“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 8

Part 8


By the third day of lagoon swimming Calista had managed to swim out as far as a two and a half from Johnson Island, and Harmony, visiting the other bodies that existed within the atoll: Akau, Hikina, and Sand Islands.  Like most of Johnson Islands, the other three were man-made, created from dredged coral. Calista needed to sit on the north shore of Sand Island as she didn’t believe she was strong enough to swim the remaining mile and a half back to her bungalow.

While resting Calista asked Harmony a question that has been on her mind for the last day. “Do you miss the land?”

Harmony gave her mentee a questioning look. “You mean as ‘Do you miss not being able to walk on dry land?'”


“Hum.” She considered the question for a second. “No.”

“Not at all?”

Harmony lifted her tail out of the water. “I’m a mermaid. I live underwater. Everything I do is usually with other mermaids, or those who are going to join us.” She rolled her eyes as she glanced towards Calista. “So my final answer to your question is ‘Duh‘.”

Calista laughed, because Harmony’s answer wasn’t something one expected a mermaid to give. “I suppose you’re right.”

Harmony waited a few seconds before asking her own question. “Are you having second thoughts?”

“No.  And if I did–” She motioned towards her tail-covered legs. “It won’t be long before that is real.”

Harmony nodded and allowed a good ten seconds of silence before speaking. “You wouldn’t be here if you hasn’t passed the psych exam. There is no way AFI would have commenced transition treatment if they thought there was the slightest bit you’d regret your choice.” She tapped a finger against her cheek. “Do you know how much it costs to create us?”

This was something Calista never considered. “No. How much?”

“About two million. And that’s just for the transition. It doesn’t include the cost of training, which started the moment you came to the atoll and will likely continue for a year or two after you move into Down Below Town.”

Calista felt a moment of surprise and shock. “I had no idea.”

Harmony nodded. “Most don’t.”

“What sort of training comes after–well, this.”

“You need to know how to work on things underwater.  Some are technical skills, some not so technical. You have to know how to work in different environments. We have a couple of groups who are experts in working in arctic water conditions; that’s not something knows how to do.”

That got Calista thinking. “What the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”

It didn’t take Harmony much time to answer. “That oil well blowout we capped off the coast of Mexico last year. Me and three other mer had to go down four thousand meters and work in almost zero invisibility while holding our breath.”

That last was something Calista never imagined possible. “You had to hold your breath?”

“Yep. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the water due to all the oil.  We’d have to swim off every fifteen minutes or so: head out about half a klick so we could purge and fill our lungs, then we’d head back in for another fifteen minutes of work.”

Calista remembered seeing the news of the blowout and hearing how it was capped four days later, but the news never showed Harmony, or the others who worked with her. It makes sense: AFI probably keeps their mermaids as far away from publicity as possible.  Except for those times when they are used for just that reason

There was one other thing she wanted to know. “When you did that job, were you scared?”

Harmony sat quietly for about five seconds before she nodded. “Yeah, I was.” She stared across the lagoon. “It was dark, we were covered with oil, we’d only had about six hours instruction before going out on the job, and there was always the possibility we could get a lung-full of oil and suffocate.” She released a slow sigh. “Not everything we do is Disney material, that’s for damn sure.”

She slapped Calista’s fake tail before she could asked any more questions. “You rested up enough to swim back?”

Calista decided not to press Harmony on any more details of her work–at least not now.  “Yeah, sure.” She rolled on to her belly and started inching back into the surf. “Still haven’t gotten the hang of this.”

“Don’t worry.” Harmony chucked as she prepared to enter the ocean again. “In a couple of weeks it’ll feel natural as hell…”