Manta
by Terry

1997


Charlie Boyd jogs across the beach trying to relax himself and avoid thinking of the presentation he has in a few hours. Charlie is an architect who has had a run of bad luck. The past two designs he has made were both rejected on sight. This third one today is his last chance; it will determine whether he will be designing more buildings, or working at Wal-Mart.

No, don't think of that. Just don't think of this presentation at all. What will be will be. You'll get through this... somehow, he thinks to himself, trying to concentrate on his footfalls. Something else grabs his attention from both the upcoming presentation and his footfalls.

Charlie stops dead in his tracks as a wave of dizziness overcomes him. With a loud rip, a long whip-like tail tears through his jogging shorts. He stares at his new tail in amazement, uncertain of what is going on. He pulls the tail forward to get a better look at it, and realizes that the end has 2 barbs on it. Slowly, other sounds start reaching his mind, as he tears his gaze away from the strange tail.

Earlier, he had passed a young couple walking slowly up the beach. Turning around, Charlie now sees that he isn't the only person who has changed. The young woman has grown a short, scaly tail, while the man now sports a beak. Both seem on the verge of panicking, so Charlie decides to go back to them and offer what little help he could.

He has just started jogging towards them when another wave of dizziness overcomes him. On both sides of his mouth, large fan-like flaps of skin grow out, only to instinctively roll back up close to his mouth. His head and neck expand and flatten out. He closes his eyes, and when they reopen, he finds his point of view has changed. He still looks forward, but now his view seems to include a broad, flat, scaly expanse which blocks his view of his feet. At the end of the scaly plane, just within his sight, he can see the rolled up skin fans he had briefly seen along side his mouth.

Shaking his head slightly in amazement, he sees the expanse rock. Somehow, literally in the blink of an eye, his eyes have moved to the back of his head! He returns his attention to the young couple he is heading towards, and sees that they also have changed further. In addition to the thick scaly tail, which now seemed longer, the lady now has scaly legs to match. The shock of the change seemed to have been too much for her, as she has fainted. The man's head has changed further into a bird-like shape, complete with feathers. He is kneeling next to the fallen girl. Charlie starts jogging towards them again, but immediately slows down as he quickly runs out of breath.

"What's happening?!? Why is this happening to us?!?" the man pleads as Charlie closes in. He is holding the lady's still human hand. For the first time, Charlie notices feathers sticking out of the collar and short sleeves of the man's shirt.

Before Charlie can decide on something to say, another wave of dizziness overcomes the trio. Due to his new point of view, Charlie can't see what is happening to his body, but he can certainly feel it. His T-shirt, already over strained at the collar due to his new, wider neck, gives up the fight completely and falls off of Charlie's torso as rags. Lifting his mouth up towards the sky, and looking out the corners of his eyes, Charlie can just see that his back is nearly completely covered with dark brown scales. He also sees that his back stretches from one elbow to the other, tapering slightly towards his still more or less human (not counting the whip-like tail) hips and legs.

He moves his arms, and finds that moving them vertically has become very difficult, but horizontal movement is still very easy.

A scream of terror returns his attention to the couple. Looking back down at them, he sees the woman is now awake, and frantically trying to slide away from him. The scales have reached up to her neck, and completely down her arms. Her arms and fingers have shrunk a little, and her fingers now ended in claws. Her movements knock her shoes off of her smaller feet, showing that they are similar to her hands. Charlie realizes she has become a crocodile or an alligator.

The man was holding her clawed hands tightly, trying to calm her down. Charlie noted that his arms are completely covered by feathers. His hands have lost a finger, and become yellowish bird claws.

"Please <GASP> Calm down, Miss. This isn't <GASP> the time to be panicking!" Charles says, finding himself strangely short of breath. He still felt like he was breathing normally, but his lungs didn't seem to be getting enough oxygen. The lady ignores him, still screaming as she keeps crawling backwards towards the ocean. She stops abruptly as the now familiar dizziness overcomes them once more.

The scales overcome the lady's neck and face, but leave her long, dark brown hair alone. Her face pushes out into a muzzle with sharp, pointed teeth. Her light blue eyes become slitted and yellowish, and her ears seem to melt into the side of her head, buried by the remaining hair.

On the man, the feathers cover the rest of his body down to his knees. Below his knees, his legs and feet change into bird claws.

Charlie notices these changes in the couple in the few seconds before he collapses on the sand. This wave at first, has seemed easier on him. He feels his legs shorten at the same time that his torso lengthens, so he doesn't lose any height. His sides expand along his forearms, so that only his hands remain free. A quick experiment shows him that he has lost all vertical movement with his arms, but horizontal movement remains practically unencumbered. Then he takes a breath, and another and collapses onto the sand.

The Birdman looks over at Charlie and gasps. "You're a Ray!" he exclaims, running towards Charlie and tripping over his newly changed limbs.

"No I'm not, I'm Charlie" Charlie tries to say as he labors to make his lungs take the Oxygen that they seemed no longer designed to accept.

The man ignores Charlie as he arrives and grabs Charlie's shoulders as best as he can. "Come on Jean! We need to get him in the water!" he shouts to the woman. She ignores him, curling herself into a ball and rocking herself. The man lifts Charlie as if to drag him into the water, and is surprised to find Charlie's entire body lifting off the ground.

