Font Size:  

Jayna waved at the cheering crowd and the hovering streambots as Kalani stood in the lagoon and cradled her in his arms. She found Sid in the stands and waved. He waved back.

The gesture made Jayna’s heart flutter.

The conch sounded, and everyone in the stadium went quiet. “Since this is the first ever Merathlon,” the announcer said, “the rules are still somewhat vague and ambiguous. You can be certain that the Merathlon board will be making some clarifying changes to future events. That said, there is nothing in the current rules, as written, that prohibit a mermaid or merman from utilizing the power of their fishing trophy in the race. Therefore, the winner of the first ever Manutai Merathlon is Mermaid Aaramere!”

The theater erupted in cheers and Jayna’s heart swelled with happiness. She had done it! She tried to find Sid again, but Kalani held her tightly and kissed the top of her head. “I knew you could do it!”

When he finally released her, she looked for Sid in the stands but couldn’t see him. Her heart sank a little, but the disappointment was soon replaced by anticipation, knowing she would be with him later that evening at the Jubilee Beach Bash.

Chapter 21

Hazel’s oversized image stared disapprovingly at Sid from his hotel room’s display wall. “Are you and Jayna Cooper in a relationship?”

Under her stern gaze, Sid felt like he was back in middle school, about to get a lecture from his teacher. He cast a quick glance at Emmaline, who raised her eyebrows and shrugged in an “I-didn’t-say-anything” gesture.

Sid put on his best in-control-executive face. He had set up this meeting with her to brainstorm ways to leverage Jayna’s Merathlon win. He hadn’t planned on discussing his apparently not-so-well-hidden feelings for her.

“Jayna and I are not in a relationship.” Not yet, anyway, he added silently to himself. That would hopefully change once Rosalind’s analysis came back but only if he was confident enough to move forward without putting himself—or his reputation with the Cerulean Order—at risk.

Hazel narrowed her eyes, and Sid could tell she didn’t believe him. “Why do you ask?” he said, trying to maintain some control over the conversation.

“Your friend Crystal is convinced that you are,” Hazel said. His insides went cold at the mention of her name. “She’s filled her stream with content that’s focused on the similarities between Jayna and herself. She is insisting you have coerced Jayna into a relationship, just like you did with her.”


Bile rose in Sid’s throat, and anger filled his chest. He fought to keep his voice even. “I did not coerce Crystal into a relationship. And I am not even in a relationship with Jayna.”

“That’s what you say, but it sure looks to me like you are. More importantly, Crystal has latched onto this and is trying to turn it into a scandal, saying the employee buyout is only in play so you can extract some quid pro quo.”

Emmaline sighed loudly. “We’ve buried Crystal and her smear campaign deep in the Myst. This won’t go any farther than her direct followers, and she doesn’t have many of those left.”

Hazel shook her head. “Nothing in the Myst stays buried forever. Sooner or later, some eager streamer is going to dig deep enough to find her accusations and see a golden opportunity to grow their platform. I agree that we need to capitalize on this Merathlon thing, but not until we address this. We can’t risk calling attention to her before we have this situation under control.”

Sid knew Hazel was right. The best way to stop Crystal was for them to own the narrative about his relationship with Jayna.

Unfortunately, Sid didn’t yet know what the narrative was. He knew what he wanted it to be, but if he mishandled the situation, he could lose his chances with both Jayna and the Order.

“I’m assuming you’ve run projections on when Crystal’s accusations might get picked up by a streamer of consequence. How much time do we have?”

Hazel scowled. “It’s nighttime now here in the States. You might have eighteen hours before some overly ambitious intern starts digging for an angle on the mermaid. If we don’t have our own narrative in place by then, Crystal’s will be the one they find.”

Eighteen hours. That wasn’t much, but Sid hoped it would be enough. Rosalind’s analysis was due back at any time. With that analysis in hand, he would know whether to confess his feelings for Jayna when they met up at the Jubilee Beach Bash that evening. If she felt the same way, and was willing to acknowledge it publicly, they could make the announcement.

"Jayna and I are not currently in a relationship, but that might change this evening. Either way, I'll be ready to make a statement within the next twelve hours."

Chapter 22

Jayna laughed and joked with Mermaid Buwan, whose human name was Rani, and a half-dozen other mermaids who had also participated in the Merathlon. They made their way as a group down the enormous strip of white sand known as Pokapu Beach. They were joined by several thousand others who had come to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Manutai’s founding.

Lively, energetic music floated on a warm tropical breeze that was filled with the aroma of food from around the Pacific. Out over the ocean, a constantly changing aerial drone light display stretched for kilometers.

The group stopped to watch a man and woman who were twirling flaming staffs to the rapid beat of drums. A booming male voice said, “Hey, who let those mermaids out of the tank?”

Kalani approached the group, followed closely by Pala and a few other mermen. Jayna gave Kalani a hug, and in typical mer fashion there were hugs all around. Jayna hesitated briefly as Pala hugged her.

He must have sensed her discomfort because he furrowed his brow. “You okay?”

“Um, yeah,” Jayna said. “I’m…I guess I’m just relieved you aren’t still mad about today.”