It’s that day again, and believe it or not, I’m feeling a bit of–pride?
Before and after of my time in derby.
The night I was recruited:
And a year later:
Well, Happy Pride Month! Yeah, it’s 1 June and LGBTQ+ Pride month is upon us. I can’t say if I’ll have a good time of this month or now, but I’ll do my best.
Last night was good for me. Getting out of derby jail means I can once again attend league functions and that’s what I did. I was out at River Bend Brewery in Newport, PA, about 45 minutes northwest of The Burg, and it was a great time.
Coming home was a different story, as I spent part of the night driving home in a downpour so great that at times I couldn’t see the road. Add to that driving down dark, hilly, winding country roads, and it was an event in of itself. But I made it home safe and sound, which is why I’m writing this now.
And speaking of writing, I finished my mermaid story last night as well. So with the exception of one day, I managed a part of the story every day in May, though last night was a close one: I posted the last part of the story about four minutes before midnight. But that was still May, so there.
And speaking of that story, I’ve been busy with something today:
Yeah, I’m working on the possibility of taking my little mermaid novella–about 26,300 words little–and putting it up on Amazon for sale. Nothing big, just $.99, which I believe is the minimum you can charge for a Kindle book, but that’s not bad. I may even have someone lined up to do a cover, for which I’ll cut them in for a whole 10% of whatever money I make. It may not make a lot of money–which means the story won’t make much of a splash, get it?–but it’ll be something I published. And, why not? I spent the month writing the story and I’m proud of it.
And if I have some success with this, who knows what’s next?
I’m supposed to do my shot right now, but the truth is I’m craving some ice cream bad and after that I’ll likely do my shot. And after that I may settle in for the evening and start binge watching Babylon 5, which is on Amazon Prime this month. If you haven’t seen this and you have Amazon Prime, watch it. It’s probably the best science fiction series ever, at least where space opera is involved, and while it doesn’t have the wide base that Star Trek or Star Wars has, it’s so much better in so many ways…
As for any other writing that needs getting done–yeah, I’m working on it. I do what to write, but I’m thinking about what I want to write next. I’m strange that way, you know? But the writing is coming.
I just have to coax it out.
These muses are stubborn things…
Calista was exhausted. Not so much from the work she just completed for the UK Royal Navy about three hundred kilometers east of Diego Garcia—the Navy had issues with a “package” that required retrieval—but more from the fifteen hour flight from their to Johnson Atoll, which pretty much tested the range of AFI’s specially outfitted 777-300ER.
Though she’d slept through most of the flight, remaining in a half-tank for the entirety of the flight wore her out through sheer boredom. She knew if she were still human she could have gotten up and walked about the cabin—but there wasn’t any need to think that, for she hadn’t been human for a little more than nine months.
But a few good thing came out of the trip. One, this was Calista’s first dive with her in charge of a team of four other mermaids and they managed to recover the Senior Service’s package in half the time they estimated it would take. Two, because they left Diego Garcia at 18:30 Local Time, they not only got back a day crossing the International Date Line, but still landed at Johnson Atoll at 17:50, an hour before they left the Indian Ocean on the same day.
Most importantly, Calista was home. After being taken off the plane she was place in a speed boat and taken to the drop off point about a hundred meters from Down Below Town. She gave the pilot a good natured wave and dived right in, heading quickly towards the mermaid enclave with a few flicks of her powerful tail.
She expected Harmony to spot her right away and she wasn’t disappointed. Her former mentor, now close friend, swam towards her, stopped when she was but a few meters away. “How was Diego?”
“Pain in the butt.” Calista slowed her pace as Harmony moved along side. “You could tell they didn’t want us there, but they knew they had no choice. And it made them pissy because they couldn’t micromanage us by being directly on site while we worked.”
“Screw ‘em.” Harmony chuckled. “You get their toy for them?”
Calista nodded. “Oh, yeah.”
“Was it important?”
“Important enough that we had to sign NDAs before leaving the airport.”
“Point taken.” Harmony’s tone softened. “A few of us are heading over to Hikina Island after dinner. Just gonna hang out and relax and chat.” She turned towards her friend. “I know you must be beat, but I thought you guys might want to join us.”
Though she was tired, Calista also thought spending some time with friends was a good way to start out a week of down-time so she could adjust to local time and rest. “I’ll see how Princess is doing, but I’m guessing she wants to get out for a little as well.”
“Watch out.” Harmony’s voice took on a warning tone. “She nearly snapped my head off the day before when I checked up on her.”
“Thanks for the heads-up. What time is everyone meeting?”
Calista gave Harmony a quick wave. “See you then.” A quick flip of her tail and she was off toward her bungalow.
She swam in and slid the door closed behind her. “And how’s my two baby?”
Izzy looked up from the bed upon which she lay and gave Calista a kiss before answering her question. “I’m fine, but this little shit—” She pointed to her swollen belly. “She won’t settle down. Swish, swish, swish with the tail all day and night. I’m ready for this pregnancy to be over.”
Calista folded her tail under her and settled next to Izzy’s bed. “I’m sorry The Newt is being a pest.” She slowly ran her hand over Izzy’s belly, feeling the movement of the baby inside. “She’s a swimmer, that’s for sure.”
“Well, I wish she’d swim the hell out of my belly ‘cause I’m tried of her crap.” She sighed as she looked at her best friend and lover. “If I’d know the gestation period of a mermaid was ten and a half months, I’d have never had sex with you.”
“Liar.” Calista touched Izzy’s lips. “You never seemed to complain once we were able to have sex again after that first time.” She moved her hand down past Izzy’s belly and felt the smooth muscles of her tail beneath her almost lime green scales. And now that you’re one of us, that sex was so much better.
