Webbed hands prodded along the rocky slopes and bends within the artificial reef; green eyes scanning around, searching the crevices and cracks with growing agitation. For most of the night, the jet black mer has spent scrounging the expanse of his tank with no success in finding anything of real use. Despite the similarity the tank had to the wild reef, it still lacked all the unique treasures and animals he’d hoped for. Aside from spooking a few crabs, he’d found no shells, no knickknacks buried in the sand, or small, shiny trinkets in which to forge a gift for his chosen maiden.
It was a frustrating endeavor. Ever since the two strangers had shown up, he’d found himself growing defensive. Even though he’d picked up on the behavior that the two were mated, he still feared that the male would steal his possible love away. Thus he needed to prove himself a worthy partner to the one his heart went out to; and to do that, he needed to have a means to impress her.
He’d seen the ritual done before, along the reefs of his old home. After coming to the realization that the intruder in his territory wasn’t there to hunt, and finding the behavior peculiar, he grew curious and would watch from afar; watching as they collected any number of oddities to put together treasured gifts to woe potential partners. He, himself, had never been close to any female to go on such a quest, yet here he was, trying to find anything to complete the gesture, with a possible mate that held a higher rejection rate than any other. It was almost ironic.
Vibrations in the water distracted him from his thoughts, the source coming from the surface told of a visitor, and from the familiar twiddle it made he was able to register that it was the young scientist he’d come to tolerate. Heaving an exasperated sigh, Danny turned and made his way up to see what the man wanted of him this time.
Nate sat hunched along the pool’s edge, wiggling his fingers in the water; a signal the mer had come to know by now. A smile grew upon his face as the mer responded and finally breached the surface; the creature making a few agitated circles as a sign of its impatience. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight and Danny just let a short growl hang in his throat in response. His aquatic friend had never really come to like him, but tolerated him all the same. It was still a better experience than it was before, especially now that the beast didn’t charge him.
“Hey there bud. I know it’s early, but you seemed like you could use something to preoccupy yourself,” The biologist smiled, knowing that the mer didn’t understand him entirely; but the tone of his voice was enough to read as a friendly one.
As expected, Danny quirked one of his ears and pulled himself up, out of the water, eyeing the man with an inquisitive gaze. It was an amusing sight, and Nate couldn’t help the grin that crossed his lips.
“Oh, you’re going to enjoy this surprise.”
The mer looked on with a mix of suspicion and curiosity as the man turned to pull a cooler over alongside them. Upon opening it, the crisp salty smell of shellfish wafted up, tingling the creature’s nose while it eyed the chest with a growing intensity. Danny pawed at the ground anxiously, earning a look of amusement from the scientist.
“Now, now. Be patient,” He chuckled, pulling out a handful of mixed shellfish; a mix of clams and mussels being laid out upon the tile.
The different variety of colors, shades, and smells tantalized the jet black mer with the thought of their various flavors. He was quick to snatch one up, sniffing at it and proceeding to turn it over in his hands, figuring out the best method to get at the tender morsel hidden inside.
Nate just looked on content with watching the mer mull over the next plan of action before turning to knaw on it. It seemed he was right about the treat giving his aquatic friend something to preoccupy himself with. Over the past week he’d been watching Danny’s growing restlessness and decided to give him something to think on besides the confines of the tank.
When he’d gone out to find something to entertain the mer, he was surprised to have found his partner out by the docks, watching the fishermen set up shop for the day. It was an honestly curious circumstance, seeing as the businessman wasn’t terribly fond of the smell of the fish market. When he’d asked, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the man had been searching for something similar.
“So what brings you down this way my good friend?”
“Figures I’d run into you here… And here I was hoping to surprised you,” Vlad hummed, running his eyes down a display of fish recently put out, “I’d seen that our young friend was in need of an outlet, so I thought I’d lend a hand.”
“That’s awfully kind out you,” it was more a question than thanks, as Nate had known the man long enough to know he did not act without reason.
“I was also looking for a decent treat to implement the medicine you requested, seeing as you’ve brought in enough income to support it,” the billionaire huffed, scoffing at some of the catch; obviously it didn’t reach his standards.
“Oh, so it worked?”
“I never said it wouldn’t. Simply that it was expensive…” Vlad rolled his eyes at the scientist whilst completing a transaction for a batch of oysters and handing them over to him, “These should provide some entertainment. Now if you don’t mind, I have an appointment to keep.”
Nate simply sighed in amusement, taking the offered bag of shellfish and watching as his partner proceeded to wipe his hands clean with a kerchief as if he’d handled something filthy. Sometimes he wondered why the man was involved in the business of animal rehabilitation and research, seeing as he tended to want nothing to do with the animals themselves.
Shaking his head, he let the matter slide as Vlad turned to give him one last message about finding the medicine in his office later that morning. And with a final wave, Nate continued on with his shopping before returning to the center with the bag of fishy treats.
