It was hard to find any place of safety during the attack, but my girlfriend and I drove to the edge of the city, finding a long metallic jetty from which to observe the mayhem. The object of the assault was the Pacific Base, which could be seen in flames at this point, but just about the entire city was being shelled. Sitting on the hood of the car, we remained virtually silent, quietly hoping that when this was all over we would still have a home to go back to. Ever since Zorndyke began his war on humanity, we'd already seen so such death and destruction, this was simply another chapter in what seemed like an inevitable slide into oblivion for mankind.
"I think they've stopped," Noriko said quietly.
She was right. It had been several minutes since we'd heard any explosions, though many fires continued to burn. With the twilight turning to darkness, it was hard to tell the extent of the damage, but it was obvious that Pacific Base had been wiped out, and no ships could be seen anymore. I hopped off the car and went to the edge of the jetty, crouching down to get a better look at the sea. The burnt out shell of one of the enemies SeaSpider machines lay half submerged not too far away. Well, score one for the good guys, I guess.
"How much longer do you think we have," Noriko asked, "Pacific Base was about the last one. Once they've wiped out every last bit of resistance, do you think they'll just exterminate us all, finish what they started?"
"I don't know," I shrugged, not able to think of any reassuring words. Noriko wandered near to me, her arms wrapped around her torso against the encroaching chill night air. A few years younger than I, her short black hair and preference for shirts and slacks over dresses gave her a more mature aura. She was not beautiful in the classic sense of the term, but as a fellow lost soul, we had grown very close, though I often thought that it was only our mutual desperation that really kept us together.
"Oh, my God," Noriko suddenly gasped, "I think there's a body down there."
Following her pointed finger, I could see what did look like a vaguely human shape drifting closer to the base of the jetty. It was hard to tell for sure in the half-light, and something immediately struck me as odd about it, but I was fairly certain she was right -there was someone floating face down in the water.
"I'm going to take a look," I said, beginning to climb down the metal slope.
"They might still be alive."
Getting close to the water's edge, I began to have my doubts. The skin of her back was grey, much like a long dead corpse -from her slender form I assumed she was indeed female. The body drifted closer now, touching the side of the artificial shore, no more than a few meters away. I was tempted to just leave it, but the more I looked, the more puzzled I became. It wasn't simply grey, but had what looked to be a sort of black stripe running up it's spine, and below the waist she was actually a strange shade of yellow. Something that resembled a translucent membrane trailed from her limbs. Her hair was an unusual shade of off-grey, and her ears -her ears were long and pointed, rather like an elf.
"What's the matter," Noriko called down.
"I... I don't think she's human," I hesitantly replied.
Planting one foot in the water, I gingerly held onto her slick shoulder and turned her over onto her back. I swallowed hard at what I saw. She clearly wasn't human. Her eyelids were stark red, like salmon flesh, and her high forehead was patterned in a way that reminded me of rainbow trout. What's more, extending from some point at the base of her neck, were long feathery pink growths that fanned out on either side of her shoulders. Could they be external gills, as in some amphibious animals? But for so strange a creature to have so human a form, so placid a face...
"It's one of them, isn't it," Noriko said, standing behind me. "The enemy. One of Zorndyke's creations."
"Yeah, I guess so," I mumbled, not sure what to believe. All we had seen of Zorndyke's army were the machines, and the ships he'd used to launch his missiles and sink our navy vessels. Surely they must have had crews and pilots -is this what they looked like?
"Fucking monster, got what it deserved," Noriko spat.
I looked back down on the creature, studying it's round, all too human face. Suddenly I could feel her jerk in my hand, her head tossing to one side.
"My God, she's still alive," I exclaimed. A sense of panic gripped me, unsure what to do.
"Get her up out of the water," Noriko calmly told me.
Sliding one arm under her shoulders and the other under her knees, I carried her partway up the jetty. Now she really came alive, her strange red eyes flashing open, fairly glowing in the dusk. One of her hands clutched tightly to my forearm, her pink tinted nails digging into the skin through my shirt. Her eyes locking onto mine, she hissed at me, a sound not unlike that made by an angry or frightened cat. Her teeth were rather pointed like a cats too. When she started to squirm, I was afraid I might lose my grip, her skin was so slick and wet.
