After two days Harmony was frustrated. Though Calista could now breathe water, she could only so after Harmony held her under long enough that she “drowned”. Since this wasn’t a natural way for mermaids to operate, Harmony felt only one option remained.
The High Dive.
In the days when Johnson Atoll was a military installation, a ship’s channel was dredged around the main island so vesicles could unload cargo on a huge concrete slab found on the north side of the island. Though there was little ship traffic these days, Aquatic Future Inc. still used the sea pier as a launching site for new submersibles and some of their smaller ships.
At the northern most point of the pier a tower rose fifteen meters, or fifty feet, above the ground. While one could take the stairs to the top, a small crane could be used to lift equipment or people from off the pier or from the ocean itself. directly below the tower and extending out thirty meters the lagoon floor sank twelve meters, or forty feet, marking one of the deepest spots on the atoll.
Early this morning Calista was sitting on a chair next to the tower, wiggling into her swim tail with Izzy’s help. The only explanation she’d been given was to be there at 09:00 and be ready to swim.
About a minute past the top of the hour a voice called out from below the level of the pier. “Hey. Someone swing the lift out for me, okay?” One of the two AFI assistants who met Calista and Izzy that morning lowered the lift into the water. About a minute later it returned with Harmony sitting upon it, holding on to one of the supporting guide rope. “And a good morning to you both.”
“Morning, Harmony.” Izzy was a bit speechless seeing Harmony in all her mermaid glory, her tail hanging down below the lift, swishing back and forth lazily as Calista finished getting ready.
Calista looked up the moment she finished getting her tail in place. “Good morning. Can I ask why we’re out here?”
“Sure.” Harmony held up a finger before Calista could speak. “Once you’re on the lift with me.” She motioned to the AFI assistants. “Ladies, if you’ll help my mentee, I’d be most obliged.”
While one assistant held the lift steady, Izzy and the other assistant picked Calista up by the shoulders and got her into a seated position. Before Calista could speak again, Harmony began giving instructions. “Okay, this is what I’d like you people to do. You two–” She motioned to the assistants. “Get on the guide ropes and keep the lift platform from swinging. Izzy, I’d like you to swing us out over the lagoon, then take us all the way to the top.”
Izzy looked up then back at the mermaid. “All the way?”
“You heard me.”
“You got it, then.” Izzy went over to the lift controls and began pressing buttons and working levers. Within thirty seconds the lift was over water and rising slowly to the upper level of the tower
Harmony turned to Calista. “Now you may ask.”
Calista slowly blew a raspberry as she glared at the mermaid on her right. “What are we doing?”
“We are doing the High Dive.”
“And what’s that?”
“When we get to the top I’ll give the word and we’ll both push-off and dive, head-first, into the water fifteen meters below. Once under water, we swim the twelve meters to the bottom and stay there for five minutes. After that we swim north-northeast to the surf line, which is one mile out. And, I should mention, we swim the whole way underwater, because that’s what mermaids do.
“If at any time you break surface before I give the signal to go up, we come back here and do it again. Also, if at any time I have to hold you under and ‘drown’ you to get you to breathe water–do you wanna guess what happens?”
Calista nodded slowly. “We come back here and do it again.”
“How many chances do I get?”
Harmony chuckled as the lift gave a slight jolt as it stopped. “As many chances as it takes. This is for all the mermaid marbles, sweetie. We keep doing this today until you do it perfectly. And that means if we miss lunch and dinner because you can’t complete the test to my satisfaction, then get ready for a long day.”
“Damn.” Calista sighed as she looked out towards the horizon. “This has got to be one of the strangest things that’s happened here.”
“Not by a long shot.” Harmony smiled as she brushed her hair back. “Near midnight on 1 August, 1958, the U.S. Government detonated a four megaton hydrogen bomb about seventy-seven kilometers directly over the island. Turned night to day, heated things up for a few seconds, and sorta made a mess of the atmosphere. Took like eight hours before they could get a radio signal out of here.”
Calista turned to Harmony with a shocked look on her face. “Are you kidding?”
“Yeah.” Harmony patted Calista’s swim tail. “It was only a three-point-eight megaton blast: all the rest is true.” She nodded straight ahead. “You ready?”
“Humph.” Calista drew in a breath. “I’ll try.”
“‘Do, or do not. There is no try’.” Harmony looked at her mentee with a raised eyebrow and made an undulating sound similar to what one might expect coming from a dying cow. “On three. One… two…” She gripped the seat of the lift. “THREE.”
Calista pushed off the same time as Harmony and dove head down towards the water. She hit hard, though her hands did the job of cutting through the surface. Keeping her mentor in her peripheral vision, Calista began kicking towards the bottom as arrived only a second after Harmony.
They sat on the bottom of the clear water watching each other. Calista saw how relaxed the mermaid was, and for probably the first time noticed how she seemed to draw in water slowly, then expel it a minute or so later after her lungs had removed every molecule of oxygen and filled the water with waste CO2.
Just like she was supposed to breathe.
After a minute Calista reached out and took Harmony’s hand. The mermaid seemed a little surprised but took no other action. After Calista pointed at Harmony then back at her–their sign language for Watch Me–Calista flatted her body out as she kept looking at Harmony–
She expelled all the air in her lungs and, after a pause of perhaps three seconds, took a deep gulp of sea water.
Her body shook as she overcame her fear of breathing water, but at no time did Calista try to break for the surface. A minute later she was floating calmly along side her mentor, who was smiling broadly.
After another minute, once Harmony was certain Calista was breathing normally, she released her hand and motioned with her hands: Follow Me. Calista fell in behind her mentor, kicking with her own tail and breathing as normally as any mermaid…
Postscript: The historical event described by Harmony is real. The US Air Force performed the Hardtack Teak test on August 1, 1958, launching a 3.8 megaton hydrogen bomb aboard a Redstone rocket. The detonation was supposed to take place six miles to the south, but a programming error had the rocket going straight up, allowing the bomb to explode 47.7 miles directly over Johnson Island. As indicated by Harmony, the explosion ionized the atmosphere around the atoll enough that radio communications with the outside world was impossible for almost eight hours.
And just as Harmony indicated, the explosion did turn night into day. And we have the before and after photos–taken by high speed cameras–to prove it:
Also, many thanks to J.S. Pailly, for reminding me that even mermaids can be huge geeks at times–