GM: It’s 1999. The smell of surf is thick in Kira’s nostrils as the boat cuts through the water, leaving a spray of white foam and steady chum-chum-chum sound in its wake. A chill November wind hungrily nips her cheeks and the edges of her thick jacket. The San Juan Islands and its marine research facility lay some 60 miles north of Seattle, but one would think there was no city anywhere for thousands.
Day passes into evening. Kira’s boyfriend Jace stares out over the sunset. He needed the lab credits, and between his pick of the scientific fields, figured he might as well learn more about the one his girlfriend was clearly into.
A buzzing sound from his pants interrupts the tranquility. “Hello? Oh hey Mom. Yeah, it’s been great. We’ve seen orcas and everything. I’ll take some pictures of the sunsets for you, they’re unbelievable.”
“Tomorrow we’re… uh-huh. Yeah, Kira’s here with me.”
Kira: Kira smiles, listening to Jace talk to his mother. There was something oddly charming about the way he never seemed to lose his patience with her calling at random just to chat. It was the same sort of way that his slightly crooked smile managed to look boyish and cute, and that one flop of brown hair that always fell into his eyes. Kira didn’t have that problem – she kept her long, wavy hair tied back on trips like these. Hers was brown too, only more reddish than Jace’s, and her eyes were a clear hazel. She glances back at Jace, a little smile coming over her lips – not chapped, she’d remembered her chapstick this time. “Hi momma Jace!” she says, almost shyly.
GM: Kira hears something indistinct come back from the cell phone. A look of utter disbelief strikes Jace’s face, then a growing blush. “Goodbye, Mother, I am hanging up now,” he states with exaggerated formality as he flips the phone shut. His face is noticeably red.
Kira: Kira starts laughing. Her laugh is rich and sincere, but not terribly loud. “What did she say?” she asks, poking Jace in the ribs. Not that he’d feel it much through that hideous windbreaker.
GM: Jace winces, though whether it’s at Kira’s poke or what his mother said is hard to tell. “She told me I should propose to you. Because it would be romantic over the water at sunset.” The red hue coloring his face deepens.
Kira: At that, Kira turns about the same red – it’s not just the wind whipping at her cheeks anymore. “Uh… well, she is right about that…” She tries to stifle her laughter, but Jace’s face…
GM: “She also said she… no. No, sorry, I shouldn’t even mention it.” Jace presses his palm against his face.
Kira: “Am I that repulsive?” she asks teasingly, biting her lower lip. Before Jace can answer the question, she raises an eyebrow. “Oh no, mister… not now that you started off like that. She also said what??”
GM: Jace takes a breath, massaging his temple. “She also says she put my grandma’s engagement ring in my backpack so I wouldn’t have to do it empty-handed. And then there was… something about grandkids.” His face is red enough to heat the boat for its entire journey back home.
Kira: At that, Kira bursts out laughing. “Oh my god! Seriously? We’re not even out of college yet!” She knew Jace’s mother was a bit… excited… about their relationship, but this was jumping the gun, wasn’t it?
GM: Jace chuckles weakly. “Yeah. I’m sorry, she can be… overeager. I’ve told her a million times, I’m not even going to think about marriage until I’m done with college.”
Kira: Kira leans a little closer to him and looks up at him through her black lashes. She bats them a few times, quickly, a little expression she gives him when she’s trying to lighten the mood. “Are you suuuuuure? What if you fall in looooove?” She grins, then looks out over the horizon for a moment, seeing which way the boat is bearing before she looks back at him. “You don’t have to apologize, you know. I like your mom.”
GM: “Just not her ideas. Unless you also liked the one about popping out her grandkids before graduating?”
Kira: She pushes him gently with the flat of her hand. “Ugh, don’t be nasty about it. I don’t want kids right now, if ever… I mean, god only knows how long I’ll be in school…” She shrugs. “I dunno, maybe I’ll change my mind when I’m pulling my hair out writing a dissertation.”
GM: Jace nods. “Well, we’re of two minds there. They wake you up bawling in the middle of the night when they’re young, they smoke and give you lip when they’re old… and that’s even before overpopulation. I dunno what gets my mom so excited.”
