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Mermaids of Xanadu

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Xanadu story universe


Chapter One: Homecoming

"It's time we left," said Alex.

"I agree. This very afternoon," I said. Alex was pushing me back to the hotel after our impromptu celebration at the Walkers' tent. All three siblings were now reunited with their parents. Of course the ordeal of learning to live with the changes wrought by the Xanadu effect was just beginning for them, as well as for us and more than ten thousand others.

First, we spoke with my parents, who had arrived yesterday morning. This time, it was not a disaster. They gave us their prayers and wishes for my safe delivery and a healthy child, along with their unconditional love, be she Mer or biped. I knew this was how it would turn out, I was happy that it resolved as quickly as it did. They would head back to Ashville and come visit when we figured out where we would move to.

It took less than twenty minutes to pack and throw our stuff into the back of Alex's car. We would have to come back for mine, which had been damaged (I couldn't drive it now anyway). The real test was to come next. We decided to leave legitimately rather than 'Jedi' our way off the premises. This required waiting in line for thirty minutes (it was to get much worse in the next few days), being separated, then answering a twenty-minute questionaire read by a staff-sergent. I had to lay down on the floor for my 'height' to be measured, 7'10" from the top of my head to my fin. Finally, we were each issued a shiny new I.D. card with photo (I had to tie my hair back to show my Vulcan features), a verbal description of changes and a new Florida drivers' license (mine conditional to the use of hand-controls, Alex's included a permit to carry his lightsaber). Last but not least, we gave the National Guard their wheelchair back. They didn't demand it, but we felt it best if we got my own. Altogether, this took about an hour.

It was a great relief to be away from that place and headed home, but it was also frightening. I knew the 'home' I was headed for could never really be home anymore. It was too far from open water. Fortunately, we had only moved in last July, so our roots weren't deep.

We didn't talk much on the way, we were each lost in our own thoughts. I began to feel anxious, almost embarassed, like I felt that first evening after the change. Somehow, I didn't want the neighbors to see me crawl.

"You'll carry me into the house, won't you?"

"Sure, right across the threshold, just like I will on our wedding day." Alex grinned. When he looked at me and saw how upset I was, however, he grew serious. "Are you OK?"

"Yes, just feeling a bit of anxiety."

"I know just what you need. There are no beaches around, maybe a pool? We could really freak the mundanes."

"It's more a social anxiety than water. I just don't want the neighbors to see me crawling into the house."

"OK." He gave me a look that told me that though he didn't understand, he'd walk barefoot over broken glass to make me feel better.

I stayed silent for a few moments, then spoke, "You're perfect for me. You know that, don't you?"

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We pulled into the driveway. Once more, everything looked just as it had when I left for Orlando last Thursday. Alex came around to the passenger side, opened the door and carried me into the house. The first thing I did, while Alex was unloading the car, was crawl from room to room, to check everything out. I looked in closets, under beds and behind furniture. I was like a bunny sniffing out a new burrow for dangerous scents. "Is this some sort of Vulcan or Mer maternal instinct? Or am I just going nuts?" I thought.

"Do you really want me to answer that?" responded Alex.

"No! And you left all the closets in a mess putting together your Jedi outfit!"

"Oops! I was counting on you being amused enough by my efforts to overlook that."

"You weren't counting on bringing home a cranky, pregnant mermaid, were you?" "Well," I said aloud. "She's also hungry. Go fetch something to eat and I'll forgive you and straighten out the closets myself, at least those parts of the mess I can reach."

"Chinese carryout?"

"Yes, but no seafood, please. I can't stand the stuff cooked anymore, and the Chinese don't do sashimi."

Alex left, and I began unpacking. I was done and starting to contemplate the closet, when the doorbell rang. "Crap! I'm betting that's not you yet, is it Alex?" No response. I crawled up to the livingroom door. The bell rang again. "Just a moment." I raised myself as high on my tail as I could, putting one hand on the wall for balance. I was wearing a sun dress, so, if someone didn't know better, or didn't look over my shoulder to see my fin splayed out behind me, they might think I was standing on my knees. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

It was Mrs. Linzky, one of our neighbors. She was a retired school teacher and a widow. Alex got along quite well with her, she always seemed a little intimidating to me, perhaps it's the teacher thing. She was a bit befuddled, probably because she was used to looking up at me.

"Hannah!" She looked down over her spectacles. "I heard you-two got caught in that terrible thing that happened in Orlando. Are you-all doing alright?"

"Uh, not too bad. Considering." I noticed she was carrying a covered dish. I was going to have to invite her in. This was going to be awkward (in more ways than one) no matter what I did, so I resigned myself to it. "Would you like to come in and sit a spell?"

"Sure, if you don't mind. I brought some eggs."

"That wouldn't happen to be your deviled eggs, the recipee with horseradish would it? We like those!"

"Why yes, they would." she smiled.

"Just a moment." Mer bodies are not made to back up in. "Here goes," I thought. I leaned back, spun around, did a single hop crawl to the couch, then a half turn/half flip onto the middle of the couch. I ended up sitting primly, my tail half curled to the left, displaying my large purple and gold fin on the carpet. "Just put the eggs on the kitchen table and come sit." I patted the seat next to me.

I half expected her to pee herself or maybe just keel over, but evidently highschool teachers in her day were made of sterner stuff. She froze for a moment to regather her wits, took the eggs into the kitchen, then sat next to me, showing only a bit of a flush on her face.

"So...You're a mermaid," she said quietly.

"Yes," I nodded, adding the sweetest, most uncreepy smile I could manage.

Then, she truly surprised me. She laughed, gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. "You are so lucky! Since I was a little girl, I wanted there to be mermaids! I wanted to be one too! Now they...you're real!" She wanted to know all about how it happened and if it might happen again. I really thought she might buy a mermaid tail and camp out at the Xanadu Center.

I didn't know how to handle this. I was getting dropped down Alice's rabbit hole...again! This time, by a school teacher!

After a while, however, I relaxed. I began to see her curiosity as friendly, an innocent childhood fantasy, rather than something I should worry about. I related the whole story of my change, and some others as well. Eventually, she asked, rather shyly, if she could touch my tail and fin. I consented.

"The scales are rather warm and dry, aren't they?" she said.

"Well, I am a warm-blooded mammal, despite the scales and gills, nearly all of us Mer are. As for dry, some of us have an easier time out of water than others."

"Your fin is so delicate-looking, but it feels tough."

"It is tough. It has to move a lot of water, fast."

"You don't switch back and forth, between human and mermaid, do you?"

"No, I'm a mermaid 24/7. If there is a way for me to change, I haven't found it yet. Some can switch, however. They're Mer when wet, or change with a magic phrase or even at will. Most are of the 'just add water' variety, thanks to Darryl Hannah and a certain Australian TV show." I laughed and added, "I bet some folks were in for a rude surprise when they got home from the convention and took a shower!"

Alex arrived about that time with pan-fried dumplings and chicken mu-shu. Edna politely declined our offer to share supper with us, but promised to keep in touch. After she left, I turned to Alex, "I think I have a fan."

"You have a fan? Why do you think I'm late? I spent fifteen minutes signing autographs at the carryout. Oh, our local CNN afiliate would like an interview with a real mermaid and her Jedi-guy sometime tomorrow."

"Wow. When they call back tell them I'll do it, but only if they tape some sequences of me swimming, not just rolling around in a wheelchair."

"I think that's pretty much a given. They'll probably want to see me play with my lightsaber. Cut a Volkswagen in half or something.

"Speaking of wheelchair," Alex pulled a communicator out of one of his many pockets and turned on the screen, "we have an appointment in the morning at 9:30 for you to pick one out at the medical supply warehouse downtown."

"Do I get my pick?"

"I suppose, so long as we can make the co-pay. The food's getting cold, by the way, want me to carry you to the table?"

"Yes please, I'm starved!"

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I woke up early the next morning, feeling, if anything, more anxious. Early mornings have always been bad for me in that way. I usually let others do the worrying. Alex is a good worrier. I generally just try to deal with things as they come. Everything always seems more overwhelming to me in the early dawn for some reason. I slipped quietly out of bed. What now? If I fiddle with the closets, I'll make too much noise and wake Alex. Same thing if I start sorting through the squeeky dresser drawers. I could watch TV with the volume way down low, but I felt more than my usual revulsion for television and it would remind me that I was going to be on the TV news sometime today, which wasn't going to help. Finally, I decided on cornflakes.

I'm about convinced that my recent feeding frenzies are a Mendenhall rather than a Mer or Vulcan maternal thing. I recall both my older sisters alternating between ravenous hunger and debilitating nausea during their first trimesters. I'm pretty sure my newly acquired taste for raw sea-creatures is Mer, however. Of course, it was probably floating somewhere in the back of my mind when my tail became permanent last Saturday. Afterall, the mermaid costume was chosen for me as some kind of goofy 'Hannah hates sushi' joke. On the other hand, Skye likes raw fish now too. I'm not sure about the other new Merfolk.

I quietly crawled into the kitchen. Unfortunately, the cereal was all on the top shelf of the cabinet. What fool was responsible for that? Yep, it was me, back when I was 5'9" and didn't worry about reaching for stuff. I grabbed the counter and pulled myself up until I sat on it. Then, I twisted around, opened the cabinet door, reached up and grabbed the box of flakes. Scales don't have much traction on counter tops. I yelped, slid off and hit the floor with a thud. Somewhere in the process, the box of flakes exploded and I whacked the tingly part of my elbow. When Alex rushed in, I was writhing on the floor, covered in cornflakes. All he needed was some flour and beaten egg and he could have had a fish fry.

"Are you OK?!"

"Nooo!" I wailed.

He sat next to me, slipping and sliding in the cereal, "Is anything broken? Where does it hurt?"

Seeing him slide barefoot in flakes tickled me. I laughed and cried hysterically, "(Tee-hee)...arm...(tee)...stinger...(hee)... nothing's...(sniff tee-hee)...busted!"

"What about inside?"

"That's OK...(sniff hee). She's OK, I'm sure of it."

He held me and calmed me down. A great thing about having a Force-sensitive for a loved one, they really can kiss it and make it feel all better. I was still upset, however, and finally burst out, "I am not handicapped! I am a sea-creature! I do not belong in a wheelchair! I belong in the water!"

"Well, actually, no one belongs in a wheelchair," Alex reminded me. "It's just a mobility tool. An expediant 'til we can move to a better place."

"You're right." I flipped the cornflakes off my tailfin. "But, who am I fooling anyway? I can't leave the land entirely, nearly everyone I love and care for are land-creatures. Meanwhile I can't even make myself a bowl of cornflakes without courting disaster! Edna should see this, then tell me how lucky I am!"

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I helped Alex sweep up the cereal, as best I could, then sat in one of the kitchen chairs while he fried some eggs (I had lost my desire for cereal). We ate mostly in silence, finally, Alex looked at me seriously and said, "You know, I'm getting tired of being a fiance."

"Huh?"

"Let's just get married." He reached across the table and took my hands in his.

"OK."

"I mean today."

"Yes."

"There's no real reason to delay. You're already pregnant. I know you always wanted a formal wedding..."

"I said OK!"

"All right then!" he grinned.

"Formal woulda been nice, but that's a lot more complicated now. How do I get down the isle for example, roll, swim, crawl or have Poppa carry me? And that's just one detail. By the time we got it all figured out, I'd need to wear maternity. so, let's just do it!"

About that time, the phone rang. Alex answered it. After a short conversation, he hung up. "The news people want to meet us at the city pool at 7:30, that gives us an hour."

"I guess I'd better get to it then." I slid off the chair and headed for the bathroom.

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We pulled into the parking lot with maybe a minute to spare. There was the camera truck, with its long telescoping antenna and a SUV with the station's logo on its side. I had serious butterflies, I mean hyperactive butterflies the size of jumbo jets in my belly. I really didn't want to do this. Mermaids can't run, but if there had been a river or lake near by to escape to, all they would have seen of me was a cloud of dust and a tailfin.

It was too early to pick up the wheelchair, so Alex had to carry me to the pool. There were four folding directors' chairs next to the water. Alex was told to put me in the one on the far right and sit next to me. I was wearing a black swim-top and a large beach-towel. I wondered how long I would have to hide at the bottom of the pool before they would give up and go away.

When they turned on the cameras, there was a problem right away. Under the bright lights, my scales were causing serious glare. It looked like I was sitting on a supernova. Great! Maybe they'll make me go away and just interview the Jedi. No such luck, they sprayed my tail down with some kind of shine-cutting powder and changed some of the angles.

The hosts were two women, one a perky blond in a red dress with lots of cleavage, the other a perky brunette in a black dress with even more cleavage. If this had turned into a battle of the boobs, I would've been looking at third place. The director made some gestures and pointed, the brunette began introducing me. The whole interview is a blur in my brain, but Alex said I did pretty well.

They had me relate why I was at the convention and how I came to be dressed as both a Vulcan and a mermaid, what the change was like and what happened after. They had me show off my ears, gills and partially webbed fingers. They asked about Vulcan telepatic abilities and how they mesh with those of a Jedi. They briefly touched on mobility problems and if I had any regrets about what happened. I was honest and said I had some regrets, but was beginning to accept things as they are. The only awkward part of the interview was when they asked me if, as a mermaid, I had any special powers. I didn't want to tell them of what we had discovered so far about the siren song, but I didn't want to lie. I sort of laughed it off, but Ms red-dress continued to probe.

"But, what about singing? We all know that the ancient Sirens used to cloud men's minds with their song."

"Alex has told me that I sing very well and women have always been able to cloud men's minds."

Everyone laughed and that seemed to satisfy, this wasn't 60 Minutes afterall.

When the interview ended it was time for a swimming demonstration. During the commercial break, they introduced me to a young lady who was the high school regional freestyle swimming champion. They were making this into a competition. I didn't really like that idea, but. "All right" I thought, "Bring it on!" Alex lowered me into the pool and somebody shouted go! Once I got my fin pumping, it wasn't really a race. I finished my lap before the highschooler got to the far end. I can see that the Olympic Committee is going to have to change some rules if Merfolk are ever to be allowed to compete. The youngster was a good sport about it though, and shook my hand afterwards.

I could sense they were a bit disappointed. Mers swim fastest underwater, so there's not much to see in a mermaid race but a blur, then a head pops up past the finish line. I asked if they wanted to see some jumps. They were enthused. I did several jumps, including some flips, twists and spins. I even did a little dance with my tail churning the water, keeping me upright. I have no problems showing off when it comes to swiming. The only bad thing about the experience was the chlorine, it made my gills burn. I kept my head above the water to breathe air as much as I could after that.

I stayed in the pool throughout Alex's interview, watching and slowly swimming about. They asked him many of the same questions, but concentrated on Jedi powers and what it feels like to use the force. They were especially fascinated by his lightsaber of course. They took a close up of it and had him turn it on and off for them. Finally, from around the corner of the building they rolled out an old Volkswagen beetle. I laughed until I nearly peed.

After it was all over, Alex carried me back to the car and we set off for the medical supply warehouse.

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I didn't take long to find a suitable chair, strong, light and manuverable. No bells and whistles. No fancy stuff or colors. I didn't want to get attached to it, and didn't intend to spend any more time in it than necessary.

Our next stop was the courthouse for the marriage license. It being Wednesday, we had a long wait ahead of us. We attracted a lot of attention, not all of it nice. For the first time, I felt some unease being in public. It was the first time we were out away from the Convention Center area. Finally, it was our turn. We handed the clerk our I.D.s. She was a large, middle-aged woman who stared and stared at me and at my I.D. until I became decidedly uncomfortable. She picked up a book from a desk next to her, read from it, then stared at me some more. Eventually, she said, "I can't issue you this license."

"What?!" We both exclaimed at the same time.

"It says right here in Florida Statutes," she tapped the book. "Both parties must be of the human species. You," she looked at me, "are clearly not human."

Alex was shocked into silence. I bolted out of the chair on tail muscle and grabbed the counter to hold myself erect. "Care to repeat that, witch!" The clerk jerked back and began to consider where the nearest security guard was. I had started to pull myself over the counter, when Alex grabbed me about he waist.

"How could she not be human!" he snapped. "She's carrying our child!" "Easy dear. Ripping her lungs out won't help." he thought to me.

Reluctantly, I let him pry me from the counter and set me back down.

"If you can prove that, with a pregnancy and paternity test, I can issue a license."

"We'll see about that!" Alex turned about and pushed me out of the room. As we left, most of the faces were shocked and sympathetic. There were a few smirks. There was nothing in my life up to that time that could compare to the humiliation of that moment. As soon as we were out of their sight, I burst into tears, growled and twisted the right armrest of the wheelchair until it snapped off.

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"I can't believe we have to prove that I'm human before we can get married!" I said, once we were back in the car. "Can we even prove that!" I put my face in my hands.

"One idiot doesn't make a universe. We don't have to get the license from the county we live in. We can even go across state lines. Let's try the next county over."

"I don't know if I can go through that again."

"I don't think we will. But, if we do, what say I let you crawl over the counter and maul the next clerk?"

"Deal! But I'm serious. You'll have a much harder time stopping me if it happens again."

It didn't happen again. The next clerk hardly batted an eye. He just asked us, "Ya'll get caught up in that Xanadu thing?" Then he clucked sympathetically, and issued our license. We went home to change and call a Justice of the Peace.

Alex put on the best Jedi robes he could conjure up. I looked throught my entire wardrobe looking for something nice enough to feel good getting married in. It wasn't easy. I finally found a cream-colored sheath that was gathered at the waist and left one shoulder bare. For jewelry, I asked Alex's advice.

"Pearls, or silver choker with matching earrings?"

"Both."

"Huh?"

"Silver choker on the neck, and the pearls..." he took them and wrapped them around my tail, just above the fin.

"Cool!" I said. "I would have never thought of that. You look great, by the way. What about me? Does this dress make my tail look fat?" I tried to sound serious, but didn't do a good job of it.

Alex snorted out a laugh, "You look gorgeous!"

Alex had a friend from the bank who was a JP. We called and he was more than happy to do the honors at his house. When we arrived, he had already snagged a couple of his neighbors as witnesses. Alex knelt, I stood on my tail with his arm linked with mine to keep me upright. A few minutes later and it was done. I was Mrs. Edward Alexander Harris. A single toast with Bourbon, a quick dance (Alex twirled me about while I clung to his neck) and then we left for home, where Alex carried a very happy mermaid across the threshold.

Chapter Two: Moonlight and Shadow

Skye lay on her back, arms outstretched and allowed herself to float very slowly to the surface. She had been sleeping at the bottom of the lake, but woke up a couple of hours before dawn, with no desire to go back to sleep. She felt no need for activity either, she just drifted along with her thoughts. She was beginning to feel lonely. Hannah was gone, Emily was gone. One by one the small colony of Mermaids was being diminished as relatives claimed them and took them away to some attempt at a normal life. Nearly all those near Skye's age or younger were already gone. Things proceded slower for the older Mers, especially those who had been living independent lives that would be almost impossible to return to. A few, like Skye, were stuck in the lake due to sensitivity to drying out. They would have to stay until special arrangements could be made.

Skye's family was in a particularly difficult situation. They needed to accomodate two daughters with very special needs for particular kinds of space in land, water and air. Jim, their father, was now looking for a new home for them all, but, because of the economy, it looked unlikely that they would be able to sell their old home for anything near what they still owed on it. Meanwhile, both parents lived out of their tent to stay close to their children.

Skye's face quietly broke surface. Slowly she expelled water from her chest-cavity, reinflated her lungs and began breathing air. It smelt of newly mown grass with a touch of woodsmoke. The water had smelt of algae, fish and, sadly, just a little bit of feces. That shouldn't be surprising. Porta-potties didn't arrive until Tuesday and none of them were suited to Mer use. Crawling out on land, entering the potty on hands and tail, then contorting one's self to actually use it without getting filthy, well, it was just easier to find a quiet place under water and take care of business there. In that sense, it was not a bad thing that the Mer population was decreasing. This problem was not likely to be resolved soon. Each Mer body was designed more by imagination than nature, they didn't even all have the same plumbing arragements.

Creating hardly a ripple, Skye rolled over and looked around. A gibbous, waning moon illuminated the landscape. The first thing she noticed was Wynd, quietly grazing near the shore. She was happy that her sister was also awake, and decided to go talk to her, though the conversation would be one-sided, it would still be a comfort.

Just as she started to push-forward with her tail, she noticed that something black had broken away from the shadow of the wood and began approaching her sister. An icy-cold feeling came over Skye and she was just about to shout out a warning when Wynd looked up and the shadow stopped. Shadow and pegasus seemed to stare at one another. Skye was filled with an overwhelming certainty that if she made a sound, something horrible would happen. This 'stand-off' seemed to last an eternity, then a low voice spoke words too soft for Skye to understand. Wynd nodded and the shadow approached her again. It now stood at her head. It was nearly as tall as a human, but was also nearly formless.

Hardly daring to breath, Skye moved forward. Her tail moved so slowly it hardly stirred the water. Just enough of her head was above surface to see. Her ears strained to listen. She knew she mustn't snoop, but she sensed there was something terribly wrong about what was happening, and that, though she may not realize it, her sister was in danger.

Finally, Wynd grunted and nodded her head vigorously. Skye arrived at a patch of reeds near the shore. She could hear the shadow whispering, but again could not understand it. Then, very suddenly, the shadow left the way it had come. Disappearing so quickly that it must have flown. Wynd stood, legs slightly splayed, head down and eyes closed.

To see better, Skye raised herself as high out of the water as she could. She had just resolved to climb out onto land, when the ground at Wynd's hooves began to glow silver, like a concentration of moonlight. The light spread up her legs in a swirling motion, until she was entirely engulfed. It then concentrated in intensity about her head and neck. Her head shrank. Her neck lengthened, then two appendages sprang out of either side of it.

Skye could no longer stop herself. She pulled out onto the grass and cried out, "Wynd, what's happening!?" Then the glow was gone, only a few sparks, like circling fireflies, lingered, fading. Wynd stood contemplating her arms and flexing her fingers. From the waist up, she was very much as she had been before Kubla Con. Only now, her hair, which had been dark, was now purest white, and her ears were those of a small horse. Below the waist she was still a winged horse.

In awe, Skye approached her sister. "Wynd, you...you're..." She couldn't find words.

Wynd noticed her for the first time. Her eyes widened with fear. "Skye! What are you doing here?!"

"You can talk!"

