Deven, Jimmy and Zach rent a boat to enjoy a day out on the water. But a small accident leads to them getting lost in the middle of a storm. Soon, there lives are at stake, but the arrival of a mysterious entity may be their salvation.
“Alright… We got everything?” Deven asked. Currently, he was dressed in only a pair of swim trunks and nothing else. His vibrant brown hair fell down over his eyes slightly as he looked around. He and his friends were at the marina. They had rented a boat for the day to take out onto the ocean. It was a modest sized motorboat, with a small cabin underneath.
“Snacks and drinks check.” Zach’s pale brown hair appeared as he stuck his head out from the cabin door of the boat. He too was wearing only swim trunks. Though he of course still had his glasses on.
“I think we’re ready to go.” Jimmy was the last member of the group. Darker skinned with black puffy hair he was at the front of the boat checking to make sure they had lifejackets and other safety equipment. Like the other two, he just had his swim trunks on. They were about to spend a day out on the water after all.
“Alright we’re good to good!” Deven leaped onto the boat and quickly untied it from the pier. He walked up to the helm, started the motor an grabbed the wheel as they slowly began to drift away from the dock.
“Since when do you know how to pilot a boat?” Jimmy asked.
“It’s not that hard.” Deven shrugged. “I mean it’s not a car but… Turn the wheel to change directions, and this lever over here is speed.”
“He’s not wrong, the harder part would be navigation.” Zach came up from the cabin to watch as they left the docks. They were still moving slow. The docks were a no wake zone and so they weren’t allowed to pick up speed till they were clear of them.
“That’s what the compass is for.” Deven nodded sagely. “Relax, I’ve got it under control. It’s not like we’re going on a long trip or anything. Just a few miles out to enjoy some deep-sea fishing, and maybe a swim.”
“I suppose so.” Jimmy took a seat as the boat continued to move. “I guess I just never thought of you as a boat person.”
“I mean, I’m not?” Deven replied. “The whole boat part isn’t really that exciting, but spending a day out on the water is fun. And, if you wanna get far out on the water, you need a boat. Can’t afford one, so had to rent it. And they make you pass a class before they rent you one.”
“Right, right…” Zach sat down next to Jimmy. “But let’s get going already. I can walk faster than the boat is currently moving.”
“I can’t! We’re still in the no wake zone!” Deven protested. “And unless we want to be banned from renting future boats, we have to follow all the rules.”
“He’s right.” Jimmy shrugged. “But still, it’s weird to hear Deven being the stickler for the rules.”
“I’m responsible!” Deven huffed.
“There’s a huge security deposit on this boat isn’t there?” Zach grinned.
“Two months worth of rent of a deposit.” Deven sighed. “If we do anything to damage the boat I’m living on ramen and water for the next few months.”
“Ah, so that’s why he’s being the cautious one for once.” Jimmy couldn’t help but flash a grin. Deven was well, reckless. And it was doubtful that any of them would try speeding the boat out of the docks, it was still funny to se him being the strict one. But after a few minutes, they were finally outside the marina docks and they could pick up speed.
“Hang on to something.” Deven grinned as he increased the boat’s acceleration as fast as it would go. It wasn’t the fastest boat in existence, but as it went full speed, running into waves along the way everyone could feel the ride as the salt filled wind blew through the air and the marina disappeared into the distance.
After about forty minutes of heading outward, Deven slowed down to speed that gave them a smoother ride, allowing them to freely walk around the boat without a risk of falling overboard.
“Nothing around for miles.” Zach peered back in the direction the marina had been in.
“So… This supposed to be a good fishing spot or something?” Jimmy asked. “Or maybe a coral reef?” He looked at the water over the side of the boat. The water looked deep, no signs of a reef.
“Not really.” Deven gave a shrug. “There’s not much of anything here as far as I know.”
“Then why are we-“ Jimmy started to ask and paused, as he saw both Deven and Zach removing their swim trunks so that they were now naked. “Oh, that’s why. You were just looking for a spot no one else would be at.”
“I mean, a swimsuit is kind of gonna get uncomfortable and start to chafe if we wear it all day.” Zach tossed his discarded trunks into the ship cabin. “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t see this coming.”
