“How is this happening?” Awethu sputtered.
“Come!” Phili said, spinning around in front of him. “Come see!”
“Shh,” Cwebile, said. “He doesn’t understand, yet.”
“But it’s his home!” Phili cried out.
“Those humans have had him too long,” Mbali said. “Mama, make him understand.”
The woman began to tug him forward, her long legs moving smoothly through the water, her fins waving with supernatural grace. Fish swam by, darting here and there, mostly trying to get out of Phili’s way. She reminded Awethu of a puppy. She’d charge ahead, then swim back, urging them forward, only to swim out all over again.
They approached an underwater cave. As they reached the lip, Awethu could see an entire town, built into coral, surrounded by a kelp forest. “Where is this place?” he asked.
“Where it has always been,” was the woman’s reply.
More fin-people darted by, more than a few pausing to stare and call out greetings, including the odd, “Congratulations”.
“We got him back!” Phili shouted to all. “Now he won’t be land-bound.”
“What’s she on about?” Awethu asked.
“If you had reached 18 without being submerged in water, you would have been unable to come home,” the woman said.
“Tell him the truth, Mama,” Mbali said, circling them. “You were snatched when those humans were fishing.”
“My parents don’t fish,” Awethu said.
Cwebile glanced over her shoulder. “Not anymore, but they ripped you right out of my arms, little brother.”
“My fault,” the woman said. “Your big sister was younger than Phili is now. She couldn’t fight a human. I should have been keeping a better eye on you both.”
“They made a deal with a Star-Judge, and we hardly got a say,” Cwebile said.
“Hush now,” the woman said. “You’re getting ahead in the story.”
“What story?” Awethu asked.
“The story of us, and you, and them,” Phili answered.
“Wait, am I really here?” Awethu asked.
“Yes, and no,” the woman said. “But when you return to your solid-body, you can always come between both worlds, so long as you submerge yourself in the sea before 18.”
“Yeah,” Phili said. “None of that dipping your ankles nonsense, just to keep the Star-Judge’s ruling in comp … compl …”
“Compliance,” Mbali said. “She means compliance. But it’s fine now, because you’re going to do that, right?”
“What?” Awethu said.
“Swim in the sea tonight, once you get back to your true body,” Cwebile said. By the expression on her face, it was clear she thought he was dim.
“But why–” Awethu stopped at the sight of a fin-man. While the mysterious woman had his eyes, this man had his build. He was huge, as tall as Awethu, but his muscles were even bigger, more pronounced. “You look like me.”
The man opened his arms: “Son.”
And before Awethu could think about it, he had let go of the mysterious woman’s hand – Mama?– and swam as if he had been doing it his entire life, right into the older man’s embrace.
“I have so many questions,” Awethu said, as he pulled away.
“He’s going to wake up, soon,” his (other?) mama said.
The man’s face looked sad. “I should have come this year. I used to, every year, but this year … I’d lost hope.”
“We didn’t!” Phili said.
Her father bestowed a smile on her, as she zipped around.
“Just take a swim tonight,” Cwebile whispered, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“But I don’t know how to swim,” Awethu said.
“You are doing it right now,” his (other?) mama said.
“But will I be able–”
Tell us what you think: Might there be other human-like life forms on other planets? Or in the 80 to 95% of the ocean that is unexplored? Should we explore more? Or, seeing how much of our planet humans have already damaged, should we just leave the ocean alone?