As told, the medicine had been found on his desk with a given list of instructions. Overall it was simple to prepare and administer; mixing the two vials together, then taking a set amount and injecting it into whatever was to be eaten. Simple enough, though judging from the smell, it was probably easier to disguise with mussels than oysters. Thus, grabbing a few, he began to prep the shellfish for feeding; mixing the doses and slipping the needle in between the shells. It was going to require multiple smaller doses, seeing as the mussels were smaller in size than their overly large relatives and the mer seemed to prefer shellfish over actual fish. His assumptions were correct as he watched the mer knaw away at one of the said mussels.
Danny continued to turn the mussel over in his hands, occasionally taking a chomp at it to test the shell’s weak points. It still held strong, keeping itself glued within its protective housing. But that fact was far from discouraging, in fact it meant that it was still fresh and healthy.
Licking over his chops, he gave it one last turn, angling the seam just right as he brought his fangs down upon it, digging them into the crack. It would have seemed a risky maneuver, one that would have broken most teeth, if not for the mer’s experience and crushing strength of his jaws. The shell easily snapped open, the morsel falling victim to the hungry mer.
The scene was taken as a wary reminder to the biologist to avoid those jaws if possible. And that he was grateful that he’d managed to avoid them in the attacks thus far. It was best not to encourage another one…
Nate offered another mussel to the hungry creature, watching as the mer sniffed about in search of more. It was best to administer the medicine now while its mind was too focused on food to be picky.
Danny ran his tongue over the roof of his mouth, half lost in thought. The taste was off, almost a little on the sweet side. But then again, shellfish was a sweet meat, and he’d never tasted this sort before; thus he figured the unique taste was a result of the different meat. The smell however, was a different matter, as it held an almost addicting tingle in his nose.
At the sight of another, he was quick to take up the offer and begin chowing down. He’d gone through five or six of the sweet morsels before his eyes landed on a more valuable prize. He dropped the current mussel in his grasp as he stared on at the clutch of oysters within the cooler. But upon approaching the chest, he found his way blocked by the older male. On instinct his sail raised, his chest puffing up as a hiss hung in his throat. He was not going to take no for an answer.
‘Crap,’ was the first though through the scientist’s head as he realized he’d been issued a challenge. Normally the mer respected the boundary on what was his or what was theirs. But this time was different for some reason. Perhaps it was the love of shellfish that brought out a more possessive response? Either way, his aquatic friend looked about ready to strike.
“Easy…” He raised a defensive hand, whilst attempting to distract him with the dropped mussel. He only needed him to take this last one in order for the medicine to be fully administered.
However, Danny ignored the gesture, flashing his fangs in a warning that he wasn’t having any of it. The only thing he wanted in that moment was those oysters, and he wasn’t afraid to tear the man a new one if he dared get in his way.
Nate wavered in his decision, knowing it wasn’t the best time to be having a dominance fight with the mer; this was supposed to be all treats and hopefully medicating. There was also the fact that he was at a severe disadvantage, having gotten comfortable and taken a seat rather than being on his toes in case of something like this. It didn’t help that the raised hand was registering as a threat display rather than a defensive one, and the dangerous flicker in the mer’s eyes warned that it was growing impatient.
Slowly bringing his hand down, he slid it around as slow as possible, reaching for the oyster bag; sudden moves would only encourage a strike. Touching the bag had been a mistake, for the moment his fingertips brushed it, the mer would have none of it. The creature lunged, sinking its teeth into the offending hand and thrashing violently.
Nate jerked back, struggling to free his hand from the jaws of the beast. At this rate he’d be lucky if he managed to keep his hand and it felt as if his shoulder was about to dislodge from its socket. Gritting his teeth he brought a knee around the jab the creature’s ribs. The mer flinched, giving a loud hiss in response, but showing no signs of relenting as it twisted, pulling the two of them into a roll across the concrete.
He could feel the wind knocked out of him as he was all but tossed into the cooler in the skirmish; shellfish scattering across the enclosure. He kicked and writhed, trying to pull free, feeling the tear of the mer’s teeth in his palm.
Grimacing, he knew the next course of action would be more damaging and hoped that Danny would forgive him for it later. Grasping the nearest object at hand, he swung it round, smashing it against the beast’s head. The mer yowled in pain, finally releasing its hold and giving the now injured biologist time to scoot back and out of range, cradling his tattered hand near his chest.
To say it had come as a surprise was an understatement; but then again, Danny had never known of an opponent that would use force with something other than his own claws. So when the oyster shell flashed in his vision, it had been quite the surprise to find that the object he sought was now the object of his pain and it left him cursing royally.
Jaw clenched and hand holding over his bleeding, throbbing skull, he turned to snarl over at his offender, finding that the man had retreated a few paces away. Now that he wasn’t in the middle of the fit directly, he could see the damage done first hand. The scent of blood hung in the air as well as littered all across the tile, and he could taste the iron in his mouth. He could see how it flowed from the raw and tattered flesh of the man’s hand. The gravity of the situation began to weigh down on him, seeing the instinctively frightened and pained look in the man’s eyes. He’d seen that look before, a long time ago…
An undeniable scream erupted from his lips, as he held his head in his hands, form coiling in like a snake. Hands trembling as his vision blurred, seeing things that weren’t there and the overwhelming scent of blood that followed it.
