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Regrets? by SeatailsArt
Regrets?
I haven't done Power work in a while, but I finally managed to get a new machine in and reconfigured, and have pulled together enough of my old libraries (and a few freebies here and there) to experiment. This one is fairly simple, but I liked the way she turned out. 
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By the time we made our way into Medina, the wan gray light of the misty day had given way to a dark, cold, wet night. It does not really rain continuously in Seattle in the fall, but you could be excused for thinking that it did. Going through Seattle meant that we also had gone through Seattle traffic to get to the 520 bridge, before passing along the streets just north and west of Bellevue to get to the community of Software Magnates.

Most larger cities have communities like this, places where the untitled aristocracy live, but people in the Pacific Northwest have always frowned on ostentation. It was okay to have money, but lording it over others was considered … gauche. That’s why the houses in Medina, while more or less “mansions” in terms of sheer footage, all looked about what one would expect in a moderately wealthy middle class suburb, though with most of it hidden from view. We went up a winding drive way to what appeared to be a two car garage, though when the garage opened you realized that was just because the entrance to the sixteen car garage was two cars wide, albeit mostly empty. A fiery red sportscar parked up against the elevator. We pulled around to the slot on the other side of that elevator, blinking owlishly in the harsh light of the car garage.

“I’ll be right back,” Matt said, opening the car door and the elevator beyond. “I should probably give my sister a heads up that she’s about to have unexpected guests.”

I opened up the side and back of the van, pulling out the wheelchair and setting it up. Llorana’s eyes were open and seemed at least somewhat more alert than they had before. She tried to sit up, then breathed in sharply as the injury to her side suddenly surged into awareness. Gently I helped her to a sitting position, sensitive to the pain she was in.

“You probably don’t want to move much just yet,” I said. “You were pretty seriously wounded - I treated it as well as I could, but it’s going to take a while to heal, even for a murúch.”

I said the word using the Scottish pronunciation my grandmother would have used, with faintly rolled r’s and the final ch sound aspirated kind of like the ch of Bach, but less harsh. Most American speakers would have said merrow (if not the more commonly used term “mermaid”), but I’ve found when dealing with the fae that they are sensitive about their clan and type names.

For a moment, her pupils widened, dramatically, to the extent that her white corneas all but disappeared. I’d seen it before in the Fae, even once in myself (and damn near terrified myself for a week thereafter). She was looking at me with her Sight, the ability to see beyond the seeming, and her face drew up in astonishment and perhaps a shade of fear.

“You be the Storm Crow,” she said, though it took me a moment to realize that she’d spoken to me in Gaelic.

The mermaid’s voice had a pure Welsh lilt to it, and I remembered once again why Welsh bards were so revered. I loved Scottish Gaelic, but listening to Welsh Gaelic was like listening to a stream babbling over stones in a brook, compared to waves breaking against jagged rocks in a storm. Yet fpr all the beauty of her voice, the words were worrisome.

“I am halfling, sea daughter, just as you are,” I replied in my own Gaelic dialect, though I suspect that with the Pacific Northwest influence it sounded downright bizarre to her. She had to parse it out, then nodded, shame and defiance on her face.

Few halflings liked to be reminded of their status. Halflings live in the shadow of two worlds, not accepted by the high fae, but not able to fit well in the human world either. The mermaid shook her head, grimacing before saying, “I canna argue with the truth of that. I am in your debt, Storm Crow, for you have doubtless saved my life. What be your human name?”

If there was any question that she was of the Blood, this one question would have answered that. All Fae have true-names, the name by which they can be controlled if the name is said properly, and which they protect diligently. Halflings are not as bound by this restriction, but if someone knows our true name, they can rob us of much of our power. That is why most halflings tend to adopt human names. I know my own true name - it resonates so deeply within me that I would be unable to not know my true name - but I normally wear the names that my parents gave me.

“I’m Briannon McConnell, but I usually go by Bree.”

“I be Llorana Trewellan.” She held out her hand and I took it, and with some careful maneuvering I managed to get her into the wheelchair.

I heard the elevator door swish open - after discovering that Matt had a yacht on tap, the idea that he had an elevator in his house no longer really phased her. If anything, having it would simplify a lot of things.

Matt and his sister came around to the back of the van just as I’d settled Llorana..

“Matt, I don’t really care what … oh …”

I knew Lena mainly through my association with Matt, and while we’re not mortal enemies, she thinks that I’m a goth girl wannabe (no - I really don’t want to be, but Goth seems to settle around me like a Niel Gaiman story) and I prefer even Matt’s techie grunge slumming to the impeccably dressed corporate lawyer. Yet for once, there was a certain satisfaction in witnessing the shock in her eyes at seeing Llorana, until it hit me that the fact that Llorana was a mermaid wasn’t what was causing the reaction. I looked at Lena, then back down to Llorana, who looked almost as shocked as Lena.

Twins. Llorana’s hair was down, platinum strands white against the plaid sweater she wore, her lashes pale, while Lena’s was up in a precise bun and she wore subtle makeup that darkened her brows and lashes, but even with these differences, they could easily have traded places, if it weren’t for the huge difference below the hips..

“You’re … me?” Lena said after several seconds.

“Na,” Llorana said, a faint catch in her voice from the pain in her torso. “But I have na doubt we be cousins.”

Lena looked at her, really looked, taking in for the first time the tail fin that had come loose at some point peeking out from beneath the skirt.

“... oh … you’re a … mother was right ...”

“What?!” Matt and Llorana said at the same time.

“When I was a little girl, maybe about eight or so, I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep at night, so mother would sit with me and tell me stories that her mother had told her, tales about the old country. One story she told me was that many years ago there had been a church in a little town called Zennor, on the Cornish coast, and that the choirmaster of that church was a man by the name of Matthew Trewellan - she actually told me that you’d been named for him, Matt.

Anyway, he supposedly had the voice of the Bards in him, and a young mermaid named Lenore heard him singing one day as he sat on the beach, composing the hymns for the next day’s service. She was intrigued, and worked with a sea witch to turn her tail into legs. She then came ashore in a wedding dress from a sunken ship, coming into the church, the only hint to her identity the fact that the hems of the dress refused to dry. When Matthew started singing with the choir Lenore joined her voice with his, and Matthew fell in love. As the service ended she led Matthew out of the church and down to the water, dragging him below the waves. Many thought the mermaid had drowned him, but several years later, a few miles north in Bristol, a sea captain who’d just dropped anchor was astonished to see a mermaid surface near his ship, asking if he would move the anchor as it was blocking the entrance to the home of herself and her husband, Matthew Trewellan, and she couldn’t get in to feed her children.”

“What she told me was that we were descended from that marriage, that some of the Trewellans stayed in the sea as merfolk, and others who were born with legs moved back to the land, but that for many years the families kept in touch and supported one another.”

“Aye, that be the truth of it. The sea children of Lenore and Matthew need your help. I’ve come to ask.”

She started panting at that, and a glance down at her sweater showed a spreading red stain.

“Let’s get you upstairs, where I can put on some new dressing,” I said quietly, nodding pointedly at the elevator. Both Matt and Lena got the message that we had higher concerns at the moment than family history.

As I was pushing Lena towards the elevator, I did notice that she looked anxiously at Matt, as if she was dubious about him and his motives. Since he’d done very little that she would have seen, I nodded grimly at the suspicion forming in my head.

