“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 24

Part 24

 

“In a way it was sort of cool, being down there in the dark, working on that hull.” Calista leaned back on the patio lounger and stretched out enough that her fully-developed tail flukes hung over the end. She flapped them up and down as she chatted between sips of her hard cider. “It was not an easy task, but at the same time it helped me build up the confidence I need for harder jobs that are gonna come.” She set down her bottle and look to her right. “You know?”

Izzy nodded slowly. “I can imagine.” She really couldn’t imagined what working nearly a mile underwater was like, but rather than spoil Calista’s good mood, she went along. “I’m glad you passed all the tests.”

Calista shrugged. “Harmony said she didn’t expect me to not pass, so that helped.” She ran her finger around the opening of the cider bottle. “Though she didn’t tell me that until we were on the flight back home.”

“I can understand that.” Izzy put her bare feet up on the little table she’d moved in front of her chair. “What’s next?”

“More tests tomorrow.” Calista put her hands behind her head and gazed up into the gathering night sky. “I’m supposed to spend nearly the whole morning in the lab.”

“For what?”

“The last of my physical performance tests.” She rolled over on her side and looked at Izzy. “After this, I get to do all my tests in open water. Harmony said I should expect to do a twenty-kilometer swim for speed early next week.”

“Sounds ass busting.” Izzy stood, twisting her empty bottle. “Need another?”

Calista shook her head. “No. Maybe later.”

Izzy headed into the kitchen where she dumped one bottle before retrieving another. She considered downing the cider right there then returning with a full one, but knocked that thought back as petty and just a bit childish.

She didn’t leave the kitchen immediately, however, her thoughts lingering on Calista’s return. Though Izzy tried to think otherwise, there was a definite change in Calista’s attitude since her return from Kwajalein Atoll. The way she acted, the way she now carried herself: her time at the atoll certainly improved her confidence and gave her the skills she needed to work under the waves.

Which meant she wasn’t too far away from getting to where she was living under the waves…

The private conversation she’d had with Harmony three weeks ago came back in that instant. Though the mermaid’s time table had slipped a bit, Izzy figured from her conversations with Calista since returning earlier in the afternoon that it wouldn’t be long before Calista packed up and headed off to live in Down Below Town.

And leave Izzy high and dry with nowhere to go but back to Jacksonville.

You knew this moment was coming. Izzy leaned back against a counter and looked down at her bare feet. Your best friend is out on the patio and she’s not human any more, she’s a full-blown mermaid, and it won’t be long before she dives off the patio one day and she doesn’t come back

Izzy quickly brushed away the few tears at the corners of her eyes. Calista might be gone in a week, but dammit, Izzy was going to enjoy every minute of that week.

And that meant not showing the tears.

She took a deep break, straightened herself, and walked back out to the patio. “Sorry I took so long.” Izzy sat down and smiled. “So, tell me again about how they gave you massages…”

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 23

Part 23

 

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.”

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 22

Part 22

 

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…

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 21

Part 21

 

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?”

“Yeah?”

“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.”

“Which is?”

“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?”

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 20

Part 20

 

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…

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 19

Part 19

 

“You’re what?”

Calista saw on the edge of the patio, her nearly complete tail hanging over open water while she stared out across the lagoon. “I’m—” She blushed as she whispered the word. “Intersex.”

Izzy switched her point of view from her best friend to the bungalow then out to the lagoon before re-focusing on Calista. She didn’t seem as shocked as the transitioning mermaid as she was puzzled. “So you’re going to have a penis as well as your normal lady bits?” She tossed her head to the left. “If you can call what you have down there now normal.”

Hey.” Calista’s eyes betrayed the anger she felt. “I’m not a freak, okay? Yeah, my vaginal canal is a little twisted around now, but that’s to keep water out of my uterus. Otherwise I’m no different than you.”

Izzy shrugged. “Other than the fact you’ll have a penis.”

IZZY.” For a moment Calista tried to stand before realized those days were long gone. “That shit isn’t funny—got it?”

Izzy looked away for about a five seconds: when she turned back her cheeks were red from embarrassment. “You’re right: it isn’t funny. And that other thing doesn’t make you a freak. I’m sorry: I’m having fun at your expense and I shouldn’t.”

Calista nodded a couple of times. “Apology accepted. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Izzy grabbed a deck chair and pulled it closer to her friend before sitting. “So, why do you guys have, you know, both?”

“Because men can’t be mermaids—or merman, I guess.” Calista sighed. “Harmony said there’s something in their chromosomes that prevents full transition from occurring, and in the extremely rare instances it did happen, the mermen had all kinds of congenital issues that prevented them from living for any length of time—” She chuckled darkly. “Like more than a week.”

Izzy tapped her hands three times against her thighs. “Well, that certainly sucks.”

