Mers (Mermaid Dystopia)

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    Mers by

    Ami Blackwelder

    Mers Chronicles: Book oneMERS

    Copyright 2011 by Ami Blackwelder

    Artwork 2012

    All rights resered! "o part o# this book may be $sed or reprod$ced by any means% graphic% electronic% or

    mechanical% incl$ding photocopying% recording% taping or by any in#ormation storage retrieal system witho$t thewritten permission o# the p$blisher e&cept in the case o# brie# '$otations embodied in critical articles and reiews!

    Ami Blackwelders books may be ordered thro$gh local book en$es and online retailers or by contacting the

    a$thor: http:((amiblackwelder!blogspot!com

    )his is a work o# #iction! All o# the characters% names% incidents% organi*ations% and dialog$e in this noel are

    either the prod$cts o# the a$thors imagination or are $sed #ictitio$sly!

    http://amiblackwelder.blogspot.com/http://amiblackwelder.blogspot.com/
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    ISBN-9781466455153

    ISBN-1466455152

    +$blished by Elo'$ent Enrapt$res +$blishingEdited by Elo'$ent Enrapt$res

    Copy edited by ,enni#er Brad#ord% Connie -ebb% and Ashley EganCoer art by Elo'$ent Enrapt$res

    +rinted in the .nited States by /ightning So$rce

    Complete series:

    1Mers

    2Ethans Empire

    Big )hank yo$ to my +eeps

    Alpha-Readers: Candi C$rtis% Anne Clark% Ao Bibliophile% rysta Banco% /inda Bass% 3enise 4aky% rdasila%

    /eilani% Chaarmedone

    Beta-Reader: Ashley Egan

    Mers:

    -hat lies beneath the s$r#ace56ne h$ndred years #rom now the world haschanged and bro$ght with it new #orms o# li#e!

    -ho are the Mers5 -ho is Mira5

    7 am not a Mer A simple b$t pro#o$nd statement that changes Miras li#e #oreer! Shealways knew she was di##erent! She neer '$ite #it in with the Mers! 8oweer% when her '$est to$nderstand her past leads her across the border that diides two astly di##erent worlds% shethinks the 9o$rney to #ind o$t who she really is will be an easy one!

    B$t% in ,ersey she #inds more '$estions than answers! )he arden State has become a

    conol$ted mi& o# Aristocrats who hate the Mers% +irates who want to sell them% and Magi whowant to $se them% #inding her tr$e identity will be a challenge% especially when her traelingcompanion is a Mer willing to #ight to the death!

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    3edicated to my niece Brianna Blackwelder 3ais

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    Table of Contents/iberty Shore/ate

    Reb$ildingCloserArg$e3e#iance;irst Sight3isg$ises3istinctionsEthan+oseidons SecretsCo$rtMaps

    Ma*esBreakreystorm+iratesShackledE&plodingi#ts o# the SeasAdri#tingshipMer oodsR$naway

    ;renemies"erissa"amesArt o# -ar3emiseRestoration

    +rolog$e: -e knew it was coming! Scientists warned $s that one day the +olar 7ce Caps wo$ld melt%coering most o# the land with water< with #ew e&ceptions! B$t% no one listened $ntil thewealthiest o# the world decided to create a sanct$ary% o# sorts% and hired workers to pile $p soilon a #ew regions to prepare them!

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    7n this manner% Manhattan% along with Ellis 7sland% and "ew ,ersey were saed! )hey hadbeen cleared o# the pop$lace and their b$ildings destroyed by demolition teams% and then newdirt had been mo$nded $pon the old $ntil the once sea leel regions became high eno$gh toaoid the predicted #loods! Some considered barges% b$t as the sea leels raised% t$m$lt$o$s andoersi*ed waes destroyed them! )he rich knew they had to b$ild more stable gro$nd!

    )he planning and deelopment took decades% b$t the scientists co$ld not predict how early thereat 3el$ge wo$ld begin! 7ce caps melted #aster than reali*ed and the rain contin$ed #or monthsat a time! )he wealthy may hae b$ilt their land% b$t they did not hae time to b$ild the illasand condos as planned! Many o# them died in the #looding% leaing the land #or the s$riingpoor!!!!

    A#ter the #looding s$bsided% there was not m$ch le#t o# the old world% the sodden #actorieswere $nder water% as was most #armland! 3ry heat #rom the so$th migrated to the north in theEarths global warming stages! At least something good came #rom all the heat: cotton! Eeryoneco$ld $se it #or clothes!

    )he reat 3el$ge killed many h$mans% those who s$ried becamediided! )he h$man

    epigenome began to adapt% more '$ickly than anyone reali*ed it co$ld! -ithin decades% new

    #eat$res began appearing on a n$mber o# babies% tho$gh not all o# them shared thesecharacteristics! A new s$bspecies had been born and separated% e&iledas others called itb$tit didnt matter the name gien! )he treatment and the res$lts were the same! 8$mans did not

    want to intermi& with this new breed!!!d$bbed the Mers!

    /iberty Shore

    6n the abandoned shores o# what was once Ellis 7sland% Mira watched the pink hori*onblend with the s$btle tones o# grey and m$ted p$rples $ntil the broken sky became an endlessabyss o# blackness and co$ntless stars! 6nly the #aint tip o# the Stat$e o# /iberty s torch st$ck o$to# the bra*en waters% a reminder o# what once had been "ew =ork!

    Mira only knew o# a #ew liable places still in e&istence% s$ch as the states o# "ew =ork and"ew ,ersey! Certainly the Rocky Mo$ntains and Mt! Eerest s$ried! She had heard r$morsthere were bits o# land in what wo$ld hae been A#rica% E$rope% and Asia% b$t she had neertraeled o$tside o# "orth America to know #or s$re! Besides% she wo$ld miss "erin too m$ch i#she eer le#t% and she had eerything she wo$ld eer need right here% right now! 3idn t she5

    Mira #elt webbed #ingers slide oer her le#t sho$lder% as "erin plopped ne&t to her on the rockoerlooking the sea! 8e placed a doe into her open palm< one o# his many lea# origami designs!

    ;or yo$! ;or peace!!!and #or oercoming #ear! Mira watched his glowing eyes as he took a

    deep breath% en9oying the smell o# the salty sea! 8e co$ld hae any Mer on the island% and yet% hekept hanging o$t with her!

    )hanks% Mira bl$shed!

    7 knew 7d #ind yo$ here! "erin glanced in her direction% his eyes bright! =o$ know mewell% 7 g$ess! Mira bl$shed again% her #reckled cheeks reddening as she tilted her head towardhim!

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    She shiered in the cool bree*e and bro$ght her legs $p and h$gged them with arms coered in amaroon sweater! "erin% so#tly combed his webbed #ingers thro$gh her bea$ti#$l% cherryred hair%as i# enchanted by it! -hat is it abo$t this spot5 "erin raised a dark brow aboe his yellow eyes% $ntangling hishand #rom her hair!

    7 don

    t know%

    she shr$gged!

    7 #eel on the brink o# discoery here!!!!like there is somethingmore beyond the hori*on!

    =es% more ocean% he ch$ckled< the crooked corner o# his lips rising as he la$ghed!3ont poke #$n! Mira n$dged him with a hard elbow! Besides% this place is important to

    yo$r!!!yo$% too! She almost said%=o$r kind% too% b$t remembered she didnt want to make that distinction% yet! 7# the othersnoticed her di##erences% as she did% no one said anything o$t lo$d!

    =es! "erin rolled his head back in tho$ght< his shining% yellow eyes matched the stars

    radiance in the darkened p$rple sky! Mira neer got oer the #act that his eyeseeryones eyesglowed yellow! -hy didnt hers5 )heres a lot o# history here% "erin contin$ed! 7ts notcalled /iberty Shore #or nothing! My parents told me this is the one place where Mers can lie

    #reely!

    Mira sighed% the mention o# the word Mers always bro$ght her tears close to the s$r#ace! 7tso$nded as i# they somehow did not belong to the h$man race% as i# their $ni'$e #eat$res e&istedonly to remind the h$man world o# the abominations o# od! -hy were there s$ch distinctions5A#ter all% the Mers didnt ca$se the #lood! 8ae yo$ eer een seen the o$tside world5 )he sleee o# her sweater #ell #rom hersho$lder! She #i&ed it% and then met "erins ga*e with her greybl$e eyes! She stared into hisglowing eyes% as i# trying to read his so$l!

    )he o$t!!!side world5 )he words ca$ght in his throat! 8e had been to the border where Ellis7sland met ,ersey% b$t no #$rther! .h!!!no% not really! -hy5 =o$ plan on going5 8is e&pressioncast a shadow o# dread oer her!

    7!!!dont know%

    she shr$gged% pretending she hadn

    t tho$ght abo$t it or planned it oer andoer again in her mind! 8ow she wo$ld sneak o## in the middle o# the night and peek% only peek%

    oer the border and% i# no one was aro$nd% how she wo$ld hightail it into the #orbidden city!S$re% she might get dirty and ac'$ire a #ew scrapes% and maybe een hae a #ew h$ngry andhomeless nights% b$t the answers she so$ght co$ld not be #o$nd on /iberty 7sland!!!

    >Mira% we hae been #riends #or ten years% 7 see the longing in yo$r eyes! =o$ can t hide it

    #rom me! And she co$ldnt!)hey had been best #riends since they were seen! "erin had s$rprised her as she stood

    by the water% the tide lapping oer her bare toes! ;iddling with her damp dress% she had splashed$p water with each wae! iggles were p$##ing her cheeks% and her cherryred hair was billowingo$t behind her! 8er attention had been #oc$sed on the salty sea% as he tiptoed behind her! -hen "erin hadreached her% he tapped her on the sho$lder and ca$sing her to spin aro$nd to greet him #or the#irst time #aceto#ace! +$ckering his lips% he had waited #or a kiss! 8e had balanced on his toes%teetering as he leaned #orward!

    7nstead% Mira had slapped him across the cheek% her cheeks t$rning bloodred while"erins #ace bl$shed pink! 8er #ace was #$rio$s% as i# she was warding o## enemies% she watchedas he had st$mbled backward in s$rprise

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    )hat was ten years ago% now% they sat in companionable silence% each g$arding their

    secrets>7 dont want to talk abo$t this% Mira told her #riend! 8ow co$ld she e&plain to him her

    longing to know who she was what she was All he wo$ld see was that she wanted to breakMer law and 9$mp ship5 -ell% not a ship% e&actly< 9$mp island5 Break h$man law5 "o Mer

    wanted to #eel the wrath o# the Aristo City 8all!3$sting her hands against her #aded patchwork skirt she played with a hole that had#ormed oer her knee% hoping to aoid another conersation abo$t the o$tside world! B$t "erint$rned his whole body toward her% his hand tightly gripping her #orearm!

    >=o$ dont want to go o$tside! Mira sh$ddered as his oice rose% and he s'$ished his#ace! She hated to be the ca$se o# the distress in his shimmering yellow eyes as he scanned herdelicate #acial #eat$res!

    >=o$ dont know what 7 want Mira yanked her arm away and stood with a h$##!>7 do! 7 see the longing in yo$r eyes! =o$ want to cross into #orbidden land Mira

    co$ldnt hide #rom the disg$st in his oice! And risk all o$r lies>7!!!7!!! She co$ldnt think o# anything to conince him o# her reasoning! Mers were

    ta$ght all their lies that crossing into h$man land was p$nishable% that it wo$ld draw danger tothem! 8e wo$ld neer $nderstand!

