Science Fiction

In the Deep (Part 2)

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.

She nodded.

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."

In the Deep (Part 1)

Rodney Freeman hadn’t been in the ocean since he nearly drowned at age seventeen. Still, here he was, his robust middle-aged frame stuffed into a wetsuit and atmospheric diving gear, riding in a matchbox to the bottom of the Pacific.

I should’ve taken that retirement package, he thought as he half-listened to the resident whippersnapper drone on about seals and tethers and oxygen gauges.

“Look, youngblood.” Rodney’s eyes narrowed with impatience. “I spent half my adult life in space, done more spacewalks than anyone else in the history of NASA. I know all about safety suits and oxygen supplies. So why don’t you go swab the deck and let me adjust this damn diving suit in peace?”

The young man disappeared, but not before mumbling, “We’re on a submersible. It doesn’t have a deck.”

The twinge of guilt passed so quickly Rodney barely noticed it.


Two hours later the sub reached the ocean floor. Thirty minutes after that, Rodney took his first step into the deep. He’d been told deep sea walking would be like walking in space, but all he saw were the differences: the wet, the gravity, the pressure, the life.

I should be hunting bass on Lake George, he pined as he stepped through a field of tubeworms. Instead I’m fishing for answers at the bottom of the ocean.

He shook his head. Hindsight was always sharper. When NASA shut down last year, he’d been given two options: take early retirement or sign on with NOAA’s deep sea exploration unit, currently tasked with exploring ocean-based energy sources. Today’s assignment: find a missing hydrothermal vent.

“Your three o-clock, Roddy.” Mila’s voice interrupted Rodney’s pity-party. Sweet Mila. Only a pretty girl could get away with calling him Roddy. “About nine feet. You should see what looks like a black plume of smoke.”

The astronaut-turned-aquanaut maneuvered right. The sweep of his chest-mounted light sent all manner of creatures scurrying away into the dark. Rodney was fairly sure he’d seen many of them in his nightmares. He shivered before shuffling forward through more tubeworms.

“Too far, Roddy. You just passed it.”

Rodney turned around, bending at the waist to shine his lamp on the ocean floor. “I know I’m just a space cowboy, but shouldn’t a vent be like a hole or something?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Because the ground here is solid. There’s no hole and no sign a hole was ever here. You sure we’re in the right spot?”

Something bumped the back of Rodney’s right shoulder. He turned, only to catch sight of a tail fin cutting through the water.

“Roddy! You with me?”

Another bump. Another tail fin.

“Loud and clear, Mila. Just having a close encounter with the local wildlife.”


“Roddy, the local wildlife shouldn’t be anywhere near you. Your light is too bright. It would hurt them.”


“Tell that to whatever fish-thing keeps side-swipin’ me.”

“Roddy, move! You might be standing on its eggs.”

Rodney stepped backward. He froze, waiting for the next bump. None came.

“Mila, you’re as smart as you are…” Bump. “Wrong.”

Freeman turned again. This time he saw more than a tail fin. On the edge of his range of visibility, a pair of startling human-like eyes glowed in the shadows—and they were looking right at him.

“Hey, Mila. What kind of fish has people eyes?”

“Um…none. Why?”

“’Cause one’s staring at me right now.”

Rodney could hear Mila in muffled conversation with the whippersnapper he’d ignored earlier. “Roddy, get your caboose back to the sub. We need to check your line.”

Rodney slid backwards until the eyes disappeared into the dark. Ten minutes later, he was climbing back into the submersible.


He didn’t have his helmet off before Mila stuck her hand in his face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Rodney’s correct answer was rewarded with an oxygen mask and an animated lecture. Once again, his impatience won the day.

“I’m fine,” he grumbled as he tore off the mask. “There’s nothing wrong with my line. Something out there was making contact.” Freeman picked up his helmet. “Don’t you people have a video camera on this thing?”

Mila and the whippersnapper exchanged glances before the young man grabbed the helmet out of Rodney’s hands and jogged toward the research module. By the time Mila and Rodney caught up, the images from the helmet-cam had been downloaded.

The young scientist started to explain that the camera didn’t record video, only black-and-white still shots every five seconds, but Rodney cut him off. “Just show us what it caught, kid.”

Sure enough, it had caught the escaping tail fin and then, near the very end, the eerie eyes.  On the screen, they appeared as small gray blurs against a black background.

“They looked much more exotic in person,” Rodney explained. “Yellow sclera, purple irises. What kind of creature looks like that?”

“None,” the others responded in tandem.

 After a moment of silence, Mila spoke. “It would seem that you’ve discovered a new species.”

“Technically, ” Rodney corrected, “the new species discovered me. What’s next?”


Next was another walk to the location of the missing vent. Mila explained that the vent had to be close. Tubeworms depended on vents for survival. The location also seemed to be a focal point for Rodney’s mysterious creature.

“Two birds, one stone,” she’d quipped as she checked the seals on Roddy’s helmet. “And this time we’ll be watching your video feed in real time.”

Freeman shuffled his way back through the field of worms. Once again, there was no sign of a vent. Once again, the creature played tag with him, bumping him and then hovering on the edge of the lighted area.

Rodney held out his right hand toward the creature. It worked with lost dogs. Why not a curious sea critter?

Then Mila’s words came back to him. Creatures this deep didn’t like bright light. He put his left hand over the chest lamp. Light still streamed out between his fingers, but at least the ocean wasn’t lit up like a football stadium anymore.

About the time that Rodney’s right arm fell asleep, his new-found patience paid off. The owner of the mysterious eyes began to move closer, zigging one way then zagging the other, bringing it slowly into view.

Rodney couldn’t speak. The creature looked like nothing he’d ever seen back home. Its yellow and purple eyes were set in a human-like face framed by flowing blue-black hair. Its neck had gills just below its jawline. Its skin appeared bluish-gray in color. The creature looked human—and very female—down to its mid-torso. From the ribcage down, it was pure fish.

“Oh my God,” Mila whispered over the radio. “A mermaid.”

Rodney dropped his left hand. The mermaid shrieked and darted away.

“Go after it, Roddy!” Mila’s command came too late.  Rodney had lost sight of the mermaid.

“What about the vent?”

“Screw the vent. You found a frickin’ mermaid!”

To be continued . . .



Click here to read the story behind "In the Deep."