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Waiting in the Water

     Rianne was bouncing on the balls of her feet, psyching herself up as at the edge of the pier. She knew full well that she would get just as cold standing here as she would in the choppy black water. The wind was making the water lap loudly against the wood beneath her feet, and the trees on riverbank were filling the air with the rustling of leaves. Rianne breathed deep, and let it out in a rush. Then, before she had time to hesitate, she dived.

     The water was freezing. Her whole body tensed as she was engulfed. A few bubbles escaped her mouth as the icy water stung her exposed feet, hands, and face. Her wetsuit giving only a small amount of protection from the cold. She spent what felt like ages under the water, the beginnings of a shiver starting in her belly. Lifting her arms automatically as she broke the surface they went straight into a strong, steady frontcrawl. The choppy water was making it difficult for her, but this was a voluntary training session, she didn’t have to worry about impressing anyone.

     It had been five minutes, perhaps, of strong rhythmic strokes against the current. She was just starting to wonder what to have for dinner that evening when pain slammed through her. Rianne’s body spasmed and she choked as chilly river water filled her mouth. At first, she thought that a boat must have hit her, but she could see nothing but her own thrashing form.

     Surrounded by the murky brown-green of the river it felt like she was burning, as if she were being torn apart piece by piece. Her mouth was open in a muted scream as water pushed its way into her lungs making them sear with agony. She was drowning, there was nothing she could do. It was some comfort she supposed, to know that the pain at least would be gone.

     Then she breathed. She breathed deep and full, the water cooling the raw inside of her throat. No trace remained of the unbelievable anguish that had sent her to the bottom of the river. Instead her body was light and agile. It took her a second or two to come to her senses. She gasped, and when the water didn’t smother her she gasped again. Her breathing grew more and more panicked as her body welcomed the mouthfuls of water. Looking down her eyes went wide and she brought her hands to her face. They were pale and ghostly in the greenish light, a translucent webbing had sprung up between the fingers. She looked down at her feet, they too were webbed stirring up silt and muck from the riverbed. I look like a frog, she thought.

     Cautiously, experimentally Rianne pushed forward. Her new limbs sent her shooting through the water at alarming speed. A stream of silver bubbles trickled from her mouth as she let out a giggle. She twisted, flipped and dived, marvelling at how easily she moved. All to soon she became dimly aware of a muted shouting coming from the river bank. She paused for a moment, the joy of this new gift fading ever so slightly. Would she be able to breath above water again? Well, there was only one way to find out. She kicked her way to the surface, taking one last gulp of cool water before she emerged.

     The cold air stung her skin. She blinked rapidly to clear the water from her eyes. Water gushed from her mouth making her splutter. Her lungs were emptying themselves of water. Tentatively she took a tiny breath. Then she gulped down the crisp, sharp air relieved to find it as easy as breathing underwater mere moments ago. The voice called her name. She turned to see her mother standing in the grass of the riverbank looking rather worried.

 

     “Rianne!”

     Rianne paddled into the shallows, feet slipping and sliding as she tried to find her footing on the slimy stones. Her mother hurried forward. “Rianne where have you been? You’ve been gone for hours, I’ve been standing here calling you, and you were nowhere! You might’ve drowned! You could’ve-”

     “Mum, I’m fine,” She lifted her arms for her mother to see. The webbing between her fingers had vanished, as had those on her feet. Her mother frowned disbelievingly.

     “But where were you? I was here for a good ten minutes and you were nowhere to be seen! As good a swimmer as you are you can’t hold your breath for that long,” she said.

     “I didn’t have to,” Rianne grinned “Mum, I could breathe.” Her mother’s frown deepened.

     “What do you mean?”

     “I could breathe. Under the water. There was this pain, this horrible…unbelievable pain,” She paused, shivering at the memory of it. “I was drowning and then…then... I felt the water going into my lungs but it didn’t hurt it felt…good.” She was still marvelling at the experience.

     “Rianne, are you okay?” Her mother was looking concerned, lifting her hand to Rianne’s face as if checking for a fever. Rianne shook her off.

