Piscine opened her eyes.
She blinked several times and she felt relieved. She finally saw the sun shine through her window for the first time in four years.
She looked outside and she has never seen friendlier waters or skies since. It felt good to be back.
They should be almost there. She gets off the bed quickly and goes into the exercise room where her sister and two of her brothers are working out.
‘Good morning,’ she says, greeting them, a small hint of excitement in her voice can be heard. She went straight to the sink to wash her face.
She picked up two weights and started working out.
‘Excited?’ Un asked her, not stopping his push ups.
‘A little nervous, I suppose,’ she answers, smiling, not stopping her count.
‘I wish we could meet them. They sound wonderful, Piscine. We still haven’t seen anyone that look alike,’ said Neuf, the youngest of her brothers.
Mer sighed, ‘If only Pop will let us but I doubt it. It would have been nice.’
Piscine had so much going on in her head, even if she was focused on doing her weight lifting. The biggest question in Piscine’s mind is if they would remember her?
Piscine’s family knows about the twins.
It was not long after they arrived at the Other Ocean. When they arrived, they wasted no time to gather the older clan members. And as their usual routine, they started to reminisce about memories from the old world. There were crazy stories about how people idolized other people called ‘pop stars’. The people offer everything they have even if the ‘pop stars’ give very little in return. Old tree names, old animals, birds, religion, customs, cultures, the way of life is terribly different from what they know now. Some clans talk about how people were terrible then.
Piscine was filled with guilt. She didn’t want to be terrible! Everyone is so good with each other and here she was, lying to her family. She was carrying the burden of her rescue from her family for seven months now and she felt that the guilt she is carrying will not feel lighter any time soon.
Piscine thought and thought of whom she should speak to about it first.
Mer knew a little about it but Piscine knew that she wouldn’t tell her parents about it. So she went to work on hinting to her brothers – hopefully one of them would tell her parents. But subtle hints did not work for her brothers. She had to face up and be brave. She will tell her brothers directly.
She started with Un. She went up to the navigation bridge where she would usually find him.
‘Hey Cine! Did you bring me food?’
The question caught her off guard because she was so focused on how she should hint about the twins. ‘No! I won’t bring you anymore!’ she answered him. ‘Mom said you eat too much.’ Un laughed and slapped his stomach. ‘Welp. It can’t be helped. It’s so cold around here.’ Un, is the eldest of the brothers and is twenty-eight years old. He eats so much that he’s gained more muscle and is not as lean as his brothers anymore. They sometimes joke that he’s so stocky that he could live in one of the three cities with no problem. He’s got blond greenish hair, two toned, just like Mer, and with friendly smiling brown eyes. He’s a bit of an obsessive compulsive disorder because he likes to keep everything clean. Even his eating habits are completely different from all his siblings – he likes to use a knife, a fork and a spoon. He is also in charge of the cleaning roster which he rotates equally among himself and his siblings.
Piscine looked at the maps on the table absentmindedly, determined to say something about her guilty conscience. ‘What if I told you that I helped some people when they were drowning?’
‘That’s good, Cine. You should always help people when they need help,’ Un answered without missing a beat.
‘Yeah, Cine. Helping people is a good thing,’ a voice said behind her. It was Deux with Trois and Quatre following behind him, joining them in the navigation deck. Deux is twenty-six, a little taller than Un, bespectacled with gray eyes with two toned curly hair that dominates all over his head. He likes instruments but is not much of a singer. He can play whatever instruments you put before him with no problem whatsoever. Trois is twenty-four, with two toned bed hair with the prettiest blue eyes you will ever see in the land, he has a hawk nose which makes him look a little scary sometimes especially when you disturb him when he is reading. He does not like being disturbed in his me time Quatre is twenty-two, lean with muscles, the usual two toned hair that are short and spiky and eyes that so small that it looks like there are no whites in his eyes, just black. He is the most skilled hunter among The Nines, being able to study creatures weaknesses and behaviour quickly.