    She saw "erins shocked e&pression% and then she knew she co$ld say no more! 7nstantly%she was remorse#$l! 7m sorry< 7 dont know what 7m saying! She e&tended her hand to him%and he slapped his palm against hers and p$lled himsel# $p! 8is anger had diminished at herto$ch% and the mini#e$d was #orgien! 8e co$ld neer stay mad at Mira #or long!

    )$rning #rom the shore% where the ocean to$ched some o# the scarce and coeted land%Mira and "erin walked hand in hand% not beca$se they were boy#riend and girl#riend% tho$ghboth had tho$ght abo$t it more than once% b$t beca$se in the Mer tradition that permeated Ellis7sland/iberty Shore< #riends always walked that way!

    /iberty Shore% as the Mers called it% had been Mira s home #or as long as she co$ld

    remember! )he area coered Ellis 7sland and part o# "ew =ork! B$t lately% she had been haingmemories o# a di##erent li#e% the kind o# li#e where h$mans took care o# her! "ot s$rprising% a#terall< she didnt look like a Mer! She didnt hae webbed #eet or webbing between her thighs! Sheco$ld wear pants She didnt hae gills beneath her l$ngs! 8eck% she co$ldn t een swim thatwell

    She had known #or many% many years that she wasn t like them% b$t she wo$ld neermention her concerns to her #ather or mother! A#ter all% she wo$ldnt want to break their hearts!)hey had raised her and told her% despite what she looked like on the o$tside% she was a Mer inher heart% and that was all that mattered!

    ;ear#$l o# her parents disapproal% she and "erin h$rried home% sc$rrying aro$nd a #ewponds and leaping oer p$ddles like #rogs% they raced across the sporadic spots o# soil! )hey ranas they had when they were children% racing thro$gh the neighborhood a#ter school% only slowingas they approached her home! Mira always had the adantage on land% since "erin s webbed #eetwere more s$ited #or swimming! =o$ look nice% Mira pointed at the way moements o# his kilt!

    >)hanks5 "erin commented $ns$re% t$gging at his inner legs% catching the webbing o#his thighs% which e&tended #rom his $pper inner leg to seeral inches aboe the knee! +ants% withtheir inner seams% wo$ld not #it Mers!

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    >=o$ look nice too! "erin hadnt heard Mira compliment him on his looks be#ore and hebl$shed!

    )hey approached a min$sc$le% threeroomed shack made o# wood h$ng high on thickstilts% consisting o# a litch what h$mans wo$ld call a combined liing(kitchen area and two

    sleepers or bedrooms! 7t was more o# a small barge on stilts% the salt water p$ddling

    $nderneath% a reminder o# the reat 3el$ge! Mers didnt need homes as m$ch their co$nterpartsdid! )hey spent most o# their time in the ocean! -hen they spent too many days o$t o# water%

    their skin began to shriel and dry< like a snake shedding layers o# skin )he sight was notpretty!

    As bedtime approached% Mira r$shed $p the cracked wooden steps and sw$ng the dooropen! "erin waed goodbye a#ter her retreating #orm and leapt o## the steps into the p$ddlesdraining #rom $nderneath her home!

    Entering her home% Miras eyes swept oer the primitie #$rnit$re% made mostly o# wood!)he #loods destroyed the #actories% leaing little capability to prod$ce anything witho$t wood!B$t what Mers lacked in material% they made $p #or in artistry! 8andcared #lowers andgeometric shapes decorated most pieces!

    Miras #ather and mother% 4ale and Marina% sat in the litch% pacing near a set o# woodenrocking chairs that stood on either side o# the table! -hen they #inally sat in the rocking chairs%

    each moed back and #orth% making the handcared t$lips on the arms appear to blow in thewind! Mira hoped they wo$ldnt notice she was late again! .n#ort$nately% her #atherswatch#$l ga*e as she strolled inside% con#irmed her #ears!!!

    >-hat5 Miras g$ilt gae her away% and she threw her arms $p% #ingers #anned!>=o$ know 7 e&pect yo$ home be#ore dark% 4ale answered! "o telling what kind o#

    dangers yo$ might r$n into o$t there! Crossing his arms oer his chest% he stood% a strong manwith m$scles cared #rom years o# hard% o$tside labor! "o st$bble grew oer his pointy chin% asMers didnt hae body hair oer their so#t% l$minescent skin! /ike most Mers% he remainedshoeless! )hey pre#erred to trael oer land on webbed #eet% the thick layers o# e&tra skin

    proiding com#ort like a shoe!>7!!! She didnt want to #ight% b$t she had to stand her gro$nd! A#ter all% she wasnotorio$s on /iberty Shore #or her o$tspoken personality! 7 wanted to see the s$nset on shore! 7sthat so wrong5 She innocently batted her long lashes% a habit she co$ldn t help! Beca$se she wasthe only one in /iberty Shore with long lashes% legs% and real toes and #ingers% the Mers tho$ghto# her as an angel! )he yo$ng Mers anyway< the older Mers knew better! )heyd seen warbetween h$mans and their kind! )hey remembered how #iendish h$mans co$ld be!

    Mira% hersel#% no longer lied in the b$bble o# ignorance shared by Mer children% onlywarned to come home be#ore dark $nder ag$e e&planations o# Beca$se 7 told yo$ so or 7tsdangero$s! Mer parents did not talk abo$t the real reasons% $ntil kids t$rned seenteen and wereta$ght the br$tal history o# /iberty Shore! =es% its wrong when yo$ know good and well that we e&pect yo$ back be#ore dark! 7 wo$ldthink school wo$ld hae scared yo$ straight!

    >7!!! -hat co$ld she say5 7m not a Mer5 She didnt want to bring that $p yet! 7m sorry!7 wont stay o$t late again! B$t both she and her parents knew she wo$ld! Something on theedge o# the hori*on% between /iberty Shore and ,ersey% beckoned to her% a ta$nting ghost callingto her night and day! )oo many $nanswered '$estions le#t her restless!

    She '$ickly #ell asleep a#ter she #lopped on her small% '$ilted cot! 7t was not ery large%not a kingsi*ed or '$eensi*ed bed% b$t more o# a twinsi*ed bed! And all hers! 8ow co$ld she

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    complain< no Mer slept in anything larger than two yards o# space! Space was an e&pensiecommodity with land so scarce!

    Somewhere in the middle o# her dreams% she awoke! A whowho spr$ng #rom the beako# the owl perched on the lone% naked tree o$tside her stained window! 7t was midnight% and aslier o# moon re#lected siler light oer the tree like the delicate eil o# a wedding dress! Mira

    co$ldnt take her eyes o## the large brown owl% his #eathers glinting in the moonlight! Eachso$nd he made posed a '$estion to her! -howho% the owl sang again% and she #l$ng her legs

    o## the cot with a h$## and pressed her nose to the window! -howho!

    >-hat5>-howho!

    >=es% she sighed% 7 want to know who 7 am% too! At the so$nd o# her oice% the owl#lew away and disappeared into the black abyss o# sky!

    /ateEarlyweekend morning% Mira heard a knock at the door! )hrowing on her skirt and

    a white )shirt% she r$shed past her mother% who was close eno$gh to lay her hand oer thedoorknob! 3ressed in a kneelength white s$mmer dress% the woman o# #orty tied her #lowingblack hair into a b$n% and% tho$gh older now% she still had the same bea$ti#$l skin she had in hertwenties!

    >ot it% Mom Mira sho$ted as i# her mother was a room away! She grabbed thedoorknob!

    >oodness sakes% Mira R$n me oer% why dont yo$

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    >Sorry% Mom! 7 promised "erin 7d be at the shores thirty min$tes ago 8e m$st beangry

    As she #l$ng the door open and stepped onto the #ragile steps with "erin% Mira heard her

    mothers last words% Make s$re yo$re home #or dinner!>7 will Bang )he door slammed!

    >-here were yo$5

    "erin '$estioned% Miras heart sank at his twisted brow% a s$re sign o#his complete disappointment!

    >7 slept in!!!this owl kept whowhowhoing! 7 co$ldnt sleep!

    >)ossing and t$rning5>=eah!

    >Been doing a lot o# that lately% haen t yo$5>7 dont know% Mira shr$gged! 7 g$ess!

    >=o$ hae! /ast weekend yo$ told me yo$ co$ldnt #all sleep at all!!!something abo$t arec$rring nightmare! )hree days ago% yo$ told me yo$ kept tossing and t$rning! And today!!!

    >=eah% yeah% yeah! 7 know! 7m a basketcase! Can we head to the shores5>S$re! )ightly gripping his hand% she rela&ed into the #amiliar to$ch o# her best #riend!

    Mira hoped that he wo$ld #orgie her% beca$se in this strange world% he was all she had

    )he radiant shades o# bl$e swimming in the silky sky #ascinated Mira! )hey reminded hero# the water coloring class she had in school% her #aorite class! -eekend meant no paintingbeca$se she had no paper at home! 7t was another scarce commodity% which is why "erin madehis origami does o$t o# leaes! So Mira en9oyed the bea$ty o# the o$tdoors and imagined thatthe sky was her canas! Each moment o# moement #elt like magic% as i# she were witnessingsomething meant only #or priate eyes% something that co$ld only be dissected by the mostmetic$lo$s o# detecties!

    )he magic was in the dance o# the clo$ds and the r$stle o# the wind< the sky s bl$e andwhite bled into the eermoing stillness o# the sea! Somewhere% een the stars per#ormedmiracles! B$t she co$ld only en9oy their company at night! )he s$n always shone too brightly to

    see any o# them in the daylight< dominating the day like an iron #ist!She walked with "erin along the shore% trying to imagine how ,ersey m$st look or howthe rest o# the world had adapted to the decrease o# land mass and ab$ndance o# water! 3id theys$##er as m$ch as the Mers did here5

    /eaning into "erin% she #elt the chill o# his chin against her cheek as she watched the#ishermen along the shores o# what was once Ellis 7sland! Mers o#ten #elt cold to her!

    She watched as the #ishermen lathered their limbs with a slimy s$bstance% and then doeinto the ocean in pods o# three! She co$ld barely see them below the s$r#ace! All Mira co$ldmake o$t were dark shadows beneath the waes% shadows with webbed limbs! )he shadowsreealed the #inlike motions o# their silho$ettes!

    /ike sharks% they darted in and o$t o# c$rrents and seaweed beds $ntil they #o$nd the #ishthey p$rs$ed: #l$ke% bl$e#ish and seabass! )he #ishing was a sight she o#ten watched< it#ascinated her! Mers didnt need #ishing poles! -ithin twenty min$tes% the pod o# three #ishermenbroke the s$r#ace% their bare chests gleaming% and shaking their #$ll manes o# hair!

    )he #irst indication o# the Mers s$r#acing was always the p$lsating yellow eyes! Si& tinyp$pils! ;irst to pop $p #rom the water% Caddis% a Mer o# #orty#ie% was marked with two deepscars on his chin and cheek! Elegant% wet br$net c$rls #ell to his sho$lders% b$t his physi'$e toldo# warrior strength! 8e wiped his heay brows with one #orearm as he ga*ed oer the docks!Miras mom had told her that twenty years ago% Caddis had #o$ght in many battles against the

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    h$mans! 8e married his loe at twenty% and his wi#e gae birth to a son be#ore the sla$ghteringbegan! 8$mans massacred h$ndreds o# Mers that day% incl$ding his wi#e! Caddis had raised hisson on his own% teaching him the ways o# the #isherman! Altho$gh Caddis was older% Miraimagined he had spent most o# his yo$th hiding or #ighting! 7t wasn t m$ch o# a childhood% b$tthen% most Mers m$st hae lied that way!

