"Quit it with the prank calls! Damn kids," Sean muttered, hanging up the satellite phone with slightly more force than was proper for such an expensive piece of equipment.
"What's that?" Moira asked.
"Oh! Captain MacTaggert," Sean said, straightening slightly. "It's just we keep getting these prank calls."
"What's the prank?"
"It's, um, just that there are… well, the calls keep calling them sharktopuses? Or, um, sharktopi? With, um, psychic powers?"
"Psychic sharktopuses?" Moira asked.
"Yeah, so… obviously ridiculous, right?"
"Mmm, I dunno," Moira said. "I've seen some pretty strange stuff in the ocean, especially around these parts. That's why we're stationed here. Do you have the coordinates for where these creatures have been spotted?"
"Uh," Sean said.
Moira said, "We're the Coast Guard, Private Cassidy. We should take these complaints seriously."
Another call came in, and Moira answered it. "This is Captain MacTaggert," she said. "Uh huh, yes, we have heard reports of these creatures and we're investigating… what's your location? Okay, please stay calm, sir, we'll notify local responders."
She radioed in a call to a shore-based team, carefully leaving out some of the more bewildering details. Then she told Sean, "I'm gonna get ready to dive."
"You can't be serious," Sean protested.
"We're stationed out here in the middle of the ocean for just this reason," Moira said. "If nothing else, I'll get in a few more dive hours. You stay here on the boat and monitor the comms." She went to her quarters and changed into her scuba gear, carefully double-checking her O2 tanks and safety ropes. Then she set up her tether, gave Sean one last reminder to take future complaints seriously, and dove in.
She swam down, down, down, carefully keeping her senses sharp and a knife in her hand. She'd dove in this area many times, but she knew better than most people how many things in the ocean could kill you, if you gave them half a chance.
Suddenly, she found herself flanked by two… creatures. Oh my god, she thought. She carefully slipped the knife back into her belt and reached for her camera instead.
One of the creatures reached out with its tentacles and snatched the camera out of her hand. Moira knew that cephalopods were smart; she'd read other reports of them taking things from divers and sometimes even trying to play with them. But this creature didn't look like any octopus she'd ever seen before. It looked… well… like something that might easily be called a sharktopus.
And then it spoke to her, definitely unlike any other sea creature she'd seen before. I'm sorry, but you must not photograph us, it said, projecting directly into her brain.
Oh my god, she thought. She checked her O2 tank. Everything seemed to be functioning correctly, but she was obviously having some kind of delusion. She needed to get back up to the surface.
You are safe, Moira, the other creature said. Its voice in her head was slightly different than the first. But we prefer our privacy. And we would like to ask a favor of you.
Underwater, Moira shrugged. The first sharktopus said, If you think your responses at us strongly, we will hear.
What's the favor? Moira asked.
Some of our brothers are lost. Please help them return home.
They've been attacking humans.
Both the sharktopi made small, sad sounds. They are lost and confused, one of them said.
They got caught in a net, the other explained.
Okay, so… why do you need me to help? And how did you know my name? She's still not totally sure it's not a delusion, but it feels real.
We know many things. But we cannot survive for long on the surface.
We know you are curious, Moira. If you bring back our siblings, we will show you our kingdom. You would be the first human to see it.
Fine, Moira replied. Tell me what I need to know. She figured that even if this was a delusion, her subconscious might somehow reveal something that would be useful. And if it were real, well, she couldn't pretend she wasn't intrigued by the idea of an undersea sharktopus kingdom.
The sharktopi seemed to smile, and they told her how to find their siblings and how to help them. They thanked her, and gently pressed their tentacles against her arm. Moira returns to the surface and explains everything to Sean.
"You're… serious?" Sean asked.
"I… I don't know how to explain it," Moira said. "But I think we should at least try what they told me. If it works: great. If not… well, we tried."
"If not, we'll be the laughing stock of the Coast Guard!" Sean wailed.
"Sean, I hate to break it to you, but we didn't get stationed out here because we're popular. If this works… it might help our standing. And if not, well, par for the course."