Piscine wasn’t prepared to have four of her older brothers in the deck, at the same time, discussing this.
‘Hey Un, Pop decided to go to Brooks Range to check the area there.’ Quatre informs his older brother.
‘We’re not too far,’ Deux said as he checks one of the maps on the table.
‘I hope it’s not too cold for swimming or food, the last few areas was harsh,’ Un says as he checks the buttons and needles in front of him.
Piscine unconsciously chose the ‘flight’ option and was about to bolt for it when Trois asked her a question she dreaded to hear.
‘Cine, what’s the matter?’ Trois asked his sister who looked so troubled. ‘You can tell us – ‘
‘I saved two boys who looked alike and they live in the city! You can tell Pop. I am ready to be punished!’ Piscine said as quickly as she could, not stopping to even breathe. There, she finally said it. They can tell their father and she will just have to face whatever punishment that is going to be given to her.
Her brothers started to look like they’re struggling. She wasn’t sure about the expressions on their face. It was Trois who snorted and then there was laughter. They were laughing. Piscine is quite confused. Are they laughing because of the punishment or it’s because she’s doomed? Her brothers are quite tickled and they haven’t stopped laughing which just made Piscine a little mad.
‘What’s so funny?’ she asked them, hitting Quatre in the arm because she felt annoyed and mocked.
‘We believe you!’ Quatre said to her.
‘You don’t think I’m serious?’
‘No, we do!’ Deux said but he still won’t stop laughing.
‘Then, what’s so funny? I broke the rules and I should be punished!’ Piscine’s voice is demanding punishment for redemption. Trois wiped the tears in his eyes from laughing, went to her side and kneeled so he can look at her.
‘Piscine, if you did save two boys from drowning, isn’t that a good thing?’ Trois asked her, his blue eyes looking at her which made her relax a little bit.
‘Yes, that’s what Mer said too but we’re not allowed to have contact with anyone outside. And that was my first swim outside the perimeter and I feel like I did a bad thing when I saved them but I don’t regret it either because they looked so happy and they said they wanted to be friends and….and…’ and Piscine started crying.
The door opened with Neuf coming into the room and the rest of her brothers, Cinq, Six, Sept and Huit.
‘We brought food!’ Six said happily then saw his sister was crying. ‘What happened?’ Six is the tallest of the brothers. He always has to crouch everywhere he goes and he has not stopped growing. He’s got a shaved head and yellow eyes that mesmerize you in if you look too long. And his favourite past time is dancing. He studied all kinds of dances: ballroom dancing, the Macarena, the Cha cha, belly dancing, disco, flamenco, even Gangnam style which he does not like to admit to like. Once every full moon, The Nines would have a sort of dance that many of the clans think is quite unique but if you are in the old world, they would have a term for that dance and it’s called interpretive slash bboy dance. It is always different and unique.
‘She saved two boys from the city,’ Quatre tells his younger brothers who just came into the deck.
Cinq, Six, Sept, Huit and Neuf went quiet, looked at each other and shrugged at each other.
‘Anything bad happened after that? Or what?’ Cinq asked, concerned. Cinq’s distinct feature is his large mouth. He’s got huge blue green eyes and hair that seems to just flop down on his head. If he was in the old world, he would have been hair commercial perfect and when he walks into the room, time just slows down and you see every strand of his hair flip from side to side, perfectly. To this day, the brothers use this to their advantage to defeat creatures.
‘No. She just feels like she did something bad.’ Un answered, his attention back to the wheel.
‘Stop being a baby!’ Neuf teases his sister. Neuf is the youngest of The Nines. He’s got red tinted eyes, his two tone hair tied in a ponytail and he’s pretty tale for his age. Perhaps he’ll be taller than Six. He is quite quick on his heels and everything that he does is lightning quick. If he was in the old world, they would think he’s like a ninja.
‘I….am….not…’ Piscine said between sobs and started to cry again. Trois hugged his youngest sister to console her.