“Harmony said that since it was decided at the start of the project that the mermaid population would eventually become self-sustaining, in order for us to be able to procreate it was necessary to make us intersex. Ergo…”

“Having both indoor and outdoor plumbing.”

“Exactly.” Calist set her hands in her lap and turned towards the lagoon. “Though really, all my plumbing is indoor. Ever that would be.”

Izzy nodded in agreement. “Given that I haven’t seen anything on Harmony, I’d assume that’s true.” She allow a few seconds to pass in silence before asking the obvious. “Does she—?”

“Yes.”

“She told you?”

Calista turned and locked eyes with her friend. “She showed me.”

“She showed it to you?”

“She felt it was the best thing to do.”

“Okay, well…” Izzy sat back. “So, how long before you get one of your own?”

Calista let loose with another big sigh. “Harmony said it should be developing now. She said in another couple of weeks it’ll probably be big enough that if I reach in through the vaginal slit I’ll feel it.”

A few more seconds passed before Izzy once again spoke. “Not that I’m being a perv or anything, but where is it growing?”

“Oh, yeah.” Calista spun around and stretched out on her side on the patio. “Just under the vaginal opening. That way it doesn’t get in the way of the clitoris.”

“All and all…” Izzy rubbed her chin. “That makes the most sense.”

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 18

Part 18

 

The first trip to Down Below Town had Calita’s tummy in knots. She’d known for a couple of days she would not only visit with Harmony, but have lunch in the underwater bungalow she’d soon share with her mentor. But it wasn’t just that; what had her the most excited was seeing all the other people—

Who had once been like her.

At 10:00 she was taken by boat to a point just outside the boundaries of Down Below Town. Boats of all kinds were prohibited from coming within a hundred meters of the mermaid enclave because the merfolk desired quiet water over their haven. Harmony was floating on the surface, waiting for her mentee. Within a minute after the boat arrived Calista was headed below the wave with Harmony at her side.

She was surprised by her reaction upon seeing Down Below Town. Harmony picked up on it quickly. “A little underwhelming, isn’t it?”

“Just… a little.” Calista blushed slightly. “I guess I expected something out of a fairy tale.”

Down Below Town was centered in a dredged section of the lagoon twelve meters deep. There were approximately twenty-five one-level pre-fabricated units with the same footprint as her above-water bungalow, with a few openings—including a door—either open to the outside over covered with what appeared to be a blackout curtain. Towards the far end were two larger buildings, still one level but maybe the size of five of the single units placed side-to-side. Between those two larger buildings was a geodesic dome perhaps ten meters across made of translucent material, making it impossible to see inside.

“Don’t worry—” Harmony chuckled beside her mentee. “Most new mermaids have the same reaction. They expect to find singing fish and dancing crabs and they find—”

“More of what they left behind on land?”

“Something like that. Come on: I’ll show you my place.”

They swam into the colony and Calista was able to see other mermaids either relaxing or working on what looked like equipment for AFI. Since Harmony had mentioned that Down Below Town was a training center for all kinds of AFI activities, several mermaids were here to learn skills that would help them as a member of the Special Assets Division.

Calista followed Harmony over the top of two bungalows before dropping to what she considered “street level”. “My place is right over here.”

“Okay. I—” Harmony stopped and stared at a passing mermaid, who was heading overhead and in the direction the two larger buildings. Calista couldn’t take her eyes—

Calista.”

Harmony was there shaking her arm. “What’s wrong?”

Calista pointed in the direction of the now-distant visitor. “That mermaid.”

“Yeah?”

“She was…” She swallowed even though she knew it was reflexive and not necessary. “She was pregnant.”

Harmony smiled. “Yeah, we’ve got two preggers staying with us.”

“We can get pregnant?”

“It’s not something you read about in the promotional material, right?

“No.” Calista closed her eyes for a moment. “I never gave it any thought.”

“Well, now you know.” Harmony looked around before continuing. “We retain our reproductive organs so it’s possible to procreate. Not only do we have two pregnant mers, but we have eight children ranging from nine months to seven years of age. And this isn’t the only place for that—”

Calista’s head was swimming. “It isn’t?”

“We have two other breeding colonies: one in the Bahamas off Acklins Island, and another in the Maldives off Kaadedhdhoo. Those have more children—”

“Hold on.” Even though she knew only Harmony could hear her, she spoke quietly. “I haven’t seen any mer… men.”

Harmony nodded. “That’s right—and you won’t. Men don’t take to the transition for some reason.”

“Then if we can get pregnant—”

“How does it happen?”

“Yes.”

Harmony laughed as she took her mentee by the hand. “Okay, kid. I guess it’s time to tell you what happens when two mermaids love each other a lot…”