AT: The AquaTerrestrial

Spotted: Mermaid-like beings at several beaches across the world!

The headline was as confusing as it was intriguing, and Seth leaned forward, engrossed in the news piece. He had barely read the first paragraph when his phone rang, the caller id revealing that it was a conference call from his friends, Amir and Aria. He answered the phone with, “did you read the news?” Aria interrupted, “the news is sitting before me.” Seth was puzzled, “what do you mean?” With a quick, “come over to my place,” the line went dead.

Alarmed by Aria’s cryptic words, Seth hurried out of the house and ran up the street to where she lived. Amir joined him just then. By force of habit, the two rounded the house and entered through the backyard. Aria was seated on the cosy chair in the sunroom, her back to them. Across her sat an impossibly beautiful woman. Her hair was the color of honey, her eyes, a beautiful shade of brown, and her skin was like porcelain, clear and smooth. She looked up and met his gaze, and Seth found himself rooted to the spot. Beside him, Amir seemed just as immobile.

“It’s okay,” Aria told her, “you know who they are.” The woman nodded, “I do, but I sense hostility from them.” Aria shook her head, “they are just curious and worried. I did not tell them what to expect, and they have never seen you. They will not harm you.” The woman seemed to stare at them for a long beat before Seth was able to move his limbs again. In an instant, the two were standing on either side of Aria.

“Guys,” Aria addressed her friends, “meet Tlali.” The woman stood up, and Seth was shocked to see that she had no feet! In place of feet, there were fins, similar to a fish. He blinked, realising what that meant, Tlali was a mermaid!

Amir seemed to be at a loss for words as he stood staring at her, mouth agape. Tlali smiled, revealing a set of perfect, pearly white teeth, which even seemed to shine! “Hello,” her voice was like a lilting melody, and Seth suspected she sang beautifully. “Hello,” the men smiled back at her. “Before I proceed,” she looked at them warily, “I need your promise that you will not betray my trust.”

Realisation dawned, and Seth’s smile grew wider. “You wouldn’t be here if you doubted our trustworthiness, would you? She looked at him steadily, as if studying him, then nodded. “How long have you been watching us?” he asked. She shrugged, “we have a team of surveillance specialists who observe those being tested. You four passed with flying colors, and hence this visit.”

Finally regaining his voice, Amir exclaimed, “you know there is one more person in the group?” Tlali smiled, “I know Devin, yes.” Seth’s lips curved up, “I am sure you also know the library.” Her smile was radiant, “and the cave too.” Exchanging a glance, Seth and Amir approached the table and occupied the remaining two chairs. “I take it you haven’t called Devin?” Amir asked. Aria shook her head, “he’s anyway returning home tomorrow. Why bother him on the last day of his trip?”

“So,” Amir addressed Tlali, “I take it you will explain your presence and purpose?” She nodded, “I will. I will also explain your presence and purpose.” Seth frowned, this was very puzzling indeed. Before he could voice his question, Tlali transformed into a human, or what looked like a human. Her lower torso changed to look like that of a human, and her shiny fins appeared as a beautiful skirt. “This is so much more liberating!” she eased back, sighed contentedly.

“One,” Amir began counting on his fingers as he spoke, “you are amphibian; two, you clearly possess above average intelligence, closer to that of the human race; three, you have some magical powers.” Tlali held up one hand to stop him. “One, I am multibian, that is, I can survive in water, on land, and in air; two, my species possesses intelligence far superior to that of the human race, and three, what you call as magical powers is really just child’s play for our race.”

“Oookaayyy,” Seth whooshed, “so you admit you are not human?” She shuddered, “I wouldn’t dare to be one. Poor humans.” He was impressed, “so who, or what are you?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief, “take a guess? Three chances.” Always up for a good challenge, he replied, “mermaid? Some mystical creature, like a fairy or something? No, wait, ALIEN!” Her smile widened, “warm on third. You might think of me as an alien, for now.”

Ever polite, Amir raised his hand to ask a question. “How long have you lived on earth?” She shrugged, “me, personally, about three hundred human years.” Seth tried not to let his shock show. Tlali looked about the same age as them, and yet here she was, three hundred years old. Amir continued with his questions, “Why have we never seen or met anyone like you, or from your species, before now?” She drank a sip of water from her glass, “are you sure you haven’t met anyone from my species before?”

