried to tail-slap him too, but couldn't get enough leverage. I began to suspect he'd done this before. I went limp, so he'd think I'd given up and considered what to do next. There were a lot of people about, including some super hero types, so if I started screaming, it could go very badly for him. I didn't want to take the chance of being ignored, there was a lot of screaming and rescuing going on already. I also wanted to show him that I didn't like being man-handled. What I needed was bobing just in front of my nose. He had a rather wicked looking knife stuck in the back of his belt. I pulled it out and poked him lightly in the ribs with it, just to get his attention.
"Now why would ye want to go and threaten poor Ben with a shankin'. Seein' as I be wantin' to be helpful and all?."
"Oh... Well, you didn't exactly ask my permission to carry me off. And throwing women over your shoulder and whacking their ah... bottoms. It's just...it's just not respectful!"
"So, ye don't trust old Ben." He sounded genuinely hurt.
"You are a pirate, aren't you. I mean you look like one."
"Well, ye do have me there, Missy," he said. "We're almost to the pool."
I couldn't see straight ahead, but I could see far enough around him to know we were nearing the pool. And, at least, upside down, my hair was no longer in my eyes. I lowered the knife, but I didn't let go of it. I guess I have trust issues with large hairy men with eyepatches.
We went throught the gate into the pool area, his boots clomping on the concrete. "Here be another, Bones, just as ye asked fer."
"Thank you Captain. Just set her down on this chair." That voice was strangely familiar.
Captain Ben plopped me down onto a plastic pool-chair in front of Bones. "Bones McCoy! De Kelley alive again!" For the second time that day, I was instantly transformed. This time into a Trekie fangirl.
"Who's alive again?"
"Uh oh Uh," I fumbled.
"May I have me pig-sticker back please?"
"Oh, yes, of course." Feeling somewhat sheepish, I handed the blade back to Ben. I saw that I had been wrong about him.
"Thankee kindly, missy." Ben tipped his hat. "Bones, I'll be headin' back out to find ye more distressed fishies, mermaids an' pollywogs."
"Oh, Captain." I said, trying to sound more friendly. I had just noticed his hair was tied into a queue and that gave me an idea. "Before you go, do you have anything I could tie my hair back with?"
"Aye." He reached up and undid the ribbon from his gray hair, presented it with a flourish, bowed, then walked off.
I didn't know this until later, but this particular 'Bones' McCoy and his friend, Captain Benjamin Musgrave, whoever they were originally, and however they came to meet, acted quickly and saved the lives of dozens of aquatically changed people. Most particularly, those who could no longer breath air. Musgrave actually raided a nearby petshop, demanding, by its chemical name, the additive needed to neutralize the chlorine in the pool, so no one would be poisoned by it. The mental image of the Captain brandishing his flintlock pistol with one hand while trying to read the note with McCoy's perscription on it in the other is one that will always stick with me.
"Finally!" I said while tying my hair back, incidentally revealing my pointed ears and upswept eyebrows.
It was McCoy's turn to be amazed. "You're, you're a...a..."
"Yes! How is that even possible?"
"I wish I knew."
"Vulcan has hardly any open water at all!" He scrambled to ready his tricorder, then scanned me from top to tail fin. "You are a Vulcan, no doubt about it. Organs in all the wrong places, copper-based blood cells. You're.."
"I wasn't going to say that!" he snapped. "And you shouldn't say it either!"
My face blushed green. "I guess I just needed reassurance." I sighed. "Are you aware that until two hours ago, I was an ordinary, 21st century earth woman? No scales. No pointy ears. No fins." My eyes began to well up. "Dammit! I'm not going to start crying again!" I thought. "I've had enough self-pity."
"That's not the first time I've heard people say something like that today, that they just suddenly changed. I thought it was delusional at first, but I've seen too many strange things for me to think that now." He looked at his tricorder again.
"Is there anything on that thing that can tell you how long this will last, or if it's permanent?"
He gently laid a hand on my arm and looked me in the eye. "Miss..."
"Mendenhall. Please, call me Hannah."
"Hannah. I'm a doctor, not a sorcerer. I can't answer that, at least not with what I have available now."
He then showed me the scan he had just made. Even on the tiny tricorder screen, it was quite impressive, and frightening. I hardly recognized any of the internal organs, and they were 'out of place'. The skeletal diagram was more dramatic. Everything was normal down to and including my pelvis, the hip sockets were empty, however, and my spinal column continued a long way below. And I seemed to have gained more than a foot in length. Everything looked damnably permanent.
