Beyond the Horizon – 3-6

If you aren’t aware.. I have Covid… but I’m still working on this! This is not edited at all… and it apparently isn’t bringing my formatting over… grrrrr….. enjoy.

Chapter 3

Anders led the way through the maze of tunnels beneath the island. Pandora and Phoenix knew the way, but it was his cave—rather, his parent’s cave. They were the ones who showed it to him as a secret place to hide if things ever went bad or he just wanted time alone. 

Carrying loaded bags made the tunnels trickier to navigate. They had to swim slowly or snag them and risk tearing their bags. When they reached the pool at the end, Anders emerged first, his tail splitting into legs. He took a deep breath as the gills located in his ribs sealed shut, shifting seamlessly to air breathing, then he shoved the bags over the lip of the pool onto the smooth cave floor.

The cave was big enough to hold half a dozen Atlanteans, with a ceiling that rose far overhead. Glowing globes positioned in the crevices filled the interior with a soft blueish-white glow, shining off the treasures accumulated over the years. Ander’s parents had stashed a number of interesting things in the adjoining caves. It was a good place to keep important things that nobody else needed to know about.

Anders heaved himself up to sit on the edge as Pandora’s head broke the surface. There were several ledges beneath the edge of the pool, making it easy to get in and out, legs or not. Pandora handed over her bags and sat on the highest ledge, swishing her flukes beneath the water.

Phoenix popped up a moment later, handing his loot to Anders. Pandora rose out of the water, stepping onto the ledge tentatively. She wobbled and Phoenix quickly stood to assist her. Anders eyed the pair of them as they stumbled onto the floor.

“I don’t know how humans do this all the time.” Pandora laughed, clinging to Phoenix.

“It just takes practice.” Anders opened his bag and began unloading items. “You don’t walk enough on your feet and you need to prepare.”

“You and Pandora need to prepare,” grumbled Phoenix, sitting down and opening a bag. “My dad’ll never move inland. You know how he votes. Deeper into the sea. Don’t associate with humans.”

Anders scooted next to Phoenix, putting an arm around his shoulders. “If we move, you know you can come with us.”

“Yeah. Over my dad’s dead body.” Phoenix growled as she spoke, glancing at Anders.

Pandora sat on the other side of Phoenix, leaning against him. “Do you ever wonder what the shallows look like during the day? What does the sun look like?”

“Your families are next in line to make their choice,” said Phoenix, slumping forward, unwrapping a candy bar.

“Yeah, Dad is pushing for our group to move above the horizon.” Anders went back to sorting through his bags. 

Phoenix held out his candy bar, offering Anders a bite. “No salt on it,” he said as Anders bit into it without taking it. Phoenix turned to offer it to Pandora next, who did the same.

Anders sighed, enjoying the strange flavors of chocolate, peanuts, and caramel. It was the first time he tasted a pure candy bar that wasn’t tainted by seawater.

“I wouldn’t want to live in the deep,” said Pandora, licking chocolate off her lips. “It’s scary. There’s not enough light and monsters live there.”

“The tribes are scarier than the monsters.” Anders shuddered.

Pandora slid her hands over her arms, running them up and down as she cringed. “They wear paint and bones. My mom says we’ll move inland before we move to the deep.”

“My dad says they won’t do anything to us as long as we keep to ourselves, but some contact is necessary.” Anders glanced at Pandora. “He’s been above the horizon a lot in the last few months, secretly.”

“What is he doing up there?” Pandora tilted her head at Anders, her eyes gleaming with curiosity.

“Selling salvage to the humans. He says they give him a lot of land money, which  he keeps in a t hing called a bank,” explained Anders. “He has a human friend who handles it and makes him more land money.”

“Your family’s good at that,” said Phoenix, finishing off his candy bar. “Making the best trades.”

“Yeah, you’re practically royalty.” Pandora giggled. “Everything your family touches turns to gold.”

Anders cringed at the words, shifting away uncomfortably. “Being a grandson of a fallen king doesn’t make me anything more than a target.”

“Prince Anders has a nice sound to it!” Pandora said teasingly.

“Don’t call me that, Pandora.” Anders frowned, digging into his bag and pretending to focus on a large can with a soggy, torn label hanging from it. “You know what’ll happen if anyone hears you.”

“Nobody can hear us here.” Pandora rolled her eyes.

“ I think that’s why Dad wants to separate from the colony and move inland, even if it means defying the decision of the rest of our group.” Anders glanced at his friends, confiding in them. “We will not move to the deep.”

“They’ll try to stop you,” said Phoenix with a sigh. “You know my father will try to make your family stay with the group.”

“Your father can’t control everyone.” Anders scowled. “He just thinks he can.”

Phoenix nodded, falling silent, his hands dropping over his lap. Pandora glanced from Phoenix to Anders, a troubled look on her face. “Don’t forget about us, Anders. You know my family will always follow yours.”

“Phoenix?” Anders leaned against his friend. “You can come with us if it comes down to it. You know you can.” Phoenix closed his eyes and didn’t reply, a grimace pulling the corners of his mouth tight.

Anders sat back, pulling away. Whatever was going on in Phoenix’ mind was his to dwell on. Anders had other concerns and this wasn’t a decision to be made now. He just had to make sure his friend knew he had a way to escape to a new, better life.

