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Monday, November 16th, 2415
The fourth one was the worst yet.
"Hey, Deborah!" Chrissy shouted over the dull murmur of the market place. The noise didn't justify her yelling so loud. That she was Chrissy did.
I looked away from the lady who was carefully painting my nails and toward my best friend. We'd known each other for years, so I'd long since gotten used to her attracting attention. I was convinced she did it to draw that attention away from me.
"Over here!" I yelled back, though not as loud. "What did you find?" Before she could answer, the lady firmly tugged my hand.
"Ma'am," she reminded me for the fifth time, "this Sofglo permeate looks best if the user remains still during its application." She looked at me sternly. "Quite still."
"Sorry," I replied sheepishly. She was a Bloomingdale's assistant and proud of it. While I was her customer, she would serve me only on Bloomingdale's terms. I kind of liked it that way. She nodded and returned to applying the Sofglo.
"Scan this!" Chrissy stepped beside me and showed me a long, slim nightgown, shimmering with each movement and smelling of sweetest pine. I scrunched my face.
"That's definitely not you, Chrissy."
Chrissy laughed and opened it against my back. "Goose. It's for you! Happy nineteenth from me to you!" She kissed me on the neck, just in front of my gill.
"Chrissy!" I complained weakly. I didn't want to get the assistant mad at me. Too late.
"Perhaps you two ladies would prefer a more robust venue for your shopping." She paused. "Might I suggest a tractor pull?"
We laughed, not at allbothered. We got this a lot.
"No, thanks," I said, still laughing. "I always come to Bloomingdale's when I'm in Edmonton." I inspected my fingernails, then gasped. Gentle swirls of softest light drifted in and out of a myriad of colors. Living art. "This is fantastic!"
I showed them to Chrissy and she nodded dumbly, transfixed by the undulating waves of light and color.
Satisfied I'd stunned her sufficiently, I smiled back at the assistant. "This is wonderful! I'll take a half dozen bottles, please."
"Each bottle sells for twelve hundred credits."
"Okay. I'll take a dozen then. They'll make great presents." I leaned forward to the retreg and it scanned my retinal patterns. I held very still, knowing retregs often struggled to read my oh-so-pale blue-gray eyes.
Very doubtful as to my credit, she nonetheless submitted the scan request. She smiled at me, a look of tolerance on her face. She had pegged me as a tourist pretending on the rich side. Chrissy and I exchanged private smirks. The retreg pinged softly.
"It appears you are from the Eastern Wildlands," she offered with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes. Maine, to be precise."
"Thank you. It will only be..." Her face went from politely bored to terrified in a heartbeat. She screamed, looking beyond me.
Not again! I spun around quickly and moved to my right, bringing my left hand up and ready to defend or attack.
It was a man. He had a head of black hair and an equally black beard. The smell of the sea was on him, but it had a polluted odor. He charged me.
"Unholy aberration!" he shouted, drawing a knife.
I slipped to his side and smacked him on the back of the head. Not hard, just enough to let him finish the trip into the cosmetics table.
He and the cosmetics crashed to the floor. I winced. I should probably pay for that. He had trouble getting to his feet, so I took a moment to find Chrissy.
She had faded into the gathering crowd. Good. She was human and blended well with the others. She always wanted to help me when things like this happened, but knew her disappearing was the best thing to do. It let me focus.
A focus I had let slip. A guttural snort brought me back to the task at hand. The maniac, covered in bright pinks and reds and smelling of roses, was charging again.
His knife flashed from side to side, threatening to disembowel me. I couldn't back up without endangering the people, so I vaulted lightly into the air. He passed under me and I tugged his shirt back. I'm fairly tall, but slim, so I don't look to be strong. My ancestry put the lie to that.
He jerked back like a fish on a hook and crashed to the floor. Using his mass for a counterweight, I stopped my forward movement and landed over him, my foot on his throat.
He writhed under my foot, his arm slashing back and forth. A startled - frightened? - gasp came from my audience as they watched him vainly try to cut my legs. They saw only a blur as I moved and replaced each leg, dodging the knife as easily as I dodged the razor sharp coral of a reef in the darkest waters.
I needed to end this, so I applied more pressure to his throat.
"I can snap your neck right now," I said quietly, "And no court in the country would prosecute me." Then with an even quieter voice, I added, "And since you know who I am, you know that I will."
He stared at me with seething hatred, a hatred only expressed by racists, and nodded. I relaxed slightly. Maybe I could avoid a mess as bad as the last time. That one had no... A scream. He'd flipped the knife in his hand and thrown it at the crowd.
I dove at the knife, seeing it move through the air. One step. Two. My left hand shot out and pulled it from its flight. Sliding to the floor to avoid running into a well-dressed woman frozen in terror, I spun around and jammed the knife into the floor, braking hard. That bastard!
I rose quickly, but a new problem had reared up. He'd cleared a gun from his jacket and brought it to bear. I moved to my left slowly. If I moved too fast, he'd panic and begin firing indiscriminately.
He didn't even stop to make a speech or gloat or anything. He simply pulled the trigger.
There was a loud explosion and I heard the slug whip by my head as I jerked to my right. It ricocheted against something and whined off in a different direction. He saw his mistake and lowered his aim to my body. I tensed, hoping I could move faster than I ever had. For a second, the scene was utterly motionless. The hunter enjoying his moment, the prey preparing her defense, the onlookers frozen by the spectacle of life's end.
