Moral Questions in Underwater Rescues

Tam started to swim off down the transparent tube and I did my best to keep up, but neither of us got very far before we were joined once again by the quintet of squid people looking slightly worse for wear. “I knew this was all your fault,” the lead squid said. “You tried to trick us, pretend that you and the Merapolian weren’t trying to spring a trap, but here it is, the trap. Now, we know. You were the distraction. And that,” he pointed at Tam, “was the trap. Or…are both of you the trap?”

“There was no trap!” I insisted.

“We’ve come for our people,” Tam said, shutting down the explanation I was about to make. “If you want the destruction to end, you’ll return them.”

“The only…” the squid person began to say, but once again Tam interrupted.

“I don’t care. You give them to us or we take them. Those are your only choices.”

“We can’t kill them,” I told them.

I can,” Tam replied, putting heavy emphasis on the singular pronoun.


“He’s right,” the squidperson said. “You will not. It will be us who ends you.”

“Ok,” Tam agreed. Maybe I won’t kill you. But I will do this.“ They raised their hand and ice began to shoot out. Within seconds, the squidpeople were imprisoned in ice formations. Tam then looked at me. “See? Still alive. How about that?”

“You can shoot ice out of your hands!” I exclaimed.

“No. Don’t be ridiculous. I can modify the energy output of the molecules around me. The fact that water this far below the surface is already pretty cold only makes it all that easier.”

The water didn’t feel very cold to me, but I just chalked that up to the rebreather working its magic. “And they’ll be fine like that?”

“They will…” Then Tam turned back to the squidpeople and a threatening tone returned to their voice, “as long as they tell me where the others are.”

“We’ll…tell…you…nothing!” the squid man said, stammering from the ice.

“Fine. Then stay like that. I can find the others just as easily with my scanners. Come on, Frank.”

“Wait,” I said. “Is that true?”

“I found you, didn’t I?”

“And what about them?”

“What about them?”

“We can’t just leave them there trapped in ice!”

“And what would you rather us do, Frank? Bring them with us?”

“We can…”

“Forget them. They’ll be fine. They’re not humans. The cold isn’t so bad for them. You should worry about finding your friends or whatever they are.”

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” I said, though to be honest I really had no idea how the biology of these squid people actually functioned. For all I knew, their bodies would just go into a hibernation until the ice around them melted and they’d wake up fine.

“You know your problem, Frank,” Tam said. “You won’t take ‘everything’s fine’ as am answer. The amount of problems we have right now and you’re worried that the people standing in our way, who imprisoned you, who continue to threaten you, aren’t resting safely in a nice soft bed.”

“You know the problem with you, Tam,” I retorted. “You think ‘not killing people’ is an ask too far.”

“I’m not killing anyone.”

I pointed at the explosions beneath us.

“Ok. But I’m not killing these people. They’re fine.”

“And those people down there?”

“…They started it?”

“Are you kidding me? They started it?”

Tam gave me an unhappy look, then raised their hand. I could see the waves emanating outward, then I could feel the shaking. The eyes of the imprisoned squid people rolled up into the top of the heads. Then the ice around them shattered.

“What did you just do?” I demanded. “Did you…?”

“Relax,” Tam said. “They’re alive. I just sent an emission wave to break the ice that just so happened to have the effect of knocking our weakened adversaries out. Now, can we finally get on to saving your friends?”

I looked at the unconscious squid people and I looked down through the transparent floor at the destroyed city below. There hadn’t been any new explosions in a while. That was good, but I knew it was also bad. That meant they’d be coming for us now. No more explosions meant no more people getting hurt. Or at least, less people getting hurt. But less explosions also meant less distractions, which meant we were now the only thing this entire city of squid people had to worry about. “Maybe we should get going,” I said.

“Finally,” Tam said before quickly swimming away. I did my best to keep up.