Charlie lets out a small gasp and loses his grip on consciousness. Realizing that he doesn't have much time, the man starts pulling the floating Charlie towards the water. Not watching his step, he trips over a piece of driftwood and falls backwards, letting go of Charlie in the process. Charlie continues to float towards the ocean. A few hundred meters out, he seems to lose the power that is causing him to float, and he drops into the water with a loud slap.

Charlie sinks into the water, his new gills automatically taking in oxygen from the water. Slowly, Charlie regains consciousness, but his mind stays numb in shock. He instinctively swims through the water, unrolling the flaps around his mouth and starts guiding water into his mouth. Mindlessly, he starts swimming around the coast, no goal or destination in mind.

A close encounter with a speed boat finally snaps Charlie's human mind back into control. Drifting down to the sandy bottom, Charlie tries to understand what he has been doing for the past while.

"Are you all right?" a voice asks, interrupting his muddled thoughts.

"I-- <ACK>" Charlie starts chocking as he tries to speak underwater.

"Oh great, you're an air speaker. Come on, let's get you to the surface," the voice says. Charlie finally identifies the voice as a clown fish morph, fairly hi degree. He follows the clown fish to the surface.

"Now, are you all right?" the clown fish asks again.

Charlie surfaces and takes a breath. "I'm fine, I think. What happened? Where am I?"

"Just off of Bermuda. Some fools in a fishing boat nearly caught you on their hooks."

"Oh... What am I doing here?"

"I have no idea man. I was just in the area. What's the last thing you remember?"

Charlie stops and tries to remember. "The last thing I remember, is being tossed into the water by a bird... but we were humans just before that."

"Sheesh, you must've gone natural. Don't blame you; a lot of us Aquatics have gone natural. It's just easier I guess. What's your name?"

"Charlie, Charlie Boyd."

The Clown fish offers him a finned hand. "Jerry, Jerry Harrison. Why don't you come swim with me. A lot's happened over the past month."

They swim away from Bermuda, Jerry filling Charlie in on the new way of life since the change. Finally, just as night is falling, Jerry finishes his story.

"Wow," is all Charlie can say in the end. After his mind starts to sort through the facts and decide on actions. "I should get to a phone, see if I can line up a job or something."

"Don't bother. The land lubbers have forgotten all about us aquatics, and they don't like to be reminded too much. Your best bet is to just relax and enjoy the currents. There is a lot under the water, if you know where to find it," Jerry says, indicating a wrecked sail boat just visible under seaweed in the dim light. "All these old wrecks are fascinating to poke around in."

"Yeah, I guess they are interesting, if you're interested in that sort of thing," Charlie replies after surfacing for speaking air. "I've got a lot to think about, alone. Thanks for the information."

"No problem. It's nice to talk to other people sometime. I usually stay around Bermuda, so if you're ever in the area, just drop in for a chat," Jerry says.

"Thanks, I probably will, if I stay around." With a quick wave, Charlie swims away from Jerry.

After leaving his new friend, Charlie starts swimming around the waters off of Florida, no destination in mind. He shifts into norm, a trick he faintly remembers doing before, and drifts in the currents, basically letting his human mind sort through the information Jerry gave him, and letting instincts guide his actions completely. The only time he goes to Morph form is when he meets other aquatic morphs, or when he comes near shore, which is rare in both cases. A few months later, boredom finally drives him to do something.

The sight of a wrecked sailboat reminds him of what Jerry told him when they first met. After exploring the fairly recent pre-Change wreck for a while, he thinks of the most famous wreck in history and decides to pay it a visit. Staying in norm form, he swims out to the gulf stream and starts heading north.

About a week later, the attack happens. Somewhere close to the southern end of Nova Scotia, Charlie senses something in the water; something large in the water near him. Stopping in the water, and peering around, he finally sees the thing, slowly circling him. "Shark!!!!" a voice screams in his head, sending him into a panic.

Charlie dives down to the ocean floor, hoping to find cover in the rocks. The shark closes in, zooming past him in the water, brushing sides slightly. Upon contact, Charlie instinctively swings his barbed tail, and stabs at the shark. The barbs clatter against the shark's scales, missing any soft spots on the shark.

Looking behind him, Charlie sees the shark turning for another run, mouth open, showing hundreds of sharp, pointed teeth. Charlie shifts his gaze to the fast approaching ocean bottom and dismays; there is no suitable cover close enough for him to hide in.

Reaching the bottom, and searching for anything that could provide any sort of protection, Charlie senses the shark coming up fast behind him. Hopelessly, he shifts to morph form and grabs a rock, knowing that it is little protection against the great white hunter.

Suddenly, Charlie senses something else coming at him. Turning his head slightly, he can just make out another shark coming fast. He flattens himself against the bottom of the ocean just as the new shark broadsides the old one. Try as he might, Charlie can't see what is happening in the turbulent waters around the two hunters. Occasionally, he thinks he sees a flash of metal, but he is not certain.

"Psst, Down here!" Charlie hears nearby. He looks around, trying to identify who is calling him. "To your right, and ahead; Right there!" the voice continues. Charlie finally sees the source is a fish-morph of a species unknown to him, waiting outside a cave that looks just big enough for Charlie to squeeze in.

He didn't ask how the fish-morph is talking to him, since he already knew. Over his travels, Charlie has met many other aquatic morphs, and he has realized that, among fish-morphs, the majority of those who have completely lost their lungs have either gained water-speaking, the ability to speak underwater, or else they gained some sort of telepathy. Some even have both powers but they are rare. This fish-morph was obviously a water speaker.