One might think it illogical to rely on a man who hadn't been a doctor until two hours ago and consulting an instrument that had been a plastic prop two hours ago, but I already knew my change was real, so I reasoned that his was equally real and just as impossible to dismiss.
"Would you like to go into the water now?" Bones asked.
"Oh yes! Please!" I replied
He carried me over to the pool and gently lowered me in. It's almost, no it is impossible for me to describe how good that felt, both the feel of water against my body and the sensation of floating. It was heavenly, It was where I belonged. I wanted to swim, but it was already too crowded for that, so I just floated.
After a bit, I spoke with some of those in the pool with me, those who could speak, or whose speach I could understand. We mostly compared transformation experiences. It was the topic of the day afterall. No one had a clue as to what caused it, though those who were there thought it somehow centered around Eric Winters and the costume judging announcement in the dining hall. That was where Alex was headed when I last saw him. Up to now, I hadn't really been worried about Alex. He had been wearing a Jedi costume he had made himself. How bad could that be? Being transformed into a Jedi should be pretty cool. But what would suddenly gaining empathic and telepathic powers do to a person? I had been more worried about what my change would do to him. I didn't know what to do. I knew I still loved him. I don't think anything could change that. I was still convinced, however, that he would be happier without me, so long as I was in my present condition. I wished he was there to hug me and tell me everything would be all right.
As the evening went on, the pool got more and more crowded. McCoy and Ben were eventually joined by paramedics and, after midnight, National Guard medics. Shortly before that, I left the pool. My need for water was not desparate, unlike so many of those arriving, some too late unfortunately. So I hoisted myself out and crawled over to one of the loungers and settled into it. I laid there for a while, just looking at myself, I kinda wished I had a mirror. My translucent scales sparkled and shimmered in the dim light. Was I really not a freak, as Bones said, or was he just being nice. Alex used to tell me I was attractive, I liked hearing it. How I needed that reassurance now!
I was idly twitching my tailfin, still in wonder at what it looked and felt like, when it suddenly dawned on me. I'm naked from the waist down. It wasn't logical, everything was hidden, but it still bothered me. The evening was also starting to get a little chilly. I remembered seeing someone carrying blankets earlier, but didn't notice where they had been placed. I finally flagged down a passing EMT, who found one for me. After that, I settled down again and fell asleep.
I awoke sometime later to the sound of a tricorder. I saw two Vulcans, a man and a woman, standing next to the pool, taking readings and asking questions of the people in it. They were wearing Next Gen Star Fleet uniforms. Their backs were to me, and it was still dark, so they almost certainly hadn't seen me yet. I threw off the blanket and greeted them in Vulcan. That was the first time I realized I could speak the language.
If you ever get the chance to surprise a Vulcan, do it. The results are as satisfying as the opportunity is rare. The guy, Senak, nearly dropped his tricorder, the woman, T'Rhen, actually let out a tiny yip. If I had retained the full Vulcan costume I had been wearing earlier, instead of being caught between, I probably would have been more affected by the Vulcan taboo against open display of emotion. As it is, I am almost totally free of it. I've always been kind of saddened by their rejection of emotion, so I would like to think I would have been a concientious objecter.
They recovered quickly, politely introduced themselves and asked my permission to make a scan of me. I didn't object, I was hoping the extra decades of technological advancement between Classic and Next Gen Trek, might tell me something Bones couldn't. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. I did learn that, despite the extensive database in their tricorder, there is no indication that Vulcan ever, even in far prehistoric times, had any legends about mermaids. So, I'm not even a myth. That might explain the amount of freedom I have. I'm not forced to be naked all the time or to have extra large boobs like so many of my fellow Xanadu mermaids. After Senak and T'rhen finished, I was left to myself and dozed off again.
When I woke up, the sky was just starting to lighten over the Xanadu Center, and my bladder was talking to me. I had been dreading this, but there was no avoiding it now. I rolled off the lounger, tied the blanket around my middle and started my now familiar hop/crawl toward the ladies room. I passed near a National Guard nurse sitting in a chair, apparently dozing. If she was asleep, I must have awakened her because she spoke to me, "Hon, you don't have to do that. Wait just a moment." She disappeared around one of the tents that had just been set up and came back a few seconds later pushing a wheelchair. "We brought some of these with the mobile medical unit." I thanked her sincerely and climbed into it. The chair made things so much easier. I guess I'm going to have to get one of those, if I intend to spend any time on land at all.