Nate hissed, holding his injured hand close whilst he tore his sleeve with his teeth, tying the rags around the wound in hopes to stay the bleeding. He cursed under his breath before turning his gaze warily over towards the jet black mer, finding the peculiar sight of the beast writhing about upon the concrete and he feared that he may have struck too hard. But not long after the fit had begun, it had stopped, the mer having grown weary as it stumbled to pick itself back up.
The look in the mer’s eyes hadn’t been an expected one, as instead of the instinct driven anger, a look of absolute anguish held within tearful eyes. The soft whine sounding almost like a cry as it looked on at him, ears lowing as if it knew it had breached some sort of boundary it shouldn’t of.
Danny flinched back at the calculating and confused look of the now injured man. He was a relative of the one he wished to call his mate, and now he’d likely severed any chance he had. He sulked back, heading towards the quiet, safe confines of the water, only pausing briefly at the sight of what had started the fight in the first place. Even if his chances her now null, he couldn’t help but give a guilty glance towards the scientist before scrounging an armful of the shellfish and disappearing over the side.
The sight Sam walked into had been an unpleasant one; the scent of decaying shellfish scattered across the floor stung at her nose while the sheer amount of blood sprayed upon the concrete burned its vision into the back of her mind. A scour of the scene led her to her uncle pressed up against the wall, cradling his wounded limb.
“Nate!” she wasted no time pushing through the mess to reach him, testing for a pulse before he groaned, trying to swat her hand a way, but there was no force in the action. He was clammy and fading in and out of consciousness. She pulled out her phone and quickly dialed the emergency number, hoping that they would arrive soon. There was too much of a mess across the patio to be certain whose blood was whose and just how much of it was spilt, but judging from the trauma peeking out from under the mock bandages, the older Manson had taken the harder blow.
“Sam…?” He groaned, bringing his uninjured hand up to hold his aching head, in the heat of the moment he’d not realized just how hard he’d been tossed and his whole body ached as a result. Blinking he took a moment to bring his vision back into focus, glancing up at her before his gaze fell upon his poorly bandaged hand; the t-shirt already soaked red. He couldn’t help but grimace at the throbbing sensation that spiked its way up his arm, “Damn, he got me good…”
“What happened?” Sam moved to help him shift into a more comfortable position against the wall, all the while attempting to avoid bumping any visible injuries.
“Fella decided to pick a fight with me over a couple oysters,” Nate hissed; muscles aching at the action before letting him rest, head pressing against the wall, “He’s got one hell of a bite, I’ll give him that..”
“Looks like more than a simple bite went down,” Sam huffed, glancing over towards the scene, noting how the red streaked across the concrete and to the water’s edge. The cooler was toppled over, the ice having since melted into a large puddle across the floor, intermixing with the blood and leaving it a sickly shade of pink; definitely more than just a bite.
It still didn’t make any sense. In the few months the mer had been part of the aquarium, he’d never shown such food aggression. Possessiveness, yes; but he was quick to understand what was his and what was theirs unless otherwise said so.
She wasn’t able to think on it for long as the doors opened bringing with it a wave of paramedics and staff members as they moved to help cart the injured scientist to safety. Sam gave one last look towards the pool; the water not giving a stir; the mer probably having gone into hiding after the skirmish. She’d have to check up on him later, but for the time being, her uncle needed her most.
Danny curled himself into a tighter ball within the confines of the tank, attempting to hide himself in the shadows of an overhanging ledge. His hands held over his ears as he remained coiled, trying to block out the sounds pounding in his head. The screams ringing in his ears with a newfound agony he hadn’t faced in years. It felt like an eel was twisting within his insides. It left him feeling sick.
The oysters lay cast aside in the sand, taking in giant gasps of water now that they’d been returned to its cool, salty safety. Occasionally he could glance over and stare guiltily at them until the images flashed across his mind forcing him to turn away.
Since when had the man tried to withhold things from him when they’d obviously been pulled out with the intention of sharing them? For as long as he’d known the scientist, the man had never teased him like that, maybe had him perform something else before he’d get what he wanted, but he never intentionally kept it away from him. Had he let his desperation to obtain them cloud his judgment and then jump to the offensive without thinking?
But it was his fault for threatening him like that… Or was it? A number of times he’d seen the humans gesture with their hands, it was how they talked since they bore no fins or sails… Perhaps he had misread it, after all, the man was human, not mer, and they’d never really seen eye to eye.
The dark mer’s ears lowered solemnly, had he been in the wrong…? He tried to run over the events that led up to the fight, from the offering of the mussels, to him noticing the oysters in the box… The mussel… The last thing the male had offered him was the last one of those sweet meats. He’d dropped it upon seeing the oysters and having been so determined to get them he’d ignored the task given that could of gotten them without argument. It was that last little morsel, and all he had to do was eat it…
For some off chance that he thought he could right the situation, Danny swam back up to the surface, eying his surroundings carefully and noting that all of the human presence had left the place, leaving it in eerie silence. Pulling himself up upon the patio he’d intended to seek out the forgotten mussel, in hopes that completing the task would undo some of the wrong, but found himself frozen at the sight that greeted him.