Sept went over to Neuf and hit him lightly on shoulder. ‘Don’t make her cry even more!’ Sept is the shortest among The Nines. His two toned hair is the straight and long, reaching his back. His eyes are the colour of the beautiful sunset and he could be quite serious. His hobby is mainly juggling which does not match with his personality. He juggles anything he can get his hands on. Wrenches, fishes, babies, anything he can carry, and he will juggle.
‘What??? She is!’ Neuf answered back.
‘Piscine, saving a life is not a bad thing,’ Huit tells her, his small colour purple eyes reassuring. His hair is parted in the middle. Huit is the sarcastic one among The Nines and he loves to sing. He will sing opera, pop, jazz, metal, he will know how to get it right.
‘She thinks she should be punished,’ Quatre tells his brothers amused.
And then, they all started laughing which made Piscine cry even louder.
‘Ahhh we’re making too much noise,’ Un tells his brothers, taking control of the situation.
‘Can anyone care to explain to Cine why she would not be punished?’
‘Can I sing it to her?’ Six asked.
‘No!’ the rest of the brothers say in unison and more laughter followed.
‘Cine, Mom or Pop will not punish you for saving lives. Why would they do that?’ Sept assures her.
‘Because…because…they’re…from the…city…wahhhh!’ Piscine continued to cry.
‘We would do the same thing if we saw that,’ Huit assures her, nodding in agreement with his brothers.
‘What…’ Piscine looked up to look up at her brothers.
‘It really doesn’t matter, Cine. As long as we’re not trading, I guess.’ Cinq said, shrugging.
Piscine stops crying and wiped her face with her shirt. ‘Did you ever have friends from the city?’ she asked.
The brothers looked at each other and shook their head. Sept spoke, ‘It just never happened to us. Not that we won’t do the same thing that you did. If we saw anyone drowning, we’d save the person if they need help. But there are other cases to think about but those are grown up things. Eventually, you will learn and experience this. We will not tell you what you need to learn but we will guide you. All of us will. Now, if Pop or Mom gets mad, which is likely to happen, but believe me, little sister, they will understand you.’
‘But…but I want to see them again.’ This surprised the Nines. They didn’t expect this.
‘Well, sister,’ Huit answered this time, ‘you just made it a little more complicated.’
In the course of a few months, Piscine managed to get up the courage to tell her parents about the brothers that looked the same. She made several attempts to tell her father about it. Sometimes, an accident will occur or a meeting with the clan elders were called. There was even a time when she thought she had finally told him about it, only to find out that he’s been asleep the entire time due to a long week.
But this day was different. It was after lunch and her whole family was there. They have been having their meals together with the other clans that were gathered here but this time, it was different. Her sister and her brothers have been giving her looks the entire meal. Meal times are quiet so the only way to communicate is to give out subtle facial expressions at each other and they do it quite well too.
‘Pop, Mom, can I tell you both something?’ Piscine starts off nervously.
‘Yes, what is it bunso?’ her mother asked.
‘I managed to deadlift today!’ she tells them excitedly but her expression tells another story.
‘That’s great! You should teach her more, Mer. She still has a long way to go,’ their father says proudly, taking a large bite on his raw fish. Their mother smiled at Piscine, nodding in approval.
‘Also,’ she starts, taking a deep breath, ‘I saved two boys,’ Piscine told them.
‘Oh, that’s very nice – ’ her mother said.
‘They’re from the city,’ Piscine continued, interrupting her mother. ‘They were drowning and I had to save them.’ Piscine felt so much weight from her shoulders disappear but she can feel her insides fall on the floor at the same time.
Piscine’s father did not say a word but he was looking around the table at her siblings. They were all watching their mother, not saying anything and looking particularly attentive. ‘Nines, secure the room.’ And with that, the brothers got up from their seats and checked outside the room they were in.
‘It’s clear, Pop,’ Neuf reports back to their father.
‘Trois, Quatre, Six and Sept, stay outside and let us know if anyone is coming.’ The boys shuffled out of the room and the rest of the brothers stayed watch inside. ‘Next time you want to tell me something, please let me know if it’s going to be like this,’ their father sighs, ‘Anyway, do go on, Anak.’