Though she’d never admitted any wrongdoing, Harmony was correct in her assumption that day so many months ago: Calista knew Izzy’s cycle down to the day. And she’d read many of the Internet tales that spoke of what happened when mermaids and human women not only had intercourse, but of the consequences of getting pregnant…
Within a week of arriving at Johnson Island Calista was certain that not only would Aquatic Future Inc. have refused her request to transfer Isabelle to the Special Assets, but she was just as certain Izzy would have said no to the idea, even if it had meant the two of them being together. Back then Calista still thought of herself as straight—but then, she didn’t know everything there was to know about mermaid reproductive, despite all the lurid tales she’d read online. And once she knew—
It was as she’d told Harmony that day: as a human woman she could never become intimate with Izzy no matter how much she cared for and, yes, loved her, but once she wasn’t human it didn’t matter. And she also suspected that once Izzy was confirmed pregnant, AFI wouldn’t want to terminate the existence of another mermaid, this one created the old fashion way—
So since it was impossible for a human to bring a mermaid baby to term, the only solution that remained was to made sure a mermaid could.
Calista was also correct in her summation that once Izzy knew what was going to happen to her, she’d accepted it, if for no other reason than they’d still remain together. While the transition didn’t go as smoothly as hoped for, once Izzy reached the point where she found it necessary to sleep underwater—with Calista beside her—the process went, well, swimmingly.
It was a devious and somewhat underhanded way to keep them together, but Calista knew from watching Izzy’s body language these last nine months that she held no ill will towards her. If anything, Calista felt her friend’s growing love and suspected that once their daughter was old enough to have others watch her, Izzy was going to enjoy being mentored by her friend—with Harmony supervising, of course.
Calista planted a light kiss on Izzy’s lips and watched her eyes light up. She lay her head upon Izzy’s shoulder and felt her companion run her fingers through her floating ginger hair. In that moment she understood what this moment really meant. Because for anyone in love, it wasn’t just enough to come home to one’s lover and companion—
They wanted to come home to their best friend.
And for the first time in her life, Calista was home.
“I can’t believe you did this.” Harmony was doing the mermaid version of pacing, slowly drifting from one side of her underwater bungalow to the other, all the while focusing her fuming upon her live-in mentee. “You got Izzy pregnant.” She stopped and faced Calista, who stared back with a somewhat blank expression on her face. “Why?”
Calista’s expression didn’t change. “It just happened.”
“Bullshit. Bull-shit.” Harmony closed to within about a quarter of a meter from the passive mermaid. “I’ve seen you at work: things just don’t happen with you.” She backed away and spent about twenty seconds with her back to Calista. “Tell me—” She turned back towards her mentee. “You spend a lot of time at Izzy’s? Say, after going out?”
“After a night of dancing and cosmos?”
“Mimosas, actually.” For the first time Calista smiled. “You got the dancing part right, thought.”
“Spend the night there?”
“Yes, I did.”
“So you had a chance to use her bathroom—”
“What are you getting at?” Calista didn’t seem perturbed as much as she seemed tired of the questions.
“Well, from what I remember from my human days, when you stay over at someone’s place, you have a chance to brush your teeth and freshen up so it doesn’t seem like you’re taking a Walk of Shame from someone’s place.” Harmony eyes Calista carefully. “You probably knew Izzy didn’t use birth control.”
After five seconds of inaction Calista nodded. “I asked her about it once; she said she didn’t need it. I thought it was because she wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, but…” She shrugged. “I was wrong.”
Harmony hovered in place while slowly running her right index finger back and forth over her lower lip. “You knew Izzy’s cycle, didn’t you?” Calista sat without saying a word, but Harmony saw something in her eyes. “Of course you did. You guys spent a lot of time together back in Florida, and then there was all the time here.” She looked down and sighed. “Of course.”
Calista’s tone betrayed her sudden unease. “Of course what?”
“Of course you knew when she had her period—which means you knew when she was ovulating.” A short, sharp laugh came from Harmony as she moved slowly towards her roommate. “Son of a bitch. All the while you were putting shit off, delaying when you wanted to say your final goodbyes to Izzy—you were waiting for her to ovulate.”
Harmony continued on before Calista had the chance to respond. “And I’m gonna guess, knowing how much of a mermaid geek you were before becoming one, you probably read everything you could on us. And that would include—” A smile flashed into existence. “All the urban legends about mermaids getting human women pregnant.”
Nearly ten seconds of silence passed before Calista gave one, slow nod. “I’d read about it a couple of years back. Something about an employee who got pregnant from sleeping with one of the mermaids she did lab work for. There was never any real conformation as to what happened other than the woman vanished, but—” She shrugged. “It didn’t take an expert to figure out what might have happened.”
“What might have happened?” Harmony snorted. “She damn near died because you got her pregnant.”
“But she didn’t.”
“No, she didn’t.” Harmony moved in a slow circle. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Why stop now?”
“Why the hell didn’t you sleep with Izzy before all—” Harmony motioned to the undersea habitat. “This.”
Calista laughed. “Because I wasn’t a lesbian.”
Harmony’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “And that’s different now?”
“Of course it is.” Calista came off her seat, bringing her eyes about a half meter from her mentor’s. “As you like to constantly remind me, I’m not a human heterosexual woman any longer: I’m an intersex mermaid that just happens to look like the top half of a human woman.” She grunted as she shook her head. “Having intercourse with Izzy then didn’t make me a lesbian: it meant that it was possible for me to perform the act with a human. Besides—” She moved back but kept her eyes locked with Harmony. “It’s no secret you were planing on being my first.”
Harmony’s face finally broke into a smile as she chuckled. “Well, someone has to show you how to make love, mermaid style.”
Calista finally closed the distance and threw her arms around Harmony’s shoulders. “You still can. After all, can’t I have my cake and eat it, too?”
Harmony slowly rolled her eyes towards the ceiling of her bungalow. “The way you think things out—” She gazed into Calista’s eyes as she placed her arms over her shoulders. “You are gonna make one hell of a salvage coordinator.”
