1. Realisation

Friday 5th June 2058 AD

North of the Isle of Lewis

Outer Hebrides

Scotland

Felix Marsden climbed up the lightweight ladder on the port side of Angel 3, a thirty-foot sailing yacht. He swung his legs over the gunwale, and after removing the mini-breathing apparatus from his mouth, he stood as if he’d forgotten something. Still acting as if in a trance, he sat on the nearest wooden bench, took off his mask, and unhooked the ankle straps of the large blue fins on his feet. 

“Hey, Felix.” Jess Harper, the skipper, approached from the cabin, his eyes narrowed. “Are you okay?” He folded his muscular tattooed arms across his chest, stretching the sleeves of his white T-shirt. His thighs flexed as his legs compensated for the gentle roll of the boat.

Felix got up, and stepped forward, gripping the furled mainsail with his left hand to steady himself. He looked into the distance, and ran the fingers of his right hand through his long, dark hair. Water dripped from his body and legs, and his broad chest expanded slowly as he inhaled deep and exhaled slowly several times.

“I came up because I was hallucinating.”

“Hallucinating? Was that new M.B.A. cylinder not working?”

Felix glanced back at the small metal device on the bench. “I’m sure it was working okay, mate.” He stared out to sea, and spoke without turning. “Jess, tell me that there is another boat with divers in the vicinity.”

The yacht’s skipper laughed—a deep and brief sound. “I would, but no-one has been near this area for the past two hours. Even if there was a mini-submersible around I’d know. The only thing on the radar is Neptune’s Finger. He nodded towards the nearby, small island which featured a conical black monolith standing up from its centre.”

“I need to take a minute to gather my thoughts.”

Jess stepped forward. “You look like shit—what the hell is wrong, mate?”

Felix looked upward and absently watched the gulls gliding on the breeze. “Can you remember the situation with Nathan Denning?”

“Yeah, it was a pity what happened with Nathan. He was a nice guy and a great diver.” He shook his head slowly. “Mr Sullivan fired him a few months back?”

“Remind me why Sullivan fired him?”

“You must remember. Nathan was only young, but maybe he did too many dives. He surfaced one day and said that he’d seen a mermaid.”

“Do you know what happened to him after he left the corporation?”

“Let’s see now … he left the west coast because diving jobs had dried up for him.” Jess snapped his fingers. “He moved inland … and I think it was to Inverness.”

“I need to find him, and urgently.”

“Now I’m confused, mate. Why do you need to find a crazy guy?”

Felix slowly turned to his friend. “Jess, the company owes that man a huge apology.”

“Hey, Nathan might have been let go, but he was paid off with a sizeable remuneration. The company doesn’t owe him anything.”

“Sullivan would have paid Nathan well, but only to disassociate him from the company”

“Yes. The share prices would’ve plummeted if word got out. Diver’s seeing mermaids … Jeez?”

“I’ve never discussed Nathan’s improbable mermaid sighting with anyone. How about you?”

“I most certainly haven’t. I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I even half-believed him. I also doubt if you’d take his side, because it would tarnish your reputation in the profession.”

“In that case, it was the rich and powerful Kent Sullivan who spread the word. He’s the reason that Nathan Denning lost his livelihood, and left the west coast. Sullivan caused him to be ridiculed by the diving community.”

“Wait a minute, mate. Why have you got this sudden urge to defend our deranged ex-colleague?”

Felix held the skipper’s gaze. “Jess, we owe it to the man to reinstate his credibility.”

“Why? What the hell has happened?”

Felix took a deep breath, and kept his voice low; steady. “I saw the same thing as Nathan.”

“Look mate, what he saw was a manatee, the mammal that people call a mermaid.”

“No, Jess. Ttrust me. I saw a real, live, and beautiful, half-woman, half-fish.”

“Okay, mate, if this is a wind-up, fair enough … you’ve caught me, and I’m openly discussing it with you.” He forced a brief smile. “What’s really on your mind?”

Felix Marsden maintained his deadpan expression. “Jess, I saw a bloody mermaid.”

Harper’s lips parted, and creases formed at the corners of his eyes, but his features relaxed when he realised that the man who’d just been diving was deadly serious. “Holy shit—”

“Yes, mate, holy bloody shit.” Felix turned, stepped to the chrome rail and gripped it with both hands as he looked down into the water. “I can’t go back down there today, mate.”

“What about our briefing to check the—”

Fuck the mineral deposits. Raise the anchor, Jess. We’ll set sail, and get to hell away from here.”

*

Unlike other rock formations which protruded from the wild water of the oceans, Neptune’s Finger and the island it stood on were not eroded by the powerful tides, or the winds. Rather than an aquatic stalagmite, the ‘finger’ was a splinter of strong, mainly black rock which had once been part of a massive underwater volcano. Thousands of years back in time, the final titanic eruption had blown the peak of the huge volcano far and wide. It left behind a small island which had in its centre, the solid conical black column. The island seen above the surface was the new peak of a mountain which measured 5,000 feet from the seabed.

The extinct subterranean volcano of which Neptune’s Finger was but a small part, was taller than Ben Nevis, a mountain not so far off on Scotland’s mainland.

The black finger extended for five hundred feet above sea level, while the circumference of the island was half a mile around. On several occasions, the top section of the mountain might have been wilfully destroyed, but for the common sense of a few. Humans had damaged many parts of the planet through greed and neglect, and this tiny island and it’s column had been seen by some as a danger to seagoing craft. They wanted it removed.

