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Wynd, Skye and One White Mouse
|Xanadu story universe|
|Constructive criticism and in-depth critiques are welcome|
- 1 Prologue
- 2 Chapter One: Parents
- 3 Chapter Two: Lost Mouse, Mer-Stuff and the Jedi Council
- 4 Chapter Three: Surprises
- 5 Chapter Four: Mermaids Can't Climb Trees and the Return of Jamie Walker
- 6 Chapter Five: Mermaids on Wheels and Horsefeather
- 7 Chapter Six: Girly Stuff, Family Matters and Pegasus Whispering
- 8 Epilogue: Mermaid in Flight and When Wynd Greets Skye
"Sometimes I hate my life," Wynd muttered to herself before taking another slurp of soda. This was supposed to have been a cool weekend, but she kept getting thwarted at every turn, mostly by her mom. Dad wasn't so bad, if you caught him watching TV or fiddling with the computer, he'd say uh-huh to most anything. Mom was another matter entirely, and she seemed extra intent on fun-killing in the last few days. First, Wynd was saddled with her two younger siblings and their goofy Halloween costumes. Skye was ten, which made her almost tolerable, Jamie, however, was seven and just breathing he was a pain in the butt. Second, she had to beg and plead to keep her costume from being vetoed. It showed hardly any skin, but it was very form-fitting. At least she managed to win that one. This was Orlando and not Tehran afterall.
Her original plan had been to arrive Friday morning, spend the night in the hotel with some of her girlfriends, then come home Saturday night. That meant skipping school Friday, so that was out. It was just as well, she wouldn't be caught dead dragging the uncool youngsters in to meet her friends anyway.
Also, she had been quite proud of her costume, and had even thought about entering it in a contest. She wore white tights and leotard, shiny gray shoes and gloves to represent hooves, a white horse-tail that hung almost to the floor, angel-wings, and the best part, a horse-head, covered in white faux fur, she had bought it from a catalog. She thought she made a fantastic pegasus. It wasn't until she wandered around the Convention Center for a while that morning, that she realized how out-classed she was. This was not the year for elegant minimalism. The money that Eric Winters had poured into the Con and the contests meant that people had come from all over the nation and had pulled out all stops. When she saw an equine with complicated digitigrade stilts, she knew she was done.
And finally, to place a sucky crown on an already very sucky day, she found out that Duncan had been grounded. She had practiced swishing her horsetail coquettishly all week just for his benefit. Now he wasn't even going to be there. That's why she was forlornly sipping cola at the food court of the Xanadu Convention Center instead of having fun.
Jamie nibbled a french fry then smiled at his eldest sister, revealing the chicken nuggets he had stored in his cheeks for later. If this was intended to bring Wynd out of her blue funk, it didn't work.
"Eww gross!" she gagged, and almost spilled her drink down her front. She tried to kick him under the table.
"Stop it you two!" Almost nothing seemed to perturb Skye, who was probably most like her mom. She had just given up on her red 'Ariel' wig and was stuffing it into her sister's bag. "I'm going to be my own mermaid today," she announced. Yesterday, She didn't even put up a fight when her mom had vetoed part of her first costume by declaring "No sea shells unless you're wearing something under them." Skye decided that that would be just plain silly, so instead, she opted to forget the shells entirely and wear her pink 'Hello Kitty' tank top to go with her narrow, cylindical, mermaid-tail skirt.
His mom had decided for Jamie that he would come as 'Stewart Little'. She had always liked the story and thought he would look cute. He wore white flannel footie pajamas, white gloves with pink pads, a whiskered mouse-nose and ears. All was finished with a red Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. He decided to show his other sister his stored nuggets. It was a wasted effort, nothing could penetrate Skye's serenity today. She had been looking forward to this convention for weeks.
Wynd grew weary of sulking, so, consoling herself with the thought that nothing else could possibly go wrong today, she spoke up, "Let's go down to Darkknight books and shop for a bit."
"Yay, let's go!" said Skye. "I heard they have a new Pirate RPG out." She had started to wonder if her older sister was going to waste the whole rest of the convention.
Jamie was inclined at first to be contrary, but relented when they promised him a Killer Bunnies booster pack. In a few moments they were on their way. Wynd tucked the horsehead under her right arm and took hold of her sister's hand. Skye kept the required tight grip on her brother as they slowly worked through the crowd.
They had only gone a short way when Wynd spotted some girls from her class coming up from the opposite direction. She just wasn't in the mood to talk to any school friends right now, so she decided to seek anonymity in her costume, and donned the head.
Skye wondered why her sister stopped to put on the head. She had complained all day about how stuffy it was and how hard it was to see out of. She was about to ask when Wynd suddenly grew tall. Her sister's legs bent while her feet and middle toes lengthened. The wings on her back grew enormous and began to flap wildly. In a second, or perhaps less, Skye found herself holding the hoof of a great winged horse. That's when she pitched forward unto her face and was momentarily stunned. She heard a 'clomp!' and opened her eyes to see a gray horse-hoof just inches from her nose. Then the hoof was gone. She turned her head to see the pegasus backing away, its hindquarters, and desperately flapping wings, knocking people down. "Wynd?" Was that panicked animal her sister? Skye tried to get up but found she could't, her legs seemed to be tangled in her skirt.
Now Skye was distracted by something nibbling and scratching at her left hand. She lifted it up to see a small white mouse wearing a red shirt and sunglasses dangling from her fingers. "Jamie!" There was no denying what was happening. The mouse bit hard, forcing her to let go. It then skittered away from her. "Jamie wait!" She wiggled and drug herself after her brother, but he disappeared between two large purple feet. She looked up to see Barney the Dinosaur.
Skye had long outgrown Barney, but her memories of him were pleasant. She knew instantly, however that there was something desperately wrong with him. He tugged at his head and with a hideous howl charged forward, directly at her. All she could do was roll out of his way. She fetched up hard against a wall and lay there a few moments with her eyes closed, trying to gather what was left of her wits. She opened her eyes to see mostly the legs of people running, seemingly at random. She sat up to fix her skirt but, to her dismay saw neither a skirt nor legs but a green-scaled fish-tail. Skye screamed, "Mom, Dad help me! Wake me up!"
Chapter One: Parents
As Alex pushed me to the lake, he filled me in on what he had been doing for the last twenty hours. When he told me of his duel with one of the Vaders, part of me was all fangirl, "I'm going to marry a Jedi! How cool is that!" Part of me was horrified, "My God. He could have been killed! What then?" I probably would have turned to seafoam and blown away.
I did the same for Alex. He was rather amused by the way I disposed of the puma, which was the only time I was in any real danger. He asked me why I didn't use the Vulcan nerve pinch on Old Ben the pirate. That floored me. I had totally forgotten about that. I wasn't even sure I knew how to do it. Afterall, not every human can do Kung Fu. Alex declined my offer to try it out on him.
When I got to the part about Skye, her siblings and how her parents must be hunting for them, Alex stopped dead. "Speaking of parents, what about ours?"
"Oh Lord!" I put my hand to my mouth. "What are we going to tell them?" My parents are not particularly good in a crisis. "I can see Mom rolling on the ground screaming when she gets a good look at me."
"Maybe that would be a good time to test the nerve pinch?" Alex suggested.
"This is serious! She's gonna freak!" And Dad will just stare at her dumbly while she does.
"Do they know we're here?"
I thought hard about that one. "Yes. I told them I'd be working all weekend at the Kubla Con. This stuff is all over the media, I bet." I hadn't considered what the rest of the world might be seeing about what was happening here. Next thing I knew, Alex was handing me my cell phone. I took a deep breath and started dialing. To anyone listening, the conversation went something like this:
"Hello, Momma? This is Hannah...Yes, we're OK. Sorry it took so long to call, things have been kinda hectic here...Changes? Us? Yes there are some changes...just a few...I'm a mermaid Momma...a mermaid...You know...Yes, like the Disney movie...Momma? Momma? Poppa? Is that you? Tell her to get up off the floor! There's no sense her carrying on like that!...No, I don't need to be in the hospital. I feel fine...No, I don't think there's a cure for it yet." The pauses mostly represent hysterics.
Eventually, I handed the phone back to Alex. "They're on their way here."
"How did your folks take it?" I asked.
"Better than yours evidently. They're content to wait til we tell them it's OK to come, or we visit them. Will they let your mom and dad in?"
"They've been letting in anyone who can prove they're a close relative of a survivor, in everywhere except the Center itself."
"It'll take them all day today and all night to drive here from Ashville. I hope they stop to sleep."
"That gives us some time. Unless they decide to fly. I need a swim in the worst way now."
Once at the lake's edge, Alex began stripping down to something swimable, but still decent. I was still in the eternal Orlando Magic teeshirt and army blanket. I looked longingly at the water.
"Do you want me to carry you in?" Alex asked.
"That would be romantic, but there's something I want to try first." I pulled away the blanket, locked the wheels of the chair, rocked forward, then using my tail muscles as a spring, catapulted into the water. I surfaced a few feet from the shore. "It worked!" I said.
"I'm impressed," he said. Then he put the breathing device in his mouth and jumped. It must be the Jedi thing, but he jumped a lot further than I expected. He made a grab for me as he splashed in. I squealed and kicked away. He was also a lot faster than I expected, but not near fast enough. I surfaced again and waited for him to get near. He surfaced and removed the breather.
"Give up?" I said smugly.
"Never! I have not yet begun to chase tail."
I flipped said tail over my back and gave him a faceful of lake. Giggling, I swam off again and began circling for a jump. I kept a lookout this time. We didn't have the lake all to ourselves and I didn't want to plow into someone like a red-headed torpedo. I did my jump, flipping head over tailfin and landing on my back. I then swam back to where Alex was resting on the surface.
"Did you see that!"
"Yes ma'am. That was a good one."
"Thank you," I said, trying my best to sound haughty. "You have my permission to catch me now." I rolled over and dived slowly.
"The Queen of the Sea is most generous." He took me about the waist and I wrapped my tail around his legs and held him close. I kissed him on the forehead. He removed his breather and we kissed until we were both half asphixiated. Then we just drifted in each others' arms.
After a while, I looked up to see the silhouette of a mermaid. It was Skye outlined by her namesake. Neither of us can speak while under water, but when near and especially when touching, we can read each others thoughts. It's a Jedi/Vulcan thing. "Sweetie, we have company. It's the friend I told you of." We swam to meet her.