“Well…” Jimmy looked between the two and gave a shrug. He knew both Deven and Zach were naturist. In hindsight it was obvious they’d pick a spot where they could spend the day naked as they fished or swam. Jimmy didn’t really identify as a naturist himself, but neither did he have a problem with it. He was okay around others being naked, and wasn’t completely opposed to the idea himself, even if he normally preferred to wear clothes. He supposed he might have considered himself naturist adjacent.
“Alright… Should we try fishing?” Deven asked. “Where are the rods?” With that, the discussion of their nudity ended as they focused on other things. They were each comfortable enough around each other for it not to weigh on their minds while they relaxed.
“Rods… Rods… I’m sure they’re somewhere below deck.” Zach went back into the small cabin and began to dig around things. “Whose job was it… Jimmy did you grab them?”
“No, I was in charge of emergency and safety supplies.” Jimmy replied. After a few moments of glancing between his friends, he decided to go ahead and remove his own trunks. Even if he normally preferred clothes, he still had no issue with being naked, and it was kind of awkward being the only one wearing a swimsuit. “I thought you had those.”
“No, I was responsible for food, drinks, stuff like that.” Zach replied. “You know, make sure we have enough to eat in case we don’t catch any fish.” He continued to dig around in the cabin not seeing the fishing rods or tackle boxes anywhere around. “Wait… Deven, weren’t you supposed to grab the rods?”
“I was in charge of piloting the boat.” Deven insisted.
“Yes… After we were all on the boat. What about before?” Zach asked. He tried to remember back a week when they had made plans. As he did he became more sure. “You were supposed to get the rods!”
“Well… Um…” Deven rubbed the back of his head and smiled sheepishly. “Renting the boat was already expensive, and neither of you gave me money for renting rods so… I assumed one of you two had it.” He gave a nervous laugh.
“So, we don’t actually have any way to fish then…” Jimmy muttered.
“Not unless you can jump into the ocean and catch one with your bare hands.” Zach gave the cabin one more glance over, hoping against all odds that maybe one of them had brought fishing rods and just forgotten. Alas, there was nothing here. “Guess it’s a good thing I packed extra food. Made sure to bring enough in case we couldn’t catch anything. Which we can’t.” He shot Deven a look.
“What!?” Deven threw up his arms. “I told you! I didn’t have the money to rent the rods after paying for the boat.”
“You know if you just told us we would have given you money for it.” Jimmy sighed. “It’s fine… Fishing isn’t really that exciting anyway.”
“Yeah, we can still go swimming.” Zach nodded. “And you know explore a bit in the boat. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll see some whales or dolphins.”
“Or maybe a shark!” Deven grinned mischievously.
“I hope not.” Jimmy shuddered. “I’d rather not be shark bait.”
“Relax, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than get attacked by a shark.” Zach insisted. He was technically true. Of course, a large part of that statistic was based on the fact that most people did not live on coastal areas and were not out on the water regularly, and thus the odds of any single person encountering a shark were low. Meanwhile, there were pretty much thunderstorms where everyone lived meaning it was pretty much guaranteed everyone was around lightning at some point. Still, it was technically true, if for the wrong reasons.
“Besides, if you do meet a shark all you gotta do is punch it in the nose and it’ll go away!” Deven grinned wickedly.
“That sounds like a terrible idea.” Jimmy crossed his arms. “The front of a shark is basically made of teeth. You’d just be losing a hand.”
“I mean if you miss yeah, but if you hit the nose.” Deven insisted.
“Look, no one is going to punch a shark, because we’re not going to have to deal with any. If there are any around, they’re going to be a lot more interested in the fish we can’t catch than us.” Zach tried to end the little back and forth before it could escalate further.
“I suppose.” Jimmy muttered.
“Then let’s go swimming! Last one in is a rotten egg!” Deven shouted as he climbed up onto the side of the boat, and then cannon balled into the ocean creating a large splash that soaked both Jimmy and Zach.
“Honestly, no sense.” Jimmy muttered before opening the back gate of the boat and lowering the ladder. “Don’t forget we need to climb back in later.”
“You got it, it’s fine.” Deven replied dismissively as he tread water.
“It’s not worth trying to argue with him about it.” Zach gave Jimmy a pat on the shoulder. “He’s not going to admit he forgot. Also…” Zach then turned, and leaped over the side of the boat himself. “Guess Jimmy’s in last!” He let out a laugh when his head surfaced above the water.