###

I will have to return and check on the human tomorrow evening. Anders swam away from the island with Pandora and Phoenix flanking him. I shouldn’t tell anyone, not even mom and dad. They have enough to deal with without me creating a new problem for them. And they would want to do something. No, he could handle this situation himself.

They swam past the sunken boat, noting there were more lights around it and the silhouettes of other Atlanteans exploring the wreckage. Anders arced away from the ship hoping to avoid drawing any attention as they passed.

The trio swam closer together, with Pandora throwing a whispered thought at Anders, ‘Anders. We have company.’ 

Instead of swimming further away, Anders turned on his tail, twisting to turn around and face the other Atlanteans. Phoenix and Pandora drew up next to him, one on each side.

There were four of them, older teenagers, two boys and two girls. They were all lean and muscular, spears gripped in their left hands, their tails patterned after sharks. The way they moved was almost unnatural, side to side instead of up and down like Anders’ chosen form. The biggest one was Leo, Phoenix’ big brother. They were almost identical in general appearances—the same hair, eyes, and facial features. But Leo was bigger, bulkier, and dangerous.

‘What are you doing so close to land?’ The biggest of the four demanded, swishing his tail to send him closer, his black eyes drifting across the three younger Atlanteans.

‘We saw the shipwreck and watched it go down,’ replied Pandora innocently, sweeping her tail back and forth in excitement. ‘The bigger ship ran into the little one and it went boom!’ She threw her arms out and flipped in the water, giggling. ‘The little ship went down.’

‘And then you swam into the shallows?’ The older boy scrutinized them, baring his pointed fangs at them, far sharper than they needed to be. ‘Why?’

‘Why not?’ Anders dropped a hand to his hip, not about to show any fear. ‘It’s not forbidden at night.’

The older boy nodded, but still looked displeased. ‘Phoenix, Dad’s looking for you and he is not pleased.’ 

‘He’s never pleased,’ groaned Phoenix, rolling his head and cracking his neck.

‘Phoenix, you had fishing duty tonight.’ Leo pressed in on his little brother who didn’t back down, instead lifting his head to defiantly stay where he was, his tail moving slowly. If Phoenix was afraid, he did a good job of hiding that fact. ‘Dad is not going to be happy when he hears you went off with friends instead of finding dinner.’

‘Leo, mind your own waves. The night isn’t over.’ Phoenix bared his teeth back at his brother, then turned with a powerful stroke of his tail, sending a rush of water into Leo hard enough to force him back. Pandora and Anders turned to follow, making sure they did the same, flicking their tails hard at Leo.

‘I am telling Father!’ Leo shouted after them, projecting the thought as loud as he could in an attempt to overwhelm them, but they were already at the edge of his range. ‘Don’t you squid me!’ The rest of what Leo said vanished into the water.

‘Glad I’m the older brother,’ said Anders, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Leo and his friends weren’t following. He looked back at Phoenix, studying his face. Phoenix’ eyes were narrowed and his jaw clenched, the muscles in his neck standing out as he swam.

‘Glad I’m an only child!’ Pandora swam ahead, turning to look at them.

‘There’s a whole sea out there. Not sure why Leo can’t just leave me the flick alone!’ Phoenix groused, looking from one friend to the other, his fangs flashing.

‘Don’t let him get to you.’ Anders hit Phoenix on the shoulder in passing, flying past him with a single powerful stroke of his tail. ‘Come on, I know where there are some really big lobsters. I’ll show you. Dad told me about them. They’re out of the way, but worth the trip.’

Phoenix mumbled, then sighed and smiled at Anders. ‘Lead the way.’

Anders nodded, glad to see his friend’s mood lifting. That was the way Phoenix was most of the time, happy with brief moments of moodiness. Pandora was typically the one among them who kept Phoenix smiling. Their friend didn’t fit in with his family and spent most of his free time with them because they welcomed him. They had been friends since they were small children and Leo had constantly bullied his little brother, detesting the fact he had one.

Despite his slips every now and then, harboring a grudge against humans for no particular reason other than being around a family which constantly spoke of how awful they were. Anything to do with life above the horizon was evil according to both of Phoenix’ parents and they did not approve of him being friends with Anders or Pandora.  

Phoenix was defiant and when he chose to go with his friends and choose flukes over a shark’s tail fin, his parents had been furious, especially his father. Flukes were for idiotic dolphins who spent all their days frolicking in the ocean without a care in the world. Never mind that Phoenix specifically watched orcas to specialize his flukes.

They could adjust their tails per their needs, changing the flukes for more speed, maneuverability, and power. Mot of the time, they swam with their dolphin-like flukes, but when hunting, the Orca was preferred and if they needed to, they could shift fully into a dolphin or orca. That was most useful for when a human might see them.

Hunting as an orca or dolphin was often messier than using spears and sometimes a waste of energy. The forms had their uses, but their half human forms were preferred over all.

Life wasn’t bad by any means, even with the pressures of Phoenix’ disapproving father and people who were constantly preparing for evacuation, terrified of being found. Anders led Phoenix and Pandora past a coral reef that was still alive at night with life. Tiny fish scattered as they swam past, diving into their hiding places even though they were too tiny to consider as a meal.

The coral was pretty, but they couldn’t enjoy it like their ancestors had. The mantra his parents had drilled into Anders as a child rolled through his mind.

We swim fast.

We swim deep.

We don’t need to surface at all.