So they piloted the boat to shore, as sharktopus reports continued to pour in. Moira called in a favor and arranged for an underwater speaker. She spoke into a microphone and self-consciously said, "Um, hello, sharktopus babies. My name is Moira. I understand that you are lost and far from home. But, um, your dads miss you and want you to come home. We'll help you find them. You'll be safe with us."
Then she waited, her cheeks burning. And then… the sharktopi babies turned around. They stopped attacking tourists and swam toward Moira's boat.
"Are you sure that was a good idea?" Sean asked.
"Nope," Moira admitted.
As the sharktopi babies got closer, Moira started hearing their voices in her head. She glanced at Sean, who had grown very pale.
"Um, Moira, do you… hear anything?"
"Yes," Moira said. "They're psychic sharktopi. I told you." There were so many of them, almost twenty, that Moira had trouble differentiating their voices. She tried to just think calming thoughts at them, but they were all scared and hungry and sick.
"I'm gonna get in," she announced.
"What!" Sean yelped. "Are you crazy?"
"Probably," Moira admitted. She hurriedly prepped her scuba gear and jumped in. It became much easier to communicate with the shaktopi once she was underwater, and she explained to them that they would need to follow the boat for awhile, and then she would follow them deep below the surface, to their home. Once they understood, they were calm and grateful. They apologized for the humans they had hurt and killed in their confusion, and mourned their siblings who had already been killed by humans.
Once she was sure the sharktopi understood, Moira resurfaced and scrambled back into the boat. She and Sean piloted back out into deep water with a school of sharktopi trailing behind them. When they reached the right coordinates, Sean put down an anchor, and Moira dove back into the water. She led the sharktopi further down. This time, she wasn't met by the two small sharktopi, but by… some kind of shark-person and an octo-person. Her eyes widened, and she instinctively reached for her camera before remembering that one of the sharktopi had stolen it.
The sharktopi swarmed the two new creatures and mentally shrieked with joy.
The shark-person scolded, We were so worried about you!
Moira awkwardly treaded water until the octo-person broke away from the chaos. He smiled at her and said, Moira, we cannot thank you enough for returning our children to us.
Uh, you're welcome, she said.
My name is Charles. I'm the king of this realm.
You're the king of the ocean?
No, no, just this part of it. Come, follow us further down and I will show you my realm.
She hesitated--her curiosity was killing her, but she was already very deep, and she didn't quite like the way the shark-person was looking at her.
Charles said, I assure you, you will be quite safe. My mate and I owe you a debt and we insist upon repaying it.
All right, she said. She couldn't quite explain why she trusted Charles--King Charles, she supposed she should call him--but she followed him anyway. She's rewarded by seeing a spectacular undersea castle, built from coral and shells and some other materials she doesn't recognize. It makes the one from Disney's Little Mermaid look like a trash pile. The castle is inhabited by octo-people and honest-to-God merpeople and all manner of other creatures.
This is incredible, Moira thinks.
Isn't it? Charles asks happily. It's a real haven for all kinds of sea creatures who don't fit in elsewhere. Including, of course, our babies. Who we will definitely be keeping a closer eye on from now on.
Please do, Moira replies. They caused quite a lot of trouble today.
I'm sure they did, Erik, the shark-man, says. He sounds almost proud.
After being shown many priceless treasures in Charles's throne room, Moira remembers to check her O2 and says, This was incredible, but I really need to get back to the surface.
Oh, of course! Charles said. But let me give you a gift before you return. We really are very grateful, you know. He reaches out with a tentacle and scoops up several lovely strands of perfect pearls. Here, take these!
Oh my, Moira replies. These are beautiful… but I can't take them. They must be worth a fortune.
Charles waves a tentacle dismissively. I'm a king, Moira. If you haven't noticed, I have plenty of material wealth to go around. But you brought my babies home! They're priceless!
Well, if you insist… Moira, whose Coast Guard salary was nice but nothing to brag about, said. She carefully looped them through her belt.
I do. And come back and visit any time, Moira. You're a friend to this realm. But we do ask that you keep our existence a secret. We don't want to be overrun with tourists, you know, and so many humans wouldn't understand that we really are a peaceful society.
Alright, Moira agreed. Thank you. Dozens of tentacles and fins waved goodbye. She waved back, and wondered what on earth she was going to tell Sean when she got back to the surface.