With the third book in The Under Series coming out next week, I'll be releasing a new chapter from Underground - A Merfolk Secret every day this week, so you can have an exclusive first look about what's next for the Brooks family and all the people around them.
The snowy peaks of the Saint Elias Mountains in Alaska reflected themselves on the perfectly still lake. High in the sky, the sun did little to bring warmth to the surroundings, making this place a perfect getaway for a merfolk family.
Beneath the tranquil waters, three young Brookses moved undetected while Christopher watched from the pier, waiting for his father to join them. He knew—just as Julian did—that this trip was more than just a spring break vacation: they were looking for places to hide.
The world was fast becoming a dangerous place to be a Brooks. They were the only merfolk known to the US government, and although they were holding a fragile truce, things were unpredictable enough to warrant an escape route—or a few.
Most merfolk were already making plans to move and disappear. Many were seriously considering going back to The City, the safest place on Earth for their kind. And that was all good and well for adult merfolk, but children and teens simply didn’t have the strength to make the dive deep into the Pacific Ocean to reach it.
That placed Julian in an impossible situation. Three of his sons couldn’t swim back to The City until they were older, which meant he needed a place on the surface to hide his family. Right now it was just a contingency plan, and Julian was subtle about it. Chris doubted his little brothers had caught on the meaning of this trip, and they both liked it that way.
Alaska was a reasonable place to settle in. Familiar to an extent, and with perfect weather for their needs. He knew Drake was pursuing Iceland, an equally reasonable place. Both Drake and Julian were working hard for the UN talks to work—and to keep the US relatively happy—but the world was large and vast, and too many interests were suddenly looking at how to exploit merfolk.
“Christopher?” Julian said behind him, in a way that implied he’d been calling him a few times.
“Sorry, I was just thinking about moving to this place. It’s beautiful.”
“It’s quite rural,” Julian said with a thoughtful look as he sat beside his son. “I’m not sure your brothers would appreciate that.” They both smiled. “It’s certainly far more than I had for a while after coming out of The City, but at that time, electricity wasn’t a thing. The whole world was rural back then.”
“Did you ever miss The City? During those years?”
“I missed…some things. I certainly didn’t like many things I had to deal with on the surface. I still don’t like many of those, actually. But you don’t get mountains in The City. Much less snow or lakes.”
“You can’t win them all, huh?” Chris said, earning a laugh from his dad. Chris winced a moment later as a muscle in his leg strained from sitting so long. “I need to stretch,” he added as his attention diverted to his legs. Stretching had become a routine by now, and although it mostly worked in the short term, it was no solution for his weak muscles. “I bet you have some very interesting stories from back then…” Chris trailed off on purpose to prompt an answer from his father. Julian never talked about those years, or basically those centuries.
His father was far more interested in Chris’s stretching than dodging any bait. He’d been asking lately how things were going with his therapy, apparently concerned Chris hadn’t yet fully recovered. “Hmm,” Julian murmured at length, refocusing on Chris’s eyes. “The fact that we don’t age has always been the hardest aspect of living up here. And it’s getting harder to conceal as technology advances. I always forget how fast humans age and how soon we find ourselves changing identities.”
“Is it time for a new last name?”
Julian smiled as Christopher finished his routine. “Maybe. But it’s certainly nothing I’m doing today. Let’s give your brothers a lesson in speed.”
Julian disappeared into the lake, and a moment later, Chris followed. The world and its dangers could wait for another day.
* * *
If Drake had to pick one city in the whole world to be the last one he would see, it would be New York. He had history with this place, with every bridge and every park, with both the new and the old. Time had tried its hardest to transform many aspects of it in the last decades, but it could never change its character. Few things from his centuries-old memories remained intact, and although many things had indeed risen and reshaped New York City, its atmosphere always welcomed him. Rebellious and untamed, rich and full of life. The perfect place to hide in plain sight.
“We’ve checked every clause, and we think it’s sound,” Diana said from the couch. Her apartment was tiny when compared to the Brookses’ penthouse, but Drake loved how the smell of coffee easily reached every corner of her home. The meeting with the UN loomed on the horizon, and both parties were eager to sit down and talk. Well, he was eager to sit down and talk. The Council—including Julian—wasn’t so happy about it.
“And they’re okay with the fact that I’ll be coming alone?” he asked his adopted niece. Diana had been a clever asset to infiltrate the UN’s committee for dealing with merfolk. Not only was she smart, she was a natural negotiator, much like her human counterpart, Nathan Forest.
She nodded. “They think it has to do with security and not exposing any more merfolk identities, but it won’t take them long to understand we’re a divided nation.”
Drake sighed. He had to calm human fears about merfolk, and deal with human greed when it came to the advantages of enslaving them. The Council argued that too much was on the balance for them to handle alone, but The City was not forthcoming with any plans, and the surface merfolk had real concerns about being hunted or exposed. In the end, the Council had agreed to preliminary talks, a show of good faith with the UN. At the very least, they had to prove themselves intelligent and competent to negotiate with, even if they would have to disclose secrets they’d rather not share.
“You look tense,” she said after a moment, worried. “If it’s not to your liking, we can go back and rewrite—”
“It’s not that. The UN, the talks—we can’t prepare any further. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”
“It’s what comes after that worries you?” she asked, slightly biting her lower lip. It reminded Drake that she had barely reached adulthood. How cruel was fate to deny her centuries of life free from the burden of being exposed. If things went wrong, this generation of mermen and mermaids would have to deal with a far darker place than Drake ever had.
“It’s not what but who is not on the table that worries me, actually,” he confided.
“You mean The City,” she said, arching an eyebrow. “But they’re okay with this, right? I mean, they have to be okay. They were certainly okay with leaving Chris as a liaison between both worlds, right? This is a far better plan, by any measure.”