-------------------------------------------------

An hour later, Lena and I had sent Matt off for some medical supplies - Lena had picked up the anxiety around Matt that I had seen earlier, and figured getting him out of the house for a few hours would be a good idea. Lena had then brought in a camisole and an underskirt that gave the mermaid some modesty while still giving me access to her injury. I re-examined the wound in much better light and pulled out a couple of small fragments that I’d missed earlier, then secured new bandages and taped up the wound. Lena moved in with a tray of broth that she placed on a tray built into the bed, and with a start I realized this was probably the same bed her father had cared for her mother in as the cancer took her. The elevator from the garage suddenly made a lot more sense.

The soup probably wouldn’t do much more than the glucose IV I’d hung, but it would get some food into Llorana’s stomach, likely jump starting other processes that I suddenly had to think about. Mermaid nursing was not part of the training I’d received from my grandmother but then again I rather doubted that it was part of the curriculum at the University of Washington either.

I looked back in on them a few minutes later and they were talking in a very animated fashion about family and siblings and other very ordinary subjects, and rather than disturbing them I left the door slightly ajar then went to get my laptop, which I’d retrieved from the van earlier, and settled onto the bar in the kitchen that looked like the place granite top surfaces aspired to when they grew up.

I’d been on the verge of calling my grandmother a couple of times, but finally decided to write about what had happened since Matt had messaged me the day before. Grandmother worried, but she also was remarkably perceptive and had a knowledge about the Fae that put my own to shame. She still wanted me to follow in her footsteps and become a doctor, but for a number of reasons I felt very uncomfortable about that.

And yet, my programming career wasn’t exactly blazing a brilliant arc - I was certainly good enough, but my code tended to take on a life of its own that had come back to haunt me more than once - the accounting code that decided to spontaneously call the SEC and report in detail (using an artificially generated text to speech voice (Alice, I believe)) all of the shady things the bank in question was doing. The CEO and CFO ended up doing 16 years for embezzlement, the bank’s stock shares collapsed, and not surprisingly, I never got paid for the work that I’d done. I never set out to write ethical software, but that’s what came out.

My phone rang at that moment, and grandmother’s voice came out to complete the thought “Serves you right, girl. You have magic in your veins, and you’re far too ethical for your own good.”

“Grandma?”

“Let me finish, Bran. You knew that bank was doing shady business to begin with and the magic knew. You can’t afford to deceive yourself, because the magic … always  … knows. Now, what is this about a mermaid?”

“How’d you know what I was thinking?”

“You think you’re the only one who’s been touched by magic, girl? Start using that brain inside that head of yours. Now about that mermaid …?”

I knew there was a reason I was dubious about giving Grandmother a call. She had a talent for positively shredding self-confidence.

I hit the highlights, including the bullet injury and treatment, and every so often I could hear the scratching of a pencil in her notebook. It was a habit she’d taught me as well - for all that computers are fast, notebooks are usually more convenient for capturing notes, and the process of transcription provided a good filter to put the initial thoughts into a salient form. “And that pretty much sums it up.”

“Sounds like you took the right course of action. Fully fae mers have blue blood, by the way, but most of them have long since moved to Elfheim - they may not even be able to live on Earth anymore. You might, if you have the Sight, see them in very remote areas, but the big metal container ships would be practically lethal to them. Llorana’s close enough to being human that if she takes a human mate, there’s a high probability the child will appear human. It also means that you can probably treat her with human drugs, though I would monitor her carefully.”

“I am.”

“Just be careful. The Fae merfolk are the embodiment of the spirit of the seas - beautiful, capricious, vain and even less moral than cats, as difficult as that may be to believe. However, that can also describe a lot of human women, and given her halfling status, she may very well run completely counter to type.”

“Grandmother … I think she may have been raped.”

There was a pause on the other end. “Damn.

Another pause. “Tell me the symptoms.”

I described what I’d seen, as well as the reactions that she’d had to Matt.

“Joy. Welcome to the world of medical ethics. If she was human, then I’d recommend taking her to get to a doctor and get support from several agencies in the area that deal with battered and abused women, including rape victims, as well as have you get in touch with the police. Unfortunately, she isn’t. Nor are you a doctor. That means that legally you could walk away from the whole situation right now, with no repercussions on you.”

“But that’s not the right thing to do, not with the halflings.”

“I told you you were too ethical for your own good. Not that I’d expect anything less.”

Grandmother paused again, though I suspected it was just to gather her thoughts. “She’s your patient, Bran, and I think you know it. There are no fae clinics, just a few healer witches and wizards who are far too stretched. There are a couple of people who I may be able to get to help you from the University, but it will take a while to get a hold of them. Until then …”

“Thank you, grandmother.”

“You’ll be fine, Bran. Gotta go. Patients of my own.”

The line went dead, though I could hear the unsaid conversation still echoing in my head. She had been less than approving about me going into computers, not because she doubted my ability but because I think she had wanted me to continue my medical studies. When I was still in grad school, I’d been far more fascinated by magic and coding and how the two related than in medicine, though because of the rather clandestine nature of the former I ended up working in the Linguistics department. Grandmother had been very puzzled by that.

“Linguistics is the study of languages, semantics and semiotics. Semantics focused on the meanings of things, and there was some very critical computational work being done in natural language processing and semantics at the University, while semiotics was all about symbols, their origins and derivations. There’s a physical aspect to magic (and I know some junior professors there who are doing some very interesting work in that field, albeit like me clandestinely), but there’s also a symbolic aspect to magick that is critical in understanding how to make use of it,”

“Branwen,” grandmother had said in exasperation, “yes, of course it does, but do you really want to be an academic that can’t publish their work legitimately? Besides, you have real talent, girl, as a doctor, and there are so few of us out there.”

Perhaps it had been that expectation that I’d been rebelling against at the time, perhaps it had simply been prescience, which my grandmother had in spades and I … didn’t.  Perhaps it was because everyone else seemed perfectly comfortable calling me Bree but she had insisted on addressing me as Branwen, my real name. I’m not sure which, but I was too headstrong at the time to go her way, and it had led to some uncomfortable silence over the years that only thawed a little bit when I started carrying my medical bag around with me again.

Now … I eyed the sturdy kit bag sitting next to my laptop. I seemed doomed to be drawn in both directions, unless … I could figure out how to effectively combine the two. The programming bug had caught me again, and I started to think about the human body in semiotic terms. Certainly there was a great deal of magical theory that made use of similar associations, from Chinese Chi theory to Kabbalism, and I pulled a library I’d started that broke down many of these constructs into a set of symbolic tokens and bindings - a programming language of sorts. I entered fugue state … that half-mystical part of the subconscious mind where writers and programmers both retreated to when working out ideas, and it was only the sound of Matt coming back with the supplies that made me check my laptop’s clock. I hissed when I realized more than three hours had passed.

Matt dropped the supplies on the island in the kitchen and smirked at me. “You have fugue hair.”

I switched on the camera on my laptop, my workaday mirror, and winced. I’d been running my fingers through my hair, my glasses were slightly askew, and I looked like I’d been mainlining caffeine. Fugue hair.

“And this is why women don’t go into programming,” I muttered, switching the cam back off.

“So what are you working on so industriously?”

“I’m not really quite sure. If it works, it’ll allow me to do a bioscan of your other guest. If it doesn’t, one of us might blow up.”

“Oh, I get it … you’re working on a demo!”

“Yup,” I replied, flipping the lid shut. “I’ll need to be in the same room as … Llorana.”

I stocked up on some of the supplies Matt had brought, then started back to her room, but Matt stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.

“You’re kidding about how it might blow one of us up instead, right?”