    )hen Stillman% the stocky #isherman% splashed to the s$r#ace% breaking any concentration Mirahad! 8e reminded her o# a bel$ga whale with his pale skin% blonde hair% and ro$nded body! B$t%despite his heay appearance% he remained one o# the best #ishermen% second only to Caddis!/ongtime #riends% the two Mers were #re'$ently together!

    /ast to emerge was ?ischer% who had striking #eat$res similar to those o# his #ather%Caddis! /ean and strong% he stood a #ew inches shorter than his #ather b$t taller than Stillman!Beca$se o# his yo$th% he didnt share in the knowledge and e&perience o# the other two Mers! 8ehad not known war% and he swam #earlessly!

    Mira stretched toward the sea% drawing away #rom "erin! )heir clasped hands separated!She knew he was bored% b$t Mira liked to watch the Mers dart in and o$t o# the water% somethingshe co$ld neer do!

    >Are yo$ going to stare all day5

    "erin scratched his smooth leg!>7 want to see them come ashore! My #aorite part!

    >6h% all right! Mira barely noticed how he rolled his eyes at her! She was l$cky% heneer minded waiting on her!

    )he three #ishermen swam on a wae that crashed in toward the dock! As the waer$shed toward Mira% she st$mbled backward! the men leapt o$t o# the water% onetwothree% witha p$sh o# their #inlike #eet against the wae! )hey propelled themseles onto the docks% toes and#ingers #lickering like the #ins o# a #ish o$t o# water% and landed on their webbed #eet% per#ectlybalanced!

    >"ot impressie% Mira% Miras ga*e snapped back to her best #riend%7 can do that too!>Really5 7e neer seen yo$ do that

    >7 do it all the time%

    he bragged% as Mira #rantically searched her memories o# a time shehad seen him do it!>+roe it! Mira raised her right brow% and the right side o# her lip twisted $pward! )he

    d$bio$s glare she gae him p$shed him to the ledge o# the docks!>7 will)$rning her so$l#$l ga*e on him as he #oc$sed on his die% "erin pointed his hands in

    #ront o# him! )he three #ishermen all t$rned at once and grinned! )his o$ght to be good%Stillman commented! -ith the s$n high in the sky behind him% "erin s skin glistened as he stoodon the dock! 8e c$rled his toes aro$nd the edge!

    >6ne% two% three 3iing #orward% his toned arms disappeared #irst% #ollowed byper#ectly angled legs! A diers dream! Swishing abo$t beneath the s$r#ace% he disappeared #romher iew! Mira s'$inted her eyes as she knelt on her knees on the dock% and her #ingers wrappedaro$nd the edge! She drew her #ace near the water% needing a closer look!

    >"erin5 )$rning her head to search #or him% she h$##ed% 7 cant see yo$!8is head popped $p ne&t to her% and his a'$atically dynamic #orm p$shed o$t o# the

    s$r#ace o# the water! /ike a wet dog% he shook his head% his dark hair #linging pellets o# water alloer Mira!

    >B$t 7 see yo$ "erin grinned!>-hat abo$t my #aorite part5

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    >7 wo$ldnt gie yo$ any less She watched as "erin winked% then disappeared again$nder the sea% een #$rther $nder the waes! She waited #or him to kick himsel# o$t o# the waterand land on the docks% m$ch like the #isherman had 9$st demonstrated!

    6nly he hadnt '$ite per#ected the landing! -hile he was in midair% attempting to gaineno$gh moment$m to land smoothly% he ca$ght his shins on the edge o# the docks and #ell

    backward into the salty sea! Miras eyes shot daggers at the g$##awing #ishermen% then ret$rnedto her #riend!

    >Are yo$ all right5 Mira sho$ted% her hands waing oer the waters s$r#ace in search o#"erins hands! B$t the c$rrents carried him o$t o# reach! "erin5

    >7m #ine% he gr$mbled% his $s$al creamy comple&ion glowing pink!>Are yo$ s$re5>=es% 7m s$re! Mira waited #or him to lick his wo$nds! A#ter he swam back to the docks%

    she stretched o$t and clasped her #ingers $nderneath his arms! -ith her yank% "erin t$mbled ontop o# her! She was pinned down $nder his webbed hands which pressed on either side o# her!S$rprised% she took a moment to en9oy his chiseled abs and bright% shining eyes and how theymatched his pink h$e +ink h$e5 Mira cleared her throat!

    >Co$ld yo$ get o## me now5

    >6# co$rse! "erin rolled oer% #lopping on his backside against the dock!-hile Mira attended to her #riend% she glanced oer at the three #ishermen s as their eyes

    widened and mo$ths #ell open! C$rio$s% she t$rned back to the dock only to see gray clo$dscoering the once bl$e sky and the s$ddenly angry sea!A greystorm -ed better get inside the -alls Caddis sho$ted and pointed to the sky!

    "erin hopped to his webbed #eet% his kilt dripping wet! 7e got to get yo$ o$t o# here

    >/ets go Mira stared at the angry sea! reystorms werent #re'$ent and Mira had beensheltered #rom them most o# her li#e% b$t there was an $rgency in the wind% telling her she hadbetter r$n

    reystorms came o$t o# nowhere and hit hard! A seawae% similar tob$t worse

    than

    a ts$nami% wo$ld arrie soon! )hey were dark% and $s$ally embedded with sea monstersready to #east on whateer the wae coered! )hey were bad #or Mers b$t worse #or h$mans!Mers co$ld lie $nderwater% eade sea monsters% and end$re most greystorms! Mira wasnt a

    good swimmer and co$ldnt hold her breath #or long% either! And sea monsters5 ;orget it! Shedidnt hae a chance! B$t with "erin at her side% she always #o$nd her way home!

    >Come on the three #ishermen yelled as they wobbled #orward% each in their choice o#colored kilt! Rain splashed down as i# it were the last day on Earth!

    >-ere coming Mira sho$ted! +$ddles were #orming in the tracks le#t by her sneakers!-ell% sneakers made o# thick leaes and twigs anyway! Craning her neck% she glanced at theapproaching storm and ran #aster% hand in hand with "erin! 8er cherry red hair stood o$t behindher and looked like the s$nlights red halo!

    >"ot #ast eno$gh

    one #isherman yelled! 8e t$rned to #ace them% and they saw thee&pression on his #ace change #rom concern to #ear!-hat5 "erin sho$ted% p$lling Mira behind him! She str$ggled to keep her #eet $nder her!

    All she saw bobbed $p and down% a bl$r o# a watery harbor with distant homes on stilts! Mirawatched "erins horror as he t$rned and looked at the sea! ood od Come on% Mira

    Mira didnt want to look back! 7# she did% she might neer be able to t$rn her head backtoward town! .nable to shake the $rge to peek% Mira twisted her neck% catching a glimpse o# thecreat$re in the corner o# her eye! Riding the towering wall o# water% a gargant$an graybl$e shark

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    swam in the hori*ontal waes closing in oer the town! Roaring oer the docks% the storm co$ldeasily break the wooden anchor into splinters! -ith its mo$th open wide% each tooth #rom the seamonster looked the si*e o# Miras hands< and its gaping 9aws was the length o# one wall in herbedroom!

    Screaming% Mira #ro*e in terror and shock% $ntil "erins t$g awakened her% as he p$lled

    her #orward! et to the -alls "erin sho$ted as rain pelted his skin! "ot too m$ch #$rther

    Mira co$ld barely hear him< her hearing was #oc$sed on the roar o# the ocean and theapproaching horror o# the monster! )he storm closed in all aro$nd her% pelting her with rain andwater #rom the waes!

    B$t she let "erin lead her! 8e knew the -alls better than she did beca$se he had helpedb$ild them! )he -alls contained the sa#est hiding space #or Mers in times o# tro$ble! As the highleel ts$nami hit what little land they had% the sea monster washed $p onto the shore its mo$thopening and snapping sh$t at the air! 7ts tail #licking back and #orth as its gills str$ggled #orbreath!

    Mira and "erin were the last to reach the barricade% as they po$nded on the gate% a gro$p

    o# Mers opened the door% to let them in!St$mbling oer his #eet% "erin slipped thro$gh the gate with Mira as the wae crashedinto the -alls! )he rein#orced roo# kept higher waes #rom splashing inside the sec$red area!Stabili*ed with the only cement the Mers had% the shelter proided a sa#e haen where no homewo$ld! )hey wo$ld hae to assess damage later and reb$ild i# necessary!

    C$ddled $p with "erin% her head resting on his chest% Mira #elt sa#e! She always #eltprotected with "erin near! She rela&ed into his cool skin% "erin n$**led her neck as they heldeach other against the br$tal #orces o# nat$re raging o$tside the -alls!

    Reb$ilding

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    )ime to clean $p the town Mira woke to her #athers call% she was still cl$tchedin "erins arms! )hey had c$ddled necktoneck% like two swans% all night! B$t now it wasmorning% time to get to work!

    Mira glanced at her #ather! 8e carried a three pronged sta## andwith his long white

    beard

    he reminded her o# the pict$res she had seen o# the reek god +oseidon! 4ale tookleadership o# the Mer gro$p! Mira was pro$d o# her #ather! Altho$gh he was an older man% hewas ery regal% like a king! 8e had long% way white hair that matched his beard% and his armswere still strong and athletic!

    Marinas sharp yellow eyes searching her o$t #rom behind 4ale% and soon was was p$lled#rom "erins arms into her mothers embrace! Mira #o$nd her mothers h$g as com#orting as awool blanket% the kind she slept with each night!

    >Are yo$ all right5 Marina asked so#tly! Something in all the Mers oices gae thems$ch loely treble% and Mira neer tired o# hearing it! -as she all right5 She hardly knew! B$t sheneeded to reass$re her mother!

    >=es% 7m #ine!

    >od% 7 tho$ght 7 might hae lost yo$ )hese greystorms are so s$dden! "o time to #lee!

    Miras mind con9$red $p an image #rom years ago% when she had held her moms hand towalk thro$gh the p$ddles o# /iberty Shore! She remembered the #eel o# the cool water on her

    #eet! She didnt wear shoes then% and the Mers neer did! )hey had strolled to the local market%the only one #or miles!

    8ere% they wo$ld #ind #resh #ish% rice% and whateer #ew egetables or #r$its wo$ld grow!Beca$se m$ch o# the land% e&cept that designated #or cotton plants% now looked like wet rice#ields o# ancient Asia% rice became one o# the #ew grains to s$rie in the enironment a#ter the3el$ge!

    6n that day% Mira had stayed by her mother s side% which was #ort$nate #or her% sincesoon a#ter they arried at the market% a greystorm hit! )his occ$rred be#ore the -all had been

    b$ilt% and Mira had seen #irsthand the deaths o# many Mers #rom the seas wrath! Een #ora'$atic mammals% the iolent crashes o# waes and dragging c$rrents were o#ten too m$ch! Mira

    wo$ldnt stand a chance!Mira remembered her mother clinging to her with all her might as the lowleel ts$nami

    washed oer the town% the market% and them!Mira sh$ddered as she remembered how her motherhad #allen inside the great wae% b$t she swam inland and neer gae $p! Mira had nearly chokedon water% b$t eent$ally the two had #o$nd a tree with branches stretching high into the sky!