Actually, I'm both, a voice echoes in Charlie's head. I didn't realize you're an air speaker at first, which is why I called to you. I switched over to telepathy as soon as I did. the morph continues. Now, you might want to take cover in here. Sharkey's taking care of your little friend there, but she has slipped into a frenzy, and might not recognize friend from foe right away. the fish sends to him, moving out of the cave entrance. Charlie glances back to the battling sharks, shudders and starts squirming into the cave.

Thanks, Charlie sends, as soon as he is safe inside.

No problem, always willing to help another morph, the fish replies. You aren't hurt are you?

No, that shark was still feeling me out when your friend interrupted him.

They fall silent and watch the competitors. It quickly becomes obvious that the morph is going to win. They avert their eyes as the normal shark finally dies, and the morph starts digging in.

No matter how often I see that, it still grosses me out. Oh well, she hasn't really eaten much today.The fish morph thinks more to himself, though the thoughts slip out. "Enjoy it Sharkey" he calls out to the Shark. The shark, still in a frenzy, replies with a telepathic blast of animal rage. Charlie, just catching the edge of that blast from the fish morph, shrinks back further into the cave.

Don't worry, as soon as she's filled up, she'll return to normal. My name's George. What's yours?

Charlie

Nice to meet cha. What are you doing way up here? This is out of the normal range of Manta's.

I know. I've been spending most of my time down near Florida, but I got bored and decided to go wreck visiting, starting with the biggest.

Ah, I see. Boredom is a bit of a problem for us water morphs. Well, Boredom and losing yourself completely to instincts actually, and in my opinion, they are related. It seems the landlubbers have all but forgotten us. Oh well. But if you're going to see the Titanic, forget about it. Sharkey and I just came from there, or at least, as close as we could get to it. An orca morph has set up shop near the wreck, and he's blocking all access to the wreck. A cod-morph told us that the rumors are saying that he, the Orca, lost someone close when the Titanic went down, and so now he was blocking anyone and everyone from getting near the wreck.

But how can 1 person, even an orca-morph, keep everyone away from the wreck? Especially a wreck that is that far down. Doesn't he need air?!?

That's what Sharkey and I wondered, so we kept going to the wreck, and we saw how. That morph has a Power that the Cod neglected to tell us. The entire wreck is sealed in an opaque shield, hard as steel. Until that Orca's out of the way, no one is going to see the Titanic again.

Oh well, it was worth a shot. Charlie replies disappointed. Do you know if anyone is guarding the Lusitania yet? he asks jokingly.

Before George can reply, a new voice enters in the mental conversation. George? Where are you George? a tired, female voice enters their minds.

I'm here. How are you Sharkey? George sends to the shark-morph, who is now swimming gently away from the carcass. She seems to be searching for something on the ocean floor. Sharkey's just a broadcast telepath. She can send out her thoughts to anyone and everyone, but unless you send directly to her, she doesn't pick up a thing, George says to Charlie in an aside thought.

That shark put up quite a fight, but he didn't stand a chance. I got my knife in him in the first pass, so it was just a matter of time. the Shark replies, unaware of the side conversation. Mind you, it did take a little more time than I expected, and he got a good bite on my dorsal fin. How is the Manta? The shark seems to find what she is looking for, as she quickly dives down and grabs something from the rocks.

The Manta is fine Sharkey. Watch for us, we're coming out now. George replies. He swims out of the cave, motioning for Charlie to follow.

Charlie stops just outside the cave and examines his savior. Even though she is in morph form, it is difficult to tell she was ever human. She is a very hi degree Great White morph. Her head does have a slight neck, but it only offered a few degrees of movement. Her face is completely shark; her mouth being only slightly smaller than a normal sharks. Her fin-arms start right after her gill slits, ending in hands. Charlie could immediately tell she had more movement with her arms than he did with his. Behind her arms, she is completely shark; unlike Charlie, who has kept his legs, she lost her legs completely to a shark tail during the Change. She is wearing a harness which loops around her dorsal fin and arms, and around her body. Numerous things are visible in pockets and loops in the harness. Charlie recognizes the object she has picked up as a knife. She grabs a floating piece of seaweed and carefully cleans the blade. There seems to be something different with the blade, but Charlie can't tell what it is from where he is. She stores the blade in the harness and swims to them.

Hi there. What's your name? Sharkey sends to Charlie.

Charlie Charlie mentally says, and waits for George to relay to her. After a few awkward moments of silence, George remembers that Charlie can't tell her, and finally tells her.

You're an air breather, aren't you, Charlie? she sends.

No, water breather, air speaker. Charlie responds through the now aware, George.

Same diff. Oh well, we can't all be perfect, now can we? she sends with a laugh. She turns her back to Charlie and starts swimming away. Come on, we need to get out of here before the scavengers show up. I don't feel up to fighting a minnow right now. she calls back to them.

George immediately follows behind her, but Charlie stays still.

Don't worry, I won't bite; I'm too stuffed right now, Sharkey says, turning enough to flash Charlie a toothy grin. This unnerves Charlie, but the thought of being around when the scavengers hit the shark carcass nearby unnerves him even more. He quickly catches up to the shark, and falls in behind her so he can keep an eye on her. He can see her trailing drops of blood from a bite on her dorsal fin. George swims up next to her and removes something from her harness and starts bandaging the bite.

