Intro Music - Heartbeat of Creation by Justin Phillips
The Mermaid Life, by Patrick J. McCollum
Being a mermaid princess wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but it had its perks. Like when Amy transformed into one on her wedding day, she realized she’d never have to shave her legs again. Plus, the amount she was saving on soap and shampoo was phenomenal. Not that money would do her any good down here, the Merfolk denounced currency long ago and have no time for it anyway. Even her own husband, Prince of the Sea, had been called away on daeva duty thrice since last the baby slept (the only measure of time after her daughter was born, countless sleeps ago.)
A merman of his stature wasn’t supposed to be put on daeva patrol, but as usual, the Dry-lanteans controlling her new family’s sunken kingdom were never quite golden tongued. Giggling, she realized she had already adopted some of their strangest phrases; in other words, those toga wearing neo-human scumbags on the other side of that portal were not known to keep their word.
So, on top of directional dream guidance for a rotating schedule of human leaders across all earth-based eras, the soon-to-be Sea King must also debase himself into daeva form–or as she liked to call them, correctors– and swallow a human’s spirit if a dream gets way off track, or at the very least, swallow any evidence that could lead one to becoming lucid. Either way, it was people herding, and the so-called “True Atlanteans” should be ashamed of themselves for even considering it.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the hunky merman prince who had literally saved her from her own species’ enslavement, she’d be living that same stuck life she had lived forever, circling down the same Atlantean controlled turnpikes straight into the fated metaphysical bullpen. Not that the situation was much better here, but at least the Merfolk were higher up on the food chain.
Resting on a sponge-lined chaise by the baby’s crib, Amy hummed a familiar lullaby and stroked her daughter’s iridescent locks floating up in an aqueous lift. This pastel-rainbow hair was a trait of Aurora’s father; sometimes when his beard grew too long, it took on the same shimmering effect. Amy’s paternal contribution was not in hair color, (with hers as flaming red as the tempered fireballs she used to make,) but in natural style- her daughter’s growing hair was already taking on the same shape and volume of Amy’s lush mane. Her daughter… how strange it was to say… Not long ago, (though it also felt like forever,) the idea of having a child was completely foreign to her young ears. Now, looking around, she couldn’t imagine anything else.
The castle’s nursery appeared to be pulled straight out of a Versailles documentary, as if the golden sun palace itself had sunken along with Atlantis. She remembered being so fascinated by its uncanny resemblance upon arriving; later, her new husband clarified that the castle is different for anyone who enters, creating a space tailored to one’s internally biased preferences. She remarked that it sounded like some kind of metaphysical Holodeck, but he didn’t catch the reference, or sadly, any others related to classical pop culture. Oh well, he was handsome at least, not to mention a great dad and a responsive leader always trying to do right for his people. And it was kind of hot watching him make his princely decisions; when he postponed the invasion on Atlantis following her sage advice, they nearly made another baby after the celebration dinner.
The poor fishman had been in and out on daeva duty for what felt like forever, while also maintaining court in the castle’s highest tower– yet she still hoped he’d be back for the baby’s next swimming lessons. Aurora’s fins were growing strong, and soon the little gup would be circling laps around the coral castle with clam-bells on. She would have liked to say the baby was growing fast, but time was all wibbly and wobbly down here, not to mention a bit wimey on occasion.
Regardless, the quiet little newborn was no more, and it had become a revolving game of not waking the adorable infantile beast whenever gifted a short but heavenly unconscious respite. Swimming always put Aurora out like a light– long enough to tidy up the nursery, steal some well-earned sleep, study up on the local lore in the palace library, or practice portal-making with her mermaid tail. Indeed, that splendid little rest after swimming lessons was the unspoken highlight of her endless day.
Amy yawned, succumbing to an acute exhaustion following another healthy round of princess-sized fits and tantrums. Eyes closing, a dreamy mirage tugged her inwards; her greenish tailfin thumped the sofa in quick hypnic jerks. Then she thought she heard the baby cry– but alas, no, Aurora was sound asleep, blowing tiny bubbles from the crib. When Amy closed her eyes again, the forming image of a young tall guy (kind of cute but in a nerdy movie star sort of way,) smiled and reached out with a wispy hand. He looked very familiar, but she was too tired to remember, or care.
