The Glass Cage
"Son, you must keep this a secret." His father made him swear before he entered the lab. This wasn't out of the ordinary. His father was so secretive, he was made to swear every time there was anything new in the lab. As usual, he agreed and his father escorted him over to the new specimen he had collected. Inside a spherical tank, there was a young girl. She didn't look quite like other people. On her legs and arms were tiny fins, and her skin was nearly colorless. Her hair was almost pure white, with a soft pink hue, and her eyes were a deep red. She was about his size, just a little smaller. On her body, she wore nothing at all. The girl saw them there, and didn't show any sign of shame or embarrassment. He wasn't embarrassed himself. The other boys his age still giggled and pointed at the diagrams in their science books and the classical paintings in the museums, but he was used to seeing such things. His father had always involved him in his research and let him read from his academic books. As she showed no signs of concern, he did not avert his eyes and thought nothing of it. More perplexing to him was what she was. The girl was completely submerged under water the entire time he was in there. He turned to his father. "What's wrong with her?" "Nothing at all, child. This is her natural state." His father grinned like he had just won some kind of prize. "Then, what is she?" "I'm not sure yet. I found her washed up on the shore one night. She needs a lot of water, but she breathes air the same way we do. In a way, she's like a dolphin." He pointed to her arm. "You see these fins here? They don't seem to aid in her ability to swim in any way, and she hasn't displayed any other purpose for them. I think they're vestigial. It's fascinating. I wonder sort of ancestors this creature has." The girl swam up to the top of the tank and poked her head above the water. She spoke words he didn't understand. "Ah, she wants to feed again." His father brought over a bowl of kelp to the girl. She took the bowl under the water to eat. He asked his father. "What language does she speak?" "German. Very curious. Her kind must primarily live near Germany, or an area heavily populated with German-speaking people. I've tried to get her to tell me more about where she's from specifically, but she doesn't want to talk to me beyond asking for food and water." His father took notes on her as she ate. The boy observed as well. When the girl ate, he could see fangs inside her mouth. It reminded him of fish he had seen in his father's other tanks. Her nails protruded like daggers when she grabbed her food. "You paid attention to how I fed her, yes? She will also be in your care from now on. I'm going to transfer my notes to the computer now. You keep an eye on her for me." "Yes, father." He watched his father leave before he approached the tank any closer. The boy didn't know any German, but he assumed if she could learn German, she could learn another language. He grabbed a map from his father's desk and brought it to the tank. He spoke to her. "Excuse me. Where are you from? I'm from here." He pointed to the United States. Then he pointed to her. "Where are you from?" The girl examined the map. She tilted her head and gave him a perplexed look. The boy realized she likely didn't know what the map represented. He had another idea. Getting out some of his father's books, he showed the girl pictures of different sea creatures. The girl was happier to see the pictures. She pointed at certain fish, seemingly understanding what he was trying to get across to her. After he had gone through several books, he checked the information in them and narrowed down a location on the map. When he showed his father, he was thrilled. "Good boy, Adam. I can start searching there for more of them." Adam put down the map, a heavy weight in his chest. He looked back at the girl in the tank and wondered how many more would join her. In the fall, his father set off to Germany. His uncle would visit daily to check on him, but for the majority of the time he was left alone. As with his father's other lab animals, Adam was expected to care for the girl in the tank before and after school. He didn't mind, since he loved all the fish in the house and he liked spending time with the girl when his father wasn't hovering over him. He knew it wasn't normal for him to be doing this work. On the occasions he had accompanied his father to the university, he overheard what the other researchers said about his father. "He used to be top of his field, but he's gone mad. I hear he won't even take on assistants because they'll 'steal' his precious work." The man who had said that didn't care that either of the could overhear him. "I see why his wife left him, but that poor child. Why did she leave him behind?" One woman asked, covering her mouth. "He probably thought she was 'stealing' that too and wouldn't let her have him!" After that comment, they all laughed. It was true though. His father never had any assistants. Adam had to play every role his father didn't have time for. As for his mother, he had never met her. From the few times he had gotten his father to speak of her, he only mumbled