This may come as a shock to some of you. Not only did I leave our little town with every intention of never being able to come back, but I was not expecting to have a position still waiting if indeed I did return. However, thanks to the intrepid fill-in work from Intern Dory broadcasting live from Dogfish Cove, as well as all of your kind tweets, chirps, clicks, and burbles to Station Management on my behalf, I find myself addressing you once more.
A special thanks to Old Merwoman Josie for bringing over some crab cakes. You all may remember that, some time ago, she reported that her angelfish friends took her salt. Well, it turns out low-sodium baked goods are just what I need while I adjust back to life at home.
It has been a very long three days, dear listeners. I don't really feel like talking about it right now. Suffice to say that I am fine, and perfect Carlos is also fine. Fate...did not see fit to bring us together. It happens. Not much else to say about that.
Although if anyone happens to run across Carlos' glasses, ID, or left shoe, which he lost in the ocean during the storm a few days ago, please bring them down to the station grotto. I need them for...science purposes.
And now, lost and heartbroken, alone in a vast cold ocean that cares nothing for our tiny, fragile hearts, let's — let's go t-to traffic —
— sorry, listeners, but there's some very rude person outside, trying to interrupt the broadcast. Please enjoy this pre-recorded ad while I go tell them off. What do you want to bet it's Steve Cuttlesberg? This is just the kind of thing he would do. What a jerk.
The stuck-in-place catfish with the fangs and the hellish glare looked up as the visitor approached, and snarled.
"Hey, little guy. Remember me?"
A webbed hand skritched under the whiskered chin. The snarling faded.
"You're just a big ol' sweetheart after all, aren't you?"
Koishekh started to purr.
Seacil flounced out to the front, ready to give the intruder a piece of his mind.
How dare anyone interrupt the only meaningful thing he had left in the world? Even if the visitor was from the Sheriff's secret police, he wasn't going to stand for it. His re-education hearing wasn't until tomorrow, and he had every intention of showing up on time; they didn't have a single thing on him.
It wasn't the Sheriff's secret police.
The stranger at the door was a merman Seacil had never seen before. He had spiny fins at his sides, and a more delicate, almost translucent fan of them at the end of his tail. His body was burnt-umber with lionfish stripes of cream and orange, their pattern even extending up across his face.
His very familiar face.
Surrounded by a billowing cloud of familiar, perfect hair.
Carlos-the-mermaid ducked his head and waved. "Hi, Seacil."
"But — what — how —?"
"It's a confusing story," said Carlos sheepishly, in fluent, un-accented Mermish. "I, ah, don't suppose you've heard of a thing called THE BROWNSTONE SPIRE?"
The water around them shook with the reverb.
"Of course I have!" exclaimed Seacil. "But help from THE BROWNSTONE SPIRE costs...things, Carlos! What price did you have to pay?"
"The price to spend the rest of my life here? To be able to study this place from within, to work directly with the people who live here...and to be with, well, you?" Carlos shrugged. "It already means giving up everything else I've ever known. Apparently that was enough."
Seacil was too overwhelmed to speak. It was too much. He couldn't imagine what he'd done to deserve being this lucky.
"It's not that I want to impose!" said Carlos quickly. "You can take your time and think this over! If you don't do anything, the whole transformation is set to reverse itself automatically in three days...so you don't have to, to, to kiss me before that if you're not sure...."
All of Seacil's tentacles flexed at once as he jetted through the water, threw himself into Carlos' arms, and kissed him hard enough to draw blood.
Carlos didn't have any trouble getting to know people. It helped that everyone recognized him right away when he was out with Seacil (whom he had not realized was something of a local celebrity). Most of them couldn't get their voices around his Humanish name; eventually he got used to answering to things like Charlos, Codlos, and Carplos.
There was endless science to be done. He had to teach himself new fields from the ground up. (Some of them were fields he wasn't even sure existed outside this part of the ocean.) It was the most fun he'd had in years.
The workings of his own no-longer-human body were his longest-running experiment. Motion with fins had to be practiced. He learned how to take caution with his poisonous spines. (Seacil loved his poisonous spines.) And between him and Seacil, they were never going to get tired of thinking up new tests involving his reactions to tentacles.
Although Seacil's salary was enough to support them both, the more Carlos got settled in, the more he wanted to pull his own weight. One thing led to another, and soon he found himself working out a science curriculum for the local high school, including experiments designed for a population of teenagers with anywhere from zero to ten limbs.
Seacil always came with him to PTA meetings. Partly for reporting purposes, partly to HAIL THE GLOW BLOOM (which was now PTA president), and mostly to complain that Steve Cuttlesberg had brought unacceptably stringy shrimp.
Then, at the end of the day, they always went home together.
Like most fish, Carlos didn't need to sleep. Sometimes he did it anyway, resting his head on Seacil's shoulder and floating in place while his consciousness slipped away. Other times he reveled in the ability to stay up working all night. Seacil slept regularly, and Carlos rarely got too absorbed in a project to stop and smile when a dream made the other mer-creature's tentacles twitch and sent different hues shifting across his skin.
They stayed a safe distance away from Dogfish Cove, except when throwing food for Intern Dory. They kept on top of all city-mandated greetings, permits, and forbidden foodstuffs. They paid proper respects to the Great Old One sleeping in Radon Trench, and sometimes helped Old Merwoman Josie carry groceries.
In short: they lived weirdly, scientifically-improbably, and happily ever after.