One of the things with being ‘Solved—Greater or Lesser—is much like being a child, or a student. One set of perceptions is exchanged for another, still false, yet closer to the Truth. Take the Unveiling for example…
“Envoy, are you all right?” Jacob’s voice pierces the haze in my head and I realize that; I’m not addressing the Interspecies Congress, the burning white light pinning me in this spot is the sun streaming in the porthole, and I am in my quarters, not on stage in a singularly dark auditorium.
“Yes,” I croak. 8 hours from the sea and I am woefully dehydrated. I really must regulate my body better. Rising, I thrown on an anemone-embroidered silk wrap and open the door. “Is there a problem?”
“There’s been a threat to the ship identified,” he looks nervous—he’s so young—and maternal instincts I have silenced roar to life on behalf of this Terran child. Young man, I chide myself and smile warmly.
“Who would dare?” I ask, leaning into the closet and pulling out a shift of pearlescent silk. I have the feeling I am going to have to leave the ship, so there’s no point in donning my full regalia. It’s awkward, sliding into the shift while keeping the robe closed, but manageable. I then empty the cats’ water bowl while waiting for a reply and then feed them as well.
“The Deep, then,” I sigh—not surprised—and slip into canvas deck shoes. “Take me to the Captain,” I command and he is happy to comply.
We do not start the arduous climb toward the Bridge, but instead plunge into the heart of the ship. Each level past the passenger levels is progressively darker, until there is no source of illumination other than the deep red running lights. The crewman stops at a door, knocks, and the door is swung open by the XO. Past his shoulder I see the Captain staring at a multitude of screens which accurately reproduce the view from the bridge down here in the lightless warren.
“Captain,” I begin, stepping over the threshold and dismissing Jacob with a slight nod, “what has happened?”
“Blockade,” Niran snaps, dark eyes flashing, “By those bleached-out bastards.”
“They prefer Deep Dwellers,” I say, “and a blockade? It’s damn near noon. They never come up above five-hundred feet when the sun is so high.”
“Garbage netting,” he growls, “We’ve turned-to but if we don’t stop soon we’ll be grounded.”
“Stop then,” my calm command is not met well by either the Captain or his XO and I sigh. “We can’t afford to run the Averna aground and they’ve already encircled us by the time they launched the buoys. I have to speak with them one way or another and then we can be on our way.” I turn the wheel and the hatch pops open with a slight hiss before I race up the ladderwells to get out of range before the Captain can countermand me.
Bursting out onto the flight deck it’s the smell that hits me first. When the Deep are displeased they launch clay jars full of pickled fish entrails toward the surface. The resulting slurry coats the water and calls all the scavenger species to the surface, making the sea seem both disgusting and terrifying to Terrans.
“Damn,” I mutter, stepping into the changing closet to strip. Dashing from the closet, I dive cleanly off the starboard side and FLASH before I hit the water, transforming into a miniature Cuvier’s beaked whale in preparation for the deep dive ahead.
Give me a location, I sing once I hit the twilight zone, There’s no point to this if you won’t speak with me.
Sunlight singer, the response booms from the abyss, The point is to remove the vessel from the ocean. Nothing you can say will change that.
So what can I DO? I reply, knowing full well that they have no power I can’t counteract as a Lesser Solved. I would rather avoid confrontation, so I keep trying tact, They are within the Terms and no one owns the ocean. You know this.
THIS PLACE IS OURS!!! He roars and I see a flash of deepest blue to my right. Now that I’ve located him, I swim to a respectful distance and FLASH into a human form, radiating soothing rose-colored light from my translucent figure.
This place IS yours, I agree as pleasantly as I can manage, and once you remove your barricade we will leave.
And you will never return, he starts, pulsing electric green.
You wish to renegotiate?!? No one entity can bargain on behalf of all—the Mer are consensus-driven, as opposed to Terrans with their clean lines and ownership of that which belongs to all—and to suggest such a thing signals a much deeper discord than a simple ship’s crossing. This is not how negotiations take place.
It is now, the Deep Mer rumbles, a menacing violet which borders on crimson flickering at the ends of his hands and feet, we will have OUR ocean back. There is a moment of increased pressure, and then a trap is sprung.
I sigh. It would figure I’d encounter some fringe element on my first Envoy mission. However large a problem they’d pose to the ship, to me they are as powerless as those tiny, annoying Terran bugs that seem to serve no purpose other than to fly in your face. A net falls over my head and I twirl the current between my fingers, connecting to 2, 3, 5…8 individuals. All of them young, all…damaged, somehow.