    Mira was distracted #rom her memory by her #athers oice! -e sho$ld head to o$rhomes #irst and repair them% and then we can all meet at the market and see what needs to bedone! 4ales deep rolling oice sered him well in his role as the town s leader!

    >Agreed% Caddis% the #isherman% said! )he others nodded!"erin gae Miras cheek a '$ick peck be#ore he r$shed o## with his #amily% his mom% dad%

    and his little sister "erissa!Bl$shing% Miras lips p$rsed% and she #elt tingles shoot thro$gh her body! She was

    s$rprised< "erin had neer done that be#ore% and she was disappointed that she hadn t had theopport$nity to kiss him back! +erhaps he was lost in the moment! A#ter all% they had almost died!)he closeness o# death did that to people< it drew them together! Mira knew how she #elt abo$t

    "erin! She hadnt said anything% and neither had he% b$t spending time together oer the past #ewweeks had #elt di##erent! Maybe she had changed or maybe he had!

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    >Come on% Mira! 4ale placed a st$rdy hand on her sho$lder! -e hae a lot o# reb$ildingto do!

    >All right% 3addy! Mira t$rned away #rom "erin and headed o$t o# the -all with herparents! )$r'$oise waes still crashed against the lowbricked wall% and as the #amily tr$dgedoer the m$d and p$ddles% dirt splashed $p oer their naked legs!

    )o the #ar right% Mira watched the wooden roo# o# the demolished #resh market #loatingpast! She remembered how the o$tside market stretched #or seeral blocks< local #ood wasprotected with a haylike tent str$ct$re! She and her mother traelled daily to the market to pick$p what they wo$ld eat that day% 9$st like all the Mers )ho$gh many Mers co$ld #ish #orthemseles% a trait that was an innate part o# them% the Mers en9oyed diiding tasks among theciti*ens o# the town!

    >8oney% co$ld yo$ please walk #aster5 -e hae to get started as soon as we can! Marinalooked back at Mira% who lagged behind to stare at the destr$ction aro$nd her! -hat once wereonly pools o# water were now small lakes! ;ood once laid o$t on the co$ntertops at the #reshmarket h$ng in broken trees or #loated spoiled in the e&cess o# water! Cherry red strands o#Miras hair tangled in the wind as she looked aro$nd her at the horror that the angry ocean had

    bro$ght /iberty Shore! 8er mother t$gged at her hand and p$lled her along!Approaching their home% they #o$nd one stilt collapsed% dropping the wooden shack at anangle! )he water leel below the ho$se had risen seeral #eet% b$t Marina thanked 4ale with ah$g beca$se he had had the #oresight to dig deep holes $nderneath the home< otherwise theoer#low o# water might hae s$bmerged the ho$se altogether!

    >"ot bad! 4ale so$nded pleased as he t$rned to his wi#e!

    >"othing we cant handle% Marina agreed with a smile!>-ee certainly handled worse% 4ale #inished as he approached the broken stilt! 7t

    needs a #ew rein#orcements! 8e started to work% and Mira and her mother began searching thearea #or wood to help with the repairs! )ime passed '$ickly as they worked!

    At a sho$t in the distance% Mira sw$ng aro$nd and ca$ght sight o# two #ig$res in the

    distance! A misty #og in an oercast sky swirled aboe the rim o# the drowned Earth% somethingthat $s$ally appeared a#ter a greystorm% and% tho$gh eening was still seeral ho$rs away% thelacelike #og lingering oer the hori*on line made the a#ternoon #eel like eening!

    >-ho is that5 Marina pointed! She held her other hand to her eyes to shield them! Miras'$inted toward the #ig$res!

    >"erin Mira sho$ted! She dashed away #rom her mothers side! Marina shook her headin a '$iet la$gh! 6ne min$te Mira wo$ld be there< the ne&t min$te she wo$ld disappear! S$chwas the li#e o# a teenager on /iberty Shore!

    >-hat are yo$ doing here5 Mira asked "erin! She was thank#$l #or his company b$t was

    s$rprised that he wasnt helping repair his ho$se!>6$r home is #ine! Can yo$ beliee it5 "erin grinned as he patted his little sisters head!

    >"erissa bawled all the way to the ho$se! "erin ch$ckled as Mira glanced at his sisterand noticed her red eyes! And when we got there% she got so e&cited at the sight o# o$r per#ect

    home that she ran in circles% cheering at the top o# her l$ngs! "erin la$ghed lo$dly! =o$ sho$ldhae been there

    >Sorry 7 missed it! Mira smiled and winked at "erissa% easing the little girlsembarrassment!

    >7m sorry abo$t yo$r home! "erin grew solemn and waed his hand in the direction o#the shack!

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    >3ont be! 7ts only a stilt% and my dad will hae it #i&ed in no time!>Maybe we wo$ld be o# more help at the market5 )he town needs some ma9or repairs%

    "erin added% his crescent brows arching!

    >3ad Mira sho$ted! -ere going to the market to help! 7 think yo$e got this coered!>S$re% Mira! Be back be#ore dark

    >/ets go

    Mira c$rled her sho$lders e&citedly and le#t with a skip in her step! "erissastayed close behind her brother% way golden brown hair #lowing to her knees! She reminded

    Mira o# the #irst p$ppy dog she had seen in /iberty Shore when she had t$rned three! )he animalhad looked e&ha$sted and alone on the sandy shores% so she had carried him home! Coco hadremained a loyal companion $ntil he passed away #rom pne$monia seeral years later!

    Mira glanced back at "erissa! She neer did get $sed to the #act that eeryone had theses$per awesome p$pils she wo$ld neer hae!

    +laying in the grael with her bare #eet as they walked% "erissa kept hersel# b$sy% b$t hermind swirled with '$estions all the time!

    >-hy dont yo$ hae webbed #ingers and #eet% Mira5 the child asked innocently! 8ow

    are yo$ s$pposed to swim5

    Ch$ckling% "erin t$rned and looked at his sister witho$t breaking his pace!She doesn

    tlike to swim m$ch% M$nchkin!

    >3oesnt swim5 7e neer heard o# s$ch a thing A Mer who doesnt swim5 "erissatwisted a strand o# her hair in tho$ght% m$mbling to hersel#! 8ow can!!! She st$mbled into ap$ddle% splashing m$d onto her ankle!

    Mira hoped "erissa wo$ld #orget her '$estion! -hat co$ld she tell her5 7m not a Mer%

    little one! et oer it! B$t the crooked smile on "erins lips and the glint in his s$n#illed eyestold Mira she was not alone! Een "erin wanted to keep the secret% one that really wasn t a secretto anyone oer ten and yet remained an $nspoken reality% as i# somehow the silence wo$ld keepit #rom being tr$e! B$t "erissa% at age seen% had a #ew more years be#ore she wo$ld reali*e thetr$th% and so the two sealed their lips!

    >/ook ahead!

    "erin pointed! /oose apples #loated past them in the '$asirier #ormed#rom the ts$nami water! Some were green and some red% all tasty to the eye!>=$m Mira saliated!

    >=o$ want one5>3o 7 want one5 7 cant remember the last time 7 had one Mira t$gged on "erins bare

    sho$lder!

    >3ont #orget me "erissa yanked the hem o# her brothers kilt! 7 want one% too Me%too

    >6k 6k "erin #oc$sed on the #r$it like a skilled h$nter #oc$sing on a deer% trying to#eed a #amily desperate to eat! /eaping toward the '$asirier% he clasped the #irst apple asseeral r$shed past him! )hen he grabbed another% and another% $ntil he had a pile o# apples

    setting ne&t to him! Mira watched with admiration! She grinned! S$ch a gentleman She wo$ldhae picked $p some hersel#% b$t she knew "erin too well! 8e wo$ld hae batted her hand awayand told her to wait on him!

    >-ow "erissa dashed $p to the pile! -e hae eno$gh #or the whole #amily!>)ake one% "erissa% "erin told her! -e want to sae all we can!>8ere% yo$ can p$t them in the e&tra #olds o# my skirt! Mira li#ted her patched skirt%

    #orming a bowl% and "erin wasted no time #illing it! 8er #ingers cl$tched the hem o# the skirt%and she carried the apples as the three o# them contin$ed toward town!

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    -hen they reached the #resh market% the destr$ction co$ld not be disg$ised! "othing inthe market was where it had once been% b$t at least most homes seemed $nscathed! )hisgreystorm had not been as bad as the preio$s ones% not nearly as bad as it co$ld hae been!

    >"ice to see yo$ here% "erin!!!Mira! ai% the owner o# the market nodded his head! Andyo$% too% "erissa! )he scar that stretched #rom his chin to his le#t eye reealed a history o#

    str$ggles with the h$man world! 8e had been inoled in the last ma9or war between h$mansand the Mers% twenty years ago!

    >8ow did yo$ get that scar5 "erissa asked c$rio$sly as she pointed!>7n the +re/ibertyShore war! 8e answered short with a h$##!

    >8$h5 "erissas brows c$rled along with her lips!)hat was an $n#orgettable war between h$mans and Mers% and #$ll o# loss! 8e scratched his

    head in wonder! Mira #ig$red beca$se he hesitated in telling the little girl the tr$th% a tr$th she

    wo$ldnt learn #or more years! B$t the war #ormed the bo$ndary line diiding ,ersey and /ibertyShore! )o keep the peace% the Mers had decided that what the h$mans o##ered was #air! Merswo$ld receie Ellis 7sland and some o# the regions o# "ew =ork! )he h$mans wo$ld lie in,ersey! )he treaty was hardly #itting #or the n$mber o# Mers% b$t a#ter yet another war when so

    many o# o$r Mers had been killed% it didnt m$ch matter at that point! 7# they kept the #e$d going%there might not be any Mers le#t!

    >Can we do anything to help reb$ild the illage5 "erin changed the s$b9ect as he lookedaro$nd% assessing the sit$ation! 8e #elt protectie oer "erissa and Mira #elt s$re "erin didntwant "erissa discoering more than she had to abo$t the cr$elties o# man!

    >/et $s do what we can #irst% and i# we need more help% we ll call yo$% the owner told

    them! 8is tone told them that the prono$n $s meant the ad$lts!>Are yo$ s$re5 -e really hae nothing to do% "erin e&plained!>-ell% i# yo$ are really that eager% we co$ld $se some e&tra help collecting new wood #or

    reb$ilding!>3one! "erin splashed thro$gh the #ew p$ddles separating him #rom the downtown area%

    and Mira h$##ed!>And what am 7 s$pposed to do with all these apples5 eep carrying them5 "erin t$rned and co$ldnt help grinning at the adorable sight! =o$ co$ld pile them $p

    beside the market% and when we are done% we ll take them back with $s!Sighing% Mira increased her pace% the apples weighing heaier with each step% and

    dropped them where "erin pointed! A #ew rolled away% b$t "erin n$dged them back to the stackwith his #eet!

    >-hat am 7 gonna do5 "erissa whined!

    >;ollow me! "erissas big brother patted her on the head and t$rned toward the woods%seeral yards behind the market! Altho$gh sassa#ras% sycamore and magnolia were commonlyseen be#ore the storm% the greystorm had le#t many trees broken or naked!

    >Be#ore yo$ disappear% yo$ll need this!