‘And I want to see them again,’ Piscine says finally. She looked as if another huge weight came off her shoulders but her expression is as worried and nervous as it was in the beginning.
There was a moment of silence before her mother said anything. ‘Is that all?’ she asked gently.
Piscine nodded and couldn’t look at her mother in her eyes, just staring at her half eaten raw fish.
‘It seems that your sister and brothers know about this already because they don’t seem surprised at your little adventure,’ her father finally began to talk. He got up from his chair and went to the water tanks. He poured himself another glass of water and drank it completely.
Mer looked unfazed by this observation but the younger of the Nines looked a little nervous.
‘When did this happen and why would you want to see them again?’ her father asked, his voice booming in the room.
‘This happened about ten months ago and I want to see them again because…because I’ve never seen anyone like them before. They look alike!’ Piscine bravely answered her father. She felt she might as well say everything before they disown her.
Her parents look at each other in surprise. ‘Twins?’ her father said and he started to laugh, ‘Count on the Vember clan to find rare things in the world indeed.’ He sits back on his seat and drank from his cup. ‘And you gave your friendship to these boys so freely?’
‘No, I did not. They asked me for my friendship. I didn’t have time to answer because I had to come back before the anchor went up.’
‘To be honest with you children, this is dangerous,’ their mother answered this time. ‘Cine are putting yourself at risk for this friendship,’ she concludes.
‘But that’s not fair,’ Piscine protested.
‘Nothing is ever fair in this world, anak,’ her mother concludes.
‘Me and your mother encourage friendships of all kinds but the city people is another thing. We know a great deal about them already.’
‘But they are still children, like me,’ she protests.
‘What if we teach them some of our ways through Cine?’ Mer suggested.
‘And what would we get from that?’ Un asked, finally speaking.
‘Human behaviour study subjects? It would be great to see if the city people can actually do what we do if they try,’ Mer said, shrugging. Piscine wants to hug Mer for being on her side on this but she does not understand why she would be so willing to get herself in trouble but it did not matter, she had an ally and it was Mer, the voice of reason.
Their parents looked at each other. Their father nodded at their mother who doesn’t look too satisfied. She sighed and looked at Piscine straight in the eyes. ‘Perhaps it can be done. They are children and there’s no harm if Cine becomes friends with them – as long as no one else knows,’ their mother concluded.
‘You told us before that it was quite dangerous. Won’t other city people take her if they see her?’ Deux asked, worried.
‘There’s a possibility. We are as extinct as the breeds of animals from the old world. Though she will blend in quite well since she does not have two tone hair like all of you,’ her mother reasoned, her thoughts overclocking.
‘Piscine, this is not an experiment nor is it a game. Your mother and I encourage you to have friends, even if they are from the city but since it is going to be dangerous, we are having second thoughts about this. We are breaking the rules as well,’ he added. Piscine knows very well that this will not go very well with the main Freedom clan leader. And the possibility of the Vember clan being cut off completely is also quite likely.
‘I understand…’ she tells them. She can feel her vision blurring and her face feeling hot. She felt better telling her parents about this but at the same time, she wished she did not.
‘Piscine,’ her father called out to her. Piscine looked up and smiled her toothy smile even if she felt tears coming down her face. ‘Don’t cry, Anak. I will think about this situation throughly. If you improve by the time we come back to warmer waters, then I’ll consider this friendship that is important to you. Now, your mother & I are tired. We are going back to our rooms.’
Piscine looked at her sister and her brothers with wide, surprised eyes. Mer winked at her and her brothers gave her the V-sign, smiling with their toothy grins.
She will get better, faster, and stronger.
She will see them again.
After an hour of working out, she went back to her room and got ready for the day. Just as she was about to leave, she looked back at her reflection and saw that much has changed since she came back. Piscine is now fourteen, taller, hair thicker and much longer and looks more mature.
Will they remember her?
(Written for 2013 NaNoWriMo.)