"What did you see! Tell me!" There was anger as well as fear in Wynd's voice.

Skye shrank back and curled her tail defensively about herself. "Just a silvery light...and...a shadow." A tear ran down her cheek.

Wynd bit her lip. "You mustn't tell, Skye! If you love me, you can't tell anyone, ever, or I'll become an animal again, without a mind of my own! I couln't stand that, not again."

"OK...I won't. But, what will you say? You've...changed again."

Wynd shrugged. "I'll just tell everyone, I woke up like this." She could see the effect all this was having on her sister. Her face softened. She knelt down onto the grass and reached out. Skye crawled up and hugged her. "Skye, I had to make a promise. A promise I have to keep. Now, you have to promise me."

"OK. I promise. No one will know." Skye frowned, "What kind of promise did you make?"

Wynd ignored her question. "It's almost daylight. I have to cover up," she said shyly. "Will you come with me to the tent and help me find something to wear?"

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I woke-up about two hours before dawn. I wasn't restless, infact, I felt more content than I have since before the Kubla Con, or perhaps ever. No predawn angst this morning. I stretched, flexed my tailfin and snuggled closer to Alex, who was lightly snoring. I lost myself in my thoughts as I watched moonbeams slowly crawl up the bedroom wall.

I haven't been sleeping much. Night after night, I've been waking up hours before I normally would. Nevertheless, physically, I've been feeling fine and rested. Then I thought, "How much sleep do Vulcans need?" I didn't remember any mention of that from any of the films or fan fiction. Which reminded me, "I'm thinking all my thoughts with a Vulcan brain. What effect does that have?" All my thoughts since last Saturday all seem to be the same normal me. But how do I define normal now? Would I have reacted the same to becoming a Mermaid if I'd had a human brain? Would I even notice it, if my thinking were different? Surely Alex would, but he hasn't mentioned it, if he has. Also, if Vulcan women are anything like human, my magnificent brain will soon be awash in pregnancy hormones. What will that do to me? "I should probably spend some time at the computer doing research today," I watched Alex sleep for a few more minutes, "or maybe not." I snuggled up even closer to him.

Chapter Three: A bad Day for a Swim

This time, I fixed breakfast for the two of us, after having made sure last night that everything I needed would be in my reach, of course. It all went smoothly this time. One would almost thing I'd flipped pancakes while sitting down before. We were about half finished eating and were looking into each others' eyes again, when the doorbell rang.

"Uh-oh. wonder who that might be?" I said.

"Whoever it is, you'd best get some clothes on."

"Look whose talking. You're not going to answer the door in your skivvies, are you?"

"Better than nekkid. I'll just throw a robe on."

"You know, we could ignore it." The bell rang again.

"No good," said Alex. "The car's in the driveway and nobody knows it's our honeymoon."

"Oh, OK." I wheeled myself into the bedroom and shut the door, while Alex put on a robe and answered the doorbell.

I had just put on a bra and blouse, and was contemplating a skirt, when Alex walked in and dangled a set of keys.

"What's that?"

"A little something from Todd. He's fulfilled the first condition you put on him." He tossed the keys to me.

"The van! Cool! Is it out there? I wanna see it!" I headed for the door.

It was big and white and rather imposing. Excited, I rolled all around it. "Wanna go for a spin?" I asked. "I'm driving!" It had only been a week since the last time I was behind the wheel of a vehicle, but it seemed like forever.

"Sure, where do you want to go?"

"Once or twice around the block, then guess."

"Hmn, lets see, a pretty little lake full of fellow mermaids you're busting to tell the good news to?"

"Bright lad! You got it on the first try." I pressed the remote, the side door opened and the lift started its way down. It was all rather ponderous and slow. "Hmn, I could crawl/wriggle my own way in and out much quicker. Maybe I shoulda just asked for hand controls. I'm plenty strong enough to wrestle the chair in and out of the back seat myself."

"Too late now."

I backed onto the lift and pushed the up button. "I could knit a sweater in the time this takes."

"Impatience is unbecoming in a Vulcan."

"Fooey!"

The lift finally got me up and in. The driver's seat swivled, so bouncing from chair to seat was easy. Alex came round to the passenger side, climbed in and buckled up. "Don't know about these Mermaid drivers," he said, "I hear tale they're crazy."

"Shut up." I studied the controls. "This must be the accelerator and this the brake."

"Best be sure of that first."

"For a Jedi, you're an awful scaredy cat." I stuck the key in the ignition and turned it over. The engine roared to life. I giggled over my new toy, put it in gear and took off.

Hand controls take a little getting used to, but it's not rocket science. I managed to get Alex back home without turning his hair white.

"Todd must be serious about keeping Darknight going to take this much care in keeping me," I said as I pulled into the driveway.

"It's been his passion for the last five years."

"Not his only passion," I smiled. "Did you see the way he and Beth were looking at each other."

"Yes, course it's hard not to look at Beth."

"Ooo," I swatted his knee. "Bad Jedi! No biscuit! Down that road lies the tail-slappin' wrath of the sea-bitch."

Alex laughed. "Well, lets get our swim stuff together and go."

I was on my way down in the lift, when I looked up and saw Edna. She was standing next to the driveway, looking rather shy.

"Hi!" I said, as the lift whined to a stop.

"Hi!" She said. "I was wondering...if you don't mind...if you all will be going back to Orlando any time soon?"

"We're going back for a visit today, just for the afternoon."

"Would you take me with you! If it's not a bother, that is. I would very much like to meet some more real Mermaids like yourself."

"Sure, no bother."

Alex came around from the other side of the van holding his communicator. "Hi, Mrs. Linzky. Hannah, the bank just called. They want to meet with me."

"When?"

"In about two hours."

"Dang it!" I threw up my hands. "It's like they knew! Well, I'm going anyway!"

"You sure?"

"I'm determined. Once my mind's set on swiming, I just gotta do it."

"In that case, would you mind going with her, Mrs. Linzky? She's quite capable and all, but I'd still prefer that someone with legs goes with her."

"Not at all, I'd love to. In fact, I was just asking Hannah if I could come. Oh, and call me Edna."

"Best go pack some swim things, Edna," I said. "If you're going to talk to Mermaids, you have to expect to get wet."

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We went back inside. Me to throw a few things into a beach bag. Alex to try to come up with something suitable to wear to a business meeting.

Nothing he tried on turned into anything apropriate. The last thing ended up as something black with lots of leather.

"Dammit!" Alex sat on the bed and put his face in his hands. "I'll never be able to wear a business suit again!"

I patted his knee. "Poor baby."

"Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

"Do you think they'll fire you because you can't wear a suit and tie anymore?"

"I don't know. Maybe not."

"Well, you can't wear that. It looks like you're about to go Sith. I do hope you can come up with it again some time though. You look hot."

"Thanks. I guess I'll just go with whatever comes up next, unless it's worse. Hadn't you better go? Your fan club is probably waiting."

"You know dear, we really need never fear unemployment again. If worse comes to worse, the other girls and I could work for Sea World. We could tour the country. The 'Mermaid Experience'. Come, pet real live Mermaids!"

"Guys would line up for blocks for that. I could always do birthday parties. Look Ma! He can juggle without using his hands!"

"And cut Volkswagens in half!"

Alex rolled on the bed and I almost fell out of my chair, laughing.

Finally, Alex raised up and dried his eyes with his sleeve. "Have you noticed? When you laugh, I mean really laugh, the tips of your tail fin curl up and the whole fin quivers. That's so cute!"

I looked at him. "I think Edna can wait a few more minutes."

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A little while later, I was behind the wheel of the van and easing on to the interstate, headed for Orlando. Edna sat next to me squirming like a six-year-old on her way to Disney World. I was wearing a swimsuit top under a loose blouse and a beach towel over my tail.

"I should probably tell you about some of the people you'll be meeting. They're all permanent Mermaids like myself. Most of the changeable Mers have already gone home. Most of them didn't hang around the lake much anyway.

"Almost all of us are female too. There are only a handfull of men. I guess dressing up as Mers isn't a guy thing. Then there's Jackie. Jack was a frat boy who lost a bet and had to parade down the main hall dressed as Ariel, seashells on hairy chest and all. When the change came he gained a tail and lost his manhood."

"How horrible!" said Edna.

I nodded, "Well, he, or I should say she, is very beautiful, the perfect image of what Ariel would have looked like if she had been real, instead of a cartoon. Jackie spent most of Sunday in the lake, swimming in aimless circles, in shock. Finally, that evening, she surfaced, stared for a long time at her reflection, then ripped off her shells, grabbed her boobs and proclaimed, in her sweet Ariel voice, 'If this don't just bust Hell wide open!'. She seemed better after that, resigned, if not happy.

"Sad," said Edna, shaking her head.

"It's worse than that. Her parents won't take her."

"What!?"

"They refuse to believe that Jackie used to be their son. It's not hard to understand why. She looks nothing like she once did."

"But, she would know things that only Jack would know!"

"Doesn't seem to matter. They're in total denial. That's the way it is with the Xanadu effect, for every person who got their heart's desire, there's at least one for whom it was a total disaster!"

"Do you know anyone who got their heart's desire?"

"No, not of my own aquaintance, not completely. The closest would be Angeline. She was a paraplegic. She came to the Kubla Con as a mermaid in a wheelchair and that's what she became. She still can't walk, but you should see her swim and jump. She's obviously happier now, delighted even. She's certainly better prepared emotionally and materially for her new life than the rest of us were. She was already living independently for example. She would be the first to say that the Xanadu Effect made her life better.

"What about you? where do you fall on that scale."

I thought about that one for a bit. "Somewhere in between, but definitely closer to the disaster side. I can accept what happened to me, but I would have never chosen it. And I would go back without a moment's hesitation."

Edna sat, lost in her thoughts for a few minutes, "I would have to agree, if I were in your shoes...er situation. On the other hand, if I could be a changeable Mermaid, or if I could be totally free of the land, I would be seriously tempted." Then she changed the subject. "I imagine Ariel was a popular model."

"There are a lot of Ariels of different ages. Most ended up as changeables, except the youngest, the pre 'falling in love with Eric' ones. Including a couple who think they actually are Ariel. They don't remember their former lives at all. I've offered to help, using the Vulcan mind meld, but they refused. They're both adults, and I wouldn't force them, even if I could."

By that time, we were pulling up to one of the check points. I was a little worried tha they wouldn't let her in, but they seemed to think Edna was my mom or an auntie or something and waved us on through after looking at my survivors ID. There were still a lot of abandoned cars in the lot, five days after the 'event'. I took advantage of my handicap tag and parked in a spot near the Center. Beth was already there, and waved.

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I began my descent, feeling a bit like some kind of Undine deus ex machina. I looped my beach bag over one of my chair's handles.

"Whoa," said Beth, "When that door slid open with you sitting there, I half expected an angelic choir."

I giggled, "That's kinda like what I was thinking."

"Me thinks Todd might have overdone it, again."

"After all the trouble and expense he must have gone through, don't expect me to complain."

"Don't be shy, this isn't a gift, remember, he wants you to keep working for him."

"Still, there are going to be times, in the next few months, when I'll appreciate not having to wrestle this chair out of a car's back seat."

"You have a point," said Beth, "When are you due?"

"Oh!" said Edna, who had just come around the front of the van. "Congratulations! I didn't know!"

"About the middle of August, assuming my gestation period is like every one else's," I said. "It's no secret that I'm pregnant, Edna, but I've not been very diligent about letting people know. Beth didn't til I called her this morning. I guess I should make an anouncement today before I lose track of who does and doesn't know."

"Before I forget," Beth rummaged for something up her very long sleeve. "We were cleaning up the Darknight site last night and found your jeans. These were in them." She handed me my now obsolete driver's license, a credit card and our engagement ring.

"Oooh my!" I felt my eyes well up. The cards meant nothing to me, but that ring! I thought I'd never see it again. I had taken it off and stuck it in my pocket, when I was told I would have make-up put on my hands. It didn't have much intrisic value, we put all we could spare into the down payment on the house, but the sentimental value made it priceless!

"But I'll never wear it again," I said sadly. I dropped it onto my finger, it went down only two-thirds of the way before stopping at the webbing.

"Perhaps you can get it resized," said Edna.

"Perhaps. That is what we were going to do with my wedding ring."

"There's no rule says you can't wear a ring above the first knuckle" said Beth. "speaking of rings," She stuck out her left hand. There she wore an elegant and tasteful ring. Not large or gaudy, or we would have noticed it earlier.

"Todd!" I squealed. "He finally did it!" I was wondering if he ever would!"

"You were wondering! I thought I'd have to wrestle him down and tickle him til he asked!"

"Is a date set?" I asked. There's nothing like just getting married oneself to make one an advocate for the institution.

"First Saturday in June. You're all invited of course."

"I'll be there, especially if you have sashimi and a pool at the reception."

"Absolutely! For one thing, you probably won't be the only Mermaid there."

"Sweet! Of course, I'll be seven months along then. Alex might have to bring me in a wheelbarrow."

"Well, Hannah, Edna, we'd best be getting down to the lake. By the way, there's another surprise waiting for you down there, Hannah."

"Another? This is a day full of surprises. Can you give me a hint?"

"I'll let Wynd tell you all about it."

"Wynd? She can talk now! That is a wonderful surprise!"

"There's more to it than that. You'll just have to see." There was just the slightest hint that something was troubling Beth about this. I decided to ask her about it later.

We had just started down the path through the woods, when Edna stopped. "Oh no!" she said and started rummaging through her bag. "I left my camera on the dashboard! I have to go back and get it. I'm sorry."

"That's OK," said Beth, "We'll wait for you here."

This irritated me. "No we won't. Just keep following this path when you get your camera, Edna. You can't miss the lake."

Beth gave me an odd look. Edna said, "OK," meekly and started back. We continued down the path. Beth's silence spoke volumes. Finally, I said, "Stop!" I put my face in my hands. "I was being a bitch, right?"

"Well, that was very unusual for the 'Sweet Hannah' I've always known.

"It's just that the lake is so close. I couldn't stand waiting!" I felt like sobbing. "I'm so sorry. Edna's been so nice. We can wait here. I'll apologize when she gets back."

Beth patted me on the shoulder, "That's OK. It's a water thing. Sometimes I forget that, in your own way, you need it as badly as Skye." she continued pushing me down the path.

"So swimming keeps me from being a bitch. Best get me there quick then! I'll apologize and try to make it up to Edna. I hope I didn't hurt her feelings too bad."

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"You're going to get me in trouble," said Erica.

"It'll be OK. Don't be such a scaredy cat," said Jamie.

"It's what keeps me alive." Erica sniffed at some ferns and slinked her way around a rock. "I need to get you back before your folks find you gone, or I'm a dead kitty."

"You're exaggerating. Anyway, if all you're gonna do is whine, maybe you should take me back. I'd rather be in my cage."

"Now look who's exaggerating. That's only at night and they never lock the door. Mind you, they might start, if they find out."

Sometimes Jamie felt like a prisoner. His parents were constantly worrying about him, he even worried about himself occasionally. Owls at night, hawks during the day, cats all the time, it wasn't much fun being near the bottom of the food chain. This excursion in the woods is the first he'd been out and about since Monday.

Erica stopped, sat on her haunches and sniffed the air. "Something stinks around here."

"What is it?" Jamie sniffed, but his nose wasn't quite as sensitive, though far better than human.

"Somebody who hasn't bathed since the twentieth century." she sniffed again. "Pooh! Or maybe the nineteenth."

Just then they heard multiple pairs of feet tromping through the undergrowth.

"Time to hide," said Erica, who made a beeline to a hollow log and slipped inside.

"Uh-oh, there's bugs in here," Jamie scrambled over Erica's back.

"So? Now who's the scaredy cat?"

"Some of them are as big as me."

"Really?" She looked back at Jamie, who was using a stick to try to fend off a big centipede. "Ew! Maybe we need a new hiding place."

Something large and heavy sat down hard on the log, making it crack.

"Somebody remind me why we're traipsing through the woods on a hot sunny day?" came a harsh voice.

"Shut up fool! You give us away and Smithy will gut you!" came another such voice.

"I ain't afraid of no human!" returned the first voice, but he said no more.

Erica's eyes widened and her fur puffed up. "Orcs!" she whispered.

"Huh? What're they doing out here? I hate those guys!" Jamie also whispered, though at his size, it hardly mattered. "Do they come out here often?"

"Not that I know of. I bet they're up to no good."

"When have Orcs ever been up to good? We need to get out of here and warn people."

"Are you kidding? One's right on top of us!"

"So? You're a cat. You can run rings around them."

"What if they have bows?"

"They won't pay attention to us. I bet they have bigger fish to fry."

They heard some more steps and a hoarse whisper. "Get down! The fishgirl and the nasty Elf-witch are coming!"

Erica and Jamie looked at each other, eyes wide. "uh-oh," said Jamie, "This could be bad."

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Alex sat across the conference table from the regional director and two of his supervisors. They weren't hostile, but they seemed unable to comprehend that he had very little choice about what he wore.

"You do understand," said the director, "that clients may not take you seriously while wearing that, uh...getup?"

"Perhaps if you waited til you got here to change?" said the senoir supervisor, evidently trying to be helpful.

Alex sighed, stood up, took off his long robe and threw it down on the table. After a few seconds it reformed into a dark gray, conservative suit-coat. "That's what I put on this morning." He sat back down and let them digest what had just happened.

A few moments later, a wave of pain and nausea passed through Alex's body. He stood, white knuckles gripping the edge of the table.

"Are you alright?" asked the director. "You look pale."

"Something terrible is happening," said Alex. It was a disturbance in the Force. Not as close or as strong as what he felt almost a week ago, but more horrifying because it was personal. "I have to go." He picked up his coat, which immediately became a hooded robe again, and left.

Chapter Four: Such a Woeful Destruction

We continued down the path toward the lake. I could smell the water, which now had my complete attention. Suddenly, Beth stopped and stepped aside. "Tira! Seler Lingwende. Nar yrch!" she said and drew her sword.

"What?!" I hadn't the slightest idea what she said, but I knew it wasn't good. A man with short, dark hair, wearing a black suit and tie and dark sunglasses stepped out of the underbrush into the path infront of us. I thought he might have been one of the MIB's, but he wasn't familiar to me. "Who's that?" I asked.

Beth shrugged. "Not my father. Careful, I smell Orcs!"

The stranger spoke, "Miss Parsons and Miss Mendenhall I presume." Two men wearing camoflage fatigues and carrying rifles emerged from either side of the path to stand next to him. There was also rustling in the undergrowth all around us.

"That's Mrs. Harris to you," I said.

"This is bad." whispered Beth.

"Congratulations. You will come with us." That voice! That's when I recognised him. Agent Smith from The Matrix. Crap!

"Not bloody likely!" said Beth.

"I don't like this anymore than you," I whispered. "But there's more of them and they have guns."

"My mother was taken by Orcs and tortured. Never will I fall into their hands!" she hissed.

"Your mother? You mean Arwen's mother! You're Beth, remember!" There was the sound of running feet behind us. I turned to see an Orc, axe upraised, charging. Beth did not move until the Orc was almost upon her, then her blade flashed, her attacker's body crashed at her feet, but his head continued down the path, bouncing past Smith. She returned to the position she held before, as if nothing had happened.

There was the crack of a rifle, and the world froze. Beth stood as before, sword upraised, black blood dripping from its blade, only now a thin line of red trickled from the corner of her mouth.

I screamed and catapulted from the chair. If I had known what I was doing, I might have done some good. As it was, my scream staggered Smith and one of the riflemen. The other fell to his knees. I slammed into Smith and bore him into the ground. All I could see was his hateful face. I tried to throttle him, but my webbing made it difficult to get a good grip. So I pummeled him with my fists. I did not know it at the time, but I was in the throes of Vulcan rage. The very thing that nearly destroyed their civilization. The emotion that made Vulcans reject all emotion.

Despite my tunnel-vision, I was aware of all that went on around me. Someone was foolish enough to grab me by the shoulders and try to pull me off Agent Smith. I tail-slapped him and heard ribs crack. There was the whirr of an Elven blade and the sound of steel grating against bone. Then a heavy body fell across my back and another jumped onto my tail. I couldn't move. Suddenly, Smith's face changed, it became a different face, one full of fear and pain. somewhere in the back of my mind, it occured to me, if this was really Agent Smith, I wouldn't have been able to do this to him. Finally, there were two more rifle shots, then a pricking pain in my shoulder, followed by nothing.

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As Alex strode across the parking lot, he dialed Hannah's number. No answer. He dialed Beth's number. Again, no answer. He dialed Todd's number. Todd answered. "What the hell's happening?" said Alex.

"I'm not sure. All hell's breaking loose here! Someone just tried to assasinated Eric Winters and there've been shots fired in the woods."

"The woods?"

"Yes, I'm running that way now."

"Meet me at the edge of the woods. I'll be there in about fifteen minutes!" Alex sat behind the steering wheel of his car. He cleared his mind of all thoughts and distractions and let the Force flow into and through him. OK, let's see how fast this Chevy can go.

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Erica crept toward the end of the log, Jamie clung to her shoulders. They peeked out, but could see nothing through the underbrush. The screaming and shooting had just stopped. All they could hear now were moaning and Orc voices.

"Smithy's a goner!" said an Orc.

"Pick him up!" said a man's voice.

"I say he's a goner, leave him!" said the Orc.

There was a shot, followed by the man's voice. "You pick him up then!"

"What about the witch?" said another Orc.

"She is dead. Leave her." said the man.

"Shit! This is a real clusterf**k. the boss is gonna be pissed!" Came another human voice.

"You and you. Carry the fish girl. Hurry!" said the First man.

"She's what did for Smithy! I say we fillet her!" said an Orc.

There was another rifle shot. "Anybody else wanna get creative?" said the first man.

"Dammit Ferg! We're gonna run out of Orcs!" said the second.

"I don't give a shit! You guys put her in the gray van, and she better not have another scratch on her!"

Erica ducked back into the log as two Orcs stomped by carrying a limp, red-headed Mermaid.

"Stop!" yelled Ferg.

"What is it now?!" grumbled one of the two Orcs.

A man in camo ran up and pulled a syringe out of his jacket. He jabbed it into the mermaid's side. "That first one probably won't keep her down long enough. she'll be out for hours now." said Ferg.

"Sleepy fishie!" cackeled an Orc. "She'll wish she never woke up!"

Ferg watched them leave as another man in camo walked up. "I can't believe those guys! Never send an Orc if you have a moron handy," said the second man. "We can't take her where we intended to now."

