CHAPTER FIVE - TEMPORARY HOME
Do you think my mother is dead? Do you think my father killed her? Are all those dreams I’ve had since she disappeared a lie? Or wishful thinking? Or to lure me out into the sea?
These were the questions that he asked Aemrys during the last few miles to Arkham and Miskatonic University. The Mer Lord said he did not know and he could not guess. Or he would not share his guesses with Spencer.
He doesn’t want to hurt me. I feel him all around me. Holding me mentally even though I won’t let him touch me physically. But he’s still there. In my mind. Caring for me.
What was clear to him was this: Aemrys was desperate for him not to be a member of House Aer. But Spencer wasn’t so sure he was right, but then again, he had no idea if the Mer Lord was wrong either.
If my father is a member of House Aer then my mother is likely dead because they hate human. But if my father isn’t a member of House Aer then she’s definitely dead, because the other Mer Houses don’t have the power to allow humans to breathe underwater. So while Aemrys may hope I’m not House Aer, I sort of hope I’m am.
The truth was that either way his mother was likely dead … probably dead ... most definitely dead. That should have been easy to accept. He’d thought her definitely dead for over a decade, but it hurt. He was wrecked all over again.
He floated in the center of the tanker truck, legs pulled up again his chest, arms loosely locked around them. Aemrys stayed near him, swimming in a concerned circle. But the Mer Lord did not make any inane statements about her going to a better place or lying that maybe, just maybe, she was alive, somewhere. Instead, he was silent, but there was a sense of his concern and sympathy that no words could convey.
Spencer remembered his mother. Those brief, Polaroid moments of their life together where the colors were both brilliant and muted and her beautiful face was wreathed in smiles even as her eyes were sad. Most of the memories were on the shell beach. Picnics of ham sandwiches on white bread with fresh butter and tomatoes. Roasted marshmallow over bonfires. The feeling of her arms around him and a blanket over them both as they watched the stars wheel.
Those memories are beautiful, Aemrys said.
Thanks. The truth is that these are those few times when things were good. When she wasn’t raving. When she wasn’t in an asylum, Spencer admitted.
I am so sorry. Aemrys floated in front of him. So close that he was almost in the Mer Lord’s arms.
I know. I can feel it. Talking to you makes me feel how - how shallow the other kind of talking is, Spencer admitted. If he just let himself drift …
Because you are Mer, Aemrys’ voice was but a whisper but it filled every part of him Spencer. This is how you are meant to be.
Are you sure it’s not … Spencer remembered what he had seen inside of Aemrys. Are you sure it’s not something special between you and me?
He dared to look at the Mer Lord when Aemrys was silent for long moments. Aemrys was staring at him, his expression almost blank. I’m merely the first Mer you have met. That is all you are feeling.
Spencer’s eyebrows rose. You know what I’m feeling better than I do. I wasn’t suggesting we’re Fated or --
I know. Forgive me. I didn’t mean to suggest … Aemrys’ lips flattened. You’re very intriguing. Very beautiful. Special. I cannot …
Nothing. Aemrys gave him a false smile. All I meant was that you would have this experience, this closeness, with any Mer. Not just me. I am just the lucky one who met you first.
Spencer stared at Aemrys, not believing a word, but letting it slide, because maybe Aemrys was right. Maybe this strange closeness was just a Mer thing. Right. Well, I feel I’m lucky to have met you, too.
At that moment, Spencer felt the truck slowing down and he realized that they were likely at Miskatonic. He imagined the tanker truck drawing under the arched gate that bore the university’s name in wrought iron. He thought he heard the crunch of the drive that would lead them into the back of the university’s facilities near a loading dock for the Merrimack Research Center or more commonly known as the Mack. Dr. Cleave’s labs, the tank where Aemrys would live, and his own living quarters for the duration of the project were all located in the Mack. The Mack was state of the art, but had few windows and even fewer doors, all of which were guarded by campus security. But these were no mall cops but men and women who had served in various militaries or law enforcement and now worked for Miskatonic.