    )he owner handed "erin an a&e!Mira giggled as "erin tightened his grip aro$nd the wood handle% caressing the shape

    with his eyes and hands! A&es with iron heads were rare! Most $tili*ed sharpened rocks at the tip!B$t the owner had a special place in town% and his position 9$stly '$ali#ied him to receie specialgi#ts!

    Mira grasped his #ree hand and they raced o## toward the sassa#ras trees! "erissa clinging

    to him #rom behind% her #ingers clasping his kilt! )he cold o# "erin s skin still s$rprised Mira!

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    Somehow she neer got $sed to that #act that the Mers had cold skin% een in warm weather! "otlike her at all!

    Closer

    )8.3 )h$d Mira [email protected] help b$t watch as "erin sw$ng the a&e at the loose%dark redbrown branches waing in the wind! Aromatic and spicy% the sassa#ras had '$icklybecome one o# the towns #aorites% and he was warned not to c$t down the tr$nks% only the loosebranches that wo$ld grow back in time! Each swing reealed his chiseled chest and the de#inedtoning o# his biceps! 3espite the occasional wind% sweat beaded down his temple% dribbled acrosshis cheek% and rested behind his neck!

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    >-hat are those5 "erissa 9$mped $p to the tree ad9acent to "erin% aiming #or the darkbl$eblack eggshaped #r$it! /ooks y$mmy% she licked her lips!

    >3r$pes! Mira walked $p to the little girl% stretched her arm $pward% and clasped one o#the inky colored #r$its! Snap! )here< got one! As she handed the #r$it to "erissa% Mira ca$ghtthe spicy scent o# the #oliage and closed her eyes< she breathed in deeply% en9oying the smell!Ahhh!

    >)hank yo$% Mira! Biting into the #r$it% "erissa looked satis#ied! =o$re the big sister 7neer had!

    >3elicio$s% h$h5 /ike a pearbanana! Mira grabbed one #or hersel#! -ed better eat asmany o# these as we can< they dont grow on eery sassa#ras tree!

    >More #r$it to take home5 "erin looked oer his sho$lder then li#ted the a&e to prepare#or another swing!

    >+erhaps this day wont be so bad a#ter all! Reaching toward the higher branches% Mirasearched #or more dr$pes% while "erissa took a seat beside the tree% #eeding hersel# #rom thegrowing stash o# #r$it that Mira picked!

    >=$m% y$m!

    >-ell% 7 see it was ital bringing yo$ two along #or this pro9ect%

    "erin 9oked as he t$rnedback to the orangetinted tr$nk!>Ah% come on =o$ need $s #or moral s$pport% right5 Besides% someone has to gather #ood

    #or the #amilies% Mira kidded him! She piled the 3r$pes in "erissa s lap!Ch$ckling% "erin sw$ng again! Branch a#ter branch #ell to the m$shy soil $ntil he had

    eno$gh to carry in a b$ndle! 7m heading back to the market to drop these o##!>6k! Mira waed goodbye and ret$rned to her collecting! Stay still% "erissa% Mira

    directed! )he little girl #idgeted% and Mira tried to aim the drop o# the #r$it! +lop

    >So% yo$ like "erin% h$h5 )he statement had come as an a#tertho$ght% while "erissanibbled at the 3r$pes% s'$ee*ing the so#t centers o$t o# the skins! B$t Mira bl$shed at "erissaschildlike honesty!

    >7!!!$m!!!7 dont!!!%

    Mira st$mbled!>=o$ do% admit it 7 saw the way yo$ watched him c$t the branches! /ike nothing else

    e&isted% "erissa ch$ckled% the notion o# liking a boy still a gross tho$ght to her! )$nnel isionis what mamma calls it!

    >)$nnel ision5 Mira '$estioned% stopping to look at "erissa! She didnt speak too o#tenwith "erins parents!

    >=eah% when yo$ cant see anything else b$t that one person! Mamma says it s best 7 dont

    eer hae it!>7 dont hae it! Mira told her% stretching to grab more 3r$pes!

    >7 say yo$ do!>7 dont% Mira arg$ed% tilting her head away #rom the little girl with whom she had a h$g

    andstrangle relationship!>=o$ dont what5 "erin str$tted toward the two bickering girls!Ah!!!nothing! -e werent talking abo$t anything important! Mira '$ickly tried to end

    the conersation! "erin was her #riend! 8e was a Mer! She clearly was not! And!!!well% she didn tknow how m$ch longer shed be in /iberty Shore! She had dreams o# #inding o$t who she reallywas!

    >-ell% 7m going to c$t down some more branches then! "erin walked to anothersassa#ras tree!

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    >-e were too talking abo$t something important 7ndignant% "erissa stood% keeping theb$nch o# 3r$pes on the gro$nd beside the tree!

    >"o we werent! Mira 9erked away #rom the branches and moed toward the little girl%

    keeping her hand close to "erissas opening mo$th!>=es% we were

    >6$t with it% then!

    "erin wiped a drip o# sweat #rom his #orehead!>Mira "erissa bl$rted% b$t be#ore she co$ld say anything more% Mira clasped her handoer the girls mo$th% sealing it sh$t!

    >ah a thga br oo% were the only m$##led noises to escape!>-hat5 "erins brows #$rrowed% and his lips c$rled!Biting Miras hand% "erissa set hersel# #ree! Mira r$bbed her wo$nded hand and bl$shed

    at what she knew was coming! Mira has a cr$sh on yo$;or the #irst time% Mira was annoyed at "erissas honesty! She stood $lnerable% helpless

    in #ront o# "erin% e&pecting him to la$gh! 8oweer% "erin bl$shed and smiled his crooked smile%and% #or the #irst time% Mira #elt embarrassed with him! 3id he like her% too% or had she 9$st madea #ool o# hersel#5 8ow co$ld "erissa hae told him that5 B$t then% "erin winked at Mira and

    took a steptoward her% something new in his eyes% be#ore he remembered "erissas presence andt$rned back to #inish his pro9ect! Mira recogni*ed the initation into his world with that wink%

    that desire! Mira recogni*ed the simple gest$re that said he $nderstood her% accepted her% and she#elt com#ortable again! 8is rockhard back #aced Mira% and she ga*ed at the sweat glistening o##his skin< the drops rolled down the middle o# his back!

    She sensed his deep #eelings een with his back t$rned toward her! 8e was like a brael$mber9ack who neer dared reeal his emotions! B$t she read "erin well now< she knew himwell eno$gh! 8e had been drawn to Mira since he #irst laid eyes on her% and s$rely he wo$ld haeapproached her himsel# ages ago i# he had tho$ght% #or een a moment% that Mira #elt the sameway! B$t Mira had a way o# hiding her tr$e #eelings $ntil she #elt sa#e% a #eeling which "erissahad taken away #rom her when she told "erin how Mira #elt!

    Mira didnt know what to say ne&t% so she gae "erissa the eileye% bit her lip andcontin$ed picking 3r$pes! Mira wanted to stay angry with the yo$ng girl% b$t "erissas wide

    eyed look o# innocence showed that she had no idea that she had done something wrong! )hemorti#ying tr$th o# liking someone when they might not ret$rn the #eeling was not a concept"erissa wo$ld #ace any time soon! B$t "erin had con#irmed his #eelings with that wink% hadnthe5 6r maybe Mira had simply read too m$ch into it!!!b$t she wo$ld know #or s$re soon eno$gh!

    A#ter an ho$r o# working in the woods% c$tting branches and gathering #r$its% the threeheaded back to the #resh market! )he Mers in town had worked '$ickly% and when the threearried% they noticed it had beg$n to look better! Seeral downtown stores that had beenobliterated were already reconstr$cted! 6# co$rse% the b$ilding designs were not comple&! A slabo# wood here< a slab o# wood there! /iberty Shore was comprised o# mostly shacks! B$t it washome!

    >7ts getting late% Mira worried! 3addy told me to be home be#ore dark!>/ets #reshen $p #irst! ,$st a '$ick die into the ocean! "erin #elt his skin #laking and

    becoming gritty #rom going so long witho$t being in the water! -hen he got too dry% his skintook on a di##erent te&t$re% the te&t$re o# white scales!

    >=eah% 7 want to die% too! "erissa 9$mped witho$t hesitation at the idea and r$shed tothe shoreline!

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    >7ll wait here! Mira sat on the edge o# the dock with her legs hanging oer the side! )hiswas the same place she had been when the greystorm r$shed oer her yesterday! 7t was s$rprisinghow peace#$l the ocean appeared now! Co$ld it really be the same sea5

    8olding hands% the two Merswhom she loed% with the e&ception o# her parents% more

    than anything in the worlddoe into the t$r'$oise ocean! Sprinkles o# water sprayed oer Mira

    as she watched her #riends caorting thro$gh the waes! She enied them in that moment!)hen% o$t o# nowhere% Mira #elt a t$g on her leg! -ith the ne&t t$g% she #ell to her back asher body was yanked o## the dock and into the sea! 7n panic% she #lailed abo$t $nderwater% herarms #lapping like a bird trying to #ly% and her legs kicking as i# she were r$nning a race sheco$ldnt win! She tho$ght she wo$ld s$##ocate and was abo$t to swallow a g$lp o# water andthen she saw those two bea$ti#$l yellow eyes come $p to hers! "erin

    8is hands to$ched hers! )heir #ingers interlocked% and he p$lled her to him! "erin was

    the c$lprit% b$t she wo$ldnt complain! A#ter all% he hadnt la$ghed at her when he #o$nd o$t sheliked him! And now she was here $nder the water with him! She had dreamed o# holding him andkissing his strong% s$pple lips% b$t she wo$ld neer hae told him! )hen she learned that shedidnt hae to!

    -ith a twist o# his wrists% "erin drew Mira to him $ntil her chest to$ched his! She #orgotshe co$ldnt swim well% that she co$ldnt breathe! "one o# that mattered when "erin twirled heraro$nd and aro$nd! Swimming in the sea opened $p a whole new li#e #or her! She had once beena#raid to swim in the sea% b$t beca$se o# "erin% she had a chance to e&perience it! 7t was a li#e o#seaweed% darting #ish% and endless shades o# bl$es! Be#ore she had the opport$nity to lookaro$nd% "erins partedlips met hers% and as they kissed% their bodies sp$n< Mira s red hair and"erins black hair danced aboe their heads in the ocean waes! She co$ld think o# no place shewo$ld rather be!

    )he kiss #elt like it lasted #or ho$rs% as i# it were taking place in slow motion% and when"erin kissed her% a melodic h$m ibrated #rom his mo$th! Mira had heard the so$nd be#ore whenshe was a yo$ng girl and played on the shores! Mers who spent time o$t at sea o#ten came back

    h$mming that melody! Marina said they had been bitten by the loe song! /oe song5 Miracontemplated that while "erin watched her watching him! 3id that mean "erin loed her5She wo$ld hae stayed down there #oreer i# her body had allowed her% b$t she #elt a

    press$re in her l$ngs% a thirst #or air% and she p$lled away% kicking $p to the s$r#ace! She didnthae #ar to go! )ho$gh she #elt like she had been in the center o# the ocean with "erin% he hadonly p$lled her down seeral #eet! 8er nose met the air and she took in a deep breath< "erin

    #loated beside her% holding her to ass$re that she didnt drown!)hey #loated #or seeral min$tes% "erins strong hands on her and their eyes locked! 8is

    glowing eyes meeting her graybl$e ones!