Usually with most fights he was used to, the battles concluded themselves under water, leaving behind a dispersing mist of red and the light taste of iron amidst the salt. But here, above water, the violence of the skirmish remained, stained upon the rocks like a haunting memory.
He couldn’t handle it, backing away from the spatter and scattered shells before diving back into the safe serenity of the water. He couldn’t face it… couldn’t face himself for what he’d done… and dared not think of facing her….. To face the rejection and anger at having harmed a loved one… and felt the chances of holding her in his embrace fading like blood in the water.
He hid himself away within the shadow of the ledge, unwilling to come out to the point of leaving the other animals curious. He tried to ignore them, turning away and burying his head into his arms, struggling to hold himself together, but it was just as hard as the first time he’d been brought here… stuck with the agonizing silence of his own thoughts and unable to run away…
For hours, everything felt so still; just the swashing of the wave machine churning the reef’s artificial tide, to the fish ridding along on the currents, meandering about in search of tidbits of food. Danny simply ignored them, too exhausted at this point to swat them away when they got too curious. He’d almost faded into sleep when the water wavered with the vibrations of another.
The mer could feel his heart all but stop within his chest, knowing the sensation down to his bones. She had come back to witness his crime and judge him harshly for it. He knew his chance was done, and he couldn’t bring himself to go up and see her. Not after all of this.
He was about to bury his head in his arms when the water shifted, splashing about and causing the fish to scatter. The mer jumped in surprise before coming to recognize the ripples in the water for what they were; she’d jumped in. He stared up in fearful regret as the figure of his beloved swam down to him.
He couldn’t help but mouth the silent syllables of her name before she approached him. His ear’s lowered submissively as her lavender gaze bore down on him, but she made no attempt to scold or berate him. He watched fearfully as she brought a hand around, expecting it to swat him, but instead it came up to brush his head. Her eyes seemed to focus in on the wound well deserved, as a frown creased her brow before she grabbed his arm and led him up towards the surface. He wasn’t sure what punishment she had in store for him, but he let her lead the way to whatever he deserved.
Breaching the surface, Sam gasped for breath, taking a moment to collect herself before leading the mer up onto the concrete. He’d been deeper down than she’d expected and judging from his behavior he’d been hiding like a dog that knew it had done wrong. She watched him attempt to pull away and hide back in the water.
At seeing the sight again Danny whined, attempting to return to the water’s sanctuary to no avail. She wasn’t going to let him go, her hold upon him refusing to waver. Thus he was forced to stay, even if he refused to let his eyes linger, turning his head away. He didn’t want to look. But even that luxury was taken from him as she gripped his chin and guided his head towards the scene then back up to her.
The whine in his throat grew as he was forced to look at the violence he’d rought; wishing he could just disappear. Even worse was the look of anger and pain that held within her eyes. It was almost too much for him. He knew he deserved to be snapped at, chased off and rejected like he had been so long ago. But it never came.
Instead he was graced with her hands upping his head, stroking his head like a mother would a child. The anger still remained in her tone as she spoke soft words to him, but no violence came from it. If anything her voice was too soft for a scolding, and he wondered if he even wanted to understand those words.
“You hurt him pretty bad you know…” Sam sighed, parting the mer’s hair away from the wound. The salt water had cleaned out most of the broken shell, but it was still raw and painful; her uncle had had to strike hard in order to break free, “Was it worth it?”
She knew it was more like talking to herself, uncertain of just how much the reef dwelling beast understood. But let herself continue on; her own voice keeping herself calm as well as the animal before her; the mer’s eyes were searching hers, trying to decipher everything she said as if it held significance to his very existence.
Finally parting the hair away from the wound she pulled her bag around and pulled out a few medical supplies she’d picked up on the way back. Even with scientist in the hospital, the man couldn’t hold a grudge against the creature, insisting that she return to tend its wounds.
“You wouldn’t have done this if it was me, would you?” She let herself stare back into those deep green eyes, searching for an answer she would not receive. The mer seemed to know that he could not answer and looked away submissively.
She sighed in defeat, giving his head a gentle stroke whilst steading her tweezers to remove the remaining debris and begin the process of cleaning the wound. She let herself get distracted at this point, unable to remain focused on such painful thoughts and letting the anatomy in front of her carry her mind elsewhere.
Even with all the times she’d been so close to this animal, she’d never really had a chance to study him up close. She let her eyes wander to the hanging, tattered scales along the wound; scales that when intact were so fine that they appeared almost like skin. Her fascination getting the better of her as she plucked a broken scale from the torn tissue, only to earn a mental kick back into reality as the mer yelped and jerked away.