"It'll have to be the warehouse on Tamarind," said Ferg. "Make sure no one follows you. I'll pick up the boss."

"I'm glad it's you and not me." They both then hurried off.

Erica and Jamie carefully emerged from their hiding place. Erica crept carefully toward the path, dreading what they would see. they found five dead Orcs, an empty wheelchair and a still form dressed in green with a sword by her side.

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Alex figured that he probably had at least a half-dozen police cars from at least three jurisdictions pursuing him by the time he reached the check point at the Convention Center and showed his ID. They were far behind, however. He pulled up next to Hannah's van, got out and ran for the path to the woods. He made the thirty-five minute drive in just under fifteen. He found Todd and Edna. Both looked shaken. Nearby was an ambulance, a second was just pulling up.

"What's going on?" asked Alex.

"I don't know," said Todd. "The authorities were already here. They have the whole area cordoned off and won't let anyone in."

Edna looked down. "I wasn't with them. I was back at the van getting my camera. When I heard the shots and the scream, I was scared. I didn't..." She fell silent.

"I'm sure there's nothing you could have done," said Alex. "Who screamed?"

"I don't know," said Edna. "It was terrible. It nearly made me faint."

Faint? thought Alex. Could a siren's scream have an effect?. "I'm going down there."

"I'm going with you," said Todd.

Taking Todd would make it harder for Alex to talk his way in, especially since he looked, for all the world, like a ten-year-old. One look at his friend, however, told him it would be impossible to say no. "Stay close and don't say anything."

They had just started down the path when they saw two EMT's rolling a stretcher between them. On it was a body completely covered by a sheet. Alex stepped up and pulled down the sheet. It was an Orc.

"Hey! What are you doing?" said an EMT.

"I'm allowed to do this," said Alex. He noticed that his hands were shaking as he put the sheet back.

"He's allowed to do that," said the EMT.

Another pair of paramedics with a body was coming up the path. Alex waited for them. Todd stood beside and a little behind him, looking even more like a lost little boy.

As the stretcher rolled up, it was jostled by a treeroot. A slender arm clad in green fell out from under the sheet. Todd groaned and turned away. Alex gently lifted the arm to tuck it back under the sheet. He froze. "She's not dead!" He pulled the sheet off her face. "Get her to an ER now! She's not dead!"

Chapter Five: Crawling in the dark

I awoke gradually. I was first aware of pain. I must have lain in the same position on a cold and hard surface for a very long time. Every muscle and every joint hurt. There was a scratchy and uncomfortable feeling in my throat as well. When I opened my eyes, there was so little difference I was startled. There was enough light seeping in from somewhere, however, to finally convince me that I wasn't blind, just in a very dark place. Where might that be and why am I here? I thought. Then I remembered why and my heart sank. I raised myself to a sitting position and groaned, or tried to. No sound came out. I tried several times to make a sound, any sound, but nothing would come out of my throat. They've done something to me! Why? Of course, that scream must have frightened them or, perhaps they know something about the siren song or then again, they've heard enough legends to want to take no chances. I thought about calling out in my mind to Alex for help, surely he could hear me. But no, It's probably a trap, I thought. They really want Alex. That's why they took me. I have to get myself out of this myself.

I clapped my hands together to make an echo. It was a very large room. I sniffed the air, it smelt of dust, rust, plastic and...water! I could smell water. It was dirty, stagnant and faint, but real. I began crawling in the direction I thought the smell came from. Eventually, my hands touched a cold, metal grate. That's where the water was. I felt around. It was certainly big enough to fit me, if I could just lift it. Theoretically, as a Vulcan female, I should be about twice as strong as your typical human male. I prayed that would be enough. I braced my tail against the floor, wrapped my fingers around the bars and pulled. There was a groan of metal against metal. It was so loud! I stopped, let the echos die away and listened intently. Nothing. I pulled again and dragged the grate off. I held my head over the opening. The smell of water was much stronger. I wished I knew how far down it was. I tore a button off my blouse and dropped it. After maybe a second and a half, I heard a plop. Perhaps ten or fifteen feet, I thought. How deep is the water? If I go in head first and it's too shallow, I'll break my neck. If I go the other way and it's too shallow, I'll break my tail. Either will put this girl out of business. I lowered my self in tail first and hung on by my fingers. Let's see, I'm about eight feet long, add another foot and a half or so of arm beyond my head. That's still about a six foot drop from my tailfin. I wish I was better at estimating measurements. I relaxed my tail so it would act as a spring and let go.

I splashed in without hurting myself. It must have been closer to ten than fifteen feet down. The water was about three feet deep and rather nasty. I hoped I wouldn't have to breathe any of it. It was still water, however, and I spent a few seconds splashing and reveling in it. I allowed myself to think that maybe, just maybe, the bait was going to work its way off the hook. I was in a chamber about ten feet square. There were two pipes about four feet up on opposite sides. That was above the water level of course. I would have to wriggle my way in and crawl. Which one do I take? They both smelt about the same. I finally decided that one smelt marginally less stagnant than the other and pushed with my tail and pulled with my arms until I was in it. My hips just barely fit.

It was down hill, so the going wasn't too bad. I was awful glad not to be claustrophobic. After about ten feet, the pipe leveled off. Unfortunately, that meant the water that had been there had slowed and dumped its load of silt. The pipe got tighter. I felt ahead of me in the total darkness. It got very tight very quick. I pushed at the silt, hoping it was a drift and I would break through, but it wasn't. Soon, I couldn't move forward at all. There was no way I was going to get any further in this pipe. As I already noted, Mer bodies are not made to go in reverse. I pushed with my hands, but I was just moving the slick silt, not myself. I tried wriggling backwards, but that was like trying to get a bird to fly backwards. I lost my temper and slapped the sides of the pipe with my fin. Then I panicked and thrashed about. That only served to wedge me in deeper. Even considering where I was and who I was dealing with, I tried to scream for help, but of course I couldn't. I ended up crying silently and wishing to be found by anybody, even Orcs. Still, I did not cry out to Alex. Not even to save the two of us.

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Alex persuaded the paramedics to allow the three of them into the Ambulance.

"You're coming too?" said Todd to Alex. "What about Hannah?"

"She's not back there, and she's not dead. I can feel it. I'll go back later to look for evidence." said Alex. "They may need persuading at the ER that Beth's still alive. As long as there's hope, we can't let them give up."

"Thank you," said Todd.

After a few minutes, they arrived at Orlando's Holy Family Hospital, which had become the unofficial hospital for Xanadu survivors due to its proximity to the Convention Center. The paramedics were still doing CPR as they wheeled Beth into the ER. They did not need persuasion, Alex's sincerity and certainty were enough for them to at least try. By the time she was hooked up to the monitors, there was a faint heartbeat.

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It seemed like forever, but was probably only a short while before there was a faint light that came in from behind me. Then I heard a big commotion. Sounds like they miss me, I smiled grimly. I may not have gotton away, but at least I gave them a nasty start. It didn't take them long to find the open grate and just a minute or two later came the sound of splashing. Finally, I could hear voices from the end of the pipe.

"There she is!"

"Is she alive?"

"I think so. Lemme check!" something poked my tail, hard. I would have yelped if I could.

"She's still twitchin'."

"Oughta leave 'er. It'd serve 'er right, the nasty fish-bitch.

"That's the problem with you Orcs, no human compassion. Now go in there and tie this 'round her tail. Make sure it's tight!"

"Why's it gotta be me?" the Orc's voice lowered. "Ya saw what she did to Smithy. Beat his face to a bloody pulp."

Oh, Yes! I thought. Fear me! Fear the fish-bitch! I slapped the side of the pipe with my tail.

"Ay! You stop that!" said the human voice. My tail got poked again, much more painfully this time. "There's more where that came from! Now, be still or we'll let you rot down here!"

I knew I couldn't win this battle, so I let the Orc tie the rope around my tail. It was painfully tight. Then they pulled, hard! I thought my body was going to be torn in half. I tried to scream, but all I could do was hiss, like some prehistoric beast! They extracted me along with a lot of nasty black silt. I was swung out of the pipe still hissing, all teeth, fists and nails. It hurt so bad, I had to fight! They continued to pull me up out of the drain through the open grate. They had set up some kind of tripod and pulley. I hung there, upside down, like a trophy fish!

The light was so bright, after the long darkness, that my eyes were dazzled. They grabbed my arms. I couldn't get any leverage and every movement hurt my tail. Somebody popped a bag over my head and cinched it tight until I gagged. Another ripped my top off and left me bare. All that time, they laughed and made lewd comments, speculating about where my privates were and how hard they'd be to find. Finally, I couldn't take the pain and fear anymore. My mind shrieked, Alex! Help me! I went limp. through the bag I could see flashes. Some one was taking pictures.

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Doctor Leonard H. McCoy M.D., Chief Medical Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, United Federation of Planets was still wondering what the hell he was doing in Orlando, Florida in the early 21st Century. He, along with Jim Kirk and Spock were beaming down to...Dammit! where were we going? That was just another of the gaps and fuzzy areas in his memory that frustrated him to no end. That god damned tranporter! I knew we were going to come to grief someday because of those cussed things! Scrambled my brain and who knows what else. He poured himself a cup of coffee in the hospital break room. At least he'd been busy, apparently arriving in the midst of a gigantic explosion of wierdness, he couldn't even pretend to comprehend. "A massive dissonance in the space/time continuum." is what one of the Spocks told him. One of! That still made his flesh crawl, but not as much as recently seeing another one of his own selves, a much older version. He still hadn't quite gotten over that. He took a sip of coffee and grimaced. Here I am on the world where it was first discovered and brewed and I can't find a good cup of coffee. The stuff the replicator made was better.

His communicator beeped. It was Dr. Keyes, the ER physician. It seemed a Vulcan woman had gotten herself shot up and was in very grave condition. "I'll be right there," he said. Though he was far from considering himself an expert, he was the only physician present who had any experience treating Vulcans. He could well imagine how a curious Vulcan could innocently stick her nose into a situation that would get her shot on this world in this time, still the violence was shocking. He dumped his coffee in the sink and slung his tricorder and medical kit over his shoulder and left the breakroom.

Chapter Six: The Silence of the Mermaid

They took the bag off my head and took a few more pictures. Then they let go of my arms and left me to swing. I covered my chest with one arm and my face with the other. I felt ashamed, not because of my exposure, but because in my weakness, I'd exposed my love to capture or worse. I wondered what they would do with the bait, now that she had served her purpose.

"Be sure to catch her tears," said a human, the one who had poked me. "They say Mermaid tears turn into diamonds."

"You're a fool Matt," said a man I recognized as one of the riflemen that attacked us. "That's just a legend."

"There are legends walking all over Orlando nowadays, Ferg," said Matt.

Ferg had no answer to that. He spat and said, "If we're gonna take her to the boss, she has to be presentable. So, get to it!"

Some Orcs brought up a high-pressure hose and began spraying me down. Normally, that would have felt good after all the filth I'd crawled in, but it caused me to swing faster, increasing the agony in my tail. I nearly passed out. They grabbed my arms again and sprayed my hair and face. I coughed and choked.

"Hey! I thought she could breathe water," said Matt.

Not with my lungs full of air and upside down, moron! I thought. I wondered which, if any of them could hear my thoughts. One of them had to or they wouldn't have known of my distress call.

"That oughta do it," Matt made a motion with his hand and they began lowering me. A couple of Orcs grabbed hold of my tail and kept their weight on it to keep me from thrashing or slapping with it. Two others still held my arms. Finally they took the rope off. There was more pain and tingling as the blood flowed back into my lower tail and fin. I wondered if there was any permanent damage. I know Mer bodies were not meant to be carried that way. I was even more worried about what all this could be doing to our child, but I buried those thoughts deep inside. I knew it would be a very bad thing if they knew I was pregnant. I was now glad that we had told very few people.

Finally, they brought up a fancy-looking dining room chair and tied me into it, tail, arms and waist. Someone, I suppose the 'Boss', was taking no chances. They opened a trap door in the ceiling and lowered some ropes. Before they attached them to the chair, they tied the bag over my head again. I was actually somewhat encouraged by the amount of 'respect' I was getting. They must think I'm dangerous, I thought. They hauled me up through the ceiling and carried me, sedan chair style, down hallways, through doors and around corners. Even if I hadn't been 'bagged', I would have probably gotten lost.

Eventually, they set me down and took the bag off. I was in a plain, white medium-sized room dominated by a large, formal dining table, to which the chair I was in evdently belonged. Opposite me was another such chair, empty. On the table, off to one side, was a silver candlestick. The Orcs were dismissed. Ferg, and another man I didn't recognize, pushed me up close to the table, where I had no leverage, and untied my arms. Then they left through a door behind me.

The first thing I did was arrange my hair to provide some modesty. I wouldn't, willingly, give a peep show to this lot, especially not the Boss. I looked about for a camera, but saw no likely suspects. I tried pushing away from the table, but there was too much friction from the carpet. Given time and a lot of squirming, I could probably work the chair back far enough to tip over backwards. I wasn't given the time. A door on the opposite wall opened and a man walked in. I was half expecting Hannibal Lector, but it wasn't. He was a pleasant looking man in early middle age, but with a grim and unsympathetic expression. His hair was long, blonde and only slightly receding. There was something familiar about him in a Hollywood sort of way. Then I recognized him, David Warner, or I should say, some character portrayed by David Warner about thirty years ago.

Entering behind the Boss, I assumed he was the Boss, was a line of men carrying food and drink. A large lobster was placed in front of me along with some water and white wine. I noticed that I didn't get any utensils, not so much as a spoon. Under the circumstances, if I'd had a fork, I might have been tempted to comb my hair with it. The lobster was cooked, fortunately. As famished as I was, I had no intention of eating for his satisfaction and cooked was easier to turn down. The water was a different matter. I picked up the glass, stuck my nose in the water and sniffed, I didn't care if I grossed him out. It was just tap-water so I downed it. I was in no position to start the conversation, so I stared at him and waited. He took several bites of what looked like broiled fish, wiped his mouth with a napkin and spoke.

"No appetite?" he asked.

I shook my head.

"I would have thought that you would have liked seafood."

I shrugged. Unless you can read my thoughts, this isn't going to be much of a conversation, I thought at him.

"Was it not cooked to your satisfaction? Or, perhaps, it shouldn't have been cooked at all?"

I felt I was being trifled with. I pointed at my throat and raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, that! Don't worry, the soreness will decrease with time."

I shook my head and pointed again.

He smiled, "That is just a simple precaution, to protect you as well as us. It's completely reversable, when you give us reason to reverse it. But, for now, I'm afraid our conversation will be one sided."

I sighed and leaned back in the chair. Just great, I thought. Here comes the villain's monologue.

"I suppose you're wondering why you're here?"

I tried to look surprised, as though it had never occured to me.

"Would it supprise you to find out that the going price for a real live mermaid (now that you exist) in certain parts of the world is already in the billions? I can see by the look on your face that it does. And I did say billions, with a 'B'."

He had me there. This chilled me to the bone. How can any of us maintain our freedom with that kind of price on our heads? And, even though he didn't say so, I'm sure the same went for centaurs, fauns and other mythologicals.

"And, as I'm sure you may have surmised, the price for a living Jedi is many times that of a mermaid. A wise and handy fellow could purchase himself a small country."

I tried to supress it, but the thought came unbidden, What price can there be for the offspring of a Force sensitive and a Mer? I felt like crying. On the other hand, wanting a Jedi and actually getting one are two very different things.

"You may have noticed the flaw in my plan. Subduing and capturing a Jedi is much more difficult than taking a mermaid."

I nodded.

"What if I tell you I have the magic to render a Jedi powerless? Skeptical?"

I just stared, I was starting to get tired of his games.

"That's where you come in. You will be a living demonstration of that power and perhaps save his life. With your cooperation, I can see to it you will never be separated and grant you your heart's desire."

I frowned. You might find my heart's desire very unpleasant, I thought.

"Even without your cooperation, I can accomplish the same thing, at more risk to you, and your husband."

I slowly shook my head.

"I see that words alone will not convince you, therefore, as a demonstration, I'll be generous and grant that wish."

He picked up and rang a small bell that had been placed next to the candle when the food was brought in. I thought it had been placed there to summon servants. Instead, the chair I was in slowly moved of its own away from the table. The ropes binding me to it fell away, then my entire body but most especially my lower body was wracked with pain. I hissed and grabbed the arms of the chair. My tail became blurry and began to shrink rapidly. Legs burst forth from just below my pelvis and grew just as rapidly. I screamed out loud. In what must have been less than a minute, there was no tail, just legs, my original legs, down to the mole just above my right knee. I sat stunned for a moment, then I did something I hadn't done in a week, that I thought I'd never do again. I stood up.

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Alex stood outside the curtain covering the cubicle where they were treating Beth. Todd stood next to him. Edna sat in a chair, her head in her hands. Alex focused his mind on what was happening inside. Mostly it was competant detachment and busyness. From Beth he got just flickers of life, though perhaps stronger than what he felt when he touched her arm on the stretcher. He was distracted by footsteps and looked up to see Bones McCoy. Alex wondered if this was the same McCoy who had treated Hannah and Jamie. Whether it was or not, his presence made Alex feel more confident.

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Bones McCoy strode quickly into the ER. He saw the Jedi and Hobbit hovering outside the curtain, and gave a slight nod of recognition before entering the cubicle. He took one look at the patient. "This isn't a Vulcan."

"What?" said Keyes.

"She's not a Vulcan. The red blood alone is a give away," He began his scan, then paused confused. Everything was mainline human, but the cellular age was off the chart. And, there was no DNA damage, none whatsoever, not even in the skin that would have been exposed to sunlight. Also, What's keeping her alive? Any normal human with these wounds would be approaching room temperature by now!

"She's an Elf," said Alex through the curtain.

"Thanks," said Bones. "Now hush!" He continued the scan, then shook his head. "I'm going to have to open her chest."

Keyes picked up the phone. He had worked with McCoy enough to respect his knowledge. "I'll call OR and start prepping her."

"No, there's no time, it has to be here and now!" He showed Keyes the tricorder screen.

Keyes looked and sucked in his breath, "Right, but what about anesthesia?"

"Is that Jedi still hanging around out there?" said Bones. "Get him in here, stat!"

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"I had nothing to do with that!" said Wynd, looking defensive and distressed. Her sister sat in front of her, arms crossed, tailfin twitching in anger.

"You must understand why I'm suspicious. A mysterious shadow-thing grants you a better transformation, then the very next day..."

"Shush! Not so loud! I could never do anything to hurt Beth or Hannah. They saved me!" Wynd put her face in her hands while her fore hooves pawed divots in the grass.

"I want to believe you," said Skye, near tears herself. "Why can't you tell me what you promised and who you promised it to?"

"I just can't!" wailed Wynd. "You can't tell either, you promised!"

"An evil promise should never be kept! But I believe you, I think. Anyway, I have to trust you. I need your help." said Skye.

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Alex stood at Beth's head, trying not to look as MCoy used a laser scalpel to cut into her chest. He held his hands over her eyes, projecting soothing comfort into her mind. He knew she was feeling no pain in any case, she was too deeply unconscious, but he continued, just in case.

McCoy finished the incision and allowed Keyes to retract the wound, exposing the pericardium, it was full of blood. "Tamponade's already started," said Bones. "I have to cut. she's gonna need a lot of blood."

"Already on the way," said Keyes.

Alex thought he might get sick. He wasn't squeamish, but this was his only up close and personal experience with major surgery. Then he completely lost his concentration. It was as though Hannah was standing next to him screaming in pain. "Alex! Help me!" His hands shook.

"Steady there!" said Bones. "Just a few more minutes!"

Alex broke out in a cold sweat, but he renewed his concentration.

Bones was able to seal the holes in Beth's heart, and finally, closed the incision just as his protoplaser ran out of synthetic skin. At least I didn't have to stitch her up with needle and thread. he thought. But what about the next patient? "Only time will tell," he said. "But I think we may have fixed her."

As soon as he was certain he was no longer needed, Alex left the ER.

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Alex turned in his resignation to the Jedi Council. He knew where Hannah was now, and knew he would likely have to kill to free her. He did not want to cause trouble for the Council by making it look like they endorsed his actions. as he left the Hotel, he saw a dark figure standing by the door. It was Darth Vader. Alex was wary, but the Vader made no hostile move.

"I wish to speak with you."

Alex was puzzled, why would one of the Vaders wish to speak with him? He nodded, "Continue."

"I know of your difficulty."

"Difficulty?"

"Don't be coy with me. It is no secret. Your wife has been kidnapped, you are proceeding to her rescue."

"And what business is that of yours?"

"Under the Old Republic, the Jedi were discouraged from marriage or forming special bonds with individuals."

"I'm aware of that, and the role that played in your own fall."

"Enlightenment."

"Get to your point. I'm in a hurry."

"Excellent. I have forseen that your actions today could very well lead you to embrace the power of the dark side. I have need of an apprentice."

"So you're going to hover about my fight like a vulture, waiting for me to go into a murderous rage, then pick up the pieces?" Alex turned away. "No thanks!"

"No. I intend to help you succeed."

Alex stopped. "Why?"

"Success is as likely as failure to bring about your 'fall'. And you are no good to me as a dead hero."

"And if I don't fall?"

"There will be other occasions. You show great promise in the Force. I do not give up easy."

"So, I have a guardian devil. OK then, if I fall, you have dibs on my soul. Be aware, I don't intend to fall." Alex saw standing ahead of them a tall, bald, dark-skined man in Jedi robes, Master Mace Windu, or more properly, Jim Harding. "Greetings Master," Alex bowed.

Harding/Windu looked Vader over and raised an eyebrow. "I am coming with you, Alex, to show that the Council does not abandon its own in a time of trial."

Alex smiled, "I'm going into battle with a guardian angel as well? One at each shoulder. Who could ask for more?"

Chapter Seven: Swimming in the Dark

I could have danced a jig, but I remembered where I was and that I was unclothed. I stepped behind the chair.

"Do you believe me now?"

"Yes," I said. "I have to." I guess it's safe for them to let me have a voice, now that I'm no longer a sirena.

"Will you help me now?"

"A pair of legs. Is that the current market price for a best friend and husband?"

"Don't trifle with me! You can save him and be with him always." He stood and leaned against the table.