When we surfaced we saw that Skye was followed by three other mermaids. She gave me a hug and turned to the others. "This is Hannah, my very first mermaid friend. Hannah, I'd like you to meet some new friends, Aurora, Emily and Maddie." Aurora was African-American and perhaps twenty. She had a ring-tail similar to my own. Her colors, however, were green and gold. Emily was about Skye's age, and like so many mermaids that age, resembled Disney's Melody. Maddie was about sixteen and looked goth, with pale skin, short, black hair and a bustier. Her tail had an interesting three-lobed fin and, of course, black scales. I had never seen the others before, but I remembered Maddie from last night. She was curled up in one corner of the pool not talking to anyone and quietly crying. I was happy to see her actually smiling today.
Skye turned to Alex. "Is this your fiance? He's cute."
I nodded. Alex gave a little salute. "Thank you. Edward Alexander Harris, CPA and Jedi knight at your service. You-all can call me Alex."
Skye offered her hand and bobbed her head. "A pleasure to meet you Alex, Skye Walker, mermaid, at yours."
"Wow! Is that really your name Skye?" said Aurora. "That's cool!"
"Your parents must be really neat," said Maddie.
Skye rolled her eyes. "That's not what Wynd would say." Suddenly, her mouth dropped open, then she shouted. "Mom, Dad!" She shot forward, her tail beating the water to a froth. We looked toward where she had been looking. On the shore, about a hundred yards away, a couple waved and shouted something. We followed Skye at a respectful distance.
The man and woman had waded out to about waist deep when Skye reached them. She leaped into her mother's arms, soaking her and almost bowling her over, but there was no complaint.
One found, two to go.
Chapter Two: Lost Mouse, Mer-Stuff and the Jedi Council
In the blink of an eye, Jamie went from walking with his sisters throught the Kubla Con crowd to being in the clutches of an immense giant, dangling from its fist many feet above the ground. He cried out in fear and pain, but it was no more than a squeek in the chaotic swirl of sound and motion. Then, somehow, for some unknown reason, the giant pitched forward and fell with a great bellow and crash. Jamie found himself safely on the ground staring up at the great, green scaly side of the monster, but his arm was still tightly gripped in its fist. He scratched and pulled, trying to get free as it drug him forward towards its face. Then once again he was dangling in mid-air. "Jamie!" it thundered in his ear.
"It knows my name!" Jamie thought. That terrified him more than the drop to the ground. He bit the great hand and suddenly it let go. He literally hit the ground running, his clawed feet scrabbling for traction on the slick floor. Oddly, after a few steps, he found it easier to run on all fours. He looked back momentarily at his former captor. It was a mammoth mer-thing, the size of a blue whale. It was dragging its great body after him roaring, "Jamie wait!"
Jamie ran all the faster until he found himself in a moving redwood forest of legs. "Out of the frying pan into the fire," he said to himself. He had heard and read that in storybooks, but this is the first time it ever applied to himself. The sound of feet, paws, claws and hooves striking the ground were deafening and disorienting. He had to find some way out of this or he was going to be squashed flat.
Then, to his left, he saw a great pile of drab-brown, windowless buildings. He ran for all he was worth towards them. Just before he got there, something stepped on his tail. "Yow!" Once again, his shout sounded like a squeek. He was held back for only a moment, then he reached the nearest building. He ran around it looking for a door, and finally found where one corner had been torn or worn away and scrambled in. He suffered a brief moment of panic when he saw that he shared the interior with a cottage-sized head of Darth Vader. He calmed himself down, then examined his sore tail. It was bruised and starting to swell, but it was clearly not broken. "Wait a minute! I've got a tail!?" It was attached to him and it hurt so, "Yes, I have a tail." He looked himself over. He was furry, his hands and feet had claws instead of nails. He looked into one of the mirrored eyes of the Vader mask. A mouse, who looked remarkably like Stuart Little, looked back. "Well, if this ain't a bite in the ass!"
"Maybe," Jamie thought. "Everything else isn't big. Maybe, I'm small. Then this is a cardboard box, not a building. And that mer-giant...Skye! Wait for me!" He scrambled back out of the hole in the box. Outside he saw a green man, half again as big as the other 'giants'. He was rampaging, throwing tables and people about like toys, and, unfortunately, he was headed directly toward Jamie's pile of boxes. "Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh crap! The Hulk's gone nuts!" he squeeked as he scrambled back into the box again. He climbed into the Darth Vader mask for protection and hung on.
Jamie felt as though he had been launched. The Vader mask shed the box like an expended booster rocket, and he had set an endurance record for a rodent flying a Sith headpiece by the time he finished bouncing. Rattled, but still conscious, he sized up the situation. The mask was sitting upright. He looked out one of the eyes. It was sitting in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a panicked crowd. "Time to abandon ship," he thought, but he couldn't get a grip to lift the mask. However, he found that if he pushed, it would scoot across the floor. He scooted the mask toward a vending machine that sat against a near-by wall. He made it safely, mainly because nobody wanted to touch a Darth Vader mask that moved by itself. The mask caught against the bottom of the vending machine, tilting it enough to allow Jamie to exit. Under the machine it was darker and quieter, which suited Jamie nicely at the moment. For the first time since the madness started he could relax and watch it. The climax was a firefight between Stormtroopers and Rebel Commandos. That was kind of cool, but something about it told him it was serious and not part of the entertainment. It made him hope that Wynd and Skye had also found safe places. After that things gradually settled down.
It seemed to take forever for the Convention Center to get safe enough to hunt for his siblings. In the mean time, he got hungry and looked about for something to eat. He found a cheese puff the size of a watermelon and munched on that for a while. Afterwards, he found himself getting sleepy and decided to take a nap. He curled up against the wall and snoozed. Sometime later, he was partly awakened by another warm, furry body that snuggled up to him. He turned over to push his muzzle into the warmth and was lulled back to sleep by purring.
I have to admit that seeing Skye united with her folks made me shed some tears. After a few minutes Skye pointed and motioned us to come. We swam up and introduced ourselves. Skye blissfully leaned her head on her mom's shoulder while gently stirring the water with her tail. She was almost too big to be carried, but her mom held her close anyway. The Walkers were not at all what I had imagined. I thought that parents that would name their daughters Wynd and Skye would be more, well, countercultural. Instead, they were quite ordinary, at least for central Florida. Jim had some kind of executive position at Epcot, Gina was a full-time mom and part-time columnist for a local paper. The most remarkable thing about them is how they took Skye's change in stride. It had been less than an hour since they read the entry I made in the found survivor's list. I had described her change along with what little we knew about Wynd and Jamie. And there they were, up to their waists in a lake, hugging their mermaid daughter. The only pain Alex could feel from them was worry over their other two kids. After a while, Jim left to get a tent and some camping gear from home (they lived only a few miles away). They intended to camp out near the lake to be close to Skye while the search continued for Wynd and Jamie. As for that search, they only knew what the authorities promised, that they were doing all they could.
We talked long enough for me to start hungrily noticing the little fishies that flitted about between us. Alex was also starting to turn into a prune. "Unless you want to see me slurp up some of these minnows," I thought in his direction. "You'd better get me away from here and feed me."
"You did want sushi," he replied. "But you're right. I'm not quite ready to watch you do that."
We made our excuses and headed for where we had jumped in. Alex carried me out and gently placed me in the chair. I let the sun warm me as Alex dressed. "This is good," I thought. "I could come to accept this."
"Do you think so?" Alex said aloud. I didn't really intend for him to 'overhear', but that was OK.
"Yes, I think I do."
Alex pushed me up to the Hotel. The lobby was a mess, but there was actually someone behind the desk now. Alex decided to stop and ask about local Japanese restaurants. The poor clerk couldn't help but stare at us, even though he must have gotten an eyefull today. I didn't mind much, I rather thought it was fun. I kept twitching and flipping my tailfin, just to demonstrate to him that it was real. Alex made reservations at a place on a familiar street, then we headed for our room.
The elevators were operating, but Alex still didn't trust them. I reminded him that getting me to the third floor would be a challenge, but he insisted on carrying me. I'm beginning to think he may be a touch claustrophobic. I climbed onto his back and wrapped my tail around his middle. He folded the chair and carried it and me up three flights of stairs. Jedi or not, he was a bit flushed when we got to the landing.
The hallway was dark, scary and smelly, but the room was little different from the way I'd left it, less than thirty hours ago. Thirty hours during which our world, no, the whole world, had turned on its head. "I need to clean-up and change," I said.
"Uh-huh," he nodded. We looked at each other for a few moments, then forgot about food for a while. Love making was quite different, almost like starting over again, but it wasn't difficult. Add the Vulcan/Jedi mind melding and it may actually be better than it was before.
Later, I sat on the corner of the bed, brushing my hair. To be truthful, I don't so much brush my hair as beat it into submission, especially after it's just been washed. To pass the time while doing this, I usually sing. I was really in the mood and started up right away with Danny Boy. Alex was in the bathroom, brushing his teeth. I had hardly gotten to the second verse when I opened my eyes to see Alex standing in front of me, eyes wide, the toothbrush still in his mouth. I stopped. "what's wrong?"
"Blorpf," he said, then ran to the sink to spit and rinse. "Nothing's wrong. That was beautiful!"
"Why, thank you!" I smiled. "What did you expect? I am a Sirena after all."
"You don't understand. Your singing has always been pretty, now there's power behind it. I could feel the Force swirling about you like a maelstrom. Didn't you feel it?"
"No, I was in the mood, and it just felt really good to sing."
"I'm glad you were in a good mood. You could lay waste to somebody."
"Now you're starting to scare me. Should I be worried about singing?"
"No. I think you'd have to intend to do harm. Just don't get pissed and sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic at anyone."
"Damn. I really am a Sirena now. I wonder what else there is to find out?"
"We should tell Skye and the others. They might have this ability too."
Just then, there was a knock at the door. "Who is it?" said Alex. "You need to cover up" he thought to me.
"Oh, yeah," I thought back. "Top drawer. There's a nightgown and robe. Throw them to me."
"It's me, Todd." Came a voice through the door.
Alex's eyes grew wide and he gripped his lightsaber. "Last I heard, he was wearing a Nazgul costume."