After a few minutes, they took us through a hole in the transparent tube hallway and out into open water. I was surprised to feel little difference in the water. Was that the rebreather protecting me from the presumably very cold deep waters, I wondered. I didn’t need to worry about that for long because soon enough we were breaking our way back into another tube on our way to a part of the city that wasn’t see-through.

to be continued…


Can’t Stop the Mouth from Closing

There seemed to be at least a dozen of them. It was hard to get a completely accurate count while they were rushing toward us. However, I was able to a few observations. The main thing I noticed about them was the bottom half of their bodies, in that they didn’t have legs or even fishtails like the Meropolians. Instead, the lower half of their bodies were made up by tentacles. At first, I mistakenly thought that they were riding octopi, but then I soon realized that, no, those was actually their legs. They were squid people and they were attacking us.

“Run!” I yelled as I began to swim as fast a I could away from our attackers. Pem, the Sheriff, and Toleuk all swam with me. But Tam, however, chose to fight, firing laser blasts into the oncoming squid person horde. This took the squid people by surprise. They clearly had no been expecting a counter-attack. Their charge broke down into panic as they began to retreat.

While I stopped to admire Tam’s work, the others did not. They continued swimming onwards, oblivious to the fact that they were no longer being chased. “Nicely done,” I said as I swam up to Tam, trying to avoid the unconscious squid people, floating about them.

“Thank you,” they said. “But they weren’t..”

“Hold that thought,” I told them. “Because we need to hurry up and catch up to the others.”

“The others?” Tam looked for them.

“Yeah, they never stopped running, so they’re a bit down the ways.”

“Running,” Tam sneered, bubbles coming out of their nose. “Let’s go.” Before they started swimming after them, Tam added, “Well, they didn’t even slow down, did they?”

We swam after them as best we could, calling to them to stop, but they didn’t seem to be able to hear us for the longest time. Then, finally, I noticed the Sheriff glance over his shoulder. After a second glance, he got the others to finally come to a stop. All three of them turned around and waved for us to catch up. Though that helped no one, as we were already on our way, Tam going much faster than I. But their actions did have more dire consequences, as while they were waving us, they were unable to see what was happening ahead of them, namely that a giant sea monster was emerging from out the sand right behind their backs.

All we, Tam and I, could see of the monster was its large open mouth towering over the others. We tried to yell for them to move, to get out of the way, but we were too late and they were too slow. By the time they turned back around to see what was happening behind them, the mouth was already closing down around them.

Tam immediately accelerated, leaving me in the dust. As they got near, they began firing lasers at the monster, trying to stop it from eating our friends. I, on the other hand, was left unable to do more than keep swimming and yell as loud as I could the word, “Run!” But in the end, it didn’t matter. Neither of us could save our friends from disappearing into the mouth of that monster.

The creature then proceeded to sink back down into the ground. “Now what?” I said when I caught up to Tam. I half-expected them to suggest we turn back. With just the two of us, it seemed unlikely we would be able to save Gnomenasher on our own and Tam had never really been a fan of this plan. The last thing I had expected them to do was to dive down into the ground in pursuit of the monster. But Tam did that and that’s what happened.

I was suddenly all alone at the bottom of the sea, in the middle of the ocean in a dimension I now had no way to get out of.

Things were not looking up for me.

Going back to Merapolis was not an option. Firstly, because I did not really know the way back to the city. And secondly, because I just couldn’t abandon my friends. I certainly couldn’t get home without them. I had to hope that they were still alive. I couldn’t believe otherwise, I refused. And if they were alive, then they were in danger. I had to save them. I was going to save them. I began swimming onward.

It was lonely swimming by myself. I filled the time by worrying about if I was going the right way or not. Those worries disappeared, however, as I began to notice an object heading my way. As we got closer to each other, it continued to get larger and larger. This large mysterious object didn’t move like any submarine I had seen. Instead, it wriggled through the water like an eel, like a giant (presumably) killer eel. I immediately wanted to turn and run, but I had very strong doubts that I could get away. For one, it was much faster than me. And two, I was the visitor here, down under the water, this was its home. Really, my only chance of survival was to hide. But where to hide? There were no trees or bushes down here to hide in. No caves or giant corral reefs. I was out here in the open with nowhere to go.