Anders looked up. They were in the shallows and it appeared the storm had passed. The moon shone above, giving them a little more light than the glowing spheres that followed them provided. He knew the stories. In the past, it was easy to escape detection and swim anywhere they wanted, even in the daylight.

He sent out a wave of sound, making sure there were no human craft anywhere nearby. It bounced back, revealing nothing but empty waters and a few small fish. There were so many humans with boats and his parents warned him about their technology that allowed them to see under the water using the same sound deflection they used. They were constantly warned about avoiding boats and humans in the water.

They swam in the dark because the danger wasn’t as great, but they had to be aware of their surroundings at all times. If the humans found them, they would come after them with underwater machines capable of overtaking them and capturing them.

Their choice of going to the land or deeper into the ocean was because of the pressures the local humans put on them. So far, their people were torn between the choice of libing above the horizon or deeper into the ocean. They feared humans, even though the land was far more hospitable than the deep—places humans avoided. The only lure of the deep was that they could swim in the daylight again, but there were no shallows, only the open ocean. On land, they would likely give up their flukes and fins.

The stories that came from the deep were terrifying–that they would all become like the wilder tribes of Atlanteans that had retreated from the shores many generations before. Ares, Phoenix’s father was insistent they needed to adapt to such a life and leave the shallows behind. 

Ander’s father, Caspian, opposed forcing anyone to make the move into the depths unless they wanted to. They had sent several families to explore the deeps and the land and they all returned with negative reports of where they had been. 

Caspian was in charge of the relocation efforts, making arrangements above the horizon, while Ares handled the relocation efforts in the deep. Neither were pleased with the reports and trying to sway their people one way or the other was not working with their current information. Ares had fear on his side, pushing how dangerous humans were constantly.

 Their current life wasn’t the life they were meant to live. They had a choice to make. Go to the deep or shed their tails and live on the dry land with the very people who would hunt them down and study them if they knew what they were.

‘I see one!’ Phoenix rushed past him, forming a gleaming teal spear in his right hand. Several large lobsters skittered on the sea floor below them and Phoenix speared one to the sand. 

Anders formed a spear of his own as Pandora did the same. There were plenty of the large crustaceans available to hunt and Anders pinned one for himself, the spear making a delightful crunching sound as it pierced the shell.

I’d rather take my chances on land where no one would think to look for us.

Chapter 4

Her bed rocked gently from side to side and for a moment, Amele dreamed she was in her bed on the sailboat. She pulled her blanket over her head, mumbling. Then she heard birds screeching outside and the sound of waves washing up on the shore.

She wasn’t on the sailboat.

The events of the night before rushed in on her, the cold dark water, the boy, the island, and what he did. Amele pushed the blanket down, staring at the top of the enclosure in wonder. Palm fronds and branches crisscrossed the covering, melded together into a seamless sheet. The blanket wrapped around had a similar look to it, but it was soft and pliable.

Amele stared for a moment, then groaned, flexing her fingers and toes. I hurt all over. She rolled over, running a hand through her messy hair. Last night’s encounter was not a dream, no, it happened.  Amele reached out and pushed on the flap covering the opening and lifted it to look outside. White sand and an array of trees spread out before her.

I’m okay.  Amele slid her legs out over the edge and looked herself. She was still dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and not only that, but her tablet thumped against her hip as she stood. The strap was still looped over her body, keeping the tablet safe and dry in its case.

Everything hurt–her legs and arms were bruised and scraped. Nothing seemed broken. Amele stumbled through the sand on bare feet. She had taken her sandals off on the boat, not imagining she would need them. As she tenatively made her way across the sand covered in twigs and sharp rocks and shells, she wished she had kept them on.

Where did the boy go? She glimpsed him walking away in the direction of the water. Amele looked down, studying the sand. There were impressions in the sand, just the right distance apart to have been made by a human foot. She followed them, glancing up every few steps to look for someone—anyone.

I didn’t imagine him. Amele followed the dips in the sand away from the trees. The dips turned into well defined feet for a few steps once they hit wet sand, then disappeared into the water. He saved my life.

Where did he go? Amele stared out into the sea, the waves that had been choppy the night before now rolling in lazily. Crabs skittered around the beach and seagulls flew overhead, a few landing nearby to make a quick meal of the crabs or dead fish that had washed up on the beach.

Amele began walking on the beach, making a mental note of where her shelter was. She didn’t want to get lost in case she was alone, but the boy had to be somewhere on the island. Amele pushed aside the nagging thought that he had been out in the middle of the water at night and that wasn’t normal. Her mind couldn’t allow the obvious conclusion, because it was ridiculous.

The boy had possibly fallen off the other ship and saw her in the water. They were closer to land than she realized. It was dark when the collission happened. The boy was older and a stronger swimmer. He swam to the island—and then made a bizarre structure with his hands.

Amele shook her head, banishing the stray thoughts. She had swallowed salt water and it messed with her head. What she saw wasn’t actually what happened and she needed to concentrate on the problem at hand.

Maybe there are people nearby. Amele wandered down the beach, hoping she would see a sign of other people. There were only trees, sand, birds, and crabs—nothing else. No footprints, no boats in the water, no sounds of people anywhere, just the breeze blowing through the nearby trees.

The ship went down. Are Mom and Dad okay? Jonathan? There were lifeboats and she saw them deployed, but the ship went down so fast. Did they have time to get in the boats? Were they sucked down with it when it went down? Amele recalled a movie where that happened, bodies sucked down into the deep with a massive ocean liner.