I leaned my head against the back of the chair. Whether from the effects of the transformation or something else, I was feeling kind of sick. "Save him for a life of slavery to who knows what kind of wickedness? He would curse the sight of me every day and he would be right to do so."

He struck the table with his fist, making the dishes shake. "This is useless! Take her back to the cellar!"

In a few moments, the same crowd who brought me, came to take me back. I knew this was going to be unpleasant. On came the bag again and they half dragged, half carried me down the corridor. No longer being a Vulcan, I hadn't the physical strength to even attempt to resist. I expected to be raped. It didn't happen. That probably meant the Boss still harbored some hopes for my cooperation. I was kept in doubt, however, until they lowered me back through the trap door. Just before they closed it, something whizzed by my head and cracked against the floor at my feet.

After struggling with it a few minutes, I got the bag off my head. It was just as dark without it. I felt the floor for whatever it was they threw at me. It was the lobster. I crouched down and began eating it. Why not? There was no one to watch me now and I knew I would eventually need sustenance.

I knew that the Boss' concern for us being together was pure bullcrap. He was probably afraid that his 'ultimate weapon' would ruin Alex's value as a Jedi, just as he had ruined my value as a mermaid. I cracked a claw against the concrete floor and pulled out the meat. He would probably only use that weapon to save himself from Alex's wrath.

What now? Things are probably going to get worse if I stay. Alex could always rescue me, but the Boss' magic had me worried. Worse case scenario? Alex gets changed to his old self and loses. Boss ends up with two 'worthless' geeks. Boss quietly disposes of geeks and starts his next project. Best case scenario? Alex disposes of villains, rescues me, then I melt into his arms. What's most likely? I sighed and peeled the shell from the lobster's tail. The damsel in distress thing never seems to work out for me.

If I escape, I can call Alex, tell him I don't need to be res...whoa...damn! No, I can't call him now, not without a phone. No transmitter on my end anymore. Still, escape is my best option. How? The trapdoor is out, I can't jump that high. I shuddered at the thought of the grate, even if I could lift it. I didn't recall seeing any doors when the lights were on. Of course, hanging by one's tail is not a good position to observe one's surroundings. I'd have to feel along the walls to make sure.

I stood and moved away from the remains of the lobster. I wouldn't bet against there being rats down here. I moved carefully with my arms stretched forward. I didn't want to smack into one of the support beams I remembered seeing. When I thought I'd moved far enough away, I crouched again. I was tired, despite my recent 'nap'. It was also getting hard to concentrate. I kept being distracted by things I thought I saw in the dark. Something began fiddling with the lobster carcass and then I thought I heard a soft splash from the grate. I hugged my knees and shivered.

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They took Darth Vader's SUV. Alex's Chevy was now too 'hot' and a rampaging balrog had demolished Harding's vehicle in the first wave of chaos following the transformations. Alex programed the location of Hannah's distress call into the GPS, then they were off. The location was an isolated area on the Indian river across from Titusville, about a forty-minute drive. The image Alex recieved from Hannah made it obvious that they were looking for a warehouse. The map told them there was only one road in and out. Approaching unnoticed was going to be almost impossible. "Things are going to get ugly as soon as they see Darth Vader behind the wheel," said Alex.

Vader's plan was hardly subtle. It involved crashing the SUV through the gates and emerging with lightsabers blazing. This had Alex's approval, however, due to the pain and sense of urgency in his wife's cry for help. Unfortunately, unless they wanted to hike through miles of marshland, it was also the only option.

Vader and Harding switched places at a gas-station a few miles from their destination. They all decided that Harding/Windu was the least likely to be recognized. The other two would lay low. It was a last-minute change that they hoped might give them a few more seconds.

for as long as he could, Harding made it look as though he was just going to drive past, then he whipped the vehicle into a seemingly impossible ninety-degree turn and accelerated. Down a short driveway was the security gate. The first bullets struck the SUV about two seconds before impact.

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I closed my eyes. I knew I would go nuts, if I kept straining to see nothing. Also, to block away the myriad of tiny noises and to give myself something to think about other than my predicament, I started humming to myself. I had a brief mental image of me as a female Gollum, crouching naked in the dark eating cold lobster and humming to myself. I giggled at that. Then I believed I might actually be going nuts. I thought I could here a small, faint voice singing the song I was just humming.

            The water is wide I can't swim o'er, neither have I wings to fly
            Give me a boat that can carry two, and we will row my love and I

I felt a thrill and a chill through my whole body. I stood and sang the second verse.

             There is a ship that sails the sea, It's loaded deep as deep can be
             But not so deep as the love I'm in, I know not if I sink or swim

There was silence for several seconds, then the voice returned. "Hannah, I don't know the third verse. You'll have to sing it for me."

"Skye!" I groped my way over to the grate. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to rescue you. I just can't seem to reach the grate. I'm afraid you'll have to lift it."

"I'll try. How did you get here?"

"Wynd dropped me in the river. Then I swam and climbed up the pipes. They're all pretty big. I'm sure you'll fit, easy."

"What about silt?" I braced my knees against the floor and lifted. "Weren't any of them filled with silt?"

"Nope."

The grate didn't budge. She must have come in by the second pipe. I had a 50/50 chance of escaping on my own and blew it! I thought to myself. How typical. I tried again, the grate just moaned a bit. I couldn't do it!

"What's wrong?" asked Skye.

"It's too heavy! I can't lift it! Oh, I would probably drown anyway!" I sat on the floor, frustrated.

"Drown?"

"I'm not a mermaid anymore," I sobbed. They took that away from me!"

No sooner had I said that when an electric jolt of pain coursed through my body. I collapsed into a fetal position and screamed. I grabbed for my legs and could feel them shrink and wither away. I reached below my waist and felt my tail growing. In a few seconds, it was over. I raised myself to a sitting position and felt over my whole body. It was all there, down to my fin. I hugged my tail, rolled over onto my back and laughed. This is what I am! This is what I want to be! I thought. Walking is so over-rated.

"Hannah? Are you OK? You're scaring me!" came a plaintive voice from the grate.

"Sorry about that, I'm just fine sweetie! Watch out! I'm coming down!" I picked up the grate and tossed it aside. I went in tail first, hung by my finger tips a few seconds, then dropped. I splashed in. "Skye! Where are you?"

"Right here!"

I grabbed her and hugged her. In pure joy, I slapped the stinky water with my tail, sending a column of it up into the cellar. "Come on girl! Let's get the hell out of here!"

Suddenly, I could see Skye. "They've turned on the lights! That means they're coming for me!" I said.

"Right!" Skye pulled herself into the pipe and started wriggling her way in. I gave her a shove and pulled myself after. The pipe descended steeply. In the dim light, I could see her tailfin flipping about as she crawled. I followed so closely I about got my face slapped by it more than once. The light brightened behind me and I could hear a splash. If they brought a gun, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Then Skye dropped out of sight and I heard a splash. I followed and fell into a larger pipe, almost a tunnel. Just as I dropped, I heard a voice behind me.

"Shit! She's gone!"

"This way!" said Skye, from off to my left. "Follow the current." The water was only knee deep, so we half swam, half crawled.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they drop a couple Orcs down after us out of shear bloody-mindedness." I said.

"They won't follow us after the next tunnel, unless they can breathe water."

Soon there were lights in the distance behind us and echoing curses.

"Here we are," she said, and slipped down a smaller pipe. Almost too small for me. It was completely full of water, so I had to breathe it.

"Ick!" I thought. "Here I am breathing water I wouldn't dare drink." We popped out into a larger tunnel with only about six inches of water on the bottom. We decided we could take a short break.

"Whew! Thank goodness for all these tunnels," I said. "Where did they come from?"

"A long time ago, before it became a wildlife refuge, they were going to drain the marshes on Merrit Island and make farmland. The warehouse above was originally a pumping station."

"Wow, you did some research. I'm impressed."

"Thanks!"

"We should get going again, but I need to do a couple of things first." I sent a mental call to Alex, "I'm escaping! Don't try to rescue me!" Then I put my hand on Skye's arm. "Can you hear me, Skye?" I thought.

"Whoa! Is this telepathy?" she thought back. "Cool!"

"I think it'll only work between us if we're touching. But, at least, we'll be able to communicate under water."

We crawled through the shallows for what seemed a very long time. There was no longer any sound of pursuit. I could hear Skye splashing along in front of me. Every now and again, she would pause in front of the echoing opening of a side tunnel and listen or sniff. Eventually, she said. "Listen! Running water, can you hear it!"

"Yes."

"This is the way. Down this pipe." She slid down the steep pipe and I followed. It carried a bare trickle, but was still moist and slippery. It lead to a larger tunnel which was full of much fresher water. It was wide enough that I could hold her hand as we swam. I was very afraid of losing her in the dark. One could wander lost down here for a very long time.

"Do some of these pipes and tunnels lead to the marsh?" I asked.

"Yep."

"Could there be snakes or gators in here?"

"No gators yet. I bumped into a snake on the way in. You shoulda heard me scream." she giggled mentally.

The tunnel we were in became tributary to a larger one that was steeper with a much faster current. I grabbed onto Skye's tail with both hands. There was no need to try to swim. "How did you manage to swim up this current!" I asked her.

"I didn't! I think I made a wrong turn!" she thought back.

I saw light ahead and just had time to think, "OOOh shit!" when we burst out into brilliant sunlight and freefall. The water turned into shining sparkles of spray around us. I lost my grip on Skye and tumbled.

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The SUV crashed through the gate and halted just in front of the building's entrance. The three Jedi piled out, already blocking bullets with their lightsabers. The first thing Alex noticed is how different blocking slugs was from blocking blaster bolts. The slugs were completely invisible, which made one rely more on the Force. Also, the slugs did not ricochet when they hit the saber's blade, instead, they burst into a puff of lead vapor.

Alex and Harding covered Vader's back as he smashed the doors with a gesture. Then came an explosion that knocked Vader back into Alex, almost bowling him over. The Sith Lord was up again in an instant, his armor having taken the brunt of the blast.

"That was not intended to kill," said Vader. "It was intended to wound and discourage. We are not dealing with fools."

Inside, the warehouse was dark, the windows had been painted over. The floor was piled high with large boxes. From the far end of the corridor, a light machine gun opened up with tracers. There was no way they cold stop that kind of firepower for long. Alex spotted a gap in the boxes to his left and jumped into it. Vader and Harding jumped right into another gap. They were separated.

In his gap, Alex slamed into a man with a rifle. Alex was a moment faster than the man's trigger-finger, and sliced him in half. It was not like in the movies. Alex was horrified. The sight of what he had done and the smell of burnt flesh made him retch. He jumped over the body and continued down the gap. He felt a growing anger against whoever caused him to have to do this violence.

To left and right, the path Alex was on made confusing twists and turns, but seemed to lead closer to where he knew Hannah to be. On a hunch, he slashed one of the boxes with his weapon. Underneath the cardboard was concrete. "This isn't like a maze," he thought. "This is a maze!" He stopped short. Just ahead was an almost invisible wire across the way, the trigger for another trap. Alex carefully stepped over it and continued. He turned another corner and found himself face to face with another rifleman. The man fired, Alex blocked the projectile and strode forward. At that moment, it was as though someone had turned off a switch. Alex felt his senses dull and turn muddied. His mind slowed to a crawl. It was as though he had been drugged. His lightsaber turned itself off. He tried to turn it on again, but nothing happened. Then another shot rang out. As everything turned dark, Alex heard someone shout, "You fool! You weren't supposed to shoot him!"

Chapter Eight: The Water is Wide

I think I hit the water sideways. It stung, but it was so frothy that I wasn't injured. The current, however pounded me down to where I plowed a furrow in the silt and gravel bottom. I didn't know which way was up and the water was so full of silt, mud and debris that it was impossible to breathe or see. After a long struggle, I finally broke surface, spewed water and sucked in air. I looked about frantically, Skye was nowhere in sight. I called out to her, but the roar of falling water drowned me out. Finally, I saw her shoot half-way out of the water and fall back in. Her hair was full of twigs and leaves. She spat some mud and blood and shrieked, "BEST...WATERSLIDE...EVER!"

There was the crack of a rifle and a geyser of water shot up between us. "Down!" I screamed. As I dove, my tail flipped up. I heard a second shot and felt a sharp sting from my fin. It didn't stop me, down I went until I touched bottom again. That's when I found out that the Vulcan second eyelids are transparent in Merfolk. The current was still moving so fast that I didn't need to see or swim to get away from shore. Eventually, however, it slowed and cleared up. I was greatly relieved to see Skye swimming only a few yards away. I waved at her, then we joined hands and swam with the current farther and farther toward safety.

My tailfin was still stinging, so I stopped to have a look. I curled my tail up in front of me and inspected the fin. There was a small pencil-diameter hole right through it that oozed a small cloud of green. Skye touched my shoulder, "Are you OK?" she asked.

"No big deal, I've just been shot is all."

"Shot!?" she gasped.

I pointed at the tiny hole and grinned mischeivously, "'Tis but a fleshwound!" Then I got serious again, "What about you?"

She spat out a small cloud of red, "I think I bit my lip when I hit bottom. Everything else is fine. Sure hope there are no sharks in these waters."

I looked about quickly and sniffed, "None in sight or smelling distance." I sniffed again, just for enjoyment. I could smell and identify a variety of plant and animal life as well as some industrial pollutants and something else, a familiar smell, and taste. Salt! I could taste the sea! "Skye, can you smell what I'm smelling?"

"You mean salt water," she smiled and nodded. "It smells like..."

"Home."

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I knew that from this day forward, no place on land could ever really be home again. I didn't feel sad, instead I felt like frolicking. I knew that I couldn't do that now though. There was too much serious crap happening. I hadn't heard anything from Alex. That didn't really surprise me. Vulcans are rather poor telepaths. I've never been able to communicate from further than physical contact with any one but Alex, and I've never been able to recieve anything from him from further than a few yards. It's his sensitivity, not my power, that allows him to hear me from far away. So I wasn't worried about him...yet.

"So, I've escaped, what do I do now?" I thought. I needed some time to think, and Skye, was more than glad to give it to me. She dove to the bottom, found a crab and came back munching on it and spitting out shell. Her lip was still sore, but she was too hungry to mind. She offered me some, but I was still full of lobster.

There were a lot of bothersome things happening, that I couldn't quite get straight. How am I a Mer again? The Boss had no reason to change me back just yet, assuming he had that power. If he had the ability to make someone a mermaid, however, why bother kidnapping one? It didn't add up. Obviously, his magic isn't as powerful as he made it out to be. ("Hearts desire my ass.") Any being with the power to make or unmake the Xanadu Effect wouldn't concern itself with dominating mere countries, let alone money, even measured in the billions. Therefore, he can only supress the Effect, and only for a limited time. How long did I have my legs back? An hour? Two at the most. Where did he get his magic? Then it hit me. I remembered a quote, "like a Lambourgini with a VW Beetle engine." It was used in a review of Darknight's own fantasy RPG, 'Broadsword and Beast'. It was criticising the magic system. I shot to the surface, flipped the bird at the warehouse and shrieked, "I HAVE YOU NOW YOU BASTARDS! I PROOFREAD YOUR MAGIC SYSTEM!"

'Broadsword and Beast' didn't sell very well. Todd was just going to quietly let it go out of print. It's lack of popularity was mostly due to its magic system. The spells were very powerful, especially its suppression of magic spell. It could, theoretically suppress any spell of any power, even godly miracles. Like all the other spells in the system, it was limited by the points available to the mage. These were regenerated at a set rate according to his or her experience level. Unfortunately it left mages either overpowered or utterly helpless. It also required a lot of number-crunching and tight-rope like balancing. Like all too many RPG systems I've seen, it was elegant in theory but unworkable in practice. I had no doubt now that the Boss had somehow gotten hold of a Xanadu survivor, who was a 'Broadsword and Beast' mage. I wondered how he had gotten hold of him/her. Were they a prisoner or willing accomplice? Probably accomplice, a prisoner would be too dangerous to use. That would also explain why the Boss looked like David Warner and 'Smithy' looked like Agent Smith. As I recall, 'Illusory Disguise' was a cheap and easy spell.

I floated just under the surface while trying to recall to memory all I could about the game. I also tried to make some mental calculations, not easy to do without knowing the mage's level. Eventually, the full horror of the situation was plain to me. They could have kept the spell going on me for several more hours. They needed to release the supression on me when they did in order to place it elsewhere. "That elsewhere could only be Alex!" They released the spell on me to put it on him!

Skye had finished her crab and was swimming lazy circles around me. I motioned for her to surface, we had to talk.

"Skye, they have Alex. I know it." I tried to keep the tears back.

"What should we do?" she asked.

"I've got to go back. I can't leave him in that place. I can't let you endanger yourself again, but I need to know which pipe you went in."

"How will you help him? What will you do?"

I was afraid those questions and others like them would come up. What will I do? Could even he lift that grate without Jedi powers? Could I get him alive through those pipes and tunnels? Were they even likely to keep him in the same place? The hopelessness of the whole situation overwhelmed me. I buried my face in my hands and sank under the waves. Skye put her arms around me.

"There is hope, but we need help. We can't do this by ourselves." she thought to me.

"You're right," I thought, then returned to the surface. "But where will that help come from?" I looked around. About five hundred yards away was a tug towing some barges. They weren't going to stop for a couple of mermaids. About a mile away was a speed boat on a parallel course with the barges. It was travelling far too fast for us to intercept. The only likely prospect was a sailboat about two miles away. "We'll try for that one." I pointed it out to Skye. "If nothing else, they'll have a radio and can call for help." I eyeballed an intercept course, dove and began swimming, my tail making strong and steady strokes. Skye kept up as best she could. I couldn't see bottom, but the angle of the light let me know that I was roughly travelling in the right direction.

After a few minutes I surfaced again to check our progress. Unfortunately, the sailboat had changed course and was headed away from us. Also, a haze was closing in, reducing visibility. In frustration, I slapped the water with my tail. "Dammit! What now?"

"We could make for Titusville," Skye pointed.

"That will take more than an hour." It doesn't take all that large of a body of water to make two mermaids seem awfully small.

"Can't we sing for a boat?" she suggested.

I sighed. "I doubt it will work, but I'm out of ideas right this moment." 'The Water is Wide' seemed the most appropriate boat-calling song, and we both knew the words. I started and Skye joined in.

         The water is wide I can't swim o'er, neither have I wings to fly
         Give me a boat that'll carry two, and we shall row my love and I
         There is a ship that sails the sea, it's loaded deep as deep can be
         But not so deep as the love I'm in, I know not if I sink or swim

"What about the third verse?" skye asked.

"I never sing the third verse of this song, sweetie. It's all about love waxing old and fading like the morning dew and so forth."

"Bummer. No won..." Skye's eyes suddenly grew wide. She pointed behind me. I spun around and saw a sight I shall never forget. A three-masted sailing ship, all sails set, running before the wind. It was headed right for us.

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Albert Wu, also known as the Dark Lord of the Sith, and by Federal authorities, as Darth Vader #28 was rapidly losing his temper. He had been fighting this battle of pin pricks for the better part of an hour and was no nearer victory than when it started. To add to his frustration, he could no longer feel the presence of Alex in the Force, that could only mean that the young Jedi was dead, depriving him of his potential apprentice. That was a major disappointment, but falling so quickly probably meant he would not have made a suitable choice anyway. The only reasons he continued the fight now were pride, the desire for vengeance, and curiosity. He wanted to meet the person responsible and express his admiration before slaughtering him.

It was time, however to bring this game to an end. Vader raised his hand and a wall of concrete-filled boxes tumbled to the ground, creating a gap in the maze. He turned to Master Windu. "Follow me."

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Dr. McCoy entered the hospital room to find his patient quietly sleeping. Todd sat at her side holding her hand but looked troubled. Bones checked the monitors then rechecked with his tricorder. He nodded, "Looks good. Has she woke up yet?"

"Yes, a couple of times, briefly." said Todd. "She spoke too, but not in any language I could understand. And," he frowned, "I don't think she recognized me."

"I wouldn't worry too much about that yet. She's had a major trauma. It could perhaps have had an effect on her memory, we'll just have to see."

"Ever since the change, she has had to struggle at times to maintain her identity as Beth. Is it possible..." He couldn't find a way to say the words.

"That Beth may be gone?" Bones placed a hand on the young Halfling's shoulder. "Only time will tell. I'm just a doctor, not a prophet, but it's way too early to jump to the worst conclusion. Give her time. Meanwhile, you need to get some rest yourself. I'll ask the nurse to bring you a pillow and blanket. You can snooze in the armchair in the corner."

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Edna stood in the late afternoon sun looking out over the lake behind the Convention Center. She let her robe drop and waded carefully out into the water, then started swimming. After a couple of minutes, a head popped out of the water a few feet away.

"Hello." said the stranger, a pretty young woman with curly, brown shoulder-length hair.

"Hello." said Edna, somewhat surprised despite herself.

"I'm Julia. Who are you?"

"Edna."

Julia nodded, "You're Hannah's neighbor, aren't you. Has there been any word?"

They're pretty sure Beth will be OK now but," Edna shook her head sadly, "nothing about Hannah."

"You would like to help her, wouldn't you?"

"Oh yes! More than anything!" Edna's eyes welled up with tears.

"Wait here. I'll be right back." Julia dove, revealing a sparkling pink tail and fin.

Edna trod water for a few minutes until several more heads broke surface. There were more introductions. In addition to Julia, there was Maddie, with short black hair, pale complexion and black lips. Aurora, African American, with shoulder-length dreadlocks. Angeline, with very long, straight, pale-blonde hair. Jackie, with very long red hair and Ariel's face. And finally, Lisa who had short, curly blonde hair and the face of a Botticelli angel.

"This may take a few minutes," said Julia. "Are you tired? We can hold you up."

"Well, actually, I am getting a bit tired." said Edna.

Julia swam over to her and took her by the waist. "How's that?"

"Very good, thank you."

"Now," said Maddie. "If you don't mind us asking, Why are you here?"

Edna sighed and looked down at the water. "I'm not really sure why I'm here now. Originally, I came with Hannah to meet real live mermaids."

At that, the mermaids all laughed. It was a charming sound which would make anyone smile.

"But, we're no different from you, Edna," said Aurora. "Five days ago we were all just ordinary women."

"Not all," Grumbled Jackie.

"As mermaids go, we're all just five days old," said Maddie.

"Most of us are just starting to get used to the idea," said Julia.

Jackie crossed her arms and frowned, "That's for dang sure. I'm not even used to the woman part yet."