—That’s Clay, you dummy!
She shook awake with a gruffled “Huh!?”
The voice that had roared in her ears sounded like her own, yet at the same time, felt distinctly separate and with an airy texture. Kind of like how she used to sound, she imagined, back on land before she chose to live the rest of forever under the sea. Merely the cusp of a dream, she was sure; when her eyes closed again, she viewed an enchanting scene of old Atlantis on the other side: its mountainous hill (which no longer exists if following time’s proper flow,) throned by a golden pantheon at its highest peak; its colorful city reflecting the cheery palette of a bright new dawn; the empty streets buzzing with anticipation of an unpredictable morning. A beautiful sight, for sure, and she knew how much the merfolk missed it dearly–they’d do anything to be near it, even surrender to being their own kindred’s shadowy watchdogs (or puppets, depending on who you ask.)
Secretly, she had always wanted to explore this place and see what the Merfolk find so fascinating about their ancestral home, but to cross the portal uninvited could put her at the wrong end of a daeva’s mouth, and who knows what would happen with that. Best to stay here where she now belonged, relatively safe and with the baby to care for, despite its unending cylindrical hell-tantrums.
Drifting again, she pretended to walk down the bustling streets of grounded Atlantis, through the shopping district and up the white zig-zagging stairs to the shimmering gold temple atop the hill. It seemed as if she were talking to someone, a guy maybe, but the appearing dream still half-formed made it impossible to tell…
–I said that’s Clay! Geez, you’re stubborn!
—What? She thought back, unmoving, to avoid breaking from the trippy little hypnagogic scene. Who’s Clay? Then the image of her childhood imaginary friend– like a mix between Kermit and Barney the dinosaur to those familiar with cult-classical television– flashed in beside her, along with the memory of who this is and who he becomes. —Oh yeah, Bobidunk–I mean, Clay! Gee, I wonder how he’s been… I haven’t dreamed of him in… well, since I’ve been here.
–Oh, trust me, the voice rushed in —he’s still around. Can’t get rid of him sometimes. OW! Ok, I’ll ask her! I mean me. I’ll ask me. Us. Whatever…
—Hello? Mermaid Amy pushed back —God? Is that you?
–In your dreams! another voice chimed in (this one distinctly male) —OW!
—Hey, you asked me to do this, so lemme do it, will you?
—Mom? she tried again, and her tail flailed in earnest.
—Amy, listen to me, or to yourself, whatever. I’m just gonna jump straight to it, because I know you’re a little tough. You’re dreaming, ok? You’re still dreaming. I’m still dreaming. And I’m you, somehow. I know it’s weird, but just trust me. At some point I… I mean, you… or, maybe I do mean I… became lucid and broke off into this other dreamverse- OW! Ok, dreamline, whatever!
–No? Really? Look, we don’t have time to argue, the Merfolk have already invaded over here. We understand that they haven’t done it where you are…any idea why? Is there any way for us to fix this here?
–No you’re not dreaming? Or no, there’s no way to fix it?
–NO! Just, no.
–Look, I know it’s a lot to take it in, but come on! We can’t really be THAT stubborn! Listen to me– You were arguing with mom at the beginning of this dream, right? About marrying the hunky merman who lived in your bathtub? Well, mom’s dead, Amy! She’s been dead for years, you know that. Remember? She got the prototype Cognichip and it eventually glitched her out. We thought for years that it was our fault, because we were teenagers, and hurting, and caused that big fight. I know you don’t want to remember, but come on! People could get hurt over here!
–Well, let them! This Amy snapped back telepathically —serves them right! Do you know how long they’ve been enslaving their own descendants and most of humanity? And don’t even bother asking one of them, they’ll just tell you there’s no such thing as time!
–Their descendants? You mean the Merfolk? Why do you say that? Over here they believe your kingdom to be a simultaneous reflection of what came before them, like us humans, but in a timeless way, I guess. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense, saying it out loud… well, thinking out loud, or whatever. Anyway, this Atlantis is supposed to be the city restored…
–The hell it is! Mermaid Amy thought back, nearly punching the crib with a wayward fin. —Humans may have evolved into Atlanteans, but us Merfolk were supposed to be a new beginning after they destroyed their OWN city in their OWN stupid ignorance! But now it makes sense… no wonder they enslave us all, they think there’s still a way to steer their destiny! Ha! How ridiculous, wait until Posie hears about this. That’s our husband, by the way, if you even care.