Nah, she sniffled, that wouldn’t happen. Her family made it into the lifeboats and were out there somewhere or perhaps they had washed up on the shore. Amele stopped walking and turned to look out at the ocean. She was so small and so alone.

Amele sat on the sand abruptly, bursting into tears. She had never been alone like this and it was overwhelming. What would happen to her? She cried for several minutes, then began reasoning with herself. At thirteen, she was too big to sit and cry about her situation. amele was alive and her parents would look for her.

Her hand fell on her tablet, reminding her she still had the device. She blinked and smiled, putting it on her lap and checking to see if it had been damaged. The device turned on, fully charged and ready to go. Amele choked back a sob and laughed, scrolling through the apps.

I downloaded a bunch of applications and books the evening we left. One of them was a massive survival guide, because while it wasn’t likely to happen, she was curious. Surviving the Unexpected. Well, this was certainly unexpected.

Amele opened the app and tabbed to the section on shipwrecks, skimming through a list of things she should do. Shelter. I have shelter. I should find fresh water and something to eat. Amele rose and picked up a sturdy looking stick. She swung it around, fighting an imaginary creature. Something to defend myself with if there’s anything dangerous here.

There was a mass of rocks if she went on the way she was going, so Amele turned around, deciding to walk the other way. She kept close to the tree line and walked in the sand until her legs hurt. The other direction didn’t provide anything other than more of the same. Sandy beach, trees, and nothing more.

Amele mumbled, returning to the shelter. She didn’t want to walk anymore and now she was thirsty. Her throat was dry and lips cracked. Amele grumbled, climbing into the hanging shelter, her legs dangling out the open edge. She laid there for a moment, then her stomach began growling.

Ugh. I can’t just lay here. She forced herself up and slid out of the shelter again. Maybe she could search the area around the shelter and come across something useful. Amele picked her way deeper into the trees, careful where she stepped. 

She didn’t go far before she stumbled on a little muddy rivulet of water. It wasn’t much, but she dropped to her knees and cupped her hands, dipping them into the muck to let water pool into them. Amele had her hands to her lips before she stopped herself, realizing the mistake she was making if she drank the muddy water.

With a sigh, she opened her hands and let the water fall back onto the ground. Okay, I found water but I can get sick drinking it like that. Think. Think. Amele dropped her hands to her knees, staring at the water, her mouth drier than it had been before she found it.

The app said to check the shore for items that might wash up from the wrecked ship. Even though her sailboat simply went down, maybe something from it washed up on the shore? Amele stumbled to her feet, heading back to the beach. She hadn’t walked the shoreline, because the sight of the waves rolling in and out made her nauseous. 

There were too many nasty smells of dead and decaying fish mingling with the strong smell of salt and she needed to be away from it.  The beach nearest her shelter held nothing of interest, just clumps of seaweed, driftwood, and a few rotting fish that the gulls swarmed over.

Once again, Amele walked, this time looking at the water. She didn’t go far before spotting something promising—a plastic trash bag. There were a few more bags, a couple of half empty soda bottles that she recognized from the ship. That was promising.

Then, she found the treasure chest, a literal bright red chest floating in the water just off shore. Amele tenatively waded out to retrieve it, hoping the plastic clip that held it closed had kept the water out of it.

The ice chest was big and heavy, but Amele wrestled it up onto the sand, then, holding her breath, opened it. Inside were a dozen unopened water bottles, a big bottle of orange juice, and half a dozen soda bottles floating in still cold, fresh water. It had been full of ice the night before and the water had melted.

Amele squealed, tugging the chest further up the beach. There was a spigot on the side and she didn’t want to stick her dirty hands into the clean water and sully it. She managed to maneuver the chest up onto some rocks and used the spigot to wash her hands, then got on her hands and knees to drink directly from it.

The water was refreshingly cold and quenched her thirst immediately. Water. She had enough water to last a few days and hopefully someone would find her before then. Now, she needed something to ease the gurgling in her stomach. Amele sat for a few minutes, then got up to return to the water. 

Even if she couldn’t find something that came from the ship, it was possible she could find a pool to collect a fish in or some of the crabs. The app had instructions for cooking and preparing such things to eat, even if you didn’t have proper tools.  Amele set out, encouraged by having the fresh water. Water was more important than food.

And that boy—he might show up and help her. He rescued her and he had to be somewhere nearby. He couldn’t have just vanished into the sea. That was ridiculous.

###

They were safe and hidden within their underwater caves deep below the ocean floor. There was nothing attractive about the area to draw humans to explore it. The caves themselves were carefully concealed with sea weed. Boats passed overhead, pods of whales and dolphins, sharks, and massive schools of fish.

Once the sun rose, Atlanteans retreated to the caves to sleep. There were no guards or anyone watching. Everyone slept. Anders opened an eye and yawned. He shared his little cave with two younger sisters. His baby brother slept with his parents in an adjoining cave.

I could sneak out now, enjoy a little daylight. Anders considered it. Nobody would catch him. His internal clock told him the sun would begin going down in an hour. He closed his eyes, shaking the urge away. It’s bad enough I’m breaking one rule without adding on a more severe one. She will have to wait.

A low murmuring came from his parent’s sleeping chamber. Anders listened for a moment, his eyes closed, determined to sleep. But he couldn’t. His parents’ projected conversation rumbled annoying through his head.

