“You know, a lot of people would be pretty freaked out at the idea of having a bunch of sharks as pets.”
After murmuring those words, Koren looked over at me as the two of us continued to tread water a good distance away from the beach. We’d come out this far so that my ocean-bound friends could visit without freaking out the rest of the students who were trying to swim and enjoy themselves.
It was Friday, the eighth of December, about a week since that little hospital trip. December. In Wyoming, I would’ve been slugging my way through a foot or so of snow, freezing my tookus off. Here, I was swimming in the ocean.
My shiver of sharks had found us immediately, the six them swimming around us, preening and vying for attention. “But you just sort of roll with it,” Koren continued, “like they’re puppies or something.”
“Aww,” I shook my head, reaching out to catch hold of Jabberjaw as the pretty blue and white shark swam close enough. He turned toward my touch, practically nuzzling up against me as I held onto him so that I was pulled around in a circle. “They’re better than puppies, Koren! They’re awesome! And look at this guy.” Using one hand to hold onto Jabberjaw, I indicated his sleek form. “Isn’t he pretty?”
For her part, Koren started to chuckle before giving a soft yelp as the yellow Lemon shark bumped up against her from behind. She turned, only to blink as the shark bumped her again. “Uh, are you sure this-”
Letting go of Jabberjaw, I kicked over that way while nodding. “Shh, it’s okay, Simpson. Koren just needs to get to know you.” Stopping there, I put my hand on the shark’s snout before looking back to the other girl. “Simpson’s a cuddly one. She likes to be hugged. Like this, see?” To demonstrate, I let myself slip through the water a bit before wrapping both arms and legs around the yellow-tinted shark. Then I held on while she took me for a quick circuit, dropping under the water, then up again toward the end as we returned to where Koren was watching. Letting go, I gestured. “Go ahead, you try.”
Still, she hesitated for a moment while eyeing Simpson carefully. “You’re really, completely sure it’s safe?” Even as she asked, Koren reached out to put a hand against the shark’s side testingly before giving a soft gasp. “Wow, it feels… rough. Like sandpaper. I thought her skin would be all… smooth.”
“It looks like it should be, huh?” I agreed before swimming closer to pat Simpson reassuringly. “Trust me, it’s perfectly safe. These guys are my friends, they wouldn’t hurt you unless I wanted them to.”
Raising an eyebrow at that, Koren continued to tread water while replying slyly, “Check, no more saying stupid, mean things without thinking about it or Aunt Flick’ll sic her pet sharks on me. Got it.”
Snorting in spite of myself, I put a hand on the Bull shark that had just swum up to me and ran it down over the rough skin with a wink at the other girl. “See, Sherman? She’s already getting the right idea.”
After taking another breath to brace herself, Koren put both arms around Simpson and held on. A strangled squeal escaped the girl as the shark took her for a brief ride, diving under the water to do a languid figure eight that ended with her back up on the other side of me, sucking in long deep breaths.
“You okay?” I asked, smiling a little while waving a hand under the water toward the largest of my sharks, the Great White named Princess Cuddles. “She didn’t keep you down there too long, did she?”
Koren shook her head, still panting a little bit. “No, it was… holy crap. I always wanted to swim with dolphins, but this was—wow. Flick, this is an awesome power.” She released Simpson, slipping away to come closer to me. “I wonder if there’s a limit on how many sharks you can control.” Pausing, she looked at the figures swimming around us before amending, “Or maybe tame is a better word for it.”
By that point, Princess Cuddles had maneuvered herself directly beneath us. “Incoming,” I warned the other girl while gesturing down. As Koren glanced that way, the Great White rose up, lifting the two of us onto her back before she barely breached the surface of the water. Reaching down, Koren and I held onto the shark as she began to slowly swim in a wide circle, moving carefully enough that we could simply sit there on either side of the large fin in the middle of her back, holding onto it with one hand.
“And tame is probably the best word,” I confirmed once we were settled in place, legs sticking off the side of the lazily swimming massive shark. “I don’t feel like I’m outright controlling them. It’s more like they’re really well-trained animals. And I think my power sort of… makes them a little smarter? I’m not sure, exactly.”
Considering that for a moment, I shrugged. “And I’m not sure if I could tame more of them or not. Maybe these six are my limit. I mean, there’s gotta be a limit, right? I’m not Aquaman.”
“Maybe we should test it sometime.” Koren offered with a shrug. “Can you imagine having a hundred sharks like these guys all patrolling the ocean around the island, doing whatever you want them to?”
Coughing at that, I shook my head. “I still can’t imagine having six of these guys. But here we are.”
Leaning back a little, I patted Princess Cuddles before looking toward the other girl. “You wanna see something really cool?” When she gave a hesitant nod, I whistled loudly, two short and one long.
Almost immediately at the sound, my two near-identical sharks, the Makos that I called Brody and Quint, poked their snouts out of the water just ahead of where our enormous ride was taking us.
“Hey, guys!” I called to them, waving the hand that I wasn’t using to hold onto Princess Cuddles’ fin. “Let’s show Koren what you can do, okay? Remember, Brody won last time, so Quint goes first!”