–Wait, the hunky mer-prince I almost married is named Posie?
–It’s Poseidon, dummy! Though it makes sense– I didn’t consider asking his name until the wedding day. I guess I really just wanted to stick it to mom… But then if… if she’s dead… that would mean… that means…
–NO, WAIT! Don’t get lucid! Forget all that, can’t have you popping out of your dreamverse– OW! I mean, dreamline — not until you give me something to take back to stop this war. Please Amy, from one to another, you know I wouldn’t ask unless it’s important. If not for me, then for the baby. Is there anything we can do?
Against a mighty gust, the golden pantheon’s doors creaked open and Georgina emerged, followed by Clay in his flapping white toga and Amy sporting her princess Leia-themed attire: those scarlet red space-buns flopping over her ears; the sparkly silver toga jumpsuit keeping her fairly warm; and bracing the wind, her elbow-length lilac gloves carried a dinosaur egg-sized transference crystal to the hill’s edge. This they found in the neon city within the temple, said to be chipped from the same crystal they had used to spy on the other dreamline; when Amy had questioned how this could be possible if there is no such thing as time, Georgina answered “Because order is not time, darling,” and laughed with Clay about the silly human tendency to confuse the two. (In “True Atlantean” lore, it was well speculated that the glittering city comes after, with humans and merfolk coming before– timelessly, of course)
Below, correctors spilled out from whirlpool portals advancing through the city to the pantheon, rounding up groups of terrified Atlanteans like belittled livestock; luckily the whole invasion was practically frozen while they were gone, owing to the fact that the metropolis they visited exists within a super-vibrational void. Like a line of ants, six Atlanteans emerged from the castle in black hooded robes, brandishing slender crystal staffs that repelled the shadowy correctors long enough to march their way to the broken fire well; there they stopped and gathered around the fractured marble shark, chanting in low bleating tones.
“The council, ” said Georgina– beneath a mop of iridescent ringlets that bounced to the beat of her vibrant speech– “they’ll repair the well, then request the flame of truce. And if that doesn’t work, we’re in for way more than a tough battle… Most of the council still believe they can steer our own evolution, but without a truce they’ll turn to nastier tactics and try to cut out the entire Merfolk era altogether– make humans evolve directly into us: if humans never flood their world, they’ll never need fins, right? Yes, still too many of our generations remain who think this way, perhaps we’ll never learn… Come, darlings, we know what to do. Come now, Amy, and don’t drop the crystal egg!”
They all took flight as the council far below spun their staffs in synchronous counter-clockwise wheels, causing the shattered statue pieces to rise and connect. Amy was halfway to the fire well before realizing she never sprouted wings, which made her fall, but Clay advised to just focus on the destination and to think of nothing else but getting there. She did, and zoomed to it laser fast– or perhaps rushed forward in time to the point of landing, she wasn’t sure (and she sure wasn’t asking any of the locals.) Regardless, the shark was nearly rebuilt when Georgina landed delicately beside her; Clay skimmed a tree with his hand to slow the inevitable crash. Georgina called out–
“We seek Poseidon, King of the Sea!”
–But no one responded. The council members spun their staffs and chanted, and Amy tapped the little jewel on her smartwatch and said–
“Apex! Amplify my voice!”
Its typical motherly tone sounded a bit drab when it responded with–
[No, Amy, I won’t. I can’t do that, because I’m not real. You’re not real. Don’t you get it? We’re not really here. None of this is real. Nothing matters. I won’t amplify your voice because there’s no need to. There’s no need for anything, here. I’m not the real Apex, just like you aren’t the–]
“She still thinks you don’t have a brain implant,” said Clay, scrambling to his feet.
“I DON’T!” she yelled back, then tapped the jewel again– “I swear I’m reformatting this thing then I wake up! Ok, I’ll just have to do this myself… HEY! POSEIDON! POSIE!!”