Anders rolled and approached the round opening that led into the tunnel next to his parent’s chamber. He stopped beside it, as close as he dared. ‘You don’t think they would actually do anything to us or the kids, do you?’ His mother, Marinda, sounded worried and strained as she spoke.

‘No, Marinda, but there are rumors that Ares has suggested exiling our family,’ Caspian spoke back, attempting to calm Marinda, his voice low and patient.

‘Why?’

‘You know why,’ said Caspian. ‘He hates that we communicate with humans at all, even if it’s for our survival. Ares is not happy that we have families who would follow us over him.’

This isn’t good. Anders bit his lip, leaning against the wall as he listened in. ‘Relocating isn’t good enough for him? He never wants us to return?’

‘We’re leaving out of necessity,’ Caspian said, and Anders heard a baby coo, his baby brother Jaden. ‘But he only sees it as us taking away people from his control.’

‘Why doesn’t he understand we are doing this for our people’s survival?’ Marinda’s voice sounded strained, upset.

‘We’re not simply moving to another part of the ocean, away from humans, we’re joining them in his eyes.’ Caspian said angrily. There was a swish of flukes and Anders rolled back into the chamber, hastily taking up a casual sleeping position. 

Marinda and Caspian swam by the door and Anders ventured a look, catching the sight of his mother’s tail as they went down the hall. Ares and his guards were always pushing the other families around. Anders rolled onto his side, staring out into the hall. Exile. That would be scary. Cut off from all Atlanteans and why? Because Areas wanted to exert control over the ruling council and force everyone into the deep as a single unit beneath his leadership.

Ares likely had suspicions that Phoenix would choose to go with them to the land and losing one of his sons to Caspian’s side would be a serious blow to his ego.

I’m not going to get any sleep if I keep thinking about this.  Anders rolled over and peeked through the doorway. It was close enough to nightfall he could leave without anyone asking questions. I’ll check on the girl, bring her some of the food from the cave. 

Anders glanced at his sleeping siblings. They were fine without him. He would go and be back within a few hours. Nobody would miss him. He left as quietly as he could, careful not to distub his sisters. I have responsibilities. He slipped through the tunnels and within a  few minutes made his way through the seaweed. Nobody was out to see him with the sun beginning to dip low into the sea, the last few rays of daylight turning the water red overhead.

Chapter 5

Amele sat on the sand in front of her shelter, staring at the pile of firewood she had gathered in an attempt to make a fire. I wish I could figure out how to make a fire. I would feel safer if I could see. She had tried, unsuccessfully, to make a fire, but she lacked the tools or the strength. Her fingers were covered in bloody blisters where she had tried to rub two sticks together. 

Her determination didn’t pay off and she stared hard at the firewood, wishing she could ignite it by will alone. The sun was setting and soon, she would be alone in the dark. Amele sighed, poking at the wood with a stick. She could try again in the morning. 

There was plenty of water, but no food—and no sign of the boy. Amele leaned her head into her hand, resting her elbow on her knee. Her stomach growled and twisted painfully. It had been over twenty-four hours since she last ate.

Amele squinted, peering down the beach and into the water. Something was in the water, coming toward her. The shadowed form of the boy waded into the shallows and he had something in his arms–a bag. Over the last few hours, she had begun doubting the boy really existed.

She sat upright, staring at him as he walked up the beach, a pleasant smile on his face. Amele got to her feet, unsure of if she wanted to approach him or not. “You’re back,” she called out, waving.

Anders said nothing, setting the bag down on the sand near the stacked wood. He cocked his head, peering at it curiously, then nodded. The boy circled the wood, sweeping the sand further away from the pile in a circle. Then he waved a hand over the wood and it burst into flames.

Amele gaped, eyes wide at the fire as it spread out over the wood, licking and dancing merrily. “Thank you!” She gasped as he stepped back. Anders picked up the bag and offered it to her. Amele took the bag curiously and peered inside to see several cans of food. She pulled one out, examining it. “I can’t open it.”

Anders frowned and nodded, reaching out to take the can from her. He ran his hand over the top and peeled up the metal, then handed it back. Amele grinned, seeing the contents was soup. A moment later, Anders handed her a spoon which he had fashioned from the lid. Cold or not, Amele dug into the can of soup.

The boy reached into the bag and pulled out the rest of the cans, opening them and setting them aside. There were two cans of fruit and another can of soup. It was probably more than Amele could eat, but she appreciated it.

“Thank you,” Amele said again, watching the boy as he squatted on the opposite side of the fire, peering at her. “My name is Amele. What’s your name? Do you talk?”

Anders shook his head, frowning. Then he stood and turned, walking away. Amele set her soup can down near the fire and jumped to her feet, running after him. 

“Where are you going? Don’t leave! I need help. I can’t stay here alone!” Amele threw herself at him from the back, wrapping her arms around his waist in an effort to keep him from leaving.

Anders’ body went rigid in surprise and he turned, trying to gently pry her arms off him. “Please, don’t go,” whimpered Amele, gripping his hands. She gave him a pleading look, hoping he would stay, but he shook his head and pulled away without a word. This time, he backed away, walking toward the water, gesturing for her to return to her fire.

“Where are you going? Who are you?” Amele remained in the beach as he waded into the shallows, then dove into the water and vanished from view. “Come back!” Amele screamed at the water, bursting into tears. Even though she had a fire, being left alone was a terrifying prospect. She cried for a few minutes, watching the waves with diminishing hope that he would return.