"What should we do with her?"
"If I had a knife with me, I'd say cut her throat," Noriko said flatly.
"Wha...". No, I suppose I couldn't really argue with that sentiment, but in truth I don't think I would have had it in me to slaughter this creature.
"Hold on a sec." Noriko returned to the car to get her purse. To my surprise, she came back with a pair of handcuffs.
"Since when do you carry handcuffs with you," I asked with some amusement.
"They were meant to be a surprise," Noriko explained obliquely, "Put her on the ground, arms behind her back."
It was just in time. Having regained some of her strength, the creature was becoming very hard to keep a hold of. Dropping her face first onto the slanted metal ground, Noriko quickly cuffed her black coloured wrists together while I kept her held down.
It was quite a pitiful sight. Her face turned to one side, our captive's defiant hisses had turned to desperate gasps, her eyes flickering from side to side in distress.
"Maybe we should have thrown her back in the sea," I suggested, "I don't think she can breath out of water."
"She obviously has lungs," Noriko pointed out, kneeling down for a better look. "She probably just isn't used to breathing air."
"We're not putting her back," Noriko shook her head, "Not a chance, after everything they've done. Consider her a prisoner of war."
I knew enough not to argue. In her way, Noriko was right, though seeing such bitterness and contempt in her disturbed me.
Reaching out uncertainly, Noriko touched the skin between the creature's shoulder blades.
"She's so smooth," she remarked, her expression softening somewhat, "almost frictionless."
I nodded, having noticed the same thing when I held her. I worried about her present state though; having ceased to struggle, it looked from her half-closed eyes that she was losing consciousness again. Crossing back to the water's edge, I took as much as I could into my cupped hands and splashed it against the creature's torso, making sure to soak what I assumed were her external gills.
"I think we should keep her as wet as possible," I explained, "provided we want her to live, of course. What do we do with her?"
"We take her home," Noriko replied, as if the answer was obvious. "Help me get her into the car."
* * *
It was a surreal experience driving home. With much of the city in shambles and still burning in places, it was unnerving to think we had one of the enemy responsible for this mayhem lying on the backseat of our car. Fortunately our small house was far enough away from the destruction to remain intact.
I wasted little time in filling our Japanese-style bath with lukewarm water. I silently wondered if I should add salt to try and replicate sea water. No, it's doubtful that would work. Well, as inadequate as this was, it would have to do.
Despite my request, and the fact she was virtually unconscious, Noriko wouldn't take off the handcuffs. So, we lowered our captive into the bath, lying her curled on one side so she would be mostly submerged, the excess water spilling out onto the tiled floor. Kneeling down, I reached in, wiping away some of her disordered hair away from her face. Noriko watched all this, arms crossed, her expression set in a contemplative frown.
"I wonder if she has a name," I said, brushing my fingers against her cheek, watching as she slowly turned her eyes to focus on my face hovering above the water. "Maybe they have the capacity for language. I wish we could speak to it. What do you think? Should we name her ourselves?"
"Whatever you want," Noriko shrugged.
"How about Ninya," I said, "as in 'ningyo', a mermaid."
"Fine," Noriko said, turning on her heels, "I'm going to go put dinner on."
Sitting back, I watched as Ninya righted herself, her head now peeking out of the water. She tested her bonds, but the handcuffs were still in place. Her expression was hard to read, but if she was human, I'd say it was stoic defiance.
There were a few things that struck me about her now that I had a chance to really look at her close up in proper light. Those thin membranes that I'd originally seen trailing from her limbs, rather like the fins of an angel fish, had evidently drawn in so tight as to be nearly invisible. Her feet, bearing the same black pigmentation as her forearms and spine, had no individual toes, but tapered to a gentle point. I couldn't help but notice as well that she had a nice pair of small breasts, pretty much exactly like a humans, only the brighter tint of her nipples being unusual. For all the ways she was not like us, she struck me as very human indeed.
"I'm sorry about all this," I murmured, feeling the need to apologize, though it was unlikely she could understand me. "If it was up to me, I'd have left you where you belong. I guess that means you'd only end up back in Zorndyke's army and try to kill us again. Why do you hate us so much?"