    A splash o# water broke their connection! "erissa #lipped her hands like a dolphin s #ins% andMira wiped her #ace dry be#ore "erin helped her onto the dock! B$t it was worth it% and Mirawo$ldnt hae traded that e&perience #or anything!

    >-ed better get home! Mamma will be #$rio$s i# we show $p late% "erissa told them%s$ddenly #eeling ery mat$re #or her age!

    "erin helped Mira onto the dock and then p$lled himsel# $p beside her be#ore he t$rnedto p$ll "erissa o$t o# the water! )hey were soaked% their clothing dripping salty water% b$t thatdidnt matter< on /iberty Shore Mers spent most o# their time in the water!

    >)hen 7 g$ess well say goodbye #or now! "erin eagerly s'$ee*ed Miras hand! Sheco$ld see the desire in his eyes% b$t then his eyes dropped to his sister 8e le#t% hand in hand

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    with "erissa% in the opposite direction #rom the one Mira wo$ld take! "erissa looked back andwaed seeral times% her head cocked% her long brown strands #lowing abo$t her! )he two Mersdri#ted deeper into the swirls o# #og $ntil they anished altogether!

    Mira strolled toward her home% not as dedicated as "erissa and "erin to arrie be#oredark! lancing oer all the destr$ction and reb$ilding% she #elt torn! A part o# her wanted to stay

    at /iberty Shore and help her #amily and the other Mers make a home o# the town again! B$tanother part needed to #ig$re o$t who she was and where she had come #rom!Resoling to oice her '$estions to her parents that night% her step #inally '$ickened and

    she '$ickly #o$nd hersel# at the door o# the newly straightened ho$se! 8er #ather m$st hae#inished the work on the broken stilt in her absence! )hose repairs neer took her #ather too longto mend! She p$shed the s'$eaky door open and stepped inside! She loed the '$iet peace shealways #elt when she entered her home! As he o#ten did% 4ale was caring spears at the diningtable% and Marina was knitting #ishing nets as she rocked in the chair! She traded them to Mer#ishermen #or #ish or to the market owner #or #r$it!

    >8ome 9$st in time! 7 was abo$t to send o$t a team to #ind yo$% 4ale 9oked! 8is silergrey hair cascaded aro$nd his #ace% and the dimple in his chin widened as he smiled!

    >8aha%

    Mira said!=o$ don

    t hae to worry so m$ch! 7 can take care o# mysel#!

    >3ont we5 Marina o#ten b$tted heads with her da$ghter! 8$mans hae hated o$r kind#or a h$ndred years and #o$ght wars against $s! 7e seen #riends m$rdered by h$mans and others

    dragged o## in the night by +irates! 7 dont want that to happen to yo$% Mira!Mira saw her mothers takethisserio$sly look% the knitting needles stilled% almost

    #orgotten -ith her ro$nd pale #ace and a 9et black b$n on top o# her head% she resembled a,apanese eisha! )his contrast in appearance only reminded Mira o# her di##erences #rom her#amily!!!and #rom all the Mers! -hen she stared into her parents eyes% she #o$nd no insight% onlycon#$sion! She had to ask!

    >B$t!!! Miras nose scr$nched and her $pper lip c$rled< she tried to think o# words thatwo$ld not leae her mom and dad #eeling re9ected! A#ter all% not being a Mer didn t mean 4ale

    and Marina were not her parents! Een i# they did not share blood% they had raised her% bathedher% #ed her% and taken care o# her! S$rely% i# eer two parents e&isted% they were 4ale and Marina!>B$t what% dear5 4ale enco$raged!>B$t 7amnotaMer!

    Arg$e 4aleand Marina sat% #ro*en! Marina dropped her knitting to the #loor and stared at herda$ghter while 4ale placed the caring kni#e on the table% neer looking away #rom Mira! Sheco$ld see h$rt on their strained #aces as they searched #or what to say< wrinkles deepenedbetween their brows! -hat co$ld they say5

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    >7!!!we wanted to tell yo$ when yo$ were ready% Marina whispered!>B$t!!!7 g$ess yo$ are ready now! 4ale concl$ded!>=o$d better sit! Marina patted the chair beside her! -hen Mira sat% Marina draped an

    arm aro$nd her neck! 4ale stood and moed his chair closer!>=o$ see!!!% 4ale began! Mira co$ld not take her bl$egray eyes o## him!

    >Seenteen years ago% yo$r mother and 7 were o$t #ishing on the shores% well yo$r mothersat on the dock% while 7 #ished! -e had to catch o$r own #ood then! -e had no commodities totrade! 4ales silergrey hair sparkled in the moonlight shining thro$gh the ho$ses dark canopy!7 was too b$sy catching #ish to hear% b$t yo$r mom heard a baby cry! She #ollowed the cries tothe other side o# the dock where a basket was wedged between the wooden braces! 7nside thebasket% she #o$nd yo$!

    >=o$!!!yo$ #o$nd me5>=es! Marina com#orted her by stroking her #ingers oer Miras head! -e #o$nd yo$

    and loed yo$ #rom that moment #orward!

    >)here was no one aro$nd to claim yo$ and take care o# yo$! 4ale clari#ied! =o$rcoloring and characteristics were drastically di##erent #rom any baby Mer< we #ig$red yo$ came

    #rom the h$man world! B$t we had no right to cross the bo$ndary to take yo$ back% and wedecided i# whoeer le#t yo$ did not want yo$% we wo$ld be yo$r g$ardians!

    >=o$ see% we co$ldnt hae a child o# o$r own% Marina con#essed% so when 7 #o$nd yo$it was the greatest blessing! All we eer wanted was a child o# o$r own!

    >So!!! Mira #elt di**y< her heart was racing% and she braced her hands aro$nd the chair srims to balance hersel#! 7 was le#t behind by a h$man5

    >)hat is o$r g$ess% b$t we dont know #or s$re! Marina e&plained! -e haent been tothe h$man world #or oer twenty years! "ot since the last war #ormed the bo$ndary!

    >)hen 7 sho$ld go 7 sho$ld #ind o$t who my real parents are! -hy they le#t me Miraleapt #rom her chair!

    >"o 4ale waed his hand in #ront o# her! 7t is too dangero$s! ;orbidden 7# yo$ cross

    into h$man land% they will hae reason to wage war against $s again!

    >B$t 7 hae to try! 7 hae to #ind o$t -hat i# my mother was h$rt5 Mira whimpered% her#irmness waering in wake o# her #athers disapproal!

    >7 wont allow it! "ot only wo$ld yo$ bring danger to /iberty Shore b$t to yo$rsel#!

    >B$t!!!how wo$ld the h$mans een know where 7 came #rom5 7 dont look anything likeeither o# yo$< 7m s$re 7 wo$ld blend right into the h$man world! Mira straightened hersho$lders!

    >)oo risky! )he h$man world is small% like the Mer pop$lation! Most h$mans drownedlong ago! -ith so #ew people le#t% they s$rely all know each other! 7n small towns eeryone

    knows eeryone elses b$siness% and no one wo$ld know yo$ 4ale concl$ded!Marina added% =o$ wo$ld be the talk o# town! Eeryone wo$ld wonder where yo$ came

    #rom! 8ow long do yo$ think it wo$ld take to p$t the pieces together5

    >+ieces that co$ld lead me to my real parents% Mira stated plainly as she sat down in herseat!

    >+arents who might not een want to see yo$! Marina winced at her seere words% thenshe #olded her hand oer Miras arm! A#ter all% they gae yo$ $p!

    Mira dropped her head! 8er heart raced with con#$sion! Be#ore her stood two wonder#$lparents% the only parents she had eer known her whole li#e! B$t yet she #elt abandoned% anddeep inside she had a longing that needed to be #illed! -o$ld it be sel#ish o# her to cross the

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    border and 9eopardi*e the only peace the Mers had5 Co$ld her parents #orgie her5 Co$ld "erin5

    B$t what right did the Mers and h$mans hae to keep her hostage Maybe she didn t belong toeither side And i# she didnt leae now she might neer hae the chance to #ind her real motherand #ather again! )hey co$ld die% or worse already be dead! Mira decided there was nothingworse on this Earth% not #ear o# war or death% than o# neer knowing the tr$th!

    Een tho$gh her parents were right!!!abo$t eerything% she co$ld not gie $p% not be#ore shetried! B$t she didnt want to ca$se anymore con#lict tonight% and besides% keeping this disc$ssiongoing with her parents wo$ld lead them to worry more abo$t her% and possibly to keep a closerwatch on her than she wanted! She needed her #reedom to one day #ind o$t who she really was!

    >All right< 7m going to bed! Mira co$ldnt arg$e with them anymore! )hey wo$ld notbend! 8er mind raced as she slid $nder her '$ilt where she $s$ally #elt sa#e and warm% com#orteda#ter the days eents!

    "ow% sleeping became a torment! 8ow co$ld she sleep5 8er world had 9$st been t$rned$pside down and she was di**y with the possibilities and the implications! 7t was one thing to#eel di##erent% b$t knowing was a di##erent e&perience! )he owl that once held her attentions#litted back to her window% perched on the tree branch o$tside!

    -howho! -howho!

    )he owl seemed to sense her predicament! Answers neer cameeasily! Maybe the 9o$rney wo$ldnt be so bad! She co$ld slip oer the bo$ndary at night% stay

    hidden in the city% #ig$re o$t who she was% and ret$rn to /iberty Shore in no time! She smiled atthe tho$ght! -ith a h$man body% she co$ld get away with more than any Mer co$ld!

    A#ter wrestling with her impossible dilemma% she had decided she wo$ld go! 3espite herparents warnings% the deep longing inside her became paramo$nt% more power#$l than anydangers she might enco$nter! She had to know who she was! 8ow co$ld she share 3"A with thesame people who had e&ploited the Mers #or so long5 8ow co$ld she be related to the people herparents #o$ght5 )he tho$ght itched $nderneath her skin! E&iting the ho$se% she p$lled hermaroon 9acket oer her top and black skirt! She wo$ld meet "erin and his sister at the market%ready #or more #i&$ps! She waited downtown #or "erin and "erissa% watching the distant sky

    bleed oer ,ersey! ,ersey% wow By the end o# the day% she wo$ld be there% and no one co$ld stopher!Seeing "erin in a charcoal colored kilt% his chest bare and his raenblack cropped hair

    br$shed back% Mira co$ld hae swooned! 8e was the pict$re per#ect Mer! "o more need to becoy! She wanted to chase him on the shore% roll and t$mble with him oer the m$ddy gro$nd!She almost did% her emotions p$lling her #orward% b$t behind him% "erissa straggled% wearing apink s$mmer dress! -ith her hair in a ponytail% the elegant #low o# her ringlets was hidden!

    >8ow are yo$ this morning5 "erin called to Mira as she watched him approach!>?ery well% thank yo$! Mira smiled% enchanted by his presence and e&cited by her secret

    plan! She co$ld smell the scent o# ,ersey% hear the r$sh and b$stle o# h$mans% and taste the e&otic,ersey #laors! )he notion o# #reedom% o# #inding the tr$th% b$rst inside o# her like #ireworks% thekind she had read abo$t in history books!

    8er skin looked especially pristine $nder the morning light% like a porcelain doll withso#t% big eyes! Mira had bea$ti#$lly te&t$red skin! )he kind anyone wo$ld eny!

    >-ill yo$ help me today5 "erin so$nded #eisty! 6r will yo$ 9oin my little sis inpracticing rela&ation skillslike yo$ did yesterday5 )he 9oial c$rl o# his lips told Mira that"erin desperately wanted to la$gh at his own 9oke% b$t re#rained!

