Everyone knows it’s too dangerous to swim in the ocean. However, sitting at the end of the docks or peering over the edge of a boat you’ve always felt the inexplicable urge to dive into the water. One day, despite the danger, you give in the urges and jump. There’s an entire world beneath the surface, and it’s not what you were expecting.
I dragged my feet as I trudged towards the locked fence. My mind set on the long pier on the other side of it that offered me peace and tranquility. I needed that right now. I felt for the loose boards that were next to the fence and pushed them aside. Luckily, because I was so short, I fit through the narrow spot that everyone always overlooked. When I needed to clear my head, I often came to this dock. I liked to sit on the edge and let my feet dangle above the water. When I finally reached the end of the pier, I shucked my shoes off and sat down. It wasn’t just that I was physically tired, my job always weighed heavy on my conscience and today was no different. As I took in the sound of the waves splashing against the pier, I felt myself settle. When the warm sea breeze caressed my face, I undid my ponytail, letting the air lift the strands away from my scalp. I took in a deep breath of briny air and felt oddly at home. Coming here always helped me to relax and recenter myself.
I leaned back on my hands to enjoy the sun soaking into my skin as my thoughts drifted to my job. Four innocents. I had to turn over four seemingly innocent people to headquarters. It didn’t feel like I was dealing with criminals, just curious people like me. I took a deep breath in and blew out my frustration. As a tracker, I knew the rules. I wasn’t supposed to be here. There were strict warnings everywhere near the ocean about the inherent dangers within. They sealed shut every entrance to the ocean or blocked it off. I stumbled upon this place by accident. I was tracking a suspect in the area and almost fell through the loose boards on the fence. This place was one of the few good things to come from this job. The government classified me as a level five Ocean Tracker because of my uncanny ability to know when someone has been in the ocean. My job was to find them and report their location to headquarters. The government took these rules seriously. If you were caught defying them, they sent someone like me after you and you were never seen or heard from again. I didn’t know where they sent these people. I was told it was need to know only. It wasn’t lost on me that sitting here by the ocean and getting away with it; I was the biggest hypocrite.
My feelings put me at odds with my job. I didn’t believe the stories about the ocean. I had this gut feeling that the truth was being hidden, but I couldn’t figure out why. I thought with my level five clearance that I could uncover some hidden truths, but even my level of clearance wasn’t high enough to get past the basic information that was freely given to the public. My fists clenched as I thought about it. “This job keeps me near the ocean.” I said through gritted teeth. It was the one mantra that I kept repeating to myself and the only reason I was still gainfully employed. I’d always felt an irresistible pull to be near the ocean. I felt like it was vital that I be near it and if I went too long in-between visits, I’d get sick. Sometimes I thought it was psychosomatic. You’d think growing up in this society it would’ve desensitized me to the desire or urge to go into the ocean. Instead, every time I was near the water, not only did I feel better but, I had an overwhelming urge to dive in. Fantasies filtered through my head about what it would be like to jump in and feel the cool ocean water embrace me as I sunk down into the deep to see what was there. I shook the thought away. Those kinds of thoughts were dangerous. Of all people, I knew better.
As I stared out at the beautiful turquoise waters, my mind wandered through the history of the Oceanic Plague. Supposedly, twenty years ago, people started becoming sick from being in the water. After some research, the government found that someone was releasing toxic poison into the water, making it dangerous for humans. Many of the official reports stated that the ocean habitat was no longer compatible with humans. As a society, we’d even stopped fishing in the ocean. Now we only consumed fish that were grown in labs or fish factories instead of being caught in the wild. The government didn’t allow anyone in or on the ocean for any reason. It’s never been mentioned whom or what was poisoning the water. There were no definitive answers anywhere, which only added credence to my dubious thoughts.
The rumors, while entertaining to hear, didn’t seem to offer any viable explanations either. According to the rebel group that supported ocean freedom, there were Merfolk ruling the seas. They waged a war with the humans, and we lost. They henceforth denied us access or privilege to the ocean. Of course, there were also rumors of a ginormous killer fish with the intelligence of a human that ate anything foreign in the ocean. Take your pick of crazy cause it was out there.