Koren looked to me as the sharks went under the water again. “Quint goes first? What’re they doing?”
Grinning with anticipation, I shook my head and pointed out toward a spot ahead of us. “Just watch.”
The two of us sat there on Princess Cuddles, watching the light waves through the ocean water for a few long, silent seconds. Then, just as Koren was starting to ask how long we needed to wait, the semi-still surface of the water was broken by a figure lunging out of it. Quint breached the surface, the ten-foot long shark leaping a solid fourteen feet into the air before turning over into an impressive flip.
He had just crashed back down into the water before his brother duplicated his maneuver. Brody, however, managed to get up to about seventeen feet before falling back into the ocean with a splash.
“Holy shit!” Koren’s eyes were wide as she stared out there. “They just—they really—that was–”
“Pretty awesome, huh?” I grinning and gave a short whistle of approval before clapping. “Whoo! Good job, you guys! Dolphins eat your hearts out! Go ahead, you two. See if you can beat your old record!”
The two of them dove down to jump again, while I looked to the girl beside me. “So, comfortable enough to do a little diving?” I’d brought her out with me to use the magic air-producing collars that Professor Carfried had taught us to make, now that I was absolutely sure I was doing the spell right.
She started to answer, only to go silent as Brody and Quint did their thing again. That time, Koren clapped as well, cheering them alongside me. Then she looked back and nodded. “Sure, let’s try it.”
“Great!” I grinned, reaching up to the collar that I had worn out to the water. As I activated the spell on it, Koren did the same with her own. The two of us looked at each other before sliding off the massive shark’s back. As we dove under the surface of the ocean, the spell on the collar kicked in and I could breathe just as easily as if we had still been above the water. Taking a couple deep breaths just to be sure, I looked toward the other girl to give her a thumbs up. She returned the gesture, and then we turned our attention to the wide open ocean beneath us. My six sharks came swimming in to check us out, and then together, the eight of us began to explore that indescribably beautiful underwater world.
Pretty good for a girl who had grown up in the middle of Wyoming.
“Go ahead and call me Santa Claus, Flickster, cuz I’ve got a couple early Christmas presents for you.”
Sitting in one of the extremely comfy armchairs in the lounge a few hours later, I lifted my head to see the grinning Columbus. “Pressies?” I replied with an eager bounce as I made my eyes light up like a little kid. “I get early pressies? Oooh!” Clapping a couple times, I added excitedly, “I hope it’s a pony!”
The boy took the time to lift the goggles from his eyes so I could see him roll them dramatically. “Sorry,” he retorted dryly, “I’m pretty sure you’re gonna have to ask someone else for the pony thing.”
“Nerts.” Smiling anyway, I heaved a dramatic, put-upon sigh. “It was worth a shot. I shall remain forever ponyless. Just me, wandering a wasteland of monsters with narry a four-hoofed friend to call-”
“Flick,” Columbus interrupted, “you have an entire pack of sharks that basically call you Mommy.”
Grinning at that, I gave him a thumbs-up from each hand. “Good point. Water ponies! With big teeth.” Straightening, I added, “Koren came with me today to go exploring out there. We found a couple underwater caves. I wanna take the rest of you guys out too, so we can check them out a little more.”
The boy looked doubtful for a moment. “You mean go out in the ocean with those sharks? The big ones with the dead eyes and the teeth that go, “Arrgh rar!” He gnashed his teeth together demonstratively.
Scoffing at that, I jabbed him with two fingers. “First of all, they do not go ‘Arrgh rar’, doofus. Sharks don’t roar. I’m pretty sure at least most of them can’t make any sound. They’re not lions. They’re silent, stealthy predators. It’s not like they’re gonna give you this big warning that they’re about to come up–”
“Flick,” Columbus interrupted. “Aren’t you supposed to be talking me into going out there with you?”
Grinning, I shook my head. “Oh, I don’t have to. I’ll just tell Shiori and she’ll bully you into going out.” In demonstration, I gestured to the other side of the lounge, where the girl herself was busy schooling her two male teammates (Gavin and Stephen) at Tekken. You’d think they’d learn better at some point.
The poor boy heaved a sigh at that, shaking his head with clearly mock sadness. “I am so abused.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you suffer so much.” I poked him again before pushing myself up to my feet. Rubbing my hands together, I pressed, “Now if it’s not a pony, what’d ya bring me? Huh, huh, huh?”
Clearly amused, the boy reached into the bag that he’d brought. “Two things. First, here.” He passed me a small metal cylinder about the size of a cell phone case. It even had a clip to attach to my belt. “I already filled it up for you. There’s two hundred pounds of sand in there, so you should be good for awhile. And for the record,” he added while passing it to me, “next time you get to fill the thing up.”
“Oh!’ Quickly taking it, I examined the thing carefully. Sure enough, when I flipped the lid up with my thumb, I could see the sand inside. And stretching my Arenakinetic (According to Vanessa, that was what my sand-manipulation was called) sense down through it revealed a hell of a lot more inside.
“Holy shit, dude,” I quickly hugged the boy. “That’s awesome! Thanks for making this, seriously.”