The test was a simple one. A fake submersible craft was placed in waters nearly eleven hundred meters deep a few kilometers beyond the west surf line of Johnson Atoll. The job for Calista and Harmony was similar to the one they conducted at Kwajalein: set up the salvage site and rig the submersible so they could raise it off the surface. The biggest difference here was they were first examining the site so they could make recommendation to the salvage team, and rather than have a boat give constant support from the surface in the form of supplying air and guide lines, all equipment was to be placed on-site, giving the mermaids complete control with little interference from above.
Harmony called this The Alvin Test, named after the famous submersible that sank in fifteen hundred meters of water in 1968 and was eventually recovered through the use of a DSV. The biggest difference here was replacing the deep submergence with OSJs: Mermaids On the Job. And in the event the operation took more than a day, the OSJs could always set up camp and stay for a while—
There was also another difference that made this test far different than the one back at the Kwaj: Calista was the site chief. That meant that she supervised Harmony and every important decision was hers. Harmony felt it was time to let her mentee spread her wings, so to speak, and learn all the ins-and-outs of having so supervise a crew. Albeit her crew consisted of one mermaid, but it was a start.
After spending a bit more than an hour going over the test vehicle Calista hovered a few meters to the right of the coning tower, looking at the submersible with a frown.
Harmony floated over and noticed the look. “What’s on your mind?”
“The initial request was to put an inflatable bladder inside the hull and inflate to create buoyancy.” Calista tapped her chin. “We do that, we’re gonna need a sleeve in the hatchway to let out the water. And there’s the possibility the inflated bladder could catch on something and rip, or damage equipment, or both.”
Harmony float up along side. “So you wanna put sealant over hatch like we did at Kwaj?”
“No. With that hull we had multiple entry/exit points on the hull, so you could pump in air at one point and eject water at other.” She flipped her tail out and under her, something she did when she was thinking. “It looks to me—”
A voice from their support craft, Sedna, interrupted the conversation. “Calista? Harmony? You got a minute?”
The two mermaids exchanged looks as Calista rolled her eyes. “We do now.”
“You’re to drop what you’re doing and surface. After that you’re to report to the atoll.”
Now it was Harmony’s turn to look perplexed. “Please remind JA we’re four klicks out on the West Shelf. And they were the ones who authorized this test.”
There was just a touch of annoyance in the dive supervisor’s voice. “They know that, Harmony. Surface at once.”
Calista made the call. “Rodger, Sedna. On our way.” She pointed towards the surface. “Let’s find out what’s going on.”
They were back at the surface a little over five minutes later. After vomiting out their water, the two mermaids swam over to the stern of the Sedna and the access shelf that was used for helping them in and out of the water. Harmony was the first up. “What the hell’s going on, Poppo?”
The dive supervisor, Gregor Popovich, only shrugged. “I’m just like you: I get orders from Central and follow them.”
Calista twisted the water out of her hair. “And what do your orders say?”
“They say you’re to wait here, that a boat is coming for you. And they’re to take you both back to your—” Gregor pointed at the ginger mermaid. “—old bungalow?”
“What for?” She looked up at the dive supervisor with a puzzled appearance. “I closed that out weeks ago.”
Gregor held up a hand. “Like I said—”
“I know: you get orders, you follow them.” She glanced at Harmony. “I guess we wait for the boat.”
They didn’t wait long. A few minutes after they surfaced a speed boat approached and came to a stop about ten meters from the stern of the Sedna. The mermaids swam over and hopped inside: once aboard, the speedboat turned and headed back to the atoll at top speed.
The boat rounded the south end of Johnson Island and approached Calista’s old bungalow. While the deck chairs and table were still out, there didn’t appear to be anyone waiting for us. The boat closed to about thirty meters and slowed enough to allow the mermaids to jump back into the water before heading off to dock.
Calista boosted herself up on to her old patio deck only seconds ahead of Harmony. She scrutinized the property. “There’s no one here.”
“Au contraire.” Izzy stepped out of the bungalow and on to the patio. “I was in the loft when I heard you guys approaching.” She looked back at the structure. “I guess it’s hard to see inside when your eyes are used to water.”
Harmony eyed the woman. “Izzy, what are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you, too, Harmony.” She laughed at her own comeback. “I’m back because I’ve been reassigned. AFI thought it best you both hear it from me.”
While Harmony seemed less than thrilled, Calista couldn’t hide her excitement. “Really? That’s great!”
Izzy nodded as she looked away. “Yeah, great.”
Since she was the one with her wits about her, Harmony sensed that Izzy’s return might not merit celebration just yet. “So, what are you doing? I remember Calista saying you were in marketing, but I can’t imagine we need that way the hell out here.”
“No, you’re right, you don’t.” She crossed her arms, he hands over her tummy. “May as well just spit it out…” Izzy turned to Harmony. “I’m pregnant.” She affixed her gaze upon a now-startled Calista. “And that makes you sort of the father…”
For perhaps ten seconds Izzy had trouble keeping her eyes open, even though the light was low. Once she was able to keep them ope for more than a few seconds it became apparent she was in a room that wasn’t in her apartment, and given that she found herself positioned on her back, she assumed she was in a hospital.
Now that she had something of a grip on the where, the how and why were nagging her—
The door to her room opened and a woman wearing nurses scrubs entered the room. “Good. You are awake.” She came in and checked her vitals on the monitor before speaking to her directly. “How are you feeling? Still a little dizzy?”
For some reason the question resonated with her. “Just a little. I had trouble keeping my eyes open at first.”
“That’s to be expected.” The nurse checked the IV before elevating the head of Izzy’s bed slightly. “I understand you took a nasty blow to your head when you fell; gave yourself a pretty good concussion.”
Izzy closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “That’s nice to know.”
The nurse said nothing else, only turned and headed out of the room, softly closing the door behind her. It didn’t stay closed, however: about a minute later the door opened and a woman who Izzy had difficulty placing entered, shutting the door so gently it almost didn’t make a sound when it latched. She approached the bed. “I see you’re finally awake, Ms. Mundy.”
