Melusine City Chapter 51 – Protect and Conserve

Otherdeep, Temporary Military Hospital

The hospital building, an ingenious construction of shell and spell-fortified glass, had been erected with the help of the reformist magician, Mecafin. Rafina had worn Sherfin down: the location was only a few fathoms away from the mining site and the battleground. She'd chosen it because she wanted the wounded to be seen as quickly as possible. There was also a large purple, deep water coral colony. The patients would find a swim near this therapeutic and it would be restful for the medical staff too. Medical supplies were tricky. Ludafin had his lab assistants working long hours on requests but fish stocks and sea plants in Melusine were so depleted that the ingredients were coming from much further afield.

Spiny, Grit, Shellface, Melia and Niria were gathered round a sponge couch containing a tiny body. Grit was holding a bowl of eel mash, a engineered spoon dangling in her fist. She was trying to hide her distress. Spawn had pushed her away with a series of the worst insults Squidsville slang had to offer.

Melia took Spawn's hand. His bruised face reared away from hers but he did not throw her off.

'Spawn,' she began gently, 'if you don't want eel mash, we can get you something else. Tell me what you want.'

'Sherfin's head. I'll start with the lying lips!' he spat into the water.

Grit's hands were shaking. She dropped the bowl and swam for the door.

Shellface looked over her shoulder then spoke to Spawn. Grit had really gone soft since Lestail had made his proposal. Let's hope he actually meant it.

'I'd be delighted to get you Sherfin's entire body but I don't think he'd taste very good. '

Melia tried again. 'They'll only hook you up to a drip again. We have some fish from Ondine – packed in magic ice. It's lovely. You should try some.'

She caught a flash of appetite in his mind before a wave of dark muddy red anger obliterated it.

'Why didn't I die?' Spawn muttered, 'I could have died overpowering a human. I would have been a hero.'

Melia supposed that this was also what small human boys thought about war. Some of the adults thought that way too according to Rafina. Her mother said it was one of the greatest human delusions.

Spiny's mind was on the slitherboard he had carved from driftwood. It was Spawn's ninth birthday in a few days. The boy's hands and arms were fine but would he be interested in using it? A nurse had encouraged him to make it but now it seemed like a terrible idea. He spoke up, his voice gritty. 'You were fantastic in the battle, incredibly brave: Officer Martfin said so, everyone said…' He was unable to continue.

'And now I'm a freak, a makrasi, who can't move properly without those swim chairs the oldies use!'

Shellface, looking at Spawn's furious purple and black face, was suddenly finding it very easy indeed to envisage Sherfin on a banqueting table.

There was a loud moaning from another bed. Rafina was attending to a human survivor who had been too mutilated to survive the trip to the surface. Melia swam over to her.

The man had an oxygen mask strapped to his face but there wasn't that much left of his body – essentially a bloodied torso with one leg attached.

'That Likiafin neglected to give him his sedative. She's a human hater. I'll have to talk to her.'

Rafina's face was flushed. Melia was aware that 'talk' meant 'shout'.

'Can you get him well enough to go?'

Rafina nodded. 'I believe so. Did Spawn eat?'

Melia shook her head.

'Kini, I think you should tell him about the…you know.'

Rafina looked over towards Spawn's bed.

'I wanted to present it to him on his birthday but it is not ready yet – I'll get the drawings now. Stay by this bed a while – I won't be long'

Rafina exited and came back with a portfolio. She put her hand on the human's forehead.

'He'll sleep now.'

They swished over to Spawn's bed where Shellface was doing a vicious but highly accurate impersonation of Sherfin. It was evident that Spawn was making an effort not to smile.

'His hands are more pokey and flappy than that,' he said.

Melia caught Shellface's eye.

'We have something to show Spawn,' she announced, 'Kini's been working on it quite intensely.'

Spawn shrugged, his tiny shoulder blades moving like scissors.

Rafina, undeterred, took out her drawings.

'I am making you a new tail. It can be any colour you like – I'm not assuming you want the Melusine colours – or it can just be made to blend in.'

Shellface and Niria immediately learned over to peer at the sketches.

Rafina spoke in a cool, almost neutral tone.

'I am sorry you couldn't be awake when I took the measurements. You don't have to use it of course. It will be ready by the end of next week. I just thought I'd tell you that it's engineered for speed – you will be able to swim much faster than other mers your age.'

Rafina laid the drawings down on the bed as if she were casually presenting a bunch of sea fruit.

'Get a nurse to leave that fish by the side of his bed – it'll keep in the ice. And a jar of seaweed sauce too.' She whispered to Melia.

'I think Spawn has had quite enough of all this company, 'Rafina said. 'Or do you want Shellface to stay?'

Spawn mumbled something.

'What was that?'

'Shellface can stay for a bit. Can you take those off me, they're heavy.'