Kira: “You did, apparently,” Kira says, smirking. “I guess somehow all that screaming and smoking and smart-assing didn’t bother her too much, or else she’d’ve thrown you in the Sound by now. But I’m sure you were
never an aggravating child.”
GM: “I never smoked!” Jace mock-protests. “Can’t claim innocence from the smart-assing, but… seriously, slipping in my grandma’s engagement ring…? If I EVER have kids, that’s one thing I won’t put them through.”
Kira: Kira shakes her head. “She’s… determined, I’ll give her that much. But yeah, little much.” She glances up at Jace for a moment, squinting into the wind. It wasn’t too long ago that they’d been thinking about a break and decided against it.
GM: “Yeah. C’mon, let’s head belowdecks. It’s getting cold.”
GM: The next few days pass eventfully. Jace and the other class members on their boat excitedly snap pictures of the islands’ marine life.
Kira: Kira’s absolutely in heaven. The weather is good, the sea-life is friendly and photogenic, and she’s so close she can touch some of it. It’s quite plain that she’s in her element.
GM: “All right everyone, now here comes the really fun part,” announces Dr. Rivera, the visiting scientist from WSDE (Washington State Department of Ecology). The brown-haired, 40-something woman wears the thick jacket, gloves, and rubber boots ubiquitous to everyone on the trip. “Normally, when scientists tag seals, we use nets to haul in the entire pod like commericial fishers do. But this population’s already been tagged and they look pretty happy out there in the sun, don’t they?”
Kira: Kira perks up as Dr. Rivera speaks. She’d been paying rapt attention to the woman for the entire trip, partly because Dr. Rivera had like… her dream job. She tugs at the end of her long braid, narrowing her almond-shaped eyes slightly to squint out at the seals, and then look back at the biologist. She had no idea what was coming next.
GM: Meanwhile, the rest of the class vocally expresses their agreement over the seals’ apparent contentment.
“I thought so! It’s been a year since we last did this pod, though, and it’ll have some new pups now. So, I need some brave volunteers to pick their way through the seals and plant these,” the biologist holds up a numbered plastic tag, “on the sleeping pups. Do I have any takers?”
Kira: Kira raises her hand, standing on tiptoes. She was near the middle of the group, but she was short. She wanted to go
so badly… to be so close to them…
GM: The scientist smiles. “Girl in the middle with the braided hair, very good!” Other hands quickly shoot up, including Jace’s. “Guy in the back left, guy with the orange jacket, girls with the fur parkas… ok, that’s plenty.”
A dozen rubber boots crunch against sand and rocks as volunteers climb out of the lifeboat. The seals, however, continue to bask contentedly under the cold November sun. Kira can already spot a few pups snuggled up against their mothers as she scans the pod.
Kira: Kira could hardly contain herself as she climbs out of the boat, walking carefully so that she doesn’t disturb the rocks too much. “Oooh look at that one!” she says, pointing out the fattest little seal she sees, content snuggled against mom’s side.
GM: Dr. Rivera nods, smiling. “I don’t see a tag on it either. There’s your mark.”
Kira: Kira picks her way carefully over, scanning to make sure that none of the animals seem disturbed. Holding a tag in her hand, she creeps along, moving with slow, sure movements, trying just as hard to impress Dr. Rivera as she is trying to not get flopped on by an angry seal mommy.
GM: Seal mommy looks pretty out it, whiskers twitching in its sleep. Kira read in her textbook that meant it was in the REM stage… or was that with cats? The fat little pup snores loudly, a steady whz-whz-whz. It’s too young to have much in the way of its own whiskers yet.
Kira: Kira moves slowly up to it, the clip trembling in her hands. All of a sudden, up this close, it’s real. It’s her first chance to really do something like this, and that only makes the moment all the more important. “Hey there little guy…” she murmurs softly, moving around to the back. She’s not paying attention to anyone else in the class. She’s not paying attention to anything but the clamp and the flippers, the tiny little flippers in front of her. She squats slowly, leaning down to clamp the tag on.
GM: And just like that, the plastic tag’s on without a hitch. The seal’s skin feels slippery and wet under Kira’s hand. The pup snorts and tosses in its sleep, burrowing its face against its mother’s flank.