Spencer shook himself out of his funk and uncurled his limbs. He turned to face Aemrys. The Mer Lord observed him carefully. He felt the gentle mental touches Aemrys sent his way to make sure he was all right both from the ordeal his mother and what he had said He took another moment to collect himself just as the truck jerked to a halt with a screech of air brakes.
The water sloshed violently and he and Aemrys rode the waves back and forth. The hatch rattled above them as it tried to pull free of the hook that kept it open. He was so glad he’d done that because being in the tank’s utter darkness with just the yellow flashlight would have bothered even him during this ride.
We’re here, Spencer said.
I see, Aemrys answered and there was no emotional color to his words. Whether he was happy, sad, relieved or anxious, Spencer could not tell.
There’s no need to be nervous. If you are, Spencer said as he rose to the surface and grabbed the ladder. Everyone is really excited to meet you. There’s only one Miller in the group and you’ve already met him.
Aemrys nodded and gave him a quirked smile. I do not offend easily. Besides I am not here to be entertained. I am here to get our people back.
I hope it’s more than that, Spencer said with some surprise. I know everyone really hopes to keep up the communication with the Mers.
Yes, of course. It is just my prime directive in this is to bring as many of the children home as I can, Aemrys amended. You and your brothers and sisters are my main concern. The humans - and what they hope to get out of this - are not.
There was a touch of cold-bloodedness in that statement. Spencer supposed he should feel a little treasured that he and the other Mer-human hybrids were Aemrys’ real focus, but he still was half human. Not matter what else he might end up being he doubted he would ever feel anything else but human.
Right. Well, I think you’ll like Dr. Cleave anyways. You’ve already met Dr. Marstand, Spencer said. He knew that both doctors would likely be present to greet Aemrys inside the lab.The rest of Dr. Cleave’s crew would have liked to have been present, too, but Dr. Cleave had decided that might be overwhelming for the Mer Lord. Yet she sent Miller to come get him. Surely, she knows the guy’s got as much tact as a baseball bat.
Still wondering at Dr. Cleave’s motives in sending Miller, a head appeared at the top of the hatch and redirected his attention. It was Corey. His red mane practically blocked out all the light. His voice echoed as he called down, “Anyone home in there?”
Spencer took out his regulator and called back up. “Alive and well.”
“Excellent!” Corey made a thumb’s up sign and disappeared from the hatch. Spencer could hear the squeak of his flip flops as he climbed down the ladder on the outside of the truck.
Spencer pulled his mask off of his face and left it dangling around his neck. I’ll go up first, okay?
He felt Aemrys send him an assent. The Mer Lord floated beside him. Again, his expression was unreadable. Spencer found himself reaching for Aemrys and placing a hand on one of his shoulders. The Mer Lord’s eyes widened slightly at the touch but then we relaxed under it. This was strange because they had been touching one another regularly since they got into the tanker.
It’s like he’s preparing himself for battle, but he doesn’t need to, Spencer thought.
He said to Aemrys, I helped put the tank together where you’ll be staying. While I hope you like it, if anything is wrong with it, please let me know and we’ll fix it.
A warm smiled crossed the Mer Lord’s perfect lips. I am certain it will be wonderful.
Well, maybe let’s not go that far. Spencer grinned. I know it won’t be ideal and it’s nothing to how Corey described Emralis to me so … well, I just hope you don’t hate it.
Aemrys shook his head in amusement. I am not worried.
Spencer started up the ladder. The tanks that had felt so light in the water now dragged on his shoulders. He hated the heavy feeling after leaving the water where every movement seemed graceful.
Though compared to Aemrys I felt like a beached whale flailing around!
His head popped up over the side of the hatch and he looked down at the asphalt parking lot. They were parked in the back lot by the loading area just as he’d thought they would be. Below him were Corey, Grace and Ash. The three of them were grinning – and yes, Ash grinned just like a human or maybe better than one.
Miller was already striding into the back door of the lab. He hadn’t waited to greet Aemrys or be part of the party bringing him in. Spencer’s mouth flattened into a thin line at first, but then he realized he should be glad Miller hadn’t hung around. The man was sure to have made some unfortunate comment or another. He had no hope that Miller would regret being rude.