"I'm afraid there's not much we can teach you," said Angeline. "Though I guess you could still learn from us."

"In any case," said Maddie. "You're welcome to stick around to observe and ask questions to your heart's content."

"Thank you! As mermaids you may be just five days old, but that's five days more knowledge than I have. I'll have a lot of questions!

"Now, you mentioned helping Hannah?" continued Edna.

"That's our ulterior motive in letting you stay." said Maddie. "A couple of days ago, a number of us decided that it was time to leave Xanadu. To go off on our own and stay together. Angeline has access to her car."

"Which I modified with hand controls when I bought it last year." said Angeline.

"Aurora also has access to her car," said Julia. "But it's not modified."

"That's where you come in," said Maddie.

It was Edna's turn to laugh. "'Cause I've got feet! That seems to be my main asset lately! What about Hannah's van?"

"Do you know where the keys are?" asked Lisa.

"She had them in her beach bag, which was hanging on her wheelchair," said Edna.

"The police have her wheelchair now," said Maddie. "So that's out."

"Well, I'd be honored to drive for you," said Edna. "But I still don't get how that'll help Hannah."

"We have a friend with men and resources," said Maddie. "He will be more than glad to help us save Hannah."

"And," said Julia. "We know where Hannah's being held. Jamie overheard the kidnappers say where they were taking her. Wynd and Skye are scouting out the address now."

"What about Alex?" asked Edna.

"We don't know where he is, but Wynd is supposed to find him and tell him," said Aurora.

"Last I saw him, he was at the hospital with Beth and Todd." said Edna. "When do we leave?"

Chapter Nine: More Mermaids on Wheels

It was just after sunset when they set out. There weren't quite enough wheelchairs to go around so the three lightest Mers doubled up with the three strongest. Edna also helped push.

Altogether there were twelve mermaids on this expedition. Edna was surprised by how different they all were. Maddie was the 'gothic' Mer. Her tail was covered in shiny black scales, and her fin consisted of three leaf-shaped lobes. Anything she wore on top turned into a black bustier. Angeline had the best upper body strength, so she carried Cody as well as herself in her chair. Angeline's tail was a deep violet, her fin was slightly lighter and swallow-tail shaped with a black fringe. Cody's hair was long and golden, like her tail. Her fin was shaped like a dolphin's fluke. Aurora carried Jackie, who was the smallest. Aurora's tail had alternating bands of gold and faience blue. Jackie's was green with a gauzy fin. Lisa, green with violet patches, carried Jennifer. Jennifer was probably the most unique, her tail was essentially that of a bottle-nosed dolphin, with smooth mammalian skin and a fluke. She couldn't breathe water like the other Mers, but she could hold her breath for as long as thirty minutes at a time. The rest, Julia, Lynn, Elena, Chrissy and Tiffany all wheeled themselves. Elena was also unique. Where all the other Mers had no legs at all, just empty sockets in pelvises, Elena had bony, movable fins, which made her very manouverable in the water.

Wheelchairs tend to attract attention, even when they don't have mermaids in them, doubly so when they appear in a convoy. Still, no one seemed inclined to interfere. When they got to the parking lot they split into two groups. Julia, Aurora, Jackie, Lisa, Jennifer and Elena went with Edna to Aurora's car, a Mustang. It was going to be cramped. Only two chairs would fit in the trunk. Parking would need to be within crawling distance of their final destination or water.

"Edna," said Aurora, "you get in on the passenger side."

"Wait, Aurie! She's supposed to drive!" said Julia.

"It's not that I don't trust you," Aurora shook her head. "I just don't think you can drive this heap as aggressively as I can. Mark my words, some one's gonna be chasing us before this is over."

"But how...?" said Edna.

"We're going back to plan A. Jackie's gonna be my feet."

"Yup!" said Jackie, with a big grin.

Somehow, Edna and the six mermaids managed to shoehorn themselves into the old Mustang. Aurora was in the driver's seat. Edna sat in the passenger seat. Jennifer sat in the middle of the back seat. Her tail went between the front seats and rested on Edna's lap. Lisa sat behind Edna, her tail squeezed between Edna and the door. Julia sat sideways behind aurora, her tail rested on the back seat floor. Elena sat on Julia's lap, with her tail resting on Jennifer and Lisa's laps. Jackie literally stood on her head, so her hands could work the foot pedals. Her tailfin waved out of the sunroof.

"Augh! Somebody give me something to whack my hair off with!" yelled Jackie.

"Nooo!" screamed the mermaids and Edna in unison.

"You can't do that!" shouted Julia. "Your hair is too beautiful!"

"It's in my way! I can't see what I'm doing!"

"Just a minute!" said Aurora. She rummaged through the glovebox until she found a rubber band. Then she reached down and worked on Jackie's hair. "How's that?"

"Uh, much better thanks."

"Well, I hope everybody likes the Black-eyed Peas." Aurora pushed play on her stereo and turned on the ignition. "Clutch! First gear!"

There was a sickening grinding sound and the engine died. "Sorry, sorry!" said Jackie. "Let's try that again."

After a couple more hiccups, they were moving. The real test was the checkpoint. "Now, everybody smile, giggle and act like a bunch of silly girls." said Julia. This struck Edna as funny, so she had no difficulty playing her part.

"Clutch...brake...stop!" said Aurora as she rolled down her window. A rather wide-eyed young soldier stooped to look in and found seven smiling female faces (one upside down)looking back. "Hi there!" said Aurora.

"Uh...Hi," said the soldier. "Where you all headed?"

"It's girl's night out. We're going to party!" Aurora grinned.

"Woo-hoo, yeah!" Jackie whooped and waggled her fin over the sunroof. After that, the giggling became general.

"Do...you have your papers?"

"Honey, does it look like we can carry papers?" said Aurora. "We're mermaids! Our papers all get soggy! Look, we're only going a few blocks. We even have a designated driver!" she pointed at Edna, who waved.

"Well, I guess..."

"Thanks! Look us up later. You can buy us drinks! Clutch!" Aurora rammed the stick shift home. "First gear!"

As they rolled down the street, there were a lot of high-fives and fist-bumping. "We did it!" shouted Elena. "Who needs Jedi! We can cloud men's minds!"

"Yeah, yeah, girl power and all that," Jackie groused, but she was smiling.

Once they were out of town and on the freeway, the driving became smoother but Jackie's fin began to flap uncomfortably in the wind. The only way they could keep her properly positioned, once her tail was inside, was for Jennifer, Julia and Elena to hold her tail against the roof.

"How far are we going?" asked Edna.

"Not far, thank goodness," said Aurora. "Just to Melbourne." That was about sixty miles.

They had gone about twenty miles when Aurora noticed that a state trooper was following them. "Uh-oh," she said. "Don't look, but We have a cop car behind us."

"Can he see our tails?" asked Lisa.

"Just Jackie's," said Julia.

"They can't see the top of her, so maybe they'll think we've just been fishing," said Elena, hopefully. Only Edna could see Aurora roll her eyes.

"Unfortunately, it's rather obvious that we're not all wearing seatbelts," said Julia.

"I'm thinking maybe we should take the quickest route to the Indian River and bail out," said Aurora. "They can't follow us then, especially with it getting dark."

"What about Edna?" asked Jennifer.

"Don't put yourselves at risk for me," said Edna.

"No one gets left behind!" said Julia. "She's one of us now."

"We'll do all we can without drowning you," said Aurora to Edna.

"Just tell me what to do Aurie," said Jackie.

"I'm going to go straight on to Cocoa instead of turning off for Melbourne, Jackie. There's a place I'm thinking of where we can get from the car to the river without having to crawl far," said Aurora.

They left the freeway at the last exit before the bridge to Cape Canaveral. The trooper chose that moment to turn on his lights and close in. "Shit! We're in for it now! Jackie! Punch it!" The old Mustang leapt forward as Jackie floored the accelerator.

The next few minutes were among the most frightening of Edna's entire life. Not so much for herself as for Jackie. She was certain that a collision would crack the young mermaid's spine, exposed and upside down as she was.

Aurora wove in and out of traffic along the river highway, tersely shouting out orders for Jackie. At one point, the patrol car pulled to within a few feet. "Everybody wave and smile sweetly!" said Julia. "Maybe they won't shoot us."

Aurora saw lights ahead, more patrol cars. Fortunately the spot where she was going to turn off was at hand. She took a ninety degree turn, nearly throwing Jackie over Edna. Causing Jackie to briefly lose her grip on the pedals. "Punch it, Jackie! Punch it!" screamed Aurora as the Mustang roared out onto a pier.

"You can't run us off the end of this!" shrieked Julia. "You'll kill us all!"

"Of course not! Jackie! BRAKE!" The Mustang screeched and shuddered to a halt, about five feet from blackness. In an instant, the doors flew open and mermaids began swarming out and over the end of the pier. Jackie and Edna a little behind the others.

The patrol car also screeched to a stop. Both doors flew open. Two troopers jumped out, guns drawn. "Freeze! Get on the ground!"

Jackie raised herself on her tail and shouted, "what're ya gonna do? Start shooting Disney characters and grandmas?" Two hops and she went over the end. Edna shrugged, turned and dove gracefully into the dark water, twenty feet below.

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"What did you see?" asked the first trooper.

"You tell me first," said the second.

The first sighed, "A shitload of mermaids and an old lady in a flowery swimsuit."

"Yep, I was afraid of that. Course you know we'll never be allowed to live this one down."

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Vader and Windu broke into the offices section of the warehouse. A half-dozen Orcs tried to stop them. They didn't have a chance. Windu/Harding was sickened by the slaughter. His anger was also rising; not against the Orcs, they were as much victims as the Harrises or Elizabeth Parsons, but against the mastermind of this tragedy.

"Watchout!" shouted Vader as he tossed his lightsaber over Windu's head and through an Orc archer in the rafters, then Force-pulled it back to himself.

"Thank you."

Once in the offices, there was evidence of a hasty evacuation. The Orcs were obviously an expendable rear-guard. "We mustn't let them get away!" said Windu. There were only two possible escape routes, back to the highway the three Jedi had come in on, or the river.

"I sense that they intend to escape by the river," said Vader, turning about as though sniffing the air.

"I agree," said Windu. "I also sense something else a feeling of..." His eyes widened.

"Danger!" said Vader. "We must leave, now! This place is exquisitely designed to be a death-trap for Jedi!" Windu remembered seeing daylight through one of the doors they just passed. They ran into the room and leapt through the huge glass window just as the first demolition charges detonated.

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Todd awoke to find a tall, robed figure standing over Beth's bed. He started up and opened his mouth to speak, but the figure raised its hand, "I'm only here to visit my daughter."

Todd recognized the figure as Elrond. How many Elronds are there? Is this one a stranger? "This is Elizabeth Parsons," Todd said. "Her father passed away two years ago. You should let her sleep."

"Indeed, the one you call Elizabeth is asleep, but even as we speak, she is fading away. The spirit of my daughter is too strong for her."

"What do you mean!" Todd stood, fear and anger rising in him.

"All along, she was fighting a losing battle. This crisis only sped the process," Elrond looked at Todd, his gaze penetrating to his soul. "You care for her, Halfling?"

"Yes!"

"Do you also care for Arwen?"

"Yes! I must."

"My daughter would not will the death of an innocent, even to save her own life. Neither would I have it so."

"Then what do you intend to do?"

"What I must. Understand that I cannot restore things to the way they were, she will be neither Beth nor Arwen but both. That is the only way to end the conflict and save some part of Beth. Also, I cannot promise that her love for you will survive."

"Do what you can to save her." Todd struggled for words. "Even if I lose her, just to know she's alive and happy...is enough."

At that Elrond placed his hand on Arwen's head, bent down and quietly spoke in Elvish.

Chapter Ten: A Ship That Sails the Sea

As the ship bore down upon us we began to try attracting its attention. I churned the water with my tail while waving my arms. Skye circled and leapt from the water, like a hyperactive dolphin. Finally the ship hove to and came to a stop. Skye grabbed my arm and pointed. "Look!" From the formast waved a black flag with the classic skull and crossbones.

"Don't fret sweetie," I said to her. "I have a feeling about this, and it's not a bad one. But stay close to me just in case," I added. She nodded, but still looked doubtful.

As we swam toward her, I saw near the bow where one name had been covered over by another, "Rapid Anne". We came up to the starboard side and they lowered a sling. I helped Skye into it and they lifted away. I saw a ladder on the hull and decided not to wait for the sling to return. I pulled myself up the rungs, looped my tail over the gunnel and flipped myself aboard. I then grabbed the railing and stood on my tail.

"Permission to come aboard?" I asked smiling.

A half-dozen sailors stood agape, staring at the bare-breasted mermaid in their midst. In sudden realization, I yipped, turned and rearranged my hair; all while blushing a bright green. By the time I turned around again, they had all taken themselves elsewhere, except for one old fellow who just stood there and grinned.

I was saved from further embarrassment when a head popped up over the quarterdeck rail. "It's Hannah alright!"

A second head popped up. "It is Hannah!" The heads belonged to Maddie and Julia. I bounded, crawled and hopped up the gangway to the quarterdeck in record time. There was Edna and thirteen mermaids, counting Skye, who was just being helped from the sling by two crewmen. Hugs and tears followed.

"Here,little girl!" Aurora held out a small pouch with a belt attached. "Your sister dropped this off shortly after we came aboard."

"Oh! I must've forgot it!" Skye looked embarrassed.

"What is it?" I asked.

She opened the pouch and pulled out a bottle. "Skin moisturizer. If I put this on my scales, I can stay out of the water a lot longer. Hours!" She buckled the pouch round her waist.

I heard a throat being cleared behind me. I turned to see a familiar face. "Ben! Ben Musgrave!"

The old pirate smiled, "That would be Cap'n Ben, Missy. Welcome aboard the Annie!" He held out a white linen shirt. "I thought ye might be aneedin' this, not that we're complainin' mind, but for the men's discipline's sake."

I blushed again, accepted the shirt gladly, though it was way too big, and pulled it over my head. "Thank you most kindly, Captain. Now, if you all don't mind me asking, what are you doing here and how?" I gestured to indicate the ship and crew.

"To rescue you," said Maddie. "Though it looks like we're too late. Skye beat us to it!"

My face fell. "I'm afraid there's still rescuing to be done. They have Alex."

"Oh no!" said Maddie.

"But how?" said Julia.

"It's a complicated story, but they've found a way to temporarily remove the Xanadu Change. They did it to me briefly, then I'm sure they used it on Alex. They had us in that warehouse." I pointed across the water. "We've got to get him back!"

"They can reverse the Xanadu Change?" Angeline looked horrified.

"Only for a short time," I reassured her. "No longer than a few hours."

Musgrave put a spyglass to his good eye and looked. "Hmm...D'ya have any idea how many men they have?"

"At least seven, and a bunch of Orcs. They have rifles, Ben, assault rifles!" I was worried.

"I can get fifteen stout lads and meself with muskets, pistols and cutlasses into the longboat," said Ben. "That should do."

"She said assault rifles!" said Maddie. "Do you even know what those are?"

"Don't be smart with me lassie! I've not been sittin' on me hands the last few days. Mr. Sparrow, load the guns, double shot, both broadsides!" Ben shouted then turned to us and grinned. "Assault rifles or no, any of those scalawags who dares to lift his head will lose it!"

Skye tapped my arm and whispered in my ear. "He said Sparrow. Did he mean...?"

I shrugged. "I don't know sweetie. I wouldn't be surprised. Would you?"

"Aye, I did mean Jack Sparrow. I might ha' taken a crew of him, if my sanity coulda stood it. As it is, I settled for four, quartermaster, navigator, bosun and mastergunner."

"How do you tell them apart?" asked Skye.

"I don't. 'Tis their job to figure out which I'm screamin' at. Landing party to the longboat, Mr. Sparrow, and prepare to lower away!" barked Musgrave.

"Do you have a radio onboard? We could call the authorities." I was still worried about attacking the warehouse.

"Authorities? Paah!" spat Musgrave.

"I'm afraid that's rather out of the question, Hannah" said Julia. "You asked how we came by this ship. Ben stole her."

"Remember that picture that came out last year, 'The Crimson Pirate'?" said Maddie.

"Yes," I said. "It was trying to ride the coat-tails of the 'Pirates of the Carribean' movies."

"This ship was used in that picture. The production company sold it to Sea Ventures to try to recoup some of their losses. Sea Ventures kept it at Melbourne to run charters." continued Maddie. "I knew about it and told Ben. He secretly recruited about seventy-five men and left with them Tuesday. He seized her last night."

"How did you all get here?" I indicated the dozen mermaids who were mostly either sitting and talking or crawling about, curiously examining their surroundings.

"We loaded ourselves up in two cars and drove!" said Angeline.

"Drove?!" I was incredulous.

"Don't be so shocked!" Angeline giggled. "My car was one of them. I've been driving hand controlled cars for a couple of years now. Aurora and Jackie made their own unique arrangement. We Mers can be quite resourceful!"

"We were chased by the police!" said Julia.

"So were we." said Angeline. "But we sang them away."

"Wish we had thought of that," sighed Julia.

"See! We did sing the ship to us!" said Skye.

"That's debatable, like the chicken or the egg thing." I said. "But I have no doubt that the Siren Song can work."

"Longboat's ready Cap'n." said one of the Sparrows, who gave us all a grin, revealing an interesting array of eighteenth-century dental work.

I crawled over to the rail and pulled myself up until I could see over it. The warehouse looked the same. I turned to Ben who was still studying it, when he pulled the glass away from his eye in consternation. I turned back in time to hear and feel the thump of a large detonation and to see sections of the warehouse flying through the air. Explosion followed explosion as the large building disintegrated. The building where I believed Alex to be. Other mermaids climbed up to see what was happening. I became a desperate frightened child, "Make it stop! Make it stop! Dear God, make it stop!" I covered my ears and slipped down, curling my tail protectively around me. All the stress of the last couple of days was finally too much.

Angeline grsbbed me about the shoulders and shook. "Hannah! Please calm down! He's not in there! Surely Alex is not in there!"

"I can't feel him! Why can't I feel him!"

"Remember," said Maddie calmly, from the other side of me. "You said they removed his powers. That's why you can't feel him."

Her words and her tone helped. I calmed down, but couldn't stop crying.

"What deviltry...! Can you see? What is that!" exclaimed the Captain, who had the glass to his eye again.

I had to look, so I scrambled back up, dreading what I might see. Part of the bluff the warehouse stood on had collapsed, revealing a cave or tunnel that was open to the water. Out of it came a low gray metallic object. It looked like the roof of a house floating in the water, or an old Civil War ironclad.

"Captain! That's a Vindicator!" shouted Maddie, who was clinging to the rail next to me.

"A what?" said Ben.

"A Vindicator class frigate manufactured by Strongbow Arms corp, mostly for small but technologically sophisticated navies." said Maddie, sounding like she was reading an ad.

Captain Musgrave stared at her, speachless. I asked his question for him, "How do you know this?"

My brothers used to love playing 'Harpoon', a modern naval wargame," replied Maddie. "They hated losing, especially to each other, so they would play with me, til I started beating them," she grinned.

"So it's to be frigate against frigate," said the Captain. "Mr. Sparrow! Hoist all sail and run out the guns!"

"You don't understand," said Maddie. "That's a twenty-first century frigate. It has radar-guided and heat-seeking ship-to-ship missles. It can sail at over thirty knots! The Anne doesn't stand a chance!"

"Never tell me that, lassie! Bring her before the wind, Mr. Sparrow! Steer sou' sou' west!" Musgrave strode over to the port side of the quarterdeck.

Maddie followed as best she could. "If you must fight, Captain, you have to...Ben! Listen to me!" she shrieked.

By then, the Vindicator had cleared the tunnel. Its stern dropped and the water churned behind it. We could hear the whine of its turbines as they revved up to speed. A section of the top deck opened and a launcher, bristling with deadly missles rose out of it.

"Fire as yer guns bear!"

"BEN!" Maddie rose up upon her tail and grabbed him by the coat, pulled herself up until they were face to face and wrapped her tail around him. He struggled briefly, but couldn't push her off. "You have to fire at the dish!" she pointed. "It controls the missles!"

With a deafening roar, the first missle launched. The mermaids, myself included, screamed as it punched through the fore tops'l and continued on for a quarter mile before exploding in the water.

"Hurry! Before they switch to proximity fuses!" continued Maddie.

Ben's face was red with anger, but he shouted, "A keg of rum to the crew that knocks yonder bowl off the enemy. LET DRIVE!"

I could feel with my insides, the concussion of each gun of the port broadside as it fired. The first three missed entirely, not being able to readjust their aim rapidly enough. The double-shotted thirty-two pound balls of the fourth and fifth bounced off the sloped side of the Vindicator. The next two smashed through the radar dish, obliterating it. Gun after gun thundered sending its load against the impervious side of the enemy vessel. Finally, for good measure, the twelfth and last gun of the port broadside smashed into the launcher exploding the missles in its racks. We all cheered but the damage done was only superficial.

Maddie let go with her tail and dropped exhausted to the deck.

"That's a keg of rum for port gun number six!" Shouted Ben "And a second to twelve for good effort." The crew laughed. "Bring her round for another dose, and reload, Mr. Sparrow!" Ben reached down to help Maddie to a sitting position, then took his tricorn hat off and placed it on her head. "Looks like I have meself a new first mate!"

Chapter Eleven: The Sirens Sing

As the Vindicator continued to accelerate, its bow swung onto an intercept course. "I think they mean to ram," said Quartermaster Sparrow.

"Hard a-starboard! Bring her to west sou' west."

"That's but two points off the wind! We'll be luffing and could lose steerage way." said Sparrow.

"We've no choice in the matter, lest we wish to chew on their stem." said Musgrave.

Maddie crawled up to me. "They're too fast and manuverable for us. We have to do something!"

"What?" I said. This wasn't my finest moment, but I was beginning to recover from my shock.

"We've gotta sing!" said Skye.

I pulled myself up to look over the rail again. Maddie joined me. The enemy was closing fast and it didn't look like we were going to get out of the way in time. "Skye's right," I said. I looked behind me. When the shooting started, the Mermaids had all clumped together on the starboard side of the Quarterdeck. "We don't have much time!" I thought for a moment. "Sing this!" I called out the verse and the tune. The latter, I made sure, was something we all would know. It shouldn't have been pretty, but being what we are, it was anyway.

