All week I’m posting the first five chapters from my absurd work-in-progress, Breaching Blue. Check out Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4. This concludes our week long mermaid adventure. Enjoy. And, if you don’t enjoy, blame Shiffman.
The reef made them strong. Janthina no longer hesitated to swim above the sunbreak, to explore the illuminated waters above. Each morning, as the sunlight penetrated the twilight waters of the reef, Janthina would rise into the realm of light. The animals that lived in the sun were new. They were active, vibrant, powerful. They moved as if the whole ocean was theirs to command.
Janthina spied Tornus below. The arch of her back was unmistakable. She had grown into a powerful, confident mermaid, broad across the shoulders and strong. Resting on the seafloor, she look like nothing so much as a massive boulder. Tornus sat in a circle with Simnia, Luidia, and several others, fashioning spearheads from a pile of discarded stingray carcasses, their meal from the previous day. The long, jagged barbs were perfect for hunting. They could puncture the toughest scales and would remain lodged until their prey went limp.
The barbs were cheap. The spears, though, required great effort to prepare. The instructions for their manufacture were scattered across the reef. It took nearly a full lunar cycle for Tornus and her compatriots to find enough driftwood, another cycle to grind them down into long, sturdy shafts. They were solid and stout. There were none to spare.
Janthina swam down to greet her sisters.
“How goes the preparations?”
“Well, Janthina,” Tornus no longer referred to her kin as ‘my sister’, preferring always their names. “We have nearly enough barbs to outfit a full complement of hunters.”
The reef was plentiful, but as the mermaids grew in size, its abundance was fading. The small fish that once populated the lower reaches of the seamount were absent. The few migrants were no longer sufficient to sustain the growing mermaids. They needed to hunt larger prey. Tornus had her eyes set on their former foes, the menacing killer whales that stalked them in the later days of the drift.
“We are prepared as well.” It was clear that some of her kin were built for strength and some for speed. Janthina was the far stronger swimmer, able to circle the reef in the time it took Tornus to reach the outer edge. The swimmers, conviently half of their population, would lure their prey down, exhaust them, and lead them into the waiting spears of their stouter sisters. Janthina and Tornus spent many nights together studying the carvings, planning the hunt. It would take the whole of their kin to successfully bring down a pod of blackfish.
“Good. I feel the pod getting closer. Their ceaseless chatter betrays them.”
“When do you think we’ll begin the hunt?”
“Tomorrow. Or the next day. The currents are in our favor. Our prey will be caught unprepared.”
Janthina left her kin to continue their work. She returned to her own training, circling the reef, chasing the su
The pod approached. The blackfish, irritatingly social creatures, were nearly as sophisticated as the mermaids that silently stalked them. Janthina and Amphisamytha waited, just below the sunbreak, watching the pod pass leisurely overhead. The whales were feeding, chasing down squid as they rose from the deep during their daily migration. Janthina trembled. Until only recently, these monsters had lived in her nightmares, preying on the tiny bodies of her and her sisters, picking them off one by one across the drift.
Now, they hoped that memories of mermaid meals would inspire the killer whales to give chase, to attempt to claim, once again, the slow and weak among Janthina’s kin.
She turned to Tornus, stoic, a spear resting against her shoulder as if it were a part of her. Tornus nodded. It was time.
Janthina surged upwards with her sisters. Though they had rehearsed this act a dozen times in the last few days, they had never passed en masse beyond the sunbreak. Janthina, Amphisamytha, and Freyella took the lead, pushing towards the surface. They were momentarily blinding as they pushed through the sunbreak. Janthina’s eyes, adapted to the deep ultraviolets, were unaccustomed to the dazzling spectrum of visible light. She slowed as her pupils contracted, adjusting to brilliant light.
The colors, absent in the deeper reaches of the seamount, we’re mesmerizing. As she climbed higher, new colors emerged. Purples, blues, greens, yellows. At last, her eyes were acclimated and she could see how far behind she had fallen. Her sisters, barely more than profiles in the water column, were far above. She flicked her tail and made up the lost ground.
With the sunlight penetrating the water, Janthina could admire her sisters’ colors for the first time. Their skin was pale, with subtle tinges of orange running along their lateral lines. Amphismytha’s hair was an even deeper orange as it trailed behind her, while Freyella’s was a dark green. Janthina reached back to admire her own, an impossibly dark blue with faint specks of silver. Their tails, a pale iridescent green, glistened as they caught the sun’s rays.