"He's alright, trust me." "Just a minute!" I called out. I got decent and Alex opened the door. In hopped a Halfling, Todd. Except for myself, he had undergone the most drastic physical change of all the Darknight people. He went fom a 6"5' dude to a 3"6' little dude. It could have been much worse, he missed being a ringwraith by perhaps twenty minutes. When he saw me, he stopped dead and his mouth gaped open.
"Oh my God, Hannah. I, I..." he stammered.
"He's not going to start apologising. Is he?" I thought. "I got enough of that from Randal."
"I think you look stunning, girl, magnificent even. So you did get the tail on in time, cool."
Alex and I stared at him.
Todd looked at each of us. "You are like this only when you're wet, like Daryl Hannah in Splash right? Or something like that?" He began to turn pale.
Alex crossed his arms and shook his head. I began to feel sorry for Todd. "No. I'm like this all the time. At least, so far."
"Oh...I had no idea." He looked down at his furry feet. "I really am..."
"Don't apologize. It's not your fault. Besides," I added gently, "It's not so bad, really."
"How about if I just apologize for being a jerk in general?"
"That'll do!" I laughed.
Alex sat on the bed and put his arm around me. "Now that we're past that, what's up?" he said.
"Well," Todd put his hands behind his back, looking very much like a grade schooler about to recite a difficult bit of poetry. "I would like to try to save Darknight, if I can. Part of doing that would be retaining my senior editor."
I knew this was coming. I looked at Alex. "It's entirely up to you dear," he said.
"I'll make accomodations, even if it means moving your office to an Olympic-sized pool." Todd added. "Lord knows, my own office is going to need a complete redo."
"I'll need a means of getting to work. A van with a lift...and hand-controls. I won't be accelerating, braking or popping the clutch with this," I waggled my fin. "That will give me more independence on land too."
"Agreed," Todd nodded.
"I'm not done. I want the option to work away from the office when possible. If there's such a thing as a water-proof laptop, I intend to be doing a lot of my proof-reading and such at the bottom of the Indian River or out in the Gulf Stream."
"Finally, I'll try to make this work but, if it doesn't or, if I get an offer I can't refuse, like Marine Archeology, I want the option to bail-out, say thirty days notice?"
"OK. More than fair. Deal?"
"Deal." We shook hands, and that was that.
"Great, that means that at least one of us will be employed," Said Alex.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I can't help but think that the Bank is gonna drop me like a sub-prime mortgage. I could go freelance but who's gonna want a Jedi doing their taxes?"
"Are you kidding?" said Todd. I thought his eyes were going to pop out.
"Sweetie," I waved my hand in front of Alex's face. "You don't need to audit my client. Get it?"
"Oh." He looked thoughtful.
I turned to Todd again. "Who else have you talked to?"
"Randal wants to do the medical thing, if he can find a way to get licensed in the State of Florida."
I nodded. It would be a shame to let red tape waste all that 23rd Century medical knowledge, but I could see it happening.
"I'm meeting with Beth after I leave here." Todd looked nervous. It was a poorly kept secret that Todd had a crush on Beth. I hoped the meeting would go well. I rather like both of them.
After Todd left, we continued to prepare to go out. I picked out a black top. It was the only thing I had with me that didn't clash with my tail (a problem I'd never considered). I didn't bring any skirts, and jeans were useless. I didn't want to go bare-bottomed, not even with scales, so we took the white top-sheet off the bed and wrapped it around my middle, sari style. If I wasn't so hungry, I probably would have been too embarassed to go dressed like that. Alex changed through his stuff until something turned up that was less obviously Jedi and hid his lightsaber in it. He literally can't go anywhere without it. We were ready.
The parking lot was more of a mess than we expected. My Taurus had a Goblin axe embedded in its windshield, so we took Alex's car. Getting through the perimeter the authorities had set up meant Alex had to do some Jedi mind tricks.
We turned quite a few heads when we walked (and rolled) into the restaurant. I half expected them to turn us away, but we were seated. There were several other Xanadu survivors there as well, mostly anime and manga characters. We had an interesting time talking to them, and I learned the difference between sushi and sashimi. I tried swordfish, tuna and the salmon sashimi. I liked them all, but my favorite was the tuna. I liked the seaweed as well, but hardly touched the rice, except in the form of sake. The propriators of the house showed quite a bit of friendly curiosity about me and seemed quite gratified about the amount I ate, which, I'm embarrassed to say, was quite a bit. We promised to come back and bring more merfolk with us if we can.
Despite over eating, I slept well that night, but awoke with a headache. I laid still for a while, but had too much nervous energy to stay still. It was another hour before the alarm would go off, however, and I didn't want to disturb Alex. Finally, I carefully lowered myself from the bed and scooted over to the dresser. I started sorting through my clothes, picking out what I could and couldn't wear anymore. I came upon a red, lacy pair of panties and sighed.
"Are you OK?" It was Alex.
"Yes. Did I wake you up?"
"No. I was just lying here thinking. What are you doing?"
"Sorting," I said. "Remember these? You used to really like it when I wore them."
He got up and sat on the floor next to me. "You're not going to mourn a pair of panties are you?"
I laid my head on his shoulder. "Of course not, silly. I'm saving all that for my shoes."
He gave me a hug, then we started getting ready for the Jedi Council meeting.
I wasn't planning on attending that meeting. The call of the lake was getting strong, but Alex talked me in to it. On our way to the Xanadu Center, he was thoughtful.
"We need to seriously consider how and when we're leaving this place," he said. "We're American citizens who've committed no crime, yet I had to mind-trick us through a check point just to get some sushi. Doesn't that make you a bit paranoid?"
I nodded. "Of course we've got a lot of weird and powerful people here, some are not in their own minds."
"Right, but most of us are in our right minds and many, like us, have powers and or technological devices that even we don't understand yet. The authorities might decide, if they haven't already, that the safest thing is to keep us here til they figure out what to do. And they might figure that the best solution would be to take away our toys or put us under safe keeping indefinitely or both."
"But they can't take away your lightsaber."
"Or my Jedi powers. Or your Siren song."
"So you're saying they might decide to keep us."
"If we let them. It's always easier to keep someone than to round them up."
"I can't leave until I know the Walker kids are safe with their parents."
"Then we'll have to hunt for them ourselves. Even with the best intentions, the authorities have their hands full. I'll talk to Todd and the Walkers after the meeting."
We were expecting the meeting to run as smoothly as yesterday's and we were wrong. It was held in the same conference room where Alex fought the Vader. The demolished and burned tables and chairs were piled into a corner. Alex sat at the end of one of the back rows and I parked next to him. There must have been at least a hundred and fifty beings in there, a lot more than yesterday, but still a small fraction of those who could have come. The first big debate was over those whose minds had been absorbed by the characters they portrayed (already being referred to as 'strangers'). Are they really in their right minds and should they be allowed to serve on the Council? The consensus was yes, since their changes were real and undeniable, they could not be delusional. You are not crazy if, in every way that matters, you actually are Yoda. Or, as Alex likes to put it, "If you can pick up a starfighter with your mind, who's going to argue with you?"
The next big issue was stewardship. All the Star Wars transformees possessed a part of something that did not really exist before last Saturday, something precious to most of them, but also something with unimaginable powers and technology. What before was fun, now is an incredible responsibility. During a short break, Alex turned to me and said, "Perhaps the 'strangers' are the only ones who should have been entrusted with this? Jedi like me are just former hobbyists. They are the only ones for whom the Empire and the Sith and their abuse of power are a living memory. Unfortunately, even they can't put the genie back in the bottle. We're not even the only bottle here. There's Trek, other sci-fi and even magic."
"So what you're saying is?" I said.
"It's only a matter of time, if it hasn't already happened, before somebody, either inside or outside Xanadu, realizes that there is more than enough power here to reshape the world."
I put my face in my hands and shook my head. "I don't want to think about this. Just when I was starting to get used to things."
"Reality has been sucking more than usual lately."
"Well, I'm going for a swim, while I'm still free to do so. Coming with me?"
"Not yet, I've gotta see what happens here."
"Suit yourself," I patted his knee. "I'll keep the water wet for you." I wheeled my way out of the conference room and out of the Center.
Chapter Three: Surprises
"Wake up. Wake up sleepy head."
Jamie groaned and rolled over. "No no, not yet Sissy. Just a little longer."
"You've slept all night! It's lonely and scary here and I want some company! And I'm not your sissy!"
Jamie bolted upright and found himself nose to nose with an orange tabby cat. A tabby whose head was as wide as he was long. "You...you're a cat!"
"Bingo, Captain Obvious!" said the kitty. "You...you're a mouse!" it mocked, then giggled. "Though I strongly suspect you haven't always been a mouse, right?"
"Right. How did you know?" Jamie stealthily looked for an escape route, but being between its paws and with a wall behind him, things didn't look good.
"The shirt, it's a dead giveaway. And you're talking back to me."
"Ok, then you haven't always been a cat?"
"Cats don't talk."
"How do you know?"
"They just don't!" Arguing with a cat, especially when practically in its jaws, was probably not the wisest thing for Jamie to do, but having two older sisters caused him to have difficulty with concepts like diplomacy.
"How many cats have you known?"
"A few, and none of them talked."
"Maybe, they just didn't want to talk to you."
"Then why are you talking to me?"
"Well, to be honest, it's kinda lonely here, and not very nice."
"So, you're not going to eat me? I'd kinda like to know."
"Eat you? Raw? Blech! No way! Not even cooked."
"OK, then," Jamie relaxed a little. "My name's Jamie Walker, by the way. What's yours?"
"Erica, just Erica."
"Figures," thought Jamie. "Only a girl could be this bossy."
"What do you want to do?" asked Erica.
"I don't know. It's been pretty safe under here."
"We can't stay under here forever." The vending machine was set rather low, so Erica had to crouch. It was beginning to become uncomfortable. She slunk up to the edge and looked out. Jamie came up and stood next to her. Except when running, he was more comfortable on his hind legs.
It was pretty dark in that part of the hall. The sun hadn't come up yet and something must have tripped the circuit breakers for the lights. Out in that darkness something made a noise that made Erica's tail puff up. They both knew they needed to venture out, but needed to work up the nerve. Jamie spoke first. "I came with my two sisters. I lost track of both when we changed. I should try to find them and go home."
"Home, meowarr, must be nice." she sounded sarcastic. "I want to be out side. Not stuck in this hall or any house. I want to climb trees and catch...er, butterflies and let them go, of course. Yeah, that's what I want to do."