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    >7!!!7 can work! 7m not as #ragile as yo$ all make me o$t to be Mira de#ended hersel#! 7might not hae the strong% webbed characteristics that allow yo$ to swim in the water% or the gillsthat allow yo$ to breathe in the seas% b$t perhaps 7 am b$ilt #or something else5

    >All right% come on! "erin sw$ng his arm aro$nd her neck% dragging her along besidehim! =o$ dont hae to conince me! 7 know yo$re to$gh! 7 know yo$% Mira!

    Mira bl$shed at his words beca$se in #act% he did know her% perhaps better than anyone elseon /iberty Shore! +erhaps een better than her Mer parents!>So% where are we going to start5 Mira glanced aro$nd at the constr$ction that had been

    done since yesterday! )he Mers m$st hae worked thro$gh the night!>-ell!!! "erin pointed ahead to the end o# the #resh market! ai told me he wanted $s to

    #i& $p his roo# at the #ar end!>/ooks like most o# the market has been reb$ilt! Mira t$rned to "erin!>=es% we Mers work #ast!!!hae too! "eer know when another greystorm will hit $s! >So% a#ter that% well be done5 "erissa b$tted in% her pony tail swaying #rom side to side!

    >7 think so! "erin glanced at the rising s$n! So% lets get going! 8e led the way to anoak door on the markets back wall% the door leading to ais sleeping area% where c$stomers

    werent allowed!nock% knock% knock! "erins webbed hand po$nded so#tly against the wood! ai sw$ng

    the door open! Mira #elt dwar#ed by the tall market owner% who cast a s$spicio$s eye to "erinlooking him $p and down% a broad smile betraying the #ake hostilities! his blond ringlets shookon his sho$lders as he waed his isitors in% a gest$re complimented by his initing eyes!

    >-ell% thank yo$ three #or helping o$t! )here s only a bit more reb$ilding to do% and thismarket will be as good as new!8e patted the table% so they co$ld 9oin him! Mira tho$ght his long chin and #$ll cheeks% whichcontrasted with the scar across his #ace% ca$sed him to look regal and aristocratic!

    >7 see that% Mira inter9ected% holding her hands behind her back! Eeryone has dones$ch a great 9ob o$t there!

    >-ell!!!no point in stalling%

    ai got to the point!)he hammer and nails yo$ will needare in that b$cket oer there! ai pointed% and all eyes #ollowed his long #inger!

    >=o$ hae s$ch l$&$ries here% ai% "erin commented% a glint o# eny in his eyes!>=es% well% being an elder and owning the one market% where Mers #ind their daily needs%

    has adantages!>=o$ m$st hae a lot o# e&perience at ac'$iring what yo$ want! Mira was taken back at

    "erins brashness% b$t tilted her head in ais direction #or answers! 8er ears perked $p so she

    wo$ldnt miss a thing either said!>=o$ mean all my goods5 =es% 7 hae gained a knack #or ac'$iring things oer the years!

    -ar does that!>-hat were the wars like5 "erissa pinched her nose in ais direction and looked doe

    eyed! Mira eased closer to the table% p$lling a chair o$t so she co$ld sit! She wanted to getcom#ortable in case his story took some time! She tried to ignore the little girl s impatience andtoetapping% a#ter all% "erissa had started it Mira knew "erin had heard this story many times%b$t Miras c$riosity was insatiable! Eery time her parents re#rained #rom sharing history% itmade her more determined!

    >-ell!!!they were dark days! "ot like nowadays! Mers co$ldn t walk aro$nd in thedaylight or een hae a ho$se to call home! 8$mans hated o$r kind and searched $s o$t to kill

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    $s! 7# we stayed in one place too long% they wo$ld #ind $s! -e had to stay hidden in the shadows

    o# night to stay alie!>My od Miras c$rio$s e&pression clo$ded in sorrow!

    ais #inger stroked his temple as he remembered! )he night became o$r #riend!!!and thewater! -e didnt see the light o# day #or awhile and didnt walk on solid land e&cept at night!

    >-hy did the h$mans hate $s so m$ch5

    Mira asked! Een tho$gh eeryone saw herdi##erences% she had grown $p a Mer% and that meant she bonded with them permanently% that shewo$ld always be a part o# them!

    >Ah!!!the age old '$estion! ai r$bbed his chin! -hen the world started #alling

    apart!!!the s$ns heat too intense% the water leels too high!!!people started to panic! /and soonbecame scarce% and millions% billions died! )hen people started noticing webbed #eat$res andgills on h$mans! 7 g$ess the h$mans who co$ldn t breathe in the water became 9ealo$s% angry!-hy sho$ld they hae to s$##er this waterworld5 8$mans deemed those who had the webbedcharacteristics% the gills% less than h$man! 7n some sadistic way% the diision made h$mans #eel

    more important!>So they started war against $s5 "erin in'$ired% #$lly listening now! Een "erissa

    hoered closer!>"ot at #irst< the change started small! -ebbed babies were #o$nd dead or abandoned%like a demonic plag$e% b$t some webbed in#ants were saed% and they grew $p to be the #irstMers! +anic ens$ed! )he #ear was o# either dying in the waes or becoming one o# $s! 8$mans

    now had to #ace their eent$al demise! ai scratched his head! =o$ see% the world wo$ld nolonger be a harmonio$s place #or h$mans! 8$mans sensed their time clock was r$nning o$t% andthey had to do something to take control back into their own hands!

    >So they chose to kill $s o##! "erin shook his head!>;ear and 9ealo$sy are power#$l motiators% ai winced! ;ear o# the $nknown #$t$re% o#

    the Mers% o# what the world was becoming! ,ealo$sy #rom h$mans who co$ld not adapt to thischanging enironment!

    >So% then what happened5

    Mira inched so close she co$ld #eel ais breath on her #ace!8is s$nlit eyes stared deeply into her own!

    >)he n$mber o# Mers grew so '$ickly that the h$mans eent$ally waged war on $s!8$mans and Mers warred #or decades $ntil eent$ally the leaders o# both sides came to anagreement! Mers wo$ld hae to lie on Ellis 7sland and the inner cities o# "ew =ork% while theh$mans wo$ld lie in ,ersey% the Rocky Mo$ntains% and other land not yet coered by water!3i##erent sects o# h$mans #ormed: +irates% Aristos% Commoners% and Magi!

    >3id they all hate $s5 "erissa pressed her impatient ears toward ai% her hands h$ggingthe table! She had neer heard any o# this in school!

    >+irates #o$nd $s $se#$l! +eople enied $s! 8$mans grew s$perstitio$s% and o$r silky hair%glowing eyes% and #ine skin only added to their s$perstitions! -e became a commodity to some!Een tho$gh h$mans were not allowed past the bo$ndary line set by s$periors% +irates broke that

    law time and time again!>And the others5 "erin wanted to hear abo$t the Magi!>Aristos promised to g$ard Commoners #rom the wrath o# the Mers! Most common #olk

    didnt enco$nter $s #aceto#ace and neer knew how peace#$l we really were% that we #o$ght insel# de#ense! )hey belieed the lies o# the aristocracy% that we are saages% barbarians!

    >So the aristocracy is responsible #or the war5 Mira concl$ded!

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    >M$ch o# the hostility% yes! B$t the +irates and Magi only added to that% like embers to a

    cons$ming #ire!>-ho are the Magi5 Mira had the same '$estion as "erin!>)hey are the ones who $se o$r hair% o$r eyes% and o$r skin as magical tools to enhance

    the health and bea$ty o# h$mans! Many Mers wereand still areh$nted like #ish to be sold to

    the highest bidder as pri*ed possessions! /ike slaery o# long ago% when h$mans looked at Mers%what they saw was property and commodity ai shook his head in disg$st!>Magical tools5 "erissa cringed% the implication slowly hitting her! =o$ mean!!!they kill

    $s% so they can $se o$r bodies5 8er high pitched oice escalated to a shriek!>=es% my child! 7 am a#raid they do!!!and the +irates ca$se haoc on o$r lands% only to

    grab $s and sell $s to Magi #or magical p$rposes! )hey toss $s into water#illed co##ins on theirships to presere o$r bodies be#ore they take $s to be sold!

    >B$t none o# that is tr$e5 Mira threw her sharp nose in between the heat o# words! 7mean!!!Mer bodies are not magical5 Right5

    >7 dont know #or s$re% my dear Mira! B$t 7 hae heard r$mors o# how h$man skin hasimproed in glow or been c$red o# illness beca$se o# Mer skin mi&ed in soaps! )hey say Mer

    eyes are encased in am$lets and worn aro$nd the necks o# the Aristos% as i# the am$let will keepthem sa#e #rom the water o# the world! 7 e heard o# Mer hair being c$t o## and sewn into wigs#or the Magi and Aristos who can a##ord them!

    >8orrible people )ears glistened in Miras eyes% and her hands were shaking!>Remember% not all h$mans are eil% b$t there are eno$gh to keep $s #oreer on o$r toes

    and Mers still go missing at night% ai warned% and then pointed to the b$cket o# hammer and

    nails! "ow% yo$ three best be on yo$r b$siness! 7 e scared yo$ eno$gh with stories o# o$rhistory!

    "odding% "erin darted $p and li#ted the b$cket to his sho$lder% b$t Mira sat staring atai% his aged #eat$res somehow telling her secrets o# the past% secrets that inter#ered with herdreams! -o$ld she be able to s$rie on her own in the h$man world5 She began% #or the #irst

    time% to hae do$bts and to $nderstand her parents#ears! A#ter all% many Mers still disappearedin the night and #inally Mira began to p$t the pieces together and reali*ed the missing Mers #ell

    ictim to the iolent hands o# the pirates!-hen "erissa #inally n$dged Mira #rom behind% Mira awoke #rom her da*e% 9$mped #rom her

    seat% thanked ai% and headed o$t the door with her #riends!

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    3e#ianceAs "erin took another swing with his hammer% Mira% standing on the sl$shy gro$nd%

    ga*ed $p at him! 8e stood at the top o# the ladder and stretched oer the roo# to hammer a nailinto a slab o# pine wood! Care#$lly% he balanced himsel#% and Mira innocently peeked at his legs$nder the kilt! )hey were m$scled and smooth% witho$t hair! Something abo$t Mer genespreented hair growth eerywhere on their body e&cept the head!

    >)he s$n is scorching% "erissa complained% #i&ing her #eet on the ladders base to keep itbalanced! Mira stood on the other side% gripping the bars!

    >=o$ dont hae to tell me%

    "erin agreed as he wiped sweat #rom his #orehead! "erissaca$ght Mira lost in "erins moements and giggled! )he la$gh broke Miras trance% and she

    t$rned to the little girl!>-hat5 Mira snapped% b$t "erissa sealed her lips< her #ace t$rned red and her cheeks

    p$##ed o$t!>-o$ld yo$ two stop giggling down there and concentrate! 7 dont want to end $p on the

    gro$nd with a broken arm!>=es% brother% "erissa retorted% and Mira grinned!A#ter the last nail went into the wood% "erin climbed down the ladder and leaned against

    the market wall! ;inally All done!