Her classmates aren’t as fortunate. Jace wakes up his seal, which grunts and rolls away from him. When he persists in trying to attach the tag, its mother idignantly smacks a flipper across his knees. Kira’s boyfriend yelps in surprise and falls flat on his ass. The seal haughtily ambles off with its young.
Kira: There’s a sudden rush, and a big grin comes over Kira’s face. She barely resists the urge to jump up and down, at least until she notices Jace get slapped by the seal. She crunches over to him to offer him a hand, her cupid’s bow lips an ‘o’ of surprise. “Shit, Jace, are you okay?”
GM: Jace laughs as he takes her hand. “Just a sandy behind. Guess I should stick to video games.”
The rest of the class isn’t having much better luck. The other boy chickens out after seeing what happened to Jace. The two girls laugh loudly at his cowardice, and in so doing, irritate their own seals enough into swimming off.
Dr. Rivera sighs. “Really, everyone? Is this girl the only one the seals don’t hate?”
In their defense, though, the cuddly, smiling animals don’t look capable of hate.
Kira: Kira beams with pride, but also flushes. She got enough shit about being the professor’s pet from some of her classmates- she didn’t want to it to start up again here. “Maybe I just got lucky.”
GM: “Either way, that’s all the untagged pups. Come on, everyone. Back to the boat.”
GM: “…so everything with your other classes is taken care of? You won’t fall behind on your coursework?” Kira’s mother Hannah asks over the hotel’s phone.
Kira: Kira sighs. “No, mom, I told you! I mean, this is like the most important thing as far as setting me up for the major, and I made sure my other professors would work with me…” It was still a little too early to tell if it was going to be one of THOSE talks.
GM: “And you doublechecked with each of the professors in person? Not all of them use the email accounts the school gives them.”
Kira: “Mom, I double-checked. You know, I DO actually go to class, and I had to get them to sign a form for this trip. It’s school-sanctioned, so they have to let me make up my work.” Okay, so she hadn’t actually checked with her lit professor.
GM: “Good. Your sister says hi, by the way. She’s still doing that internship at the Children’s Hospital, working retail, volunteering at the clinic, and maintaining a 4.0.” A man’s indistinct voice sounds. Kira’s mother snorts. “Your father thinks I should’ve just told you she’s still Supergirl.”
Kira: “Might as well have,” Kira responds, before she can even stop herself. Sometimes she got so damned sick and tired of hearing about her sister.
GM: “Your sister works hard, Kira, and I expect just as much from you. Now, schoolwork and Ling aside. How’s the voyage been? Have you seen any orcas?”
Kira: “Mom, really? I do work hard, but I don’t get internships until I’m actually like… last four semesters before graduation. I’m probably going to make Dean’s List this semester too.” Kira’s voice is quite clearly resentful. And she wasn’t going to make Dean’s List at all with that C in literature.
She pauses, and takes a deep breath. “Yeah… we saw some orcas.” She tries to let her anger simmer down. This wasn’t a competition, she found herself constantly telling herself that whenever her sister was brought up. “I got to tag a seal pup today… off the boat. It was amazing!”
GM: “Oh my. It just let you?”
Kira: “It was asleep next to its mother,” Kira says, her voice suddenly lighting with excitement as she describes the memory. “Everybody else’s seals pretty much ran off, but mine let me tag it nice and easy… didn’t even wake up.”
GM: “Sounds like you’re the one with the special touch. I’m glad you’ve had the chance to go on this trip, Kira. The ocean’s been your passion for as long as I can remember.”
Kira: “Aw, mom…” Kira blushes, suddenly ashamed of having shot her mouth off. “I… that really means a lot to me. And so does this trip. I know I’m doing the right thing.” Maybe it wasn’t law or nursing school. But it was
GM: “Any field that requires you to work hard and earn a PhD is hard to go wrong with, Kira. Anyways, you’ve got a big day tomorrow. Get some sleep, have a blast with the rest of the voyage, and know that I love you.”
Kira: “I love you too, mom,” Kira says, unable to keep the smile out of her voice as she hangs the phone back up in its cradle and tucks her calling card back into her purse.