"You don't want to be feral do you? My mom takes in feral cats sometimes. They're usually sick, beat-up and half starved by the time they get to us, and I'm pretty sure they have to eat their food raw."
"Well, maybe not feral, but I do want to be mostly out doors. Your momma sounds like she might be nice, would she like a good outdoor cat?"
"I just hope she wants a mouse."
I wanted to get the worry out of my head with a good dose of 'swim therapy' so I just pulled up to the first bit of lake shore I could and prepared to jump in, the way I had done with Alex the day before. I pulled aside the sheet, locked the chair's wheels, rocked forward and pushed against the ground with my tail. It worked out rather badly this time. The grass was wet and slick. My tail slipped and I landed half in and half out of the water, face down and up to my elbows in thick, slimey mud. I tried to push myself up, but only pressed my arms in deeper. I couldn't breathe, so I began to panic, "Alex! Somebody! Help me!" my mind screamed. I tried to pull my tail up under me, but my fin was caught somehow under the chair. I thrashed, launching the chair and tearing my fin. Then a pair of strong hands grabbed my tail, followed by another pair. I fought the instinct to thrash again and let them pull me out.
"Turn her over, is she breathing?" That was a familiar voice. It was Mr. Walker. In answer, I coughed up a wad of mud and vomited. "I think so!" said another, even more familiar voice.
"Poppa? Is that you?" I croaked, while trying to scoop the mud out of my eyes. He gasped. It must have been a shock for him to find out that the scaly, muddy slime-monster he just rescued from the muck was actually his youngest daughter. I scooped more mud and opened one eye. There, hardly a yard away, was my mom, her face scrunched up into a silent scream. "Oh, hi Momma," I smiled then urked up another serving of slime.
"Shouldn't we go now?" said Jamie.
"Yes, we should, while it's still dark," said Erica. "I can see better than anybody in the dark."
They slowly crept out from under the vending machine.
"I think it would be better if you rode on my back." Erica knelt down and let Jamie scramble up on to her. He held on with all four paws. She padded softly across the floor, avoiding anything that might make a noise. They came to a row of doors leading to the breezeway. They stopped. The latches were high above them, and even if they could reach one, together they were not strong enough to push open the door.
"So, what now?" said Jamie.
"This place has lots and lots of doors. Surely sombody left one open. We'll just have to keep looking."
"Maybe someone will open one for us?"
Erica snorted. "How did you manage to live even this long."
Just then a low moan echoed across the empty hall. There was something just not right about it. Erica's tail bushed up.
"There's that sound again, I hate it!" she hissed.
"What is it?" Every hair of Jamie's coat stood on end.
There was a rattle as books and toys slid from the top of a mound of debris. A small humanoid figure crawled, spider fashion over the top, sniffing the air. "Fur, and warm flesh we smells, yes. Small furry and smaller furry and that means meat, yes, yes. Ever so hungry we are preciouss."
That was enough for Erica. This creature had haunted her nightmares many times over the years, and that was knowing he was fictional. Seeing and hearing him in the flesh was too much to bear. She screeched and ran for all she was worth.
He was after her in a flash and much faster than he looked. She could feel his foul breath on her tail. Paper and shattered plastic flew everywhere as she changed direction time and again, trying to throw him off her trail. He cackled and mocked her as she ran. "It mussn't run off its fat it mussn't, preciouss."
Jamie knew who they were running from, but wasn't as panicked, and therefore more aware of his surroundings. He saw a door to the breezeway smashed off its hinges. "There, that way! Door! Door!" He squeeked in her ear. Erica had just enough reason left to dash in that direction. They were through the broken door in a flash, but none of the outside doors were open. They were trapped!
"Now who busts through one door only to calmly walk through the next! That's just crazy!" raged Jamie. Erica wailed and tried to climb the walls as her tormentor grabbed for her.
At that moment a fireman with helmet and axe opened an outer door and walked in. Without thought Erica ran between his legs for freedom. The fireman staggered back and raised his axe at the nightmare that was chasing them. It skidded almost to his feet, then scrabbled away, cursing. Shaken, the fireman leaned against the door frame, "What the f**k was that?!"
I must have been a horrible sight, my upper body coated in thick, black mud, my tail splattered in green blood from my profusely bleeding fin. Green blood also dripped from my busted lip. I can't blame my folks a bit for being shocked. They carried me to a warm patch of grass next to the Walkers' tent and laid me down. I curled up with my head on my momma's lap while Poppa and Mr. Walker went to fetch some clean water and towels. Alex arrived about that time, he had recieved my 'distress call' and had ran all the way. Seeing I was in good hands he ran off again to find my Dr. McCoy who was somewhere around the lake, visiting some of his former patients.
Momma stroked my muddy hair and softly spoke into my ear, "Everything's gonna be all right now, we're here." I relaxed. "Sweet Hannah, you must come home with us. Dr. Burke is putting together the best doctors and surgeons in Raleigh and Charlotte to help you."
"Surgeons?" Busted lip or not, that set me off. "What're surgeons gonna do, momma? Cut off my tail and graft on a couple of artificial legs?" I wiggled my tail. "Look Ma! No knees!"
"Hannah! Stop it! You know your father and I just want to do what's best for you!"
"I know, Momma, and I love you." I laid my head back down. "Think before you start stirring up doctors and surgeons to do stuff to me. I know that some of them would like to cut me up like a carp, just to see what's inside."
About that time Poppa and Mr. Walker came back, followed shortly by Alex with Bones McCoy in tow. Bones scanned me head to tailfin and gave me a couple of hypospray injections, an antibiotic and a painkiller. He said I had a mild concussion as well as the two bleeding wounds. The others proceded to help me get the mud off. He then gave me a prep for the skin-fusing tool and chased everybody else off, even Alex. "Look after Mrs. Mendenhall. She's about to have a bad spell," he whispered in Alex's ear. Then, out loud. "This is not for the squeemish!"
Bones then worked on my lip. It didn't hurt at all. In fact nothing did, and I didn't feel at all high or groggy. Star Trek medicine is just fantastic! I watched in facination as he fixed my fin. "I'm afraid I don't have violet artificial skin. Andorean blue is as close as I can come, so it will show until your own skin takes over."
I nodded. "Now Doc, my mom is the very definition of squeemish, but even she would not have been bothered by this. Why did you chase everybody away?"
He finished, then scooted closer to me. "So we could have a bit of privacy," he said quietly.
"I should kick myself for not noticing this Saturday night when I first scanned you. I chalk it up to not knowing enough Vulcan female physiology."
I raised an eyebrow and stared at him.
He took my hand and smiled. "Congratulations, you're pregnant."
"Could you repeat that Doc, I've just been concussed and I think it's affecting my mind."
"I said, you're pregnant. I hope that's good news."
"It's wonderful news! Scarier than shit, but wonderful!" I rolled over on my back, hugged my tail and started laughing. This was a surprise, but not a total shock. We had stopped trying not to have a child months ago. The current situation, however, made it unnerving.
After a few moments, I got serious again. "What's she gonna look like, Bones? Is she going to be stuck with one of these for life?" I pointed at my tail.
"Way too early to tell. You're only three weeks along. Genetically, she has Vulcan, Human and Mer in her. Vulcan traits are usually dominant, I don't know about Mer. And, by the way, how did you know she's a she?"
"Didn't you just tell me?"
"Nope, not unless I've gone senile."
"Hm...A lucky guess?"
"It's not uncommon for Vulcan women, and even men, to bond with their children in utero, but not this early. Facinating, as an old friend would say."
"That reminds me," I grabbed Bones by both shoulders and planted a big, wet kiss on his lips. "I've been wanting to do that since I was eleven. Hope you didn't mind too much."
"Uh, it's not good practice, but I'll let it go this time." he grinned. "Too bad Spock will never know I'd just been kissed by a Vulcan. I would have liked to have seen his face."
A head popped up out of the water, just a few feet away. It was Skye. She pulled herself onto the bank, crawled over and sat next to me. "You're preggers! I think that's just so cool!"
I was somewhat taken aback. "How did you know?"
"I just heard Bones say it."
McCoy frowned, "It's not nice to snoop."
"I wasn't snooping! I just hear real well underwater. I heard you had a bad spill and was coming to check on you. You are all right now aren't you, Hannah?"
"I'm fine. Now, make that other bit of news our secret til I say it's OK. Understand?"
"Understand. I won't even tell Mom and Dad til you say so."
"Good. I've gotta tell Alex before he finds out second hand."
"I'll fetch him," said McCoy as he stood and brushed the grass clippings from his pants.
Chapter Four: Mermaids Can't Climb Trees and the Return of Jamie Walker
Erica shot out the door like a furry projectile and ran for the line of trees north of the Xanadu Center. Without a pause, she ran up the first tree she came to and didn't stop until she was hidden in the upper branches. "I...(gasp)...promise...(pant, pant)...I will never...(pant)...chase anything ever again...(pant)...not even moonbeams!" She slumped onto the branch she clung to, her tongue lolling in a most uncatlike fashion.
Jamie was more than a little surprised to be still clutching her back. He looked at the ground far, far below and thought he might be sick. He wanted to dismount, but the branch seemed awfully thin, even for a mouse to walk on. "I'm sure we lost him." He closed his eyes. "Do you think we can climb down now?"
Erica just continued to pant, her eyes closed and her ears still laid back. After a few minutes, however, she caught her breath and seemed to relax a little, so Jamie asked again. "Can we climb down now?"
She opened her eyes, looked around then stiffened up again, "I can't."
"What do you mean, you can't!"
"The branch is too narrow! I can't turn around!"
"Can't you back up?"
"Nooo!" she yowled.
A breeze made the branch rock. Jamie was almost sure he was going to be sick now. "Dammit!" he cussed. "What kind of cat can't climb trees!"
"I can climb up them..." she said sadly, but let her voice trail off.
Just then they heard the sound of wheels scrunching gravel. On the path far below, in the early morning light, they saw a pretty, red-headed woman pushing herself along in a wheelchair, her legs covered in a blanket. "Could she help?" Jamie speculated.
"Does it look like she can help," stated Erica glumly.
As the woman passed near the tree, Jamie caught a glimpse of tailfin and scales under the blanket. "She's a mermaid, like my sister!"
"Well I know mermaids can't climb trees."
"She might know where my sister is! Hey! Help! Help! Up here!" he squeeked.
"Help! Rowerr! Moww!" Erica joined in. "Drat! The louder I get the more I sound like just a cat!"