“Yes, of course I am,” I lied. Okay, no one would blow up, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure we wouldn’t be opening up an interdimensional rift or something like that. The symbols for GATE and QUERY were close enough in form to be disturbing.

I was a little surprised to see Matt’s sister Lena on the bed curled up next to Llorana and sound asleep in a large t-shirt and panties. Lena had worn her hair up in a bun when we came home, but it now floated loose around her like a pale cloud, gold to Llorana’s platinum silver. Llorana spooned next to her, her tailfin wrapped around Lena’s legs. Matt’s eyes opened wide.

We both left the room, closing the door quietly, then knocked loudly enough to wake them. I called out, “I need to check Llorana’s bandages through the door.”

After a couple of frantic seconds, I heard Lena’s somewhat shaky “Come in!”

Lena was back on the chair, wearing the white blouse and black skirt she’d had on before, her hair in a pony tail. Given how precisely she normally dressed, it was easy to see that she’d rushed getting her clothes on, though I was still impressed how quickly she had (and guessed the t-shirt had been hastily pushed under the bed covers.

Llorana on the other hand still looked sleepy, but more alert than she had earlier. She also seemed to be in a bit less pain. With the mermaid’s permission, I hiked up the night gown to expose the wound on her midriff, undid the bandages enough to pull a blood stained compress away and replaced it with a fresh one. The bleeding had stopped, and while the sewn wound still looked ugly, there were signs that the accelerated healing of the fae worked for mermaids as well.

“I’m going to put one more set of dressing on the wound, though I think you’ve pretty much stopped bleeding. I’d also like to do a quick scan on you to make sure that I’m not inadvertently poisoning you by not understanding mer physiology, if that’s okay with you.”

She nodded, curious, as I brought my laptop over.  I clipped the external camera on to the top of the unit, along with the ceramic pentagram that plugged into the USB port on the side of my laptop.  It had started life as a coffee cup warmer, but I’d replaced the heating element with a set of chips including one that had started life as an Analog to Digital signal processor but now served as an auxillary Magical Processing Unit, or MPU. Very discretely, I poked myself with a small medical needle, touching the drop of blood onto the Pentacle’s surface, then, cotton gauze covering the tiny wound, I powered the assembly up.

As it ran through its initialization routines, Pixel materialized in swirl of fluorescent lights, springing up and out of the pentagram and settling on the top of my laptop, just to the left of the camera, her luminous wings beating gently in a faint breeze.

I blinked for a moment as I realized that everyone was now very fixated on the pixie.

“What is …?” Matt finally asked, breaking the silence.

“An autonomous, self-directed system agent,” I said. The blank stares continued.

“It’s a pixie familiar I created to help me do magic,” I said, and now everyone in the room nodded in understanding. Gaaaah, mundanes! Be precise and technical, and it will go over their heads, but explain that it’s magic, and that they understand. I fought to not shake my head.

“Okay, think of this as just another kind of medical scanner, and don’t be worried about the light show. You may want to move your tail out from under the bedsheets, though,” I said, aiming the camera to take all of Llorana in as she flopped her tail out from beneath the covers. She kept curling the fin in a way that made it very clear it was organic, not just a very elaborate costume.

“Say cheese!” I said brightly, and pressed the magic button (actually the Run Script button, but, what the hey …). At first, not much happened, then Pixel hopped up (with a look that almost could be interpreted as annoyance) as a blue glow enshrouded her. Her eyes flowed the same brilliant blue for a moment before she flew over to the mermaid and started a helical arc that started at Llorana’s tail, wrapped around underneath the mermaid and through the bed, then back around in a new loop about a handspan closer to her head, leaving a trail of blue luminescence in the sprite’s wake. As she did so, displays began opening up on my laptop - skeletal and muscular structures, biochemical analysis, as well as strength analysis of magical fields and surface anatomy. I watched, just a bit smug, then started thinking about ways that I could tweak the program to get more information.

Meanwhile, Llorana, Matt and Lena were mesmerized by the light show. Of course - this thing was getting invaluable data, but it all came down to how much flash there was in the user interface.

“Do you feel anything?” I asked, as I shunted the data into files.

“It makes my skin a-tingly,” Llorana said, her eyes wide with both fascination and a bit of fear.

“That’s expected - it’s a lot like how an alternator coil works - the magic is interacting with the electric fields in your body, and your nerves are probably resonating to that. Nearly done.”

The signals were getting a little ragged as Pixel flew around her head - the magical construct really was autonomous and had its own power source, but the same currents that were making Llorana feel “a-tingly” were also draining from that source, faster than I had expected. Finally, I terminated the scan sequence, and Pixel flew back, though her flight was considerably more erratic than when she’d started. She settled on the cup-warmer turned pentacle and curled into a fetal position fading away as the program ended.

“I’m going to have to spend some time analysing this to make any sense of it, but I think this was a pretty good scan.”

I yawned, despite myself, and it occurred to me that it was now well into the evening.

“Do you want to stay the night, Bree?” Matt asked.

“No, I should probably get going home - I have some errands I need to take care of tomorrow. I can come back tomorrow afternoon, if that works for you.”

“Yes, of course. Let me take you home, then,” he replied, even as he grabbed his own coat. I started to protest, but the room swam around me a bit. The magic that powers Pixel comes partially from me … that’s always the true cost of magic. Grandmother suspected that the DNA in our blood acts as the key that creates a conduit between mage and magic, but that once the contract has been established, we pay for it with our own energy.

“That would be appreciated. Thanks.”

He handed me a box of Pepperidge Farm cookies and some fruit juice on our way out, along with a white paper box from a Chinese takeout with General Tso’s chicken in it for later. I was never quite sure which battle the general had been in, but he sure cooked good chicken.

As I closed the door behind me, I noticed that Lenore was holding Llorana’s hand again and they were talking quietly, the mermaid’s energy flagging with my own. I’d forgotten the magick lifelines I’d given her earlier to help her healing. Food, a bath and sleep all felt very attractive at the moment, as we pulled out of the driveway to head back to Seattle proper.
The rain had become a heavy mist by the time we finally threw the mooring lines on the deck and let out the gang plank, a gray, steel ramp with a roughened surface to offer traction in wet conditions. Matt pushed his ailing cousin in the wheelchair, wrapped up in a fleece jacket, white blouse and green vest, brown skirt, and a plaid blanket over her legs to cover her “feet”. She was still asleep, though she had roused enough as I was dressing her to look blearily at me and ask “Who be ye?” in a husky soprano.

“A friend,” I had responded. I’m not sure she understood, but she had nodded sagely at that, blinked a couple of times, then fallen back asleep without saying a word. Dressed as she was, she likely would draw no comment from anyone, so long as the blanket stayed secure over her tail fin. She certainly didn’t seem a stranger to clothes.

Together, Matt and I had wrestled the chair up one of the makeshift ramps, the mermaid snoring softly. Seated, she appeared petite, but as we had discovered, even a small mermaid was remarkably heavy, especially when she wasn’t actively working to distribute her weight better. After getting her settled in the van - laying the mermaid on the small pulldown cot there - Matt went back for my medical kit, various laptops including the one in the waterproof case, and the portable IV bag, which I reattached through the shunt in her arm, swapping out the saline solution for glucose. She was still going to need real food, but until I knew what exactly a mermaid could and couldn’t eat, this seemed like the safest bit. Even so I was very nervous about giving her something that seemed innocent but might turn out to be a deadly toxin to mermaid physiology.