They stay silent until even Sharkey's sensitive nose can no longer detect blood from the dead shark in the water. The trio moved closer to the surface, where Charlie unrolled his cephalic fins and started guiding plankton into his mouth.

So, what are you going to do, now that you know the Titanic's off limits? George asks again.

I'm not sure. I haven't really had any plan on what I'm going to do. I guess I'll probably go and visit some of the other famous wrecks.

Lemme guess, this is your first long distance trip since the Change, right? Sharkey says, swimming beside him, George in between.

"Yes it is. How'd you guess?" Charlie replies after getting a breath of air to speak with from the surface.

Only a fool leaves their familiar waters unprepared. And Charlie, you are probably the most unprepared person I have ever seen. The oceans, as you have just seen, are a very dangerous place, even more deadly than the land, and you came out here without a thing. She stops and swims around and taps Charlie's tail. I bet, going from what I remember about Manta's, that even this thing is all Barbs and no sting, right?

Charlie nods slowly while Sharkey moves back in front of him. George watches quietly from the sidelines. He acts like he has been through this before many times.

Now, if you are going to leave familiar waters, you need to be prepared, like I am. she continues, pointing to her harness. Here, you have your GPS transponder. Without it, it is very easy to get lost out in the water. Sure, after awhile you get to know the feels of certain currents, water temperatures, water color, and ocean floor, but knowing all of the Atlantic's tricks is worthless if you find yourself in the middle of the Pacific. Next, is your first aid kit. There are many creatures down here, including me, that go into a frenzy at the slightest hint of blood in the water, so it is important that all wounds are bound quickly. It's not a bad idea to have a good supply of strong antibiotics and anti-poisons on you too, just in case. Charlie continues nodding his head, remembering how George had quickly bound Sharkey's wounds while they were swimming.

And finally, you need a weapon. Firearms are useless down here. Harpoons are too bulky, and not effective enough. Pressurized dart guns can be useful, if you are lucky. Your best bet are knives, but even they have problems, unless you get a lucky shot to the brain or heart. I've decided to improve my odds a little with MY knives. Sharkey reaches into her harness and pulls out the knife she used earlier. She hands it to Charlie.

Charlie examines it and realizes why it seemed different when he saw it before. The point of the blade is hollow and filled with some sort of gel. The blade is also covered in the same substance.

It's my own design; both the blade and the gel. That gel on the blade and in the point, contains a powerful tranquilizer. Push the button on the handle, and the point ejects the gel. Just the amount on the blade there will knock out a Great White in seconds. If you can get all that's in the blade, both on it and in the point, and even a Big Blue will be out for the count in no time. Charlie feels that she might be exaggerating slightly on that last count, but he is still suitably impressed. He goes to hand the blade back, but Sharkey refuses it.

Keep it, I've got extras. She says. With George's help, she cuts the pieces off of her harness, using a regular knife, to make a makeshift wrist harness for Charlie. You'll need to see a designer to make a real harness for you, but in the mean time, this should hold for now.

Is all this really necessary? Charlie asks George mentally.

Well, she does tend to go overboard, but she means well, and she does have many good points.

Yeah, especially in her mouth. Charlie says, laughing with George. Sharkey continues on.

Above all, the main thing to be, is to be careful. Near towns and cities, most of the dangerous stuff has long been chased away, but they are still out there. Be especially carefully near wild shores and deep in the ocean, but don't let your guard down too much near civilization, those waters have different dangers, such as boat propellers, fuel spills...

Imagine, safety tips from a shark! Charlie lets George know, smiling.

She goes through this with every unprepared morph she meets. Just bear with her, she's nearly done.

So, how did you two meet? Charlie asks as Sharkey drones on.

We literally bumped into each other in the English Channel, about a week after the Change. Initially, I was scared to death about being eaten, but soon she started lecturing me like she's doing to you. Believe me, by the end of the lecture, I was almost wishing she had eaten me. Anyways, after the lecture, we started talking and became friends, and we've been inseparable ever since. She never has told me her real name, nor where she came from.

OK, you two can stop talking behind my back. I'm done lecturing, Sharkey says, pulling Charlie and George's attentions back to her.

We weren't talking behind you're back George says to her.

If that is so, then Charlie can tell me what I just said... No, don't bother Charlie. Seeing as how it needs to go through George, I have know idea if you're really saying it. Charlie can tell that this seems to be a normal routine with this pair.

They continue swimming near the surface in silence. Charlie continues eating the plankton, while thinking privately about this strange pair he has met up with. George eventually water speaks, interrupting his thoughts. "So, Charlie, what are you going to do now?" George asks.

Charlie stays quiet, thinking of his options. Despite his levity with George, Sharkey's lecture had struck a nerve with him. He now understands just how lucky he has been coming up the coast.

Charlie surfaces to get a breath of air, and ducks back down to speak; a trick he learned early on. "I have no idea. I thought I might go and explore more, but now I think I just want to head home. The thing is, even back in the waters around Florida, I don't really have a home or a family or anything... I'll probably go back there, since I know the area."

"So you are going to be heading south?" George asks.

"Yeah, might as well. There isn't much for me to do up here, and winter is fast approaching; I've heard the North Atlantic's winters aren't the nicest thing "

Good idea. George and I were planning on heading south soon too. Want to form a school? Sharkey asks.