Seth almost choked on his juice as realisation hit like a sucker-punch. “Devin!” his exclamation stunned Aria and Amir, but Tlali seemed to almost glow with joy. “Devin is one of you!” Seth finally managed to string the words together. Since childhood, Devin’s supremacy in swimming competitions had been Seth’s bone of jealousy. Moreover, Devin’s basketball jumps were always higher and longer than most, earning him the title of the best player in almost every tournament.

After taking a few moments to absorb this information, Aria asked, “but how is that possible? Devin’s parents are human.” Tlali shook her head, “Devin’s father is half-human, half us, and his mother is full us.” Amir’s jaw hit the floor. “But how did we never realise it?” Tlali shrugged, “because, like I said, our race is far superior to yours.” “So you all hid in plain sight, until now,” Seth acknowledged, “then why reveal yourselves now, all of a sudden? What’s your plan? Are you planning an invasion?”

Tlali burst out laughing, “invasion? us? No, my dear, we are a peace-loving species. In fact, we are so peace loving that we eat neither animals, nor plants.” Aria’s eyes widened, “then what’s your fuel?” A sci-fi fan, Amir leaned forward excitedly, “I know, aliens get their power from the sun. I watched it on Supergirl.” Tlali rolled her eyes, “your sci-fi movies are far too regressive. Sun powers the entire solar system, not just us. But our fuel is emotions. We feed on emotions. The happier we are, the fuller we feel. Sadness drains us, and then we must hibernate until the emotion passes.”

Seth shook his head in an attempt to clear it, “so why show yourselves to us now?” Tlali’s gaze was direct, “because humans need help.” He scoffed, “is this your twisted logic wherein your people suddenly start revealing their superpowers and lead humans into an unknown war?” Tlali looked troubled, “did you learn nothing from your dreams about the cave and library?”

The three friends stared at her, stunned, “you can even read our dreams?” Tlali shook her head, “not read, see. We can see your dreams and modify them.” Listening to her talk about dreams as if they were videos to be shot and edited, Seth wondered if he was dreaming just now. He yelped loudly as something sharp pricked him. Tlali’s sheepish grin told him she was responsible for this. “Did you just pinch me in my thoughts?” he asked, rubbing his forearm where a faint red mark was already starting to subside. She nodded, “I just wanted to demonstrate that your thoughts were on the right path, but I am afraid I got a little over enthusiastic.”

Resigned to his fate, Seth asked, “Okay, so now that we have established that I am thinking correctly, how about you tell us why you think we need your help, and… HOW do you propose to help us?” She made a face, “an image is worth a thousand words. So how about I show you instead of telling you?” He looked at his friends, who were both nodding. “I told you they’d agree,” Aria beamed with confidence. Tlali smiled, “so you did.”

“Where do you live?” Aria asked. “We can live anywhere within the atmosphere of the earth, but most of us prefer the sea bed.” Seth shook his head, “you are telling me there is an entire unexplored civilisation living under the sea?” She shrugged, “humans are yet to explore the ocean in its entirety. You are all so fascinated with what’s outside, with your fancy space missions and satellites, that you have forgotten to harness the power this very planet holds. Your submarines, under sea optic cables, these gadgets are still nascent and superficial. The raw beauty and power of our planet lies nearer to its core.”

Amir had a thought, “you still haven’t told us which planet you come from, or the name of your species.” Tlali paused for a beat, then in an even, emotionless voice, replied, “we are aqaniums, and we come from planet earth.” Seth’s jaw fell open, “but… I thought you are aliens.” She shook her head, “we have existed on earth since the time this planet came into existence. Which is why we can survive on all three of its forms – water, land and air.”

Her last line shook them all, “We are the original earthlings, and it is you, human race, that is the aliens on earth!