“Yeah, and you two get to live through the day because of me.” It was tough being the responsible one sometimes. But Jimmy figured someone had to do it. He supposed Zach would probably be fine on his own… But he didn’t trust Deven not to try to find and punch a shark just to test hid theory. After double checking the ladder was securely down, he turned off the engine of the boat then climbed down into the water with them. “Gah! Cold!”
“Its not that bad.” Deven floated on his back in the water.
“You’ve just had time to adapt already.” Jimmy took a deep breath, then went underwater for a moment. After coming up, his body had started to get used to the water temperature.
“Ugh…” Zach groaned. “Should have brought some goggles. Can’t open my eyes in salt water.”
“You’ll be fine! Just keep your head above water!” Deven insisted before splashing water at Zach.
“H-hey!” Zach muttered and held up his arms to try to block the incoming water. He didn’t have much success, and his glasses were knocked to his face disappearing into the water. “Ah… Shoot, look what you did.”
“I’m on it!” Jimmy dove down beneath the water again. He managed to open his eyes to just a squint as he tried to look for Zach’s glasses. But there was no sign of them. There was no telling how far they had sunk, or if they had been washed away in the waves. He surfaced. “Uh so we have a problem… I’m pretty sure those are gone. Don’t suppose you brought a spare?”
“Literally only brought a lunchbox and some swim trunks.” Zach replied. “Ugh, everything is so blurry.”
“It’s fine.” Deven insisted. “You can last one day without them, right?”
“I can… But I’d kind of prefer not to.” Zach muttered. “Ugh… Why would you just splash me like that?”
“Was just having fun.” Deven insisted.
“Do you have a spare set back in your car by any chance?” Jimmy was trying to come up with a solution.
“Yeah.” Zach nodded. “Keep an extra pair in case something happens to my current ones so I can drive home alright.” He shot a glare in Deven’s direction.
“Why is he looking at me?” Deven sounded offended.
“Okay… Then let’s just head back to the marina, it won’t take us that long.” Jimmy suggested. “We get his spare, then can come back out. And then, we’ll be very careful not to lose those.” He also shot Deven a glare.
“Seriosly? Why is this my fault?” Deven asked.
“Really?” Was all Zach managed to say.
With some guidance from Jimmy, Zach was able to grab onto the ladder and climb back into the boat. Deven remained in the water for a couple of minutes longer sulking before climbing onto the boat again. He started up the motor and then looked at the compass paused. Something about it was strange. He tapped the compass a few times as if expecting something to happen.
“What’s wrong?” Jimmy asked.
“Well…” Deven looked out to the ocean. “Either we’re at the North Pole, or the compass is broken?”
“What!?” Jimmy moved over to look. Zach was after him, but couldn’t make out the figures on the compass as well.
The compass was spinning in circles. There was definitely something wrong with it. But, without the compass to know which direction they were going it was hard to find their way back.
“I think… That way?” Deven suggested.
“Are you sure?” Jimmy asked. “If we’re lost don’t want to risk getting more lost. Might be best to get some flares or see if we can get someone on the radio.”
“Maybe there’s just something interfering with the compass here?” Zach suggested. He couldn’t see, but he could guess what was going on based on the other two talking. “If we move away a bit the compass might act normally.”
“Maybe…” Jimmy muttered.
“Makes sense to me.” Deven began to move the boat forward, and picked up speed. As he did, there was a sudden clap of thunder in the air.
“A storm?” Zach tried to see but everything was to blurry. “Where did this come from? Wasn’t it completely clear?”
“It was.” Jimmy sounded confused. “This is just…” Then the rain began to pour down. “Out of nowhere.”
“Maybe… we should all head below deck and just wait out the storm, then find our way back?” Deven suggested. “I’ll just… slow the boat down and…” He quickly turned the motor off. The boat didn’t slow down at all. “What… The?”
“Are we caught in some kind of current?” Jimmy asked. “Deven! Where’s the anchor on the boat!?”
“I don’t know!” Deven shouted.
“Well find it before we’re carried off!” Jimmy shouted. The thunder echoed louder through the sky. They were now in the thick of the storm. Gigantic waves began to lift the boat up and down, threatening to capsize it at any moment. “Life jackets!” Jimmy gave a shout.
“R-right!” Zach replied, heading for the spot of the boat he remembered the emergency supplies being. But at that moment, a wave hit the boat. He didn’t see it coming and had no time to brace for it. He was flung from the surface of the boat landing in the stormy waters, disappearing beneath them.