Slowly, the prow of the Vindicator turned aside. They missed the Anne by at least a hundred yards. As they passed, her starboard guns pounded them at point-blank range. There was no visible effect. This dance was repeated twice more. Both times they were forced off their course, then pounded by our guns. It was a stand off. Secretly, I wasn't unhappy. I knew Alex was almost certainly on the Vindicator. I didn't want to see it destroyed. Finally, they gave up on ramming us, and turned away.

"I don't understand," said the Captain. "They had us dead to rights at least once and turned aside each time!" He shook his head, then spoke to us. "By the by, that were the prettiest rendition of 'Yankee Doodle' I've ever heard, though I can't say I'm familiar with those verses."

I eased myself down from the rail and sighed. "Edna," I said. "A Mermaid's life is an interesting one."

"It certainly looks that way," she said.

"They're pulling away!" said Skye, who was still clinging to the quarterdeck rail.

I climbed back up. "They're getting away!" We were headed north with a fair wind from the port quarter, but there was no possible way for us to keep up. "We've got to stop them!" I knew Alex was on board the Vindicator. I couldn't sense him, but he just had to be there!

"If we can repel them with a song, surely we can attract them as well," said Julia. "What'll we sing?"

The fear and doubt in my mind was starting to choke-off my creativity. I couldn't think of an appropriate song. I watched as the enemy vessel shrank in the distance. "Skye! Sing something! Anything!" Skye hesitated a moment, then began with 'Over the Rainbow'. We all knew that one and soon joined in. After a few moments, the Rapid Anne shuddered and began to accelerate. The sails flapped uselessly as our speed began to exceed that of the wind.

"Bloody frost in Hell!" exclaimed Captain Musgrave. "We're being towed! Mister Sparrow! Send a man to the bowsprit! Find out where that cable's attached! They must've done it, though I'd be boiled before I could tell ye how!"

"It's working!" I shouted. The words of the song must not need to match the intent. All that effort to make terrible hasty verses, or remember a proper song wasn't needed. We might as well be singing 'Ina Gotta da Vida'! I remembered now that Skye once told me she never sang fishing songs when she sang the little fishies in for her to catch and eat.

We informed Ben that we were the one's causing the ship to be towed. He was incredulous, but had no choice but believe us. He asked us not to tell the crew. "They're a superstitious lot and might start to be afeared o' ye." We soon became tired but divided into three 'watches', singing for ten minutes and resting for twenty.

Something else began troubling me and I spoke of it to the other Mers, "Where are the Coast Guard?" We had just fought a naval battle on one of the nation's busiest inland waterways, and no one has intervened?

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The sun was far to the west when we left the Indian river's outlet to the sea. We were headed due east and soon left the coast far behind. We kept close watch for other vessels, concerned that, now that we had entered international waters, the Boss and his crew might have allies. There was still no sign of either the Coast Guard or Navy.

We switched songs frequently, as well as singing by watches, but were still getting very tired. About sundown there was a shout from the crow's nest. "She's sinking!"

"The Devil you say." said the Captain. He put the glass to his eye. "Aye, he's right, she's down considerable and sinking fast!"

"What!?" I had already stopped singing when I'd heard the lookout and had sat myself next to the Captain. "Please! Let me see!" Ben handed me the glass. I crawled to the rail, but had difficulty holding the glass and hoisting myself up. Strong hands took me about the waist. Ben lifted me and placed me on his shoulder. "Can ye see now, Missy?"

I put the glass to my eye and looked. "Yes, thank you!" There was no doubting it. The Vindicator was going down, rapidly. My heart sank even faster. Alex was aboard that monster!

"Prepare to take on survivors!" Ben placed me gently back on the deck and reclaimed his spyglass.

"She's not slackened her speed any!" said Maddie. I pulled myself up next to her and watched, heartbroken. Less than a third of it remained above the surface. "Captain, I think she's submerging." This time, Ben listened to her.

"Yer pullin' me leg. You mean on purpose? Can they do that?"

"A lot of stuff about the Vindicators is classified and not likely to show up in wargame manuals." said Maddie.

"You mean she's not sinking?" I said hopefully.

"Well, Hannah, she is and she isn't, if you catch my drift," Maddie smiled. "She's a submarine!"

"Won't we lose her?"

"Sound carries even better underwater, so I doubt it." Maddie shrugged. "I wonder why they're even bothering."

"I wouldn't doubt they've some deviltry in mind." grumbled Ben. The last of the Vindicator slipped under the water.

Almost at once, the Rapid Anne began losing speed. In no more than a minute, she was down to a crawl. Suddenly, her bow began to slide sideways, swinging her around like an amusement ride. Ben swore.

"They've doubled back!" Maddie shouted. "They must be directly und..." she gagged and grabbed her throat. I tried to ask her what was the matter, but felt a sharp pain in my own throat. The singing stopped. Soon, all fourteen Mers were in confusion and dismay, unable even to whisper.

"What's wrong wi' ye?" asked Ben. He got no answer.

The mute spell! It was very cheap in power points, but very short ranged. The Boss' mage would have no trouble taking us all down, if he could get close enough! No doubt about it, we screwed-up. Even if they move out of range, it would be more than an hour before any of us could speak or sing again. In range, they can silence us indefinetly and still hold Alex.

Maddie shook my shoulder then pointed out over the water. The Vindicator was surfacing about half a mile away. Its bow slowly swung round until it was pointing directly at us. Were they going to try to ram us again? There was a disturbance in the water in front of the enemy's bow. Maddie's eyes grew wide with fear. She looked at me and struggled vainly to speak. I put my hand on her arm. What is it? I thought to her.

Torpedo! she thought back and pointed at the white streak of foam that was headed right for the Anne.

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Beth/Arwen opened her eyes. She had had a nice, long sleep and felt much better. Elves recuperate quickly and completely when not killed outright. She tried to recall how she had been injured, but the memories were confused and disjointed. She was confident, however, that it would all come back to her eventually. She started to stretch and noticed a young male Hobbit, just out of his tweens, sitting next to her bed and smiling. His face was familiar and she sensed that he belonged there.

"I know that face," she said softly.

"I hoped you would," he said.

"I have heard, though I don't know from whom, that you love me."

"That is very true."

She reached up and touched his cheek. She noticed the ring and looked at it. "It's quite beautiful."

"Only a poor imitation of its wearer."

She smiled, "I remember now. I accepted this from you. That must mean I love you too."

He gently took her hand in both of his and kissed it.

Chapter Twelve: Let Her Go Down

Maddie grabbed me by both arms, "Ben has to get the men down from the rigging!" she thought to me. "I'll get the Mers down! Go!"

Maddie slid from the rail and began grabbing tails and pulling curious Mermaids down. I quickly hop crawled to where Ben was standing. He was trying to guess the enemy's next move, not knowing it had already been made. The rigging was full of men putting on sail, trying to get the Anne underway again. I grabbed him by the leg. "Ben!" I thought. He about jumped out of his skin. "Maddie said to get the men down from the rigging! We're going to be hit by a torpedo!" I hoped he had some concept of what a torpedo was. I tried to visualize what one was in my mind for him. Whether it was that or the 'Maddie said' I don't know, but it worked. He called the men down.

Only a few seconds afterwards, the Anne bucked and heaved like a wounded animal. A column of water shot up, higher than the main mast. All who had feet were thrown from them, the rest of us bounced around like dolls. I lay on my back for a few moments, deaf as well as mute, water cascading down upon me from the massive column. I sat up, my ears still ringing. Ben was already back on his feet and running for the ladder to the main deck, and yelling for the ship's carpenter. I heard Edna calling to me, her voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a barrel. "Hannah! Come quick! There's something wrong with Jackie!"

"Oh no!" I thought. "She's hurt!" I followed Edna as quicky as I could, painfully aware that I was now the only Mer who could communicate, and then only while in physical contact. Jackie was sitting with a small group gathered around her as she stared, stupefied at her legs. Legs!? Angeline sat next to her, I could read the fear in the former's eyes, so I touched both women. "What happened? Are you OK?"

"I don't know. I think so. It happened right after we lost our voices." Jackie thought, while wiggling her toes.

"Did they take her Xanadu Change away?" Angeline looked worried.

"Jackie's still a she, so no. It has to be something else." Then, it came to me. "Jackie! In body you're Ariel. You remember what happened to her."

"Uh, no. I never saw the movie."

"You never..." I was stunned.

"Well, I wasn't interested before and I haven't had a chance after!" She put her fists on her hips and looked indignant.

"She fell in love with a human then went to a witch to trade her voice for legs so she could be with him. I expect you'll get your tail back when you get your voice back." I thought to her.

"I have another problem." She pointed at herself. Except for her shells, she was now completely naked.

"Oh." I looked around. The crew were too busy to fuss with us and, being Mermaids, we didn't have much spare clothing to share round. Finally, I sighed, tore a broad strip from the bottom of my shirt and gave it to her. She stood, tied it round her hips then smiled and gave me a thumbs up.

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Ben climbed back onto the quarterdeck, his face grim and ashen. He took the speaking horn from off the binnacle. "Mr. Blake and I have just sounded the ship," He paused, hating to go on. "Her back is broken, we canna save her. We'll have to let her go down. She has, perhaps, a half-hour to live," he paused again. "Abandon ship! The longboat is wrecked. Put the wounded in the dinghies. The rest of us will have to swim for it." He replaced the horn, walked over to the sternpost and sat down.

Silently, we gathered about him, like children around a storyteller, waiting for a tale. He looked up at us and smiled. "Well, me dearies, don't stay with the ship til the end. I know ye canna drown, but there be riggin' and other debris that may prove a hazard. I have but one thing to ask of ye, do what ye can to...to keep as many of the lads as ye can afloat. I would be grateful."

Maddie looked heartbroken, she pointed at him and looked about for some way to express herself.

Ben looked confused for a moment then said, "What about me?"

She nodded emphatically.

"Ye know the way it is for captains."

She shook her head fiercely and mouthed the word NO! The rest of us were equally upset.

Edna stood and spoke up. "Ben! You can't!"

"Dearies! I don't have to drown meself! I just have to be the last one away! Now that includes the lot o ye! So go on shoo! Get in the water where ye can help, insteada floppin' about on me quarterdeck!"

We all eventually went over the side, including Edna and Jackie, who, oddly enough, still had her gills. Maddie was last and most reluctant. No sooner were we in the water when our eyes were dazzeled by a bright searchlight. It was the Vindicator, no more than a hundred yards away now.

A loudspeaker crackled, "Mrs. Harris. I do believe you are out there? No need to respond, I'll just assume you are. Now if you and your fellow Mermaids, all fourteen of you, will just come along with us," A large hatch slid open on the side of the enemy vessel. "We can be on our way."

The voice continued, "Don't even think about refusing. I would be forced to finish off your vessel and lay a pattern of depth charges that will kill every one of you, unless you can burrow your way into the bedrock like little merbunnies!"

Maddie was next to me. I reached out and touched her hand. "Can they do that?"

She nodded, then thought back. "Would they do that?"

I nodded.

She looked me in the eye. "I'm not going with them. I just can't. I've other things to attend to. Let's hope they won't depth-charge us when they find they're a Mermaid short."

"I wouldn't dare try to persuade anyone. Either fate is probably as bad as the other. I have to go, it's my only chance to get near Alex. I have no plan, nor any notion of a plan to free him, I just have to try."

She hugged me, "Good luck, I won't say good bye." then swam off.

I surfaced.

The searchlight shone directly into my eyes. "Mrs. Harris, so nice to see you again!"

I started swimming toward it, keeping my head above water.

"I see some of your friends are joining you. Such a noble sacrifice to save helpless men in the water."

I didn't look. I didn't want to know who might be following me into this nightmare. I swam up to the ramp and hoisted myself onto it. It led to the open hatch where the figures of two men were silhouetted by the brightly lit chamber beyond. "Where will that lead? A dissecting table or some freakish whore house most likely." I crawled up the ramp.

I couldn't help but notice other Mers crawling up with me, including one walking, Jackie, and a human, Edna. I stopped and looked at the two men at the entrance.

"Entre vous madame." said the older of the two, with mock courtesy. I recognized the voice of the Boss. He didn't look like David Warner anymore. Either he felt no need for disguise now, or his mage was tiring. His actual appearance was short, stocky and bald with a thin fringe of light-blonde hair. He looked more like a high-school principal than a villain. The man next to him was darker with an air of professionalism about him. I momentarily considered making a leap at them, but further in was a third man with a rifle. He would almost certainly get a couple of shots into me before I could close. It wasn't time to throw my...I mean our lives away yet.

I entered the chamber. It was a large hold, probably an airlock with a mini-sub on blocks in one corner. The man with the gun motioned us into another corner.

"That's fourteen," said the gunman, "but two of them ain't Mermaids."

Jackie jerked her thumb at herself and mouthed the words, Am too a Mermaid.

The Boss grunted, "If it's mute, it's a Mermaid. Though I'm gonna check with Nadya to make sure her spell-scrying isn't off kilter. Pretty redheads are worth a pretty penny anyway. Even the old woman's worth her passage. Some people are sick."

The Boss turned to the darker man, "Captain, prepare to lay charges, widest dispersal."

The man said, "No." and tapped his watch.

The Boss gave a look that showed he wasn't used to being contradicted.

"The time they promised is almost up. Do you want the Navy climbing our sternpost?" said the captain in some kind of foreign accent.

"Very well then, let's get the hell out of here. We should celebrate, we're all billionaires now!" They turned to leave and the hatch started to close.

Fourteen, something about that number troubled me. I looked around to see who was with me and saw Skye huddled next to Lisa and looking miserable. Skye! I slapped the deck with my tail to get our captors' attention. They turned to look at me. I pointed at Skye then at the hatch. "LET HER GO!" I screamed with my mind. "SHE'S JUST A CHILD! YOU CAN'T HAVE HER!" I prayed someone who cared was listening to my head.

The Boss laughed.

I put my hands together in supplication.

"She's plenty old enough. Like I said, some people are sick."

I tail slapped the deck again, this time in anger, then hissed at him.

"Hey! None of that! Any funny business and I'll make you all mute permanently, starting with her!" he pointed at Skye. He turned and left.

The hatch closed and sealed.

At least they left the lights on this time.

Skye came over and sat next to me. "Are you mad at me?"

I put my arms around her. "Just a little. I know I told you to stay close, but I didn't mean here. I guess I shoulda been clearer."

Chapter Thirteen: An Angel With Fins

"Someone will pay dearly for this!" said Darth Vader #28 as he helped Mace Windu out from under a chunk of reinforced concrete. Windu brushed himself off. He had missed being crushed by only millimeters. Vader's once shiney helmet was now badly battered, but the Dark Lord appeared to be intact.

The sound of heavy cannon fire caught their attention.

"Interesting!" said Vader. He shifted the lenses in his helmet to maximum magnification.

"They're too far for us to intervene," Windu shaded his eyes with his hands. "What should we do now?"

"There is no life within these walls. Our work here is done."

"Is that it?" Windu looked irritated.

"No. There is more here than meets the eye. Matters are simply moving on from this location. We'll have to move quickly to keep up.

They hurried to what had been the entrance of the warehouse. There they found the SUV shot up and hopelessly wrecked.

"This is going to be harder than we thought," said Windu.

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Maddie found herself very busy. She flitted about from place to place like a frightened minnow, seeing to the Anne's crew. The stronger swimmers were brought to one of the boats to cling to or matched with something bouyant from the abundant wreckage. The weaker were hauled onto larger flotsam. The captain was one of the first she found, swimming strongly, but tiring quickly. She towed him to one of the main hatch covers, upon which he collapsed exhausted.

She was successful in her efforts, of the seventy-five man crew, only six died and that was from the torpedo explosion. Not one drowned.

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Ben Musgrave watched forlornly as the half-moon rose over the horizon. He had lost his first and only vessel. He couldn't help but feel at fault for allowing himself to be overmatched by a superior ship and, perhaps, a smarter commander. Maddie had been right; he had had no chance against that technological nightmare.

Hardly had he thought about her, when her smiling face popped out of the water. She folded her arms on the edge of the hatch cover then rested her chin on them.

"Hello dearie, me own first mate," he smiled back at her and sat up. "We've lost the Anne, she's gone."

She made a sad face and nodded.

"Who knows how many of her lads is gone with her."

She smiled again and shook her head.

"A captain and first mate without a ship or crew; what do we do now lassie?"

She gave him a reassuring smile and hoped he would understand. When it became plain he didn't, she pulled herself unto the hatch and wrapped her arms around him.

That made Ben smile. "I don't know what happened to you and yer sisters, but I wish you could tell me what you're thinkin'.

She took his head in both her hands, kissed him full on the lips and said in a raspy voice, "I can't...make...myself any...plainer...Ben...Musgrave!"

"Whoa, so that's the way of it then?" he looked genuinely surprised. "Now that's pretty, that is, but it canna be, I'm near thrice your age."

She shook her head, then coughed and cleared her throat, "I've done...some resarch on you...Captain. So far as morality...and the law are...concerned, you are Justin Perrigo, age twenty-one. That's...but three years older than me."

"Justin Perrigo you say," he shook his head. "I must confess 'tis familiar, that name."

"If you must reject me, you can do it because I've a tail instead of legs, or because you don't like women with black scales. You can't turn me away on account of age."

"I've not the heart to turn ye away at all. I guess I'm weak in that fashion. Tell me lassie, when did matters take this turn?"

"From the moment you found me hiding under that bush outside the Xanadu Center. Remember? I was crying and shouting at you, 'I'm a freak, just leave me alone to die.' You talked me out and then carried me in your arms like a baby to Dr. McCoy and the pool."

"Aye, you seemed in need of extra care."

"Deeds have consequences Ben. I'm now hopelessly in love with you."

"But what're you gettin' with yer love? A failed pirate with nary ship nor crew."

"Beggin' yer pardon, but crew you have at least. Every man-Jack, save those who perished in the attack, are out there alive and well and every one asked after your welfare before their own when I pulled him from the briney!"

"Dear God, lassie! Yer even soundin' like a pirate!"

"It's mostly cuz my voice is still rough!"

He took her in his arms and gave her "a right proper kissin'."

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I sat there for some time, my face buried in my tail, miserable. What had I done? What had I accomplished? Myself and nearly everyone I loved, including my unborn child, was now in captivity and danger. What do I do now? I felt our prison shudder and switch to quieter non-airbreathing engines as it descended into the depths. Can even Mermaids escape from a submarine?

Finally, I raised up, dried my eyes with my sleeve. "Well, at least I don't think I can make things worse now." I looked around. Skye was curled up next to me, snoozing. The rest of the Mers were either doing the same thing or sitting, lost in their thoughts. I crawled over to Edna and placed my hand on her knee.

"It may not be safe for you to speak out loud just yet, but when the time comes, would you be my voice?"

"Yes, certainly. Do you think we're being watched?"

"I don't see anything like a camera, but if they are, we might as well give them something to look at." Then I smiled and gave her a thumbs up."OK, now I'm gonna take a look at that mini-sub." I went over and tapped Jackie on the shoulder. Her legs might prove useful.

I sat and watched as Jackie carefully examined the little submarine. She turned to me, shrugged and shook her head. I crawled all the way around it, but fared no better. I placed my hand on her arm. "I can't even find a hatch. What about you?"

She made a disgusted face. "Same here. Anyway, these guys would have to be really stupid to not have locked this baby up tight."

"Wouldn't matter if they didn't, unless we can get that big hatch open." I thought. I sure wished Maddie was there with us.

"Let's have a look at that hatch."

As I crawled next to Jackie, she put her hand on my head. "You may find this very odd, Hannah, but I really, really miss my tail."

I smiled, "Not at all, I know exactly how you feel."

The controls for the big hatch were straightforward. There were only two buttons, green, which we figured was close and red for open. Neither, of course, worked. The interior hatch was even simpler, just a wheel, which was blocked from the other side. We went back and sat with the other Mers.

I needed to think. I hugged my tail and rested my chin on it. About that time, there was a clank and the wheel on the small, interior hatch rotated, then the hatch opened. A man in some kind of sailors' uniform and carrying a submachinegun entered, followed by the man I had heard being called Matt. He was the one who had poked me with a stick more than once back in the warehouse. He was carrying two large buckets and grinning.

"Feeding time! Fish for the fishies! Let's see some tricks! Who's first?"

I gave him a low hiss. It was the only sound I could make. Some of the other Mers did the same. That seemed to shake him up a bit. He stopped smiling and tossed the contents of the buckets in our general direction.

"Ya'd best eat and keep up yer strength! Yer all due for surgery soon! The Boss and his captain decided yer too dangerous to leave unaltered for a long voyage! Sweet dreams, to the lot o' ya!" He turned and left, clanging the hatch shut behind him.

There was a good bit of rustling and moving about. We were all quite dismayed. The prospect of being rendered permanently silent was chilling. Leaking this news worked to our favor, however. We were galvanized into action! But what kind of action?

Chapter Fourteen: More Mer Magic

I had to think quickly. They weren't going to give us much time, especially if they find out that Matt had 'spilled the beans'. What did their rush decision to make us silent mean? First and foremost, it meant that Alex was alive and on this ship! Without the need to neutralize him, their mage could easily shut us up for as long as they wished. Relief flooded my body like a new transfusion of life! But I needed to refocus. What else does it mean? Their mage must be fading fast. We had to do something to take advantage of that. I went back to Edna and sat next to her.

"I think it's almost time now. Are you ready? Oh, by the way, can you sing?"

She nodded to both questions.

What to sing? I wasn't quite ready to concede that the choice of song was meaningless. Surely, if the song matched the intent, it would be stronger. Since the only one of us who wouldn't be singing just in her head wasn't really a siren, we were going to need all the strength we could get. Also, what ever we sang, it had to be something we already knew or could learn quickly. There was one song that kept reoccurring to me that seemed to fit this whole Xanadu thing. It was an old Bill Staines song. I had to try it.

"OK. Tell everyone to get together and join hands." Our magic was bound to be weak, if it worked at all. Our only hope being that the Boss' mage was so close to the edge, that even a small push would bowl her over. "Sing this! If you can't, try anyway and keep trying! Make them work to keep us quiet!" The effect on us of hearing a friendly voice was electric. Soon we were gathered together, all of our attention on Edna, who began to sing, in a clear, quiet voice, the words and melody I gave her.

              All God's children have a place in the choir
                  Some sing low, and some sing higher
               Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
    Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they've got now

Only Edna sang out loud, of course, the rest of us just clapped, but I could 'hear' in my head voice after voice from those around me joining in.