Spencer hoisted himself out of the hatch and started down the ladder on the outside of the tanker truck. He felt Corey’s hands on his back, helping him drop down the last few feet with the heavy oxygen tanks. Ash immediately placed her paws on his chest and gave a happy bark. He mussed her ears and petted her head.
“I missed you, too, Ash,” he assured her.
She licked his face, giving him plenty of kisses, plus he guessed she liked the taste of the water on his cheeks and chin. He heard Aemrys climbing down after him. Spencer moved himself and Ash out of the way so that the Mer Lord could step onto the pavement. Aemrys touched Grace’s cheek and smiled fondly at her.
“Are you nervous? I admit that I am a little and I’ve met Dr. Cleave,” Grace said as she looped one arm through Aemrys’ while he offered his other arm to Corey. At first, Spencer thought this quite strange and – admittedly – he felt a little left out, but then he realized why. In order to communicate with the two of them Aemrys had to be in physical contact with them, but he could communicate with Spencer without it.
“Why are you nervous, Grandma G? Aemrys is a charmer! He’ll have all of the staff eating out of his hand in no time,” Corey remarked as all five of them walked towards the stairs that led up into the loading dock and the door into the lab.
“Just that this is finally happening!” Grace’s eyes glowed. “When Gabriel left us for Emralis, I truly thought that I would never see him again and would only glimpse Emralis in his mind. But now … now it may be possible to actually hold Gabriel in my arms again and see Emralis for myself.”
How far is Dr. Cleave in her work? Aemrys asked.
“Pretty far,” Spencer said. “There’s already been animal testing, but I don’t know how far out she testing it on, well, I was going to say humans, but that’s not quite right. Mer-human hybrids, I guess.”
“You can hear him without touching?” Grace’s eyebrows rose.
“Uh, yeah, I guess … I mean, yes, I can,” Spencer said.
“You went from just starting to communicate telepathically on the beach to being fluent at it in a few hours?” Corey’s red eyebrows also rose into his mane of red locks. “That’s as fast a Gabriel did, but he was transitioning when it happened. How do you feel, Spence? Out of breath at all?”
“Ah, no, no, I’m good,” Spencer assured them even as his hands went to his sides to feel for gills. But none were there. “Gabriel avoided the water, right? That’s how the transition was held off. I practically live in the water and I’m older than he was. So I can’t be transitioning, right?”
The last was said to Aemrys. The Mer Lord regarded him thoughtfully.
I hesitated to rely on what we know. The Mers had never contemplated one such as Gabriel so I hesitate to make any blanket statements, Aemrys said. We will observe you closely, I think.
Spencer touched his sides again and swallowed shallowly. He felt a mixture of excitement and fear.
You think I’m transitioning? Spencer asked.
I do not know. But Corey is right that communication between Gabriel and Casillus was immediate like it was between us, and Gabriel was just beginning the change then, Aemrys said.
Spencer did not bring up the fact that Gabriel and Casillus were also Fated, whatever that meant.
Ash bounded ahead to stand before the door and she looked eagerly at Spencer with her tongue hanging out. The eager look in her eyes told Spencer what she was so excited about.
“Ash is excited,” Grace laughed.
“Dr. Cleave keeps dog treats in her lab coat,” Spencer explained. “The way to Ash’s heart is to scratch her head or to give her treats. Do both and you are golden forever.”
Corey opened the door for them by typing in a pin code in a number pad and bending down to his have his right eye scanned by a retinal scanner.
What is this? Aemrys’ asked as he watched Corey’s movements.
“Security measures so that people can’t just walk into the lab. You have to enter nine numbers in the correct order and then the system confirms you’re really who you claim to be by comparing your eye to the unique scan on file,” Spencer explained. “I’m sure that you’ll be assigned both once you settle in.”
Are you sure? Aemrys looked at him carefully.
Of course, Spencer sent privately, surprised at the question. This isn’t a prison. No one is going to keep you here if you want to leave. I won’t let them even try. Corey and Grace won’t either. Trust me on this.