"Only if you promise to protect me on the way back, and take your knife back. Even with that harness you've rigged for me, I'd lose it the first time I norm shifted."

Good point. I didn't realize you could norm shift. Before we go south though, I need to stop at the Halifax wharf and pick up some more batteries. The last set we got shorted out off of Greenland.

"No problem. I'm in no hurry."

A few days later, the trio swims into Halifax harbor. While George and Sharkey swim to the docks, Charlie stays near the mouth of the large harbor, examining what seems to be a crater on the ocean floor.

"This crater is manmade," a bass morph water speaks to Charlie. "Back during the World War, 1917 I think it was, a relief ship collided with a French munitions ship. KA BOOM!" the morph continues, after he sees he has Charlie's attention. "The explosion itself devastated the northern part of the city but that wasn't it. The explosion also caused a tidal wave which washed what was left of the city into the sea. Over 1500 people dead, another 1000 blinded and disfigured. They say it was the largest man made explosion ever. Aid flowed in from all over, but especially from New York and Boston. Too bad they were hindered by the snowstorm that buried the city the next day. But, true to the spirit of the original settlers, the population stayed and rebuilt, turning Halifax into one of the few year round, ice-free major Canadian ports. To return the aid favor that the people of Halifax received after the explosion, Halifax was one of the first cities to send relief supplies to the plague-ridden Boston during the War Against the Germans."

Charlie heads for the surface to get some air to speak with. The Bass follows him, talking all the way.

"That was very interesting..." Charlie says, trying to think of a way to politely escape the historian.

"Yes, it is very interesting, isn't it. My name is Joe. I am a member of the Halifax Crater Preservation Society. We are trying to convince the government to declare this crater a Historical Site, so that it may be protected. Would you like to sign our petition towards this goal?" The Bass morph holds out a water proof pad and pen.

Charlie quickly signs the petition, and leaves the area, as the Bass morph sees another aquatic morph coming close to the crater. Charlie swims closer to the docks, and soon meets up with George and Sharkey.

"Did you get your batteries?" he asks them.

"Yes, everything is taken care of," George replies.

"Good. I'm starting to get hungry, and the plankton's getting thin in this area."

Well, let's go to someplace where the hunting's better. I could use a bite to eat too, Sharkey says.

"Just make sure the bite isn't out of me," Charlie replies as they swim out of the harbor.

A week later, they reach New York City...

"What are they doing over there?" George asks as they surface and see activity near the shore.

"They are building the new Hudson borough. The one for morphs like us. They were just starting that when I came up here earlier. A lot of the Atlantic coastal cities are building areas for water morphs, though from what I've heard, so far New York's is the largest." Charlie replies.

Maybe you could find a home in one of those places? Sharkey says.

"HA! Those places? I wouldn't be caught dead near one of those colonies. They are building land-lubber designed buildings for aqua-morphs, and that's exactly what they are. I'd be surprised if the designers even talked to one aqua-morph. Before I left Florida, I visited the Miami Water Park, as they are calling the colony there, and could not believe my eyes. The buildings they were building were so small, even a sardine morph would be crowded! And you can forget about water flow; those 'houses' were sealed up tighter than a submarine. You'd think they were building underwater air breathers houses instead of a water breathers place. And to top it all of, the colony was in the wrong place! They were building the colony practically out in the gulf stream. The currents would pull you away before you could even make it to your front door. Forget it."

So, I take it you don't think much of these undersea colonies.

"You got that right. I could design better in my sleep... <Sigh> If only someone would ask me to." Charlie says, still staring at the construction crews support ships. Behind him, Sharkey and George exchange glances and carry on a quick mental conversation.

Finally, George swims up beside Charlie. "We'd better get going. Sharkey and I just remembered that we need to be in the Caribbean within a couple of weeks."

"Sure, no problem. Let's get out of here." Charlie says as they swim away from the city and continue south.

George and Sharkey take over the lead as soon as they reach the Caribbean, a few weeks later. Charlie, not having anything better to do, follows them. They lead him to an oil drilling rig. Charlie knew the place; he had visited the shut down rig shortly after the change, and found it empty. Now, he can tell that it is still shut down, but it is far from empty.

"George! Sharkey! Glad you could make it! Like the new headquarters?" a female middie Barracuda morph greets them at the surface. From what Charlie can tell, despite her fish appearance, she is still an air breather.

"Hi Judy." George calls back to her. "The HQ's looking nice, but isn't it a little big?"

"Well, we've got a lot of work to do here in the Atlantic, and we need some place big. Besides, we got the rig cheap from a company that was stuck with it when they stopped drilling around here." Judy says. She swims closer to the trio and looks at Charlie. "You must be Charlie. You've lead us on quite the chase."

Charlie looks at George, Sharkey and Judy in confusion. "Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on here?" he finally asks.

"Soon enough, Charlie. Let's go inside first though." George says, following Judy to the old oil rig. Between the support pylons of the rig, a metal mesh had been put up. It shields the inside from view, but still permitting water flow. They enter this meshed area, into what looks like a classic Hollywood command center dropped underwater. Charlie follows Judy to the water surface under the rig.