I didn’t know about huge intelligent fish, but thinking that mermaids were out there was also kind of tough to swallow. Then again, my ability was a little strange, wasn’t it? Why did I have it? I felt like such a traitor every time I used it, which was weird, because at 25 I didn’t know a different life. I grew up in this ocean inhibiting era and yet, it still seemed wrong. From what I understood, there were only five of us out there with this ability. I could sense the ocean on anyone’s skin. Any trace of the salt left behind from the ocean called to me. I could smell it on someone in a room full of people. It was instinctual to me. They didn’t need to train me on how to use it. I just… knew.
I wanted to talk to the others that were like me but they never let us be around each other for long periods of time. I wished I could ask my parents about it, but they died when I was two. According to Carson, they were executed for their involvement with the rebels when this all started. I grew up at headquarters, raised by a young and upcoming officer. Carson Smith now ran the show for the entire Eastern Seaboard, and I knew I played a big part in that. My talent helped him move up in rank rather quickly and any time I talked about doing something different, he wouldn’t hear of it. He needed me to use my ability to keep him where he was at the top. He knew I didn’t like using my gift, but didn’t care. It was my responsibility and my duty, he’d say. I was lucky to be where I was, with a steady job and a comfortable living, he’d add. As I heard his voice in my head, my eyes rolled. I’d heard that more than I cared for in the last few years.
Unfortunately, I knew he was right about my lifestyle. I was lucky. There were many people out there who couldn’t get a job and lived in shabby homes and rough neighborhoods. I lived in a plush apartment and had nice things, but my life wasn’t my own. Carson still controlled me, even if I didn’t live with him anymore. He controlled my job, and my freedom, and seemed to have no regard for what I might want for my life. I sighed and slumped down to my elbows as I looked out at the soothing waves in the ocean, trying desperately to let them calm me.
I closed my eyes and released all my thoughts as I focused on the warmth of the sun on my skin and the rough wood under my arms. It worked and as soon as my body felt relaxed; the urge hit me again to jump in the water. The pull became stronger the older I got. I gritted my teeth and clenched my eyes until the desire passed. I’d never even dipped a toe into the ocean waters as far as I knew. I opened my eyes and gazed longingly at the water below me. I fell somewhat into a trance, losing track of time. What would it hurt? Would I get sick? If I was the tracker, how would Carson or anyone else find out… Just as I was about to test the water with my bare foot, my phone chirped. I broke from my haze and shook my head as I frantically pulled up my feet and sat Indian style on the pier. I couldn’t believe I almost did that. I picked up my phone and saw a message from Carson.
Carson: You missed one! Get your ass back here right now. You have a serious debriefing coming your way.
Fuck! I must’ve been distracted to miss one, but how? They always seemed to call to me, it was effortless to point them out. I knew I was going to catch serious shit for this, and I was tired of it. I hated using my gift to put people away, but in order to stop, I’d have to break ties with Carson, leave headquarters, and run. Then they would hire people to track me down. Carson would never give me up that easily. I’d be on the run for the rest of my life. I felt like I had no other options. My chest constricted, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My eyes stung as the hopelessness of the situation crashed down around me. Carson never coddled me or treated me like a daughter. Instead, he treated me like his own personal soldier, and it made me feel like a tool for his career and not like a part of his family. I frowned as I wondered if this was all my life was meant to be? A deep sadness welled up inside me. I wanted so much more than this. I shook it off and stood up, knowing if I didn’t get going, he’d be on my ass. As I started gathering my things, the phone chirped again.
Carson: Sitrep? Location? Respond ASAP.