something about her trying to take Adam away forever just like she stole his youth. His father was always obsessed with time and loss. Time was never his enemy. While the other children impatiently screamed to go home and hated spending time studying, he simply accepted it. It was part of the daily activities. It would come, and it would pass, and then another activity would take its place. No matter what happened, he couldn't bring himself to feel stress over time. Time flowed. Any pain would pass from him eventually. And as things went, more things came. There was never an end. No one had taught him that lesson. He was simply born feeling that way about the world. It wasn't strange to him to be like this, but this outlook and his father's reputation did make him somewhat of an outcast among the other children. That too he didn't mind. Solitude suited him well, and he knew in time, they would all lose track of each other no matter how distant or how close they had been. Such was the nature of childhood. Even if they stayed in contact, they would mature into different people than they were now. There was no need to hold on tightly to what was presently there. He found belonging in other places. While the other children played games, he watched the trees and the wind. At home, he cared for the fish. Now, this girl was there. She wasn't quite human, but she wasn't like the other animals in his space. She listened to him and communicated back. The children at school would not understand her. She would either be something for them to point at like a tiger in a zoo, or fear. He had no intentions of inviting their views into that place. It didn't take him long to teach her the basics of English. She was a surprisingly quick learner. As she learned, he too picked up more German than he expected. Their conversations soon changed from teaching words to teaching about the world. He shared with her everything he knew about the ways of humans and their history, and she shared with him her secrets. She had been born in the sea, and always lived in the sea. She had six older sisters, the oldest one several thousand years old, though she herself was only a few years old. She had never met her father. When her mother was taking a long trip to see someone, they had gotten separated. Completely lost, she wandered further, hoping to find someone who knew her mother or sisters. Then, she was caught in a hurricane and ended up washed up on the shore by his father's lab. That's when he found her and took her in. Now that she understood his words, she spoke freely about everything. "I don't like that man. He put me in this fishbowl. I'm not a pet. I want to go outside. Won't you let me out?" He put his hand against hers over the side of the tank. Her skin was a very different texture from his, clearly built for being in the water long-term. It felt strange to him at first, but he had gotten used to it. "I can't. I'm not allowed to disobey my father. But I can try to convince him to let you out when he gets back." "Thank you, Adam." She smiled at him. Adam asked the one question that had been on his mind since the day he first saw her. "Is it okay if I ask you one more question? What's your name?" The girl went quiet for a moment. "I don't wish to give that away." "Why not?" "For my kind, telling someone your name is very sacred. Names hold power over people. I don't want that man to know my name." She said. "I won't tell him or anyone else your name. I'll only use it when it's just me and you." If he had been an ordinary child, his promise would have been meaningless. Most of the children from school could barely keep a secret for more than a day. Much like their other behaviors he didn't care for, he attributed that to their obsession with time as well. There was no way for her to know his nature, so he was already prepared for her refusal. "You promise?" She asked, her voice low. "I swear." Reluctantly, she whispered. "My name is Nivian." "Nivian? That's a pretty name. I'll keep it a secret." Adam hadn't expected she would really tell him. As time went on, his father's visits home grew fewer and far between. Most of his time was spent off the coast of Germany looking for more of her kind to catch and study. When he was home, he only stayed to watch Nivian. True to his word, he never told his father her name, and he never revealed anything about her past. While he found her story tragic, his father would only use the information to create theories. They were not words he could grasp the place of. Adam didn't like watching his father observe and experiment on Nivian. He had never liked what his father did to the fish, but the fish also couldn't call out for help to him either. It wasn't that bad when he was really little. Over time, his father's obsessiveness to find answers grew, and answers became more important than the wellbeing of the creatures in his care. Watching him poke and prod at Nivian turned his stomach, but he could do little to help her in his presence. His father controlled him the same as anything else in his tanks. The only experiment he didn't mind was when his father allowed Nivian to come outside of the tank. After some tests, his father determined