Ninya looked at me blankly with those unsettling red eyes of hers. Perhaps I was being unfair. It was Zorndyke who'd made himself the enemy of humanity; Ninya was only his bastard daughter, another foot soldier in his war.
"I'm just making stuff up now," I sighed, taking a seat on the toilet lid, "I wish I knew what you really were."
Ninya, having grown bored, slid back down under the water, closing her eyes. Due to the size of the tub, her knees were raised close to her chest in a sort of fetal position. She was such an ornate creature, I remained looking at her for several minutes until Noriko finally called for my assistance in the kitchen.
* * *
We sat down to dinner, a simple affair of rice and fried fish. Kneeling on opposite sides of the low table, we quietly ate, a silence that became more and more leaden.
"We're going to have to talk about her eventually," I finally spoke up.
"You know," I said gravely, "Ninya."
"I can't believe you fucking gave it a name," Noriko spat, "like it was some kind of pet."
"Then what," I pressed, "I don't believe you had us bring her all this way just to kill her. Did you intend to torture her?"
"Who says I have to do anything," Noriko yelled, slamming her fists on the table, "You're the man, you do something! Don't you want to avenge my parents at all? Death is too good for the likes of them. If I were you, I'd have thrown that bitch down to the ground and fucking raped her 'till she bled from the inside."
Covering her face, Noriko shook as she began to weep.
At that moment, I was speechless. Noriko's parents were indeed killed in the great flood, the most devastating of Zorndyke's atrocities. Until now, she had no focus for her rage and despair, no face to attach to the identity of her families murderer. I too had lost loved ones, but I couldn't let those feelings of loss consume me in that way.
"Let me take care of it," I said with soft but firm conviction, "Why don't you go to bed early. I'll take care of everything here."
* * *
Thus, I returned to the bathroom. In one hand I had a plate, laid out with two fish that I'd done my best to defrost from the freezer. In the other, the key to the handcuffs I'd finally unearthed from Noriko's purse.
Ninya slowly sat up as I entered, her attention switching between the fish and my face. I could read her expression of guarded optimism.
"Yes, they're for you," I nodded, "I'm afraid they're not exactly fresh, but I hope you'll at least find them edible."
I laid the plate on the wide brim of the tub, then held up the small key for her to see.
"Come on, stand up," I told her, waving my hand in an upward motion. Even though the offering of fish clearly occupied her attention, she understood my gesture, and came to stand on her feet. I got a bit of amusement to see she was just about Noriko's height. Worse came to worse, I could probably even dress her in her clothes. Turning her around, I inserted the key and freed Ninya from her bonds. Rubbing life back into her sore arms, she squatted back into the water, making me wonder if she wasn't used to standing erect.
Needing no further coaxing, Ninya swiped the food off the plate, hunching over in a corner as if afraid I might take it back at any moment. She made pretty quick work of her meal, her nimble teeth effortlessly picking the flesh from the thin delicate bones. After she was done, I held out the empty plate. At first she looked at me in puzzlement, then hesitantly laid the fish's remains back on the plate.
"No point having fish heads floating around your bath, eh?" I smiled, putting it to one side. Ninya and I looked at each other a while, locked in what could only be described as silent contemplation. Edging forward, I extended a hand, hoping to touch her extraordinarily slick soft skin again. I could see her grow tense as I came nearer, but she didn't move until I was a few mere centimeters away. Then, she lunged forward, hissing loudly, her teeth bared. I nearly fell on my ass scrabbling back.
"Alright, OK," I said, hands raised in surrender. Ninya settled down, fingers still clutching the edge of the bathtub. Between Ninya and Noriko, I obviously wasn't making too many friends tonight. Giving her a polite nod, I took the plate and left her to herself.
* * *
It goes without saying that Noriko and I did not make love that night. I guess I'll never find out who those handcuffs were originally meant to be used for. With her back to me, I couldn't tell if she was already asleep or not, so I just got into bed without a word.
I can't say for sure when I finally nodded off, though it was surprising to find that I had at all. But what woke me up was even more surprising; singing. It was so subtle that at first I thought I might be imagining it. I glanced over at Noriko, but she still appeared to be asleep.
The song was without lyrics, just a simple vocal harmony, soft ad lilting in the way of a lullaby. Stealing out of bed, I quietly donned my robe and trod toward the bathroom.