“Sorry Danny, should’ve warned you…” She reached out and rubbed one of his ears to calm his protests. It worked for the most part and thus she was able to continue with actually cleaning the wound, this time the actions expected, mind the grumble and gripe.
Danny just winced all the while, putting up with the unusual punishment. While it wasn’t as traumatic as he’d expected, it was still strange, intermingling between pain and comfort and leaving him confused as a result. But he dealt with it, reminding himself that he deserved this, and more so.
He only spooked when Sam reached out and pulled something else from her bag. The foreign object startled him; jerking back on instinct until she restrained him again. A long whine held in his throat, his display of fear. Sam attempted her best to console the skittish animal, speaking in soft tones and attempting to show him that the tube of ointment she’d taken out wasn’t a threat.
“You’re lucky Nate’s such a forgiving person you know…” She just shook her head, uncapping the ointment now that the mer had settled and wasn’t about to flee.
Though, despite her words, the lingering thought still hung on, hoping that her uncle was as forgiving to people as he was with animals. She’d shown up as early as she had with the intention of apologizing and informing him of the two newcomers into their secret ‘circle’. While she hadn’t been able to tell him as of yet, the fact that she’d shown up when she did had likely saved the man’s life.
She finished administering the medicine without much protest then turned to scour the mess. It seemed she was the only one left to clean it seeing as the other employees avoided the enclosure for this exact reason.
“Stay,” She turned back and uttered the simple command.
The mer knowingly lowered his ears and gave a sound of protest, to which she repeated the phrase to assure it was followed. She couldn’t have him diving back into the water again until the ointment had been given a little time to absorb. In the meantime it also gave her time to clean away the stains that scarred them.
Danny fidgeted where he sat, the known word ringing in his ears telling him to remain where he was despite every fiber in his being screaming at him to hide away. Thus he watched in a mix of horror and guilt as she began to clean up the mess he’d made; picking up the shellfish and piling them into the up righted cooler.
He wanted to tell her she didn’t have to. That it was his fault. That she didn’t need to waste her breath on him. But no words reached him and he was forced to watch until he couldn’t stand it anymore. This wasn’t her mess to clean. Ears lowered, he crawled forward into the nightmare. Images flashing across his mind of horrors past, but he refused to acknowledge them, pressing on and scooping up a cluster of shells, depositing them in the box as she had done.
Sam had stopped briefly, watching as the mer mimicked her actions. It was almost amusing, if not for the haunted look upon his face. It held a feeling to it that left a shudder down her spine. Sometimes the emotions he displayed were unsettlingly human.
They spent a good part of the afternoon cleaning up the mess. Sam had turned to mopping up the blood whilst leaving Danny to cleaning up the shellfish. They’d managed to clean up most of the mess with the exception of one mussel left out by the water’s edge, and the mer seemed reluctant to pick it up.
There didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about it at first glance. The only thing she could see was that it was the last one of its type that had been left uneaten. When she picked it up for closer inspection, Danny had whined in complaint. Just what was it about this one that had him so uptight compared to the rest?
The thought clicked in her mind as she connected the pieces; this was the last untouched mussel before the fight had broken out. Perhaps he felt some sort of regret or attachment to it. Sighing softly, she turned and set it down in front of him. The mer in turn coiled up, obviously uncomfortable with whatever it represented to him.
Danny continued to squirm at the sight of it, feeling even more uncomfortable with it placed in front of him rather than where it had been, forgotten on the floor. His gaze tried to travel away from it, only to gravitate towards the lavender gaze still upon him. The whine hung in his throat again and he wished he had some way to beg for forgiveness rather that sustain the torture anymore.
Sam watched the mer struggle under her examination, wishing she could simply understand. Maybe if she had been there she would have known what set him off, or have found some way to stop it…
She shook her head, trying to clear the thoughts. There was nothing to be done about the past, only where to go now. She turned her focus back towards the mer, finding him with a look of concentration upon his face.
The next thing she knew, he’d opened his mouth, letting out a raspy mix of sound to which he forced into his first spoken words.
It was a troubling thought that left the phantom mer swashing about the waters of his tank. Throughout the weeks since he’d started learning to spell, he’d begun attempting to sound off the words he’d learned. However, he found himself all but unable to pronounce them. Mouthing the syllables as humans did was easy enough, but it seemed as though he was missing some key thing that would unlock the elusive sounds.
Finding that he was unsuccessful by the usual methods, he resulted to trying his own. Most of these attempts resulted in bizarre contortions that left his handlers concerned for his wellbeing. Whenever he felt he was close to replicating a sound, he’d repeat it over and over, usually causing such a racket to where the center was forced to close on days when they could not hide the noise.
Because of these days, Nate found it was probably wiser to find other methods of communication, as the commotion was beginning to raise questions among the visitors, and among the new science classes; mainly as the screeches and squawks brought a tortured animal to mind. Thus with a reluctant sigh, he turned this information over to his niece on the task of finding a new method for themselves, as well as their unusual friend.
“So tell me again why it is that you’ve been looking up sign language?” Tucker pondered whilst stuffing another handful of jerky into his mouth, much to Sam’s disgust.