    >=es% good thing% too< we still hae hal# a day le#t% Mira m$sed cheekily% wrapping her

    arm aro$nd his% and tried to look innocent $nder his s$spicio$s scr$tiny!>-hat do yo$ propose we do5 "erin '$estioned% stroking her hair!>7d like to take one last look at the shore! 7 loe those docks! Mira cringed at her words6k% one last look! "erin nodded!"erissa straggled behind% Mira #ig$red she did not want to go home% b$t was yet not old

    eno$gh to wander abo$t on her own! Mira #elt sorry #or "erissa who m$st o#ten #eel like the thirdwheel% b$t her big brother always took her on the most #$n e&c$rsions! "o wonder "erissawanted to stay! Strolling along with "erin de#initely beat sitting at home or being bored at a#riends ho$se!

    >-ait $p% "erissa called #rom behind them% splashing a #ew p$ddles along her way% b$tMira and "erin had #orgotten all abo$t her% their eyes #oc$sed only on each other!

    Sitting ne&t to "erin on the dock% Mira let her legs dangle% #eet swaying and sneakersnearly to$ching the water! "erins bare toes played with her shins!

    >-hat are yo$ planning5 "erin asked% getting straight to the point!>-hat do mean5 Mira played d$mb! 8e co$ldnt possibly know!!!!>7 know yo$% Mira! 7 see that yo$r mind is somewhere else< then all those '$estions at

    ais ho$se% and the other day all that talk abo$t ,ersey! =o$re planning something!!!! 8egrabbed her sho$lder and met her eyes! =o$re planning an escape% [email protected] yo$5

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    >An escape implies were in some sort o# a prison% Mira said shortly!>-ell% we are% arent we5 "erin agreed with her sentiment!>/ook% 7 wanted to spend the day with yo$% spend as m$ch time as we co$ld together!!!>Be#ore yo$ leae! 7m right% arent 75 8is #ace was so serio$s% so #orlorn!>7!!!! She t$rned away #rom him% her eyes catching the bl$egrey sky! 7 dont know what

    to tell yo$!

    >)ell me the tr$th!)he tr$th5 She pondered that idea #or a min$te% staring into the space where the ocean

    met the hori*on as i# somewhere beyond that she wo$ld #ind the answers to a million secrets!Mira swi#tly t$rned her head back aro$nd to #ace him again! 8er oice was low and

    serio$s! )he tr$th will get yo$ killed and get yo$r #amily in tro$ble! et me in tro$ble 7 can t

    tell yo$ the tr$th! 7t is better i# yo$ dont know anything!>7 sho$ld know! 7 am yo$r #riend% yo$r!!!boy#riend% "erin declared!

    Mira neer liked titles% b$t the word resonated in her ears like a good song!7 worry abo$t yo$% Mira% "erin contin$ed% and 7 dont want to think abo$t all the tro$ble yo$rein% or worse% "erins #ace wrinkled with pain% neer seeing yo$ again!

    >=o$ will see me again!

    >)hen tell me eerything!

    >7 cant! 7ts a secret! Mira stood her gro$nd! She had to make this 9o$rney to ,ersey% withor witho$t the approal o# her parents! -ith or witho$t the approal o# her!!!boy#riend! Eerytime she looked at him she #elt b$tter#lies in her belly! She had neer #elt this way abo$t anyone%b$t she co$ldnt let those #eelings get in the way o# her dreams either! She wondered #or amoment what staying with him wo$ld be like! 8eaenly5 )he notion tempted her% to say theleast! B$t in the end% discoering her identity won her internal debate!

    "erin knew she wo$ld not change her mind% and he did not want to #ight! =o$ cant keepsecrets #rom me! 3ont yo$ know that by now5 8e caressed her cheek with his little #inger! 7

    already know! )omorrow yo$ wont be here% and 7 will #eel dead!

    She hadnt tho$ght o# him% o# how he wo$ld #eel a#ter she le#t! She re#$sed to allowhersel# those tho$ghts% as leaing on her own wo$ld be hard eno$gh! ;eel dead5 3id he really

    care abo$t her% loe her that m$ch5 8is words made her pa$se and consider him!>=o$!!!yo$ wo$ld miss me5 She asked coyly% pretending not to know the answer!>6# co$rse 7 will miss yo$ 7 co$ld neer #orget yo$! "erin inhaled deeply% a hal# smile

    playing $pon his lips% and be#ore she co$ld talk hersel# o$t o# it% Mira stole a kiss #rom him!>=o$ taste salty% Mira said% bl$shing at her brashness! She did not hae time to #eel

    embarrassed% #or "erin took her cheeks into his hands and gently p$lled her #ace% her nose% herlips to his #$ll lips! )hey remained #or seeral min$tes in a kiss% in each other s embrace% $ntil"erissa co$ghed and alerted them to her #orgotten presence!

    >Are yo$ getting chilly5 "erin t$rned to her! Sitting with legs crossed% Mira watched the

    re#lection o# the s$n setting in his eyes! Eening wo$ld #all in a #ew ho$rs% and with eachsecond% Mira grew more aware that she wo$ld not see either o# them again $ntil her ret$rn! Andwho knew how long that wo$ld take5 She hoped #or the best b$t prepared #or the worst!

    As "erin walked Mira home% she sighed with the weight o# not seeing him when sheawoke the ne&t morning! She p$lled him tightly to her and gae him the longest h$g% one #illedwith $nspoken words! )ears threatened to stream down her cheeks% b$t she kept her emotionsintact< a#ter all% eerything was normal as #ar as the Mers in /iberty Shore knew% and she didn twant her parents to s$spect anything!

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    A#ter watching "erin and his sister depart into the s$nset% Mira went inside her home topolitely smile at both her Mer parents! -ith a sigh and nod% her mother and #ather met her eyetoeye and then ret$rned to their b$sywork! Mira sensed she had tested her parents patience timeand time again% and especially since their arg$ment abo$t her real parents! She didn t want toca$se them more distress% b$t she had to #ind o$t the tr$th! As she sneaked aro$nd the ho$se

    gathering $se#$l Mer items% clothing and #ood% her parents paid little attention to her as theytended to their tasks! She had always been tr$stworthy% they saw no reason to change thato$tlook! +iling eerything inside a knapsack% Mira waited $ntil Marina and 4ale #ell asleepbe#ore her clandestine depart$re! )he so$nds o# 4ales snores made her s$re she had a clear shoto$t the door!

    St$mbling down the wooden steps% she was str$ck #or the #irst time by the stark contrastbetween night and day! A light bree*e to$sled her hair! 8er #riendly owl whowhooed% as theslier o# moon lit her path! )ossing the knapsack oer her sho$lder% she took one last% long lookat /iberty Shore and then t$rned and h$rried toward the border! 8er dark skirt blended with thedarkness% and her #aorite maroon 9acket kept her warm! 8er lea#sneakers were '$ickly soakedas she tripped in the dark and landed into min$te p$ddles o# water% b$t she wo$ldn t be deterred!

    8er destiny called!As she tr$dged oer the last hill and headed toward the $nkempt% broken wire #encediiding the two territories% she rested the heay knapsack on a pile o# dirt and stretched herback! She yawned% and her #ingers tightened the ponytail she wore% and then she #olded her armsoer her chest!

    >8ow do 7 get oer that5 She whispered alo$d% as i# the Earth co$ld answer her! As$dden r$stle in the b$shes behind startled her% and she sp$n aro$nd% balling her hands into #ists!-hos there5

    )he b$shes r$stled again% and "erin stepped o$t and sheepishly raised his hand% 7ts me%Mira! Rela& As he came into iew% Mira dropped her attack stance and shook her headehemently!

    >-hat are yo$ doing here5 7 told yo$ this is my secret 7 dont want to endanger yo$ oryo$r #amily Mira stood #irm in her conictions% her oice $nwaering and her hands on hips!

    3$sting loose twigs and leaes o## his dark kilt% "erin trotted oer to her! 8is #amiliar%

    crooked smile gae her com#ort% and he placed his hands on her sho$lders! 3id yo$ really think7 was going to let yo$ do this alone5 8is eyes told her eerything she needed to know! 8e wo$ldnot abandon her% in spite o# hersel#!

    >;ine% she h$##ed! B$t yo$d better do e&actly what 7 tell yo$! A part o# her desperatelywanted "erin beside her% longing to be near him each min$te o# each day! B$t a bigger part o#her wanted him sa#e% and yet% she knew he wo$ld not leae her in danger% regardless o# his ownsa#ety! 7# she le#t% he le#t% too% so she m$st watch him care#$lly! 3amn! She had hoped she co$ldenter and leae '$ickly% b$t with him% a Mer% that wo$ldnt be so easy!

    >=o$ wanted a way oer the #ence5 "erin smirked% took o## his cloak and threw it oerthe thorny wire mesh top! 8ere yo$ go!

    Maybe he wo$ld be $se#$l a#ter all! Mira grinned% 7 knew 7 didnt like yo$ #or nothing!

    -ith Miras #oot wedged inside the wire holes o# the #ence% "erin p$t his hand on herarm% momentarily stopping her! Are yo$ s$re yo$ want to do this5 6nce yo$ cross this #ence%there is no going back!

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    )ilting her head toward him% she answered% =es% 7 am! More than anything else in myli#e! 6nce Mira set her mind on something% there was no stopping her! "erin knew this and hadbro$ght an e&tra backpack o# #ood in case o# an emergency!

    >All right% then! -ell need this! 8e patted his backpack% then o##ered Mira his bent kneeto climb on! )he boost #rom "erin helped Mira% and as her #ingers clasped the top o# the #ence%

    "erin li#ted% p$shing her oer! She sw$ng oer the top and landed sa#ely on the other side!>6ne down! Mira winked and eyed "erin thro$gh the mesh #ence! B$t how willyo$ !!!5

    Be#ore she co$ld #inish% "erin propelled himsel# o## the gro$nd% $sing his webbed toes% andclimbed $p the obstacle like a spider! Clinging to his cloak and to the holes o# the #ence% he threw#irst one leg oer the top% and then the other% and then he th$dded to the gro$nd beside hisgirl#riend!

    >7 cant beliee yo$ did that Mira beamed< the sight o# "erin beside her anchored herneres!

    >7 wo$ld do anything #or yo$% he told her! 8is cheesy words #elt sincere to her% and herlips c$rled into a smile!

    >)hen we sho$ld get going! 3ont want to be in /imbo #or too long%

    "erin agreed with anod!

    "o one wanted to be in /imbo! /ong blades o# yellowing grass and wild #lowers coeredthe territory between ,ersey and Ellis 7sland! A bea$ti#$l territory% it was known as /imbobeca$se it remained $ncared #or and $ninhabited! "o one knew #or s$re what resided there% whatanimals% monsters% or plants! "o one cared eno$gh to #ind o$t! Mers stayed on /iberty Shore% andh$mans stayed away #rom them< at least this had been the ro$tine since the end o# the last ma9orwar!

    >-e want to make it to the city be#ore day breaks% right5 "erin asked!>=es% a de#inite m$st! 6therwise someone might see $s coming o$t o# /imbo% and then

    they will ask $s all kinds o# '$estions% Mira panted% racing beside "erin!

    >=o$ r$n #ast%

    "erin told her% admiration in his oice! 8is cheeks #l$shed #rom trying tokeep $p with her!>7e had lots o# practice! iggling% Mira threw her head $p% and her ponytail lashed her

    cold back!A#ter r$nning all eening% they slowed as the blades o# grass dissipated% giing way to

    concrete< the moon crested oer the Earth% and in its light they saw shiny metal in the distance!Both "erin and Mira remained igilant% moing care#$lly% not