Suggested by: +Cassie Greutman
-7 in the morning
-a glass globe
First Officer Kenzi was not having a good day.
It started with her assignment to patrol the Nether—planets so far apace from the central Galaxy that it took at least a day to reach the nearest one, yet merely because they rested within radar reading, they were the property and jurisdiction of the Galactic Peacekeeping Force. The Nether was the duty given to officers nobody wanted to hear from for a while, those they wanted out of the way. She brushed a fringe of pink hair out of her face with a black-gloved hand. Who was responsible for nominating her? She wondered; she did her best to do her job well, to carry herself above reproach—but there were some people on the Force who merely resented others for existing.
The assignment itself was mundane enough; the day progressed from bad to worse when the delicate glass globe that served as the navigation system on her ship developed a hairline fracture. To save the globe, Kenzi was forced to land on the nearest planet. She checked the chrono—it showed 7 in the morning on the second day of her assignment. She had thirty hours left to return to the GPF garrison.
Heat radiated from the sandy surface as she disembarked, clad in the Peacekeeping-regulation armor that essentially turned the entire right side of the body into its own weapon and arsenal, while leaving the left side protected but free for ease of motion; the chest and abdomen were completely covered, too. Kenzi trudged back to the navigation nodule to see what could be done, but all the fragile part needed was a little rest. Kenzi rubbed her bright-green eyes; she could use a little rest too. She folded down the cot from the wall in her private berth and laid down for a little shuteye.
Her eyes snapped open just as she was beginning to relax. A soft, melodic tinkling reached her ears in the silence. What could be making that noise on a deserted planet? Kenzi sat up and glanced toward the navigation globe. It was still repairing itself. Kenzi stood up, stretched, and prepared to investigate.
She lowered the ramp, and she could hear the noise clearly. It sounded like someone singing with the most beautiful voice she had ever heard.
Stepping carefully over the dry, desert-like surface, Kenzi's quick ears caught a noise under the song. Following it, she came to a clearing with much more greenery than the rest of the place. Grass and trees grew sprawling beside a small mountain. In the midst of the green, a small river flowed, fed by a trickling waterfall tumbling down from the side of the mountain. Kenzi crept closer, as the music seemed to emanate from the recess behind the waterfall.
The spring-loaded pressure clamps on her armored boots bit into the rock as she crawled sideways along the vertical, concave face. Finally reaching the mouth of the cave, Kenzi gasped.
The space was much bigger than she anticipated, and lined with fantastic blue crystals. Water pooled in the middle, creating a small protected pond of sorts, shielded from the rest of the dry, dead world.
A movement in the shadows caught her eye, and Kenzi froze. The music stopped, and she heard a small splash in the distance, as the surface of the pool rippled.
Kenzi barely had time to realize that there was a creature moving in the water before its head emerged. Kenzi saw the long, dark hair framing a pale face. The seeming woman rose higher, revealing a long, naked body covered only by her thick hair—and instead of legs, she had a fish tail, blue and flopping.
Both females drew back from each other with a cry.
"What are you?" Kenzi gasped, at the same time the other cried, "What are you doing here?"
The fish-woman bowed her head. "I am sorry; it has been so long since I laid eyes on another person that I almost could not believe—" she stopped.
Kenzi leaned upright once more, back to her knees, her eyes still fixed on the creature that she had only heard of in myths and legends. She gulped, unable to tear her eyes off the creature, lest it prove a hallucination and vanish. “Are—are you real?” she stammered.
The fish-woman smiled. “Of course; I am as real as you are. Here,” she reached toward Kenzi, “feel my hand.”
Slowly, Kenzi reached and matched the fish-woman palm-to-palm. Her lips twitched. “It feels human,” she muttered. “But—“ she glanced down to where the woman’s body melted into a fishtail. “How did you get that?”
The woman smiled at her, nodding toward Kenzi’s face. “Where I came from, no one had pink hair—how did you get that?”
Self-conscious hands immediately combed the rose-hued tresses. “It grows this way!” she snapped defensively.
The smile fell. “I’m sorry,” she apologized a second time. “In fact, I happen to know why humans can suddenly have naturally-colored hair in every shade visible to man, and why I ended up with this tail,” she waved the azure fin, “trapped in this pool, unable to leave this cave…” she glanced around the area with a sudden grimace that vanished into blank resignation. Her eyes returned to Kenzi. “My name is Latisha, by the way; I was once human like you—a princess, in fact.”
Kenzi sat in earnest now, dropping to a more comfortable position to listen to this strange tale. “I’m Kenzi; you say you’re a princess?” Suspicion crept into her head. Was this creature delusional? Should an officer of the GPF trust the word of this fantastic stranger?
Latisha nodded, curling her tail underneath her. “It’s true, and I can prove it—“ her voice trailed off, and she developed a gleam in her ice-blue eyes that Kenzi’s military instinct read immediately.
“You’ll need my help to get it,” she guessed wryly.
Latisha nodded. “My crown was stolen from me by the same man who injected me with the serum to give me this tail. I was escaping him with my steward when he caught us and… killed him.”
Phony or not, Kenzi could see that there wouldn’t be much reason for Latisha to lie—she was putting as much faith in Kenzi’s ability to succeed as she was asking of Kenzi herself. “Killed whom?”
Latisha’s lips trembled. “Barrin, my defender and friend. He gave his life to stop the evil man from taking me, so he killed him for it.” She glanced up at Kenzi, eyes full of expectation. “The only way I can ever escape this place and regain my human form is if he is defeated.”
Kenzi frowned. “But how do I know what you’re saying is true?” she made as if to stand.
“Wait!” Latisha made a small splash as she lunged forward to grab Kenzi's armored right hand. Her fingers caught on the edges of the plates, and Kenzi couldn't shake her loose. "Please!" she begged. "You're my only hope of survival, my only chance to become human again! Why would I lie to you?"
Kenzi jerked her hand away, not caring that the sharp plates left red cuts on Latisha's fingers. "You're crazy--"
She froze as a dark shadow peeled itself from the tunnels. The cloaked figure glided silently forward.
"Good for you!" the stranger soothed. "That's just what I said, wasn't it, Princess?" He addressed Latisha, who recoiled from him in terror.
Kenzi was just thinking about running into him and making a break for it--but as quickly as the thought came, her entire body went rigid. "Now, now," said he, turning his attention on the officer. "It won't do to leave before we've had a chance to get acquainted. My name is Denevar, and I would very much like to know what the Galactic Peacekeeping Force wants with my mermaid!"
#26 "The Tides of Battle"
#1 "Red of Morning"