Since they first introduction, the techno geek had made himself quite at home now that his girlfriend wasn’t concerned about inviting him over anymore. Aside from his eating habits, Sam didn’t have much to complain about, and the male’s fondness for video games brought with it a childish stress reliever.
The only one to really complain was Danny, whom whenever he caught the teen’s scent on her clothes would become increasingly agitated and attempt to sniff out the competition with no success. Thankfully it wasn’t something she would have to worry about as the two of them were practically in two different worlds.
Giving a sigh and a shake of her head, she continued to search for content on the matter at hand, “A friend of mine is mute, so I wanted to lend a hand.”
“I didn’t know you had a friend like that.”
“They don’t go to the university,” her tone had been far sharper than she had meant it to be, as Tucker quickly raised his hands in submission. At least he wasn’t going to nag her about it. Her roommate on the other hand, was another matter.
“So, what’s his name?” Valery mused as she flopped down upon her bed next to her boyfriend. The teen had gone back to stuffing his face full of the dried meat.
“I never said it was a guy,” Sam defended.
“You didn’t have to. I could see it in your eyes,” she fluttered her eyes for emphasis, only earning a scowl in return.
“It’s not like that…”
“Oh! I bet he works at the Aquarium! That’s why you’re always there! When do I get to meet him?” Val gasped, bouncing excitedly, causing her mattress to groan from the abuse.
However, instead of the usual sigh and relent, the goth proceeded to slam her laptop shut and leave the room without another word.
“I think you over did it...”
“So tell me again why we followed her to the aquarium?” Tucker frowned, his eyes wandering their surroundings with a nervous gaze. It wasn’t that he feared the creatures within the many tanks surrounding them, but rather the sheer devastation the water could bring to his precious electronics. He probably should have forgone that last horror film as the thought of the glass shattering made him shudder.
“Quit whining already. I figured I should apologize to her…”
“I think it’s just cause you want to see who this guy is.”
Val just rolled her eyes at the reprimand and pressed on.
The two meandered down the major halls with no success in finding their quarry. Eventually they were left standing before the doors to the employee’s only sector. A heavy tug upon the handle identified it as locked much to their frustration, and the primary point of access being the scan lock on the nearby wall.
“Tucker, think you can hack this one?”
“Technically that’s illegal…”
“And has that ever stopped you before?”
“…Fine,” He hissed, trying to keep his voice down as he eyed their surroundings warily before pulling out his pda to begin remotely hacking the lock. Yet just as he punched into the security’s mainframe, the handheld beeped unpleasantly causing them both to jump in fright.
“What was that?”
“Someone is hacking my system through the mainframe!” Tuck grimaced, attempting to fight back, only to find that he was all but locked out from the controls, “Damn they’re good…”
“Can’t you do something?” Valery grit her teeth, growing more and more wary of the surrounding hall. While there wasn’t anyone in the current vicinity, that didn’t mean someone could possible stumble across them.
What answered her was another resounding beep from the pda before the screen opened up a private chat window and began typing out a message that made their skin crawl.
‘There’s no need for that…’
The two teens held a hushed breath while the screen continued to display another entry.
‘You simply could have asked…’
And with that, the padlock flashed green, the door unlocking with a satisfied click. The pda then gave one last beep before returning itself to the proper user controls, leaving the last message in bold upon the screen.
‘I will be watching…’
“This is honestly creepy,” Tucker grimaced as he viewed over the final message before turning his attention back towards the door. Yup, definitely shouldn’t have watched that last movie; now he had all sorts of creepy crawly feelings along his spine. But, this was no movie; this was very much real; and it left the question as to what was really going on, “You still want to go through with this?”
“I swear if this is her way of getting back at us then I’m gonna be mad,” Val grit her teeth, swearing that the camera on the wall had just shifted in their direction. It left a growing sense of unease, but that wasn’t about to stop her from reaching her goal, if it was even here.
Pushing through the doors and pressing their way down the halls, they found that the back way was mostly bare, as if everyone was running about elsewhere. Yet with the number of halls and rooms, it was a wonder as to why they hadn’t gotten lost and run into anyone. It seemed that answer was in the hands of their mystery hacker, for as they moved along, only certain doors would open, the light flickering green. It eventually led them along a complex maze of rooms and halls, until the next available door opened up into a narrow stairway.
“I wonder where they’re leading us…?” The young tech eyed the camera nervously before making his way up the stairs. They were too far in to turn back now.
The figure at their desk smirked whilst watching the screens. Fingers interlaced as their gaze followed the teens to their destination. Now was the moment… the decision maker that drove them from here… Would it fall through? Or would it succeed..? They let themselves lean back within their chair.
“It’s your move, my friend…”
The stairs wound themselves up the narrow stretch, before it opened up into a large enclosed patio.
“I think we’re above the main exhibit,” Valery let her gaze wander in curiosity. So far they hadn’t been led into anyone, thus she felt it was safe to give it a look. Yet, one thing was very odd…
“Didn’t they say this place was under construction?”