When the boy didn’t come back, Amele trudged back to her fire and plopped down in the sand. She picked up her tablet and took a photo of the fire and her half-eaten can of soup. Amele wrote beneath the photo. The boy came back. He has blond hair and blue or green eyes. They are very light. He doesn’t talk, but I bet he can. He walked into the ocean and swam away.

Amele frowned, angrily tapping the words in. He made a fire for me. He saved my life, but why isn’t he helping me off the island? Is he swimming somewhere nearby. I can see other islands. I just want to go home. She sighed, setting the tablet down on her lap. If he was swimming somewhere, then there were other people. Surely he wasn’t the only person out there.

###

Anders grimaced as he swam away leaving the girl, Amele, alone. He didn’t have a choice in the matter, but she was safe where she was so he pushed the guilt away. Before morning, he would return and make sure she had something to eat, then slip away, returning home without anyone the wiser.

Well, I guess I can answer Phoenix’s question. Human skin is very soft. Anders swam in the shallows, making his way around the island to the entrance to the caves. He had left Phoenix and Pandora in their little hideaway, where they were sampling more of the food they had claimed from the shipwreck.  Before he left, he made sure that a pile of the canned goods were set aside for the girl. 

She’s fine. Anders made his way through the tunnels, emerging into the cave after a few minutes. Very soft. The words came to him as he thought about how it felt to touch her skin. In their usual forms, Atlantean skin was thick and rubbery. If they were in their more human form, with legs, their skin thinned and softened.

Anders popped his head out of the pool and stepped onto the ledge, letting the water fall from his body as he took a breath of air. Phoenix and Pandora sat nearby, sharing a candy bar. 

“How is the girl?” Pandora inquired curiously, tilting her head at Anders as she wiped chocolate from her lips.

“She’s okay, but sad that I won’t stay with her,” replied Anders, walking to his friends and taking a seat next to Pandora.

“You let her see you? I thought you were just leaving food for her.” Phoenix growled, baring his fangs. “You shouldn’t let her see you, Anders, it’s dangerous.”

“I know, but who is she going to tell? Who would believe her when she’s rescued.” Anders shrugged as Pandora offered him the rest of the candy bar. “I’m not sure how to get her off the island. She needs to be with her people.” The candy bar made a delightful crunching sound when Anders bit into it, the flavors of chocolate and peanut butter filling his mouth.

“Nobody is looking for her? I would have thought they would have,” said Pandora picking up a can with a peeling label. “Pears,” she read the label aloud, licking her lips, then ran her hand over the top, popping the top open.

“If they are, they haven’t found her,” muttered Anders, finishing the candy bar. “Pears sounds good.” Pandora fished one out, handing a golden pear half to Phoenix, then one to Anders before taking one for herself. The fruit was even more delicious than the candy bar. Heavy syrup exploded with sugary sweet goodness in Ander’s mouth, the piece of fruit having a delightful texture when he bit into it.

“You should tell your parents about her. They will know what to do,” suggested Phoenix. 

“They have enough problems without adding one I created.” Anders shook his head, taking a second back, chewing slowly. “I saved her from drowning. I can’t let her die on the island.”

“But how are you going to get someone to find her?” Phoenix inquired, finishing off his fruit. 

“I don’t know.” Anders sighed.

“Why is it that we know so many human languages, but we’re not permitted to talk to them?” Pandora picked out another piece of fruit, giving it to Phoenix. “We could move among them freely, but we’re forbidden from going above the horizon and talking to them. Can you imagine how much fun it would be?”

“Stupid rules.” Anders growled as Pandora offered another pear to him. He took it and angrily bit into it. “It would be so easy to live among them, right on the shore. We could still swim and be in the water all we want.”

“That’s the suggestion that got your grandfather deposed,” said Phoenix with a shake of his head. 

“I’m aware of that.” Anders rolled his eyes and popped the rest of the pear into his mouth. “I don’t understand why we chose to stay in the water. Nobody would ever suspect us living among them.”

Phoenix licked his fingers, nodding slowly. “My father goes on and on about keeping everyone together, that we are strong together and if we lived among humans, we would mingle with them. We would dilute our blood and take on their ways.”

“I don’t see what’s so bad about that,” said Anders as Pandora offered him the can. “If we move to the deep, we may keep our bloodlines pure, but our ways will change.”

“And he’s okay with that.” Phoenix shrugged. “Because he would be in charge. He makes sure that people loyal to him go with each group of families that leave.”

“Oh, no.” Anders stared at Phoenix, his face draining of color. “If my parents are going next, they will be able to influence the families in the new colony. That’s his fear, if they go, and if we don’t go, we’ll influence families to follow us. Phoenix, you are going to come with us, won’t you?”

“Yeah.” Phoenix did not hesitate. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’ll miss my mother and sisters, but I will not miss Leo or Dad. I’ll go with you.”

“My parents have been discussing it to,” added Pandora. “In secret, but I heard them. With your parents preparing, there has been a lot of talk. They haven’t openly said what they are doing one way or another, but they keep arguing for going above the horizon and presenting their case.”

“Next week.” Anders took a deep breath. “I think they’re going to make their decision known at the next meeting.” 

“Dad’s not going to like that,” said Phoenix, shaking his head. Anders nodded, sipping the sweet syrup from the can before offering it back to Pandora. Things could go bad very fast, even though he wasn’t sure what bad would look like.