     “Mum you don’t understand. My hands, my feet they changed. They…” But she couldn’t find the words. They stood in silence for a few more moments, Rianne in wondrous amazement, her mother in growing worry.

     “Let’s get you in the car and go home dear, um, we’ll talk about this later.”

     “But-”

     “Later, okay?” Her excitement deflating slightly Rianne nodded anyway allowing herself to be shepherded toward the car.

 

***

     She awoke the next morning to her mother’s voice.

     “Rianne, there’s someone here to see you.” she said poking her head around the door. Rianne groaned and stretched.

     “Who is it?” But her mother had already gone. Rolling out of bed she threw on a jumper and shoved her feet into slippers. She stumbled, still half asleep, down the stairs. “Mum it’s too early can’t you-” A soldier was standing in her living room. Her spine straightened as she came fully awake. He turned to face her, standing tall in his uniform a stern expression on his dark, square face.

 

     “You are Rianne I presume,” his voice was flat, like a fizzy drink that had been forgotten about. Rianne nodded cautiously, eyes darting to her mother who was standing beside him looking slightly nervous. “Would you give us a moment alone?” he asked her. It was very clearly an order, question or no. Her mother hesitated but left, giving Rianne’s arm a reassuring squeeze as she passed. The door closed and the soldier took a step toward her. “Have you experienced any unusual…symptoms lately?” Her heart stuttered. How? How could he know?

     “What do you mean?” She asked keeping her eyes downcast.

     “Unusual abilities,” said the soldier. Her mind was racing. Should she tell him? Denying it probably wouldn’t make a difference, but still. They stared at each other; his face twitched. “I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.” Her heart beat like a frantic bird in her throat her voice unable to force its way out.

     “Well I…”

     “I don’t suppose you caught the announcement that was made yesterday?” he asked. As she shook her head he gave a small, smug smile, “Then allow me to enlighten you. Let me tell you about the Donatus Programme.”

***

 

6 months later

     She had watched the girl before her leave the hall with a mighty grin on her impish face. Thanks to the Donatus Programme, this girl could run so fast that she became a mere blur. The assortment of generals they had brought in for this little inspection must have been very impressed. Rianne, however, would not be entering the hall today. A talent like hers would be no use in a gymnasium. Instead a large outdoor pool had been filled with fresh water from a nearby lake to suit her needs.

     She jumped as the doors opened, and the generals filed out. Each had greying hair, wrinkled faces, and many medals gleaming on their chests. They lined up at the edge of the pool, looking around expectantly.

     “Rianne Fletcher!” called Sergeant Arquez, holding a clipboard at the front of the crowd. Her hand snapped into a salute instinctively.

     “Yes sir!” He nodded toward the pool. She walked over, removing her jacket, shoes and socks at the pool’s edge. One of the generals glanced at his own clipboard and then back to her.

     “It says here you can breathe underwater.” He did not sound impressed.

     “Yes sir.” They all looked at each other with sceptical expressions. Her hands clenched. Before they could say another word she sprang forward, diving into the cool, still water. That first breath felt like waking up, like walking into fresh air after hours of being in the stuffy indoors. She was pleased to see that they had even provided long tendrils of water weeds for her to hide in. Kicked her way to the bottom she crouched amid the gently swaying plants. There were small portholes in the pool walls, where the generals could descend a set of steps to observe her. AS if she were an interesting specimen in a zoo. Their faces peered through the glass trying to spot her. She breathed slowly and carefully, making sure no bubbles escaped her lips to give her away. The generals moved around the pool, squinting through the weeds trying to spot her. A small smile curled her lip as one approached the porthole closest to her. Her legs kicked hard and fast, shooting her through the water straight at him. She could hear his cry of shock through the thick glass, as he fell backwards. Then she was gone, swimming around and around the pool; too quickly for them to get a good look at her.

This was her world, down here in the cool quiet of the water. Looking upward she could make out another figure examining the water from the surface, their form rippling and blurred. She bared her teeth in a shark-like grin and crouched, ready to launch herself at the unwitting person above. Thought her unimpressive, did they? They hadn’t seen anything yet.

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