Part 2

Shaken, Seth looked over at Aria, who looked just as stunned. Dazed, Amir asked, “so where do you live?” She smiled, “in the bosom of earth, near the core, under the sea bed.” Amir’s eyes grew wide as saucers, “that sounds exciting. It must be so different down there, isn’t it?” His excitement was endearing, and she grinned, “actually, it isn’t too different. I can take you there if you wish.” Now, they all exchanged a glance, “you’d take us to your home?” She nodded, “yes. Don’t worry, you’ll be completely safe there, I promise.” Having been taught to be cynical and disregard verbal promises, Aria began to shake her head, but Seth stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Alright,” he said, “Amir and I will go with you. Aria can stay back if she so wishes.”

It was soon settled, and Tlali said, “come on then, let’s get going.” Amir frowned, “don’t we need any supplies? Oxygen tanks, clothes, etc.?” She shook her head, “you’ll be fine, trust me.” She led them to the nearby lake. Together, the three waded into the water until it was at waist level. Seth noticed something shimmering underneath and realised she had transformed back into her mermaid form. Aria stood at the shore, waving them off. Seth and Amir stood on either side of Tlali and held her hand. Without warning, she pulled them both under the surface, and Seth wondered if the oxygen in his lungs would last him the trip to the core. To his surprise, he’d barely even blinked before they were on dry land, and the air was fresh and crisp. Amir inhaled noisily, and grinned, “this is so liberating!!”

Now that their concern about breathing was resolved, Seth looked down at himself, and was surprised to see he was nice and dry, much like Amir. Tlali grinned, “we have a special air curtain that helps you dry faster.” Neither man heard her, their senses captivated by the scenery around them. Everywhere they looked, there were trees with leaves of varying colors, fragrant flowers, fruits, and butterflies. “Aria would have loved this!” Seth murmured. “Don’t worry,” Tlali told him, “we can always bring her down here for a trip once you go back and tell her about this place.” She led them through the beautiful forest, and soon, they were standing amidst what could only be civilisation.

“These people look so much like humans!” Seth did not realise he had spoken aloud until Amir pinched him. Beside them, Tlali shouted loudly, startling them both. Several ‘people’ stopped whatever they were doing and turned to look at them. “Hello everyone,” she announced, “these are Devin’s friends, Amir and Seth.” The people came forward, their expressions pleasant, and welcomed the two humans in their midst.

As the day wore on, Seth and Amir were treated to beautiful sights and sounds. “The core looks and feels exactly like the surface we live on!” Amir exclaimed. “Yes,” Cheny, who had introduced himself as a scientist, replied. He continued, “we even get sunlight.” Seth looked up, “but… how?” Cheny smiled, “because it filters down through the sea, and reflects from the core.” The explanation made sense to Amir, for he nodded in excitement. “Then you must get rainfall too!” Cheny nodded, “we do. The high tides, coupled with shifting seasons, makes sure we have about three months of rain. It is sufficient to help the trees and crops.”

Seth pointed to the structures in the distance, “are those houses?” Cheny’s gaze followed the direction of Seth’s finger, “indeed they are. Dwellings and offices. Our satellite navigation is housed in one such structure.” Seth frowned, “but I don’t see any wires or cables.” Cheny made a face, “because we run on natural sources. The sun, wind, temperature, and water, all are excellent and free sources of power. Even our routing happens through nature – the trees.” Guessing Seth’s confusion, Amir explained, “by routing, he means network and internet.” Seth’s jaw hit the floor, “you have internet down here?” Cheny raised a quizzical eyebrow, “how else would our people living amongst yours communicate with us?” It made sense.

Wasting no time, Seth fished out his phone and unlocked the screen. Sure enough, he not only had network coverage, but also hundred percent internet data! A pop up on his phone showed there were several free wifi connections available. “Go for it,” Cheny encouraged, “you’ll see magic.” Seth selected one of the wifi connections, and sure enough, the internet speed on his phone multiplied! “That’s lightning fast!” he was shocked. Cheny winked, “because, my friend, it is fashioned on the projection of lightning.” A tiny pain in his brow told Seth his eyebrows had disappeared into his hairline. “What about seasons?” Amir asked, “I take it they are parallel to those on the surface?” Cheny explained, “not really. We do not get any snowfall, but we do have glaciers, thanks to mountains and cold waters. Those glaciers sometimes melt, thanks to the current.”