I dropped to the seafloor and tried to bury myself underneath the sand. I’d seen fish do it in documentaries, why couldn’t it work for me? Because I was bigger than most fish and my hands weren’t made for digging, for starters, but I kept trying anyway. I was pretty much out of other options.

The giant eel was upon me before I had even made a dent on the seafloor. Its mouth opened wide, more than large enough to fit me inside. But just as it started to strike, I leapt out of its path and began swimming as hard as I could. The giant mouth went right by me, but it sent me spinning around in its wake.

By the time, I righted myself, the eel was already twisting its head back toward me. I knew that this time I wasn’t going to escape. I could see its sharp fangs glint in the light provided by the rebreather as it struck. I could see down the dark chasm that was its throat as I went falling into it. It swallowed me whole and I went bouncing down its gullet.

to be continued…

The Rescue Mission Hits a Bit of a Snag

Having gotten Tam on board, I turned to the Sheriff. “If you and your deputies are too tired to come, they don’t have to. We’ve got this.”

“Whether it’s Gnomenasher or your friends,” the Sheriff replied, “we’re in as well. We came to help get you home. We’re not quitting now.”

“Well, I’m not going,” Haf said, putting a damper on our growing mood of unity,

“Oh, thanks,” Pem grumbled. “You know one of us is going to have to go with them until they’re out of here.”

“You’d rather deal with the LeechVine that doesn’t realize its people now? Because if you would…”

“No,” Pem stopped her there. “I’ll deal with the bipeds. You can have the leechvine all to yourself.”

Haf gave him an insincere smile. “You’re so kind.”

With that resolved, Pem led us down to the garage where we piled into what resembled a hovercraft if it had been designed to work underwater. There was no top, only a windshield, presumably to protect us from drag, except in this case the drag would be coming from water not wind. So I guess that makes it a watershield.

After we all piled into the craft, we sailed off into the ocean. It was a bit of a new experience for me, driving around under the sea without a roof over my head. But as far as strangeness goes, it really barely registered compared to the rest of the trip. I was driving out to save a giant gerbil with a bunch of trolls and a surly time-traveler.

“We’re coming up on the location of the blip,” Pem said as he slowed the seacraft down. “We’re going to have to be very careful. We don’t know what’s waiting us, but I’m getting a lot of activity up ahead. So be prepared for anything.”

And that’s when tentacles shot out of the ground and began trying to grab us. They were everywhere! It was like a forest of them. For a second, I began to fear that leechvine had returned. I didn’t want to be caught by that thing again. That was until I saw what it really was and then I reconsidered. It was a giant squid creature. It’s central body was several times bigger than our craft and it had over a dozen massive limbs.

Pem was able to keep us from its grasp but he couldn’t avoid the limbs altogether. We were struck hard by one of them and the craft went tumbling. We had no choice but to scatter and abandon our transport. Some of managed to get free of the vehicle with greater ease than others. Pem and Tam got away fine with almost no difficulty. But the trolls, however, had a much more difficult time. They became easy prey for the monster. It wrapped them up in its tentacles one after the other and I seemed destined to join them. But as a gigantic tentacle reached for me, and escape seemed unlikely, the giant squid suddenly began to convulse. The squid’s tentacles began to flail about randomly. Unfortunately, randomly flailing tentacles were still fairly dangerous to us all.

I was tossed back and forth by the surging waters, thrown upside down and all around. And just when it seemed to be at its worse. The squid exploded and I was thrown back through the waters with incredible force. If we had been on land, I would’ve smashed headlong into a wall or a cave or just slammed into the ground, but since we were in the ocean, I was slowed down by the water that pressed back against me. For the most part, it left me confused and mildly bruises, which was much preferred to broken legs and mildly concussed.

After righting myself, I swam back to the others. “What the hell just happened?”

“That was clearly a Lowardian borderbot,” Pem replied, “but I have no idea why it malfunctioned like that. They’re usually much better made.”

“It was made fairly well,” Tam said. “For primatives. But they completely slacked on their hackingware. I was able to override it easily. I slipped into its CPU, rearranged its mission statement, randomized its targeting systems, and greatly overclocked its OS. Piece of Cake.”

“Huh?” Crag grunted.