“ZACH!” Jimmy shouted. He ran to the emergency supplies, grabbed a rope and a lifesaver. “Deven keep ahold of the rope!” Jimmy dove into the water, and began to swim around looking for Zach.
“Uh… Jimmy… The waves are getting really big.” Deven held the rope firmly, but the storm was growing more intense. How had this come out of nowhere? How had things gone so bad. He tried to watch Jimmy swimming in the distance, but the rain was so heavy he could barely see more than a foot ahead.
And then another wave hit the boat, and the entire thing was flipped over. Deven didn’t have time to take a breath. He heard a shout from Jimmy somewhere before his own head sunk beneath the waves. He didn’t see the other two anywhere. And the waves were too rough to allow him to easily swim to the surface. He forced his eyes open to try and look. He still had the rope! That was attached to Jimmy! He felt something pull on it. Was that Jimmy? He couldn’t tell. Everything was growing dark. For a brief moment, Deven thought he saw something glittering purple.
And then everything was silent.
“GAH!” Deven woke up with a shout. “Ugh I just had the worst nightmare that-“ He froze and looked around. He was inside some kind of building, but it was filled with water. There was an open window that looked like it showed what was the ocean floor. “What? Am I still dreaming?” There was no possible way he could talk, let alone breathe underwater. It had to be a dream. Yet… It felt real…
The room he was in, looked to be some kind of bedroom, or at least it had beds in it. Deven had apparently been in one of them. There were two more beds, both occupied. But not by anything Deven had ever seen before. They were both strange fish-like creatures, but human shaped, with fins on the sides of their face, arms and legs, and long tails with a larger fin running down them. One of the fish creatures had brownish gold scales, the other a deep blue. They were also quite small. No bigger than human toddlers.
“Well, this is better than the nightmare.” Deven muttered, then paused wondering why his voice was so high pitched. He sounded like a little kid. He looked down at himself and…
He was the same type of fish creature as the other two! His own scales were green instead, but he definitely wasn’t human! Or an adult! It was like he was a two-year-old fish creature.
“WHAT!?” Deven gave a shout. It was loud enough to wake the other two.
“Ugh… What happened… I remember falling overboard…” The brown one spoke up. “And… Hey… I can see. Why can I see? And… Are we underwater? How can I talk?”
“Kid…” Jimmy started.” You kind of sound like… Zach?” The blue one paused noticing his own voice was higher pitched as well.
“Jimmy?” Zach asked. “What happened to you, you look like some kind of fish toddler thing.”
“You’re one to talk.” Jimmy groaned. “This could just be a hallucination. Pretty sure I hit my head on something looking for you. Bright side, if I’m hallucinating, I’m not dead.” He allowed his eyes to wonder around the room before noticing the third green scaled fish toddler that was staring at the other two in awe. It only took him one guess. “Deven?”
“Okay, this is definitely a weird dream…” Deven muttered. “But… We look kind of cool like this.” He then did a small swim around the room and did a loop above the bed he had been. “Heh, kind of wish it was real. We kind of look pretty cool. And swimming like this is fun.”
“Uh… I think it is real.” Zach interrupted. “Unless we’re all three having the same dream and somehow connected. Which seems unlikely.” Zach tried to think. “Before I lost conscious, I remember seeing something blurry and purple.”
“You too?” Jimmy sounded curious. “I saw something coming towards me, but a wave crashed down over me before I got a good look at it.” Both of them turned and looked at Deven.
“Um, the ship capsized…” Deven wasn’t sure what to say. “But… I think there was something purple.”
The three of them paused, wondering what to make of all this, and what had happened to them. Somehow, they were all alive? But… Why were they fish-like and toddlers?
“WAIT THIS IS REAL!?” Zach gave a shout as it sunk in for him. He swam straight up out of his bed.”
“You were the first one to say it was!” Jimmy tried to sound sure of himself, but his voice was shaky. He didn’t understand what they were, or what happened, or anything about their current situation.
Luckily, someone else did. Following the sounds of the three young fish people, a fourth person appeared, opening a door that led further into the house. Like the bedroom, the hallway was underwater. And much like the three toddlers, the person now floating in the doorway was a fish-like humanoid. However, she appeared to be covered in purple scales. She was also way older than them. Or at least older than they appeared now.”
“You three are awake.” There was a sound of relief in her voice. “I was worried the change might not have been fast enough and you had already drowned.”
“What change?” Zach asked.