They walked as they talked, and came across a settlement. The houses were not dissimilar to the Neolithic times, with carved stones and tanned hides. “Look closer,” Cheny advised, clearly reading Seth’s thoughts. Closer inspection left both, Seth and Amir gasping for air. “Trees?” Amir asked, finally finding his voice. Cheny nodded, “living ones. A quick botany lesson, we’ve treated the bark to make sure the tree doesn’t develop stems upto a certain height. This lets us use these trees as pillars and beams, with the first three layers of foliage providing adequate shelter.” Amir, who had a severe case of ophidiophobia, more commonly known as the fear of snakes, asked about their presence in the houses, given the thick foliage above. Cheny shook his head, “treating the bark of the tree renders the leaves and stems inedible for crawlers.” Jumping several feet high in the air, Cheny ripped off a couple of leaves. He handed a leaf each to both the men. “This has a waxy feel to it,” Seth observed. “This is a special cutin, or wax, that repels all creatures,” Cheny told them. “Even birds prefer to stay away from such trees, thus preventing the possibility of bird nests and laying eggs.”

While the humans were still marvelling at the ingenuity of the aqaniums, a faint whoosh alerted them to an oncoming object. “Don’t worry,” Cheny was calm even as Amir and Seth tried to duck, “it is just someone on their way to work. The disc will divert them out of your path.” Seth was puzzled, “disc?”s Cheny nodded, “these discs are something you strap to your wrist and key in the destination. They fly you there in a jiffy, so that you need not waste any time.” Intrigued, Amir asked, “how do they work?” Cheny smiled, “being closer to the core of the earth gives us what, in human terms, is called as superpowers.” Changing the topic, he said, “in the meantime, why don’t you take a seat inside the dwelling and give us a chance to display the aqanium hospitality?”

The interior of the house looked quite similar to human houses, except, the walls were made of trees, and the ceilings made of leaves. It was cosy, fresh, airy, and surprisingly well-lit. “We try to make as much use of what is naturally available, without disrupting the core.” Impressed by this explanation, Seth and Amir dug into the aromatic and delicious food that was brought before them. With full bellies and content hearts, both men thanked the hosts and left the dwelling, accompanied by Cheny.

“We learnt that the earth’s core is made of iron and is hotter than a furnace and has immense pressure. Why do we not feel it just now?” Amir asked the question that had been eating at him. Cheny gave an appreciative nod, “that is because none of your studies have actually touched the innermost core.” Seth let out a low whistle, “so the innermost core is hidden under the core, unseen, undiscovered by humans?” Cheny nodded, “indeed. Also, it is very similar to the earth’s surface.” “What about airplanes?” Amir asked. Cheny shrugged, “we don’t need them. Our discs are fast and capable of transporting us from one place to another at the speed of light.”

All of a sudden, Cheny zoned out for a couple of minutes before saying, “alright, I’ll let them know.” He turned to face them, “that was your friend, Devin. It is time for you to go home, your families will get worried.” Seth frowned, “so soon? It has only been a couple of hours.” Cheny shook his head, “because the core moves at a different pace than the rest of the earth, time moves slower on this level of our planet. Our two hours down here are closer to six hours up there.” With this, Cheny flicked his wrist, and Seth and Amir were surprised to see that they were back at the spot they had first arrived at. Tlali waved at them, “let’s go.” Hands clasped together, Seth and Amir bid adieu to Cheny, with the promise, “we’ll pass this knowledge to our peers.” A blink of an eye later, they were back in Aria’s backyard. “I know you still have a lot of unanswered questions,” Tlali told them, “and I promise we will answer them all in due course of time. Why you were selected, what was the cave all about, the other earth, everything. But for now, rest assured that you humans are welcome on our earth, and we’d love to coexist with you.” With that, there was a faint whoosh as Tlali dove back into the lake just as the sun set on the horizon.

Related sci-fi stories:
Other Earth
The Cave in the Woods

By Positive Wordsmith

Reading is my escape from the real world, and writing is my meditation. I hope you enjoy these short stories as much I enjoy writing them. Children's stories, science fiction, and adventure are my favorite genres.

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