The soft wavering voice halted Nicholas Finn just as he was about to palm open the access control of the warehouse door. Nick allowed himself a small, unhappy sigh before composing his features and turning around.
Dominating the room was a giant fish tank full of sea water. A ladder for getting in and out of the tank was mounted to one side. Nick's sister, Nina floated inside the tank; her large silver-grey eyes looking out at him imploringly from behind the glass.
'Don't go,' she said again sounding out the words carefully. Speech was difficult for her now that the transformation was complete and though she knew he understood Water Sign, she wanted to make things easier for him. She wanted him to smile again, to not look at her with pity. She wanted to not be a burden. She wanted above all to be free.
"Stay. Swim more with me, please."
"I can't stay," Nick told her, something more than reluctance in his voice. "I have to go to work now. I know you're lonely but I can't stay."
Nina made a small mournful sound. She slapped a webbed hand once against the glass then dived to the bottom of the tank where there was fake seaweed and anemone, some dead coral and a few fish hiding out. All that's missing is the fake castle she thought bitterly. She curled into herself, wishing that she could still cry.
Nick sighed again, burdened by guilt and love. It was love that had kept him from killing her when she'd begged him to. The initial stages of transformation had been excruciating for her and they hadn't known if she'd survive. But he'd been unable to do it. She was his only sister, the only family he had left now that their great-uncle had passed. It wasn't fair that a stupid family curse should take her away from him.
She'd survived and he'd brought her here; kept her hidden away in this place where according to great-uncle Charlie, several generations of females in their family had been forced to live out their lives, once The Change had occurred. It was selfish and perhaps cruel. He was tormented daily by the worry of what would happen to her if he was seriously injured or killed. But how did one make provisions for a sister that had turned into a mythical creature? Who could he trust to keep such a secret; to keep her safe? If she was discovered there was no doubt in his mind that she would be subjected to all sorts of horrible experiments.
Nick approached the tank, tracking a fresh set of wet footprints across the floor. "I'll bring you a present tomorrow," he promised trying to inject some cheer into his voice. "What would you like?" Maybe a pet he thought? How much did a dolphin cost? What could he bring her that she wouldn't eat? If only the family records hadn't been destroyed then he'd have some idea what to do to help make her more comfortable.
Nina surfaced, neck-gills quivering a little as her head bobbed above water. Her skin now sleek and hairless was the colour of wet pavement with patches of iridescent scales. She'd grown fins along her forearms, back and legs, along with a thin pinkish webbing between her fingers and toes. Her human teeth had all fallen out and sharp, pointed teeth had taken their place. Nick was both repulsed and fascinated by his sister's appearance. He wasn't sure he'd ever get used to seeing her this way.
"I want to go into the ocean." She watched his face as she spoke, knowing he would frown. She watched his shoulders tense, watched his lips thin as he steeled himself to deny her once again. She steeled herself as well to press the point.
"Dammit, you know that's not a good idea," Nick said. "I've told you, it's too dangerous. It's not like you were born a fish for God's sake! You'd probably not survive a week."
"You don't know that. Am very strong. Rather die than stay here alone." The words were distorted, a liquid quaver but just clear enough for him to understand. Nina had submerged a little, allowing the water to flow past her gills as she was not able to breathe air for very long.
"No!" Nick snapped. He was angry now. Conflicted. "And if you keep asking, I won't come back for a week."
"No Nicky! I won't stop asking. Know you don't want to be here." Her voice was plaintive. "Not fair me, not fair you. Please. Please. Let me die or let me go."
They stared at each other for a long moment. Nina's gaze was unblinking, eyes silently pleading. Nick's shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Alright," he whispered. "Alright."
It was hard to tell from his expression, exactly which decision he'd made, but Nina's face, still human for the most part, relaxed into a relieved smile.
"Swim with me Nicky. Swim with me one last time."
Nick nodded and returned her smile with a sad one of his own. Then re-zipping his wet suit, he climbed the ladder into the tank.