Not two minutes had passed between messages. I held the phone in a white-knuckled grip, tempted to throw it to the floor and smash it to pieces. I knew I had to go. Carson wouldn’t let up. I turned around and looked longingly at the ocean once more before I made to leave. My shoes in my right hand, phone in my left. I just wanted a few minutes. The phone rang, breaking my moment of peace. Carson’s face appeared on the screen and I saw red. He was so damn controlling! That’s it, I’ve had enough! I threw my phone and my shoes down on the pier. Fuck it! If I was going to be stuck in this miserable life, then I was going to jump in that ocean at least once. The need to do it now was oppressive, bearing down and suffocating me. Giving myself no time for doubt, I flung myself off the pier, clothing and all. Consequences be damned.
As soon as I hit the water, I felt a peace I’d never known before. As my body slowly sunk into the ocean, I felt nothing but bliss. It felt like walking through the door of your home after being away for a while. I floated in that state for about 30 seconds before the pain started. My body arched suddenly as heat seared through me. It felt as if a fire started inside, down by my feet, and was working its way up. The burning traveled up at a torturously slow pace. I slammed my eyes shut and clenched my fists as I tried to take in a breath before sucking down a lungful of water. I couldn’t breathe, but I couldn’t control my body enough to move it back above the surface. I was convulsing as the bones in my legs cracked and popped and I couldn’t control any of it. It felt like I was dying. When the pain hit its peak, it was in my head. I thought it would be my last moment alive. The pain was so intense-until it wasn’t. That slow, agonizing burn stopped abruptly.
I was so relieved that the pain was over that I forgot I was still in the ocean and didn’t feel like I was drowning anymore. I looked down at my body and yelped. I had gone through a transformation and my clothing got shredded in the process. It was floating down below me in tatters. My legs were gone. In their place was a beautiful fish tail. It started with a huge indigo fin that blended to blue, then blue blended into green. I marveled at the beautifully vivid colors that made up my tail. The fins that ran up my sides and down my back were the only part of my upper body that weren’t bare. My hair floated in front of my face, and it startled me to see indigo strands instead of the white-blond I was used to above the surface. My hair now was a perfect match for my fins. I pulled on it just to make sure it was mine and felt a stab of pain in my scalp.
As if that wasn’t alarming enough, I felt a scratching sensation start at my wrists and run up my arms and end up my collar bones. It wasn’t painful compared to what I just experienced, but it was enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Thankfully, it only lasted a few seconds. When the scratches stopped, I analyzed my arms. I ran my finger against my new marks, admiring the strangely beautiful wispy strands of seaweed. The markings invoked a strange feeling of belonging. All my life I’d been looking for that feeling, never quite fitting in anywhere. I couldn’t help the smile that grew as that feeling intensified. This was where I was meant to be. This was home. I knew it through and through. This was what I was missing on the surface.
A giddy laugh slipped out as I swam around in circles and frolicked in the water. I giggled as I swam deeper. I couldn’t remember the last time I had this much fun. I felt free! I guess the Merfolk rumor was true because it certainly looked like that’s what I was. Did Carson know? I stopped moving as the thought hit me. Had he been lying to me all these years? A stab of betrayal hit me hard because I knew it then. I was never more than a tool for him. I decided at that moment I didn’t care. I had no desire to leave and go back to my depressing life above water.
As I explored further, a merman greeted me. He had a strong barrel chest with a beautiful orange and white striped tail. His fins looked more like the fins on a Lionfish. He was breathtaking as he stared at me with his orange hair floating around his head. I was so taken by his appearance that I didn’t realize he looked shocked. I gave myself a once over and immediately covered my bare chest. I quickly swam towards some of my tattered clothing and tied a swath of cloth around my chest. When I was satisfied with the results, I looked back up at my new friend and asked him if he was alright. Instead of answering, he stared at my arms and the delicate seaweed tattoo. He looked back up at my face in awe.
“Your majesty. We have long waited for your return.” He said with a bow.
Goosebumps ran up my arms as my heart doubled it’s speed. “Uh, who?” My brows furrowed. “What are you talking about?” I had a sinking suspicion my world was about to get flipped on its head.