that with the right amount of water in her system, she was free to walk on land. Drinking more water or submerging her body in water was all she needed. A bottle of water consumed once per half hour seemed to be the minimum she needed to stay outside the tank without physical strain. When his father went away after that, Adam and Nivian played together outside the tank. Nivian wore his clothes sometimes when she was out of the tank, as it got very cold at certain times of the year. For a while, his clothes fit her perfectly. As they got older, he had to make a lot of adjustments for anything to stay on her. His shirts eventually became makeshift dresses and his pants were too wide for her waist. Nivian didn't care too much, so long as she was mostly warm. His father's orders still reigned over Adam in his absence. As much as Nivian begged, he never let her out of the lab. She asked him daily to be let out of the lab. "Please, Adam, let me outside. That man won't find out." "I'm sorry, Nivian. I can't disobey him. I'll ask him again when he comes home if it'll be okay this time." Nivian didn't hold it against Adam that he refused to disobey his father. She knew Adam didn't enjoy when his father was home either. Since Adam had hit puberty, his father had incorporated him into the experiments. When Nivian's measurements were taken, so were Adam's. His father had been astounded that their development was so similar in timing. "So bizarre...her body has reached physical maturity at the same span of time as a human. I wonder how her reproductive cycle compares. If only I could find another, at least one male..." His father took pictures of her for reference. "Isn't it fascinating, son?" Adam nodded, but he had no interest in that. "Father, don't you think she should go outside the lab sometime?" "Nonsense. If I let her out, the first thing she'll do is make a dash for the sea to escape. She'll either end up drying out and dying, or I'll lose her forever." His father's photographs focused on places Adam was uncomfortable with. Nivian had started to cover herself in spite of never being exposed to any social reasons to. "No, don't do that. I need reference pictures for your development. I may never find another. Though this would be easier if you would just tell me how." Nivian yelled at him in German. Adam had never gotten as good of a grasp of the language as Nivian had of English, but he knew by her tone what she was saying. "No girl would like being treated that way, Father. You're upsetting her." Adam lowered his father's camera. "She's not a human girl. She's a female animal. You know better than to humanize other species, especially a research specimen." His father continued with his picture taking. When his father went on to bed, Adam stayed behind in the lab. Nivian was still covering herself. Adam climbed to the top of the tank and took off his clothes. He lowered himself into the tank and swam down to her. Nivian looked over at him and smiled. Her anxiousness faded away. If his father knew he had gotten in the tank, he would likely be reprimanded for interfering with the experiment's controlled environment, but it was becoming more difficult for him to care what his father said. That night, a full moon lit up the lab from the sole window at the very back of the room. Adam stayed a long time with Nivian watching that beautiful light. The lights of the tanks in the room cast a faint blue glow across the room, and the walls matched the star filled sky barely visible to them. Neither of them said much that night, being content with enjoying each other's company in the illuminated water. Adam's father had still not found another being like Nivian by the time he reached adulthood. When he entered college, his father demanded he go to the same one he worked for so he could keep an eye on him, and he didn't want him being too far away to take care of the animals. Adam did as his father told him, wanting to be with Nivian more than follow his father's orders. He knew if she wasn't there, he likely would have chosen disobedience and freedom. He didn't concern himself with things that wouldn't come to be, and accepted the path before him. Since his father hadn't produced any useful research in years, the university had finally cut him off from wasting any more funding on trips to Germany. He grew more obsessive over Nivian, and more controlling of Adam. His father's constant interference in his life had isolated him entirely. The only person he had left was Nivian. He wondered how long their time together would last. The fish in his father's tank never lasted to the end of their natural lifespans. Something in him was gradually changing. He couldn't quite pin a name to it yet, but he didn't fight it. In his second semester, he secretly switched to being a part-time student. He had always had a sense of timing for everything. The walls of the lab began to look like a coffin. His father's behavior become more disturbing by the day. As he prepared himself for the days when the blue tinted tanks in that dark, cold room would no longer have meaning to him, his will to obey his father dwindled more than ever. One night, that feeling reached a tipping