Aemrys said nothing and Spencer had this impression that the Mer Lord thought him naïve, but was too polite to say anything. He wished he could explain to Aemrys the utter excitement and joy everyone – but Miller – felt about the Mers. They wanted to do nothing to potentially harm Mer-human relations. For most people in this lab, the Mers were the first alien species they had ever met.
He’ll see for himself and maybe then he won’t be so leery, Spencer hoped.
Beyond the door was a long hallway that was almost sterile looking with white floors and ceiling. There were offices and labs lining both sides of the hallway with clear glass walls. Harsh fluorescent lights made the place look like what it was: a scientific laboratory where petri dishes and microscopes reigned supreme.
“Dr. Cleave is waiting for us in the tank room,” Spencer explained when he saw Aemrys looking around perhaps for someone to greet them.
He nodded. His thoughts were guarded though. His stunning dark blue eyes were studying the labs they passed by. From Corey’s description of Emralis nothing could be more different from the multi-colored towers of the underwater city to this Miskatonic science building. It was then that Spencer realized that both he and Aemrys were dripping water everywhere and he still had his scuba stuff on. Not to mention he was dressed only in his purple underwear that clung to everything. They must look as out of place here as Aemrys likely felt.
Does it look strange to you? Spencer sent the question through their mental connection and not to the group.
It is impressive. When the Mers knew humans you did not exist like this. Everything has changed so much as to be unrecognizable. I have learned a great deal from Gabriel’s mind, but now I feel like a child, Aemrys confessed.
And you don’t like that feeling, that was more of a statement than a question.
I have to keep you safe, Spencer. Aemrys’ expression was grim. How can I do that when I do not even understand a tenth of what I am seeing and hearing?
Spencer felt the definiteness of that statement of protection. For a moment, he had the image of Aemrys standing between him and all of humanity, carrying a spear, threatening any who would attack them.
I’m pretty good at protecting myself. Not that there’s anything to defend myself from. I’ll help you with anything you don’t understand, Spencer told him.
We should not have lost track of humanity. That was foolish, Aemrys thought and his jaw clenched. Spencer wondered if he was supposed to have heard that statement. He didn’t respond just in case he wasn’t.
They had reached the end of the hallway through which there was another door then a T-shaped intersection. They turned to the right where a huge set of blank white doors blocked their path. The doors were locked. There was a keypad as well as a retinal scanner for entry into this part of the lab, too. There were also two Miskatonic security personnel dressed in all black with weapons in holsters at their sides. They immediately came to attention at the approach of the group.
When they saw him and Corey though they relaxed. One of the guards – a hard-looking man in his forties – though froze again when he caught sight of Aemrys’ gills. He blinked as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing though they had all been briefed. He also recognized that Aemrys was mostly naked, with cock quite apparent, and his gaze snapped back up to the Mer Lord’s face. Spencer bit his cheek as he saw the flush spreading across this former military officer’s face. He glanced over at Aemrys to see if the Mer Lord had noticed and found it amusing, too. But Aemrys’ eyes were on the weapons and Spencer’s heart rate sped up as he realized how this might come across to the Mer Lord.
Aemrys, those guns are not for you. They are not to keep you prisoner, but to make sure that no one can harm you, Spencer assured him.
Weapons similar to these harmed Casillus, Aemrys answered. Men like these worked for Johnson Tims.
“What are these guards doing here?” Grace asked. She, too, seemed displeased by them. “Aemrys is not a prisoner!”
“No, ma’am, of course not. We’re the security for him,” the one male guard who had stared at Aemrys’ crotch responded.
“I think we should speak to Dr. Cleave, Corey, Spencer. I do not like this,” Grace said and flattened her lips together.
It is all right, Grace. I am not alarmed by this, Aemrys assured her even though Spencer knew he had been.
He doesn’t want to show weakness, Spencer realized. He also thought, We should have done this differently, with Dr. Cleave meeting us outside right away.
“Let’s just go in and get Aemrys into his new pad,” Corey suggested as he looked at the guards with distaste, too. Spencer guessed that Corey was thinking similar things to him.