Jamie sighed, "She's too far away now. How are we going to get down?"
"The fire department?"
"They've already rescued us once today. Nobody's that lucky."
Then Jamie remembered something he once saw. One of their cats had briefly gotten its head stuck in a yogurt cup. In addition to shaking its head, it also walked backwards, as if trying to back out of a tunnel. "Maybe there was some instinct happening there," he thought. "Better than staying up here til we starve or get plucked off by some big, hungry bird." He held on extra tight with his hind paws, then reached forward and covered Erica's eyes.
"What're you doing! Stop that! I can't see!" She wagged her head back and forth and started backing down the branch. "Are you crazy! Stop that! I mean it! I'm scared! No! No! I'm scared!"
"It's working!" said Jamie.
"I don't care, you cheese-chomping freek! This ain't funny! Let go my eyes!" She continued to hiss, spit and threaten all the way down the trunk until just a foot or so above the ground. Then Jamie removed his paws from her eyelids and hung on. She jumped down to the ground and spun around in a tight circle. "I'll get you, you little creep!" She finally hooked his shirt with a fang and dropped him on the ground. "Don't you ever, ever do that again, or I swear...I will eat you raw!" she hissed.
"Ok, OK, I promise"
She turned away from him, walked a few steps, then sat down. "I don't want to play this anymore. I don't want to be a cat. I just want to go home." Her shoulders shook with sobs.
Jamie didn't know a cat could sob. He felt bad for what he had done now. He stood and walked toward her. He started to say he was sorry, but didn't get the chance.
Erica heard a thud, then spun around. She saw a large, white Tomcat with the weight of both front paws on Jamie. "Thanks for the mouse, female." he 'said'. He didn't speak, the way she spoke to Jamie or the way Hannah and Alex could speak, mind to mind. He spoke pure body language. Every tail twitch, head movement or small noise had meaning and Erica could understand every syllable. This was not a Xanadu survivor, but a 'real' cat.
She was in no mood to chat, however. She lept at the tom and shrieked, "YOU WILL NOT EAT MY FRIEND!"
The tom was probably twice Erica's weight, but was at a disadvantage. He did not want Jamie nearly as much as she did not want him to have Jamie. White fur flew. The big tom ran away, but he would remember. When he was far enough away to be safe, he stopped, drank in her lingering scent, and looked forward to the time when she would be in season. Then he would be determined to be the one to introduce her to the Night Song.
Erica poked Jamie with her nose. He did not move. She moaned, gently picked his limp form up in her teath and ran deeper into the woods.
A few minutes later, the sound of wheels on gravel returned. This time, the red-headed mermaid shared her blanket with a young, dark-haired mermaid who was chattering about what she was going to do when she found her sister and brother.
After a few minutes, Bones returned with Alex and started packing his instruments. Alex sat cross-legged next to me. "You look a whole lot better than you did just a few minutes ago."
"Thanks. I feel a whole lot better. Want to carry me to the water? I'd like to wash off the rest of this mud."
"Sure. Any reason she shouldn't swim, Doc?"
"None whatsoever, son. That," McCoy pointed to the lake, "is just as much her world as where we are now, if not more."
Alex took off his robe and boots, picked me up and walked me in. I took off like a scared minnow. He put on his breather and followed. I circled around and met him, taking both his hands in mine. "I'm so glad you have a strong ticker, sweetums," I placed his hands on my belly. "Cuz have I got some news for you!"
Erica was worried. It seemed like forever before Jamie woke up and when he did, he still did not move much, but lay there complaining about how much it hurt to breathe. When he coughed, the pain was so bad he moaned. Her initial joy at seeing him alive was gone now. She wanted to help, but was now deathly afraid of leaving him alone. She had only turned her back on him for an instant, but felt terribly guilty. Finally, she hid him under some pine needles and tore herself away long enough to find some dew in the bottom of a flower and some grass seed. He drank the scented water, but would not touch the seeds.
This went on all day, all night and into the next day. He didn't seem to be getting any better. She knew what she had to do, it just took her a while to gather her courage. Finally, she wrapped Jamie up in a paper napkin she had found, carefully picked him up and set out.
Skye sat under a tree near her parents' tent and read. Reading was the only thing that could keep her out of the water for any length of time now. She tried sleeping with her parents the night before, but it was difficult keeping her wet enough. Eventually she slipped out of the tent and crawled back into the lake. Today, Skye had her mom bring her all the books she could find in the public library about mermaids. Now that she was a mermaid, and seemed likely to always be one, she was determined to learn all she could about them, regardless of inconvenience. So she sat under the tree, the books piled next to her, her tail wrapped in a water-soaked blanket, munching an apple.
Across the water came the sound of laughter and splashing, Hannah and the other mermaids were playing. Her dad, Alex and a cute little Hobbit named Todd, sat next to a small fire her dad had built, and talked quietly. Also near the fire, her mom was trying to toast some small fish her daughter had caught. Skye preferred her fish raw now, but did not protest. She didn't want to gross out her folks. She finished her apple and threw the core into the lake for the fishies to nibble on. She leaned forward to unwrap her fin and let it stretch, then poured some water from a bottle over it and flapped it a little. She was going to need to go back into the water again soon so she grabbed another book from the pile and resumed reading.
Skye heard a very light footstep from the gravel path to the Xanadu center, and turned to see the most beautiful woman she had ever seen in her short life. She looked just like Arwen from the Lord of the Rings films, but even more beautiful, if possible. She wore a green riding habit with a laptop under her arm and a sword tucked into her belt. She greeted everyone with a voice that sounded like raindrops on bells. She sat with infinite grace next to the Hobbit and gave him a hug. Skye could not help herself, she unwrapped and crawled nearer to see what was going on.
When Skye approached, her father saw her and motioned for her to come closer. "This is my daughter, Skye. She's the only one here who saw Jamie and Wynd after they were changed."
Arwen reached out her hand. "Hello, Skye."
"Hello, your highness," said Skye.
Arwen laughed. There was something in the sound that reminded Skye of hot, spiced cider and pine boughs. "I'm not a highness, I'm just Beth."
Alex leaned forward. "Skye, can you tell Beth everything you can remember about what Wynd and Jamie looked like and what they did when you all changed?"
Skye nodded then repeated in detail everything she remembered.
"Do you think you could take us to where it happened?" said Beth. "That would be the best place to start."
"Sure! At least as close as I can. Things got kinda messed up there."
"You should probably take a dip first," said Alex, "then I can carry you or you could borrow Hannah's wheelchair, which ever you prefer."
"Hannah's chair would be neat, but isn't she coming?"
"I'll ask her." Alex meditated for a few moments. "She's on her way."
When Alex 'summoned' me, I was 'it' and chasing Cody. Cody had long light blonde hair and a golden tail. Her fin resembled a dolphin's fluke and, perhaps because of that, she was much faster than me. I broke off my fruitless pursuit, apologised and headed for shore. I pulled myself unto land, crawled up to the fire and flopped belly down and dripping next to Alex. Beth looked up from her computer, came over and gave me a hug. It was the first we had seen each other since the change. Alex told me what had happened to her, I had even seen her in her costume, but that still did not prepare me. She actually was a 2000 year-old, stunningly beautiful elven warrior/princess. I was thankful I wasn't in competition with her for anyone's affection. I would have been left wriggling in the dust. I'm embarassed to admit I kept glancing at Alex to see if he was looking at her. He was. I started stroking his back with my tailfin, to distract him.
"We're going with Skye up to the Center to see where she was seperated from Wynd and Jamie, we figured it was the best place to start," said Alex. "Want to come?"
"She can ride with you. I'll push."
"I'll put my books away, then take a quick splash," said Skye.
"I'll get your books honey." said, Mrs. Walker.
"No, Mom, I want to do it." she bounded off on hands and tail toward the shade tree.
"Here's something that might be important." Beth sat cross-legged and leaned over her laptop. "A fireman entered the center early yesterday and was almost bowled-over by a tabby cat with something red and white attached to its back. It was being chased by a...hairless chimpanzee? That's weird."
"Wasn't Jamie wearing a red shirt?" I asked.
"What would he be doing riding a cat?" asked Todd.
"Oh, that wouldn't surprise me about Jamie at all." said Mrs. Walker.
"Mom, Dad, everybody! Come here!" Skye shouted. "It's Jamie!"
two found, one to go.
Chapter Five: Mermaids on Wheels and Horsefeather
Skye took her damp blanket and started vigorously rubbing her scales with it. She was really starting to itch now. She dropped the blanket, laid down on it and started stuffing the library books into a bag. Unconsciously, she sorted them into catagories. Silly ones on the bottom, fun, but not very useful ones next, the most knowledgeable ones (the smallest group) on top. She was almost done when she heard a muffled mew. She looked up. Near the tree was a small tabby-cat carrying something in its mouth. "Hi there kitty. Whatcha got there?" She pulled herself toward the kitty and reached out her hand to pet it. It shied away. "C'mere kitty, kitty. I won't hurt you."
It gently laid its bundle down and said, "I'm so very sorry." then ran into the woods.
Skye's mouth dropped open. Even with all that had happened to her here, a talking cat was a shocker. She crawled up to the bundle, sat down and opened it. Inside was a small white mouse wearing a red shirt. It smiled weakly, "Hi Sissy." it said.
"Mom, Dad, everybody! Come here!" Skye shouted. "It's Jamie!"
Everybody jumped up and ran to her, except me of course. I got there last. Mrs. Walker and Beth took Jamie into the tent. Alex ran off to the hotel to see if he could find either Bones or Randal. Mr. Walker set out to find one of the veterinarians who had come to treat the survivors who needed them. Skye, Todd and I just tried to stay out from under foot. Within fifteen minutes, Alex was back with McCoy. Followed, about five minutes later by Randal and ten minutes after that, Mr. Walker and the veterinarian. That meant Jamie had available for his care: Elven magic, Jedi Force Power, 21st century veterinary medicine and a double dose of 23rd century Star Trek medicine. I doubt if any mouse has been so well cared for in the history of the world.
It wasn't as easy as it sounds though. Bones had to recalibrate his tricorder twice to get Jamie's vital signs. Beth had to go online to find out what the baseline vital signs for a mouse should be. Bones' and Randal's hypo sprays would not adjust small enough to use on Jamie, so Alex had to use his force powers to relieve Jamie's pain and help him relax. As it turned out, Jamie had some cracked ribs and a concussion, within an hour he was resting comfortably on his mother's lap.