“They made it explode,” I explained.

“You couldn’t have done that before we lost our transport?” Pem grumbled, unhappily.

“Maybe you should build better transports,” Tam retorted.

“We have better transports! But I don’t get to check them out just so I can taxi landpeople around.”

“Fair enough,” I said, cutting in before they got into a fight, “but we can still follow the signal, right?”

“Yes, we can follow the signal,” Tam said. “I don’t need any of the Merapolian technology to track the ‘exotic particles’. I’m not even sure why we even needed this merapolian in the first place.”

“Because this is their home. He knows things about this world that we don’t.”

Tam glared at me, presumably unhappy that I had actually had a semi-valid answer. “That didn’t save us from that giant mechanical cephalopod, did it?”

“I had hoped that we’d be able to avoid the borderbot,” Pem said to his own defense, “since we were not in an attack vessel. But apparently the size of our vessel was not seen as little of a threat as I had hoped.”

“Never underestimate what mayhem one can get up to, no matter the size of their vessel,” Tam said, straight-faced.

“But can we still get there?” the Sheriff asked. “We need to save Gnomenasher. He’s counting on us.”

“The Giant Gerbil?” Tam snickered.

“Yes. The Giant Gerbil.”

“No offense, Sheriff, but I don’t think the gerbil has any idea we’re coming to rescue it.”

“It doesn’t matter if he knows or not,” I said, once again trying to keep Tam from instigating a fight. “What matters is that he needs us and that we’ll be there whenever he does.”

“That’s all well and good,” Pem said. “But how are we going to get there to save him? We don’t have a transport.”

“We swim,” I said.

“What about the traps they have laid out for us?”

“Avoiding ones like this shouldn’t be a problem,” Tam said. “Now that I know what to be on the lookout for.”

“And traps that are not like this?” Domoban asked.

“We’ll all just have to do our best to avoid those, won’t we?”

to be continued…

In Search of a Giant Gerbil

“No way?” Haf laughed. “Really?”

The Sheriff glared at her. “Yes, really. Not only do we care greatly for him. But Gnomenasher is also a magic finder. He can sniff out a drop of magic miles away. We’ll never be able to find the portal without him. The portal is invisible and over open water. There are no landmarks. Without Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck here forever!”

“Well, no one wants that,” the merwoman said. She seemed to think this was a joke, but no one else was laughing. “But if he is a airbreather like you, then I don’t know what to tell you. It must be too late for him by now.”

“She does have a point,” I said. “We lost contact with him when we were on the island. The island’s gone now. I think we may have lost him for good.”

The trolls were quiet for a few moments, then the Sheriff said through gritted teeth, “Fine. If there’s nothing we can do about it, then there’s nothing we can do. But that still leaves the problem of getting home. Without Gnomenasher, how are we going to find the portal home?”

“We should be able to find your portal no problem,” Haf said.

“We can?” Pem asked.

“Sure. We just use our satellites to search for exotic matter.”

“Assuming that the portals are always open,” I said, “as I guess we hope they are, they should be expelling some form of matter at all times. Even if they’re just on the subatomic level, something should be coming out, like an accretion disc on a black hole.”

“Whatever that means,” the Sheriff said. “But will it work?”

“I don’t know,” Pem replied, “but it’s certainly worth a shot.”

We all swam off to their communications laboratory where dozens of other merpeople were working. As we made our way toward the lab, I took in the city around us. It was strange seeing all these mermen and merwomen and merchildren just living their lives. They were strange and exotic to me, but here I was the strange one. Though, to be honest, I think they found the trolls even stranger than they did me.

When we reached the lab, Pem swam right up to the machine and moved a few columns about. The crystal display bursted into life. “That should do it.”

“This is us,” Haf said, pointing at one of the dots on the display. “So presumably that is you. This one is near where we found you, so that must be the portal.”

“Wait,” I said. “That’s us. That’s the portal. Then what,” I said pointing to the third dot on the screen, “is this one?”

“That’s…” Haf started, but came up short. She looked closer at the screen. “I don’t know what that is.”

Pem moved closer so he could see. “Whatever it is, it’s on the move.”