The place showed no signs of it, if anything it was very much complete, from the paint on the walls, to the sound of the water moving about the tank. It left the question as to why it hadn’t been opened, or why a hacker had led them in.
Eventually her eyes landed on the initial reason for their intrusion, finding Sam sitting by the water’s edge, “Hey, there she..”
She wasn’t able to finish her sentence as she found her boyfriend’s hands silencing her.
“Shh.. look.” He whispered, gesturing towards the reason for his caution.
Out of the water it rose; with ebony scales and shining white sails, a creature of myth and legend coiled itself upon the concrete next to their gothic friend; it left them gawking at the sight.
“What the actual fuck?!”
Sam smiled softly down at the waters below, watching as her mermian friend swam about her feet, “You know, sometimes even though you can’t really understand me; I still feel like you do better than most.”
Danny cooed along comfortingly, sensing her distress. The soft sounds brought up a soft smile to her lips and she patted the ground beside her. The mer complied with her request and pulled himself up out of the water to sit with her, whining softly as she spoke to him, her hand eventually coming up to pet his head, to which he nuzzled affectionately. So far she hadn’t denied the attention he asked for and thus he willingly sought its comfort.
A startled gasp drew him out of his attention seeking phase as pupils narrowed into slits, searching for the source of the disturbance. He caught sight of it by the entrance and made his warning loud and clear with a guttural, reptilian like hiss.
The response was not missed by his human companion as she inquired upon his sudden change in behavior before turning towards the source of his distress.
“What or how did you get in here?!” she stared; almost flabbergasted before her face grew with a seriousness the two were didn’t believe was possible, “What. Are. You. Doing. Here.”
The words ground out; a threat hanging on each syllable. It was only further emphasized by the knife Sam flicked out of her pocket; the blade flashing dangerously.
“Whoa! Whoa! Calm Down! We just came to apologize for earlier!” Valery raised her hands defensively, now eying the weapon more than anything; likely deciding on the best way to remove it from the goth’s hands.
“Honest! We don’t want trouble!” Tucker added on, wary of the brandished weapon, but finding his eyes wavering over towards the snapping, snarling jaws of the black scaled beast. While he had a vague idea of what the creature was, the whole concept seemed so skewed and unreal that he couldn’t help the question that tumbled from his lips, “What… exactly is that thing..?”
By this point Sam had already come to the conclusion that there was no means to reverse the situation, or un-see what had already been seen; the knife scare hadn’t been enough to run them off, thus it left her with the dilemma of sharing secrets or killing them off and she wasn’t willing to spill that sort of blood. It was more a matter of keeping them from spreading their discovery all across town. Pointing the knife she frowned deeply, mulling over what to do at this point, there was no turning back, and she had to ensure this didn’t get out.
“Before I tell you anything, nothing you see here, leaves here, got it?”
The two of them nodded nervously, coming to similar conclusions that all the pieces had led them to this and that it wasn’t a secret easily shared; for the knife jab and the snarl of the monster gnashing its teeth warned of a short future if they didn’t comply.
The heeded warning was enough, as Sam heaved a heavy sigh and finally pocketed the blade. In all honestly, she didn’t want to have to use it and was grateful that she didn’t have to. Her mermian friend however, still remained tense and willing to strike; an expected reaction to strangers. One of the many reasons it had all remained hidden for so long.
“So, what is he?” Tucker gulped, eying the creature with a skittish gaze, whom returned the favor with a less friendly one.
Sam hunched down in attempts to console the mer’s ruffled scales. Her uncle was going to have an absolute fit once he found out about this, but there truly was no real way out of this.
“His name is Danny. My uncle ended up finding him along the reefs south of here,” she continued to sooth the now named beast to no real avail; the two teens watching in wary fascination.
“I didn’t think mermaids even existed. That’s what he is, right?” Valery peered at the beast with a growing curiosity. Now that the situation had simmered down, it felt safer to express such interest.
“Well, he’s certainly no maid…” Sam attempted a grin of humor, only to be shot down by the creature’s mock lunge, earning a yelp from the teens, “Danny! No!”
She brought herself around in front of him. Even though Tucker and Valery were away from the water and thus out of harm’s way, she couldn’t risk him actually harming someone. It would have similar consequences to if she had attacked them, and only bring with it further harm.
“No,” She repeated, her voice stern, adding emphasis to its meaning. The mer in turn, snarled, flashing his fangs in defiance until Sam brought herself into his face, almost overbearingly and repeated herself. The word eventually sunk in along with the domineering posture and he relented, ears lowering, but his stare holding. Though he’d come to comprehend the scolding word for what it was, and thus obeyed it, did not mean he was willing to back down on something so unfamiliar until his own judgment was certain of it.
The uneasy tension held for several minutes before Sam heaved a sigh, knowing she would have to produce more substantial evidence to trust them before this argument could be won.
“Did I offend him or something?” Valery huffed, crossing her arms in attempts to quell her obvious shaking, to which her boyfriend just rolled his eyes. She was always trying to appear braver than she sometimes was.