I stayed with her for a few minutes to make sure she was resting peacefully, then made my way back up to the passenger seat, dodging spare computer parts and undeliverable packages. You could live in the van if necessary, but it wouldn’t be pleasant long term.

“How’s she doing?” Matt asked. Good - he was thinking of her as a person, not some kind of sex object.

“I suspect that she uses some kind of dolphin kick when she swims. She’s got abs of steel, probably what saved her. You or I, bullet would probably have pierced the diaphragm or a lung, maybe even rattled around inside the ribcage and put a hole in the heart. As it was, her muscles acted like kevlar, though she’ll be sore there for a while.”

“So she actually has lungs, not gills?”

“Uh huh,” I answered. “Doesn’t rule out magic, but that kind of magic, the kind that would let you breathe water,  takes a lot of energy to maintain, and would be very hard to maintain when unconscious. I suspect she might have used it to stay underwater for extended periods, but she still had to come up for air, and she could potentially drown.”

“I don’t get it - she’s a magical creature, but you’re saying that she still has to follow physical rules?”

“Sort of.  Magic has its own set of rules, and there are a lot of the .. fae folk who are very magical, and who violate normal physics just by existing. Think of magic as being a different universe, one that overlaps our own in some places more strongly than others. Some magical creatures are able to pull magic from this other place and wrap it around them, but that makes them vulnerable - cold iron in particular is nasty for a lot of them, because it disrupts the magical fields around them, and they rely upon magick so heavily that they don’t have enough substance in our world to survive.

“Silver isn’t as disruptive, but it slows the flow of magic around it. That’s why you can kill a werewolf with a silver bullet - their magic is able to repair their body very quickly when shot with most metals, but shoot a werewolf with silver and their body can’t repair the damage fast enough. And depleted uranium is just nasty - you get all the effects of radiation poisoning happening in about thirty seconds. Though there are a whole class of nasties that hail from a different universe altogether, ones that love radiation fields.”

Matt was staring at me strangely.

“I’m babbling, aren’t I?”

‘Um … kind of.  It’s just that you’re taking as matter of fact something I have a real hard time putting my head around. I’ve never met a Magic Nerd before.”

I laughed at that. “Yeah, that’s me, Briannon McConnell, Magic Nerd.”

“Sorry - I didn’t mean that. I’d always assumed that you were just one of those natural born programmer types, yet you travel with a medical kit that has its own IV bag and seem to be quite fully conversant in the physics of a world that I suspect a lot of the PhDs at UW would give their souls to know about. Who are you, some kind of weird alien?”

He seemed … offended. Maybe even a little afraid. I’d given him a glimpse into my world, and it had rattled him hard, and while his last comment stung more than a little, I didn’t jump to the attack. I needed Matt, valued him as a friend, and if I said the wrong thing he’d bolt.

I chose my words carefully. “I’m still the same person I was a day ago, Matt. I was born at Evergreen Hospital up in Kirkland. I have some weird ancestors on both sides - my father’s mother was a Scottish witch, my mother’s mom was a Duwamish … I guess you’d call her a medicine woman, though that’s more than a bit of stereotyping. It means that I have an awareness about things that most people don’t, and a couple of abilities that others don’t have either. Cold iron doesn’t hurt me, but it makes me uncomfortable - one reason I prefer living in brick and wood houses and can’t abide being in skyscrapers. I have to set up wards around my computer to keep it from shorting out.

“It’s something like being born to a wealthy family, I suspect. Most people don’t have private yachts at their beck and call, don’t have boards of directors of Fortune 50 companies quaking in their boots at the thought of you calling in your proxy.”

I’d visibly stung him with that, though I have to admit there was a certain satisfaction in that. Matt played at being a humble programmer, but I’d begun to realize that it was his version of “slumming”, and he was old enough that he had some responsibilities he needed to start acknowledging, let alone living up to.
“I … I’m not like … oh, hell. Yeah, I deserved that. Look, I’m Stephen Jones’ kid. Ubernerd of the high nerds, except he really wasn’t like that, and I’m not even that. People had the expectation of me that I would take after dad, be super smart but with a really bad fashion sense, and for a while, I lived that. I’m not dumb, and I actually do like programming, but what most people don’t realize was that my father was actually a pretty mediocre programer but was an absolute genius as a businessman.

“Bree, you’re smarter than me, and that’s a hard thing for me to admit. You’re scary smart, and the expectation has always been on me that I had to be the smartest kid in class, if only to propagate the illusion that my dad set up. And I’m starting to think that maybe that’s what I’ve been running away from.”

We chewed up a few more miles in silence, the Cascades to the east visible only as shadows in the misty rain.

“So what are we going to do with her?” I asked.

“Does she need medical care?” Matt replied, finally turning to look at me.

“Yeah. Getting it could be a problem though. I rather doubt she has an insurance plan, and the whole fishtail below the waist thing could make it a bit awkward taking her to the hospital. We’re pretty blase about the mythical creatures here in Cascadia, but not that blase.”

“Uh huh,” Matt grinned. “I don’t suppose you’d want to keep her with you?”

I thought about it, but shook my head. “I barely have room for me in there, I only have a shower, and I’m up a flight of stairs. I have no problem watching her - time, if nothing else, is something I have in abundance - but it’s not an ideal place for a mermaid. Your place isn’t much different in that regard.”

Matt thought, then the grin got wider. “No, my place isn’t, but Lena’s is.”

Lena. I thought about that one for a bit. Lena, whose full name was Lenore, was Matt’s sister. The sister who was doing international modeling for newsstand magazines by 17. Who left that world at 23 with the proceeds to put herself through law school. Who four years later was employed as a junior partner with one of the largest law firms in Seattle. Lena, the overachieva. Okay, maybe I was just a wee bit biased. Yet what that had to do with our mermaid was still a bit of a mystery.

“When my father died, she and I agreed that she should get the house - I had a place and really wasn’t interested in living in Medina, she was just coming back from Stanford and needed a place. Mom was wheelchair bound for a couple of years so Dad had the place made more easily accessibly that way, and it has a couple of large bedrooms with full baths. When she passed away, Dad didn’t have the inertia to change anything, and I don’t really think he was expecting to die from a e heart attack less than six months later. It’s possible Lena’s remodeled the place, but given that she’s been even busier than I’ve been, I doubt she’s had the time.”

“Would she object?”

“The deed’s in her name, but I’ve not made a big stink about how the estate was carved up when I could have. Given the unusual nature of her potential house guest, she might actually be intrigued.”

There was something in the way that he said which made me raise an eyebrow over, but he stayed mum. I’d met Lena, and while she was generally pretty good natured, she had the imperious blonde ice queen down cold, for all that her hair was the color of spun gold.

I started to shake my head, then caught sight of a car that I’d noticed earlier and dismissed. The vehicle was about forty yards back, just close enough to make out the rental license plates, an SUV that a lot of the state police used for their unmarked vehicle fleet, though it didn’t have the side mounted parabolic halogens or the grill lights that were usually visible if you knew what to look for.

“Matt, I think we have a tail. The black SUV on your side. I remember seeing it at the marina.”

“Oh …”

“Don’t slow down! There’s an exit up ahead. The sky’s going to appear to dim for a bit - after about ten seconds, make your way to that exit.”