Actually using the facilities proved to be a complicated and somewhat acrobatic adventure, but I managed not to make a mess. Afterwords, I covered my tail with the blanket and proceeded to try and 'freshen up' as best I could. I thought seriously about heading up to the room, where my stuff still was. The Orlando Magic teeshirt just wasn't cutting it any more (I didn't get the irony until much later). I had brought a couple of blouses, but unfortunately no skirts, unless I wanted to cut up some jeans. But I had lost my room key and I was still not ready to face Alex, if he was there. I did the best I could with what was there and no mirror. The mirrors were set up too high for me to use. I began to have more sympathy for the handicapped community, which, I suppose, I'm now a part of when I'm not in the water.
When I reemerged I came across another guardsman, a guy this time. He was sitting at one of the tables, warming up an MRE. "Would you like some breakfast?" he asked.
"sure." It had been a long time since I had last eaten.
He fetched another MRE and showed me how to warm it up. He had just arrived, so he was very curious about what had happened. Me being the first Xanadu survivor he got to speak to, he asked a lot of polite and thoughtful questions while we ate. After a while though, it dawned on me. He's flirting. No mistake, I believe he was sincerely sympathetic, but he was also sincerely turned on. Well, after all, who wouldn't want to make it with a hot mermaid. So what if she's tired, sitting in a wheelchair with her tail wrapped up in an army blanket, her hair's tangled and she's wearing a dirty basketball teeshirt. The real question is who will still be around for the hard stuff, like insuring water access and land mobility problems. But then how different is this from what all women ask? Who's going to stick by you through the PMS and child rearing? Of course my real problem now was my fear that Alex would not bail out on me when I felt it was in his best interest to do so. Then again, was it fair for me to not let Alex make his own decision about me.
"Are you OK?" The army guy gave me a worried look. I must have been staring off into space.
"Yeah, things are just real complicated right now." I scooped up another bit of creamed corn with my spork.
"I can ima...or maybe I can't imagine what you're going through," he said. "By the way, they're opening up the lake for you-all this morning."
"Lake?" He now had my full attention.
"On the other side of those trees." He pointed at a wooded area north of the Convention Center. Their trunks were just visible through the early morning mist.
"I don't know. I think they're checking it for gators now."
I didn't care if it was hip-deep in hungry, mermaid-eating gators, I needed to swim. "Bye, thanks for breakfast."
"Don't mention it. Uh, where you going?"
"Where do you think?"
"Yep. Last one in's a rotten egg." If anyone had tried to stop me, he would have ended up mermaid-bit, tail-slapped and left for dead with wheelchair tire-marks on his chest.
I was just leaving by the gate when I spotted someone coming up the path towards me. It was a man with short, sandy hair and he was wearing a Classic Trek blue medical officers' shirt. "Randal!" I shouted.
"Hannah? Is that really you?" He took a good look at me and turned pale. "Dear God, what did we do to you?"
"You? What did you do? You couldn't have known what was going to happen."
"I know, but still, because of a silly joke..."
"Nobody made me put it on. Besides, it's not that bad. It could have been worse." I started thinking about the elephant-trunked woman and some of the folks I'd shared the pool with. "Have you seen Alex? Or any of the other people we know?"
He shook his head. "No, just you. When the panic started, I tried to save the cash register, but I had to just abandon it. No one was after the money anyway. I came back about a half-hour later, but everyone was gone."
"I couldn't run, so I got buried. I'd dug myself out and left by then though," I said
"Well, after that," Randal continued, "I wandered about helping however I could 'til I ran into Colonel Parker. The Florida National Guard put him in charge of the medical mission here. He's been using the newly made medical people like myself. I've been sent to set up an information center, to help locate missing people."
"That sounds like a good idea. Don't let me hinder you," I struggled for a few moments with what I should say next. "Randal, I want you to promise me something. I know Alex must be looking for me, but I'm just not ready for him to find me yet. If you happen to see him, tell him not to worry and to wait for me here. Don't tell him about this." I tapped the blanket covering my tail. "I want to be the one to break it to him. You understand?"
"Yes," Randal nodded. "Do you want this?" He held out his communicator. "I found out It'll connect with cellphones."
My hand shook as I reached for it, then drew back. "I'll be back. There's just something I've got to do first." I knew somehow that I wouldn't be able to think clearly or make any decisions until after I had been in the water.
I said bye to Randal and continued toward the lake. Getting there would not be very hard, it was down hill most of the way. Of course, Getting back would take some work, but given the extra strength and endurance that Vulcans have, I wasn't concerned. The concrete walk turned to gravel in the woods, but that barely slowed me down. It was a beautiful morning, by the way, but I hardly noticed, I was on a mission.