“No, you didn’t. He just doesn’t know you yet,” An idea sparking in the goth’s head had her gaze spinning over towards the fridges that stored the tank’s food. It was a long shot, but hopefully a step in the right direction. Food had been the first step for the center towards gaining Danny’s trust. Perhaps it could lead them in the right direction for getting him to open up to new people.
Her gaze wandered over towards her aquatic friend. The mer was still bristling visibly, but for the most part was keeping his complaints to himself. However, she could see the familiar look in his eyes; how his pupils focused in on their alleged target. It was a look he gave right before he struck, something her uncle had become acquainted with over the few short months. Bless the man’s soul that he knew how to handle himself in those kinds of situations; but the same could not be certain of her two friends. This was something that would have to be a slow and easy process.
“Tucker, can you go over to that fridge there? You should find some fish already prepared in a pail,” She gestured towards the fridge, keeping a hand in front of the calculating mer in case the movement spooked him.
For the most part, Danny ignored her, focusing in on the male intruder as he made his way over towards what the mer had come to associate as a food source. Bristling all the while as the teen returned with the ‘stolen’ goods.
“Ok, now crouch down over there, slowly, and toss one of the fish over,” Sam pointed over to a spot about six or seven feet off. It was close, close enough to unnerve her aquatic friend, but just far enough out of reach from an initial strike, keeping the young man safe.
Doing as asked, Tucker tossed the fish over, remaining a few paces further back out of caution. Valery held wary of this as well. Though unfamiliar with the animal herself, she knew the look in the mer’s eyes; an aggressive, calculating stare. One wrong move and it would strike. Sam seemed to know this too, as she tensed the moment the fish was tossed, realizing that something was off.
The fish landed just before the mer’s claws, but the creature made no move to acknowledge the offering. He still bristled, half showing his teeth, still glowering over at the strangers much like he had the scientists upon his original arrival. He didn’t know these people, or what harm they could cause, what things they would jab at him, or take away what was his…
It was a split second motion, from the mer’s lunge, to Sam’s defense. In the next second, the creature found himself flat on his back, a startled yelp his and the strangers’ response. His first reaction was to snarl and attempt to defend his exposed underbelly, but he found himself pinned and staring up into the fierce lavender gaze of his human female, the sheer intensity of those eyes halted his original defense as he lowered his ears in true submission. This wasn’t a simple scolding. It was a full on display of dominance Sam was holding over him; that there was no argument to her decision; that he was to obey it. A soft whine was his acknowledgement and she relented, letting the poor beast up; his form instantly rolling over into a defensive position, backing away like a beaten dog. Apparently it was an acceptable response as Sam found it safe to turn her eyes away from him.
“You alright?” she turned her gaze towards Tucker.
He nodded, still too lost for breath for words, able to comprehend her words, though his focus remained on the now sulking animal like a deer in the headlights. Valery on the other hand had taken on a defensive position, glowering at the offending creature. The mer just flashed his teeth in response before shrinking back at Sam’s scolding look.
In the end Sam could only sigh and shake her head. This was going nowhere. So far all that had had been accomplished was upsetting her friends on both sides of the spectrum, “Maybe we should get something to drink…”
To say that he was frustrated was an understatement. For most of the afternoon, Nate had spent his time running over the system with the security team.
Over the past few days, the center had been fighting a number of small scale breaches, including a number of camera and computer overrides, and file copies. Yet no real material had been stolen, no banking information, no true research information. It left the question as to what this hacker(s) wanted, and why?
That afternoon had been the oddest one, and the most disturbing out of all the cyber-attacks thus far; a full system override, locking staff in and out of corridors, while unlocking an entire pathway that had led to the very center of their operation. It had left the security team running about like chickens with their heads cut off.
With the alarm bells ringing in his head, Nate had bolted his way towards the main exhibit, fearing for the worst, only to have his way barred and he was forced to try an alternate route. In the end, the only corridors he was able to get through had led him around and into the security room. And there he stood, tapping his fingers along the desk, a frown creasing his brow as he stared down at the screen. By the time he’d gotten there, whoever had been in the system had backed out, allowing them to regain control.
From the screens, he could see that their secreted mer was still safe within the confines of the main exhibit, mind the bucket of fish the creature’s head was in, chowing away. It was a temporary sigh of relief, seeing as the only other one that Danny would accept food from was Sam. But the oddity of it was that she never left the bucket on its own. She was always hands on when it came to feeding him, finding that it helped socialize and overall lead to a friendly disposition. For the most part it had been a successful endeavor, but it left the question as to where she was and why. It just seemed too out of routine for her.
His eyes scanned to the other camera displays, eventually finding her down in the café plaza with a couple of friends. As out of habit as it was for her reclusive nature, it was good to see her socializing with other people. Though, Danny would likely be vying for attention as a result. Nate mused, knowing he probably should stop by to check up on the mer in a short while.
For now, he should probably contact Vlad about upgrading to a better security system…