point inside him. He was studying on the sofa by the tank. Nivian leaned over the side of the tank and brushed the side of his face with her hand. "Adam, I want to go outside." "You can come down from the tank." He said, knowing full well what she actually meant. "No, I want to go outside the lab." "I'm not allowed to take you out." She got down from the tank and curled up beside him on the sofa, her face nuzzled up against his jacket sleeve. "Please! I want to see the sun." The warmth of her body made his heart race. In that moment, his father's orders were the last thing on his mind. "I'll let you come out with me tomorrow. I don't have to be at the university on Friday's. And I need to buy you some clothes. You can't walk around in public without clothes on." Nivian's eyes widened. "You'll really take me out?" "I promise. But we can't let father know we're planning anything. He'll be away at a conference until Saturday morning, so we'll have the whole day to ourselves. You know how paranoid he is. If he thinks anything's amiss, he'll cancel and we can't go." He put the textbook down and wrapped his arms around her. "Alright. I won't let him know I'm excited. I'll just pout at him like usual." She made a silly face at him. He laughed. "That's perfect." Nivian sat in his lap and wrapped her arms around him. "Thank you!" Adam played with her hair. It was a habit he had developed shortly after starting college. He put his hands on her hips and pulled her down on the sofa. She got more comfortable, falling asleep in his arms. For her own safety, he poured water on her. Cuddling with her like this often meant getting his clothes soaking wet, but it never bothered him. He wanted to join her in taking a nap, but he had to keep himself awake. If they both overslept, she risked dying. Much like his father's inappropriate methods, this was one of the few things that bothered him. When he slept, he often had dreams about the two of them not being bound by each other's biological restrictions. Sometimes, the two of them walked through the desert together. In others, he could rest beside her underwater for hours. At the moment, he was faced with their constant reality, and accepted what he could have. Still, he yearned for more. At midnight, he carried her up the ladder and put her back in the tank. Her body adjusted to the shift in environment, unconsciously holding her breath. From his father's experiments, he knew she could hold her breath for three days straight. Unlike him, Adam didn't care why. The following morning, he woke early to buy Nivian clothes. He bought a few sizes of the same sandals and dress. He had picked the sandals for their open design. The few times he had tried to get Nivian to wear shoes, she hated the sensation. She couldn't go around without them into town, though. The style of shoe was his compromise. For the dress, he picked a loose sun dress. He knew she wouldn't want anything too form fitting, and clothes like that would be harder to get the size correct anyway. Before returning home, he bought several cases of water and a large beach bag. He left everything in his room before going to meet her down in the lab. Nivian was already outside the tank when he got there. She ran to him and hugged him. Adam hugged back and smiled. "Are you ready?" She nodded, a huge grin on her face. He walked her through the house to his bedroom. Along the way, Nivian stopped to stare at every little thing, and inside his room, her curiosity only increased. She roamed around and touched everything. His books were her first target, followed by his CD cases and VHS tapes. When she found his magazines, she scooped them up in her arms to examine more thoroughly. She had always loved looking at photographs. With the heavy stack in her arms, she smiled at him and asked, "This is where you stay?" "Yes, but I spend more time in the lab than in here. I mostly just study and sleep here." Adam shrugged. "Where do you sleep?" "On the bed. Oh, I guess you haven't seen one before. It's this." He sat down on it and patted the spot beside himself. "Come here. Try laying on it." Nivian put the magazines on the table beside the bed before she flopped down onto the bed. She pressed her hands into the pillows, amazed by how light and fluffy they were. Laying on the bed, she was overwhelmed with Adam's scent. "It's soft. Why is it so big?" "Humans move a lot in their sleep, and humans share beds together sometimes." Adam laid down himself. "Oh? Why's that?" "Different reasons. Sometimes friends may share one in some circumstances, family members, especially with younger kids, may share one, lovers and married couples often sleep together. But it's not just for sleeping in. Sometimes, people just relax and hang out on the bed, kind of like using it like the sofa in the lab." His usual need to explain everything tripped him up as he explained next what he really didn't want to talk about with her yet. As he spoke, he could feel his cheeks burning. "And well, there's a lot of intimate stuff too...like cuddling and sex." "Have you done those sorts of intimate things on your bed?" She grinned at him. "No, I haven't yet." He turned away. "Let's cuddle then. You let me cuddle