"Charlie, Welcome to the N.A.F.; New Atlantis Foundation's Headquarters," Judy says, indicating the busy water around them. Charlie glances around the room, both above and below the water. He sees numerous boards with maps and timetables on them. Around 20 aquatic morphs of all types, both water breathers and air breathers are examining the charts, talking on phones, and typing on water proof keyboards. Diving bells provide air breathers and air speakers with air when they need it and can't make it to the surface.

"The New Atlantis Foundation is a foundation started soon after you left these waters, from what we can tell. We are a division of WAM, World Aquatic Morphs, a group of aquatic morphs who look out for the needs of water livers around the world. WAM was started in the Pacific ocean, and has only recently spread into the Atlantic. They have been monitoring the construction of the Water colonies in Vancouver, Hong Kong, California, Hawaii, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chili and other areas along the Pacific rim and into the Indian Ocean."

"You mean you guys are responsible for those colonies they are building in New York and Miami?"Charlie asks, his opinion of this group dropping faster than a lead weight at the thought.

"Those atrocities? No way. As I said, WAM was founded in the Pacific and has only recently started into the Atlantic. Those cities saw what their western counterparts were doing, and started building before we even got here. One of the secondary goals of NAF is to get them to stop construction, which we just succeeded in doing, and convincing them to build to our specifications, which we are still working on," Judy quickly explains.

Charlie's opinion quickly rises. "That's good... Wait a sec, you said that was a secondary goal. What's your primary goal?"

"You mean you haven't realized it yet? All the Pacific colonies are affiliated with a city. There are no independent colonies as of yet. NAF hopes to change that, by founding, or re-founding, if you believe the legends, the city of Atlantis. Atlantis is going to be totally an aquatic morph's city, not just the underwater suburbs of some other city."

"OK, I see... But what does this have to do with me?"

"Well, we've got nearly everything we need to start our own city. We've got people to live and work in it and we've got the money to build it, we've got businesses already interested in setting up shop. The only things we are missing is a designer to design it, and the land to build it on. With you, we finally have our designer. And with any luck, we should soon have our land."

"Whoa, slow down a minute. I haven't signed anything yet. What's this about me designing a city?!?"

"It's simple Charlie. You can't build a city without some sort of plan. Very few architects and city planners became aqua-morphs, and you know what can happen if a land-morph tries to design for the water. As far as we know, you are the only one in the Atlantic."

"Well, get some of the ones out of the Pacific!"

"We'd like to do that, Charlie, but the three we've found in the Pacific are all booked solid into the next millennium, designing for the Pacific Rim cities. Plus, they are working on the Oceanus project too, but Oceanus is on the back burner unless Atlantis fails. Atlantis is intended to be the first ocean city." Judy can tell she is getting through to Charlie, and decides to play her last card.

"Think of it Charlie; You're going to have an entire city you can design your way. You don't need to worry about working around existing roads, or by-laws or zoning permits or anything else. Other people will live in Atlantis, but it will always be your city." She watches the Manta morph and can practically see his ego growing.

"When do I start?" Charlie asks.

"Excellent!" Judy exclaims. Attention Everybody! We now have our planner! Now let's get some land to build his plans on! she broadcasts mentally to everyone around the rig's pylons. Charlie flinches at the loudness of it in his mind.

"This rig is just what we need to plan our city in and all that, but I don't exactly want to live here, if you catch my drift." Judy says, as she starts to swim to one end of the rig and the cubicles set up there. Charlie, George and Sharkey follow her. "We'll need a day or two to get you registered in the computer network. Until then, feel free to look around all you want. If you need anything, personally or for your planning, just drop me a message." Judy stops speaking as they reach the cubicles and they dive underwater. Judy norm-shifts and leads them to a set of three near the bottom of the pile. She enters the closest one, moves towards a clear plastic dive bell set up in one corner and shifts back to morph.

"We save the living quarters on the surface for the air breathers, but all quarters have these air chambers in them. These quarters right here will be your's Charlie. George, you have the ones next door, and Sharkey, your's are next to George's. The computer terminal is over in the other corner, and the phone is in here. Dial 9 to get a land link. Don't worry about dropping it in the water, everything on this rig is 100% waterproof. It's catch your own dinner for you Charlie. We don't ship in Plankton; at least not yet. Sharkey, Ivan, wait you don't know Ivan yet... Oh well, Ivan's the Ichthyosaurus. You'll know him when you see him. Anyway, he reported in just before you got here. He's bringing in a Hammerhead and a couple of swordfish. The Frenzy's at 7 in sector G 4 Omega. If you want to join us, meet me at quarter to seven at the entrance I brought you in,." Judy says, before shifting to norm and swimming out past the stunned Charlie.

Are you all right Charlie? Sharkey asks, breaking him out of his stupor. He quickly swims over to the divers bell to speak to them.

"I'm fine. It's just a lot to take in at once. My minds still trying to figure out what's going on. Give me some time, and I'll be okay."

Fine. If you need anything, just ask. George and I are next door

"Just a sec. Before you go, could you please tell who you guys really are?"

"Us? We're exactly who we told you we were; two friends out exploring the Atlantic. " George answers.

"They why were you sent to find me?"

"We weren't. Bumping into you was a pure coincidence." George can tell Charlie isn't swallowing his story. "Look, Sharkey and I didn't even know who you were until we met you. As we told you, we had gotten defective batteries when we left London, and our radio has been completely dead since we left Greenland's waters, so we were completely out of contact with Judy and the rest of WAM. All we knew was that Judy was setting up NAF down here somewhere, and that we'd meet up with her. It wasn't until we got new batteries in Halifax, and called Judy that we realized they were looking for you."

