Happy Friday, Aledan Merfolk! I know I said yesterday that I’m in the middle of changing from present tense to past tense in StO, but you’re getting the present tense version today because I haven’t had a chance to re-read and make sure the past tense version is solid. I know I haven’t told you much about StO other than it’s a mermaid novel, but I think you’ll get the gist of it real quick. So it’s time to meet Finn:
Chapter 1: Finn
I tap bubbles out of the pink euthanasia fluid, cap the syringe, and set it on the bench next to me before changing into my wet suit. Corporate tells the public the mermaids aren’t dangerous, but that’s bullshit. They killed another trainer last night, and now it’s my job to euthanize the offending mermaid—or in this case, merman.
Sergio de la Cruz zips up his wetsuit and claps me on the shoulder. “Ready, Finn?”
I snort. “You looking for a last will and testament? ‘Cause I didn’t leave you anything.”
Serge laughs. He knows he gets all my stuff—we’ve been best friends since preschool.
Hooking the syringe to a loop on my wetsuit, I take a deep breath, then shake the tension from my shoulders.
“You’re looking a little nervous there, bro.”
“Bismuth’s a big boy.” Science geeks to the core, we name the Mer after periodic table elements. “And he’s got the twins in the tank with him. Plenty could go wrong.”
“Nah.” Serge bumps my locker door closed and we make our way through the gray concrete halls of Oceanica to the practice tank that contains the three Mer. “They’ve been chilled. You’ll be fine.”
Reflected shadows quiver along the walls and condensation runs down the sides of the tank as we enter the practice room. Filters hidden in the walls hum and water gurgles where it enters the tank. Madison and Natalie wait for us at the bottom of the stairs, wetsuits on, eyes red-rimmed from another sleepless night mourning a friend.
The four of us ascend the metal stairs to the platform around the tank. The practice tank isn’t the largest at Oceanica, but it’s big. Nearly a million gallons—one fifth the size of the tanks they used for the orcas. Bismuth floats near the bottom, dark green scales against the bleary gray surroundings. His indigo eyes are wider than normal, sharp and intelligent, not the dead-eyed expression I’m used to. He was in the tank the last time we euthanized a Mer for attacking a trainer. Watching deters some of the Mer, but others get pissed and want to kill us. Like Bismuth.
Hopefully watching Bismuth foam will discourage the twins. Fluorine and Chlorine are impossible to tell apart with their ice-blue hair that’s mirrored in their eyes and the tips of their fins. They have the second most popular show at Oceanica, and after I finish with Bismuth, we’re going to have to go hunting for a new male to perform with them.
Euthanizing a Mer isn’t as easy as say, a dog. For one, they’re huge. With his tail, Bismuth’s got a good two feet on me. They’re also the perfect predator. Sharp teeth, sharper claws, more agile than a shark. And then there’s all the ridiculous regulations. The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service has a strict set of rules regarding Mer husbandry, including euthanization. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has even stricter rules regarding trainer safety.
A net hangs over the side of the tank, a metal shepherd’s hook nearby. I cringe as nausea creeps through my stomach. That’s how they retrieved Craig’s body. Serge got the call from Oceanica while we were at the bar. Craig was supposed to join us after his training session with Bismuth and the twins.
Madison’s staring at the hook like she’s imagining what happened, and I squeeze her arm as I pass to grab the net. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Yeah,” she says, voice hollow.
Sergio grabs a long pole with an aluminum loop on one end from the wall. The electroshocker will send a current into the water, stunning the Mer. Natalie and Madison help me get the portable crane ready for the net. It’s almost too heavy for me to cast, which is why the electroshocker comes in handy. There’s no way I’d be able to catch a Mer while they’re swimming.
“Hit ‘em,” I say when I’m ready.
Sergio presses the button and all three of the Mer freeze, muscles contracting as lactic acid floods their systems, and float to the surface. It’s kind of cool, actually. With an expert flick of my wrist, the net soars over the water and the weights drop around Bismuth. I yank on the line to close the bottom, then unwind it from my arm and hook it to the crane.
Serge removes the shocker from the water. Natalie starts the crane and Bismuth thrashes, trying to get out. The twins swim in agitated circles like sharks as he’s lifted from the water, and the crane brings him to the side where Madison and I stand. I wipe my sweaty hands on my pants and grab a climbing hook attached to a rope. Bismuth’s webbed fingers reach through the netting, trying to sink his sharp claws into us. With a deep breath I dart in, clip the hook to the net, and duck away before he can grab me.
“Maddy!” I snap when she doesn’t move with the hook. “Pay attention or you’ll end up like Craig.”
“Sorry,” she mumbles and hooks the net.
I tie my line around a dock cleat and check that Maddy’s doing the same before lifting the syringe from the strap on my waist, pulling the cap off with my teeth, and stabbing it in Bismuth’s neck below his gills. Ten cc’s of pink juice flood his system.
The reaction starts in his gills, turning the tissue to foam. In a matter of seconds, his head is boiling away and foam moves down his chest, even as his tail twitches with muscle spasms. It’s disturbing to watch the first couple times, but the four of us are used to it now.
When Mer die, nothing remains. No scales, no hair, no skeleton. It all turns to seafoam. It’s one reason it took so long to find them—they don’t leave bodies behind. The only thing to prove Bismuth existed will be the video footage of his performances.
The hiss of a line unraveling grabs my attention from the show in the net. Maddy jumps to grab the rope. “Shit!”
Bismuth’s tail spasms and the net spins towards me. I try to jump out of the way, slip on the puddle of foam he’s created, and slam my knee on the metal platform. Pain roars through my leg. My hands fly into the air before I realize there’s nothing to grab and fall headfirst into the tank.
Saltwater shoots up my nose. Bubbles burst from my mouth. When they clear, there’s a pair of ice-blue, Area-51 eyes surrounded by bright green scales staring at me. I try to kick for the surface, but one twin’s claws sink into my leg, holding me under. Adrenaline rushes through my veins, hot in my stomach, and the other twin pierces my shoulders with her claws. I’m going to die. I grab the gills in her neck, the rakers cutting into my fingertips, and rip them. She screams in pain—the sound oddly clear in the water—and releases me as blood blooms around us. The twin with the claws in my leg yanks me further down. I gasp. Cold, coppery water rushes into my throat and lungs.
A thousand volts slam into my face and the world goes dark.