with you on the sofa." Nivian rested on his chest. "Alright...but only for a little while. I still need to take you out into town." "Why do you never cuddle me with your clothes off? You go swimming without them." His face turned a darker red. "It's different...usually, when humans cuddle together naked, it's a very intimate thing...and it usually leads to, well..." "Are you saying if I took your clothes off right now, you wouldn't be able to resist me?" She hovered over him with an even bigger grin. Adam gently moved her to the spot beside him. "I really don't understand the logic. Shouldn't you seeing me naked be the cause? I'm usually naked and you don't do anything like that with me." "I think you're misunderstanding what I meant..." While he tried to think of a way to steer the conversation to something else, Nivian started to unbutton his pants. He pushed her hands away. "Don't do that." "Why not?" She tried again. "I'm already...we should dress you. If you want to go outside, you have to wear clothes." He hesitated in stopping her the second time, but quickly got off the bed once he remembered the clothes. He picked up one of the bags and handed her a dress. "Here, try this on. I wasn't sure what would fit you, so I got you a couple of different sizes. See if it fits you." She nodded and put the dress on. It was a little loose on her, but not to an uncomfortable degree. The shoes were next. The second pair fit her best, but she was less than enthused about having to wear them. When that was taken care of, Adam excused himself to take a quick shower. When he got out, Nivian was laying on the bed again, going through the pile of magazines. Nivian looked at the girls in his magazine the most. They had different hair lengths and styles. She was intrigued by their appearances, the elaborate designs they'd put on their faces, and the jewels they dangled around their necks and wrists. The woman on the cover of one of his adult magazines attracted her the most. She held up the magazine. "Can you cut my hair like this?" He wasn't sure how she had managed to find that part of his magazine collection, but she seemed oblivious to the nature of it. Casually, he said, "If you want." "Really?! Thank you!" She got up from the bed and hugged him tightly. His father panicked at being anywhere long, so Adam had to learn to cut his own hair a long time ago. Cutting someone else's was much easier. He sat Nivian down and did his best to copy what was in the picture. The weight that held down on her was suddenly gone. She had never noticed how great it was before, as it had always been there. Now that she was free of it, her entire body felt lighter. Her hair curled inward and seemed to bounce as she moved. She twirled around to feel it moving against her face. With a big grin, she stopped in front of Adam. "Do I look beautiful?" Adam couldn't stop staring at her. He found her far more beautiful than the woman in the magazine. "Yes, it looks good on you." Nivian hurried over to his window. She pressed her face against the pane. Adam's room faced the back of the property. The backyard was small and mostly sand. Beyond it, she could see other houses and tall buildings in the distance. "I want to go out there." "I'll take you anywhere you want." Adam held her hand. It wasn't a long walk to reach the town. Both Nivian and Adam carried bags filled with water for the day's trip. Nivian's face lit up at everything. In all the time they had spent together, he had never seen her so happy. Watching her like that, he found himself overcome with the same feeling. Abruptly, Nivian stopped smiling. She held tightly to Adam's arm and huddled closer to him. In a low voice, she asked, "Why are people pointing at me? Do I not look human enough? I covered the fins." Adam looked over at the people behind them. He shot them a glare. The gossiping schoolgirls hurried away in the other direction, but the teenage boys only laughed. "They probably think you're albino. Red eyes are rare, and your hair and skin are nearly white. Don't pay them any attention. People always stare at things that are unusual to them, even when they don't mean any harm." Nivian leaned in closer against Adam. The attention those people were giving her reminded her too much of Adam's father. At a little ice cream vendor along the road, something caught Nivian's eye. A picture of a bright orange popsicle mesmerized her. All bright colors fascinated her, and orange was her favorite. She had never had any food that color before. "I want to try that." "Can you eat it? It's not like anything you've had before." Adam was uncertain about giving her something like that. Human diets were very different from what Nivian usually consumed, and very much of it was already bad for humans. "What's it made of?" "Mostly sugar and ice." "It's such a pretty shade. Can't I please try one?" She looked up at him with a cute, pleading face. "Alright, but just eat a little at a time, okay?" He went up to the ice cream seller. "Can I have two of those?" Adam handed Nivian a popsicle. Nivian wasn't sure how to eat her food. She waited for Adam to start eating his and mimicked him. He held her hand and walked her toward the park. As they