Click here to read Part 1 of "In the Deep."
An hour later, the three explorers sat huddled on the submersible, devising a plan for capturing the mermaid. More accurately, Mila and the whippersnapper devised; Rodney listened with growing discomfort.
“Excuse me,” the astronaut interrupted. “Wouldn’t you need bait to lay a trap? A lure? If we were fishing for bass, I’d know what to use. But we’re talking mermaids here.”
“Well,” the whippersnapper began with hesitation. “It seems to like you. The only thing we can’t figure out is how to contain it.”
“Contain it? Like with a net?”
Mila and the young man huddled around a monitor. Rodney peered over their shoulders to discover that they were scanning the sub’s manifest. Sure enough, a pneumatic net gun was listed among the supplies. The rest of the plan involved dimming the light on Rodney’s chest lamp. He’d need both hands free to fire the net gun.
Something about the plan niggled at Rodney, but he did as he was told. Back in the diving gear, back to the vent site, net gun in hand.
About an hour later, Rodney’s feet tingled with sleep and his mood was sharpening with impatience. He checked his gauge. “Mila, my O2’s getting low. I’m coming in.”
“Roger that, Roddy.”
Rodney turned, then stopped short. The mermaid hovered in front of him. Had she been there all along? Studying him from behind? The thought brought a smirk to Rodney’s face.
The two held eye contact.
Yanna. The word formed in Rodney’s brain. Her name. The mermaid’s name was Yanna.
He thought his own name. She nodded.
Holy crap, Rodney thought.
Yanna tilted her head.
“Get her!” Rodney jumped at the roar of Mila’s voice. “The gun, Roddy. Use the gun!”
The more he looked at Yanna, the less he liked the plan. Yanna wasn’t an “it.” She wasn’t a creature to be dissected in a lab. She was human—partly, at least. And a looker, in an exotic sort of way.
Rodney thought of his great-great-great-grandfather, a slave in the antebellum South, hunted as he sought the Underground Railroad, captured along the Mississippi River…with a fishing net.
No, Rodney couldn’t do that to another human being—not even one with gray skin, yellow eyes, and scales.
Go, he told Yanna. They only want to hurt you.
He headed back to the sub, bracing himself for the storm.
Rodney had no idea Mila knew so many colorful words, or that the whippersnapper’s face could turn so red.
“We’re going after it,” Mila finally announced. She started toward the pilot’s chair.
Rodney grabbed her arm. “We don’t belong here, Mila. We’re not wanted here. More importantly, that’s not our mission.”
Mila narrowed her eyes and growled.
Rodney prayed Yanna had followed his instructions.
She hadn’t—not completely. She had swam off, but she’d returned—with an army of sea creatures at her back. She marshaled them like an experienced general.
Wave after wave swarmed the submersible, obstructing its view and its progress. Something large slammed into the sub’s port side.
“Give it up,” Rodney told Mila. “You’re not going to win.”
“I don’t give up,” she swore through clenched teeth.
Another port-side ram.
“Then consider it a tactical retreat.”
The sub rocked starboard.
The whippersnapper’s head peered into the cockpit. “We can’t take many more hits like that.”
Something large and heavy crashed into the port side.
“I told you. I’m not giving up.”
Yes, you are, Rodney decided as he headed to the exit module.
Climbing back into his diving suit, he tried to focus his thoughts on Yanna, to let her know of his plan. For it to work, he needed her cooperation. By the time he trudged back to the cockpit, he could only hope she’d gotten his message.
Clad in his diving gear, there was no way he could sneak up on Mila. So he made a great show of entering the cockpit instead. “I have an idea,” he told her as he bent over the controls. “Let’s see if this works.”
It did, and it didn’t take long. Mila was soon yawning and struggling to keep her eyes open. Rodney knew the whippersnapper was experiencing the same symptoms. Within minutes, they both fell unconscious.
The attacks on the sub subsided and then stopped. Yanna must have heard him. He looked out the window and saw her hovering in front of the craft. Thank you, he said. We’ll be gone soon.
Before we go, there’s something I need to know.
Yanna nodded again.
He conjured an image of black smoke rising from a field of tubeworms and hoped she’d understand. Where is it?
He expected her to dash off, to lead him to the vent. She didn’t. He watched as the sub faded around him until he seemed to be standing on the ocean floor once again. The sea floor opened in front of him, releasing black smoke. Then the ground beneath him shook. Rodney instinctively held out his arms for balance. The sea floor repositioned itself, pinching the vent closed.
Then it all vanished and Rodney was back on the submersible with an unconscious Mila slumped in her chair.
He nodded his thanks to Yanna and said his goodbyes.
As she and her army swam away, Rodney made his way to the research module. He fumbled at first but managed to find and delete the recorded images of Yanna. Then he shuffled back to the control room and reset the oxygen flow and carbon dioxide scrubbers. He waited for Mila and the whippersnapper to come to.
Mila woke first.
“Thank God,” Rodney told her. “I thought I’d be stuck down here forever.”
She rubbed her eyes. “What happened?”
“Not sure. I came back from the vent site and the two of you were out cold. Seems the air controls went screwy.”
The whippersnapper showed up in the doorway, blinking himself back to reality. “The vent?”
“Far as I could tell, it was caved in by an earthquake,” Rodney said.
Mila still looked confused. “But the mermaid…”
“Mermaid? What mermaid?” Rodney shook his head. “You must have been hallucinating. Lack of oxygen can do that.” He pointed at the whippersnapper. “You told me that yourself when you briefed me on the way down here.”
The whippersnapper stood with his mouth agape. “You were listening?”
Rodney smiled. “I’m full of surprises. Now,” he turned to Mila, “can we go home before something else goes wrong?”
Click here to read the story behind "In the Deep."