250 MILES DUE EAST OF MIAMI, FLORIDA--PRESENT DAY
"Yo, D-man, we've got to talk, hombre!"
Colt Dyce kept his back turned to hide his eye roll when he heard the nasal, high-pitched voice accompanied by the footfalls he dreaded the most. He had spent more than half an hour swabbing the Resolved Rogue's deck, and was in no mood for any one-on-one discussion with a conceited young buffoon whose authority had gone to his simple-brained head. Nevertheless, Colt stopped his work and patiently awaited his late night visitor's approach. He snapped to attention. The last thing he intended to endure was a lecture about posture, a favorite "motivational adjustment" the old freight vessel's most infamous loudmouth was known to reel in out of thin air when the mood struck his capricious fancy.
"Who were you waving at down there in the water? Neptune? Poseidon? Or was it King Triton?" First Executive Officer Brent Taffney asked with a sneer. Behind his back, the crew had derisively christened him Taffy Legs, because any weather conditions even slightly out of calm range sent him to his cabin as a general rule. "You were hired aboard my dad's ship to get work done, not stand around like some tourist. This ain't no pleasure cruiser, in case you've somehow lost sight of reality these last three months."
As if you're my go-to guy when I need reality explained to me, you snot-nosed little prick, Colt thought, well aware he had to maintain his neutral expression as he stood ramrod straight before a tiresome nemesis half his age. Nah, the only answer you'll get to your flippant question is the one I deem necessary to get you out of my face in such a way you'll leave under the misconception you've pulled rank on me again. Scuttlebutt has it the only reason you wound up wearing all those customized officer's uniforms is because your mega-rich pappy wants you doing something with your life other than trolling people on social media while you lounge around his house all day. He gave you a commission on the oldest ship in his fleet so you can show him you've got the same fire in your belly he once had. Will you prove able to validate the grand plan he's betting on? Based on what I've seen so far, I highly doubt it.
Aloud, however, Colt adopted a meek, reasonable tone.
"You're absolutely right, XO. But my 'waving' you saw was actually a stretching technique I learned during an ergonomics training session I attended once."
"Okay, so what's ergonomics training?" Brent asked with a mystified expression his subordinate privately found immensely satisfying to behold. He who passed himself off as "The Man," the sole heir to Paul Taffney's vast shipping empire, was just a boy in the matters which counted most for a competitive business.
"It has to do with finding the most efficient method an individual can use for their own movement, or to set up an operating environment that helps teammates work as a unit to get a specific kind of task done over an extended period of time safely while minimizing the risks of sustaining overuse injuries. What you saw as you got here was my way of stretching ligaments and muscles in my right forearm, wrist, and fingers. Swabbing a deck is a job which requires a lot of repetitive motion, and I don't want chronic injuries to take me out of action somewhere down the line when I'm needed most. I'm very grateful to be employed on this freighter, sir, so I'll do whatever it takes to remain productive."
"Yeah, well," Brent muttered as he attempted to find fault with his deckhand's reply and came up empty. "You just better keep your attitude in line, hombre." His rancorous personality came back as a thought struck when he looked at his employee's lined, weathered face. "Wow, you're, like, the oldest crew member on the roster, Dyce! I bet you've even got some years on this tub we're standing on! You're so damn ancient, man!" he crowed, gleeful he had found some comedy to get some mileage out of. He held up his right index finger to indicate he expected close attention paid to his next words. "Hey, I may not be captain of the Resolved Rogue yet, but what I say can make or break your paychecks, buddy. Well, I'm almost done wasting my time on you. I have a, um, I have an appointment." He spat on the deck and sneered again. "Uh oh, it looks like you missed a spot, piss ant. You're swabbing out the galley when you're done here, by the way. The bottom line is, you're not just covering for Sawyer tonight, but Phillips, too. No one knows where they are, and I'm sure as hell not going to be the one messing with tracking them down. Tag, you're pulling extra duty."
"Aye, sir, understood."
The conceited young executive brayed his signature laugh as he strutted off, illuminated by a floodlight mounted to the ship bridge's exterior.