That was about the time we finally got Skye back into the water. She was starting to bleed around her scales. Still, Alex had to carry her flopping in protest. I stayed in the water with her to help keep her calm and make sure she had a good soak.
It was starting to get dark by the time we crawled back out of the lake. I laid next to Alex again. He sat still, either meditating or snoozing. Skye parked herself next to the closed flap of the tent. Bones was nearby, packing his gear. "I beamed down into this madhouse two days ago." he groused. "Already I've treated a centaur, a satyr, a Mervulcan, assorted mermaids, something called a Wookie and now, a mouse! What's next a sentient parameceum?" He caught sight of Skye and how worried she looked, then went over and sat next to her. "Your brother's going to be just fine. He's sleeping right now. How are you feeling?"
She sat, hugging her tail. "Oh, I'm just fine now too. I'm so glad we found him." Skye looked up at McCoy sadly. "He's so small. So small. How will we ever protect him?"
He put his arm around her shoulder. "He's got a lot of people who love him watching over him. He'll do alright."
After another dip, the guys wrapped Skye head to tailfin in her blanket then dumped buckets of water over her. Alex then sat her down on my lap in the chair. We were finally ready to make our trip back to the Xanadu Center.
As we set out, Skye scanned her namesake until we went under the trees. "I keep hoping to see Wynd. I did see a dragon yesterday afternoon." she said. "Last night I dreamed she flew in and landed right there, next to the lake. I climbed out of the water, and jumped on her back (I had legs), Jamie was hanging on to her mane. Then she took off! We flew all over, even around the castle at Disney World. It was lots of fun!"
"Sounds like a good dream," said Alex.
"But it was just a dream," said Skye
"Sometimes, dreams do come true," said Beth.
"Skye?" I asked.
"Do you like to sing?"
"Love to. Wanna hear something?"
"Yes! Maybe we can sing something together." I said. "But, have you noticed anything different when you sing now?"
"You mean like how the little fishies come to me when I sing?"
"They do!?" said Beth, her eyes wide.
"How do you think I catch them? I'm not that quick! D'you think it's some kind of secret Mermaid-power?"
"Well," I said. "Considering all the stories, legends and movies, it's probably not much of a secret. Still, I wouldn't talk about it except among friends."
"Like the other Mermaids?"
"Cool! We can practice together and see what happens!"
By the time we got to the Center, I had taught her two verses of The Water is Wide. Most of my repetoir is made of Irish hair 'brushing/pulling/yanking' songs.
At the entrance was a guardsman in full battle-dress carrying a carbine. When we tried to enter, he stopped us. We were a Jedi, a Hobbit, two Mermaids and an Elf. We couldn't be anything other than survivors, and until now, survivors were allowed free access. Todd explained how he was the owner of one of the businesses inside and needed to assess damage and salvage what he could. The soldier apologized and said there had been a change of orders and that no one was allowed in without written permission from the new commander, a Brigadier Daly. Finally, Alex explained to him how we didn't need orders from Brigadier Daly, we were on a confidential mission that no one else need know about and we could carry on with it. We were in.
This was the second time I had been there since Saturday, and the first time when it was dark and quiet. Something about the place under these conditions made the back of my neck tingle and my scales prickle.
"We should probably start at the food court," said Beth
There had been some effort to clean-up, but we still had to pick our way carefully in some places, to get the wheelchair through. The foodcourt was dark and smelt bad. Evidently, at some point, the circuitbrakers for the lights and refridgeration had tripped here and were never reset. Skye pointed the way that she and her siblings had taken on their ill-fated attempt to reach Darknight Books. A little less than a quarter of the way along that path, she motioned for us to stop. "I don't think we got much past here," she said and looked around. "There! Look!"
"What is it?" I asked.
Skye wiggled out of her blanket and slid down to the floor, then crawled over to a pastel-green beach bag that was partly under a table and picked it up. "It's Wynd's bag!" She reached inside and pulled out a bright red wig. "This is my Ariel wig. If I hadn't pulled this off, I'd be a red-head like you, Hannah!"
"Actually, I'm more of a copper-blonde, sweetie."
"There's the wall where I saw my tail for the first time!" she shuddered a little at the memory. "Then Wynde would have been standing about where you are, Todd, when she changed."
Beth went down on her hands and knees and examined the floor. "There are some deep scratches and scuff marks in the tile here. Horse hooves? What do you think Alex?"
Alex knelt beside her. "Could be. Course you know more about horses than I ever will."
"She was slipping and sliding and trying to back up," Said Skye.
Beth stood then walked back and stooped. "Looks like she got herself turned around and tried to run."
There was a whistle. Alex's lightsaber flashed, and two halves of an arrow clattered to the floor. Beth picked them up. "Yrch!" she spat.
"What?" said Alex.
"Orcs!" said Beth.
"Crap! I thought they'd rounded up all those guys!" said Todd.
Beth drew her sword, then dissapeared into the shadows. Alex stood covering everyone, his lightsaber humming. Just then, a cellphone rang. It was mine. Alex had it, since I won't carry one again until they're made waterproof. From force of habit, he answered it. "Hello? Sure." He handed it to me. "It's for you. It's your mom."
"Hello. Momma? Uh...we're kinda busy here now. Uh...Breakfast? Sure." There was another whistle and another arrow intercepted by Alex. "Look, Momma, can you call back...yes...eight a.m. sharp...in the lobby...Sure, g'bye...love you too, bye."
"Sorry," said Alex. "I shouldn't have answered that."
Just then, there was a hideous scream followed by running footsteps. Beth reappeared, there was blood on her sword. Skye's eyes grew wide. "Did you kill him?"
"I don't think so. I hope not."
None of us relished the thought of killing some poor cosplayer who probably didn't know what he was doing.
That seemed to be the only Orc attacker, so we continued following what we hoped was Wynd's trail. We entered a section where almost all of the lights were out. That put only Todd at a disadvantage. Alex had his force powers, Beth's people were born when the world was illuminated by the stars alone, Skye and myself had eyes adapted to the shadows of the deep sea. Every few yards, Beth would crouch and search the floor for the trail. Finally we came to a large, shattered plate-glass window that opened to the outside. Beth searched carefully among the shards of glass. "Ah!" she exclaimed and stood. In her hand was a very large, white feather. It resembled an eagle's pinion, but considerably larger.
"I wish we had a tricorder," said Alex. "I'd be willing to bet we would find equine DNA on this."
"And equine blood on this." Beth presented a shard with a rust-colored stain.
"Was she hurt?" asked Skye.
"Not badly, there are only a few drops." Beth jumped lightly through the window, then examined the ground. "Hoof prints."
"Bingo!" said Todd.
"They continue only a few yards, then disappear. I'd say she took off." Beth jumped back inside.
"She's free!" Skye bounced up and down on my lap. "But, why hasn't she come home?"
Remembering my reaction to my own change, I said, "Maybe she feels like she looks too strange and doesn't want to be seen yet?"
"That's possible," said Alex. Privately, to me, he thought, "Or, perhaps, the animal in her form dominates?"
Beth gave the feather to Skye. "I think we're done here, at least for tonight."
A few minutes later, we stood outside waiting while Alex explained to the next sentry, that there was nothing that needed reporting right now. Beth hugged herself and shivered, even though the night was warm.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
"I could've killed that man in there. I know I hurt him bad. It would be so easy. Too easy, to just lose myself and become Arwen. It almost happened tonight. It really frightens me."
"You stayed in control," I said. "You'll be fine."
"I know I didn't choose the costume, but I loved it so much. I felt beautiful in it."
"You were beautiful, even then," Todd said shyly.
Beth knelt down and hugged him, and didn't let go for a long time.
Alex walked up smiling. "Every thing's fine, but I wouldn't recommend waiting around. Out of sight, out of mind, If you know what I mean."
"After we take Skye back, we need to do some shopping," I said. "This isn't frivolous. I literally have nothing to wear now, especially after my mud bath this morning." I pointed out the splotches on my top. "And we're getting together with my folks for breakfast, tomorrow. I'd like to show up wearing more than a sheet and a bra."
"Why don't you two go on while we take Skye back?" said Beth. "I can carry her. She's light as a feather."
Skye had no objections, so we parted company. Todd and Beth, with Skye to the lake. Alex and I to the parking lot and the nearest something or other Mart.
It was after midnight and Skye sat next to her family's tent, playing with the feather and daydreaming about her sister. She hadn't parted with it for a moment, even taking it with her to the bottom of the lake, where she usually slept. She was restless, however, and didn't stay there long. She then crawled out onto the land, but paused at the closed flap of the tent. She felt really alien just then, like she was no longer part of the same world as her family, even Jamie and Wynd. She twirled the feather around in her fingers, watching it dry.
"Is he OK?" Came a small, soft voice from behind her.
Skye spun around to see the small tabby. "He's going to be fine. Thank you so much for bringing him back to us."
"You're welcome," It began nervously licking its left paw.
"He talked about you. Said you were his friend."
"Did he?" It looked like she smiled, but then she turned her head away. "It was my fault he got hurt. I yelled at him, took my eyes off of him, and the big cat got him."
"He wasn't mad at you, and neither are we. We're grateful, Erica."
"He told you my name."
"Can I...er. May I pet you?" Skye reached out her hand.
"OK," Erica approached nonchalantly and curled up on Skye's scaly lap. She noticed the feather, "Ooo, toy!" and reached for it. Skye giggled and pulled it away.
"Who are you talking to Skye?"
"Just a friend, Mom.
Chapter Six: Girly Stuff, Family Matters and Pegasus Whispering
Once more, Alex had to use mind tricks to leave the Xanadu parking lot. "I don't know how much longer I can get away with this," he said. "I'm sure the only reason it's still working is because most people don't believe in it."
"I'm sure we'll find Wynd soon, then we can leave."
We pulled into a nearby discount-mart and parked. When we entered, the greeter didn't bat an eye. That shouldn't have surprised us, we were less than a mile from the Center and its thousands of transformees, all in a location with security that, up until recently, at least, would be described as sievelike. I'm sure we weren't the strangest folk he'd seen lately. Alex grabbed a cart. I wheeled myself into the lead.
I tried not to look when we passed the shoes, but I couldn't help myself. I stopped. There was one pair that especially caught my eye. Rose-colored slippers with a lighter shaded crysanthamum on each. They were so pretty. I picked them up and tossed them into the cart.