One of the hooded council members stopped and raised his long staff to the sky, chanting something different than the others but in perfect melodious harmony. Beside them all, a portal opened, and through the foamy whirlpool she could see the hunky merman she had nearly married, sitting bare-chested and cross-armed on his coral throne.
“No one calls me Posie!” was his gruff command, then he leaned forward, “Wait, Amy? By Triton’s beard, it is you! But you left… with the baby. Amy, where’s the baby? Where is our son?”
“Oh, h-hey,” she said, with a nervous little wave. “No, no baby here… Wasn’t pregnant anymore when I got lucid, thank all that is holy… I-I mean, how are you?”
She was too distracted to notice when exactly the council members had halted, but without warning, the burliest of them reached out and grabbed Clay, pulling him into the hooded chanting circle who created a new haunting tune around them.
“CLAY!” Amy roared, “hey, let go of him!” Georgina pleaded too, trying to tug their robes, but couldn’t quite grasp anything.
“They’re going to offer him up in trade of the flame,” she told Amy, “quick, darling! Throw in the crystal and maybe I can stall them somehow–“
When the crystal egg sloshed through the portal’s wavering ripples, it floated directly to the Sea King and bobbed there before the coral throne, then the whirlpool crashed in on itself, closing off. The rest was up to her now. Well, the other her, of course.
“I-I can’t touch them,” Georgina called out behind her, and Amy turned to find Clay losing his will to struggle, enveloped within a warm beam of light shooting out from another portal. “Oh, I’m so sorry, darling. He truly was a good guide. If the Merfolk accept, they’ll send a prime Daeva to swallow him up. He’d be as good as gone after that… oh, you miserable council, this is all your fault! Leave the innocents alone!”
“Hey!” roared Amy, trying and failing to grasp one of the council’s elusive cloaks. “No one is swallowing my friend!” Then, quick as the bolt of inspiration dawning upon her, she ripped off one of her gloves and was finally able to grab ahold of one’s back– “You ignorant Atlanteans! Don’t you know anything about friends? We won’t give up on each other!”
Immediately, Clay slid to the ground, heaving; Amy let go and rushed over as the robed figures backed away and retreated to the castle in single file, while Georgina called out “Look!” pointing to the night-black robes where Amy had grabbed, slowly turning a familiar sparkly silver.
“That’ll teach them!” Amy shouted in their direction, then reached down to check on Clay who was slowly coming around. “You ok? No wonder they require gloves around here, I think I may have rubbed some intentions off on that council member, and maybe a touch of fashion style… Doesn’t seem to have stopped the invasion, though. Can you stand?”
He could, and even had enough energy restored to come back with–
“You’ve definitely got enough intention and style to go around. And look, I think you might be wrong!”
She turned to find all the correctors leaving their posts– hundreds of shadowy figures slithering across the dawn-painted city to meet at the castle– and like a tidal wave the portal reappeared within the gothic arched passthrough, a huge vertical puddle rippling as each retreating daeva passed through. All of Atlantis united in a chorus of relief.
Ringlets bouncing, Georgina clasped her hands together and congratulated her darlings for a job well done, yet Amy could only express her curiosity in what happened with her mermaid self and Poseidon. What did she do to change his mind? When a portal conveniently opened overhead and the crystal egg plopped into her unsuspecting hands, she prodded for a telepathic connection to the other Amy.
—Yeah, still here! Wow, your Posie is so easy to work. Piece of cake.
–Wait, what did you say to him? this Amy asked.
—Same thing I told mine: ‘Remember what the Atlanteans become. Forgive them, because they don’t know what they do.’ Worked like a charm!
–I don’t get it, but whatever works! So this war is over?
–For now. Though it doesn’t change much, our lore says it’s the silver monk who drowns the divine city. But I’ve never found who this silver monk is… have you seen one over there?
–Nope! Amy lied, and said goodbye forever to her other self, who planned to remain a mermaid until whatever adventure could be next. Clay leaned over to the egg and telepathically begged her not to forget about him, again.
—Hang on, Mermaid Amy said, and another portal opened beside the fire well, high up by the marbled shark’s gaping mouth. —Thanks for telling me I can still make fireballs. At least I’ll be able to keep warm when Posie is out on duty. And who knows, maybe there’s a version of Clay somewhere out there who will come visit, and catch up.