GM: “…as I’ve said, you’re a promising student, Kira,” Dr. Rivera says as they stroll down the San Juan harbor. “Your professor’s had very good things to say about your work, but even just looking at how the others did in the field…. couldn’t even tag a seal without scaring the whole pod off. Almost makes me wonder if oceanography’s a dying career choice.”
Kira: Kira beams at the praise, but shakes her head. “No… I don’t think it is. But I do think it takes a special type of person to really make it into a passion and not just a career,” she says, brushing some of her hair out of her face. It was coming loose from its long braid, and the strands were kinked from being held that way most of the day.
GM: “Yes. That passion’s what makes all the difference. It’s wh… oh my goodness, don’t make any sudden movements, would you believe that’s an actual…” The scientist points at the water.
Kira: Kira stands on her tiptoes, looking where Dr. Rivera’s pointing. She tries to follow the line of her finger. “What is it…?” she breathes quietly.
GM: Kira suddenly feels Dr. Rivera’s body pressed against her back. A cloth soaked in something pungent-smelling clamps over her mouth and nose. Kira immediately begins to feel light-headed.
Kira: She barely has a chance to react, and her tiny body is not much of a match for even a larger woman. She’s dizzy, her eyes rolling back as the pungent scent soaks into her lungs.
GM: The older woman doesn’t seem to be a trained ninjitsu, but she has size, the element of surprise, and isn’t the one inhaling chemical fumes. Everything goes black.
GM: Kira wakes up. She’s on a boat, her legs and arms tightly duct-taped together. She can’t tell how far out they are. It’s night and far too pitch dark to see anything.
Dr. Rivera sits a few feet away, reading a book under flashlight.
Kira: “Wh…” Kira tries to get out, but her mouth feels like it’s full of cotton. She squints. That doesn’t make the details any clearer, and her head still feels fogged from… she suddenly remembers that quick feeling, the nauseating scent…
GM: The scientist looks up. “Ah, you’re awake. Sorry for the rough treatment. You’d think I was crazy if I said why I needed you here, though.”
Kira: Kira lets her head drop. “That sounds like you want me to ask you why.” Her tongue feels thick too, and her voice comes out slightly slurred.
GM: “No, actually, as you’ll get to see with your own eyes in a bit. It’s only a little while until midnight. The witching hour is the most efficacious time. Then or twilight, anyways.”
Kira: “What the fuck,” Kira mutters. It’s almost like she’s still knocked out, the way she’s hearing these things that make no sense.
GM: “It’s a concept present in mythologies throughout the world,” Dr. Rivera continues. “The significance of divides and barriers. Boundaries between one state of being and the next. They assist us in crossing our own boundaries.”
Kira: Earlier on the trip, Kira would have raptly listened to Dr. Rivera talked. Now, she’d give anything for her to shut the hell up. “If you’re gonna dump me overboard, can we just get it over with?” she says. She’s not entirely sure what makes her say something so stupidly brash, aside from the fact that… well, there’s not much she can do out here over the water, with no real clue where she is.
GM: “I suppose I’m not making much sense,” Dr. Rivera shrugs. “If you’re thirsty, I have Capri Sun.” She holds up a juice packet. “I’m not dumping you overboard, though. What on earth would be the point to that?”
Kira: She suddenly realizes just how thirsty she is, and sighs. “Yeah… I am thirsty…” She pauses, then looks towards Dr. Rivera with one eyebrow raised. “I have no idea what the point of being out here duct-taped up in a boat is, but here I am. Anything’s possible.”
GM: The scientist sticks a straw in the packet and holds it under Kira’s lips. “You’re more correct there than you realize. I worked for WSDE for twenty-some years. It’s amazing how much they don’t know about the ways our world works. How little a PhD prepares you for what’s out there.”
Kira: Kira sips from the juice packet eagerly. For a moment, she feels like a four-year-old being helped out by their mom, but she gets over that pretty fast, given how much clearer-headed having a little juice is making her feel. She struggles slightly, realizing now that her bonds are cutting off the circulation in her wrists just slightly enough for them to tingle. “Oh, that’s good news. Glad I’ve planned on wasting my time with one.”