Alex gave me a look, like he didn't know whether to laugh, console me, or call 911.
"They're for Beth. If I can't wear them, I can still enjoy seeing someone I like wear them."
"That makes sense. You had me worried for a moment there."
"Let's go look at some clothes."
I ended up with two sun dresses and three skirts with matching blouses, all with material that wouldn't be hurt getting wet. I also picked up about a half dozen assorted swimming tops and a low-cut little black dress, should I work up the nerve to wear it. Alex hoped I would find the nerve.
"Now that that's taken care of, time for the fun stuff," I said.
"You're kidding. You won't be showing for months."
"I'm not going to buy anything. I'm just going to look." We left with a stretchy, pastel-blue top that matched my tail.
On the way back, we stopped at a drive-thru for some food. I ordered a fish sandwich, but couldn't finish it. Cooked fish just doesn't do it for me anymore. I tried a bite of Alex's burger, it was fine. Not all of my tastes have changed.
We were up past midnight trying stuff on.
The alarm woke me at seven. I had actually forgotten that I was a Mer. I rolled awkwardly out of bed and sprawled onto the floor. I was so embarrassed, I didn't tell Alex. He thought I had gotten my fin tangled in the sheet. I crawled into the bathroom hauled myself into the tub and turned on the water. I have to do it in this order or the water all splashes out. Except for swimming, bathing is the highlight of my day. It's in the tub also that my increase in length is most apparent. I was about 5'9" before I became a mermaid. Alex estimates now that, from top of head to tip of fin, I'm nearly eight feet. At night, I hang my fin over the foot of the bed. In the tub, I either curl up or just let it all flop out onto the floor.
When Alex was at the mirror shaving, I flicked a little water at him with my fin, just to get his attention. "Hey! Look what I can do." I rolled over in the tub, stuck my head under the water, my rear-end into the air and started breathing water. with each exhalation, water gushed from the gills between my ribs, making an interesting display. I turned back over, expelled the water from my chest and started breathing air again. "Neat huh."
"You're bored, aren't you."
"Not bored, anxious. I'm worried about how my parents will react to me being pregnant. They're already weirded out from seeing me, not to mention all the other changed people. I don't think they,ve left their room since they checked in."
"We don't really have to tell them just yet, most women don't find out themselves til five weeks. Besides, even though your folks are decidedly odd, they're good-hearted. They love you and they'll love our child whether she has legs or a tail.
"I know that's where everything will end up. It's the melodrama while getting there that's the bitch."
When my bath was done, I subdued my hair, put on a nice flowery sun dress and climbed into the chair. Alex wore, well, what he always has to wear, Jedi stuff, but he looked especially handsome in some more formal robes. He decided to trust the elevator this time, though I kinda liked him carrying me up and down the stairs.
We entered the lobby at eight o'clock, sharp. There were my parents, looking decidedly uncomfortable while a white-furred, anthropomorphic vixen tried to strike-up a conversation with them.
"Here's our daughter and her fiancee now," said my dad. "Hannah, Alex, I'd like for you to meet uh...what was your name again?"
"Tonya." She offered her hand to me, then Alex. Alex, being the formal and romantic soul that he is, kissed it. It may have been better if he hadn't.
"Sweet mother of Mabel! He kissed my hand! Hot and a Jedi to boot! Honey, if you ever get tired of the red-headed fish-girl, look me up. I got legs, and I know how to use them!" She grinned toothily and sauntered off.
Momma patted my shoulder. "Don't get upset sweetie. She tried to pick up your father too."
Poppa drove us to a nearby pancake house. I let Alex do the talking. He was explaining how we were going to sell the house and try to get some coastal property, if we could afford it, or, perhaps, buy a houseboat. I liked the houseboat idea the best, it seemed more plauseable financially, and better for me. It would be nice to just slide off the deck into the water anytime I want. The deck would also have to be low enough to allow me to pull myself back onboard, by a rail or maybe a short ladder? I was daydreaming about this when they brought our food.
I was pretty hungry so I tore into my sausage, eggs and grits with enthusiasm. I'm sorry, that's not quite true. I ate like I was condemned. My Momma finally commented, "Hannah, sweetie, slow down. You're gonna get choked." I paused, allowing a gobbit of egg to roll off my chin.
Poppa laughed, "Alex, you been starvin' this poor girl?"
"Last person I saw eat like that," continued Momma. "was you sister, Sarah, when she was pregnant with Taylor."
I remember that. She gained ten pounds the first six weeks, only to barf it all off in the next six weeks. Is it too much to hope Vulcan women don't go through that? Probably.
I wiped my face with the napkin and smiled. "Actually, Momma, I..."
Just then, something on Alex's person beeped. He fumbled through his robes for a moment, pulled out a disk-shaped object and placed it on the table. Out popped a hologram of Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. I couldn't hear what was being said, because Momma was talking in my other ear.
"That is cute and all, but don't you think he's a bit old to be playing with toys?" she said.
The hologram disappeared, and Alex slipped the device back into his robe. "I'm going to have to go."
"Go?" I asked.
"General Daley wants to meet with the Jedi Council, some kind of announcement."
"But why do you have to go?" I asked again. "You're not...Oh no! You didn't...They didn't!"
Alex looked embaressed. "I couldn't keep my mouth shut and they elected me to one of the fifteen council seats. With all the excitement yesterday, I forgot to mention it."
"You forgot to mention it!" If I could have got to him, I would have tail-slapped him. "Oooo! How could you let them do that! You're gonna be too busy being a husband and father!"
"Father?!" said Momma.
"Remember, I didn't know about the father part yet," defended Alex.
"Yes, Momma, I'm expecting."
"Expecting what?" said my Father, looking rather befuddled.
"A baby old man! What else!" Mom growled. I never saw such a conflicting set of emotions as I saw in my mother just then. "Is he...Is she gonna...Is..is."
"Is she gonna be a mermaid, Momma? I have no idea." At that point, she slid unconscious under the table.
So ended that happy occasion.
I was still rather annoyed when we arrived back at the hotel room. Alex apologized for forgetting to tell me about it, but he felt he had no decent choice but accept when he was elected. I was skeptical, but resigned to the idea. I reminded him that he was supposed to help find Wynd Walker today, so he needed to get away from the meeting ASAP. I hid my remaining irritation when we parted. It's a rule of mine, reinforced by the events of last Saturday, always part with a smile and a kiss, because we really don't know what might happen.
After Alex left, I was contemplating changing into a swim top and visiting the Walkers, when there was a knock at the door. It was Beth and Todd.
"Glad we caught you. Beth found something. Oh, where's Alex?"
"Jedi stuff, He'll be along later. What'd you find?"
"Well," said Beth. "I was surfing..."
"She means hacking," interrupted Todd.
"Surfing!" repeated Beth. "And I found this." She opened her laptop and laid it on the bed. A screen full of numbers and letters popped up.
"Cool," I said. "What is it."
"Radar returns for all Central Florida airports since last Saturday," said Beth, with obvious pride. "That's not all. Click here and you get all the anomalous returns."
"UFO's," said Todd.
"That's not all either," said Beth. With a flourish, she clicked again. "All local visual UFO reports. Narrowed down to anomalous creature reports. Finally winged horse reports. Did the she-elf do good?"
"She-elf done real good," I laughed.
"Cross referenceing all this stuff, here's what we have," resumed Beth. "There's more than one pegasus out there."
"Bummer. How many do you think there are?" I asked.
Beth sighed. "It's real hard to tell for sure, from the pattern I'd say three." she pulled up a map. "See how the sightings seem to shake out into three clusters."
"So what do we do?" asked Todd.
"We go out, set in the middle of one of these clusters and hope for the best." I said.
"That's pretty much it," said Beth. "But, I've got a hunch. There's a horse farm in this cluster, and the pattern's a little tighter. We have a better chance of a sighting. If it isn't Wynd, we'll still eliminate one possibility fairly quickly."
"So that's where we're going," I said.
"Well, not me," said Todd. "I've got an appointment with a claims adjuster to tour the wreckage."
"So, it's just us girls. What about Skye?" I asked.
"If we find Wynd, she'd be a big help," said Beth. "Unfortunately, we're going to be away from water for a long time, and I hate it that we put her in danger last night."
"Well, let's go. You're driving." I headed for the door.
It wasn't that easy. We were stopped on the way out of the parking lot. I really wished we had Alex with us. We waited about twenty minutes while they decided what to do about us. Finally, surprisingly, they said we could go. There was a catch, however, we had to take someone with us, to protect us or protect the world from us, I have no clue. A second lieutenant, who looked even younger than me, must have drawn the short straw. We piled him into the back seat, next to my wheelchair and took off. I navigated with Beth's laptop and a GPS while Beth drove down country roads.
Aggravatingly, Mr. second lieutenant disputed our first choice. He said he had more recent information, from where he didn't say. We couldn't really argue that without revealing where we had gotten our data, so we yielded. About twenty minutes later, we parked at the side of a gravel road, next to a cow-pasture. It was hot, so we sat on the shady side of the car. I curled up to keep my tail out of the sun.
This was rather like UFO hunting, something we used to do when we were teens. I was the one out on the hood with binoculars while my sisters were making out with their boyfriends in the car. I'm afraid I spoilt it for them since I used to squeal and interrupt them every time a firefly or airplane went by. UFO and pegasus hunting are passive excercises, since it is entirely up to the observed whether to show up or not. I wished we had some way of calling a flying horse in. I was also beginning to wish I had some bottled water to pour over my head.
We were lucky. After about forty-five minutes, the lieutenant spotted something. He passed the binoculars to me. It had an equine body with great golden wings, but it didn't look quite right. Beth shaded her eyes and looked, she didn't need binoculars.
"That's not a pegasus," she said.
"Whadda ya mean, that's not a pegasus?" said the lieutenant.
I took another look. "She's right, that's not a Pegasus. It's a hippogriff."
"A what? How do you know?"
"Take our words for it," I said. "We're both long-time D&D gamer-girls. We know a hippogriff from a pegasus."
I handed him the binoculars. "See," said Beth. "It has an eagle's not a horse's head. It's also a predator."
Just then it swooped down into the pasture and pounced on a cow, snipping off its head with an enourmous beak before lapping up the blood.
The soldier looked at each of us with eyes the size of saucers.
"Yep," I said. "That's definitely a hippogriff."