Ash was again, eager at the door, ready to get in and eat treats. Corey put in the pin and had his eye scanned then the doors popped open. He pushed the doors open and beyond them was Dr. Cleave and in a wheelchair beside her was her husband Ezra. They were in front of the huge glass tank that was for Aemrys. The four of them walked sedately in while Ash made a beeline for Dr. Cleave’s lab coat and its pockets full of treats.
The room’s ceiling arched over the Plexiglas tank rather like an aircraft hangar. The tank itself was 100 feet wide by 100 feet long and it was twenty feet deep. It was filled with salt water and had a filtration system that would keep it properly oxygenated for Aemrys. Coral and a large variety of fish filled the tank. There were hidden spaces in the coral large enough where Aemrys would be hidden from view so he could have privacy. The fish’s electric blue and orange sides glittering under the lights that would brighten or dim depending on the time of day. There were also large windows in the roof that could be opened to let in sunlight and fresh air. Those were cracked open now though the sky was still a velvety black. Finally, there were several sets of stairs up to a platform that surrounded the outer edge of the tank to allow Aemrys to get in and out of the tank with ease and for them to interact with him. Spencer looked over at the Mer Lord to see his reaction.
You planned this? Aemrys asked.
Yeah, what do you think? Spencer felt a nervous bubble of acid form in his stomach. He found that he really wanted Aemrys to like it.
“It’s beautiful!” Grace cried, clasping her hands in front of her.
Aemrys grinned. I believe Grace just said it all.
They made their way to Dr. Cleave who had not left her husband’s side. She had one hand on the back of his wheelchair. Ezra Cleave was smiling broadly even though it looked like it almost hurt him. He had shrunken in the three months that Spencer had known him. From the pictures that Spencer had seen of him before the disease started to really take its toll, Ezra had been an active outdoorsman. Kayaking, climbing and hiking were his favorite activities. Now he was trapped in a wheelchair, because he didn’t have the strength to walk and there were too many risks of him falling and fatally injuring himself. Ezra looked swallowed up in the pale blue sweater that had once stretched tautly across his shoulders and the pair of jeans that now needed a belt to stay on.
Dr. Cleave had her hair up in her usual messy bun. She had made an effort to put on a clean lab coat. Beneath that she was dressed in her usual casual attire of jeans, t-shirt and ballet flats. She was grinning, too. Spencer realized that she was gripping the back of her husband’s wheelchair so tightly that her knuckles were white.
“Welcome, everyone, and you, especially, Lord Liseas. I cannot tell you how thrilled we are that you are here,” Dr. Cleave said. Her voice was a pleasant contralto, but it rose up at times to sound almost girlish. “I’m Rebecca Cleave and this handsome gent is my husband Ezra.”
“It’s an honor to meet you, Lord Liseas,” Ezra echoed. His brown hair showed more gray under the lights and there were dark circles under his eyes. Spencer flinched at how ill he looked.
Surely the Mer will help humanity cure diseases like Ezra’s got. How could you meet him and not want to do something about his suffering?
Aemrys’ gaze went to Ezra and there was a shadow in his eyes. A feeling of shared empathy for the man passed between them, but then Aemrys seemed to catch hold of himself and only nodded politely at the greeting. He did not release Grace or Corey’s hands to shake hers or create a mental connection. He seemed wary.
This is all new for him. And then there were the guards and the security. He probably doesn’t trust anyone.
“The rest of the crew wanted to be here tonight as well, but we thought you might be tired after your long swim and would like to get acquainted with your new home away from home. ” Dr. Cleave gestured towards the tank. “If there’s anything you need changed or added, please let us know. We want you to be very comfortable here.”
Aemrys nodded, but still made no move towards her.
“We’re going to have a bit of a party tomorrow evening if you’re up to it. So you can meet everyone. Also, I thought that you and I would talk tomorrow about the progress I’ve made with triggering the transition,” she said and then an eager light appeared in her eyes, “Unless you want to speak tonight –”
“Rebecca, I have a feeling that Lord Liseas needs to rest,” Ezra said gently as he reached for her and rubbed her arm.