It was only after the woman spoke that Izzy was able to place a name with the voice. “Ms. Gillford. What are you doing here?”
“Checking up on you, my dear.” She pulled a chair closer to the bed before sitting and getting right to the point. “You passed out at work. A few of your co-workers said you walked out of your office, made it about half-way to a printer, and collapsed. You were rushed to the hospital and were there for three hours before we received some interesting phone calls…”
Since Izzy hadn’t an idea about what happened, the only thing she could do was ask questions. “Because?”
“Your blood work came back with some rather interesting results. They were particularly puzzled by a protein marker they found. At first they thought you might have cancer, but after our people looked at the results we identified it easily.”
Uh uh. “Umm, yeah…” Izzy tried to appear as sheepish as possible, which wasn’t difficult given her current condition. “I didn’t think—”
“You had intercourse with a mermaid.” Ms. Gillford’s expression didn’t change save for a slight rise in her left eyebrow. “I’m assuming your partner was Calista.”
“That… would be a yes.”
Ms. Gillford crossed her legs, her voice remaining soft and conversational. “How exactly did this occur?”
Izzy was able to focus somewhat on events two weeks ago, though details were extremely foggy. “It was Calista’s last night before moving out to Down Below Town. She got permission to drink some champagne. After a couple of glasses we got to talking, we got to cuddling, we expressed certain feelings, and…” Izzy winched as she tried to shrug. “It just happened.”
“It just happened?”
“Yeah. I mean, her, um, well—” Izzy was having difficulty with the word. “Her junk sorta just popped out—”
“Oh, God.” For the first time Ms. Gillford’s expression changed as she rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, I know. Anyway, she was curious about how it worked and so was I, so we just sorta, you know—” Izzy brought the tipped of her index fingers together and bounced them off each other a couple of times. “Did it.”
Ms. Gillford looked away for a second as she composed herself. “I suppose that was a good thing. After all, with Calista being aroused, there was the possibility of self-insemination—”
“Wait: what?” Izzy winced against as she tried to sit up. “They can do that?”
“Yes, but only if it’s something they absolutely intend on doing.” Ms. Gillford sat back and gave out a small sign. “But for a new mermaid like Calista—one who doesn’t know exactly how everything yet works—there’s always the possibility of that happening.” She eyed Izzy hard. “That was something she was supposed to learn over the next few weeks.”
Izzy turned her head a bit to the right as she mumbled softly. “Guess I beat Harmony to that.” She slowly turned back to Ms. Gillford. “Am I in trouble?”
Ms. Gillford shook her head. “No, you’re not. However, we are going to monitor you for a bit longer before releasing you.”
It took nearly ten seconds before the implications of the last statement hit Izzy. “Wait—I’m in the hospital, so why—?” Then it dawned on her. “I’m in St. Augustine, ain’t I? This the Matenzas River Facility.”
“Correct on both counts.” Ms.Gillford crossed her arm as she ran a finger over her lower lip. “Given what happened, we thought it best our own people monitor you.”
There was something about Ms. Gillford’s statement that bothered Izzy. “Wait a minute: I don’t have any leftover nanoids inside me, do I? I thought they flushed out of Calista a month or so ago.”
“That’s correct, they did. And, no: you don’t have any nanoids inside you.” Ms. Gillford’s express turned severe. “I’ve waited to speak with you for a few days: you were in a coma for almost a week.”
“What?” Izzy didn’t notice her head hurting from raising her voice.
“Yes. Five days ago our doctors thought they may lose you. Fortunately, they were able to save you.”
“Good for them.” Izzy breathed out a long sigh. “So how long am I gonna be here?”
Ms. Gillford cleared her throat. “Doctors say you should be able to travel in three days.”
Izzy’s brow furrowed. “Travel? Why?”
“Isabelle—” Ms. Gillford leaned her elbow upon the bed. “It’s safe to say a career change is in order…”
Harmony watched quietly as Calista set down her bedding and began laying it out in the area set aside for her. Outwardly the mermaid showed no emotion, but her insides told a far different story.
When Calista informed her yesterday afternoon that she was going to spend the night at the bungalow, Harmony feared the worst. She hadn’t anticipated getting Calista to make a clean break of her old life was going to be this difficult, and the hidden emotions Izzy held for her best friend didn’t help the situation, either.
That meant Harmony expected a lot of moping about as Calista suffered from whatever guilt Izzy would lay on her before they said their goodbyes. Instead, Calista showed up with the bedding from her bungalow in tow, all smiles and happiness.
While this left Harmony relieved, it also made her wonder what the hell happened last night…
The moment Calista finished setting up her bed Harmony floated over to her. “How you feeling this morning?”
Calista gave her mentor a blank look for a few seconds before responding. “Pretty good. Why do you ask? Do we have a lot ahead of us today?”
“Actually, no.” Harmony found the question a little puzzling as she’d told Calista late yesterday afternoon that they pretty much had today free. “We can do just about anything we like. I thought I’d take you around and introduce you to the others here.”
Calista smiled. “That would be good.” She looked about underwater bungalow she’d share with Harmony for the next three months. “Do you think we should rearrange things in here? After all, I’ll probably end up getting a few things of my own over the next few months.”
“Um, sure.” Harmony motioned with her head towards two short pedestals that were used as chairs. “Sit for a minute: I want to ask you a few things.”
“Sure.” Calista flipped her tail a couple of times and took a seat, folding her tail under her butt. “What’s up?”
Harmony waited until she was good and comfortable before speaking. “So Izzy… you guys said goodbye?”
“Yes, we did.” Calista rested her hands in her lap. “It was kinda sad, but at least we left on good terms.”
“And those terms were?”
“Well, we’re going to try and stay in touch. Izzy knows I can receive something like a phone call down here, but for the next three months I’m only allowed contact with the outside world twice a month.” Calist shrugged. “She said she was good with that.”
