Two days later, two representatives of AFI showed up at the bungalow while Calista was finishing breakfast and said they were there to escort her to the airport. When Izzy asked why they were taking her to the airport their only two responses was that it had to do with her training and that Izzy wasn’t allowed to accompany her friend.
After being told that everything she’d need was already at their destination, the two reps wheeled Calista out to one of the ubiquitous black SUVs, headed directly to the northeast end of the runway, and with the use of a hoist, managed to get her aboard a 757.
The inside of the 757 was outfitted to carry cargo—and part of that cargo consisted of a large, shallow tank of water that sat mid-fuselage. Calista saw that she wouldn’t be traveling along: Harmony was already seated on one side of the tank, resting against one of the two chair-backs at one end of the tank. “Hey. Welcome aboard.”
“What is this?” Handlers moved Calista into the seat next to Harmony and saw to it she was secured with a four-point harness. “Where are we going?”
“Taking a trip.” The back cabin down slammed shut and was locked. “We’re heading to Kwajalein Atoll to continue your training. We’ll be there for the next four days.”
Calista noted that the pool was only about half full. “They keep just enough so we don’t try out.” Harmony laughed. “They want as little as possible splashing about the cabin.”
The flight lasted just over three hours, touching down on Roi-Namur, the northern most island in the atoll. As the plane came to a stop Calista saw a large helicopter with the AFI emblem painted on the tail. “We’re still flying?”
“We’re going about thirty-five kilometers due south of here.” Harmony winked. “We won’t need tanks since we won’t be out of the water than long.”
The mermaid was right. It took the AFI people about twenty minutes to remove the two passengers from the 757 and secure them in the copter. After that it was a quick fifteen minute flight across the atoll to a small island with a helipad at the west end and a group of semi-submerged bungalows at the east end. Calista and Harmony were moved directly from the helicopter to the water, where they swam the half-mile to the east end and moved into the first bungalow they encountered.
The living area was much like the ground floor of her bungalow back on Johnson Island, though Calista was fascinated by the fact that just about every utensil and appliance a human could use was just a foot or so above water. “This is really nice. And we have a sea wall to keep out the waves.”
“Yeah, AFI thinks of everything.” Harmony removed a drink from the long cooler, opened it, and sat back against some foam. “I know you’re going to ask, so here’s the story. This is Illeginni Island. It used to be a launch site for missiles from the 1960s to the 80s, but these days AFI rents it out for mermaid housing and training. This bungalow is built just to the east of the missile launchers, by the way.”
Calista was getting her own drink. “Really?”
“Yeah. At one time there was a helipad right behind this house, but AFI prefers to use the one at the far end of the island for obvious reasons.”
“Obviously.” Calista stretched out after opening her drink. “What are we gonna do here?”
“You’re gonna work on a number of things. Undersea navigation for one. This is like the biggest lagoon in the world so there’s plenty of places to get lost. Also, there are a lot of ships sunk in the lagoon and we’re going to work on your exploration, observation, and salvaging skills.
“The last thing we’re gonna work on is getting you acclimated to deeper depths. There’s a huge shelf just to the south of us goes out about twelve miles and is a mile deep in some places. It’s the same for the area off the northwest of the atoll.”
Calista began feeling nervous. “We’re going down a mile?”
“Yep: klick and a half easy for some of the training. There’s stuff down there for us to practice on and I’m going to show you how to work in conditions there. Even in the tropics, a klick and a half down it’s cold. And dark.”
Given how nice her stay on Johnson Island had been up to this point, she couldn’t imagine working in cold water in almost complete darkness. “That’s something you don’t think about when it comes to this… job.”
“Nope. When all these girls sign up to get their tail, they think they’re gonna sit on rocks all day luring men to their deaths.” She laughed as she swam over to a trash receptacle and dropped off her drink container. “So, you ready for lunch?”
“You know it.” Calista drained her drink and disposed of the canister. “Do you want me to cook, or you?”
“Ha. At the Kwaj you gotta work for your food.” She moved to the edge of the covered area of the bungalow and pointed across the lagoon. “Thirty kilcks east-southeast of here is Omelek Island. It used to belong to the U.S., then SpaceX leased it for a while, now AFI runs it. The Merdining Hall is over there, as well as class rooms.” She chuckled as she turned towards her mentee. “The company likes to keep us fit.”
“It certainly sounds that way.” She eyed Harmony carefully. “I don’t know if I’m up for it yet—”
Harmony raised her right eyebrow. “Up for what?”
“You wanna race over there?”
“How about I go as quickly as I can and you follow, since you don’t know the way?”
Calista nodded and smiled. “If that’s the case, led on.”
Harmony smiled and dove underwater, flicked her tail hard three times, and leaped over the sea wall. She looked back and saw Calista manage the same. She got her bearing and headed off towards Omelek, thinking she was gonna be busy the next few days…