–I would love to, Clay beamed in. –I’ll come find you.
Her tail spinning in hypnotic harmony with the whirling portal, Mermaid Amy waved and sent a huge fireball–one larger than Amy herself had ever made–through to this side and it alighted delicately on the shark’s mouth, sparking a brand new flame of peace. (Well, peace amongst the merfolk and Atlanteans at least– if anything, the humans would surely be steered through their dreams with a firmer grip than ever.)
When the portal closed, Georgina thanked her darling duo profusely, to the beat of her vibrant, bouncing curls.
“It has never mattered to me who comes before or after,” she said, “we are together in this, darlings!”
She made them promise not to be strangers, and they agreed, though Amy had never been more ready to wake up, even while predicting a stressful day ahead at work with that egghead Bryan. Seriously, that man wouldn’t know a Cognichip from a tumor. But he was handsome at least–in fact, he looked a lot like Prince Poseidon the more she thought about it, if Poseidon had legs and wore wrinkled lab coats and mixed up data samples multiple times a day.
Taking Clay’s outstretched hand, they walked back to the castle and through the portal, then swam across the sunken kingdom and back to his ship in the garage built within a massive alcove. The house-sized moon was waiting patiently for them as ever, and they swam into one of its craters that opened upon approach. They both took their seats before the ridiculously large technicolor dashboard, then looked at each other and couldn’t stop laughing for minutes (or hours, if anyone was counting.)
“Oh, who knows,” he said, “could be thousands. Millions. A gazillion quadrillion– that’s a thing, right? Who knows, there could be so many that maybe some of them aren’t even called Amy. Maybe some aren’t even a red-hot headed female, like you are. There could be so many that at least one of them is dreaming about you right now, or maybe one is writing down adventures they’ve dreamed up for you, so others could read and dream about you themselves. Who knows how many Amys there are?”
“But I’m Amy,” she said, hiding her pout.
“I know,” he said, and the great big moon burst from the Atlantic ocean and found its natural position in the endless diamond sky. Just three dimensional-phases to the right, and he was able to zoom in on the giant screen above, straight to her apartment and then in front of her empty bed.
“‘Nother question,” she blurted when seeing this, “was this a dream or an out of body thing? You know, like those NDE’s, or whatever.”
“Are we seriously circling back around to this? Let me try it this way– you are dreaming, Amy. Period. What you call a ‘dream’ is not synonymous with ‘dreaming’. It’s but one of the types of experiences you can have, as many as there are Amys, perhaps even a dream so strange about a mysterious physical phenomenon.”
“A what, now?”
“Just go wake up,” he smirked, and led her out of the door and to her bed.
“Yeah, it’s time, I think,” she said, yawning. “Oh, I mean– oh, screw it. I believe in time and I don’t care who knows it!”
“You do that,” he said patting her back.
“I mean, I have no idea what the heck this dream was supposed to mean, but that was some crazy metaphorical sh–“
“–Shhhh!” he hushed, “your alarm’s going off.”
Groggily, she climbed into bed and disappeared in a poof of golden sparkles beneath a silky spread of Professor Zero sheets.
Clayton Gardner returned to his seat and pressed a few blue buttons. The blue ones were always safe, at least in this version of the ship; after such a crazy trip, safe sounded like heaven. But it was worth it, he had the information he went for, or at least enough to keep going.
Admittedly, the most surprising thing was that Amy’s brain implant was neither human nor Atlantean, and he agreed with Georgina that it was too sophisticated for Merfolk tech, given that the Merfolk aren’t really allowed time to develop.
“Allowed a chance to develop,” he corrected, with a very Amy-like eye-roll. “Geez, I’m starting to talk like her.”
That’s right, you are. And I appreciate it if you don’t respond to me directly, it kind of ruins the whole grand illusion thing I’ve been creating.
“Yes, oh mighty narrator.” he said, then cleared his throat. “I-I mean, hmmm… where should I go next?” He flipped an orange switch, just for fun. Oranges were usually a roll of the dice on outcome, but it was really the bubblegum pink ones to watch out for. Those were deceptively evil.
Up above, the giant screen faded away, and when a new image formed,
Outro music - Moon over Carcassonne by Justin Phillips
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