His eyes were wide, eager, as he swam a little closer. “Princess Mira. They took you from us at only two years old during the great war. They prophesied you would return on your 25th birthday. Today is that day.”
“What?” I swam back from him a bit to give myself space. “I just got here like ten minutes ago.” I knew my mouth was hanging open, making me look like an idiot, but I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“I am honored to return you home. Please come with me. The castle has been prepared for your return and your father is beside himself with anxiety. There will be a party in your honor. Our people have traveled great distances to witness your return.”
My stomach bottomed out at the mention of my father. Did that mean I had family here?
Was this guy for real? I stared at his face and his kind smile. His eyes held no secrets. They were open and honest. He seemed genuine and patient, but he kept staring at me with awe. I didn’t like it. He knew more about me than I did, and I felt as lost as my tattered clothing still floating in the current. I had to know, though. Who were my parents and where had they been all these years?
“Come now Princess. I am Evian and my family has served the royal family for generations. It will bring great honor to my family to restore you to yours. Please.” He held his hand out to me and this time I didn’t question my choice. I took his hand, and he led me to what I would soon find to be my birthplace.
On our journey to my home, we passed many things I had always dismissed as impossible. There were different types of Merfolk in all shapes and sizes, but there were other things too. Things that I didn’t even know how to describe. They all bowed when I passed, and that uncomfortable feeling just increased as we continued. Once we reached the outer city limits of the kingdom, my heart was pounding and there were butterflies in my stomach. My nerves had my hands and my fins shaking, which made my swimming a little awkward. We approached a gate to enter the heavily guarded city and I swear to God there was an enormous fish with jagged teeth that looked terrifying. What truly knocked my socks off was when it spoke. It spoke with intelligence and elegance befitting a highly educated scholar, but it was clearly the muscle to keep the riff-raff out. When I looked over at the other guard fish, I noticed he had meat hanging off those teeth and I shuddered. So far, all the rumors I’d heard had been true and everything Carson told me was a lie. I felt a bitter taste in my mouth at that realization. I had a feeling Carson knew exactly what I was.
I was distracted from my inner turmoil when the ornate mother-of-pearl gates opened. If you ever wondered where the lost city of Atlantis was, well, now I could tell you because I was pretty sure I was staring at it. It was beautiful with its elaborate architecture and gleaming marble buildings with glowing lights that seemed to light up the city. I stood in awe as I took it all in. I couldn’t believe this was where I came from. Within seconds, there was a group of intimidating mermen surrounding me. They had blue skin with fins that ran down their sides and up their backs straight to the top of their heads. There were larger fins that extended out from the cheeks past their ears. Their bodies were large, honed with hard muscles. They were armed with harpoons and had protective wrist and forearm guards made of some kind of carbon fiber with a golden crest and symbol in the center. Their faces held no kindness as they all assessed me. No doubt they were warriors. Once they surrounded me, they all bowed simultaneously and greeted me in perfect synchrony.
“Welcome Princess Mira. It is our honor to protect you.”
My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open as I gaped at them. They were for me? My protection? From whom? I didn’t question it, though. They didn’t seem to be a chatty bunch. Evian bowed graciously to us before he left. They escorted me through the city and once again everyone in our path stopped and bowed at us. They greeted me with, “welcome back, lost princess” every single time. It was unnerving. Once we reached the castle, I was still marveling at the beauty of everything here and was a little overwhelmed. They led me to my royal chambers where I had little seahorse women waiting for me. I said an awkward hello to which they all bowed and then got to work. I was scrubbed and brushed and poked and prodded. When they were done, I had to admit, I looked the part of a princess, especially with the crown they placed on my head and the matching pieces to cover my breasts. This all seemed so surreal.
There was a light knock at the door that brought me back to my reality. All the little seahorse ladies were gone. I opened the door and was relieved to see a familiar face, Evian.
“Hello again, princess.” He said with a charming smile. “You look beautiful.” He whispered as a blush rose on his face and looked away.
