My name is Lori Lemaris. I am a morgen Dagonite living in the mouth of the South Depthward Run. It’s one of the small underground rivers that runs beneath Domina City. Our Tridents deal with the fey, but I’ve surfaced once or twice to talk to cityfolk. Met enough of them to know that I wanted to be involved in the fight to save the city from invaders. It’s what separates us from the Atlanteans, who just sit on the ocean floor all day. Or even the Rahabs, who killed anyone and everyone who got too close.
The Dagonites also killed anyone who got too close, but we did it with style.
I swam through the depths. My mermaid tail gave me more than enough acceleration to outpace the Dagonites who were still using boring old human legs. I glanced up towards the surface, wincing at the light, but saw what I needed: The shadows of the surviving American ships.
I turned my gaze lower, to the deeper and darker waters where broken pieces of ships and lifeboats were raining down. The merrow would be living like kings from the salvage for months, if not years.
But I wasn’t interested in the salvage. Or even in the sailors, struggling against the Dagonites pulling them down to the depths. My job was a different one, but still important. I swam upwards, towards the surface and that distant ship. I kept my nighteyes squeezed shut so that the light didn’t blind me.
There was a distinct rush of water and air that could only come from one thing—a torpedo launch. I opened my eyes, squinting and trying to locate the weapon. That was the game here. I had to find it before it found any of us.
There. Wasn’t that hard. It was speeding away from me, down deeper towards the floor of White-Cap Bay. It might even be aimed at one of the Atlantean cities. They would be easier for the ships to target than individual Dagonites.
I was tempted to just let it hit them, teach them a lesson about banding together in a crisis, but I knew I couldn’t. The Atlanteans weren’t bad people, they just stayed underwater all the time. It wasn’t hard to understand their insistence that this war had nothing to do with them. Who cared what some kemo did? Most of them didn’t even know what Soaring Eagle had done, why she’d brought warships to the city.
I sighed, bubbles rushing out of my mouth, and tapped the band on my wrist. It was strapped tight and as flush with my scales as possible, to cut down on water resistance. “This is Lemaris,” I said, more bubbles escaping as I did. “Torpedo heading depthward in sector SG-009. Seems to be heading straight down, maybe for Tolkien itself.”
“Copy that,” a voice said over the radio. It was high-pitched to carry better through the water, though my ears were used to it. “We’ve got a team on the way. Keep an eye out for more. We think they should be running low.”
I glanced up at the shadow above me, a massive dark shape on the otherwise glittering surface. “Any luck getting bombs on the ship?”
“Negative.” There was a pause. “Lori, don’t you dare do anything stupid.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” I said. And I really wasn’t. I had better things to do with my day than try to sink a ship by myself. I wasn’t a boat-killer or anything of the sort. I was just a whale-watcher, and that was my role in this fight.
But it was still annoying that this ship and a few others had managed to get lucky and drive us off. When ships started sinking across the Bay, this one had launched a torpedo. It took out half the demolition team and scared off the rest. Now, the crew was prepared for most of their tricks. That was why they were still afloat and raining artillery on Domina City.
They were prepared for most of our tricks. Not all.
“Control, this is Lemaris. I have a stupid idea.”
Control jumped on me instantly. “Lori, don’t you dare—”
I shut him off by tuning to a different channel. “MC?”
“Yes?” her tinny, fake voice came over the line. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“About how many enemy soldiers would be on the ship above me?”
“The USS Huron boasts a crew of sixty seven, along with a marine complement of fifty.”
“Do you know how many of them are still onboard?”
“I’m sorry, I do not have that data. I can, however, tell you that the ship left New York City harbor on time. Nothing was reported as having gone wrong.”
Okay, so they left with the full complement. We hadn’t managed to pull more than a handful off the ship. That meant I could expect to fight nearly a hundred men at once. Hardly good odds.
I tuned my wrist-phone to the general channel. “This is Lemaris. Requesting all shifters in sector SG-009 meet me below the ship. We’re going fishing.”
I heard a few chuckles and cries of appreciation over the general channel. Control soon drowned them all out, yelling about how he’d court martial me and everyone I’d ever met. Of course, I wasn’t actually an official member of any military, so he couldn’t do much besides yell.
Within a few minutes, a few dozen Dagonites had swam up to meet me. Most of them were the more monstrous examples of our culture. Morgen and merrow, kappa and vodyanoy. Definitely no rusalka or vodnik.
I probably wasn’t the highest-ranking Dagonite in the pod. Salt and spear, I wasn’t even a razor, much less a Trident. But I was the one who called them, so all the shifters deferred to my authority.
“We’ll wait for the next torpedo,” I explained. My modified vocal cords let me speak at a high enough pitch to carry through the water. “That will give us a big enough window to finish this once and for all.”
The others nodded.
The torpedo came fast, and nearly slammed right through a kappa with claws the size of swords. But he got out of the way in time, and the torpedo continued on, before heading down at an oblique angle.
“Control, this is Lemaris. Torpedo heading depthward in sector SG-009. Seems to be heading towards SG-007, maybe the Coral Graves.”
“Lori, if you attack that ship, then I swear I am going to have you chopped up as ten-damned fish bait—”
I turned him off again. “All right, people! Everyone here is a shifter, right?” They all nodded. “Good! Let’s do this!”
I powered up towards the surface, beating my tail like mad with my arms held at my sides to gain maximum speed. Around me, the others swam as well, some faster and some slower, but all as fast as they could manage.
Then, all at once, we broke through.
Our speed brought us up, out of the water, arching over the ship itself, tumbling down onto the deck.
When Elizabeth Greene had infected the entire city with her song, she hadn’t forgotten the merfolk. The Atlantean cities were rigged with speakers to fill them with that damnable sound, and all the Rahab radios were hacked. Even the Dagonite nests and cubbies were seeded with those same speakers, installed over months so that no one noticed anything odd. Between them all, the waters within ten miles of Domina City had vibrated with the song, and every single one of us was infected.