Harmony was surprised to hear this news: she’d expected Izzy would have been pissed that contact was so limited. “I’m glad to hear that. And what about you? Are you good with that?
“Not being able to speak with her that often?”
Calista glanced off to the right for a few months before giving the mermaid version of as long sigh. “It not something with which I’m totally happy, but I understand why AFI has it that way.” She turned back to her mentor. “It’s like you said: I’m supposed to be putting my old life behind me and I can’t really do that if I’m chatting all the time with people on dry land. Right?”
Harmony was surprised to hear her mentee put the situation in such terms, as she’d thought of her own three months of “Mermaid Living” the same way. “You’re right: if you’re gonna put your human life behind you, it’s best not to have all that many contact with the people you used to know.” She allowed a moment of silence to pass before adding a last comment. “Even if they’re your best friend.”
Watching her mentee’s body language and listening to the tone of her voice, Harmony was convinced that Calista wasn’t being facetious, or trying to cover up a hurt by acting brave. She really does seem to have put Izzy behind her—at least for today. I’ll watch her just in case, though. “You’re completely right.” She pushed straight up off her chair. “You wanna go meet people now?”
A smile lit up Calista’s face as she rose off the pedestal with a flick of her tail. “Why not?”
“Are you sure you’re gonna be able to drink this?” Izzy brought the bottle of champagne and two glass out to the patio where Calista sat on the edge overlooking the lagoon. “After months of being limited to cider, won’t this do a number on you?”
Calista chuckled but didn’t turn around. Instead, she kept her eyes fixed on the nighttime horizon on the other side of the lagoon. “I cleared it with both Harmony and the lab.” She looked to her right as Izzy sat on the patio edge as well, letting her legs dangle over the side. “I’m allowed two glasses, no more.”
“I’ll make sure they’re full glasses.” Izzy uncorked the bottle and filled both glassed almost to the brim. “Here you go.”
“Isn’t this a little… full?” Calista eyed the glass carefully. “Aren’t the bubbles supposed to mix with the air to bring out the flavor?”
Izzy shrugged. “I have no idea. I just drink this stuff.” She held her glass out for a toast. “Happy graduation, and to your new life.”
“To my new life.” She took a good sip and set the glass aside, thinking about the events of the day—
After the lab exams the lab told Calista that they saw no reason for her to move into Down Below Town and proceed to the next part of her training, which consisted of adapting to living underwater twenty-four/seven. As she’d told Izzy when she returned for lunch, while she could sleep here at the bungalow, AFI now expected her to spend the majority of her time at the mermaid enclave, which meant her time above water was mostly coming to and end…
Just as Izzy said, it was a graduation of sorts. Calista had passed all her testing up to this point, that above and below the waves. For the next three months, however, all of Calista’s testing and living would occur underwater. Even if she remained at the bungalow, she was expected to sleep there only and to spend the rest of her time at Down Below Town.
Which meant her human life was, more or less, coming to an end.
Izzy swung her right leg forward and back. “Anything in particular you’re going to miss once you move out to Mermaid Town?”
Calista snorted. “Silly.” She lowered her head slightly as she glanced at her friend through her through her thick, ginger hair. “I’m going to miss you. The rest of my life—” She making a piffting sound as she waved her right hand through the air. “I don’t care about at all. But you…” She reached over and took Izzy’s left hand in her right. “Not seeing you on a regular basis is going to hurt.”
“Yeah.” Izzy squeezed Calista’s hand. “You’re the one thing I’m going to miss a whole lot.” She turned her gaze across the lagoon without releasing her friend’s hand. “I hope they’ll at least let me call once in a while.”
“From what I understand that’s not all that difficult.” She released Izzy’s hand. “Can I ask a question?”
Izzy didn’t look away from the ocean beyond their bungalow. “Sure.”
“Before I left, were you ever going to tell me you loved me?”
“What?” Izzy’s head whipped around, locking upon Calista’s smiling face. “How did—?’
“Oh, please.” Calista chuckled lightly as she folded her hands together under her naked breasts. “I’ve suspected it for at least a couple of years. I mean, you’re far too protective of me to be just a friend.” She looked down at her tail. “Plus the way you’ve acted these last few weeks…”
Though Izzy knew she was about to have her heart-broken, she had to hear. “Yes?”
“I’ve gotten a lot better at reading body language that Harmony suspects.” When Calista turned her head towards her friend, her eyes were misty with tears. “Every move you made said, ‘I’m losing my love’.”
Izzy had absolutely no idea how to respond to Calista’s observations. “I should have left when you were away for training.”
“Why? So you wouldn’t have to hear me say that?” Calista shook her head. “Wouldn’t you rather know that I knew, instead of wondering the rest of your life?”
“Well, you know, that’s one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations.” Izzy wiped a few tears away from her eyes. “So what does it mean?”
“I means I know you love me—and I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.” Calista drank half her glass in a couple of gulps before moving closer to her friend. “And wouldn’t you prefer to spend a last night with the person you love instead of with your closest friend?”
Izzy reached out this time and took Calista’s hand in hers. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve having you in my life.”
Calista leaned her head against Izzy’s shoulder. “You know what you did.”
Izzy glanced over at the thick tangle of hair resting against her. “What did I do?”
“You helped make my life worth living.” Calista tilted her head back and looked up into Izzy’s eyes. “And my dreams worth sharing.”
The bungalow was quiet as morning vanished and moved closer to noon. Earlier Calista and Izzy shared breakfast—Izzy at the table and Calista sitting on the edge of the inner pool—after which Calista was picked up and taken to the lab for what was likely her last series of land-based test, after which she’d headed off into the lagoon to work with Harmony.
This meant Izzy was going to be alone for nearly the whole day, as it was likely Calista wouldn’t return until some time after 18:00. That wasn’t new: she’d been along for the four days Calista was away for training—and given that Calista slept underwater these days, as far as Izzy was concerned she was along all the time—
“What the hell are you still doing here?”