'Of course,' Rafina agreed. She slid the drawings down by the side of the sponge bed

They all left. Shellface was resuming her mimicry of Sherfin.

'Do you think he'll look at them?' Melia asked.

Rafina sighed. 'Tonight…tomorrow. He won't be able to resist looking. But it's getting him to agree to try it, isn't it? I need you for that, soki.'

Niria approached. 'Will you be able to explain that design process to me Rafina? I'd really like to know how you did it – I love that sort of technical detail.'

Melia and Rafina exchanged a brief glance.

Niria frowned. 'I sound wrong again, don't I? I mean, I just think it's brilliant and I'd like to know how …

'It's fine, Niria,' Rafina said. 'I'm happy to talk you through it when I have time.'

Sherfin's consulting chamber, Eco Police Headquarters, Otherdeep

Ludafin's ears were ringing. He'd never experienced Sherfin in such a rage. He admitted that he may have been misguided in assisting the human activists in their invasion of the US naval bases and liaising with the Senator and Jonah behind the detective's back. The legendarily cool Detective had screamed abuse at him for half an hour continuously in front of a hundred operatives. Officer Kedfin from the Melusine Army had tried, ineffectually, to intervene. Officer Martfin was absent, seeing to the clean up at the mining site but rumour had it than he wanted to avoid direct dealings with Sherfin and the word 'child killer' had escaped his lips on more than one occasion.

The representatives from the Ondine Army were tense. Satadon had been gone for more than a day. Ex engineers and miners from Orelyx, recovering addicts, had also joined the meeting along with fishing personnel from Icythus. Their entire bodies twitched during the tirade: their nervous systems were still unstable from recent withdrawal. They were accompanied by nurses from the military hospital.

Kedfin spoke.

'Sir, the 57th Fleet are less than a week away from the site. What are we going to do? We can't use organ techniques on that number of submarines. The Ondine Army have few explosives remaining and in any case, it is not a good idea to have too many eruptions near the pipe.'

Sherfin rested his chin on his hands and looked around. His red rimmed gaze settled on the engineering group.

'Could you dismantle the pipe and close it down by then?' he enquired.

'It will cost a …' Ludafin started.

'You will speak when spoken to,' Sherfin snapped.

The chief Orelyx engineer, Luztfin, answered.

'It is not enough time to do a safe job. We risk a lot of leakage and it will be very expensive to set up again. I would say that, to protect the seabed, the site does need to be moved in the future but not in that timescale.'

Sherfin considered. 'Thank you for being honest. I requisitioned a large store of human torpedoes several years ago. The army could meet them half way and attempt to put the subs out of action.'

Kedfin said quickly, 'Martfin will not be happy to put the army in that situation sir. They are not trained in such tactics and we could lose a lot of personnel when the subs retaliate –which they will.'

'At least they're adults,' one of the nurses whispered.

Sherfin heard this and reached for a small box. Ludafin stared him down. He had frequently warned the Detective that mysaweed was no mere harmless sea herb that sharpened the intellect. If Sherfin was overdoing it, it was not surprising that he couldn't control his temper.

'I can create another invisible fence. But I'll need replenishing from another magician. Do you have anyone you can trust not to be working for Nizfin?'

Ludafin's mildly acidic enquiry was ignored for several minutes while Sherfin played with his tiny, lacquer box.

One of the Icythus fishers asked, 'An invisible fence – that might strangle large numbers of shoals. Am I right?'

Ludafin assented. 'Regrettably so. But this is a crisis situation. We could try to modify so they get a sonic warning inaudible to humans and human systems. I haven't attempted that before.'

Sherfin flicked open the box, stuffed some weed up his left nostril, all the while staring at Ludafin.

'Create this fence. Mecafin will restore your energy stock. If you need further help, I've been supplied with a list of trustworthy magicians from the Coralcopia Underground's files. If any of the submarines evade it, we hope to have the site's invisibility restored within a week or so. I can't divulge exactly how we are doing this but can assure you it will work. '

Kedfin cleared his throat. He asked with some hesitation.

'Where is Nizfin's daughter?'

'She is leaving for Coralcopia tomorrow. Nizfin has agreed to release the evacuee schoolchildren. They are my first concern.'

He looked around the chamber, daring anyone to challenge him on this.

A weary but familiar and eerily beautiful voice resonated in the chamber.

'You are reuniting Hekiafin with Nizfin?'

Satadon, upright but pallid and nauseous, was being steered by Serafin to a stool.

Several mers blinked in surprise at seeing them together.

Sherfin smiled. 'Good to see you here, Satadon, Serafin. Welcome. Yes, I am sure that Hekiafin will be effective in removing the threat presented by her father.'

'What if she goes over to his side?' Serafin asked.

'I'm sending her with undercover operatives. They will take action if she shows the smallest sign of betrayal.'