rested underneath an old oak tree in the local park, Adam put his arm around her. Nivian took that as a sign to move in closer. Her skin was starting to feel dry. He took one of the bottles of water from his backpack. "Here, I think it's time you drink something." She quickly drank the bottled water. When she finished, Adam leaned over and kissed her. He hadn't kissed anyone before, and there hadn't been any particular reason why. The other kids rushed through so many things, but he didn't find any need to do so. In that moment, something clicked. He wanted to kiss to her. Nivian didn't shy away from his affection. The taste of the orange popsicle still lingered on both of them. His father's comments about her being a female animal rang in his head. She wasn't human, but right now, he couldn't think of her as anything else. He put his hand on her thigh and went in for a deeper kiss. The aroma of the flowers around them nearly overpowered the watery scent Nivian always had. Nivian pulled away after their second kiss, distracted by something. "I hear water." Adam listened closely. "Sounds like there's a creek near by." "Do you think we could find it? I want to see it." "Okay. Let's go." They followed the sound of the water, leading them into a heavily wooded area of the park. Nivian could hear the water more clearly than Adam. He let her lead the way. The area was so dense that despite them not having traveled very far yet, they couldn't see the town anymore. A little stream ran through, clear and untainted compared to some of the others he had seen around town. Under the sparkling light on the surface, a pale white caught his attention. Clean bones sat undisturbed in the small stream. Adam gave them a closer look. It appeared to be the bones of a large frog. He couldn't tell what may have happened to the creature. He started to dig a small hole. "What are you doing?" Nivian watched him in confusion. "Giving it a proper burial." He used a leaf to pick up the tiny skeleton. He wrapped another leaf over it to create a makeshift coffin for the creature's remains. "The water's already taken away what those living there can use. Now, it's time for it to begin its change to stone." "It will on its own. You won't live long enough to see it." "That may be, but I don't mind." The body was tiny, fitting neatly in his palm. It was in such perfect condition and the water so clean, he wondered what may have happened to the little frog. "People don't dwell long on what has gone, unless it's something they care about personally. That doesn't seem right to me. All life and all moments are equal." As he buried the small body, Nivian observed something different in his eyes. In the grand scale of things, his life was barely longer than a frog or an insect. The universe moved at a steady pace his minimal existence could never hope to experience. Her lifespan compared to his would last far longer than all of his descendants, and still she feared time coming to wash her essence away until only dust and rock remained. Yet, in that moment, she saw eternity in his eyes, flowing like a great river wrapped around itself. The current didn't frighten her. It was so overwhelming she lost her sense of self momentarily. Adam rose up. "Come. It's time." At first, she didn't register what he had said. She composed herself. "For what?" "To take you to the sea." He offered his hand to her. "That's where you really want to go, isn't it?" She took hold of his hand, excitement and terror filling her. At sunset, Adam took Nivian down to the shore. More than a decade had passed since she last saw the ocean. She ran into the waves and splashed around. When he watched her play in the waves, he knew he likely would be saying goodbye. It pained him, but he accepted it if that was to be the case. She deserved freedom. A young woman with red eyes and pink hair pulled at Nivian's arm. She spoke to her in German. Three other women appeared after her. All of them looked like Nivian. They pushed her towards the deeper water, but Nivian resisted. She stared back at Adam, as if asking him what she should do. Adam simply smiled. She understood him perfectly, but that only made the choice of leaving harder. Nivian looked back at her sisters. One of them noticed Adam standing on the shore and laughed. The others whispered amongst themselves. They were too far away for Adam to hear them clearly. Nivian spoke with them for a long time. When the sun was gone, the women waved goodbye and disappeared under the waves. Nivian stayed behind, lingering in the shallow water before returning to land. Adam was stuck between happiness and dread. In silence, they left the shore, their hands entwined. As they neared home, Adam took her from the road and kissed her underneath a streetlight. His fear conquered him. "You didn't have to stay. It's really alright if you want to go." "I want to stay with you." Her words were soft and uncertain. He could sense she was just as afraid as he was. "Are you sure? If you stay with me..." The lab flashed in his mind. When they were children, it had been his secret sanctuary away from the world. Now that place was nothing more than a cage lined with glass and artificial light