Izzy grabbed a hard cider from the refrigerator before turning to face Harmony, who was sitting on the edge of the inner pool. “You just gonna keep swimming in here like you own the place?”
Harmony ignored the question. “Why haven’t you—”
Izzy walked pasted the angry mermaid. “Outside—” She pointed at the patio. “It’s too nice a day to stay indoors.”
As Izzy was taking her seat Harmony leaped over the seawall into the ocean, boosting herself up on to the patio seconds later. She pulled her hair back from her face before saying anything. “You were supposed to be gone by now.”
“No.” Izzy took a slow slip from the cider bottle. “You suggested I leave by now. I decided I wouldn’t accept your suggestion.”
“Dammit, Izzy.” Harmony flipped her tail up and on to the deck as she spun to face the human woman. “I’m trying to get Calista to leave this world behind, and you’re still here—”
“Keeping her connected?” She shrugged. “Sue me in mermaid court.”
Harmony slammed her hand against the deck. “Bitch, do you have any idea what sort of harm you’re going?”
“Bitch do you think I care about what you care?” Izzy was on her feet and stormed over to her unwanted guest, towering over the mermaid. “I’m not ready to let her go. Sorry if you can’t get that through your fishy brain, but…” Izzy looked away for a moment. “I can’t let her go. It just—” She turned her back to the lagoon and her guest.
Harmony was certain she knew the problem. “It hurts, doesn’t it?”
Izzy spun around, tears in her eyes. “Damn right it hurts. But it’s not like you’d know that, right?”
The silence on the deck went on for nearly five seconds, so when Harmony spoke in a low tone her words hit hard. “When I was finally accepted for this program, I’d been with my partner for six years. Two times I applied in three years and after the second rejection I was like, ‘That’s it: I’m not getting in’. My partner urged me to submit another application—she insisted. She knew it was my dream and she told me that no matter what, she was behind me the whole way. So when I was finally accepted after that third time, she came here with me, just as you came with Calista.
“I was told I was going off to Kwajalein a couple of days before I left and I couldn’t tone down the excitement when speaking with my partner. It took me a while to realize my departure was bothering her and the moment I got around to asking her how she felt, we started fighting. It got so bad I didn’t talk to her for a day before leaving and swam over to the east end of the runway for pickup the day I flew out.
“Then… she was still here when I got back and the argument started again. Anger; hurt; sadness—it was all there. She let it all out and it got so bad I left here and swam over to Sand Island. I beached myself and cried for a couple of hours.” Harmony signed. “Do you know how exhausting it is to cry that long, to rid yourself of all that you feel is wrong through your tears?”
Izzy slowly nodded. “I’ve got an idea.”
“Then you know how I felt.”
“What happened after that?” Izzy returned to her chair and hugged her knees with her arms.
“I slept out in the open at Sand Island that night; I mean, it’s not like the weather’s gonna suck or something. In the morning I found my mentor and I spent that night with her at Down Below. I didn’t go back until two days after returning from Kwaj.” She looked out over the lagoon and shrugged. “She was gone. I didn’t ask if she left on her own or if she was told to go. She was gone and I haven’t heard from her since.”
Harmony looked down the length of her tail, taping her fingers against what would be her lap if she were human. “Calista still talks about you. I don’t know if she has feelings for you the say as yours, but she’s having a hard time letting go.” She looked up at Izzy with a hard look. “You need to cut the cord. You need to get up and go and just make this a clean break.”
Izzy looked at the deck as she shook her head. “That’s gonna kill her—”
“And a slow pull-away won’t?” Harmony slapped her tail hard against the deck to get Izzy’s attention. “You need to be the adult here. You need to tell Calista it’s time she went her way, you yours, and leave it at that.”
Izzy said nothing for a few seconds, then slowly made it to her feet. She looked down at the mermaid. “Tonight. I’ll tell her I’m leaving tomorrow and that’s that.” She tilted her head quickly to the left. “Okay?”
Harmony didn’t even need time to consider the question. “Do it tonight and be gone tomorrow.” She rolled over on to her back and slid her tail over the side of the patio, eventually falling into the lagoon with a splash.
Izzy picked up her cider bottle and drained it in a couple of gulps. “Tonight. Got it.”
After a long day deep in the ocean Calista enjoyed stretching out in the “hot tub”, a section of the bungalow she shared with Harmony where the water was heated to just shy of fifty Centigrade, or around one hundred and twenty Fahrenheit. She unfurled her tail and positioned it over one of the many jets set into the walls.
This and the rubdown they received after dinner on Omelek Island made spending the day in cold darkness worth while.
Though Harmony and she did quite a lot of work, it wasn’t nearly as bad as she expected. Yes, it was dark, and it was cold, and there wasn’t a time when she didn’t feel the pressure twelve hundred meters of what exerted—
However, the lights lowered by the Savannah kept them test set illuminated well. After getting used to the temperatures—thanks to insulating layer of skin and fat her new DNA provided—she rarely gave it any thought. And though the water pressure was approximately one hundred and nineteen atmospheres, she managed to ignore the discomfort after fifteen minutes at depth.
It was a long test: they spent nearly nine hours on the bottom. But they found all the holes in the hull and deck and sealed them, created openings where they attached valve fittings so the Savannah could pump out water, fitted the flotation bladders and filled them, and followed the test hull upward, correcting the Savannah personnel when they saw the hull beginning to list or pitch too much.
With the test hull secured next to the research vessel, Calista and Harmony rode in their tank back to Omelek, unloaded, ate, got a hour-long massage, and were taken back to their bungalow via speed boat.
Harmony swam in with a hard cider in each hand. “Here’s to a job well done.” She handed one to Calista as she sat back and opened hers in one smooth movement.
“And to my mentor and partner—” Calista opened her cider and clicked it against Harmony’s. “—who did all the hard work getting me to this point.”