The door remained closed as I'd left it, yellow electric light spilling from the narrow crack around the edge. There was no doubt this was the origin of that noise; Ninya was singing. Leaning back against the wall, I remained listening a while. There was a pattern in that song, some key to her native language. But that she was even singing at all... it was the last thing I expected, and it moved me in an inexplicable way. It was easy to believe this was the song heard by ancient mariners as they heard the calls of the mythical mermaids.
Gently opening the bathroom door, I stepped inside, curiosity getting the better of me. Ninya was sitting on the edge of the tub, her back facing me, legs in the water. Her face was tilted toward the small square window set high on the wall. Her voice faltered as she became aware of my presence.
"Sorry, I didn't mean for you to stop," I apologized, coming up beside her. Staring dully at her hands in her lap, Ninya's slack expression spoke volumes about how she was feeling without uttering a single word.
As if adding to this scene of pathos, the water in the tub had become discoloured since I last visited her. She may well have been a prisoner of war, as Noriko described her, but I had no desire to see her live in unnecessary discomfort. Pulling the plug, I let the water drain way.
"If you really were a SeaSpider pilot, I don't imagine this should be so difficult for you," I said lightly, turning on the taps. I could see her watch me from the corner of her eyes, but otherwise she didn't react at all, despite my close proximity. Still, I knew enough to keep my distance, sitting back as the clean water slowly replaced the stale old.
"How on earth are we going to manage like this," I wondered aloud. "Hard to imagine us using the bathroom with you in here all the time. Noriko would never sit on the toilet with you watching her; not unless she tore your eyes out first. Sorry, bad joke. And as for me..."
I hadn't even had a chance to have a proper shower all evening. Well, the fact our city was virtually shelled back to the stone age made this a minor inconvenience. That we still had running water and electricity was nothing short of a miracle. But, in the face of adversity, there exists a great desire for a return to normality. In short, I wanted my shower, middle of the night be damned. I might not have a chance in the morning -hell, the morning was the last thing I wanted to think about right now, the whole uncertainty of what tomorrow would bring.
"Well, what the hell," I shrugged, deciding to make the best out of the situation.
Like most traditional Japanese homes, the bath and the shower were very different entities. Indeed, it would be pretty rare to take a bath without showering clean first. But, like American style bathrooms, there was a sink and toilet; a concession to international influence and the needs of the times.
Hanging my robe on the towel rack, I walked naked into the bathing area -not a shower stall per se, but an area of tiled floor with a drain set in the middle right next to the bathtub. Picking up the hand shower from the wall mount, I switched the flow from the taps and began to drench myself down.
Ninya, still sitting on the edge of the tub, watched me with growing fascination. I tried not to pay too much attention to her, figuring there wasn't any harm she could do, and certainly not embarrassed about being naked when she was already naked herself. But, to my surprise, she got down onto the ground, crawling slowly forward on all fours toward me. Her bright red eyes were fixed on me, watching my every move. I might have been afraid, but there was no malice in her expression, only curiosity. For a while she sat back on her haunches, and I acted calmly and normally for fear of scaring her off. I wanted her to feel comfortable with me, though I couldn't explain exactly how or why.
Padding closer, she was now squatting right in front of me, getting splashed with the same water I was. Her body was fairly shining it was so slick and wet. This was the closest I'd been to her since I originally lay her down in the tub. She was looking me over, and with some embarrassment, it seemed that my genitals held a certain fascination for her. Reaching out with a hesitant hand, Ninya touched my right thigh, feeling the flesh up to my hip and to my waist. Her skin felt cool compared to mine, her arm now brushing against my leg.
Her attention turned to my dangling left hand, holding it up in front of her face. Then, in a sudden swift movement, she thrust my index finger into her mouth. Obviously I flinched, but didn't pull away for two reasons. Even though she had it clamped between her sharp teeth, she applied no pressure, and it didn't hurt at all. And the way she looked up at me, directly into my eyes, I think I understood what she was doing. In effect, she was sending this message -if I wanted her to trust me, then I would have to trust her in turn. Displaying neither fear nor alarm, I let her hold me like that until she finally relented. Apart from a couple of red marks, she'd left me unharmed. I gave her a smile, gently running my freed hand across her cheek and through her surprisingly soft hair.