“Where’s it going?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t help with the where it’s going,” Tam said. “But it certainly looks like where it was coming from, is right around here.”

“Something else came through the portal?” Pem asked, sounding concerned. “What other creatures could you have unleashed on our unsuspecting world?”

“No one,” the Sheriff said. “We left people by the portal, but they would have never come through without my command.”

“That’s what you say.”

“It’s the truth.”

“If not some other weird creature from your world, then what could that thing be?”

“You misunderstand me,” the Sheriff said. “I think a weird creature from our world is exactly what this thing is.”

“Excuse me?” Pem said, confused.

“You see, I think this creature is Gnomenasher.”

“Your magicfinding giant gerbil?” Tam asked


“That’s incredibly unlikely,” Pem said. “It is highly improbable that your ‘gerbil’ could have survived in this environment. Judging by the rest of you, it’s most likely he’s also a land dweller and unable to breath water.”

The Sheriff countered simply with, “It’s him.”

“I think it’s worth a look,” I said.

“Oh, come on,” Tam countered. “We’re not going to waste time because a blip could be a gerbil, are we?”

“Tam, we need to the gerbil to find the portal.”

“Are you kidding me?” They pointed at the screen. “The portal’s right there!”

“Ok,” I relented, seeing that that wasn’t getting us anywhere. “How about we do it because Gnomenasher is important to them.”

“You know what should be important to them,” Tam replied. “Living to see another day. Having other days for them to live to see.”

“Fine. Fair enough. But what if that blip isn’t Gnomenasher? What if it’s Kink? Or Wu? Or G’fon? Shouldn’t we go looking for them?”

“It’s not G’fon or Kink or your friend, Lu Wu,” Tam replied, growing frustrated with me.

“How can you know that? You were sent here. Why not them?”

“Yes, I was sent here by those mysterious cloaked figures, but you were not. We weren’t all sent to the same world. Whatever those hooded figures were, they wanted us to be scattered across the omnibrane.”

“Maybe. But you have to admit there’s a possibility that that is a friend.”

Tam glared at me, then sighed. “Fine…there’s a possibility.”

“So we’re agreed. We’re going to go find out who that is and we’re going to save them.”

“Unless that someone turns out to be something horrible that wants to kill us,” Tam said. “And then we will all die.”

“We just escaped from something horrible that wanted to kill us. We want to go back to something horrible that wants to kill us. When isn’t there something horrible that wants to kill us? That’s the life we live. We might as well try to save someone while we’re at it.”

“You win, Frank. We’re going to go risk our lives and the future of the omnibrane for some stupid gerbil. Let’s just do it already.”

to be continued…

That Girl was a Monster, That Monster was an Island

“Ok,” Pem said. “Who is she?”

“It’s the island,” I proclaimed, pointing at the madwoman on the other side of the glass. “It’s the tendril monster!”

“What?” Tam asked. “How does that make any sense?”

“The tendril monster’s main form of offense is to entangle its prey in its tendrils and to feed on their life-force, correct?”

“To oversimplify things,” the merwoman said, “Yes.”

“But because of my accident, long story, I’m filled with unstable quantum energy. So when the tendrils were feeding on me, they were really feeding on that. That’s why I’m awake when most of the others are not.”

“Your point?” the merwoman asked.

“My point is, you see, when the instability builds up to a certain degree I have to drain it.”

“And when I drain the instability it has an effect on my body.”

“What effect?”

“My body changes…into another body. So when we were in trouble and things looked bleak, I went on the assumption that it had absorbed enough of my instability. And I used my pocket stabilizer on the creature. Soon after the island collapsed, so I’m thinking now it must have worked.”

“I’m sorry,” Crag said. “What does whatever you just said have to do with the island collapsing?”

“The island was the tentacle monster,” I tried to explain. “The island wasn’t actually a real island, it was just a disguise to trap us.”

“It’s true,” the merwoman, whose name I really should have known by now, but she never introduced herself, said. “The Giant Leechvine is known for disguising itself with a lure like a tropical island to capture land animals to eat.”

“That monster was the entire island?” Crag asked.