A massive hand thrust from the crowd and clamped onto the maniac's gun hand. The gun fired, the loud discharge accompanied by a splintering sound. Whether from the floor boards or the gunman's wrist, I didn't know. I did know that this fight was over. Stanworth had arrived.
He stepped clear of the crowd, twisting the man's arm grotesquely over his own shoulder. He screamed, but not in anger. Stanworth looked impassively into the man's eyes.
"Miss Mariner told you of your precarious legal situation, no?" He twisted the man's arm harder, threatening to tear it free. "I'll take your scream as a yes. A mistake, friend." He shook his head sadly. "I am her protector."
Stanworth released the man's arm and seized his throat. Moving his great mass in a single fluid motion, with one arm he spun the man over his extended leg and smashed him to the floor. He hit full on his back and choked out a wail of pain. Stanworth pushed his arm down and the man's neck snapped. It was over.
Silence and shock hung over the scene. Stanworth calmly searched the man for identification. There came a quiet ding from the retreg, the only undamaged part of the counter. I'd been approved for the purchase.
Like a starter's gun, the ding signaled everyone to start talking. Mainly asking questions of me.
"Are you all right?"
"Do you know this man?"
"No, I've never seen him bef..."
"How did you move so fast?"
"Well, I really don't want..."
"What did he call you?"
"Are you a Pisces?"
That last question turned off the switch the retreg had turned on. They all stared at me, as if seeing me for the first time. As the two races were fairly similar, it was likely.
I was taller than most women, and thin. My eyes were very pale, and my fingers were half again as long as a human's. My hair looked normal - a trait from my human mother - but I grew it just long enough to cover the gills on each side of my neck. I wore shoes, preferring them over sandals when in public, because they hid the webbing.
The crowd pressed in closer to look. I felt red creeping up my neck. This had happened before, but only rarely. I'd led a fairly quiet life so far. Quiet in the public eye, that is.
"I know you," someone announced from within the curious mass. "You're Deborah Mariner, Hundar Knowler's granddaughter!"
This started a new surge of babbling. I heard most of the comments, some true, others not. I could turn into a mermaid. I had inherited the riches of the now extinct Pisces race. I lived on a diet of fish and plankton. I could speak to all aquatic mammals. My life was extremely private. Though only one-quarter Pisces, I was supposed to have all the traits of a full Pisces. I had been preserved by the race to begin mothering it again.
"What?" I said at the last one. I'd not heard that one before. "That's ridiculous! I..."
"Miss Mariner would prefer her privacy now," Stanworth boomed in a voice that was quiet, yet shook people to the bottoms of their feet. When he spoke like that, not even complete - and completely rude - strangers could argue. He turned toward me, speaking in the same deep baritone, but so softly it reminded me of a warm, safe fire. Despite my height, he was taller, standing two meters to my one point eight.
"I'll take care of this, Miss Deborah," he said for the umpteenth time in my life. "You and Miss Chrissy head back to the chalet."
"Did you see where Chrissy went?"
"She's waiting for you as planned."
"Okay." I looked around at the mess. "I had placed an order. And I suppose I should pay for the damage that we..."
"I'll see to it."
"Thanks, Stanworth." I stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. "You're the best!"
He blushed and rubbed his cheek.
I turned to the crowd and walked directly at them, using the Pisces walk of floating grace. Other than my Grandfather and myself, our race was three decades dead, my parents and aunt having been murdered while I was an infant. Yet even today it was known that one never touched a Pisces, nor impeded her progress. I acknowledged their action with a bow that sent a ripple of gasps through the crowd. One old timer made eye contact with me and bowed. I flexed my gills slightly to show him satisfaction in his respect.
"May your children breathe only the sweetest of waters," he said quietly as I passed.
I stopped for a moment and looked at him. He knew the language! How glorious it sounded from this unknown friend!
"My children will rejoice with yours that we have met this day," I replied. "May the foundation of your children's lives be safe, breathable and complete."
He bowed deeper and I continued out of the market place. Bloomingdale's was in a protected outdoor plaza, but was fortunately at the end of said plaza, so I needed to maintain the walk for only a hundred meters. Once out of eyesight, I broke into a most un-Pisces like run. I loved acting and being Pisces, but it did lead to a lot of stares.
I headed for our spot, two blocks over and five up. Whenever Chrissy and I traveled together - which was always - we selected a place to rendezvous in case we were separated or I had to deal with a situation. This was the fourth such "situation" in the past two weeks.
Our spot this time was an ancient establishment on 81st Avenue named Von's. They claimed to have been in the same location since the twentieth century. The deep, heady scent of the wood that made up the bar and many of the furnishings and walls certainly bore out that claim.
Chrissy was at the bar, sitting on the second-last stool at the end of the bar, anxiously looking at the doorway. She smiled and visibly relaxed when I stepped through. I smiled at her concern and took the stool she'd held for me. As I sat down, I blew lightly in her ear.
"I always am when something like this happens," she said frankly. "You know that. I know it's part of the package, but it's something I could do without."
She put her hand on mine and squeezed it.
"I don't blame you, Deborah. And I don't blame who you are. I only wish." She patted my hand and motioned to the bartender. "Listen, this place has the best and freshest Alaskan King crab this far east of the Pacific. Hungry?"
I perked up. The rumor of my eating exclusively plankton and fish was way wrong, but fresh seafood was my favorite.
"Definitely! Are you paying?" I asked innocently.
"Nope. You are. I just spent a bunch on your birthday present." She pointed to the bag on the floor and laughed. "I was worried, but not so much that I couldn't buy this on the way out."
Copyright (c) 2004 Peter W. Prellwitz