GM: Dr. Rivera shakes her head. “No, that isn’t something you’re likely to do now.” She looks down at her watch. “Ah, time’s just about here. I need seven tears. Do you think you can make yourself cry?”
Kira: Kira looks at her like she’s just asked for a crack rock. “Make myself
cry? For what?!”
GM: “No time to explain, sorry. Can you or not?”
Kira: It would appear that she can… although not on purpose. It’s just the ridiculousness of the situation and the fear piling up together. She sniffles at first, then tears well over the rims of her eyes. She sure as hell doesn’t stop to count to seven, though.
GM: “Good, we won’t have to use red tears. Those never work as well.” Kira spots a gleaming surgical knife just a ways off. Dr. Rivera takes away the juice packet and holds Kira’s head over the boat’s edge, letting her tears fall into the inky black water below.
Kira: Hanging like this over that black water… it doesn’t matter how familiar the water is, Kira doesn’t dare move, doesn’t dare tempt her… apparent captor… to go back on her promise not to throw her in. She’s frozen like a rabbit who’s been spotted by a predator.
Plop. Kira can see her breath steaming in the cold.
Plop. Plop. Wetness against Kira’s cheek. It’s raining.
Kira: She shudders, and it only seems to make her cry harder – this helplessness is not something she’s used to. Not Kira, the woman who’s always been taught by both mother and father to control her own destiny.
GM: “Five… six…” Dr. Rivera’s breath is short.
Plop-plop. Dud-dud-dud-dud. The steady pattering of raindrops against the boat, against the ocean. Water trickles down Kira’s neck, soaks her hair. It’s raining hard.
“SEVEN!” Dr. Rivera yells.
Rumble. Black clouds circling overhead, playing catch with the moon, there one moment and gone the next. Mad shadows race formless inky black feet across the water. Dr. Rivera’s eyes are as bright as the night is dark. Her breath is hoarse and ragged.
Kira: Kira’s violently shivering in the rain, the whites of her eyes showing as they roll with fear, taking in the positively unnatural looking storm.
GM: The ocean explodes with a defeaning roar and spray of surf, like a land mine detonated underwater. The boat rocks and groans. A massive seal the size of a rhinocerous, the size of a fucking giraffe, imperiously stares down at the two humans. Its coat is the purest milk-white save for seven bloody red stains atop its head.
The thing lurches to its hind flippers, something that Kira’s biology textbook told her was anatomically impossible. Dr. Rivera falls to knees and prostrates herself, mouthing praises. “Great One… you’ve come… my life and soul are yours…”
Kira: It’s all Kira can do not to scream bloody murder. Her mouth makes the motions, but the only sound that comes out is a squeak… then another… another… Her long hair is matted down to her face, and all she can do is stare.
GM: The ambulatory seal shudders and sloughs off its skin with a wet slurch. ‘Red’ is Kira’s first impression of what lies underbeneath. The pink-red of sea kelp, spilling down slender shoulders in majestic waves. Glistening and wet, lazily rippling as if underwater, adorned with gleaming pearls and kelp strands from every color of the rainbow. The willowy figure wears her magnificent hair like a royal mantle, but otherwise stands unabashadly naked. Her perfect breasts rise and fall in exact concert with the ocean waves. Her unblemished skin is the color of white sand. Most remarkable of all, however, are the figure’s pitch-blue eyes. They contain no whites, no pupils, no irises. Just undiluted pools of total azure that someone could drown staring into.
Kira: Kira’s transfixed. “I… I… this can’t be real…” she whispers, her breath hoarse, even when she strains to make it louder to convince herself of the truth of her words.
GM: Dr. Rivera bows low. “Great One, I come bearing the most promising…”
The figure strokes Kira’s cheek, a sensation like lightning coursing through water. “Yes. This one’s hands are nimblest, her face fairest, her devotion truest.”
“A maiden procured, a promise kept, a bargain fulfilled. It may go as it wills.” The figure tosses Dr. Rivera a seal pelt that wasn’t there a moment before. The middle-aged scientist catches it with an addict’s trembling fingers and fevered eyes, all but ripping off her clothes in her haste to don the pelt. The new seal yowls to the storm-tossed sky in a throaty voice and disappears into the waves.