“Bullshit. I did the talking: you got yourself here.” Harmony took a long draw off her drink, downing over a third. “Oh, that’s good.”
After a quick sip Calista had to ask the question she’d had on her mind since arriving at Johnson Island. “Why aren’t we supposed to drink a lot of cider? Or, for that matter, drink anything harder than cider?”
Harmony set her bottle aside and stretched out in the hot water. “Our bodies don’t metabolize alcohol the same way as they did when we were human. Four ciders would not only get us pretty much blackout drunk, but it affects how our lungs separate oxygen from the water and puts the carbon dioxide back. Hard liquor affects us even worse.” She gazed at her tail flukes as she shrugged. “It could literally kill us.”
Calista grimaced as she thought of all her past nights out in Jacksonville where she’d been so drunk she needed someone to driver her home, or she left her car at a club and called Uber to get her back to her apartment. While she’d suffered the following morning, she never had to worry about waking up the next day. Those days are over in more than one way…
She decided to change the subject. “What’s up for tomorrow?”
“Not a whole lot. We head over for breakfast and then we get a lot of medical exams—or I should say, you get them.” Harmony chuckled. “I’ve been through this already, so they don’t need to poke and prod me like they will you. I get to watch, though.”
“Bitch.” Calista looked at Harmony as she smiled. “After that?”
“After that it’s lunch, then we get taken back to Roi-Namur, load us on a plane, and fly us back to Johnson Island.” Harmony took another drink of her cider. “We’ll have to talk to the lab people when we return, but we’ll have dinner in our own bungalows and sleep in our own beds tonight.”
“That’ll be nice.” Calista cradled her cider between her breasts just above the water line. “It’ll be good to see Izzy again.”
Harmony set her bottle aside again. “Yeah, about that—” She turned to her mentee. “You’re gonna have to tell her soon that you’re moving in with me at Down Below Town.” She eyed Calista carefully. “You haven’t said anything, have you?”
Calista wouldn’t meet her mentor’s gaze. “No.”
“Dammit, Calista, you’ve known about this for a few weeks now.” Harmony lightly touched Calista’s upper arm. “I’m sure she’s figured it out by now, but you need to tell her when we get back.”
“I know.” Even though only a little of Calista remained human, she was finding leaving her old life behind difficult—particularly the part that included her best friend. “Give me a week, will you? I promise, I’ll let her know.”
For almost five seconds Harmony said nothing, then she raised her left arm and tapped her wrist with her right index finger. “Clock’s tickin’, honey. I’ll trust you to get this done.”
“Don’t worry—” Calista drained the rest of her cider and headed for the kitchen, knowing she needed another. “I’ll get it done.”
After enjoying breakfast on Omelek Island, Calista and Harmony were loaded aboard a Zodiac and headed into the lagoon. They didn’t travel far, however, as their destination was a large ship anchored about three hundred meters off-shore. Upon arriving both mermaids were hosted up to a tank on the aft deck similar to the one they occupied on the flight from Johnson Island. Once they were comfortably resting the ship got underway.
Calista was aware of Aquatic Future owning several oceanographic vessels, but this was the first she’d seen. She figured Harmony would know more. “What ship is this?”
“It’s the research vessel Savannah. She’s based off the Global Class design and was the first ship AFI had built to their specifications.” She waved an arm around as she lay back. “They do a little bit of everything with this: there’s even a six bed hospital below decks.”
It was the two remote piloted vehicles on the aft deck that interested Calista more. “Are those going down with us today?”
Harmony nodded. “Yep. They’re gonna watch us as we work.”
Though she knew she would be working deep today, Calista was still a little nervous. “How far are we going?”
“A little over a click: about three-quarters of a mile. Don’t worry—” Harmony tapped her mentee on the arm. “It’s gonna be a piece of cake.”
The Savannah headed across the lagoon until it was due northeast of Ennugenliggelap Island, where it turned almost ninety degrees to the south and headed through Eller Passage into the Pacific Ocean beyond. The ship eventually came to a stop and anchored about four miles beyond the passage.
While most of the crew readied the RPVs, a couple of the Savannah crew helped strap on the head and arm lamps Calista and Harmony would use down below. They also wore transmitters around their necks that would allow them to communicate with the surface and act upon any instructions given.
Harmony spoke privately with Calista as they were hoisted out of the tank. “The test today is gonna be simple. Yesterday AFI sunk a test vessel that we’re going to salvage. But it’s not any normal salvage: they’re going to lower lights and flotation equipment, and we’re going to set it up, prep the ship for flotation, and we’ll follow the ship up to make certain nothing goes wrong during the ascent.
“As I’ve already indicated, it’s going to be dark and it’s going to be chilly. This is your first deep dive and it’s going to be a working one at that. But AFI feels you’re ready and so do I.” She gave Calista one of her well-known winks. “If I didn’t think you could do this I wouldn’t have approved this test this early.”
The twin hoist seats hovered over the water. Calista looked over to her left. “Dive in?”
“You read my mind.” Harmony gave a thumbs-up and both mermaids launched themselves into the ocean.
Both Calista and Harmony waited on station as the RPVs entered the water; once they were stable they unhooked them so they could begin their decent. Harmony pointed at the surface five meters above. “The RPVs are gonna let the Savannah know how far off-station we are and they’ll radio us. These guys are good: chances are they’re right where they want to be, which is about fifty meters off from where the test hull is gonna surface.”
“Which means we’ll have to move equipment from where they—” Calista pointed at the hull of the ship “—lower it to the floor.”
“You got it. Though we’ll be able to affect the buoyancy of the lights and equipment, so it shouldn’t be too much of a chore.” Harmony cocked her head to one side as if someone where whispering in her head. “Savannah says everything’s where it should be, so we’re good to go.” She flipped on her lights. “You ready?”
Calista flipped on her lights. “As ready as I will ever get.”
Harmony nodded. “Okay, then—” She checked her GPS finder and motioned for Calista to follow. “Let’s get to work.”