This was going to hurt. I opened my way up to the Wyrd, pulling power from the nearby ley line, feeling it travel down my spine like burning ice. Then I closed my mind and began visualizing the program I’d laid out earlier for casting an illusion. I hated illusions. I was a lousy illusionist. No, I was actually a very good illusionist, I just hated doing them. My ears filled with the discordant strains of the Wyrd, and I started filling the space within them with half tones and harmonics to bring them better in sync. After about ten seconds, I felt Matt moving off to the right, but anyone behind us would have seen us moving straight ahead, towards a clump of fast moving traffic. The SUV shot past us as the illusion sped up, and through the pain in my head and spain I could see four men wearing dark sweaters and jackets, intent on catching us given they realized their tail had been made.

I finessed the illusion, letting the van shift over to be in front of an obscuring large truck, then releasing the illusion as a flock of crows, all of whom exploded out of the way of the truck. By the time the SUV got to a position where they could have seen the faux van, the van would have appeared to disappear into traffic.

After we took the quiet ramp, I changed an A to a C# and the van went from being white to a muddy gray color, the graphics hidden. This one would be easier to manage,which was good because my head was pounding as it was.

“Okay, go into Seattle and take the 520 bridge instead of going onto 405,” I said, through gritted teeth.

His eyes wide, he nodded, and pulled back onto the highway. A mile down the road we passed the SUV, stopped by the side of the road. two of the goons in expensive suits apparently changing a tire. A self-satisfied Jackdaw laughed at them from the overhead power lines, though I doubt they even heard it over the traffic. The nail it had placed in their path had apparently found its target.

“Weren’t those the guys that had been chasing us?” Matt asked, looking back, but had the presence of mind not to turn around.

“Could have been, yes.”

“... oh … ”

I sent out a silent note of praise to the flock of crows and blackbirds, with the image of a roadkilled deer I’d seen a few miles back, thrown far enough clear of the road that they’d be in no danger from the traffic.

“I … oh, crap, pull over!”

He pulled over against the side of the road again, and I lurched out just in time for the contents of my stomach to come back up. I spat the foul taste out of my mouth then climbed back into the van, grateful for the bottle of water that Matt had fished up from somewhere. Man, I hate doing illusions.
The NERDS ON WHEELS van actually was Matt’s - he’d bought the van from the big box chain that he still worked for, after deciding that it met most if not all of his needs for a vehicle, and he had agreed that he’d repaint it if and when he finally decided to leave. On the side of the white van, a stylized nerd - shocky black hair, thick glasses, wearing a lab coat with a slide rule sticking out of a pocket protector - stood in front of a bulky looking desktop computer, a Spock-like expression on his face.

The funny thing was that I knew a lot of true computer nerds, and not one actually looked like that. Most wore t-shirts from this or that computer trade show, ratty blue jeans, their hair up in pony tails (female and male alike), and many tended to be at least a few pounds overweight. Beards were not uncommon on male nerds, and most of us did where glasses, if only because too many years of staring at a computer screen plays absolute hob with our vision. Most wouldn’t know what to do with a lab coat if they had one, though yes, I think we all keep a slide rule in a drawer somewhere, just for the geekiness value of owning a slide rule.

Still, the stereotype persisted. Once upon a time, back in the mid-1960s, the high priesthood of computers had looked like that, though in fairness so had everyone else. It wasn’t so much that these proto-nerds were unaware of changing trends so much as the fact that they had so many more important things to be thinking about. Keeping the big iron computing machines running. Producing bills, processing claims, keeping the operating system current and adding to its capabilities. Swapping out storage as capacities improved or washing machine-like disk drives failed. It was hard work with long hours, typically underappreciated within the boardrooms of the corporations, and in that kind of environment, the ones that thrived were the hard core nerds, the ones that made keeping these beasts operational their every waking moment.

I climbed into the passenger seat, dropping my bag into the well, then made a big production of putting my seatbelt on. “Shall we?”

Matt nodded, and we pulled out of the parking lot onto 45th St., on our way out to the northbound highway. “Friend of yours?”

I thought about the man who’d left the poisoned card. “Never met him before in my life. Apparently wanted to hire me.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Thought you weren’t the corporate type.”

“I’m not. Especially when it’s corporate types that do spooky woojoo.”

“Spooky woojoo?” he laughed.

“Not funny, Matt,” I muttered. “There was something definitely … off about the the guy, like a dealer offering ‘candy’ to kids.”

“You wanna bail?” he said, slowing as we pulled up to the on-ramps.

“No. I’d just as soon vanish for a little while - maybe the candyman will go pick on someone else while we’re gone.”

He nodded, slipping past the turn that would have taken us back to my place and instead continuing to the on-ramp to I5 on its merry way to Vancouver, British Columbia.

“You mind music?” he asked.

“Whatcha got?”

“Phish.”

“Celtic Rock sounds just the ticket,” I answered, reaching down for my laptop. “You mind if I plug in for a bit?”

“Be my guest.”

Most cars had a cigarette lighter. Matt, in his renovations of the Mystery Van, had swapped that out for a set of grounded taps, had beefed up the battery power under the hood, and had actually rigged it up to additional batteries that ran along the left side of the van, the side without a door. When we’d had a bad storm come through the area a few months ago, he’d used the van as a generator, and generally only needed to run the car for about forty minutes every eight hours or so to recharge them.

I powered Pixel up, though instructed her via a few keystrokes not to put in a physical manifestation. Matt seemed more than a little freaked out that we were going to see a mermaid (to be honest, he wasn’t the only one) and I could see his oh-so-rational brain trying to solve it away. I did do a minor bit of magick, through Pixel, reaching out to the ley line that ran more or less along the I5 corridor, and from there used it to tap into the Internet.

In theory, this shouldn’t be possible. Ley lines are conduits of magical energy, not electronic signals, but magic itself is essentially the transmission of symbols through the operating system of the world. A very clever Blood hacker in San Francisco had made the startling realization that the ley lines were in fact picking up a weird resonance of information from the large trunk communication lines, and that with the right software you could actually transmit and receive packets of information over the ley lines. Of course, that also meant that, once someone figured out it was possible, people began making shadow connections into the ley network using separate communication protocols. These magical sites are accessible from the web if you can tap into a ley line, but doing so isn’t easy - and already there are rumors of dark things being spawned in the information spaces around the ley lines that are sentient … and hungry.

I entered as much information about the card as I could remember into a local database - the symbols used in the spell, guesses as to which families they represented (magickal symbols frequently have a temporal component, and as such are multidimensional, so you often have to have a sequence of such symbols, changing over time, to identify what the exact symbol represents), as well as the writing on the card itself. The card identified a recruiter for one of the many agencies here in the city. I didn’t put much faith in that name or address, since the spell would have caused me to misdial the phone number on the card, leading to the actual number. Unfortunately I realized only after I’d disbursed the spell that this was what it did.

“So what’d you find out about the mermaid?” Matt asked after a bit, and with a guilty start I realized I’d practically forgotten about our mission today.

“The Duwamish and other First Peoples here do have legends about sea spirits - seal-maids or salmon-kin, and you have the legend of Sedna, who was a sea goddess farther north. But most of these are only occasionally represented as being mermaids, and even there none match what we saw last night. If this isn’t a hoax, and I haven’t ruled that out, she’s probably a Merrough. They appear in Cornish legends, with the most famous being the mermaid of Zennor.”

Matt nodded. “She mentioned Zennor in the video.”

“Yeah. Nowaday’s Zennor’s a small coastal village - maybe a couple of dozen buildings overall, on the Cornish coast near Land’s End. There’s a church there that features a pew with carved mermaids on it, and a small inn used primarily by bikers. There’s a small harbour just up the road at St. Ives with a small airstrip, but most of that area’s rural coastland until you get up into Bristol Inlet with Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol. Supposedly very picturesque.”