“You really have to ask?” The purple scaled creature giggled and swam in circle showing off her long tail. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to wake up or not.”
“So… You did this to us?” Jimmy asked.
“Pretty much.” She grinned. “You’re welcome by the way… I could have left you to drown. What were humans doing close to the barrier? It’s way out in the middle of nowhere. Navigation tools don’t work near it. We’ve made sure there aren’t any good fishing spots or anything to see… There’s no reason for a human to ever be here.”
“We were kind of looking for a secluded spot…” Deven explained first. “So, we wouldn’t have to worry about not wearing our swim trunks.”
“Swim trunks? What are those?” The purple creature did not wear any form of clothing they could identify. It occurred to them she might not have a concept of what clothing was for. Cloth was unlikely to be useful for a species that lived underwater.
“Okay… I feel like, I am being remarkably calm given the situation. Can I get an explanation of what happened, where we are, who you are, and why we look like toddlers compared to you?” Jimmy asked.
“Well going a bit out of order but…” The purple creature started. “My name is Crystal. And you’re here because you got too close to the Heqet Barrier. It generates storms to discourage anyone from getting too close to our underwater cities. As for the change… It’s a simple spell, any Heqet could do it… I saw your boat in the distance, by the time I got closer all three of you were already underwater. There isn’t any land around, so it was put you through the change, or let you drown. You’re welcome.”
“I see…” Zach grinned. “Well… Being some kind of fish kid is better than drowning.” He swam through the room a bit. “Actually, I might be able to get used to this. But… Wait… Why are we toddlers? We should like, be in our twenties?”
“That makes you toddlers.” Crystal tilted her head in confusion. “Honestly, kind of surprised you’re developed enough to talk. Most Heqet are seldom able to form complete sentences before thirty.”
“What? But… Thirty would be an adult.” Deven responded. “I’m an adult.”
“Maybe humans are immature enough to consider thirty adulthood.” Crystal giggled. “But in Ocean Years, you’re all basically still babies. Really, kidhood doesn’t start till you’re like sixty. And adulthood at like two-hundred years old.”
“I get it…” Jimmy muttered. “We’re all between twenty and thirty years old… Which is apparently is apparently really young for your species.” He shrugged. “You know, would have assumed we would have become our equivalent in their age, not a straight up chronological match.”
“Ah, but being a kid is more fun.” Zach was warming up more and more to the change. One, it meant he was alive, which was a thing to be happy about. Two, he didn’t have to worry about having a job. And three, whatever fish species he was now apparently had an underwater society that didn’t require clothing. He supposed clothes would just be a liability underwater.
“I gotta agree with Zach there.” Deven grinned. “But uh… What now… Do we change back… Or… What happens?”
“If we’re toddlers now I don’t think we’ll be trusted to look after ourselves.” Jimmy added.
“You three worry too much you know that?” Crystal replied. “If I was going to hang you out to dry think I would have put you through the change and brought you back here. Anyway, hurry up and let’s go. If you’re awake, then you can go with the others.”
“The others?” Deven tilted his head.
“The other hatchlings.” Crystal nodded. “Children are raised by the entire village. I just brought you to my house till you woke up to make sure you’d actually recover. You belong in the nursery with the other Heqet your age.”
“Huh…” Deven considered. “What… Happens at the nursery?”
“You know… Kid stuff?” Crystal tried. “Make friends and have fun and stuff. Cause, childhood is fleeting. You only have about two hundred years before you’re expected to know what you’re doing and get a job.”
“Only two hundred years.” Zach giggled.
“Heh, you know I think I kind of like this too.” Jimmy laughed as well.
“What did I say that was funny?” Crystal seemed confused.
“Nothing, nothing…” Deven was grinning ear to ear. He could live with being a child for two hundred years and spending the rest of his life as a naked fish thing in an underwater city. “So… You said there’s some nursery.”
“Yeah come on.” Crystal gestured down the hall. “I’ll take you to it. You’ll probably be happier once around some kids your own age.”
The three freshly transformed children exchanged glances with each other. None of them really understood exactly how this had happened. But, they were all happy to be alive. Whatever this was, it certainly beat drowning. And getting a second childhood was a pretty nice bonus. Plus, whatever Heqet were, they were way more interesting than humans. They nodded to each other, and then followed Crystal out into the hall, and then out into the wider ocean, being led to the nursery where they’d spend the next couple centuries growing up around other fish children their own age.