Flushing with obvious embarrassment, Columbus returned the hug. “Hey, don’t worry about it. That’s what the Development track is supposed to do. Besides, Avalon helped, and we got to turn it in for a grade from Nevada. So really, it’s not a big deal. Just use it to kick ass the next time you get in trouble.”
“You know it,” I replied easily, smiling as I flicked a finger to make a tendril of sand snake up out of the container. After flicking it around a few times testingly, I slipped the sand back inside before clipping the thing to my belt. Smiling in satisfaction once it was there, I looked back to him. “Thanks.”
Shrugging again, he cleared his throat before reaching to his pack once more. “This is the one that I did by myself. I figured since you keep getting in trouble, you could probably use every little advantage you can get.” From the bag, the boy withdrew… a watch and held it out to me. “Here, put this on.”
“Ooh!” Shiori was making her way over to the two of us. Apparently her teammates had decided enough was enough. Now they were playing the game against each other. Trying to practice, apparently. “Is that the thing?” the Asian girl asked as she approached, her face bright with eagerness.
“Yup,” Columbus confirmed with a broad, proud smile. “Just giving Flick her early Christmas presents. Figured since we’re going out on that hunt tonight, they might actually be useful now rather than later.”
Yeah, we were actually going out on another official, sanctioned training hunt. For once, there hadn’t been an interruption or anything else. Then again, the night was still young and we weren’t there yet.
“Well good,” Shiori bounced on her heels a bit, “Maybe I won’t be so scared of Christmas this year.”
Blinking in confusion at that as I held the watch, I asked hesitantly, “You’re scared of Christmas?”
Behind me, I heard Columbus groan while Shiori lit up adorably. “Sure!” she chirped, not sounding afraid whatsoever. “It’s a problem with the whole Santa thing. I’m–” She coughed. “Claustrophobic.”
“Claustro—oh god.” My own groan matched Columbus’s while I shook my head. “Damn it, Shiori!”
If the girl’s bright laugh was any indication, she wasn’t in the least bit ashamed of herself. Instead, she pushed at my hand eagerly. “Go on, put it on, put it on,” Shiori urged. “Trust me, Flick, this is so cool! He made me practice with it before, just to make sure it wasn’t gonna cut your hand off or anything.”
My hand shot into the air then. “Uh, two questions. One, that could happen?! And uh, second…” Turning my attention toward Columbus, I stared at the boy. “If it could, you made Shiori test it out?!”
Flushing and coughing, he made a few vague gestures. “It’s fine, it’s just fine, I promise. Trust me, Flick. I just had to make sure it was calibrated right and all that. Please, just put it on. Oh, but you have to put it so the face is on the inside of your wrist, not the outside. You know, like fancy people do.”
“Fancy people…” I echoed before shaking my head as I put the watch on as instructed, with the band outward and the face itself on the inside of my wrist. “Like this? Hey, it is a nice watch.” It was one of those old watches with the actual hands rather than a digital face. “But I do have a phone, you know.”
“Your phone can’t do this,” Columbus assured me. “You still have that knife? The one your–” He paused, catching himself just in time before accidentally mentioning my mother. “–friend gave you?”
“Sure.” Nodding easily, I bent down to tug the silver knife out of the sheathe that was attached to my ankle, showing it to him. “I wanted to keep it as close as possible, because…” Pausing, I shrugged. “You know.”
Both of them murmured agreement while Columbus took the knife. “Okay, here, turn your hand over.” He adjusted my wrist and pushed down and in against the watch face. As he did so, the thing popped out a couple inches and opened up on the side facing my palm. With a wink at me, the boy carefully pushed the knife inside the opening, handle first until it seemed to click into place. Then he gave the watch face another gentle push until it closed back up again.
“Okay, now…” Columbus instructed after releasing my wrist. “Hold your hand out like this.” He demonstrated by holding his own hand down with his fingers in a loose approximation of a grip. “Then snap your fingers twice and put your hand back the way it was.”
Shrugging, I followed his lead. Holding my hand down in the same position, I snapped twice before putting it back.
A second later, the watch reopened and the knife shot out of it to land in my loose grip. Catching it, my eyes widened. “Whoa! You—damn, Columbus. You made this?”
He nodded, grinning at me.
“See?” Shiori nudged my arm. “Told you it was cool.”
“Like I said,” Columbus put in with another shrug, “I figured it might come in handy someday. Besides, it was… from your friend, so it’s kinda special.”
Biting my lip, I gave him another hug. “Thanks.” Then Shiori got a hug as well. “And thank you for testing it.”
She started to say something, but before she could, another voice called out from the doorway. “Hey, Columbus, Flick!”
It was Deveron. He leaned around the door, looking toward us expectantly. “You guys ready to go?”
“Oh, right.” Looking toward Shiori, I gave the girl a thumbs up. “Good luck with your team tonight.”
Her head bobbed up and down quickly. “Oh, sure, yeah. Good um, good luck with you too. Your team, I mean. With the hunting and all that.”
The two of us just sort of stood there for a second until Columbus nudged me. Shaking myself out of it, I started over with him to head out with Deveron so we could join the rest of the team for our second hunt.
God, I hoped there were no more wolves.