“And if it’s a hoax?”

“Matt, I know you don’t like to admit it, but you’re actually worth a pretty penny, and your family was famous enough that someone could very well be targeting you as part of a scam. Seems a weird scam, but I’ve seen weirder.”

As she watched the built up surroundings of Seattle give way to the ship yards of Everett, she also reflected that the Blood were not above pulling scams themselves, either. If the woman she saw was in fact a mermaid, that didn’t necessarily rule a scam out, only that there were supernatural elements involved.

She had no problem with there being mermaids. She’d seen mers when she was with Grandmother, swimming off the coastline in the Juan de Fuca Straits, but they were local Blood and very much in the mold of First Nation peoples, and were more like Selkies - seal women - than true mermaids. They were also extraordinarily shy and techno-adverse; she’d had to hide for several hours in the brush along the rocky beaches, becoming one with the background, before the mer-kin came back around to swim with the sea otters, and a single, quiet cough on her part had sent them diving into the sea.

“Matt?” she said after they passed a drydock full of boats - she suspected they’d be turning off shortly.

“Um?”

“Why do you do this? You could walk into your Dad’s company tomorrow and get a job as a senior management, no questions asked.”

“It’s not quite as simple as that,” Matt said after a minute. “First of all, my father sold controlling interest in it, when Mom was dying, even though he kept enough to have a significant say on the board. I didn’t want to inherit his company when he was alive - it just felt too much like nepotism to me. When he died, they approached me, but it wasn’t my company, and I felt if I’d taken it I’d always be seen as Stephen Trewellan’s son. Better it go to someone with real management experience.”

“Tom Bonder’s not exactly been a blazing success,” I remarked. I didn’t play corporate games, but like anyone in tech, I stayed current, and Trewellan’s successor had made misstep after misstep, though the tech press has been remarkably quiet about it (after all, the company still bought lots of ad space).

“If I went in now, Bree,” he said, quietly, “I’d be seen as a threat.”

Said the man who had just stood down a lord of the Unseelie Court without realizing it, Bree thought with sour amusement. Yet, perhaps he was right. She’d known Matt since they were both grad students at the University of Washington. He’d been working towards a masters in information management with a minor in music (she’d always found that hilarious, but now she wondered if she was missing something), while she’s been working towards a PhD in Information Technology. She was a year younger than he was, they’d even dated briefly, but she had decided even then she liked him much better as a friend. He’d always been gawky, uncomfortable in his skin, and had become even more so after his parents had passed away. Still, every so often, there was something within him she sensed trying to break free.

They’d made their way up to to Camano Island, eventually pulling into a marina where a number of houseboats, skiffs and even smaller yachts were tied up. “You own a boat?”

“Don’t tell the guys at the Nerd Shop. I’d never hear the end of it.”

He headed over to the harbormaster to retrieve the keys, then they walked out to one of the piers, where there were several respectably sized skiffs moored, and made his way to the gangplank of one of the larger. A zodiac was stowed along one side. Someone could live aboard this for several weeks at a stretch without much hardship.

“There’s life vests in the storage locker there, help yourself.”

As I rummaged around and pulled out a brightly colored orange vest about the right size for me, Matt came out from the bridge with a small navy blue Captain’s hat.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been out on The Sea Sprite. Normally, Dad would hire a captain for trips of any length, but I spent a lot of time with them, and finally decided to get my ship captain’s license after my father died. At one point I thought about just taking off, spend a year or two traveling, but somehow never quite managed to take the jump. Perhaps I should.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt at that moment. This Matt was alien to me. I usually had enough to pay the rent on my little place, buy clothes at Goodwill, every so often splurge a bit on coffee or a meal at the diner. Matt had enough money to keep a good-sized yacht on constant upkeep waiting as he decided what to do with his life. I quelled the surge of jealousy that threatened to swamp me, and even managed to keep in check the anger I felt that Matt had so much in his life that he could have done something with and didn’t.  

“Do you know where she is?” I asked instead, staring pointedly away from him.

“If the coordinates we have are correct, she’s up in the San Juan’s. If not, then we have an interesting afternoon ahead of us. Hope you don’t get sea sick easily.”

I looked out to the west, and even though the sky was clear above us, it was beginning to haze up to the West, always a pretty reliable indication of a soggy day ahead. Matt pointed to the mooring lines on the aft portion of the port side even as he started releasing the same lines to the fore of the ship. I’ve been on ships before, so I’m not a complete landlubber, but even so it took us a bit before we were ready to cast off, especially since the ship normally should have had a crew of at least four.

I stowed my laptop along with my bag and my .45 in another storage locker, hoping I’d not have to use it. I preferred not to rely upon guns - with enough of a mental nudge, a bear or a cougar will usually give way and look for less problematic prey. Still, there were a number of people in the San Juan’s who had played premium for their privacy, and they tended to be trigger happy.

An hour later, the haze which had just begun building now lay like a blanket over the sky, and I was truly glad to having dressed warmly this morning as the wind whipped around us. We were far enough North that I suspected we were technically in Canadian waters, with Vancouver Island to our southwest, and we’d left behind most of the pleasure craft so that there was only one other boat, a yacht larger than ours, on the horizon. Our destination was a small islet off one of the smaller islands in the San Juans, though the coordinates were at the limit of their resolution here, so we were looking for either a natural cave or a man-made structure that was on the shore, or perhaps were looking for the mermaid herself.

Matt had emailed her back - how had a mermaid managed to get an email address in the first place, I wondered - to let her know that we were going to be up here around this time, but she never wrote back, so I figured the chances of us actually finding her were low at best. There were too many questions in my head right now, and too little information to go on.

We were able to get to within about a hundred yards of shore without danger of foundering - the Puget Sound at this point gets deep fast of the islands, which have hardly any beach to speak of. Matt leant me a second pair of binoculars so I could scan the brush and rocky beach while he kept an eye on the sonar to keep from tearing up his ship’s keel. For me the task was made harder by the waves, which had building steadily as the front moved in from the West.

“Let’s give it another half an hour or so, then call it quits” Matt yelled from the wheelhouse. “I don’t like what I’m seeing on radar.”

We rounded one island where the trees came directly up to the waterline, and a much smaller island, perhaps no more than about fifty feet across came into view. As we approached, I swept the binoculars on a particular small stretch of sandy beach, then spotted something irregular at the water’s edge. A largish gray rectangle - about the size of a small suitcase - had been pushed up into a mound of seaweed. About five feet away, I saw what I first took to be an irregularly shaped log, partially submerged, until I realized that a part of the log was moving back and forth in the water as the waves swept it up and down.

“Matt, about ten degrees to port, that little inlet there,” I yelled over the wind. “I think she’s there.”

He kicked the engines up and we headed closer to the island. The wind had picked up to about thirty knots, and was wetter than sea spray by itself could account for. I put the binoculars down, lifting up my legs to work out the cramps in them. As I did so, I glanced back off to the west, and noticed that the boat that we’d seen earlier was closer.

Matt pulled as close as he could to the island and let out the anchor. With the way the winds were blowing, the anchor wouldn’t necessarily keep the boat from drifting, but it would slow it down. Matt started unsecuring the zodiac, and I pitched in.

“We might have visitors - that boat’s been pacing us all afternoon,” I said, pointing to the small white spot in the distance.

“Let’s do this quick then. You think it’s her?”

“Maybe, hard to tell from here. Whoever it is isn’t moving.”

He nodded, his face hard. What had started as a fantasy was beginning to turn grim. We kick the motor on the zodiac into life, then made for the small beach.