"But why didn't you tell me about this before?"

Sharkey shrugs. I don't know I guess it never came up.

"Never came up?!? 3 weeks of traveling and it never came up!?!" Charlie dives out of the bell and heads out the portal. "I'm going for a swim. I've got a lot to absorb, and I don't mean just dinner."

NAF HQ - - A few weeks later.

"Yes... Yes... I understand.... Please call us if anything develops... Have a nice day," Judy says into the phone. "Damn bureaucratic red tape." she mutters replacing the phone. She shifts to norm and swims to the main planning area under the rig. She approaches a map of the western Atlantic, centered on the Caribbean sea and comes up under an air dome.

"We can cross site SM5 off of the list of possible sites; my sources just told me that the U.S. and Mexico are deadlocked in their negotiations over that area, and all signs are indicating that these negotiations will remain deadlocked until at least the turn of the century." She tells the clown fish-morph. The clown fish goes to the map and marks a green space in the Caribbean sea red, disappointment clear in his actions. SM5 was a beautiful place; close to shore, with light to moderate currents and plenty of room for both the predator and prey species to spread out.

"We didn't lose SM5 did we?" Charlie asks, popping up in the air space next to Judy.

"I'm afraid so."

"Damn it Judy. You know I can't plan a city until I know what the water and land is like!"

"I realize that Charlie, but there's a lot of red tape to cut through And don't start me on the 200 mile limit!" Judy glances around the room. Status reports! she broadcasts, ignoring Charlie who flinches at the loudness of the telepathic blast.

"Forget about the South American sites. The Venezuelan government collapsed again, and now the Field and Stream Party is in power. They are currently expanding their boarders into Columbia, and Guyana." a water speaking spade fish morph reports. "Atlantic City is still trying to convince us to set up off of their shores. They're still peeved that we got first dibs on the name Atlantis. All the other sites are still in negotiation, but, from what negotiators are reporting, we can cross the rest of the Caribbean off of the list. SM5 was the only good location we had in there, and now it's gone."

"Thanks Jim."

Charlie leaves the air space and moves to take a closer look at the map.Judy pushes the bubble through the water over next to him. "So, what's your next preferred space?"

Charlie considers the map carefully, before finally pointing to a place in the Atlantic, on the other side of the Gulf stream. He marks the spot with a tack and reenters the air space.

"Area DP51. It's a large plateau, located outside of the major currents, and the ocean is shallow enough for the supports of the surface platform yet still deep enough for the deep water morphs. It's still in Hurricane Alley, but there isn't much we can do about that without rearranging the world's air currents."

"Speaking of that surface platform you keep saying Atlantis needs " Judy starts.

"I've told you hundreds of times. If we want this city to survive, we need to have some surface support, if anything something for helicopters to land on and boats to tie up to. Plus, the hospital would function best on it, so that both air and water breathers can use it. I'd also like to see the main emergency services centers and the town hall on it. This surface platform is the heart of Atlantis!"

"Yes, yes, yes. I know all that. The problem is, building such a platform will strain even WAM's resources, so I was wondering if you would consider a ready made platform."

"You mean another oil rig?"

"Not exactly. All the movable rigs are still in use in the North Sea and in Hibernia, and moving and retrofitting one of the permanent rigs would cost as much as a custom made base. No, I've got something better in mind Come with me." Judy shifts to norm and swims across the underwater base to her office. A thick sheet of plastic gives half of the office a floor. Judy shifts back to morph and sits down at a desk. "This was on the news just this morning." She says as she picks up a VCR remote and starts a tape.

A winged seagull morph stands at the end of a dock. Behind her, a huge gray ship is being towed into the bay. "This is the scene today in Norfolk, as the giant naval Super Carrier, the USS Enterprise, is towed into dock for the final time. Completed in 1962, the Enterprise first saw war-time action in the Brazilian war of 1967. It served as the launching ground for the aerial attacks and spy missions against the Clear-cutter consortium. Now over 40 years old, the Enterprise was scheduled for its third major refit this January, but the Change put an end to those plans. The U.S. Navy considered the added cost that making the carrier Morph-compatible and determined that the costs were too high, so instead of a refit, the Enterprise is coming in to dock to be decommissioned. The decommissioning is expected to take between 1 to 2 years. The fate of the shell of this large ship has yet to be decided. It is expected that the ship will be completely disassembled and recycled or else scuttled to form a new fish habitat off the coast somewhere.. Construction of the next Enterprise, another super carrier, has already in the nearby Newport dry docks..."

"I take it you're thinking the same thing I am." Judy says, stopping the tape and seeing the thoughtful expression on Charlie's face.

"I think I am, but there are some things Sharkey just will not eat." Charlie says deadpan.

"I knew we shouldn't have gotten cable down here." Judy mumbles. "I'm talking about the ship. What do you think?"

"It is certainly large enough. I'd need to get my fins on the specs of it, but it looks like it might be ideal."

"It would definitely be cheaper than buying a new platform. Refitting it won't be much of a problem. Should we look into getting the shell when the Navy's done with it?"

"Go for it. And concentrate on DP51. We can't afford to lose that one."

"Don't worry, I'll make certain we get that site."