Finally, about fifty yards past the picnic shelter, I could see it, mirror calm and still misty in the early morning light. I wheeled up as close as I could, crawled the last few feet, then slid in. For the first time in my new life as a mermaid, I was swimming! I slapped the surface with my tail, sending a fountain of water ten feet or more into the air, then dove until my hands hit mud. I did barrel rolls, loops, cartwheels and corkscrews. I wanted to jump, so I circled, building speed like I've seen dolphins do, my body undulating with the force of my tail muscles, and I lept. I got maybe three quarters of the way out of the water, twisted around and landed on my back with a tremendous splash. I needed more speed. I started to circle again, by now I was breathing pretty hard...underwater. "Wow, that's interesting! How am I doing that?" I thought. I coasted and examined myself. I pulled up my shirt, between some of my ribs were gill openings. I inhaled like normal but exhaled through the gills. The transition from breathing air to breathing water was so smooth I didn't notice.
Where was I? Oh yes, more speed. I really wanted to jump clear of the water. I'm not hydrodynamic like a dolphin, I would have to use brute force. Of course it would help if I shaved my head or...ditched the shirt. So I ditched the shirt. There was no one around anyway. I circled again for speed and jumped. This time I cleared the water and did a full axel before splashing in. I immediately did a u-turn underwater and swam throught the tickly bubbles from my splash. I sufaced. "That was fun!" I said aloud. "I could get used to this!"
"Yay! That was cool. I'm Next!"
I yipped and coverd myself as best I could. About thirty feet away was a young girl. "Is there anybody else out here?" I said blushing from head to tail.
"Nope, just us two."
"Good, I'll be back in a minute." I slipped under the water and hunted Until I found my old shirt and put it back on.
I looked up to see her slowly swimming towards me. She was a cute little girl, perhaps about ten-years-old, with long, dark hair, a pink Hello Kitty tank-top and bright green scales on her tail. She was a mermaid too. It's impossible for me to talk while breathing water, so I montioned with my thumb for us to surface.
When I broke surface, she had started circling. In a few moments she made her jump. She didn't quite clear the water, but her splash was impressive. I clapped and cheered. She surfaced and spat out some water.
"Your jump was cooler than mine. Maybe I should take my shirt..."
"NO! Keep it on!"
"Just kidding," she laughed. "What's your name?"
"Hannah. What's yours?"
"Skye. Guess it should be changed to Sea now. Hannah's a good mermaid name."
"Yes, I suppose it is. I hadn't thought about it, thanks. Skye's a pretty name for anyone, mermaid or not."
"Thank you. Your ears are pointy, were they part of your costume when you changed?"
"Sort of, I had been dressed up as a Vulcan and was changing into a mermaid costume when I got changed for real. What about you?"
She frowned and looked down. "I was here with my grown-up sister and my little brother. Wynd was dressed as a pegasus. Wynd is a great name for a flying horse, don't you think? Jamie was Stuart Little. I lost them when we changed. Wynd got scared and ran off. Jamie got real small. I tried to hang on to him, but he slipped away and I couldn't crawl fast enough to catch him. I sure hope nobody stepped on him." At this point, the tears began to flow. I hugged her and tried to think of something comforting to say.
"It'll be alright. They'll be found OK," I hoped that was true.
To distract her from her siblings, I asked, "How did you come to be in the lake?"
"It's kinda confusing. This fox-lady found me and grabbed me saying that I needed to be put in the water or I'd die. She was nice but a bit," Sky circled her finger next to her temple. "I can breathe air just fine, but she had me scared, so I let her take me. She ran all the way to the lake and threw me in, 'kersplash'!"
"You've been here all night? Didn't you get hungry?"
"Yeah. I ate fishies."
"Fishies!? Well, come to think of it, that doesn't sound as gross to me now, as it would have yesterday.
"What about your parents?" I asked.
"They didn't come, but by now I bet they're here somewhere looking for us."
I could see what I needed to do. I needed to go back and help Randal with the missing persons. I had to help Skye and her family, all the other missing too and I needed to stop being one of the missing. I couldn't leave Skye alone again, however. I wondered if the chair could haul the both of us. I'm strong enough, if I can get the traction.
We both crawled out of the water. I pushed the wheelchair to firmer ground, climbed in and helped Skye unto my lap. The gravel path was tough. It was in the shade, fortunately, but I was still sweating like the proverbial horse when we got to the concrete path. Also we began to see that taking Skye from the water was not such a good idea. She could breath air as well as I, but as the skin on her lower half began to dry, the scales began to turn dull, crack and itch. I don't have that problem, an advantage, I suppose, of being 'from' an arid planet.