When people come to Washington State, they tend to have this bizarre belief that we have broad sandy beaches like California. There’s a couple of places to the south, near Oregon, where there are a few smallish beaches like that, but the waves and wind here usually make short shrift of any kind of sand; most beaches are small, gray, and rocky, fun if you like crawling over driftwood, but not the kind of place to build a sand castle or lay out in the sun (especially in late September, when the winds coming from the Pacific are damned cold). Even in the bulky life vest (and a second jacket I’d slipped on underneath it earlier) I was shivering a little bit.

The Zodiac beached about twenty feet from the “log” I’d seen earlier, and I hopped out onto sand, my medical kit in hand. Grandmother was the First Nation’s primary healer, but she was also a trained nurse, and made sure that while I knew the power of willow bark and various mosses, I also knew how to suture a wound, splint bones, set up an IV and if necessary act as a midwife. I was a little out of practice - I’d been planning on taking an advanced EMT course after I took the basic one last year, but just hadn’t had the bandwidth. I mentally put that back on my To Do Soon list as I came up to the mermaid.

Okay, I’ll admit - I gawked for a moment. She was beautiful. Her hair was the color of moonlight, her face, eyes closed, the essence of young womanhood. She was sprawled out on her side, one arm beneath her, the other, outstretched, her full breasts pressed against the sand. At her waist, her skin became shinier and went from pearl to gold, her hips looking human enough, as if she wore a pair of form fitting gold jeans. Her legs seemed to join mid-thigh, and she had knees (or one unified knee, it was hard to be sure). Below that her lower limbs seemed to be more flexible and longer than I would have expected, as if bone had been replaced by flexible cartilage, at the base of which was a broad tailfin that bore more than a little resemblance to a dolphin’s fluke. She was a mermaid, and she seemed to be dead.

Yet she lay there unmoving, and after a moment’s inspection I turned her over, drawing my breath in as the wound came into view. A gunshot wound had taken her in the upper abdomen, just under the rib cage. My eyes widened as I realized that the wound was still pulsing.

“She’s alive, dammit!” I cried, slapping Matt out of his trance. “Help me turn her over.”

Normally, this would have been a bad idea, I didn’t know how much damage she’d taken, especially as there was no exit wound. This was also not an ideal place to help her. “Matt, do you have a surfboard or something like that we can use as a stretcher? We need to get her out of here, or she’ll die.”

Matt nodded, running back to the zodiac. As he took off for the boat, I cleaned the bullet wound as much as possible, running a couple of cantrips over the bandages to put as much of the wound into stasis as possible. It wasn’t much. The bullets were probably copper jacket, so wouldn’t be as likely to cause the burning pain that pure iron did, but any bullet could be fatal, and given where it was - and the potential for very alien physiology, I didn’t want to take any chances with it.

She gurgled a little, faintly. I didn’t know a lot about marine mammals (I had to assume that she was a mammal, given that she didn’t have any evident gills and had very evident mammary glands), but I knew enough that they had a very slow metabolism compared to other animals their size. I was finally able to get a pulse in her pale, web lined arm, but it was well below human norms, about 40 over 25 and very weak. It was hard to tell how much blood she’d lost, but even with the absorbant sand beneath here there was a noticeable stain.

With the wound wrapped, I stepped back a bit and looked at her a bit more objectively. She was thin, almost gaunt, and her skin was loose around her arms and face. She had been starving. There was a purplish gray bruise along the side of her face, as if he’d been hit there, and her left eye socket showed bruising as well, along with a couple of other bruises on her wrists and arms.  I looked down as well, at the golden triangular region where her legs met, and there, nearly hidden, were her sexual organs. They would normally be almost invisible most of the time, perhaps a little farther down the perineum than mine were, but now they looked puffy and bruised. I’d seen too many cases of both physical and sexual abuse when I was working at my Grandmother’s clinic not to recognize the signs, and I had to struggle not to turn the anger I was feeling on Matt when he returned with the zodiac.

“She’s been raped, I think,” I said, before he could say a word, and to his credit, I could see Matt’s expression shift to concern, then a cold determined rage. Until then, I think he’d seen the girl as some kind of fantasy being, but Matt had a sister, and in that moment, the mermaid became real to him as a human being.

“Let’s get her on the boat,” he said tersely, then nodded at the sky that was now turning the greenish gray that usually meant one of the nastier storms in the region was imminent.

We moved her onto the backboard - the boat really did have everything - and transferred her to the Zodiac. Getting her onto the boat was somewhat harder, Matt had secured her to the board with sailcloth and rope, and carefully, once we tied the Zodiac down, we transferred her onto the aft deck and then to one of the bunks in the cabin, just as the rain began to fall in earnest.

Out of the elements, without having to worry about the wind blowing bandages into the dirt, I set up a saline drip (hoping that the steel of the needles didn’t damage her) and unwrapped the dressing. Some of the Blood reacted negatively to iron, but halflings generally were far more tolerant, and I was willing to bet money that the mermaid was not full Blood, but was more like me. The full Blood often looked … alien, their proportions different from those of a human in both limb and face. The selkie I’d seen along the coast could pass for human in poor light, but their eyes were too big with wide irises. The mermaid, on the other hand, looked exotic, but nonetheless human above the hips.

The boat shuddered as the engines kicked in, so presumably Matt had managed to stow the Zodiac and get back to the wheelhouse. I concentrated on my charge, jaw clenched as I pulled the dressing loose and examined the wound in better light. I wasn’t a forensics expert, but I had a suspicion she’d been shot with a rifle from some distance - the wound was ugly, but was actually not as deep as I’d feared, which meant that the bullet had expended a lot of its energy by the time it hit. It had also gone into the serratus muscles of her upper abdomen, which were unusually dense - spending all of her time swimming like a dolphin left her with some serious muscle tone, in to a remarkable dense layer of fat that likely kept her warm in ocean water. Her ribs were bruised but didn’t seem to be broken. There was also a row of small punctures in her arm that looked an awful lot like needle marks.

I sterilized some tweezers - hard plastic ones that I kept handy when dealing with the Blood, and worked the bullet out, staunching the blood that came with it - red blood, it finally registered on me. The High Courts and many of the Wild Fae had blood that was pale pink, green (dryads and others that have chlorophyll mixed in their blood) sometime white, and on rare occasions a pale blue. The blood of Vampyr was purplish blue, except when they’ve gorged, in which case the blood is a lurid red from the cannibalized oxygen in their victim’s blood cells. This last was from the local Van Helsing Society acquaintances I know - I stay clear of vampyr, and they seem content to stay clear of me. However, bright red was a mark of human blood, probably in part on both sides. Fae genetics were … weird to say the least, and something that was not even well understood even by the few fae geneticists out there.

The bullet was flattened and misshaped, and in my mind I began to understand what I was seeing. She wasn’t actually directly hit by the bullet. Instead, it must have ricocheted against a rock and hit her indirectly, losing a lot of its momentum in the process. It was fired by a high powered rifle, given the calibre of the bullet, but fired at enough of a distance - and likely from a swaying ship, that it was just sheer bad luck that she was hit at all. Of course, that likely meant that there was someone out there with some serious firepower.