entrapping them both. He wanted to stay under the stars with her. "If you value my freedom, you will let me decide for myself." "If that is what you wish...let's go home." Adam pressed his forehead against hers. The humid night air carried the scent of the ocean and little lights flashing briefly like stars. He wanted to stay in that moment, but as with everything else, it would slip away from him. At the front door, his father was waiting for them, apparently having come back from his conference early. Before they were too close, Adam let go of Nivian's hand. With a deep breath, Adam walked forward. He kept Nivian behind him. His father glared at both of them the entire time. Nivian slipped out from behind him and ran back to the lab. Adam stayed with his father, prepared to face the consequences of his actions. His father approached him with a strange look in his eyes. Adam stood his ground. "What the hell were you thinking taking her out into the city?" His father slapped him hard across the face. He touched his face. His father had hit him this hard before plenty of times. Defiantly, he spoke, "She wanted to go." "I don't care what she wants to do. She's a valuable specimen. I can't have anyone else looking at her until I uncover every secret I can about her. Don't you understand? And those damn animal rights people will eat me alive with how sentient she is." His father grabbed hold of his wrist tightly and squeezed. He broke free from his grip. When he was a child, he was afraid of him breaking it. His strength had increased over time as his father's had weakened. "I can see why. She's as intelligent as a human. You shouldn't be treating her the way you do." "I see what this is about. She looks human enough for you, doesn't she?" His father narrowed his eyes. It was only a matter of time before the conversation took that turn. "That's not related. I don't think the way you treat her is right." "Don't give me that nonsense. If you want an easy girl, there's plenty for you at college. Go buy those girls some drinks instead of trying to contaminate my experiment." A part of him wanting to laugh at his father. "I'm not some wild animal looking for a female in heat to mate with. I actually have emotions, you know. Or are you going to treat me like I'm inhuman too?" "Oh, bullshit. You're only thinking with your pants. You don't know the first thing about love, and you don't need to. It's a pointless distraction. Now, get your ass back to the lab and tend to the fish properly." This time, his father grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. "I'm going to bed." "You stupid child." Adam didn't respond to his father. There was no point in arguing with him any further. Later that night, Nivian snuck out of her tank and went to Adam's room. He hadn't slept at all himself. His mind was filled with his father's words. He weighed the issue from a distance. Nivian wasn't human. Technically, she didn't have any rights and his father wasn't actually breaking any laws by keeping her there. If the greater scientific community found out about her, she would surely be classified as an endangered species, but likely still researched. An animal rights group would want her returned to the coast of Germany, but likely glamorize her as something fantastical rather than accept her mundaneness. None of these people would ever put her genuine feelings first and foremost. Nivian curled up on his bed and watched him, several bottles of water in her arms. She smiled at him. Her recently cut hair clung to her face in ways he wasn't used to seeing. He found it cute, and a little sexy. He paused at his own thought. There was some truth to his father's words. When they were children, Nivian was an interesting playmate. Now that they were adults, his mind was creating very different scenarios from the pretend games they used to act out. He put away his books on bioethics and rested beside her on the bed. "You're not supposed to be in here." She cuddled up against him. "I don't care." "Father will be angry with us if you don't go back to your tank." Adam kissed her forehead. "Let him be angry." Nivian undid the front of Adam's pants. He pushed her hand away again and grinned. Nivian gave him a confused look. Adam took off his clothes and leaned over her. There was nervousness there in the pit of his stomach and the racing his of heart, but he enjoyed the feeling. Excitement and anxiousness blurred together in an overflowing sensation. In the morning, his father was beating on his door. Nivian wasn't beside him anymore. Adam got up from his bed, quickly dressing himself. He opened the door. His father got up in his face. "She's demanding I let her go outside or she'll destroy everything in the lab. Look what you've done!" "I didn't do anything wrong." Adam said without a care. "Stop this nonsense and get a real girlfriend to satisfy you. She's an animal. She's not human." "I don't care." Adam stared at his father coldly. "It's not like you've ever treated me any differently than her. Am I not human to you too?" "You're just like your mother. You're not going anywhere today. I'm locking you in here until you come to your senses." His father tried to close the door