Fortunately, others, with vision, and an open mind had seen the large rock as a safety feature and navigational aid. Instead of being removed using explosives, one wise man suggested fitting a bright, solar-powered light to the tip of the finger. This was done, and the remote feature was transformed from being a small uninhabited island into a natural lighthouse. It became a 24-hour guide to sailors of all abilities. They would recognise that they were within ten miles of the northern tip of the Isle of Lewis, not far away on the horizon. Once fitted, the multi-directional light was maintenance-free.

The tapered and jagged monolith, had unsurprisingly, been used for hundreds of years as a useful perch for seabirds, and seals so the island was also listed as a wildlife and seabird sanctuary. What was not well-known was that the huge, submerged mountain was home to much more than birds and regular aquatic life forms.

The vents created over millennia by volcanic eruption had become home to myriad creatures, and most of those openings close to the surface were too deep or narrow for a human being to investigate. One thousand feet underwater, however, were larger vents. These were wide enough to accommodate a human body, but were at a depth too dangerous to be reached. In part, this made the lower levels a safe entry and exit location for a remarkable species.

*

High on Neptune’s Finger, kittiwakes, gulls, gannets and other birds perched. On the sand, minimal grass and smooth rocks, seals basked and birds fed. Close to the encircling water, but out of sight to the men on the nearby yacht, another creature basked in the sun.

Selena was a sea nymph, or what humans might term, a mermaid. She was a beautiful woman from her long light brown hair down to her navel. From that area downwards, she had a perfect fusiform, green-scaled, fish tail, complete with a large translucent fin. Her fluke was a horizontal tail-fin, similar to that of a dolphin. Selena appeared to be in her twenties, but was much older due to several factors, not least of which was her aquatic genealogy.

She rested back against the warmth of a large rock and luxuriated in the alternating rays of the sunshine, and the caress of the sea breeze. Her sub-species had developed traits of aquatic mammals and amphibians which offered several advantages to such a creature. While she was capable of spending extensive periods underwater, she remained dependent on surfacing regularly.

Was I right to allow that terra-man to see me?

Selena leant to one side to look back out to sea. The yacht was leaving.

Will the human talk of me, or was my action a foolish risk?

A pair of ebony-coloured hands appeared out of the water and a few seconds later, another nymph leapt from the water to sidle up beside Selena. The other creature’s hair was as black as obsidian, her human aspects were dark brown, and her tail was golden with a translucent fluke.

“Here you are.” Coralina used the high-pitched tones and clicks of their species. She shook her lovely head and her waist-length hair swirled around spraying water everywhere.

“Have you been looking for me for a reason?”

Coralina noted that her friend was sitting completely out of the water. She curled her own tail to ensure that her fluke didn’t dangle in the waves, and she moved up the rocky ledge. “I was swimming close to the terra craft a short while ago, and one of them was staring into the water. He looked troubled.”

“Did he see you?”

“Of course not. I may try to imitate your courage, but I’m not foolhardy.”

“Which one was looking into the water?”

“The handsome one with hair down to his shoulders, but no hair on his face … wait … what do you mean which one?” Coralina’s brown eyes widened. “Were you out there earlier?”

“Yes, and the one with the hairless face saw me.”

“You are usually more careful, my sea-sister. What caused you to let him see you?”

“I can only confess if you promise not to tell others.”

“I promise.” Coralina indicated that they were both away from the water surface. “Look, no-one will hear what we say.”

Few things remained a secret if any part of a mer-person was in the water. Out of the sea, they could communicate with high-pitched sounds, or by telepathy, if they touched or sat together in water. When part of their body was submerged in the oceanic waters, the slightest vibration lent all conversations to being overheard. Like all intelligent life forms, there was always someone hoping to intercept snippets of information.

Selena said, “I have been set a special task, but it cannot yet be common knowledge.”

Coralina half-turned, grinning. Her white teeth contrasted with her handsome dark features. “If this mission of yours is such a secret, why would you be prepared to tell me about it?”

“Before you surfaced, I was sitting here considering my options.” She leant to her left and was relieved to see that the yacht had now travelled a long distance away. It now appeared like a small billowing white triangle gliding across on the water.

Coralina glanced at the distant craft. “They won’t hear us from there Selena.” She smiled briefly. “Now, tell me, what is this mission, and importantly, why may I now be told?”

“I’ve been entrusted with making contact, but—”

Making contact … with whom?”

“The terra-folk.”

“Titannius and the council will be furious. Who would have the audacity, or the authority to suggest that you do such a thing?”

Selena turned and met her friend’s gaze. “I am to do so at the request of Titannius himself.”

“No, Selena, it is too dangerous a mission, even for one as fearless as you. Why would our leader possibly wish you to put yourself in such peril?”

“The terra-folk have been exploring this aquatic mountain top we are perched upon.”

“I still don’t understand. Their species cannot swim as deep as our caverns, and they can have no reason to damage this place.” She looked perturbed for the first time. “This mountain is our home, Selena, and any disturbance would upset and endanger the lives of hundreds of mer-folk.”

“The terra-folk have discovered minerals in our home and they want to remove them.”

“Where did that improbable slice of information come from?”

“Two terra-folk had been diving to investigate our underwater mountain. They surfaced to sit in an area not far from here, and talked of great wealth if they could remove certain minerals.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Selena. It sounds like one of our community has a vivid imagination. Who is supposed to have heard this fantastical conversation?”

Selena met her gaze with a deadpan expression. “I did.”

***

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