         Listen to the top where the little birds sing
          On the melodies with the high notes ringing
             The hoot owl hollers over everything
                 And the black bird disagrees

I could feel the energy swirl around and through us, looking for an outlet. It's intensity made my head swim.

         Singin' in the night time singin' in the day
         The little duck quacks then he's on his way
             And the otter hain't got much to say
              And the porcupine talks to hisself

Then it found its outlet, Edna. Her voice suddenly rose in power and volume. I felt a snap, like a rubber band breaking in my throat, and I could sing!

         The dogs and the cats, they take up the middle
         While the honeybee hums and the cricket fiddles
               The donkey brays and the pony neighs
                 And the old gray badger sighs...

Voice after voice joined Edna for real this time. We were rough and hoarse, but after hours of forced silence, we sounded great!

         Listen to the bass, it's the one on the bottom
         Where the bullfrog croaks and the hippopotomus
                 Moans and groans with a big t'do
                  And the old cow just goes moo

Jackie toppled over with a thud. "Tail's back," she said.

         It's a simple song of living sung everywhere
         By the ox and the fox and the grizzly bear
         The dopey alligator and the hawk above
         the sly old weasle and the turtle dove

We directed the power of the song against the ship itself. We wanted to bring it to a halt before we got any farther from home. One more repeat of the chorus and we felt the vessel sway as she lost trim and the engines slowed to a halt. There then followed a thump and grating sound as she settled on the bottom. After a few moments of silence we all heard, from deep in the bowels of the Vindicator, gunfire.

"Alex must be up," said Aurora, "and I bet he's pissed."

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Alex's body was aware of his release from the spell before he was. As the Force began to flow through him again, his body immediately began breaking down the toxins which had been pumped into him to keep him unconscious. As he gradually became aware it began an 'inventory' for him. There was a cast on his right arm, a bone there shattered by a slug. An IV drip in his left arm inserted the toxins. No other injuries. There was also a strong, localized churning in the Force, origin unknown.

When he became fully conscious, his senses told him he was not alone. He remained still, eyes closed as he reached out with his feelings and examined his situation. In the mean time, he set in motion the healing of his wound. Without a bacta tank it could take as long as a week to fully mend, unless he could set aside time for deep meditation. His body was already destroying the toxins faster than they were entering his body, so he ignored the IV.

The person in the room with him was hostile, armed and increasingly uneasy. There was no time for subtlety or persuasion. He launched an overwhelming Force attack. OBEY! The man stiffened. Unload your weapon. Place it on the floor. Lie down in the corner. SLEEP! The man complied with each command, like an automaton. Only then did Alex open his eyes.

He was in a small cargo hold, lit with a dim bulb on the ceiling. He started to move, but found he was chained to the floor. Alex closed his eyes again and concentrated. The chains fell away. He sat up, pulled the IV out then rubbed his temples. He had a pounding headache. His arm also hurt. He would be forced to use his left hand. He held it up and in a moment his lightsaber flew into it from some unknown location. He rose to his feet and walked unsteadily to the hatch.

He paused, there was a corridor beyond and another armed man guarding the door. In a few moments, Alex opened the hatch and pulled the now unconscious man inside. He reached out further with his senses and thoughts. "No sense in wandering about aimlessly. I need to figure out where the hell I am." It was plain that he was onboard some sort of vessel. He reached further. There were about two dozen people and...fourteen Mers! "So that's where the disturbance in the Force is from." He didn't know where the other baker's dozen came from, but he was willing to bet anything that Hannah had to be one of them. He suppressed his anxiety and fear for her. He knew that he had to remain calm even, if necessary, cold for her sake.

The power of the Siren Song still pulsed through the ship, making strong ripples and eddys in the Force. Gradually the engines slowed and stopped. Now was the time for Alex to act. Lightsaber in hand, he stepped out into the corridor and headed for the bridge. Suddenly, as he moved forward, he heard the sound of automatic gunfire, "What the hell?"

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I wasn't as confident about the gunfire as Aurora. Jedi aren't supermen, they can be killed by bullets, just like anyone else. I wanted to give Alex more help, but how? A bunch of Mermaids crawling, unarmed, through the corridors of a sub, didn't sound very helpful. Singing was still our best bet, but we were sorely laking in information. We can't just randomly do damage now that Alex was loose...

"Where's Edna?" That was Jackie. "I was supporting her til my legs went away. Where is she?"

We began scrambling about calling for her. Finally, from the midst of us, a young Mermaid I didn't recognize sat up. "I'm here."

"Edna?" said Angeline.

"It can't be!" said Elena.

"It is you, isn't it?" I said softly. The young Mer rubbed her eyes, as though awakening from sleep, and nodded. She had shoulder length wavy dark brown hair and cyan-blue scales on her tail. Most importantly, she had Edna's face, only much younger, she looked no older than twenty-five. "Good Lord, what did we do to you?"

She looked at her self and smiled. "Something wonderful!" she said in a strong melodic voice.

At that moment, the inner hatch clanged open. The Boss stood there, eyes filled with rage, submachinegun in hand.

Chapter Fifteen: Shipwrecked Again

"Hitch-hiking was probably not a good idea," said Harding/Windu. "I mean, would you pick us up?" The two Masters walked along the road away from the now demolished warehouse.

"Yes, of course I would," said Wu/Vader. The mask and vocator made it impossible for Windu to know if the Dark Lord was joking or not. "There. Someone is stopping for us."

A gray auto with lights on top pulled off the road in front of them.

"That's a Sheriff's deputy!" said Windu.

"Excellent!"

A minute later, the two deputies waved as the two Jedi drove away with their cruiser.

"We might end up regreting this," said Windu as he smiled and waved back.

"That is not important. There is a very deep conspiracy here," Vader made a fist. "We will have no peace until it is rooted out and crushed! We must get to a Coast Guard station as quickly as possible!"

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Alex continued carefully toward the bridge. There was more gunfire. "What is going on? Some kind of mutiny?" This made him more nervous, for now, he had no idea who was going to shoot at him, one side, neither side or both sides. He approached a metal stair to the deck above. The gunfire seemed to abate. as he climbed, he listened to the Force and shoved his senses aside.

At the top of the stair, the deck leading to the bridge, there were several bodies and the stink of burnt powder and blood. Outside the hatch to the bridge, he waited again. There were two lives inside, one slowly ebbing away. As quick as thought, Alex sliced away the latch and kicked the hatch open.

Inside, was the Captain, kneeling over a still figure, in his hands a submachinegun. Jedi and seaman looked at one another for a brief instant, then the latter tossed away his weapon. "You needn't bother, the ship is disabled." he said.

The truth of the Captain's words were obvious, even for a non-expert like Alex. Bodies littered the deck, along with glass and empty shell casings. There didn't seem to be a single control panel that wasn't shot-up and smoking. In addition to the blood and cordite, the air smelt of shattered electrical instruments and controls.

"If you don't mind, could you tell me what the hell's been going on here?" Alex sensed that whatever answer he got from this man would continue to be the truth.

"Yes, but not now. HE is after the Syrenka and means to do them harm. Follow me." He bent and picked up the body in front of him, a woman dressed in quasi-medieval robes.

"I know the way. I'll go first. Is she...?"

"No, she's not, not yet." He raised himself to his feet without help. "She's my sister. Lead on."

"Is there anything I can do?" asked Alex.

The Captain shook his head. "There is no time, if you wish to prevent more death."

Alex certainly wished that, he hurried along the corridors as quickly as he could. Every now and then, he would glance back, but even with his burden, the other man kept pace.

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"One word, one note, one noise and I pull the trigger. I know what you are capable of."

We barely breathed. We knew what he was capable of.

You've ruined this ship, so you're welcome to her. I'm taking the minisub and one of you, for my retirement plan," he grinned bitterly. "I'd take more, but I'm afraid the sub only holds two. Any volunteers? No? How about the little one?" he motioned toward Skye.

I pushed her behind me and shook my head.

"Care to suggest another?"

None of us moved.

"I could simply shoot you one by one til there's only one left. You think I won't?" He aimed at me and pulled the trigger.

There was a very loud 'click'. The Boss swore and reached for the spare magazine in his belt. I flinched at the click and reflexively screamed, as did several other Mers. He staggered, as though hit by a gust of wind, but managed to jam the new magazine in and charge the bolt. I curled my tail under me for a leap. At that moment, a beam of blue light burst from his chest. The Boss screamed and clutched at it, scattering smoking remnants of fingers. The beam withdrew from his chest and flicked to the side, the machinegun, with arm still attached, clattered to the deck. After a moment, the Boss collapsed, revealing Alex standing in the open hatch. He turned off his lightsaber.

I was about to leap into his arms, until I saw the cast on his wrist. Instead, I stood on my tail and reached for him as he strode forward and caught me about the waist with his good arm. I wrapped my tail around him as we embraced. After a few moments, I opened my eyes and recognized the Captain standing behind Alex.

"What is he doing here!?" I gasped.

He gently placed his burden on the deck. "Trying to save my sister's life." The unconscious woman was young, perhaps not even out of her teens. She was dark skinned like her brother, or would have been but for her ghastly ashen color. Alex put me down and began examining her.

"Is this Nadya?" I remembered the name I had overheard.

Her brother nodded.

"And what's your name?" asked Tiffany.

"You can call me Nemo." When he saw the look we gave him, he laughed. "No. I'm not a Xanadu survivor. I don't wish my name to be known."

Alex opened Nadya's robe and tore the gown, exposing her abdomen. There were two oozing holes above her navel. He put his hand over her eyes and meditated.

"But she is a Xanadu survivor," I said.

"She's always had a great love for fairytales." He looked wistful and sad. "When she came back...changed, our mission was changed as well."

"Mission?" said Julia.

Nemo smiled and shook his head. "I'll say no more about that, except that she knew nothing until he," He motioned toward the Boss's corpse, "persuaded her to take part in the new mission. You can see the outcome of that one."

Alex sighed and opened his eyes, "I can do nothing but ease her pain. She needs better medical care than I can give."

"What do we do now?" I asked.

"You can't stay here in any case," said Nemo. "The batteries will begin failing in a few hours. That is, of course, a moot point for those of you who can simply open the hatch and swim away."

"About opening that hatch..." I said.

"The security lock has been disabled," said Nemo. "Thanks to our late, unlamented friend there." He stood up. "I need to see to my ship. You will take my sister away on the minisub?"

"I can't pilot it," Alex lied.

"What are you doing!? You can pilot anything, even with a broken wrist!" I thought to him.

"I have a breather. He doesn't."

"Remember, these are the people who kidnapped us and were going to cut out mine and my mersisters' vocal cords!"

"What would you have me do? He could've made things a lot harder for us. I know he's truthful about saving Nadya."

I didn't know what else to say. I had a bad feeling about this. On the other hand, Nemo did veto the boss' depth-charging of the Anne's survivors. And Alex was right, he could have made things a lot more difficult for us.

Nemo frowned, "So who will pilot the sub?"

"If it has foot-pedals you can count the rest of us out as well," I said.

"You are trying to save me too? Quite touching, but a captain stays with his ship."

"Your crew is dead. Your ship is salvage," said Alex.

"A captain only has to be the last man away," I said.

"A brother stays with his sister!" said Aurora.

Nemo looked torn.

"She's running out of time," said Alex.

Nemo sighed and knelt. "Beyond a certain point, disgrace no longer has a sting. Can you help me strap her in?"

A few minutes later, Alex stood by the hatch control. We gave him a thumbs up. He nodded, stuck the breather in his mouth and pushed the red button.

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We hadn't taken into account the amount of water pressure at fifty fathoms. A beam of water slammed into Alex and propelled him into the opposite bulkhead. The rest of us were knocked around like bathtub toys. The lights went out. The dim, murky water was filled with desperately swimming Mermaids and the minisub. For several terrifying seconds, I couldn't find Alex, then I saw him drifting, limp and unconscious. The breather was nowhere to be found. I grabbed him and swam furiously for the hatch.

Outside, it was very dark. It must have still been night. It took a few precious moments for me to orient myself. I saw a shadowy form near me. It was Skye. She took Alex by the other shoulder and pointed upward. We frantically swam for the surface, dragging him between us.

His body convulsed as the cold water entered his lungs. We were not yet halfway there. I had no air to give him. My own lungs had emptied as soon as the water hit my face. I would have screamed my frustration, if I could have. He went limp again. Desparation led me to do what I did next. There was one more Mer legend. I was afraid that it may not be true. I was also afraid of what it might do. I took him by the shoulders, wound myself around him and kissed his lips. I inhaled, sucking the seawater from his lungs, then reversed sending water from my gills into his body. Nothing happened. I felt Skye at my side, "What are you doing? What's going on? Can I help?"

"No," I thought back, "You can't help."

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The Mers and the minisub surfaced to the sound of a helicopter. Circling above was a large, Coast Guard rescue chopper. In a few minutes they lowered a basket into which the Mers helped Nemo place the injured Nadya. After she was taken up, a harness was lowered. Nemo strapped it on and was lifted away.

"Alex should be next," said Julia.

"Where is he?" said Angeline. "And where's Hannah?"

"Where's Skye?!" shouted Edna.

Within seconds, the Mermaids had all dove and scattered to search for their missing friends. The helicopter circled for a few more minutes, but with no one to pick up, it soon turned and flew away.

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Harding/Windu reached out and took the hand of Nemo and pulled him into the rescue chopper. The captain was expecting a rescue diver not a Jedi. He didn't like the look of this.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"A friend of Alex. I need to ask you a few questions."

"Ask away. I'm trained to resist torture."

"I never use torture," Windu smiled. I don't need to.

Nemo tried to jump out the side of the chopper. The Jedi master's grip was too strong.

"We won't hurt you, and we'll save this young woman, if we can. There's just some business we must attend to."

"We?" Nemo looked toward the cock pit to see a dark robed, helmeted figure.

"You will tell us who is behind all of this," said Wu/Vader.


Chapter Sixteen: The Sea Calls

It was difficult, but Skye and I managed to drag Alex up onto a nearby beach. We had no idea where we were or what island we were on.

"How 'bout I climb to the top of that dune and see what I can see?" said Skye.

"OK. I'll stay here with Alex. Keep in sight."

Skye bounded over the sand like a seal. I laid next to Alex and put my arms around him. It was a warm night and the sand still had some heat in it. I had nearly fallen asleep when he coughed and groaned.

"How do you feel?" I asked him.

"Terrible."

"Where does it hurt?"

"Best ask where doesn't it," he smiled. "I have cracked ribs, broken collar bone, bruises and a knot on my head the size of a goose egg. Not to mention the wrist, of course. Pretty sure I'll live though."

Relief and gratitude flooded my being.

"There's something else, I feel really weird, not quite right." He lifted his tail and gawked at it. "Well, that explains the weird feeling."

I buried my face in his good shoulder. "I'm so very sorry."

"Sorry? For saving my life? For allowing me to spend more of it with my favorite person?" He flapped his fin and chuckled. "Can I breathe water now too?"

"That was sorta the whole point."

"Cool!"

"But what about..."

"What about what?"

"Walking."

He tried to shrug but winced instead. "I think the only thing I'll really miss is carrying you around. Seriously, if I'd known you could do this, I'd have asked for it."

I laughed through my tears, "You had to drown first, silly!"

Skye half crawled, half slid down the dune, scattering sand everywhere. "There's some houses about a quarter-mile up the beach. Oh, is he awake? How is he?"

"Give me a few days and I'll race you," said Alex.

"Great!" She looked at me and added quietly. "Does he know about..." she waggled her fin.

I nodded.

"And he's cool with it?"

"Yes, I'm cool with it." he said.

"That's neat!" she bounced on her tail. "Should I swim down to those houses? Somebody down there's bound to have a phone."

"Sure," I said. "Make sure it's full daylight before you knock on any doors. You'll give them enough of a start as it is."

"OK, I'm on my way!" She bounded down to the surf and jumped in.

"Where does she get the energy?" I asked. "She's only crawled through sewers, been shipwrecked twice and threatened with a horrible fate several times since yesterday."

"All in a day's work for a ten-year-old Mermaid," said Alex. "Sometimes I think kids are tougher than adults."

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Skye swam along the beach, popping up every now and then to check her progress. When she saw rooftops over the barrier dune, she body surfed in and crawled onto the sand. She then climbed a wooden stair over the dune, thump, thump, thump; but hesitated at the top. Going down a flight of stairs is one of the most difficult things you can do with a tail. She decided to go off the boardwalk and crawl/slide down the back of the dune instead. On the way down, she slid through a tall patch of salt grass right into a pair of children playing in the sand.

"I'm sorry, you-all OK?" Skye sat up and curled her tail around herself.

"Hey! You smashed our mound!" Complained the boy, who was about eight and wore shorts and a plain tee-shirt.

The girl, she was about Skye's age and wore an out-sized Disney World shirt over her swimsuit, squealed, "It's a mermaid!"

"Yep!" said the young Mer proudly.

"Can't be. She's just wearing a fake tail," grumped the boy.

In answer, Skye uncurled said tail and let it flop in front of her.

"Oooo. See Donnie, It's real! Can I touch it?"

"Sure. My name's Skye, by the way."

"Cooool!" she gingerly poked the tail. "I'm Cameron, Cammie for short. That's my brother Donnie." she nodded toward the sandy-haired skeptic. "Where did you come from?"

"Orlando, but I was born in Tampa."

Cammie's eyes widened, "Are you one of those Xanadu people?"

"Uh-huh."

"Mom says not to talk to strangers," said Donnie. He was starting to irritate Skye.

"I think she only means grown-ups."

"Actually, I need to talk to your mom. A couple of my friends are up the beach a ways, one of them's hurt. do you-all have a phone?"

"Sure, come with us. Are they mermaids too?" said Cammie.

"Yes, well, one of them's a guy, a Merman. He's also a Jedi." The two siblings walked on either side as Skye crawled between them toward the house.

"Do you have to crawl like that?" said Donnie.

"Don't be so rude! Can't you see she doesn't have legs!"

"Can't fly neither, cuz I don't have wings, but my sister does. Do you?" Skye was OK with not walking, but that didn't mean some snooty little boy could rub her nose in it. "She lets me ride on her back." So there!

Skye thumped up the steps and into the living room, where she twisted around and lifted herself onto the couch.

"I'll go get my mom, she's usually not up this early," said Cammie.

Donnie sat on the opposite end of the couch and stared at Skye, which made her nervous. She brushed down her tail with her hands, as though smoothing a nonexistant skirt. Instead, she knocked sand onto the carpet, Oops!.

"Do you have to bounce like that?" Donnie asked.

Skye looked down, she had been nervously bouncing on the couch.

"You're doing just like Tigger!"

She finally had enough, "Why can't humans eat their young, like we do!" she bared her teeth and hissed at the young pest. Her teeth weren't pointed, like some Mers, but it had the desired effect. Donnie turned pale and backed away.

Skye heard a gasp and looked up to see a woman in night gown and robe with her mouth gaped open.

"Oh...Hi! I'm Skye Walker. Can I use your phone?"

"See mommie, I told you there was a mermaid in our living room!"

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I helped Alex sit up and we watched the sun rise over the sea.

"You know I would have never left you, no matter how much time I would have had to spend on land."

"I know," he said. "It was never that. I just didn't want to put you through all that discomfort for me."

"That's sweet of you, but we're still gonna have to spend a lot of time on land," I patted my belly. "There are no Mer OB-doctors. And, as I'm probably the first pregnant Mermaid, we're even ignorant of what might go wrong. We'll have to have our baby in a hospital and that means on land. I guess, if all goes well, I'll be the model for any other Mer who wants to try it."

"Yeah, they'll want to follow your progress every step of the way. There may come a point when you'll want to run...er swim screaming from all the questions and probing. It could get quite intrusive."

I poked his good shoulder, "Leave it to you to think of that! But you're right, we'll have to set limits."

"Might not be that easy. Once the researchers get their hands on us, they might not want to let go." he frowned as he idly flipped sand with his fin. "We'll need friends, allies...and a place of refuge, under the sea."

"A home under the sea!" I giggled. "Maybe I'll get you a crown and trident. Do it up proper!"

"I'm serious!"

"I know! And you're right. Just having a bit of fun." I hugged him, gently.

"Well, I'm going to lie down and meditate, both on this and to speed up my healing."

"Sleep tight, don't let the sand crabs bite."

Alex was soon breathing quietly. I took the opportunity to look over his tail in daylight. It was silver and turquoise, like mine, but with large splotches of the latter color instead of bands. His fin was gold and swallow-tail shaped, with two large violet spots. There was also violet around its fringe. His tail was also slightly shorter and thicker than mine. There were also golden frills down each side. Something about these frills actually turned me on. That must be a specifically male Mer characteristic, fascinating! Hmn, I wonder...

Don't even think about it.

Think about what?

What you were going to do next.

How did you know...

Jedi.

Oh.

About that time, a Mermaid crawled out of the surf. It was Chrissie.

"Hey! I found you!" she said in her clipped New England accent. "And you're OK...whoa! Is that Alex?"

"Yep, it's me."

"How?"

"It's a side effect of a Mer saving a human from drowning," I said as she came up and sat next to us.

"And I'm cool with it," said Alex. He sat up.

"Where are the rest of us?" I asked.

"All over the place," said Chrissie. "We got separated hunting for you. Where's Skye?"

"She went to find a phone," I said. "She should be back directly."

"Maybe I should go check on her," said the raven-haired purple-tailed Mer. "Which way did she go?"

"That way," I pointed down the beach. "She..." I was interrupted by a shrill little-girl scream. We all jumped, but it was immediately followed by laughter. Skye was body-surfing in on a big wave. She soon went head over tailfin and crawled the rest of the way in to shore, her hair full of sand.

She sat next to me. "Bahamian Air/Sea Rescue are on their way!" She spat some more sand and pulled a wayward seashell out of her top.

Two more Mers emerged from the surf, Edna and Angeline. "Hello! Are you-all OK?" Shouted Edna. "Is that Alex?" said Angeline.

"Yes! And I'm cool with having a tail." Alex never liked being the center of attention, but there he was, the object of curiosity for a growing crowd of finny females.

"Alex is banged up, Edna, but he'll be fine." I said.

"Edna?" Alex looked confused.

"More Mer magic," I explained. "We don't really understand it ourselves."

Aurora, Jackie and Elena were next.