shut. "You can't do that. I'm an adult." Adam held it open. "Like hell you are. This is my house, and so long as you live in my house, you will do as I say. And if you want to keep seeing that creature at all, you will be grateful for it and go back to your duties as an assistant." Adam let go of the door. He heard his father lock it from the outside. The rest of his day was quiet. His father never came by again. The only thing he was thankful towards his father was the fact that he had given him a room with a bathroom. There was no way to judge how long his father planned on leaving him in there. In the complete silence of the house, his mind found no peace. He worried for Nivian's safety. The day went on slowly, and night rolled in with thunder and rain. He tried to sleep, but his mind wouldn't keep quiet. Late into the night, he heard footsteps in the hall. A clank came from his door, and the knob turned. Adam sat up in bed. The door opened with a loud creak. The lightning illuminated the room. Nivian stood at his bedroom door with a knife in her hand. Her arms and legs were bleeding heavily. She smiled at him. Adam turned on the light to see her injuries. The fins were gone. Her skin had more color than before, now a light peach, and her hair had changed to sandy blonde. When he looked in her face, he saw brown eyes instead of red. A long cut down the front of her chest still oozed with fresh blood. Taking the knife from her, he asked, "What have you done?" "I want to stay with you. My sister told me I could if I did this." She held up her arm to show him the wounds. Blood still dripped heavily from the cuts. "You'll keep me with you always, won't you?" "Nevermind that right now. You'll bleed to death if we don't treat you." He grabbed a nearby shirt and ripped it apart. Limb by limb, he wrapped her wounds up. Adam noticed the texture of her skin had changed. It was rougher, and her arms had started to grow hair on them. Her palms now had lines as his did. Her scent had changed too. The vague scent of ocean breeze and water had shifted to something more akin to flowers and sweet grass. There was no time to think deeply on it. The first aid kit was pulled down quickly and each wound was attended to more thoroughly. Nivian only smiled while he worked. When he finished treating her injuries, he washed off his hands in his bathroom. He watched her from the bathroom mirror. Her gaze never left him. "You can't go back to how you were before, can you?" "No, I can't." She shook her head. He thought over his dreams of resting under the sea. "Could I not become like you?" She walked over to him. Her new appearance was even more beautiful to him. Her calm demeanor alongside her bloodied limbs terrified him. "You could. But you don't want that." "How do you know? You didn't ask me about any of this." Adam turned to face her. His tone was a mix of fear and agitation. "Your eyes say it. Above all the realms, you belong to time. Nearly every being on this world wishes to escape it, but you accept it. I cannot deny you your inevitable embrace to it." As she spoke, the rain grew heavier. "Time? You mean to say if I became how you were I would live a life longer than a human should have?" The prospect didn't really interest him the more he thought about it. When he dreamt of spending his days with her in the waves, his thoughts were only on being with her. A thousand years or a day, he would have been satisfied with any time he received. "Yes. My kind live for thousands of years. Your life will end before you see a century." Being faced with his own mortality didn't phase him. He had long accepted how limited his time was. Even though he had come to terms with that reality so easily, Nivian's decision perplexed him. Adam ran his fingers through her hair. "Then, you have given up most of your time. Why?" "I don't wish to live for thousands of years if you won't be there with me. If only for a hundred years, if all that time is with you...I don't need any more than that." She held his hands tightly. He could see her shoulders trembling in the crackling of light outside the window. "But I don't know how to walk through human time properly, or how to conduct myself on land." His fear, anger, and confusion dissipated. Her words from the previous night returned to him. If he valued her freedom, as she put it, he had to accept this choice too. He kissed her on the forehead. "I'll keep time for you." Under the cover of rain, the two of them left the house hand in hand. As she was, Nivian no longer had any value to his father. He was terrified to think what his father would do to either of them for 'ruining' his experiment. That didn't matter any more. He was never going back to that place. He left his father to stay alone in his own coffin. Adam never mentioned to his father that he had been arranging to transfer to another university months ago, or that he had been working a part-time job to save up money to rent an apartment. Nor that he had just changed his phone number and was getting a name change. The person known as Adam disappeared almost overnight, as did all the photos and data from a certain experiment.
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