Kedfin, Ludafin and the nurses were staring at the box of mysaweed.

'I am not relying on my judgement,' Sherfin remarked drily. 'I am trusting to the perceptions of the most powerful empath in the waves. Hekiafin is our greatest asset.

It took Serafin a few moments to realise that the detective was talking about Melia. She's not your little girl anymore.

Wilson Household, a suburb of Seattle, Washington.

Jonah and Soulijah were pouring over this morning's newspapers. Billy gurgled happily on his mother's lap, oblivious to her tension.

The Washington Courier

A special envoy of Canadian lawyers have arrived in Washington D.C today. They are here to deliver a petition to the White House Chief of Staff. They have released a statement to the press, which is as follows.

We are here on behalf of a hundred Canadian families, twenty Australian families and six families from the Chagos Islands. Our clients are launching a class action against the US government for involuntary manslaughter, illegal use of force and reckless endangermentof their children, activists taking part in the recent action in the Indian Ocean. At no point did any of the protesters use violence or force against military personnel, yet we accuse the government of detaining them without legal representation and use of sleep deprivation, systematic beatings, intimidation and withholding of proper sustenance and medication. Twenty protesters have died of gunshot wounds received on the day of action.

A government have responded with the following statement.

At no point were any of the Diego Garcia detainees mistreated in the manner alleged. Our personnel were obliged to treat the incident as an invasion and had no reason to believe that the protesters, a large number, were unarmed. They fired warning shots to defend themselves. We regret the injuries these procedures caused but the activists would have been aware of such a risk at a military base and took an action designed to provoke defensive fire.

A Senate Enquiry is under way to establish how such a breach of military security could have taken place and to debate the claims made by the Canadian deposition.

Liberty Journal

Ludicrously over-esteemed Senator Antony Forbes –Wilkinson is rumoured to have fled the United States for refuge in an as yet unnamed country. Wilkinson is under investigation for inappropriate behaviour toward s minors and misappropriation of government funds.

Those familiar with the planet-loving Senator's holier than thou reputation may well raise their eyebrows in astonishment but we at Liberty have been following his progress for several years and, put it this way, these accusations are not news to us. We always knew that the double-barrelled puritan from Boston was leading a life as dual as his moniker.

Jonah folded the paper.

'Fascist ordure! They can't even insult people intelligently.'

Soulijah bounced Billy up and down.

'Why can't you say crap or doo doo like a normal person?'

Jonah poured himself more coffee.

'Tony said this could happen. But he told me that he was getting Gil and Billy and the others out of jail and out of the county and I quote by any means necessary. He's allowed them to smear him. He did a deal. Accuse me of this and this…I'll take the fall. I won't cross the government'

Soulijah stopped bouncing Billy, who started to cry in protest.

'He did what? And since when did he start sounding like Brother Malcolm? And when did you start calling him Tony?'

Jonah sipped the coffee.

'He didn't want the boys' death on his hands. He was never in favour of the action in the first place. He was right. What a mess!'

'Where has he taken them?'

'Somewhere in South America. I expect he'll be in contact sooner or later when it's safe. Left me in the clear. They haven't even called me to the hearing.'

He did not sound happy about this.

Soulijah was still puzzled.

'How does it benefit them to smear him and let him go?'

'Because if he keeps to his deal – which he probably won't long term – they get to gloss over the fact that a high ranking senator trusted a bunch of teenage hackers over his own people and enabled one of the worst security breaches since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon papers.'

Billy dribbled over the Liberty Journal and started mashing it with his small fists.

'That's my boy!' Jonah said.

Jonah's mobile pinged.

'What is it?' Soulijah asked.

'Don't recognise the number. Telling me to watch the news.'

Soulijah reached around Billy for the remote and flicked the TV on.

A bespectacled male reporter was standing in front of an unremarkable office block in Geneva. A small crowd of protestors were visible behind him. They were carrying placards that said 'No corruption' and 'Sustainability is not a marketing ploy.'

'News has broken today that the innovative energy and tourism enterprise, Daimond Corporation, will be under investigation for fraud, unsafe mining practices and an illegal, secret deal with a yet un-named oil cartel.'

The reporter paused as the shouting behind him grew louder.

'The action is being taken by the government environmental agency. One of the company's chief directors, Piet Savoy, had been missing for several months. It has been reported that he is now dead, and, on his death, several incriminating documents were released into the public domain. Mr Savoy was facing criminal charges before his disappearance. A spokesman for the company has claimed that Mr Savoy was attempting to smear the reputation of Daimond and that there is no substance to these allegations.'

Jonah winced. 'Tony thinks I should take the helm at Daimond.'

Soulijah, cleaning Billy up, asked.

'He does, does he? We'll if it keeps you from doing your Jimmie Stewart thing and going back to the sea, I'd agree with him.'

'How did you know I was considering going back to the sea?'

She smiled.