“Yes,” I told him, “so when I used my stabilizer on the monster it changed. And when the monster changed, it must’ve changed into something smaller, meaning that there was nothing holding the island together.”

“Leaving a lot of empty space,” Tam said. “So the island collapsed.”

“Yes,” I said, happy that someone else got it. “The island collapsed. When the monster became a smaller creature, its disguise, all the island accoutrements that it was using to hide itself, fell in on themselves.”

“Fell right on top of us,” Tam added.

“Yes. Maybe it turned out that wasn’t the best strategy. But, hey, here we are. Still alive.”

“So, that thing in there…?” Crag asked, looking through the observation window.

“Is the monster, Yes.”

“The Giant Leechvine,” the merwoman corrected.

“So the monster was an entire island and is now that person in there?”

“That’s how I understand it, Crag.”

“Ok,” Tam said. “So now what are we going to do with it?”

“Leave it here,” I said.

“With us?” the merwoman asked. She clearly was not happy with that answer.

“You have a facility that it’s already locked up in. Leaving it here seems like the wisest move.”

“And you and your friends just wander off taking none of the responsibility?”

“What else do you want us to do?” I asked. “Take it with us?”

“No,” Pem said. “This creature is going to bear some observation. It needs to be studied before we can consider releasing it.”

“You would, wouldn’t you?” The merwoman glared at him.

“Yes, Haf. I would. Sometimes science is the best solution. Even you have to admit that.”

“Fine.” She did a complicated thing with her arms that might have been a shrug. “We’ll take your monster…for science.”

“Thank you,” Tam said. “Then we should be leaving.”

“We can’t leave without the others,” I told them, thinking of the Sheriff and his other deputies.

“We have responsibilities, Frank. We have a mission to complete. Enemies to vanquish. And since Lu, G’fon, and Kink aren’t here. I assume we have to go and save them, as well.”

“I know we have responsibilities, Tam,” I told them, “but I have a responsibility to these people, as well. They risked their lives to help me find you. They didn’t have to, but they volunteered. I owe it to them to get them back safely.”

“Fine,” Tam said. “We’ll return them to wherever you found them and then we will go off to find the others.”

We left the transformed Leechvine and were brought into a small room. The water was drained and food was brought. It was all raw fish and seaweed. Nothing was cooked. Everything was a little too slimy. Tam didn’t seem to mind. As we ate, the others were brought in. First Toleuk and then the Sheriff and then finally the other deputies.

“Now that you are all together,” Haf said. “you can head out.”

“But we’re not altogether,” the Sheriff said. “We’re missing Gnomenasher.”

“Gnomenasher?” Tam asked.

A giant gerbil,” I replied. “Don’t ask.”

“This is all of you that we found,” Pem said. “There’s no one else.”

“But we need him.”

“What’s so important about this creature?”

“Without Gnomenasher there’s no way we can find our way home!”

to be continued…

Drown Your Troubles?

“Drown your friend?” the other merperson repeated. “Why would we do that?”

“Because you’re crazy!” I yelled at her, frantic over having to watch Tam drown on the other side of this glass. “Because you said they were a problem!”

“We’re not drowning anyone. Relax. We’re just filling up the room so that we can safely open the door.”

I wasn’t buying her act. “You don’t need to fill the room all the way just to open the door! Look at them, Tam doesn’t even have a rebreather on!” The water had nearly reached neck height, soon Tam wouldn’t be able to stay above the waterline! However, there was still a couple feet of air left in the room, we could still save them. But for some reason instead of taking advantage of the last couple of breathes of air, Tam dropped down into the water. Did they not see us? Did they not know me and Crag were out here fighting for their life? “Hold on, Tam!” I yelled, banging on the glass, trying to make them see that we were here, that they weren’t alone. “We’ll save you!”

Crag moved to help me get past the merpeople. He wasn’t very agile in the water, but he was large.

“What are you doing?!?” Pem demanded, as Crag pushed him back..

“Trying to save my friend!” I yelled, moving toward the controls.

“Save them? But they’re fine! Look! Look inside!”