Flushing and fussing with her glasses to cover up the faux paus, she said quickly, “Of course! You’ve come a very long way and we have plenty of time to talk about the project.” But her knuckles whitened once more on the back of her husband’s wheelchair and everyone likely knew that she didn’t think there was enough time at all.
Another nod from Aemrys, but still no real mental communication. His emotions were well hidden.
“Did you have a good trip in?” Ezra asked after there was an uncomfortable silence.
“Not exactly,” Spencer said as he shrugged off the oxygen tanks and let out a pleased sound to get the weight off.
“I was going to ask why you’re only in your underwear and scuba gear,” Dr. Cleave laughed though her gaze looked a little panicky.
“There was an issue with the transport. Miller improvised,” Corey explained.
Dr. Cleave’s brows furrowed. “I don’t understand –”
Please tell her that I was not at all inconvenienced. You were with me so all was fine, Aemrys interrupted.
Spencer related his words
“Miller didn’t mention that when he came in.” Ezra frowned. “That sounds terrible.”
“It really was,” Grace said. She gave a shiver as she explained, “Truly to be locked in a metal tank for hours? Thank goodness Spencer was able to stay with him.”
Aemrys kissed her temple. I am made of sterner stuff than that. Besides, this tank looks perfect.
“Thanks to Spencer,” Corey said. “He totally agonized over everything from the placement of every piece of coral to the types of fish and how many there should be of each and –”
“It was no big deal.” Spencer ducked his head, blushing.
I am certain that it was and I am quite eager to experience my new temporary home, Aemrys said.
Spencer risked a glance up at the Mer Lord. His blush burned brighter as he saw the affection in Aemrys’ eyes. Clearly, even though everything else at Miskatonic hadn’t pleased him over much, the tank was not a disaster.
If you would be so kind as to let Dr. Cleave and her husband know that I really am quite tired and would like to rest, Spencer? Aemrys asked.
Of course, I’ll take care of it, Spencer assured him and relayed that thought to the rest of the group.
Aemrys and Grace walked up one of the nearest staircases and stood on the platform while Corey and Spencer strode over to Dr. Cleave and Ezra. Dr. Cleve took off her glasses and looked both elated and defeated.
“How bad was the ride here?” she asked.
“He’s not offended though he should be,” Spencer kept his voice low. “Miller was an ass.”
“He really was, Dr. C. I don’t get why he’s on this project at all,” Corey seconded.
“That’s not my doing. It’s Dr. Marstand’s,” she said and her lips pulled back from her teeth in disgust. “He insisted that Miller be a part of this and that he greet Aemrys. I don’t know why, but with what you’ve told me maybe I can convince him to remove Miller.”
Spencer looked around for the Dean of Occult Studies, but Dr. Marstand’s white distinguished head and collegial tweed was nowhere in sight. Neither was Miller either. “I’m surprised that Marstand isn’t here now.”
“I am, too,” Ezra said. “He’s been trying to be top dog on this project from the beginning.”
“He was the first one to meet the Mers after the incident with Johnson Tims,” Corey said with a shrug.
“Yes, and see how well that worked out.” Dr. Cleave shook her head.
At that moment, Ash, who had been circling Dr. Cleave for treats decided that she would go to Ezra for pets instead since the dog treats didn’t seem to be coming. She gently nudged her head up under his hand. Ezra began to pet her, but Dr. Cleave immediately became alarmed.
“Spencer, get Ash! If she were to try and get into Ezra’s lap –”
“She’s not going to get in my lap. She’s very gentle with me,” Ezra said and refused to let Spencer take Ash away from him. “If I’ve lost the ability to pet a dog …” He stopped and shook his head. “I won’t lose this, too.”
All of them were silent for a moment then there was the sound of a splash. Spencer – who had been aware of Aemrys’ every move – turned to see that the Mer Lord had neatly dove into the water and was now swimming gracefully with the fish in the tank.
Dr. Cleave let out a pleased sigh. She smiled as she watched Aemrys’ swim. “Well, at least one good thing has happened with our first meeting. Now let’s see how tomorrow goes.”