I felt some of the tension melt from my body. I may not have known him well, but his presence seemed to calm me a bit. “Thank you.” I murmured, feeling a blush rise in response to his bashful attention.
“I’m here to escort you to your parents and then to the celebration in your honor.”
My eyes widened, and I slipped further back into the room. I wondered briefly how much more I could take before I either passed out or made a complete fool of myself. They must have me confused with someone else. This couldn’t be my life… could it? The sheer look of terror on my face must’ve said everything, because he started laughing at me as he swam towards me.
“You’ll be fine. I’ll be with you the whole time.” That gentle smile was back as he waited for me to calm down.
I was excited to meet my parents but not happy about a ceremony in my honor when I hardly knew who I was. I blew out a nervous breath and was able to calm myself. I nodded to let him know I was ready.
They led us into a grand open area that I figured must’ve been a meeting room of some kind. There was an enormous window that looked out onto the city. It drew my eyes to it and it was then I saw a figure standing there. He had the same indigo hair as I did. His large, solid golden crown sat upon his head and his trident in his right hand. He had the same color skin and the same delicate looking tattoos on his arms and chest as I did. The indigo fins he had on his back were huge. They fanned out behind him as he hovered there. Had to be at least three feet taller than me and he radiated strength and power. He had that same mean expression on his face that the soldiers did with golden armor over his forearms and shoulder pieces that connected to a thin golden chainmail that rested over his chest. There was no doubt this was my father. He hadn’t realized I was there yet.
Evian cleared his throat, “pardon the intrusion, your majesty. I bring to you Mira, the lost princess.”
When he turned around to face me, I noticed a change in his body language immediately. His face softened as he took me in. His eyes no longer looked fierce. There was regret and sadness in his eyes as he looked me over. He swam over to me and embraced me. I wasn’t expecting it, but once I was in his arms, I felt a connection. It was like all my missing pieces were falling into place. I hugged him back and started crying. When he pulled back from our embrace, there were tears in his eyes as well. “Welcome home, daughter. I’m sorry I could not find you. We’ve been sending spies out over the years, but they’ve never returned.”
Something clicked at that moment. Had I been turning over my own people that were just sent to find me? Suddenly, I felt sick and lightheaded. My father shook me a bit to get my attention. “It’s okay Mira. You didn’t know. You were raised by a sick and twisted man that kept you guarded from us and the truth.”
I didn’t know how he knew, but I didn’t feel worthy of his forgiveness. I felt hollowed out over what I did and the knowledge that I was right all along. They were innocent. All those poor people. I was about to ask him how he knew when someone else swam into the room. I looked up at my father and he smiled brightly. His eyes lost their sadness as they connected with the other person in the room. I’d always wanted someone to look at me that way.
I turned to see who it was and was shocked to see a woman that looked so much like me it was scary. We had the same color tail, same bright green eyes and high cheekbones. The only difference was her hair was a bright purple. There were tears slipping from her eyes as she swam towards me. Once she was before me, she reached out and touched my face tentatively. Almost as if she couldn’t believe I was real. She started sobbing and took me into an almost crushing embrace.
“I’ve been watching you in my dreams. I was never one hundred percent certain it was you, but I saw you on that pier. I knew you were going to jump. I was hoping I was right, and you were our lost daughter and would return to us. I thought I might never see you again.”
I hugged her back and started crying again. “Mom!” I felt my connection to her settle in that moment. When we broke our embrace, I looked them both over and couldn’t help but wonder if I had any other family. “Do I have any siblings?” I asked innocently, not knowing the pain it would cause them. Their faces crumbled at the mention of siblings.
“All of our children were taken from us. There were five of you in all.” My mother admitted in a whisper.
Blood drained from my face. I knew. The four other people on the surface that could do what I could. They were my siblings. I couldn’t believe the extent of evil that existed in one man, Carson Smith. My fists clenched at my sides as I gritted out. “I know where they are.”
My father turned to me and his eyes started glowing purple as his power filled his body. “Take me to them!”