With that both mermaids turned and began their decent into the dark…
The first day at Kwajalein for Calista and Harmony was spent mostly on orientation, and that for Calista’s sake, as Harmony had already undergone training here. They spent nearly the entire day at Omelek Island learning what they were going to do and how to do each job. Because of everything Calista needed to cover, they didn’t return to their bungalow until nearly 22:30, taxied across the lagoon in a speed boat so they wouldn’t need to swim the thirty clicks themselves.
Day One was spent on underwater navigation, and Calista found herself traversing what Harmony call the “Infamous Kwaj One Sixty”, a one hundred mile course across, through, and around the atoll. Since mermaid could maintain a speed of twenty kilometers an hour, it was possible for Calista to cover the one hundred and sixty-one kilometer course in eight hours. And she did, setting off at 09:00, getting lunch off a floating platform in the middle of the lagoon at the half-way point, and returning, exhausted, to Omelek Island at 18:38. After a quick dinner Harmony and she were given massages before being sent back to their bungalow, once more by speed boat.
Day Two was quite different in that they didn’t have to swim everywhere; instead, they were taken to several locations around the atoll by boat. As they’d had it explained during their first trip to the center on Omelek, the second day was spent diving on wrecks and learning how to work on and recover salvage.
The first wreck they visited was the most well known at Kwaj: the Akibasan Maru, a Japanese freighter sunk during World War II. Not only was the wreck in good shape, but it lay in an area where the lagoon slopped downward from sixty feet to almost one hundred and thirty. Divers have placed items aboard the wreck the day before and it was up to Calista to recover the items based upon descriptions.
She found the wreck both exhilarating and spooky at the same time. There was just enough light outside the ship not to need lighting, but once inside it was impossible to see without the help of the head and wrist lamps she wore. Though it took her about thirty minutes more to find the items than anticipated by Harmony, she found all eight.
Once the items were deposited aboard the support boat, Harmony and Calista swam four hundred feet northwest to the next wreck, the Ikuta Maru, a Japanese freighter sunk in 1943. This ship lay on its port side, with the bow one hundred and thirty feet below water, but since she ship lay along a depression, the stern was almost forty feet deeper.
With visibility no more than thirty to fifty feet, Calista’s job was—with Harmony’s help—to take photos of the interior to assist in determining what, if anything, would appear worthy of salvage. Calista knew her job was to take as many good photos as possible, as there was nothing AFI would salvage from the vessel, but she discovered items inside the ship that made her believe divers had come to this ship, as they had the Akibasan Maru, and put things inside so they could be certain Calista had actually performed a “Bow to Stern” investigation. Three hours later she could assure her handlers she had done as asked.
After their dive on the Ikuta Maru they returned to Omelek for lunch, but rather than being transported to the pier, they were brought to the heliport where a Sikorsky S-76A waited for them. They were set upon a bench seat and strapped in: seconds later they were airborne and heading west for a couple of miles before turning and heading northwest.
Calista leaned as close as she could to her mentor. “What’s going on?”
Harmony grinned. “Remember the High Dive?”
“Well, we’re gonna do something similar to that. Sometimes we have to get on site quickly, so the company flies us out in helos. Only a lot of time we can’t land, so…” She pointed to a trapeze bar next to the sliding side door closest to Calista. “When the time comes the helo goes into hover, these doors open, we unstrap, and—”
Calista figured out the rest. “We grab the trapeze and dive out of the copter.”
“You got it.”
“Great.” Calista checked the tight sports bra she was wearing. “It take it these will stay on?”
“Don’t worry: they won’t come off.” A red light on the wall opposite them began flashing. “Get ready: when that goes green, we jump.”
About five seconds later the doors began sliding open as the helicopter went into a hover: a few seconds after that the flashing red light went dark while a green light lit up. Calista hid the quick-release in the middle of her four-point harness, grabbed the trapeze bar near her head, and with a quick hip flick she launched herself out of the copter and dived towards the ocean before, getting her hands in front of her head moments before striking the water.
Underwater she swam towards the commotion of bubbles that she knew was Harmony. She only spoke once she was about a meter away. “How far did we dive?”
“Probably fifteen meters. I jumped from twenty before, but if you don’t hit the water just right you’ll mess yourself up.” She tapped Calista on the arm. “Follow me.”
The dive area was as deep as where they’d been before, as well as being flatter. Calista’s dive meter read 35 m/120 ft and she guessed the visibility as excellent, maybe out to a hundred feet. They followed the floor for maybe two hundred feet before coming upon a wreck. But this wasn’t a ship: Calista didn’t know what to make of this craft. “What is this?”
“It’s an old North American B-52 bomber.” Harmony turned to her mentee. “They used these during World War II, both in the Pacific and in Europe. This one was sunk at some point in 1944.” They moved over the tail as they slowly swam towards the nose. “It didn’t crash: that’s why it’s in one piece.”
Calista looked over the barnacle and coral-covered hull, watching fish swim in and out of the wreckage of something that had once flown. She hovered over the cockpit, where some of the glass was missing from the frame. “This is just incredible. What are we doing here?”
“Nothing, really.” Harmony swam up next to Calista and gazed upon the wreck. “Every time I come to Kwaj I like to dive on this because—well, I just like it. This is history.” She smiled as she turned her head. “And I wanted you to see this.”
Calista hovered in place with a few lazy swishes of her tail. “Why?”
“Because it’s beautiful. And it’s part of our world: we’re the only ones who can ever enjoy this sight this way.”
That’s when it struck Calista: This is our world. We’re not human: we’re Homo Aquatica. And we are only truly at home in the ocean. She bowed her head slightly. “Thank you.”
“You are quite welcome.” Harmony motioned for her mentee to follow. “Now on to the real work.”
“The Fuji Maru, about four klicks west of here on the other side of Sand Island. We’re gonna practice using some more salvage equipment.” She chuckled as she picked up the pace. “Never a dull moment under the waves, is there?”