At twenty-seven, Diana was still considered a minor in merfolk society, and not suited to discuss Council and City plans. But this young woman in front of him had more sense than half The City down there, not to mention that she was one month away from turning twenty-eight. It was her right to ask entrance to The City, but he had no idea if that would be safer than the surface right now.
“The City isn’t talking to us. Since Wallace’s execution and Jason’s departure, they have been a tomb. They wanted to delay these talks for decades but not out of fear of what humans might do to us. They’re far more concerned with a mass exodus that would cripple The City’s life as they know it. They can’t risk it—and neither can we. There’s no way four thousand new merfolk on the surface won’t fall prey to unscrupulous hands without some serious planning on our side. Our safety has always been in anonymity, and we can’t ensure their safety if they all come out at once.”
Diana chuckled without humor. “You and Mom have always painted The City as this totalitarian golden cage, where your thoughts are public domain and the landscape never changes—”
“Right. It’s just weird to hear you say you don’t want our people to escape it, that’s all.”
“Not if they’re changing a golden cage for a glass cell, and in the process get us all captured.”
“Well, hopefully the UN won’t allow that,” she said with an optimistic smile that did little to ease Drake’s thoughts. On paper, the UN could offer the sun and the stars, but in reality, they were little more than a polite man asking to please behave nicely at a dinner party. The UN might be Drake’s first step, but it wasn’t his only one. He had a meeting with Major White, an unofficial one, to discuss US interests and how they related to merfolk, and he was willing to bet other governments would soon knock on his door. If he played his cards right, things could go well enough that he wouldn’t have to run to Iceland on the next flight. If he played them wrong, though—
An alert on his computer distracted him.
“What is it?” Diana asked.
“I’m not sure, yet. I’ve been placing some flags within the Pentagon. They have really funny ideas on how to try to find The City, but have some more practical ones on how to find us on the surface. Military Intelligence seems to be focusing on Brooks Inc. technology, which is a total waste of time—Oh, this is interesting…” Drake trailed off as he started looking into his alert. Diana placed her laptop beside her and stood up to read over Drake’s shoulder.
“Mhm. Mireya hasn’t been able to find anything useful regarding the Brazil incident, but she’s not the only one looking.”
“I thought it was a hoax like all the others.”
Around the world, dozens of coastal cities, towns, and villages claimed merfolk were coming to their shores. The latest one to get any meaningful coverage had happened in Brazil two months ago, but nothing had come out of it. Nothing but blaming it on Wallace, though Drake knew better—and so did the Pentagon.
He narrowed his eyes as he looked into what the Navy was investigating. Each arm of the military had a different approach to the “merfolk problem”, as they called it. Even the Air Force had a team looking into something related to them, but it was the Navy that had the most to gain. Not only were merfolk able to go where no submarine ever could, they had an entire city underwater completely functional and camouflaged. That kind of technology meant a jump in light years when it came to structures under extreme pressure, not to mention a stealth level that guaranteed complete anonymity. When it came to negotiating, the Navy had always been the obvious option.
“We know it was real, but we think whoever the merman was got away. Unfortunately, not one of my contacts has called me with any useful information, and the trail has gone cold after a month of no new leads.”
“Well, if you can’t find it, then nobody can,” Diana said with conviction.
“Hmm,” Drake said as he finished checking his alert. “Maybe all I need is better contacts.”
* * *
“The only real thing that is worrying Drake is The City,” Diana said over the phone to Nathan Forest. Her UN colleague had become an unexpected confidant when it came to her merfolk duties, especially when they both wanted the UN talks with Drake to work as best as they could.
“I’m beginning to think you guys have a love-hate relationship with your city.”
Diana smiled. “You have no idea. There’s something else regarding this thing in Brazil. My mom is being really quiet about it, and this is the first time in a month that Drake has even mentioned it.”
“Maybe you’re reading too much into it. The UN has—”
“—already said it’s another hoax, I know. The thing is, there’s a lot of information I’m not old enough to know, but you would think that being four weeks away from my birthday and officially joining the ranks of adulthood, they would start telling me things,” she said with more frustration than she intended. She glared at the ceiling as if she were glaring at the world. “But this isn’t even about me. I think this has something to do with whatever deal Drake made with Major White. Honestly, that scares me the most.”
“What does your mother think?”
She laughed in a dark tone. “My mother is a Council member first and foremost. Short of me dying, she won’t disclose what goes on in those sessions with me.”
Nathan sighed on the other side, probably not keen on remembering that she had almost died not two months ago. The whole Wallace thing still made her skin crawl, but she’d found a strange, morbid pleasure in bringing her almost-death into conversations as often as she could. If that wasn’t scaring Nathan away, nothing else would.
“But do you know what?” she continued. “Maybe not having The City meddling in these talks is the best thing that could happen to us. They have plenty of reasons to object. I mean, Christopher falling into human hands was an accident, but everything else—well, let’s just say the surface Council has pretty much disregarded any advice from them, and Wallace’s execution using Scott was probably not how they would have handled the whole thing.”
“You think The City would want to cancel the talks?”
“It’s a possibility. But Drake wants this, Nate, he really, really wants it. The only way he won’t do it is if the Council votes against it, and right now it’s four votes against one.” She sighed, resigned. “All I want is for things to work out, you know?”
“We’ll make them work out. He’s not the only one who really, really wants it.”
She laughed a real laugh this time. “Some days, I wake up thinking that the only way this is going to happen is if the UN ends up kidnapping Drake.”
“Don’t tempt me, Diana. I might just be desperate enough to make that happen.”
They both laughed, but she had the uneasy feeling Nathan wasn’t entirely joking.
Continue reading chapter 2.
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