"Right, I'm sure you will." Charlie turns to leave the office, but a thought interrupts him. "Oh, if we're going to go after the Enterprise's shell, we'd better find some engineers. I can layout all the cities you want me to, but if I try and design her interior, it will likely collapse the first wave that hits it."

"Already on it." Judy says, picking up the phone.

Just over a year later...

Tugboats pull the former aircraft carrier out into the Atlantic. On the flight deck, four figures stand, three of them in the prototype wet suits recently designed by the Atlantean labs. Other fish morphs watch along the course of the huge ship. Behind them, the press corps have gathered near a ribbon covered lever.

"They're just making the final adjustments to the Enterprise's position right now," Judy says after watching the guide buoys and consulting with the captain of the lead tug.

"Good, I can't wait to get out of this damn suit." George says, squirming uncomfortably in the wide suit.

At least you've got legs to stand on! Make a note to the labs that the robo-legs still need some work. Sharkey complains, as her right robotic leg freezes up. Could you tell me, again, why the hell are we up here? she continues, struggling with the mal-functioning leg.

"We're the Atlantean city council. The Enterprise is our new town hall. It's only right that we're with it when it arrives." George says.

Even though the ship won't be ready as a town center for at least another year?

"So what? This is the arrival of the biggest building in Atlantis. Can you blame the populace if they want a little ceremony?"

"OK, cut it out you two. We're in position. Time to go face the press." Judy says, walking towards the awaiting cameras. Charlie, Sharkey and George follow a few steps behind her, George helping Sharkey with her malfunctioning leg. Charlie sees most of the reporters seem to be Avian, canine and feline morphs. There are very few reptile morphs, and only one amphibian morph. There are no aquatics in the press corps.

"Boy are they in for a surprise," Charlie says through the radio link, smiling in anticipation of one of the few things he was looking forward to from this conference. The others remain silent.

Judy walks up to the podium set up next to the lever, while the others stand behind her. She waits for the clicking of the still-photo cameras to slow down before she speaks.

"Greetings ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Atlantis. It has been a long year for us working to make this dream a reality, but as myself and my colleagues would all agree, it has been well worth the effort.

"Over the past year, we have seen Atlantis grow from a dream and some rough designs on a screen to a bustling town of 2000 aquatic morphs. This dream would not have been realized had it not been for the support of many people, governments and companies. I would like to thank some of them now. First, I wish to thank the numerous people within the New Atlantis Foundation, and her parent organization, the World Aquatic Morphs for coming up with the dream to found Atlantis, and for making sure that she, as well as all the aquatic colonies set up near cities on the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, the Great Lakes, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean,, are set up with our needs in mind. Next I would like to thank all the companies who have worked with us in making water proof equipment, so that the people living in all off these colonies can have the conveniences their land living friends enjoy. And most importantly, I wish to thank the United States government for helping us over come the last of the red tape to set up a city here, and the United States Navy for supplying us with the Enterprise that will be the center point for Atlantis, as well as leaving the sickbay intact for Atlantis's first permanent hospital. And finally, to our compatriots working on Oceanus in the Pacific ocean, we wish them luck in finding a suitable base for their own city.

"And now, without further ado, we will now lower the Enterprise's anchors for the final time, and welcome her to her new home in Atlantis. May she serve us long and help Atlantis prosper."

On Judy's signal, the four members of the Atlantian council move over to the ribbon covered lever. With little jostling, the four get into a position where each has a hand on the lever, but are all visible to the cameras. On George's mental signal, they pull the lever down. Loud clanking lets everyone know that the Enterprise's large anchors are dropping down for the final time.

Judy returns to the podium and addresses the press. "Now, if you would follow me, we have set up a room where you can receive disks with the future plans for the Enterprise and Atlantis, as well as ask me and my colleagues questions."

"Finally! I'll be glad to get out of this suit!" Charlie says over the closed radio link, as the four council members lead the press corps into the ship.

"Hope those reporters don't mind getting a little wet," George says, smiling in his water filled helmet.

I'll just be glad when this is all over and I can get back to real work, Sharkey sulks, still limping on her malfunctioning leg. George quickly manages to block her broadcast before it can reach the press.

"Well guys, the Council's finally got a place it can call home. Now that we've got our platform, it's clear sailing from here on." Judy says, draping an arm around Charlie's and Sharkey's shoulders while the press is still hidden around a corner.

"Let's just hope we don't run into a reef," George says, cynically.

"Don't be a spoil sport. Here we are," Judy says opening the door into the main meeting room.

The entire floor of the room is covered in water, a current from the outside continuously refreshes the water. At the entrance, it is only a couple of feet deep, dropping off to 15 feet deep at the other end. Charlie, George and Sharkey quickly hit the releases on their suits and dive into the deeper water. Even Judy seems relieved to be back in her own element.

Squawks and roars of dismay rise from the press corp as they step, knee deep (or deeper in some cases) into the water filled room. Some of them need to duck down to avoid hitting their heads on the low ceiling. Only a frog morph from ABC news seems grateful for the water.

"Well, the networks should've known better then to send canine, feline and avian morphs to an aquatic morph event," George water speaks to the other three, enjoying the reporters discomfort.

"Your debriefing disks are on the ledge over there," Judy informs the reporters, pointing to a ledge in the middle of the wall on the deep end of the room. "Now, does anyone have any questions?"



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