Which meant, of course, that now we all had powers.
Shifters weren’t unique underwater, but we were more common under the waves. Even the simplest of merfolk toys was a huge investment in time and money, so it was unfeasible to just switch back and forth on a whim.
Powers were based on whatever the person wanted most. As it turned out, a lot of us wanted to be able to shift back to human form, if only for a few moments.
I concentrated, and felt myself envelop in black mist, the same as the other Dagonites flying with me. In a heartbeat, my scales were gone, my webbed fingers split, my shark teeth flattened. Even my black nighteyes, blinking and squinting in the light of day, were baseline again.
And most importantly, I had my legs back.
I landed, barefoot, on the slippery metal deck, my Dagonite loincloth barely covering me. All around me, the other Dagonites landed, some gracefully and some not. But they had time to recover, because the sailors and soldiers on the deck of the ship were too shocked to do anything but stare.
I grinned with my perfect white baseline teeth. The first few moments were always the most fun.
I pulled a spike out of my loincloth. It was nothing but a metal rod, about six inches long. It had been sharpened for spearing fish that happened to wander too close while I was swimming. It wasn’t any good against a prepared opponent.
These men weren’t prepared.
I stabbed the closest man. He was a soldier with a big bulky rifle that he was having trouble bringing around fast enough. I got him right in the gap between the plates of his plastic armor, and he went down like a sack of potatoes.
Another man raised his gun at me. Before he could pull the trigger, he was tackled by the merrow, who had managed to keep her fangs in the shift. She ripped his throat out with her teeth, spraying blood everywhere.
Someone was screaming, but I tried not to pay attention to it. It was like when hunting a pod of dolphins—all the angry clicking had to just be background noise. If you let it get to you, you’d hesitate, and hesitation equaled death.
I dove at another soldier, tackling him to the ground and stabbing him repeatedly with my spike. He was moving and rolling, trying to keep me from hitting anywhere vulnerable, and it was working. My spike kept glancing off his armor, not sinking in anywhere squishy.
I tried to bite at him, but my teeth had not survived the shift. You could do a lot of damage with human teeth if you knew what you were doing, but not if you were used to shark teeth. I was biting him in entirely the wrong way. Maybe if I—
My reservoir was depleting.
It was like an alarm went off in my head, warning me that I had only seconds left. I had trained myself to keep one part of my mind always watching my reservoir. I knew I would be beached if it went empty at the wrong moment.
I gave the soldier I was fighting one last punch before clambering off him. I ran for the side and leaped over the railing. Most of the other shifters jumped with me. Maybe it was because their own reservoirs were almost gone. Or maybe it was because they thought I was the leader and that they should follow me.
My reservoir emptied completely half a second before I hit the water.
Suddenly I had webbed fingers and a tail again, shark teeth and gills, scales and nighteyes. I took a deep breath of water, letting it filter through what they called the mermaid lungs. Once I felt comfortable again, I flipped over so that I could swim down while watching the boat on the surface. I saw shifters hitting the water and swimming down again, but I couldn’t count how many. A dozen? Two dozen? I should have counted them before we launched the attack in the first place. Should I go back and check to make sure everyone was okay? Should I go back to attack again? My reservoir wasn’t quite filled, but it was getting there.
“Lori!” my wrist chirped. “You there?”
I rolled my eyes. Should have known he’d find a workaround. He might have asked MC for help. “Yes, Control, I’m here. If you’re going to give me a lecture—”
“Are you off the boat?”
“What? Yes, I’m off the boat. Pretty sure everyone else is, too.”
“Good. Tell them to get away from it, fast.”
I frowned I confusion, before suddenly realizing what he meant. “Copy that.” I switched to the general channel. “All units at surface sector SG-009, withdraw from the ship. Repeat, withdraw. Put some distance behind you.”
There was a pause. Five seconds that felt like a thousand years.
Then, the explosions.
The first one hit the starboard bow. It blossomed like a yellow and orange flower underwater, before dying nearly instantly. Another five exploded along the length of the ship, one after another. They sent shockwaves out through the water strong enough that I could feel them even a hundred yards away. If I had been much closer, they would have knocked me around like a pinball, maybe even torn me apart.
Pieces of the ship were starting to rain down into the water, steaming scrap metal and shattered remnants of crates stored in the hold. There was a terrible groaning sound as what was left of the ship tried to hold itself together, but it wouldn’t last long. I could already see men jumping into the water, and there were a few lifeboats being hastily paddled away before the undertow could get them.
I raised my wrist to my mouth. “Plato’s eyes! Control, was that you?”
“I figured I may as well take advantage of your recklessness. You served as an excellent distraction while my boat-killers placed their bombs.”
I watched more Dagonites swarm up from the depths to attack the swimmers and lifeboats. I felt a pang of regret, but pushed it aside. They had made their choices. This was war. People died in war.
“Have any of the sailors been captured?”
Control sounded confused. “What, from that boat?”
“No, just in general. From all the sunken ships, how many captures have we had?”
“Uh, I dunno. I’ll have to check. Not quite my department. Why?”
I sighed. “No reason. Just curious.” I pulled the harpoon gun out of my loincloth. “I’m going hunting. See if we can get some live ones to talk to.”
This was war. People died in war, and expecting anything else was naive.
But that didn’t mean I had to kill indiscriminately.
Behind the Scenes (scene 286)
“SG” simply stands for “South Gate,” for the record.
Note from the future: The torpedo was originally heading for Critias, an Atlantean city nowhere near South Gate. I changed it to Tolkien, a Dagonite town built into the west side of the island. Makes far more sense this way.