We very carefully got back into the car and drove off. There was no argument over where to wait next. Horses, both rhe flying and nonflying kind, are sociable animals, so the horse farm seemed a good bet. We parked near a copse of trees, giving us better shade. There was also a large concrete watering tank nearby. No one was arround to object, so I crawled over to it hauled myself up and wiggled my way into it. I splashed about for a few minutes, sneaked a couple of crawfish, wiggled my way back out and flopped on the grass.
"That was refreshing," I said as I crawled back to the others. "hope horses don't object to the taste of mermaid."
"That looked like fun," said the lieutenant. "I'm almost tempted."
"Dammit!" I said.
"What is it?!" asked Beth.
"I got algae stains on my new dress!"
Nothing happened for the next half-hour. Between the heat and the droning bugs, I was starting to get sleepy. I suspected that the lieutenant was too. I'm not sure if Elves even sleep, but Beth was very still. Finally, I spoke up.
"I'm going to try something. I've been fiddling around in my head with the words to an old Highland song. I'm going to try to call Wynd in, the way Skye calls the little fishies in to her."
"Do you think she'll hear?" Asked Beth
I shrugged, "Horses have good hearing, and if there is any magic to the Siren Song, it may not matter." I cleared my throat and began:
Will ye no come back again, dear Wynd, dear Wynd? Will ye ne'er come home again, dearest Wynd? Better loved ye canna be Will ye no come back again?
A group of horses that had been grazing on the far side of the pasture, slowly turned and started leasurely heading in our direction.
"Looks like someone's answering your call," said Beth. "Though not in any big hurry. Wait a minute! The big white one. Doesn't it look a bit odd to you?"
"It's just a bit fat, or is it?" I leaned forward with the binoculars, as if that would make a difference. "Could that be folded wings? We've been looking at the sky. Could she have been on the ground all along?" I hauled myself up into the chair. "Could somebody help me with this? We need to get closer."
The second Lieutenant tilted the chair back, so only the big wheels touched the ground. with me pushing the wheels and him pushing the back, we bounced and rocked slowly over the field.
When the horses began noticing us and stopped, we stopped as well. I repeated my little four-line song. This time, the other horses remained, while the big white one slowly approached.
"This is where we're going to wish we could of brought Skye." said Beth. "Let me go on ahead. Too many odd sights and smells, may make her nervous. If what Tolkien wrote about Elves and horses proves true, and if that translates to pegasi, I can soothe her, and keep her calm." At about that time, the big white horse stretched its wings and refolded them.
I smiled, "As Todd would say, 'Bingo!'."
Beth continued to carefully walk forward. The pegasus raised its head, sniffed and softly nickered. Beth gently stroked its neck and spoke something vey low. She waved for us to approach. We came forward a few feet, but the pegasus snorted and laid its ears back. Beth motioned for us to stop, then spoke softly again. Finally, after a few more starts and stops, I was able to reach up and rub its nose.
Slowly, the second lieutenant opened his rucksack and pulled out a bridle. Beth's eyes widened. "Put a stop to this! I'll keep her calm."
I looked to see what the man was doing and growled, "You even attempt to put that on her and I'll slap you upside the head with this!" I flipped my tailfin at him.
"She'll do it too," said Beth gently. "Cuz...she's crazy."
"Bug-eyed, barking, red-head crazy, ever since I lost my legs."
"But, I have orders!" he said.
"Believe me, these scales leave nasty marks."
"Just do what the pointy-eared, scary women want," soothed Beth. "and everything will be alright."
"You're making me feel like such a jerk. Horses wear these all the time."
"Technically, this is a Pegasus, not a horse," I said. "and actually, this is a Xanadu survivor, not an animal."
"OK, you win!" He put the bridle away.
"You are an officer and a gentleman," I said.
"There is no doubt in my mind. This is Wynd," said Beth. but, she's deep, deep inside. you might have trouble reaching her."
"Well, let's give it a shot." I reached up and put my hand on Wynd's head as near as I could remember to the way I saw Spock do it so many times on screen. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Soon, I felt as if I were floating, very much like being in water. I dove, deeper and deeper, stopping periodically to call Wynd's name. It grew dark, as though the surface were far above. Eventually I heard a faint voice. "Who are you?"
"I'm a friend of Skye's," I said. It was too dark to see. I swam toward the voice until I bumped into something.
"Where am I?"
How do I answer that when I didn't know where I was either? I chose to be literal. "You're in a pasture near Orlando." I felt around. It was a woman's body, bound to something, I couldn't figure out what the something was. I began working at the bonds, trying to pry them away. All the time I spoke soothingly, "I'm going to set you free, so you can go to Skye, Jamie and your mom and dad."
The bonds were tight, but they wern't all that tough. I could tear them away, but I knew I mustn't. She would need those connections or she would be a prisoner in a body she didn't know how to control. The object was to give her the use of her animal knowledge and instincts rather than destroy them. She began responding to me more and more.
She didn't remember much of the last few days. She recalled fleeing from the hall where she changed, kicking through the large window with her hooves, then flying but not knowing where to go. all her human memories had been totally submerged. She fell in with the horses at the farm, they comforted her and helped her to hide among them.
Eventually, I stopped making progress. Changes I made were being undone as soon as I made them. I suppose that I had reached the baseline of the Xanadu effect. Finally, she asked me to stop. She felt that she was in control and wanted to begin working with the changes that I had made. We said good-bye for now and I swam away.
I knew I had to go back to the surface, but I couldn't tell which way up was. It was still completely dark. I picked a direction that seemed right and swam with my arms outstretched in front of me. I began to get frightened, I could be going in circles for all I knew. Then I heard Beth's voice, she was singing something in Elvish. I followed the sound and eventually, I could see the outline of my arms. I was going in the right direction! Almost immediately after that realization, I came out of the trance.
I was out in the pasture again slumped in the chair and covered in sweat. Wynd stood quivering while Beth hugged her and sang softly in her ear. After a few minutes, Wynd stopped quivering and opened her eyes. She started, but quickly settled down and began looking around at herself.
Beth sighed with relief. "I saw you were struggling, but I didn't know what to do. I started singing."
"Whether you just guessed or read my mind," I said. "You did exactly the right thing."
The second lieutenant, whose name was Wyatt by the way, offered me his canteen. I drained it.
Epilogue: Mermaid in Flight and When Wynd Greets Skye
Wynd sniffed me over then pushed her nose against my shoulder. I stroked her face. "Wynd, can you hear me?" I said. She made an odd noise, as if she tried to talk, then nodded her head. "Well," I said. "We need to get you to your family. They're next to the lake, near the Convention Center. Do you know how to get there?" She stood still for a few moments, then shook her head.
"If she doesn't mind, you could ride her and guide her there," I said to Beth.
She shuddered. "That would be fine with Arwen, but Beth is terrified of heights."
"I'm not," I said.
"How would you stay on her back?" Beth asked.
"Side saddle is your only option," said Wyatt. "Somehow, I can't see that being recommended for flying horses."
"If I hang on tight to her neck and lay along her back, I'm sure her wings will keep me from rolling off." Suddenly, I wanted to do this more than anything. "We should ask her what she thinks about the idea. Wynd, I can show you the way, Would you be willing to carry me?"
Once more Wynd made a sound as though trying to speak, then tossed her head in frustration. But, after a few moments, she nodded.
"I wouldn't dare try to stop you, if you're both in agreement, but I don't have a good feeling about this. It doesn't seem like enough to hold you on," said Beth. She looked genuinely worried.
"If she promisses not to do any loops or barrel-rolls..." I began.
"Wait a moment," Interrupted Beth. "I might have something in my trunk."
We all headed back to the car. Beth opened the trunk and pulled out some bungee cords.
"Bungees?" said Wyatt. "Well, ought to be better than bare-back."
"Are there enough?" I asked. "They can't be too tight or too loose."
"Should be," Beth rummaged through the trunk, placing the cords on the fender. Wynd sniffed at them curiously then nodded her approval. when we thought we had what we needed, Wynd sat on her haunches and let me climb onto her back. Beth and Wyatt began linking the bungees together then wrapped them about me and Wynd. One set was placed in front of her wings and across my back, just below the shoulder blades. The second behind her wings and across my tail, just below my butt. They were snug but Wynd seemed fine with them.
Beth shook her head, "This ought to keep you on better than just wishful thinking. I'd still say no to barrel-rolls and loops. You won't let her fall off, will you Wynd?"
Wynd shook her head, then whinnied to show she was ready to go.
"We'll meet you there," said Beth. I'll call Alex and Todd."
"Don't call the Walkers," I said. "I want this to be a surprise. Is that OK Wynd?"
The great winged horse gave a mischievous grunt and tossed her head. I clung tight to her neck.
Well, I guess there's nothing left to say but, be carefull you two," said Beth. She waved.
Wynd cantered into her namesake, then picked up speed to a full gallop. Without warning, she spread her wings, gave them a flap and took off. It swept my breath away, but after a few moments, I was able to squeal and start laughing. "This is fun! I'm so glad you let me do this!" Wynd turned to look at me for a second, and seemed to smile. We climbed higher and higher. I looked down at the ground and rather wished I hadn't. I squeezed my eyes shut until I recovered enough to open them again.
It was time for me to earn my flight. I knew we were south west of the Xanadu Center. I looked about until I saw the ocean, a blue haze, and directed Wynd to the north east. Soon I could see the great dome of the Center and the silvery-blue lake beyond. I pointed out the campsite. We picked up speed as we descended, the wind whipped through my hair and made my tailfin flap. We then made a few long, sweeping turns over the water to bleed off excess energy. Suddenly, Wynd flared her wings into a stall and touched down as lightly as a feather between the lake shore and the Walker family's tent.
Alex and Todd had just arrived. The Walkers, of course, were already there. There was a splash from the lake. Skye practically lept from the water and bounded toward us. I had never seen a Mer move so fast on dry land. "Wynd! Wynd!" she shouted and wrapped her arms around her sister's muzzle. Everyone gathered around, including a white mouse that poked its nose through the curls on Gina Walker's shoulder, and a small, yellow tabby that looked on in wonder.
Alex folded his arms and looked stern. "That, my dear, was a foolish stunt."
"Yes it was, wasn't it?" I grinned from ear to ear.
"Silly mermaid, I love you," he said.
"I know," I replied. "Can someone get me loose. I feel a hug coming on."