Chapter 6

Amele kept track of the days on her tablet, marking off a week. The boy showed up shortly after the sun went down and then right before the sun came up. He never said a word, no matter how hard she tried to get him to talk. His behavior perplexed her.

Where was he going? Why did he swim in and never come in a boat? Why didn’t he take her away? Amele asked questions every time he came. He never answered.

She spent her days watching for rescue, but there were not any boats or helicopters. Amele reasoned she couldn’t possibly have been far from the wreck. Surely they would look for her. Then again, she vanished beneath the waves and they might have assumed she drowned. That was likely. If her family thought she was dead, they wouldn’t look for her, would they?

When the boy arrived in the evening on the seventh day, he brought her a single can of fruit and a gutted red snapper. As usual, he said nothing, skewering the fish on a slender green stick and setting it over the fire to cook. 

“How long are you going to take care of me?” Amele asked, eating peaches from the can while she waited for the fish to cook. She sat near him, on a piece of driftwood she had dragged up closer to her simple shelter. “Nobody is looking for me, you know? I think they think I drowned.”

Anders frowned, glancing from her to the fire. He turned the stick, as quiet as normal. Amele reached out to touch his arm, trying to get his attention. “I know you understand me. Please, you need to tell someone I’m here or take me where there are people. I want to go home.”

He looked at her and nodded, showing he understood and agreed. Amele looked at him pleadingly. “Why don’t you talk to me? Who are you?” The boy didn’t reply, gazing at the fire as though she hadn’t spoken a word.

###

Anders left the island with Pandora and Phoenix, swimming with the fluid grace of dolphins. They cut through the water at a faster than normal speed, scattering schools of fish in their path. Tonight we are on our way to attend a colony meeting in the abandoned city. Everyone has to attend.

Other family and friend groups joined them as they swam deeper, passing over coral reefs and losing the light from the full moon above. Soon, they caught sight of the welcoming lights from a structure embedded into the sea floor. The sight of the once grand city always filled Anders with awe and tonight was no different.

Lights glittered from still intact windows, spires rising from the structure. It blended into the rock and when the lights were shielded, looked like nothing more than part of the sea bed. Questions rose every time he visited the city. This was where their people lived, before they followed their true natures into the water.

Few lived in the city because it was still dry inside, locked into a grave, unable to move like it once had. The technology inside would not work if it were flooded. The questions returned, as they usually did. If they were not meant to live in the air, then why was their origin city dry? Why did their wondrous technologies not work in the water?

Anders and his friends swam through a dark corridor, entering a dimly lit air chamber where others were entering the city, shedding their fins and leaving the water. As they made the change, they formed clothing, some as simple as Anders preferred, a skin tight covering that kept him modest. Others formed more ornate clothes–robes and dresses.

They stepped out of the water, joining the others. Many of the people wobbled unsteadily as they walked, only using their legs for meetings. A few, those like Anders who walked on land daily and the younger kids walked without a problem, their bare feet leaving wet foot prints behind.

They learned to walk on these floors. Anders mused over another question. If they were meant to be in the water, then why did babies have to be born inside the halls of the city? They were not born with flukes or gills. As the generations progressed, babies were able to form gills and flukes on instinct within a few days, but not all of them.

There was a theory that if they completely abandoned the dry land and the city and only allowed babies to live who were born with gills, they would no longer need these halls filled with air. Atlanteans had long life spans and Ares constant argument was that they could sacrifice a few generations to migrate to the deep. It would make them a stronger people.

Most of the other familities agreed, but not Anders’ family. They lost a child, a baby girl, because they were forced to bring her to the water before she could handle it. She drowned and five-year-old Anders had witnessed the entire ordeal as his parents worried and hoped she would adjust.

It shouldn’t have happened. Anders could still remember how blue the baby was as she struggled to breathe and the fact that there were guards, Ares men, at all of their doors, making sure that his parents could not take leave. That was when the division between his father and Ares began.

Ares called his family weak because they didn’t adapt fast and Caspian began referring to Ares as a monster for murdering little babies. Caspian put an end to Ares forcing families to rush their babies into the water too early and had plenty of supporters. The two families clashed constantly over the years over this or that, seldom agreeing on anything from rules changes to hunting grounds.

“Anders.” He stopped walking, hearing his father calling for him from the entrance of a nearby hall. 

Phoenix and Pandora turned to look at Anders and he waved them on. “I’ll catch up.” Anders joined his father and they walked further into a small, dimly lit hallway, bathed in a soft bluish-purple light. “Dad, aren’t you talking tonight?”

“Yes, I am,” replied Caspian, glancing up and down the hall, his voice dropping into a whisper, “But before I do, you need to be aware of what could happen tonight.”

“Dad, is that serious?” Anders whispered, copying his father as he looked up and down the hall.

“Anders, listen carefully and remember what I’m about to tell you.” Caspian said hurriedly. “You will need to go to land, to a big city. Find a library. Most of them have computers. I’ve told you about computers and the internet. Someone will probably help you. You will look for an internet browser, a search. Type in gulf sea anders and go to the first entry. Follow the instructions. Do not return to the water. We will find you.”

“Dad.” Anders stared at his father.

“This is a precaution, should we be separated.” Caspian clapped Ander’s shoulders firmly. “Go on with your friends. If things go bad, bring them with you. Stay close to home for the next few nights and keep clear of the guard. Be cautious and watchful.”

