Mermaids and Shiny Things
by Michael Atkinson
The land was unused to apocalypse. If it could have spoken, it would have said how
strange it was that the steady sea-roar of cars passing had so quickly fallen silent, that the night sky no longer lit like day with the city’s glow but shone with new desolate clearness, marred only occasionally by the smoke that still wafted from the bombing sites. It might also have commented on the sudden appearance of a spaceship, gliding down from the sky and screeching to a halt on a weed-strewn stretch of asphalt that had once been a crammed parking lot for a bustling convention center. The jets from the landing thrusters scattered debris about, sending clouds of dust billowing into the air.
The door creaked open, and a slimy alien squelched out, looking grimly around the forsaken landscape. The alien’s name was unpronounceable in English. It ventured a poke with one of its tentacles at the strewn debris. From what it could tell, the humans had gotten themselves really advanced tech at last. Fat lot of good it had done them, putting all their trust in it like they had. Their computers with their bright wires and shiny bits hadn’t done them much good in the Mermaid Rising, had they?
The alien spat disdainfully. “Blasted mermaids,” it grumbled. “Always mucking about
above water. Can’t stay under the sea like they’re supposed to. Pah.” The alien turned about and trundled back into its craft. It had a report to its superiors to make. They’d be disappointed, naturally; they had looked forward to making contact with this pre-warp civilization and share their vast knowledge with it. Oh well. Maybe the Martians on the planet next over would be more helpful. There certainly wouldn’t be any mermaids over there; a sorn or two, perhaps, a hross almost certainly, but no mermaids.
Sea-green eyes watched it go. Then Elana, commander of the Second Atlantean Expeditionary Force, dutifully powered up her hidden aquatic pod and flew back towards the ocean. She hadn’t wanted to get involved in an interplanetary conflict any more than her superiors did. That was why she had arranged the debris just so, planted weeds, made sure the whole scene looked like no one had been there for years. She had even pulled a computer from one of the abandoned human warehouses. It had been so much fun smashing the thing. At any rate, it looked like first contact had been successfully avoided, and the mermaids could get back to rebuilding the planet. Still…Elana was a trifle disappointed, and her tail flopped about aimlessly in the water that filled her pod. She had so wondered what talking to an alien would be like. Elana studied to be a mermaid philologist before the war had broken out, and she deeply regretted never having the chance to study human languages in detail. She had picked up a few phrases, though, and one of them seemed appropriate. “Ah,” Elana said with a dramatic sigh, “c’est tragique.”