"If there was ever someone who has earned the reputation of being a useless jackass, it's you," Colt growled at the distant officer as he disappeared down an aft stairwell. "Here I am, doing what responsible adults must, making ends meet with the hand I've been dealt. That strikes you as funny? But okay, I can see how your kind finds my circumstances amusing, Taffy Legs," Colt muttered angrily as he cleaned up the phlegm. "I'm being a team player by filling in for guys who have gone missing, and you spit on the deck. I suppose that's to be expected from an imbecile who's the antithesis of charming. I bet if there was an officer awake now who actually earned their rank, Taffney, you wouldn't be as--"
Water pattered on Colt in the same moment he heard a cheerful feminine giggle, which prompted him to gasp as he whipped his line of sight upward. Thoroughly startled, he barely had an opportunity to make sense of an impossible form as it dropped out of the clear night sky at him. He discarded his mop out of sheer instinct, the same instinct which then enabled him to thrust both hands over his head. A slender, blue-haired mermaid contorted her body to land her cool, firm midriff in his outstretched palms. She shook her head with a friendly smile when he moved to put her down.
"No, please don't let go. Keep me for a little while longer, Colt." The mermaid giggled again as she deliberately glided her long, cool belly against his hands. "If only you could see your own face! Cassi's right, you are adorable." Her pale green tail fins swung pendulum-like as she continued to muse aloud. "You're so young, too, compared to us."
My hunch is she won't elaborate on her last remark anytime soon, but she meant it, he realized upon gazing back at her in equal measure to the earnest fascination with which she studied him. I'm forty-four, so how old is Sea Seductress here and that Cassi she mentioned? What's proper etiquette for talking to mermaids about their age? Technically, they're not ladies, after all. Oh, heck, I'll just leave the subject alone.
"Wow, here you are," he blurted while he carefully moved his hand positions to support the amused mermaid as if she was a new bride whom he intended to carry over his threshold. He looked down at her, awestruck. She was so petite.
His core temperature plummeted without warning as he experienced a vision in which he and the beautiful sea creature in his arms were in the presence of an entity, a being he interpreted as an evil female based upon the arrogant, smug laughter which chortled in his mind. The being had no form except as a mist which transformed from dainty pink to a deep burgundy. His fearful companion was tugged inexorably away from him by someone who possessed an ancient strength he could not hope to match.
Colt gulped as he mentally shoved the ominous, unwelcome image out of his thoughts with all the will he could summon.
Meanwhile, the bemusement which had sparkled in the mermaid's icy blue eyes disappeared. She stifled another giggle in response to how he had bashfully shifted focus after his eyes skimmed her lavender clam shells she used in lieu of a bra. But that levity gave way to maternal instinct being awakened on his behalf. She frowned up at him, concerned.
That does it, time to lay off those wee hours vending machine runs somewhat, he scolded himself. They're really messing with my head. From the expression on this beauty's face, I'd say it's a fair bet she's wondering what size of straitjacket I 'll fit into.
He smiled in embarrassment to acknowledge his thoughts had veered off temporarily, but all was well and he was more or less okay.
"You're real enough," Colt nodded. "That makes the gorgeous platinum blonde mermaid who I saw you with a few minutes before my boss showed up real too. What am I talking about? Of course she's real! You used a name in reference to her, after all. Please excuse me, I'm rather awkward in front of the other gender, always have been.
"It sure was a treat watching you two have fun so gracefully. Oh, dolphins play in this ship's bow wave too, but they're not nearly as mesmerizing as you mermaids. I'm just glad sleep deprivation didn't make me imagine your beauty."
He had not let loose a comparable gush of words since the first and last blind date he had attempted when he was nineteen. Flustered, he was about excuse himself a second time when the mermaid gently put her webbed right hand over his mouth.
"Princess Cassandra and I were pleased you watched us so raptly, dear one. Your friendly wave charmed us. And now that you have passed your final character test with flying colors, she will surely greet you as only an elite royal of King Nathaniel's Atlantic Realm is capable of. My name is Sasha. I certainly hope you shall remember me, sweet Son of Adam."
With that, she deftly flipped herself up out of his hands and over the freighter's starboard guardrail. He did not bother to listen for her splashed return into the Atlantic's choppy surface, since it was about 170 feet below the deck he stood upon. Given the agility she possessed, he would have been shocked if Sasha had created much more than a ripple.
Before he could retrieve his mop, an "all hands respond" klaxon shrilled into the late stillness.
"Wonderful," Colt groaned, and sprinted for the nearest stairwell which would get him to the ship's hold. "Wow, am I the only one who was topside? Even after midnight, I should have backup on my heels. Where is everybody?"