I turned to see that the entire room was now filled with water and Tam was floating in the center of it, motionless. They was dea…no, wait…They were moving now. They turned their head toward us and strangely seemed to be in no hurry. They was surrounded by water, no air anywhere, but they didn’t seem to be having any trouble. Was they…ok? Tam looked right at me and signaled for us to wait. The door opened and they then swam out to join us.

“You don’t have a rebreather on,” I said, uncomprehending.

“Why would I need a rebreather?” Tam asked. “This body was designed to survive in the vacuum of space. A little water’s not going to be a problem for it.”

“Oh,” I said. It was the best I could do. Crag seemed even more dumbfounded. I looked at the merpeople with a look of apology. Then I turned back to Tam. “It’s just when I saw you in there with the water rising, I thought you were in trouble. Pem told me that one of us was being a problem, so when I…”

Tam looked offended. “So you thought it was me?”

“It looked like they were trying to drown you! What was I supposed to think?”

“You would think we would drown someone?” Pem gasped.

I could see there wasn’t really an answer that could get me out of this. I knew the only recurse I had was to change the subject and change it quickly. “Ok, if not Tam, then who is causing you guys trouble?”

“That’s not a bad idea,” the merwoman said. “We should take them to her.”

“Her?” I asked, thinking of Toleuk, the only woman currently in our group. If something was wrong with Toleuk, we had to see her immediately. I was fairly sure that she could be drowned. “Yes, take us to her right away.”

“Come on,” Pem said, leading us down the hall. At the end of the hall was another room, but it was not Toleuk on the other side of that window.

“I have no idea who that is,” I said, honestly.

“You have no idea?” Pem asked me and then the others. “We found her with your people. When we tried to save her, she attacked us.”

“She’s not one of us,” Crag confirmed. “The rest of our team were Trolls like me. Frank was the only, uh, whatiscalled…human among us.”

“And Tam,” I added. “Who we came here to rescue. But that person…I mean, no offense, but she looks like one of you.”

“Like one of us?” the merwoman laughed. “Are you joking? Look at her dorsal fin, her coloring, her strange face.”

I didn’t know about the other things, but I had to admit that upon closer inspection the face did look a bit different than the other merpeople I’d seen, more human, less fishy. Still, as far as I was concerned that didn’t change anything. “She’s not one of us,” I told them.

“She was with you,” Pem reiterated, “attacked the people who tried to save her.”

“Ok, I still don’t know who she is.”

“If you don’t know her, then what was she doing with you then?”

I didn’t like his accusatory tone, even through the distortions of the water, as if I was to blame. “I don’t know what she was doing there with us. I didn’t see her there. I was too busy having rocks fall on my head and trying not to drown.”

“Well, you nearly failed at both of those things,” the merwoman retorted, sourly. “If we hadn’t saved you, you’d be dead, so sink the attitude.”

I tried to take a deep breath with the rebreather on and it mostly worked, creating some large air bubbles in the process. “Right. Sorry.” To hide my embarrassment, I turned to the woman again on the other side of the window. I watched her as she thrashed about frantically.

“She’s like a madwoman,” Crag said. “Are we sure she’s not possessed by a demon?”

The merpeople exchanged a glance. “Is he serious?”

Tam shrugged. “I think it’s highly unlikely that this is some kind of possession, but then again, I’ve seen much weirder things.”

The woman’s limbs moved as if they had minds of their own. Each finger moved wildly, as if the woman didn’t understand how they worked. But there was something else, the way her limbs moved, almost…almost…almost as if she were…trying…trying to eat through her fingers? Why would she be tr…And then it suddenly all made sense to me. “I know who she is! I know what she is!”

to be continued…

The Island Becomes Quantumly Unstable

“What?” Tam shouted back as they tried to dodge tendrils. “You know how to beat them? Then what are you doing standing there like an idiot? Do it already!”

“Right,” I said before reaching into my back pocket for my travel instability extractor. I pulled it out and extended it. Then I slammed it hard into the closest tendril I could find. I pressed down on the bottom and instantly the tendril began to glow!