“Yes, sir,” whispered Anders, lowering his head.

“Nothing may happen, but I want you to be prepared.” Caspian stepped forward, hugging Anders tight. “I love you son. If we are separated, we will find you. Stay in one place and talk to the humans. They will want to help you.”

Anders nodded and followed his father as he walked past him, an arm on his shoulder. They walked out into the hall, joining the flow of people heading deep into the city.

###

The central dome of the fallen city held their main meeting courtyard. It was more than big enough to hold the hundreds of Atlanteans gathered within it. A carefully cultivated garden filled the ground area and tiers encircled the speaker’s podium. Vines covered the railings and the air was fresh and filled with the odor of sweet flowers. 

Anders usually enjoyed admiring the architecture, the glimmering white arcs with glowing turquoise and blue veins that provided light throughout the city. Softly glowing globes hung at perfect intervals all around the inside of the dome. It was a contrast to where they lived now, their dark caves with their glowing orbs that followed them to give them light in the darkness.

The interior of the city was beautiful. Every part of it was a stunning work of art, but today, Anders was distracted from the beauty by reality. Ares stood on the podium, a massive muscular man with scars that told the tale of vicious battles he had been in.

Anders stared at him, how his cold eyes scanned the crowd and his lips were pulled into a permanent sneer of derision. This man seriously hates my father. Phoenix and Pandora stood on either side of him, mumbling something about the crowd and hoping they would be done soon and dismissed.

“People of the Gulf,” Ares lifted his hands, demanding everyone’s silence and attention as his voice boomed through the dome. “There have been rumors of hostility between myself and Caspian, head of the relocation effort. I just wanted to lay those rumors to rest and note that I am fully behind our relocation, no matter where it may be.”

Anders’ mouth dropped open at Ares’ words and Phoenix growled his very thought. “Liar.”

“There will be multiple families leaving us soon to explore the deep and the land for suitable places for us to reside.” Ares continued, smiling amiably. “When they return, we will mutually decide where we will move or community as a whole. We will not be fragmented.”

Anders looked for his father and saw him standing at the base of the podium, his arms folded beneath his robes. Caspian’s face was expressionless, set into stone. Dad doesn’t believe him. He’s worried. I know my father well enough to know when something is wrong and this is terrifying. 

“Now that we have settled that, the youths may be dismissed as well as anyone who does not have council business. We have much to discuss.” Ares lifted his hands, gesturing for everyone to go.

Anders didn’t want to leave, but when they were dismissed, they were expected to leave if they didn’t have business with the council. He left the dome with Pandora and Phoenix at his side. The people mumbled and whispered as they left. When they entered the main hall leading out, Phoenix whispered in concern. “I don’t think we’ve ever been dismissed so early.”

Should I tell them? No. Phoenix is Ares’ son and Pandora’s not a member of an opposing family. Anders nodded, keeping his mouth shut. Dad said I shouldn’t, but in case anything happens, I need to. They should know.

The three of them followed the crowd and Anders dove into the water when they reached the pool, swimming quickly away from the other Atlanteans. 

‘Hey, wait for us, Anders!’ Pandora called out to him as she and Phoenix tried to catch up. 

‘Hurry up!’ Anders glanced over his shoulder, hitting the water with his flukes hard enough to send out a wave of bubbles in his wake. He arced away from the rest of the Atlanteans, heading in the direction of the island.

‘Stop swimming so fast!’ Phoenix called out, having trouble keeping up. ‘What is the hurry?’

Anders didn’t reply, leading them further out into the open ocean where he was certain nobody could overhear their conversation. He slowed and his friends drew up next to him, giving him questioning looks.

‘My father told me to keep clear of the guard and stay close to home for the next few nights,’ whispered Anders, glancing around them. They hovered near the surface, the full moon casting long shadows around them. 

‘Yeah?’ Phoenix frowned. ‘He thinks my dad is up to something? I know he is. He doesn’t tel me anything, but Leo has been swishing his tail around looking all smug like he knows something.’

‘What could they do?’ Pandora ran her fingers over her lips, a nervous gesture Anders knew well. ‘He said your family was going to the surface and they would make the decision when they returned with the reports.’

‘He doesn’t know.’ Anders shook his head. ‘Dad told me to be watchful and cautious.’

Phoenix nodded, his face taking on a determined, protective expression. ‘I’ll keep an eye on my brother for you.’

‘I’m more worried about my mom and the kids,’ said Anders with a sigh. ‘Your brother knows better than to bully me.’ The trio floated in the water in silence, the situation weighing heavily over all of them.

‘I’m going back to the island to give the girl the rest of the food we stored. There should be enough to last several days,’ Anders turned aside. ‘You don’t have to follow me. It might be best if you don’t.’

‘Anyone sees us, they’ll think you’re not far away,’ said Pandora with a smile. ‘We’ll meet for lunch in our usual spot on the reef?’

‘Sure, I’ll see if I can find something special in the shallows on the way back.’ Anders nodded and smiled at his friends. ‘Nobody will question me if I’ve been hunting.’

‘Stay safe,’ whispered Phoenix as Anders swam away, keeping close to the surface. ‘Go with the tide.’

Anders kept an eye on his surroundings as he swam. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The sea was still around him, filled with the usual ocean life that knew better than to come close. Sharks and other predators avoided Atlanteans as a meal, even though they might come close out of curiosity. There was little in their world that was a threat to them, only man and their own kind.

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