Calista’s day started early. She was up at three and on her way to the airport twenty minutes later so she could check in for her flight. At 5:30 she was sitting in her first class seat aboard a 757 on her way to Atlanta, and an hour and fifteen minutes after landing there she was in another first class seat aboard another 757 on her way to San Francisco. After a slightly more than two-hour layover in the City By the Bay–most of which was spent resting in a rather opulent passenger lounge–she was leaving for Honolulu in a first class seat aboard a 777.
Thirty minutes after arriving in Hawaii she and Izzy–who was her companion for this journey–were shown to a Gulfstream G650 outfitted with large, plush recliners and two full-sized sofas. Within ten minutes they were wheels-up and heading for their final destination: Johnson Atoll, a little over eight hundred miles away.
They arrived at 17:45 local time, a little over eighteen hours after leaving home but still the same day. In traveling 5,650 miles to her new home for the next six months, Calista had added six additional hours to her day.
She intended on living them.
As they disembarked the Gulfstream a Lincoln SUV pulled up an a woman wearing a tank top, shorts, and sandals exited from the front passenger seat. She walked toward the two women waving. “Aloha.” She shielded her eyes from the sun even though she was wearing dark sunglasses. “I’m Huali Keawe, HR director for AFI in these parts.” She stopped about a meter from both women and seemed to turn slightly to her left. “You must be Calista.”
She laughed as she shook hands. “Did my hair give it away?”
“It did.” She shook Izzy’s hand before addressing them both. “Welcome to the Johnson Atoll Marine Facility. Hope you trip here was good.”
Izzy grabbed the handle of her roller duffel. “It was long.”
“Yeah, not a lot we can do about that.” She motioned towards the SUV. “Let’s get you to your new digs.”
They loaded their bags into the back of the SUV. Calista and Izzy loaded into the back seats while Huali returned to the front. Calista looked out the heavily tinted windows as she fastened her seat belt. “What is this place?”
“It’s been a lot of things.” The SUV pulled away from the aircraft parking area as Huali continued. “It was and has remained a wildlife preserve, but it’s also functioned as an airbase–obviously–Coast Guard station, a missile launch center, a testing area for nuclear and biological weapons, and a place to store the waste from those last two systems.” The SUV drove slowly onto a concrete roadway. “Aquatic Future spent about a billion and a quarter dollars cleaning up the mess left here and nearly a half-billion more in the last five years developing this area as a researching and test center.”
Calista not only had a spectacular view of the atoll lagoon, but of a row of small buildings jutting over a sea wall and the water beyond. “Do you own the island?”
“By law we’re not allowed ownership. However, we have a fifty year lease with the U.S. Government which, if we don’t cause any damage to the environment here, will automatically extend another fifty years.” Huali glanced back between the front seats. “We’ve spent six years developing this center, so given the effort put forth making the environment pristine once again, we expect to remain here for another forty-four years.”
The SUV took a right and stopped at the end of a short lane that terminated at the sea wall Calista had noticed. Huali exited the SUV and walked around the front to the last bungalow on the left while Calista and Izzy retrieved their bags. “This is it: this is home for both of you.” She turned and smiled at the women as they approached. “At least while you’re here.”
Calista set her roller bag down next to her and started at the unit before her. It was explained before leaving Jacksonville that Izzy and she would share a small housing unit for a time while Calista was in the early stages of her transition to mermaid life. “So this is it–” She turned to Huali. “Yeah?”
“Yeah is right.” Huali nodded towards the bungalow. “It’s stocked with food, but if you feel like eating with the rest of the staff, we’ll start dinner in the main center in about an hour.”
Calista nodded without even thinking. “So, when do I start with the transition?”
Huali said nothing for almost five seconds before a smile began to slowly spread. “You were given a drink and some pills to help you sleep on the flight here, yes?”
“Yes. We both were.”
“Izzy’s was nothing more than a light sedative. Yours had a little something… more. There were transformation nanoids in your pills that activated they moment they reached your stomach.” For the firs time since meeting Huali removed her sunglasses and Calista saw the mirth in her eyes. “Your transition to merlife? It’s already started.”