I watched as the glow spread down the tendril. Then the other ones began to glow. Soon the entire room was lit up by the glowing tendrils. “Frank,” Crag yelled. “What the hell is going on?”

“It’s ok,” I told him. “This is supposed to happen. I’m stabilizing the instability. This should give us a chance to escape.” But then, as if to defy my comment, then tendrils began to thrash wildly.

Oh, right. Here comes the painful part.

As the tendrils convulsed, we did our best to avoid them, but our best turned out not to be so good. The trolls especially took a beating. Tam and I who were a good deal smaller than them, managed slightly better. But then the brightness got too bright. Covering our eyes wasn’t enough, we had to squeeze them to keep from being blinded by the light. And that still wasn’t enough. Dodging became impossible. All that was left for us to do was curl into little balls trying to block all the light we could and hope for the best.

Then the shaking stopped and I realized that the light was gone. I started to open my eyes. I could hear the others start to make relieved sounds. As I blinked away the leftover spots in my eyes, I began to look around. There were no tendrils in sight. None. They had completely disappeared. We had won! It was over! The monster was g…

And then, just as we began to feel happy in our seeming victory, the island began to collapse underneath us.

The ground beneath our feet was caving in right under our feet. We had to run as fast as we could, but every one of was so worn down. We couldn’t escape the collapse. Even if we had had the energy it might have been impossible, but in this state we barely managed to put up much effort. Almost as one, we all fell down into the hole beneath us. I was expecting to hit rocks and be crushed from the avalanche coming down from above, but there was no floor. We fell for several feet and then hit water, smacking into it hard and with great surprise. It hurt when we hit it but at least it wasn’t rocks, I told myself.

Though there was no hard floor, that didn’t mean the ceiling still wasn’t falling on us. There was no way to go up and most of us were too tired to swim, so we sank. We sank further and further under the water. We did our best to stay away from the falling rocks, but we could only do so well in the slowness of the water.

I lost track of the others quickly. It became increasingly dark. And everywhere I looked there were rocks. I had no choice but to swim down away from them. And as I got deeper any source of light got further away. But then air started to become a problem, specifically my lack of it. I could feel the need for more start to grow in my chest.

Except going up wasn’t an option. Up were rocks and those rocks were coming down. So I was forced lower and lower, away from my next breath. I could feel my lungs starting to burn with the need for more oxygen. I tried to swim around them. I couldn’t worry about the others, wherever they were. I couldn’t save them and myself. And saving myself was looking to become my abilities. The only light that remained down where was Tam’s and it was growing dim.

I had no choice. I had to go. Me dying wouldn’t save anyone else. I tried to swim up, but there really was no way past the rocks. So around it would have to be. I swam down and out, but I couldn’t swim fast enough. I had gotten too close to the rocks. They were coming down too quickly and I couldn’t get away from them. Down I went again to try to get around them, but I was too slow. I couldn’t get past them.

This seemed to be the end for us. We escaped dying at the hands of a giant lifesucking tendril monster only to drown when it collapsed in on itself. The monster had pushed us to the limit and now here we were being pushed past that limit by water and falling rocks.

But I couldn’t give up. I knew I was going to lose, but I had to keep trying. I had to keep trying to get around these rocks. I had to keep trying to get back to the surface. I had to keep trying to help my friends and I had to keep trying to get back home. I couldn’t give up even as the entire island fell in on us, pushing us down into the bottom of the ocean.

But as I swam with all my remaining strength, my lungs continued to sear in my chest. I couldn’t keep from thinking that this was the end.

And then I saw a light.

At first, I thought it was Tam, but the light was not red and hadn’t they fallen in the other direction? The light was coming toward us and it was getting brighter. It distracted me enough to slow my swimming and get hit by a falling rock. The little air I had left in my lungs was knocked out of it. I watched with terror as bubbles escaped from my lips. I tried to push off of the rocks, but it was pushing me down too fast. I couldn’t escape it! This was going to be the end.

And then the bright light was upon me. I could feel something grab me. Something hard and unyielding wrapping around my waist. I could feel it pull on me into its bright light. And that was the last thing I saw before everything went black.

to be continued…