Just because the other Deep have cast you out doesn’t mean you’re consigned to this,” I sing as they start to draw the net closed. There are more worlds beneath the waves than this. I feel one of them waver, but his hesitation and temporary dissociation is not enough to help him rise above what’s about to happen to his chosen clan. This is your last warning.
No, child of the sun, the leader says, closing the distance between us and attempting to stare me down. It’s yours. Abandon the vessel, and we’ll let you li…my fingers flick, and each of the strands I’ve connected to them create cavitation deep within their center. The air pockets are instantly crushed by the water pressure around us and they all go slack. It is over before their faces can even register shock; crumpled bodies sink past me and disappear in the darkness below.
It is not the end I would want for anyone and it saddens me, but they were too broken. The Deep Mer are very Spartan, and while the Mer of the Twilight and Daylight levels frown upon the way they treat those with differences, it is not entirely dissimilar from the way we deal with our own. I look at the crisscross of scars across my feet and ankles and remember a harsh lesson…
“It hurts, Daddy!” the six-year-old me cries as my father, an unyielding, powerful man stares at me thrashing on the sand. I’m in my first form—I have never been anything but myself at this point—and my beautiful gold-dusted, purple tailfin is cut and bleeding, tangled in a tuna net that has sliced to the bone and shredded the fine veins that run to the very tips of my tail.
“Then change,” he growls, grabbing handfuls of the net and hauling me back toward the water. The first waves crash over me, sand grinds into my open wounds and I scream, but he continues dragging the net back under the waves. “Change into something small, or something lithe, or something flexible. Change soon,” he flashes into the form of a spotted dolphin and grips the net between his jaws.
It’s too much. Having dragged myself up on shore and allowing my gills to close, coughing the water out of relatively unused lungs and baking under the relentless sun has taken too much of my energy. I can’t open my gills—coils of net press and cut into me from every angle—and I realize that I will die. Five feet from my father, and he will allow the sea to take me; the sea and the casual brutality of the Terrans, leaving their garbage to defile and indiscriminately kill. I want to be small, so small nothing can touch me, I think and FLASH!!! I am free. I am a tiny, blue-green chromis unprotected by the reef and buffeted about by the interplay of waves and undertow.
Daddy! I shriek, even though my fish-form cannot sing and he is there. Huge dolphin form shielding me from the waves, I feel him rumble, Very good. Now, his song is almost too strong for me, and I feel it more than hear it, remember WHAT YOU ARE. This time it is instantaneous, FLASH! And I am a mermaid once more.
But I am not whole. My tail is no longer a symphony of scale and light, it is marked and scarred by the same crisscross of lines in an ugly, deathly blue-purple. It looks like I’m still bleeding I think, and am glad that the ocean does not reveal my tears to my father.
Enough, I chide myself, floating in the abyss above the crumpled ruin of these Mer who could not change. FLASH, I am a whale again, and my ascent to the surface is slow, and somber.
“You can send boats out to retrieve the net now,” I say as I climb out of the water and into the robe Jacob is holding.
“Retrieve, Envoy?” he asks and I allow a small frown of displeasure to turn down my lips.
“It’s human garbage, sailor,” steel enters my voice and his back stiffens in response, “I will have it removed from my ocean.”
“With all due respect,” said no one ever when they mean to comply with you, “it’s miles long. We don’t have the capacity to house it until we get to shore,” Jacob is right, in one respect.
“It is miles long,” I agree, “but not that deep. It only goes a few feet down below the water. It was designed to foul the propeller. It can be easily stored in the below-decks shipping storage.”
“Maybe if we weren’t at capacity,” he murmurs and my temper snaps.
“Then drape it across the flight deck and get back to shore!” I give him credit, he doesn’t flinch. Instead he carefully steps back and takes hold of the side of the ship.
“That is a decision for Captain Niran,” Jacob states calmly, but I see a flicker of fear in his eyes. It is always like that with full-humans. Any time you’re anything other than perfectly human, you’re seen as a threat. I don’t blame him: it’s a normal evolutionary response. If his ancestors had not treated my kind with fear and reverence for so long we would have destroyed them long ago, when our power was at its greatest.
“Of course it is,” I sigh, “Please relay the message to him. I’m need to eat.”
“Afternoon tea is being served on the Promenade,” he says, quickly slipping back into helpful mode. “Dim sum is being served in the dining room.”
“Thank you,” I reply, just as divorced as he is from our previous spat. I climb the ladder up to the cargo hold and see that there is no longer any void as I had previously observed and realize that—along with our new guest—we must have taken on quite a bit of additional cargo.
And you slept through all of it, a sinister little voice whispers in the back of my mind.