I re-dressed the wound, and added some not completely legal codeine to the IV drip. Again, I was taking a risk here, given that she wasn’t necessarily human, but I didn’t think it was a major one. Blood was the key. Fairies, even urban faeries, couldn’t tolerate codeine or similar analgesics, and even aspirin caused an adverse reaction, but willowbark, which contain salicin which the human body metabolized as salicylic acid (and was the basis for aspirin) was a veritable wonder drug for them. Of course, most of the winged faeries had, well, wings, insect-like wings specifically, and their biochemistry was a lot weirder than you might expect given that they otherwise look human.

However, our mermaid was warm-blooded, had hemoglobin-based blood, looked to be an air-breather and mammalian, and was also likely not much older than her apparent physical age, which I put at about twenty. I covered her up in the surprisingly comfortable feeling bedsheets and comforter, though I’d made sure there were towels above and below her wound.

I rummaged through the drawers in the small cabin and confirmed a hunch - there were dresses, tops, slacks and women’s underwear in here. Matt’s sister Laura likely used the boat as well, and the couple of times I’d met her, she struck me as the kind of woman who would always make sure she had a spare wardrobe handy. The mermaid might be completely into nudism, but I had a disturbing suspicion that even if that had been the case before, things may have changed, and made sure there was a change of clothes for her. I sat with her a little longer, my hand wrapped gently around her wrist, counting. Warmed, and with the IV drip, her pulse and blood pressure had risen to very low human levels, which I took as a good sign.

I was close to drifting off myself when the boat lurched in the water, and I could feel it shifting direction hard to port. The covers rose and fell in time to the mermaid’s even breathing, so I felt it was probably safe to leave her alone for a few minutes.

I took the stairs (the “ladder”, I corrected myself) up to the state room, and from there into the wheelhouse, my hands reaching out to rails as the boat rocked in the turbulent waters of the Sound. For some reason I had expected to find a great wooden wheel in the wheelhouse, but instead Matt sat comfortably at what looked at first glance like a modern car’s steering wheel and area, with a small steering wheel, radar and sonar displays, and a computer screen for monitoring everything from fuel and oil levels to the degrees of pitch from true.

“Seems to take all the romance out of sailing,” I commented, taking the other chair. Rain lashed at the the windows, and visibility was poorer than I liked.

“My father was never a terribly romantic man. He bought this primarily as a way of entertaining clients, and usually hired a captain and crew to actually keep things afloat. I’m not even sure he knew how to get it started. How’s our guest?”

“Sleeping, I hope. The wound was messy but relatively shallow - I think she caught the bullet on a ricochet. I’ve already bagged it, not that I’m sure there’s actually a court where it could be admitted as evidence.”

My eye fell on the small plastic carrying case; in getting the mermaid to the boat, I’d completely forgotten about it. Matt apparently hadn’t.

“It’s a laptop,” he said, noticing my gaze. “Probably the one she sent her message from. Thing has a heavy data satellite link on it. The box is watertight; we sell lower end versions of that to the nouveau riche yacht club set. At the moment the battery’s drained.”

I worked out the scenario in my head. The mermaid is on board a ship or a boat, owned by someone wealthy enough to have a high end laptop with all the trimmings, normally kept in or near the waterproof case. She’s kept against her will, but an opportunity comes when she’s alone, is able to escape somehow, she grabs the laptop and dives over the side with it. Her captors try to shoot her in the water, and one shot ricochets off a nearby rock and hits her in the side. She dives, finds an island, sends the message, but has lost too much blood and loses consciousness. It was plausible, and explained most of the facts, but if that was the case it also implied some potentially nasty things.

“That boat we saw earlier …” she said.

“They trailed us for a while, until the storm got too heavy. I lost a visual on them about half an hour ago, took a course the long way around to the marina both to avoid some of the rocks it’d be all too easy to founder on and to see if we could shake them. My guess is we may have stepped into some seriously heavy duty crap here.”

I raised my eyebrow.

“I booted up the laptop briefly during a lull in this storm, and was surprised to see it running the Spanish version of Screens. Normal password protected account - hackable, with a bit of work. The user name was Raul Ortiz. I looked him up on the ship’s computer - it also has a satlink. Raul Ortz is the name of a Mexican Cartel drug lord, wanted, for among other things, running guns and drugs, murder, extortion … and piracy. The photographs of him in the news matched the user profile pic on the computer login screen.”

“Well, that’s just peachy.” The track marks on the girl’s arm made sense - he probably kept her drugged. I didn’t have anything in my kit to do any kind of blood work beyond a couple of crude tests for Fae blood types. “So what do we do with her?”

“She’s real, isn’t she?” Matt said quietly, suddenly looking lost and a lot younger than he had moments before. “It’s all real? All the strange voodoo kind of magick that seems to surround you, all the weird things in this town that I’ve written off to being just colorful inhabitants. They’re real?”

“Yeah,” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Though the mermaid in your sister’s cabin is actually probably more real than a lot of them. I kind of keep an eye on them, help them try to navigate the human world.”

“Why? Why are they here?” He sounded almost plaintive.

“Matt, they’ve always been here. We’re the invaders. We build up in areas that used to be their home - dryads whose trees have been turned into hardwood floors, trolls that used to live in the hills now forced to live in underpasses because their caves were in the way. Some adapt - have you ever noticed groups of under-dressed girls at Bel Square? They’re mall elves - at least some of them. You don’t see the Fae as such because they’ve learned to blend in, learned to hide their true nature, and because humans just don’t … look very close.”

“So are you human?” he asked, turning to look at her.

“I … I guess you could call me a witch. Not the Elizabeth Montgomery, wrinkle your nose and suddenly your husband is a donkey kind of witch, mind you. I can do some healing, courtesy of my Grandmother’s training, but I mostly specialized in information. Computer magick, scrying, information patterns. I have some Fae blood in me from both sides, but I’m human enough that you’d not be able to tell I wasn’t.” Most of the time, I thought, but didn’t say out loud.

He stared out through the driving rain, ostensibly steering towards the marina just visible in the distance through the downpour, but it was clear that he was also thinking, hard. I’d rocked his world view, rocked it harder than the mermaid downstairs did, and I had a disturbing feeling that he was angry at me for stripping away the illusions.

“There’s a wheelchair in the closet of the master suite - my father bought it for my mother so they could take the boat out after she got sick, but I think its only been used once. If you could get her seated, I’ll drive the boat in. That should keep us from being obvious about what we’re doing.”

It was a suggestion, but it was also clearly a dismissal, and I bristled a bit at that. Matt could be charismatic and compelling, but there were times he also echoed his father’s less savory aspects. The man had reportedly been a tyrant, and sometimes, without meaning to, Matt showed that side of himself as well.

I started to say something but bit my tongue and left in search of the chair, more because I was simply too tired to argue with him right now.

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SeatailsArt
Seatails
Artist | Hobbyist | Digital Art
United States

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:iconxlef:
xlef Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday :cake: to you!! :happybounce: 
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Rodlox Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014
Happy Birthday.
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:iconagent505:
Agent505 Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Professional Writer
:cake:
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coffeenoir Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Cake FOR Bday by KmyGraphic  
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:iconseatailsart:
SeatailsArt Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thx!
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coffeenoir Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
:coffeecup::coffeemachine::coffeecup:
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jkrolak Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
:iconblank-spaceplz::iconblank-spaceplz::iconpinkiepiecakeplz::iconblank-spaceplz:Happy Bday by KmyGraphic:iconblank-spaceplz::iconpinkiepiecakeplz:
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SeatailsArt Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
=P (Razz) 
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:iconlukas8178:
lukas8178 Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2014
Hi, please can y morph my girls in my gallery? You can choose (WG, animal tf, doll tf, AR and diaper tf)
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:iconbadass-artist:
badass-artist Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!
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