Kira: Kira shudders uncontrollably, like she’s standing in the midst of a blizzard. Her teeth chatter together. “Wh-at the f-f-f-fuck…” She can’t even wrap her arms around herself for warmth. “This can’t be real… this can’t be real… it can’t…” She’s repeating it over and over again like a mantra suddenly.
GM: The figure runs a delicate finger along Kira’s cheek. Her tight duct tape bonds are loose strips of seaweed, easily shrugged off. “This one need not fear for herself. My realm holds such wonders and pleasures as she has never known.”
Kira: As hard as she’s shivering, the bonds fall off almost on their own. As she finds herself free to move again, she tries to stumble to her feet, not thinking of anything but to get away. “Your realm… I… this is fuckin’ crazy, what did she do to me?” She can’t make sense of it, but that touch… that soft fingertip running along her skin seems to compel her closer even when she wants to go… swim… fly… as fast as she can in the other direction.
GM: “It fulfilled its part of the bargain,” the figure repeats, her voice a gentle coo, like bubbles rising from the sea floor. “A maiden procured, a promise kept, a pelt returned.”
Kira: “A pelt returned?” Kira’s eyes register recognition, then confusion. “How could she be… I don’t understand…” Her voice is nearly a high-pitched whine of fear at this point, and she’s still standing there soaking wet and shaking with the cold.
GM: “A pelt returned. Freedom granted. The oceans her domain to roam.” Water leaks from the figure’s nose and mouth with every word she utters, trickling down her breasts, pooling over her feet.
Kira: “How the fuck can a woman be a seal?” Kira’s voice bursts out suddenly, higher pitched than she means for it to be. She explodes into laughter almost immediately. Nervous laughter.
GM: The figure calmly strides towards Kira, her kelp-red hair continuing to lazily wave in place. Not like Kira’s, whipped and tossed about by the storm.
Kira: “Who are you?” she asks, her voice going soft, tears beginning to fall again. “Why am I her, what do you want from me?”
GM: The figure pulls Kira into a kiss. Hungrily, ravenously, like a tsunami blasting through everything in its path. Kira’s head spins, her knees buckling under her. The wind screams in her ears. The rain pounds in her eyes. The boat moans and rocks beneath the waves.
Kira: The questions that were going to fall from her lips are gone, gone utterly. She feels the kiss in the same elemental way she feels the storm. The woman’s lips are as cool as rain, and she can taste the soft salt of the sea. A warmth floods her, a NEED.
GM: “My realm holds such pleasures and wonders as this one has never known,” the figure repeats, cupping Kira’s face in moist hands. “For she whose hands are nimblest, whose face is fairest, whose devotion is truest.”
Kira: “Devotion…” Kira murmurs, then nods. Her eyes suddenly feel moist again, but it’s not fear this time. “Yes, yes,” she murmurs, agreeing to something, though she hardly knows what. Anything this woman said.
GM: The figure pulls Kira into a second kiss that shatters her world. She feels her lungs fill with water, but impossibly, she can breathe. Storm clouds shriek and wail overheard amidst the rain’s belligerent pounding. The boat rocks and lurches. Out of the corner of her eye, Kira sees a whirlpool forming in the inky black waters, a phenomena all but unheard of in Puget Sound.
Kira: Somehow, in this moment, it makes sense… it matches the way she feels, like her spirit is slowly being split in two, ripped away from whatever meager understanding of reality she might have thought she had before. It was nothing compared to this.
GM: Lightning flashes through the sky. The smell of burning cloth wafts up Kira’s nostrils. The sails are on fire. The boat madly spins and bucks, like a toy in a hyperactive three-year-old’s bathtub. The beauteous figure stares grinning at the sky. A plankton crawls out of the corner of her mouth.
Kira: That’s when Kira finally finds the voice to scream.
GM: The figure pulls Kira against her breasts with soft but mercilessly strong arms. Waves hungrily engulf the boat. Kira’s world is plunged into silence and near-darkness. Water races across her bare skin. They spin around and around and around… and it all goes black.