They could see the mirrored surface above, at once impenetrable and delicate. The water whirled around them as they whipped through the sea, travelling at impossible speeds. The light was brighter now, so bright that they were nearly blind, but they kept pushing forwards, upwards.
Janthina broke the surface. She launched herself into the air, clearing the sea. She shouted with joy as she reached the crest of her arc.
Something was wrong. The air was thin. Her tail had nothing to push against. She expected to glide through the air as she did the sea, but, for the first time in her life, she was falling. She filled her swim bladder, but it provided no lift. As she flailed and spun, bloated and befuddled by the lack of resistance, she caught a glimpse of her sisters, also confounded by the new medium in which they found themselves.
Bewildered, disoriented, and confused, Janthina struck the ocean’s surface, hard. It knocked the air out of her swimbladder and left her dazed, a dark blue bruise forming along her side. Her sisters collided with the sea moments later.
Janthina laughed. Her instincts returned and she suddenly knew why they had failed so profoundly. The moment dawned across her sisters’ faces as they, too, realized their folly. Wordlessly, Janthina dove, preparing to make the next breach.
This time, she broke the water with grace, prepared for the inevitable change in fluid as she moved from sea to air. She stretched out her arms, arched her back, and gracefully folded her tail, tucking her body beneath it as she reached the peak of her climb. She plunged, headfirst, back into the sea, barely disturbing the surface. Amphisamytha and Freyella followed suit, leaping into the air and returning, effortlessly. They froliced in the wake, attracting curious creatures from the surface and capturing the attention of their unsuspecting prey.
The plan was working.
The killer whale pod, finely tuned to the rhythm of the ocean’s surface, felt the mermaids dancing in the surf from miles away. They moved slowly, deliberately towards their preoccupied prey. They were in no hurry. These were not the first mermaids the pod had hunted. The matriarch led the pod, keeping the nursing mothers and their calves far back while the young bulls, not yet old enough to leave, but strong enough to hunt, followed behind her. This was a pod that had long feasted on Janthina’s sisters. They had hunted them through the drift, picking off the tired, the weak, the slow. Now they had, a feast of full grown mermaids. It was time to feed.
They approached from the north, listening to the mermaids as they breached, timing their leaps, calculating, with astounding precision, their size, speed, even strength, from the sound of their bodies striking the sea. The killer whales were hunting, and they had found their prey.
Janthina was the first to feel their presence, through the subtle wave that emanated from the matriarch as she cut through the water. She motioned to Amphisamytha, who caught Freyella’s eye. They continued to breach, as if still unaware of the approaching killers.
They were close. Janthina could feel them moving through the water. She made one last leap, just in time to see the massive mammal breach, taking in a final gulp of air before he struck. The matriarch held back, watching her young wards make their first kill. The lead bull lunged for Freyella, but the scrawny mermaid was ready for him. She took off, diving forward and down taunting the young male, grazing his fin as she surged past. The bull orca gave chase, following her into the abyss.
Janthina did not have time to track her sister. Two more bulls had closed the gap, lunging for her and her sister. They dove.
Amphisamytha peeled off, leading the smaller bull away, forcing him to chase her around the reef’s pinnacles. Shoe wove across the reef, spiralling down with each pass.
Janthina pushed herself harder than she ever had before. She lunged for the sunbreak with such speed that the killer whale began to lose ground. She corrected, unconsciously, keeping her hunter close. He never realized that he was the prey.
Above her, Freyella screamed. The bull orca had caught her by the tail, shredding her fluke. Janthina wanted, more than anything to turn and help her sister, but she knew that to abandon the chase now would get them both killed.
She was almost at the sunbreak.
From the darkness, beneath the boundary where sunlight barely penetrates, Tornus erupted into the light. The killer whale never saw her. The powerful mermaid buried her spear into his skull, severing his brainstem. The whale was dead instantly.
Free of the chase, Janthina turned to see Luidia dispatch the beast that had almost claimed Freyella. Simnia struggled with Amphisamytha’s bull. Her first strike was not clean and the powerful beast had its jaws around her armored torso. Tornus pulled the spear from her prey and flung it at the final whale. Its jaw went lax as the spear pierced his heart. Janthina could feel the screams of the matriarch through the water column. She was far away. The chattering pod was now silent.
Tornus surveyed their catch.
“We shall feast tonight, Janthina. You have done well.”
Janthina swam to Freyella, and took her wounded sister by the hand. They began to descend as the last ounce of energy faded from their bodies.
The exhausted Janthina continued to sink until she rested on the soft sand at the bottom of the reef.
If you can’t wait until this novel is finished, check out some of my other maritime science fiction adventures.