Despite the obvious discomfort, Skye didn't complain, instead she talked about her future plans, she wanted to be a marine archeologist. I have to admit that that intrigued me as well, examining old wrecks, not having to worry about air limits or the bends, swimming as much as I want, sounded awful darn good to me. Merpeople could monopolize careers like that. I like being an editor and proof reader, but I wasn't even sure that Darknight Books could carry on. The owner and every employee except Penny, who was sick yesterday, had been cought up in the Change.
After, probably, the longest quarter-mile in my life, we got to the pool area. Skye didn't want to go into the pool, I couldn't blame her, it was nasty by that time, so we soaked an army blanket, wrapped her in it and laid her in the shade with some bottled water. That made her feel better, but she was more than glad to head back with the first convoy to the lake, when it left about an hour later. I promised her that I would do all I could to find her family and to do more jumping with her this afternoon. After witnessing Skye's optimism and stoicism, I felt a bit embarrased about the way I had behaved at times.
Randal had a table set up near the pool with two people entering information from a long line of survivors and relatives into laptops. I took the place of one of the people and started entering data. Every case was unique, so I took in as much detail as I possibly could. It's fortunate that I can type fast and my fingers were only partly webbed. I had been there only a little more than two hours, when I looked up and saw Alex.
It hadn't been twenty-four hours since I had seen him last, but it had seemed a lifetime. He was the same Alex, yet subtly different, more than just the lack of glasses, wiser perhaps. As he walked towards me, hopeful smile, brown, shoulder length, hair blowing in the breeze, full Jedi regalia, I knew 'resistance was futile'. I had to put up a front though, he was in for a nasty shock when he got to see all of me, so I couldn't just melt all over him. I had to give him a chance to back away. I couldn't live with the thought that I had trapped him with his sense of duty.
I asked Kay, one of the MIB's who were providing security for us, to take my place at the laptop. I then wheeled myself out from behind the table and as cooly as I could said, "We have to talk." I then pointed to the tent where the water and MRE's were kept, "Over there." The look on Alex's face when he saw the wheelchair and my lower body all wrapped up was heart-rending. I had to give him the information straight, with no sugar coating, but I felt cruel. As soon as I got into the shade, I turned to him and said, "I'm so sorry I didn't contact you first. I was trying to find a way to prepare you for this, but just couldn't."
"Prepare me for what?" his voice cracked with emotion.
"This," There was no more hiding, I pulled away the blanket. "I was caught in the midst of switching costumes, when the change happened." When Alex gasped, it was like my worst nightmare. "So you see, we can't..." I began but never got to finish.
"My God," he said, "you're...you're beautiful."
"What?!" It was my turn to be shocked. I expected just about any reaction, from horror to pity, but not this.
"I was afraid it was something terrible!" he blurted. This kind of irritated me. What was his idea of terrible?
"This isn't terrible?! I can't walk!"
"I don't mean to trivialize that," he corrected. "but it's something we can get through together." He knelt down next to me. "And I do want to be with you no matter what has happened, or might happen." The Vulcan part of me could read his mind well enough to have no doubt that he meant it.
"Even if I'm stuck like this for life?"
"Even so," he said. Then he grinned. "Have I ever told you that I think mermaids are hot?"
"What about Mervulcans?" I was out of objections, and was just preparing for assimilation.
"Do you mean that?" I said weakly. I was done, he had me. I felt tears coming on, the good kind this time.
He took me into his arms and kissed me. With my arms around his neck and my tail around his leg, I pulled him close. There was no way I was letting him get away now. After a long, blissful time, he whispered in my ear, "We'll need a house with a pool." Though his heart was in the right place, I could see he still hadn't a clue.
"Pool? Honey, really, we're gonna need a place on a big body of water, preferably with access to the sea." I pulled him tighter, "By the way, I still have all my equipment, I'll help you find it, later."
"Remember, that nice big tub in the room?" he whispered back. "Can you read what I'm thinking now?"
"But first, you've got to push me over to the lake. The small one on the other side of those trees. It was set aside for us water creatures when the pool got too crowded. It's surprising how popular we were this weekend, especially mermaids. Speaking of which, you have to meet a new friend I've made."
"You really have to watch me swim," I continued to chatter. "I can jump right into the air, when I have the room to." I was so relieved, I felt like I had one glass of wine too many.
"Just a moment," Alex started going through the pockets of his robe and pulled out a small device. "Remember these from Pantom Menace? It lets me breathe underwater. I think I'll join you."
"Then we'll get a bite to eat. You know, this may sound silly," I said. "But I really would like some sushi for dinner tonight, if there's any way we could get some."