"Yes, I'm Alex. I have a tail and it's just fine with me!"

Finally, all of the Mers from the Rapid Anne except Maddie were present and gathered around on the beach.

"I'm Alex! I have a tail! And I'm ecstatic!"

This was all in fun, with a lot of laughing and hugging, but I eventually shooed them away to give Alex some space. It did make me wonder, how will we build a viable underwater settlement with so few males? Will Skye, Angeline or our own child have to go back to the land to find their future mates? Or, will we become like the Sirens of legend, luring men in to drown them into suitable lovers? Of course, I'm sure some guys would volunteer. Well, that's enough, I'm starting to worry like Alex.

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"We should have a party, like a clam bake or something," suggested Julia.

"I don't know about the bake, but I could sure use some clams," said Skye.

"Me too!" said Aurora.

Soon, several Mermaids volunteered to go into the water to forage. It didn't take long for them to come back with an assortment including fish, crab and seaweed. It was all combined together into a seaside picnic.

We were just finishing up and burying the shells and bones when we heard the sound of beating wings. At first, I thought it was a helicopter, but it didn't quite sound like one.

"It's Wynd!" shouted Skye. Then, over the dunes flew a great winged centauress. She wheeled into a snap turn over the water then made a gentle landing, hardly a tail-length from Skye.

"Is that Wynd?" I asked, amazed. The last time I had seen her, she was a pegasus, not a winged centaur.

"Yes! She's beautiful, isn't she." Skye was in awe.

Wynd reached down and scooped her sister up into her arms. "How ya doin' pipsqueak!" she said.

There was something in her sister's manner and tone however that worried Skye. "What's wrong?" she asked.

Wynd put her down gently and said, "I have to say good bye."

"Good bye? Why? Where are you going?"

"I can't say."

"You can't say! It's always 'I can't say.' 'I can't tell.' with you now!" She raised herself on her tail. "I'm sick of it! What is going on?" Skye wiggled, trying to keep her balance, but had to sit back down.

Wynd put her hands over her face and sobbed, "I can't say because I don't know."

"I'm keeping no more secrets!" shouted Skye. "What did you promise and WHAT WAS THAT SHADOW?!"

"It was I." The voice came from nowhere. After a moment, a smoke like substance began to coalesce out of nothing into a vague, human-like thing that stood next to Wynd. Eyes wide with fear, the centauress shied away from the transparent form.

Unintimidated, Skye sat with her hands on her hips, tail fin twitching. "Who are you and what are you doing with MY SISTER!"

"Skye!" said Alex. "Take care! It's very old and powerful, whatever it is. Don't piss it off!"

"I am a servant of the Trickster, the Raven." It said. The more it spoke, the more familiar that voice sounded.

"The Raven? Do you mean Eric Winters?" I said.

It seemed to shake its head. "His time is yet to come."

It means THE Trickster. thought Alex.

"Whatever! You're too powerful to be bullying teenaged centaurs!" Insisted Skye.

"We had to be certain she was trustworthy. Your sister is being given a great responsibility."

"What?" said Skye. Wynd's ears perked up a bit.

"You are very brave, little one. One might think we chose the wrong sister." the Shadow seemed to smile. "But your fate lies in another direction."

Careful, thought Alex. You can't take this being or its master at face value.

It lies? I thought back.

If it suits. But remember, even the truth can be a trick.

"So." I said. "You're leaving intimidation for flattery?"

It turned to me. "Greetings, First-Mother of the Mer."

Wow, she's laying it on kinda thick. I thought. SHE, that's it!

"You're Amy!" I said aloud.

She turned to me, the smile became plainer, "Indeed, that was once my name."

Who's Amy? thought Alex.

Remember, she was the make-up artist and costumer for all of us Darknight people. She made my tail before it became my tail.

"What do you mean by 'given a great responsibility'?" Asked Skye, clearly skeptical.

"She is to be our messenger." said the being who had been Amy. "Don't fret. You will see your sister again, unharmed."

Alex, is she lying?

I don't know. I can't read her intent!

Damn! What can we do?

Not a hell of a lot, frankly.

"Do YOU promise? How trustworthy are YOU?" Asked Skye.

Amy smiled, "I understand, but you will just have to trust us. However, we will leave a token of our sincerity, just for you. You will understand when you see it." She turned to Wynd. "We will not force you to come and we will not take your new form away. What will you do?"

"I can come back and see my family?"

"Yes, from time to time. Only you are bound never to reveal any message you may carry. Can you do that?"

Wynd stepped forward. "Yes." She turned, picked up Skye and hugged her. "I really do want to do this. It would be an adventure!"

"OK." said the young Mermaid. She hugged her sister back, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Come back soon, please."

A few moments later Wynd was galloping down the beach, suddenly she spread her wings and launched into the air. She circled once, waved and was gone.

"If there is any part of the old Amy left, you will hold to your word," I said.

She nodded, "There is more of me left than you may suspect." At that the shadow dispersed into the breeze. A few minutes later the sound of beating wings returned. This time they belonged to a rescue helicopter.


Chapter Seventeen: Loose Endings

Our stay at the hospital was uneventful, in fact, it was rather boring. Alex spent the first thirty-six hours either asleep or in deep meditation. I wasn't actually a patient, but there was no where else for me to go and nowhere else I wanted to be anyway.

Edna had already told me that Beth was alive and recovering. I was desparately eager to see her. The police hadn't returned my wheelchair yet, but I told Alex's nurse that unless they wanted to see me crawl the hallways, they needed to lend me one. Beth was up and about. She was even the one who answered the hospital room door when I knocked. We cried and hugged for a long time, then we talked. She still remembered very little of what happened that afternoon. Todd told me later that she is still sorting out which memories belong to Beth, which belong to Arwen and which now belong to both. When I returned to our room, my chair and beach bag were there.

By the second afternoon of Alex's 'nap', I needed a swim. The cops had left the van in the parking garage. I wheeled over there and drove to the Center. I parked as close to the lake as I could and made my way down there. There was no one at the Walkers' campsite, so I continued to the water. I was still a little traumatized by my last attempt to catapult in, so I slid out of my chair and crawled into the water. I frolicked for a bit, then swam over to where I knew there were more Mers to socialize with a bit before returning to Alex.

I swam slowly on my back on the surface, breathing air. I felt an indescribable sadness. It was as though the attack in the woods had destroyed our innocence. Before, we had been concerned about our transformations and how to deal with them. Now, we had to worry about the world and what it might do to us because of those transformations.

The first Mermaid I came across was Lisa. She asked after Alex, I asked about the Walkers. They had gone to look at a small home in the country that they could probably afford. It had a pasture for Wynd, when she comes to visit, and a nice little pond for Skye. I doubted that Skye would be satisfied with a pond, now that she had tasted saltwater, but it was certainly better than their current situation. We talked for a good while. She shared my concerns, as did most of the other Mers who came and swam with us. We resolved to stay in contact and stick together. It would be too easy for the world to grind us down separately.

When I was returning to the shore where I'd left my chair, I saw that the Walkers were back. Skye saw me, shouted a greeting and crawled in to the water. I told her about how fast Alex was mending. She told me about the house they were probably going to move into and the pond. It was nice, shady in parts and not too full of algae. The only thing she was worried about was loneliness.

"The pond's about a hundred yards from the house. That's a long ways." she frowned. "Dad's gonna build a path for a chair and put in a diving board so they can jump in and swim with me."

I knew Skye's parents were doing the best they could in a bad situation, but I was concerned. What about her safety? She'd already been kidnapped once. Wouldn't they have to keep her indoors at night? The thought of Skye being wheeled to the pond every morning after sleeping in the bathtub all night didn't help my melancholia. I promised that Alex and I would come often and play with her.

Skye's best news, however, was Jamie. "He's big now! It happened right after Wynd left. I mean he's still a mouse, but he's nearly as big as before he changed."

I secretly cringed a little at the thought of a mouse the size of a seven-year-old boy, but I knew this was good news for him and his family. He was not totally helpless now. "That must have been the token Amy spoke of."

"I think so too," said Skye.

"How is Erica taking it?"

"She's been complaining," Skye laughed. "But we're sure she knows it's best for him."

We jumped, played and raced until we were both tired. Then I crawled out to the chair, wheeled myself to the van and returned to the hospital.

By the fourth day, My Jedi husband was pretty much healed and we impatiently waited for him to be discharged.

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Alex sat up in his hospital bed, channel surfing without the remote. Outwardly, he was calm, only an occasional twitch of his tail-fin betrayed his agitation. I sat in my wheelchair at the foot of his bed doing a crossword puzzle. I had my back to the TV; I rarely watch the thing.

"It's pure bullcrap!" he said, finally. "They've already taken one MRI of me today."

"You have to admit it is difficult for them to believe you could recover from all those injuries in just four days." I said.

"I think we might just have to get up and leave on our own."

I shook my head, "I don't want to piss them off, since I'll probably be birthing our child here."

"I've been a Mer for four days now, and I haven't even had a chance to swim yet! You know what that's like. If I wasn't a Jedi, I'd be bouncing off the walls."

I made some sympathetic noises, flipped my tail up on his bed and played finsies with him.

"Which reminds me," he said quietly, "We haven't had much privacy either."

Just then, there came a knock at the door.

Oh Lord, here they come again. "Come on in!" I swear, if they don't let me go this afternoon, I'm going to start being uncooperative! he thought to me.

The door opened and Leonard McCoy walked in. "Bones! Where have you been?" I hadn't seen him since he told me I was pregnant.

"They've been keeping me busy, and you-all seemed to do pretty good without help."

"yeah, perhaps a little too good." said Alex.

Bones opened his tricorder and began examining me. "There's your patient Doc, I'm just his live-in nurse."

"Uh-huh, just let me take a quick look. You've been a busy little Mer-mommie lately. Too busy. Everything checks out, though. Let's just keep the next eight months boring, OK?" He turned to Alex. "Now for you, young man." He scanned him from head to fin. "you've been causing quite a stir around here. They've been begging me to keep you longer."

"Oh crap."

"I can see no reason to though." He put away the tricorder. "It's not like we'll never get another injured Jedi. You guys seem to like living dangerously."

"Thanks Doc. Believe it or not, we're not supposed to seek adventure."

"Really!" Bones shook his head in disbelief.

"Well, I guess you'll be needing to borrow a wheelchair now. Do you have transportation home?"

"We have a van that either of us can drive." I said.

"So far as I'm concerned, you can go." said Bones. "You'd better do it now though, before I get overruled."

"Consider us gone!" said a grinning Alex.

Shortly after Bones left Alex's nurse came in with a chair for him and another scrubs top for me. We thanked and hugged her. All the staff had been really nice to us.

It took no time at all to get dressed and pack up what little we had there with us. We were ready to go.

"I think I'd better take a quick visit to the bathroom," said Alex. He jumped out of bed and hopped with his tail to the restroom.

I wheeled after him. "Wait! You can do that?"

"Of course I can. That part of my body hasn't changed."

"No! I mean the hopping! I can't do that!"

"Oh. I've just been doing it since yesterday. You weren't here. It seemed easier than crawling or using a bed pan." He hopped back out and sat in his chair. "I can only do it short distances."

"I can't do it at all!" I shouted.

"I'm sure you could with practice. It's just a matter of balance."

"Just a matter of balance. Maybe for a Jedi!"

"I'm sure I could teach you."

"You'd better."

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We attracted a lot of looks as we wheeled out of the hospital and into the parking garage. We had just gotten off of the elevator when Alex paused and looked distracted.

"What's wrong?"

"A disturbance in the force."

I almost screamed when a dark-cloaked, masked figure rounded a corner, but Alex didn't seem especially worried.

"Greetings, young Jedi," said the Vader.

Alex nodded, "Greetings."

You know this guy? I thought.

Yes, your husband knows me.

"He helped me when you were abducted," said Alex. "I hope you aren't too disappointed, that I haven't fallen to the Dark Side yet, Lord Vader."

"All in due time. Your rapid recovery is quite impressive. You've demonstrated control over your physical body. May I anticipate that the changes you've experienced to that body will not prove a significant handicap?"

"You may. So, you still want me for your apprentice?"

"Apprentice!" I nearly choked.

"Don't fret Sweetie, I'm not volunteering for the position."

"Hmn, the Force is strong in this one. Perhaps you should take her as your padawan?" said the Vader.

"I've considered it," said Alex, "but it sounds like a good way to ruin a happy marriage."

"As you wish." Somehow, I could almost sense a chuckle through the mask.

"I have news, Master Windu and myself have traced the conspiracy to its head."

"Are you certain? Can you trust Nemo?" said Alex.

"Not all of our information comes from Nemo."

"What of his sister, Nadya?" I interrupted. "Will she be alright?"

"Depends on what you mean by alright," said Alex, softly.

I raised an eyebrow and looked at him.

"One of the bullets shattered her spine," continued Alex. "She'll recover, but I doubt she'll ever be 'alright'."

"Oh." I shook my head. "I hope Nemo realizes that he bears at least some responsibility for that."

"He does," said the Vader.

"What about that conspiracy? What did you-all find?" asked Alex.

"All strands lead to one source. Whether the 'buck' as you would say stops there, or goes higher, we do not know, but this individual is, at the very least, a major player."

"What do you propose to do?" asked Alex.

"We have not decided, however, I would recommend you look to your video reciever in about four hours." The cloaked figure turned and walked away.

"What do you suppose he meant by that?" I asked.

"I don't know, but I'd venture to guess some kind of demonstration, or perhaps a bit of vigilante justice."

"Should we warn Harding or Yoda?"

Alex rested his chin on his hand and thought for a moment. His fin twitched. "No, it may be wrong, but I'm ready for a bit of vigilante justice." He grimaced. "After what they did to you..." He jerked his chair into motion. "I really need a swim."

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We wheeled down to the lake to find the Walker campsite gone. I would have liked for Skye to have seen Alex take his first swim as a Mer. Oh well. Alex stopped at the edge of the water. It was his turn to look longingly at it.

"Well," I giggled, "You gonna catapult in, 'Hop-a-Long Jedi'?"

"Shore 'nuff!" He disrobed, locked his wheels, leaned forward and leapt farther than I thought possible, leaving me 'slack-jawed'. "Come on in, the water's fine!"

"Ooo, showoff! I can do that too!" I hesitated a moment, then threw my top off, no one was around to see. I locked, leaned, planted my tail firmly on the ground and leapt using every ounce of Vulcan muscle I had. The look on his face when I splashed in right next to him was priceless!

"Yikes!" He dove, trying to get away. I grabbed his tail and hung on. He twisted around and tackled me about the hips. In an instant we were all twisting, thrashing fins, tails, arms, hair and silent-underwater giggles. His frill brushed my tail and I got very excited! I grabbed his shoulders and kissed him. Our tails entwined and, before we knew it, we were making love.

Afterward, though we were certain no one saw us, we felt rather embarrassed. Sheepishly, I crawled out, put the scrub-top on and slipped back into the water. Alex did the same with his tunic. We laughed at ourselves as we swam toward the cove where the other Mers were.

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As well as saying good-bye for now and introducing Alex to the Mer community, we were there to see if Edna wanted to ride home with us. She did. In addition to the Mermaids who had been with us on the Vindicator, there were about sixty other permanent Mers who still called the lake at the Xanadu Center home.

Only four out of those who remained were male, so Alex found himself the center of attention again. I noticed that three of the four had frilled fins down both sides of their lower tails, like Alex. That has to be a male characteristic, since none of the females I've met so far have them.

We talked, frolicked and played around for about an hour. Angeline volunteered to let Edna borrow her chair and wheeled it around the lake while we swam across. We crawled out of the water and mounted up. "I thought I might eventually need a wheelchair in my old age," laughed Edna, "but not like this!"

We made our way to the van and let Edna onto the lift first. Alex folded his chair and tossed it into the back, then pulled and wiggled his way into the driver's seat before the lift finished hauling her up. "Impatience is unbecoming in a Jedi," I said.

"Fooey!" said Alex.

"Gosh! Look at all the hardware," said Edna, as we all settled down and buckled-up. "I think this van was intended for only one chair."

"Little did we know when we left home last week, that we'd return with not a leg amongst us!" said Alex.

"Gruesome, when you talk about it that way," I said.

"Think of the positive, we've added two tails," mused Edna.

Alex started the engine, put the van in gear and headed for home.

We had hardly gotten out onto the interstate when he slapped his forehead. "Sweetie! Tomorrow is Thanksgiving!"

That curled my fin. "We were supposed to go to Ashville this year!"

"Surely your parents wouldn't expect you after all that's happened?" said Edna

"You don't know Hannah's folks do you?"

"Remember, most of the news about our abduction got suppressed. They may not even know about that."

"We can only hope."

Edna handed me my phone from out of the beach-bag. Sometime over the last few days, it had been turned off. With some dismay, I watched the screen as the list of missed call messages grew and grew, most with a familiar Ashville number. Two, however, were different. I decided to try them first.

"(beep)...Maddie, me dear get out o' the water and take this cursed thing away! T'is makin' noises and talkin' to me! I donno how it works, the hellspawn...(beep)"

"I take it that would be Captain Ben," said Alex.

"Yes, you've gotta meet this guy," I tried the next one.

"(beep)...Hannah? This is Maddie. Sorry about that. I've been handing the phone to Ben while I swim. He must have hit a button. I've been meaning to call anyway. Ben and I and most all the crew are alright. We'll be staying in the Bahamas for a while, though, at least 'til we get our legal situation clarified. Ben would like to know if you're familiar with any lawyers and if there's a statute of limitations on hijacking a ship in port? Hope to see you soon, and you're all OK, bye...(beep)"

I didn't think I could bear going through all the missed messages from my folks and all their likely angst, so I just dialed their number and hoped for the best. The conversation went like this:

"Hello, Momma?...Yes, this is Hannah...Sorry about not answering the phone...Everything is still kinda out of whack here...Problems?...Not really...Well, just a few...We were abducted by terrorists and Alex is a Merman now...Yes, a Merman...not Mormon! Merman, you know, with a fish-tail, like me...Momma?...Poppa?...Tell Momma we escaped and are OK now...Yes, I'm sure he can still make a living...Yes, we can still have kids! I'm pregnant, remember!...Look, I'm afraid we won't be able to make it for Thanksgiving tomorrow...Next Thursday?...Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. We'll come next Thurday and have turkey and such...OK...Love you-all too. Bye."

I handed the phone back to Edna and rubbed my temples. "Oh my God, did that really just happen?"

"So we're going up there next Thursday?" said Alex.

"Yes. Sarah, Debbie and their families will be there too. They want me to help with the turkey, like I always do."

"You should be able to manage that." Alex assured me.

"Yeah, I should, theoretically, if I were doing it myself. Introduce Mom, my sisters, a tail and a wheelchair to the mix and no telling what could happen." I couldn't shake from my mind the image of a mushroom cloud over the Mendenhall kitchen and ambulances in the front yard.

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We pulled into the driveway of our house and sat there for a few moments. Edna looked at her house, her eyes filling with tears.

"I wish Bertie was still here," she said softly. "He would have thought all this was really nifty, and really funny too. I miss him."

I patted her hand. "Well, you have us. Don't you have any other kin?"

"Just my daughter, she lives in Texas. She'll have a hard time believing this is me."

I could understand the dilemma, without fingerprints and maybe old photos, it would be almost impossible to prove Edna's iidentity.

Edna's house needed a ramp. Just as Alex prepared to do a little telekinesis, our neighbor from across the street showed up. He was a a bald, red-faced fellow who liked oversized, Hawaiian shirts. He was wearing one almost as red as his face and carrying a large card-board box of mail.

I smiled sweetly, "Mr. Dowling! How are you doing today?"

He gawked, mouth opening and closing as he tried to form words. "I...I'm doing just fine, Miss Mendenhall, Mr. Harris...ah, uh."

"It's Edna, Mike," said Edna.

"Edna? Oh my," He didn't look overly sure someone wasn't pulling his leg. "Uh, I have you-all's mail here. There's been quite a lot the last few days. The postman asked me to watch it for you."

"Thanks," said Alex, who took the box and set it on his lap.

"There's a 'special delivery'. Had to sign for it. I set it right on top there.

"We appreciate that," I said.

He backed away, then hurried off. It was hard not to laugh, or cry. We were aliens in our own front yard now.

Alex helped Edna into her house, then we entered our own. I immediately slid off my chair and started my 'investigation' sniffing out every room making sure it was safe. Alex sat in the living room and started opening the mail. After a couple of minutes, he called to me.

"Hannah! Take a look at this!"

I crawled back to the living room. "What is it?"

It was the special delivery. It was in a big manila envelope. There were two letters, one from the Royal Bahamas Oceanographic Society, the other from Eric Winters. There was also a sea chart and a set of blueprints. It was quite a lot to go through quickly.

"What does it mean?" I asked.

"I think we might just have our refuge under the sea," he said.

The S.S. Sutherland Express was an old Liberty ship, launched in 1944. Last year, it had been intentionally sunk off Bimini to form an artificial reef. The R.B.O.S., with matching funds from Winters, wanted to build a research station in the wreck. They were asking for Merfolk to volunteer to maintain the station and conduct research with guidance and instruction from oceanographers.

I looked up from my reading. "This looks perfect!"

"Doesn't it though?"

"Call Winters and the Society, now!"

Alex got on the phone and arranged a meeting with representatives of the R.B.O.S. and Winters in Orlando for Monday afternoon.

"This is so neat!" I bounced on my tail like Skye.

"We should celebrate!"

"Yeah! Food or sex?"

"Both."

"Ooo, kinky."

"Not right at the same time!" Alex laughed. "Oh," he looked at the clock on the wall and turned serious.

"What's wrong? Nobody delivers at this hour?"

"No, it's time for us to turn on our 'video reciever'."

"uh oh."

Alex rolled and I hop/crawled into the rec room, where we keep the TV. He turned it on with a wave of his hand while I flopped myself onto the couch. On the screen was a press conference, the Secretary of Defense was being asked some awkward questions about why protection of a national waterway was left to a charter-cruise vessel. Suddenly, the Secretary coughed and grabbed his throat. There was chaos and calls for a doctor as he continued to choke, then collapsed into the arms of aids. In a few minutes, it was all over.

Eyes wide, I looked at Alex and wondered if I was as pale as he was. "Oh my God! Did Darth Vader just kill the American Secretary of Defense?"

Alex stared back. "Remember what I said about vigilante justice? I take it all back."

"I think we'll need that refuge even more now."

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