Wet (Multi-Author Series)
by Silvia Violet
eBook ISBN: 978-1-60521-637-9
Setiwan Maramis is one of the legendary shape shifting guardians of the reef. He’s been watching Brett since the scientist first came to the station, and he wants Brett as both an ally and a lover. He is forbidden to reveal himself to humans, but when an enemy puts Brett’s life in danger, Setiwan follows his heart rather than the dictates of his people.
“We can’t destroy the station.” Setiwan paced the length of his father’s office. Being on land too long always made him restless. He needed to get back in the water that afternoon even if only for a swim.
His father shook his head. “If the station falls into the Stanley Corp’s hands, we’ll have no choice.”
Seti fought the urge to yell. Why wouldn’t anyone listen to him? “If we fund a research team, the university won’t sell it.”
“Possibly. They may simply want to be rid of the burden.”
Seti sank heavily into one of the upholstered chairs in front of his father’s desk. He glanced out the window but from this angle a matrix of tall buildings blocked his view of the beach and the ocean beyond. “There are still enough humans who care about the environment to raise an uproar. The academics don’t need more bad press. Not if they can get the money elsewhere, at least that’s what Dr. Leland thinks.”
His father arched a brow. “You seem quite enamored of Dr. Leland.”
Heat crept into Setiwan’s face. He didn’t want to discuss his interest in the researcher with his father. “He’s an excellent scientist, and he’s passionate about reef conservation. He would help us protect the reef.”
His father frowned. “He’s human.”
“So are most of the people who work for you.”
“They’re in our land-based offices, not on the reef. If we let the humans work with us underwater, they are certain to learn our secrets and that –”
“Is forbidden by Guardian law.” Setiwan just managed to keep from rolling his eyes. “I know. You’ve been quoting these laws to me since I was a toddler. When those laws were made, the current levels of pollution and climate change were unimaginable.”
Setiwan’s father sighed. “True, but I can’t make a unilateral decision to change our protocols.”
Setiwan squeezed his hands into fists. Why was his father so damn reluctant to take charge? “Who can change the policy if not you? You’re one of the most respected and powerful Guardians. You’re in a position to fund research which could help the reef and even transform other reefs whose Guardians have renounced their duties.”
“I will not simply ignore the laws that have guided our people for centuries.”
But he could if he wanted to. Few Guardians had even half his power or his business sense. He’d started ExploreSafe and made it into an internationally respected company providing environmentally friendly equipment for diving and marine research. His father still worked out of the original office in Indonesia, but they now had offices in Australia, Japan, and the US. His father wanted the Guardians to have resources and contacts in the human world. Why wouldn’t he use those now?
His father tapped a pen against his desk. Setiwan looked up, his attention back on the man in front of him. His father spoke again. “Imagine what would happen if knowledge of our abilities got out.”
Setiwan frowned. That would be disastrous. He could see the headlines now, ExploreSafe CEO Practices Witchcraft, Businessman Claims He Can Change Form. And yet, what choice did they have if they were going to save their reef? “We have no way of knowing how much worse the situation will get. We may reach a point where we no longer have the power to keep our reef healthy. My energy is drained daily simply from counteracting the effects of pollutants and overly warm waters.”
His father tapped the end of a pen on his desk, a rare show of agitation. “What exactly are you asking me to do?”
“I want you to give the university enough funding to keep the station running and let their researchers work hand in hand with us to protect our reef and others in the region.”
His father frowned. “I can’t promise you that, not without more evidence that these researchers are trustworthy.”
Setiwan barely kept himself from grinning. His father hadn’t said no. He was actually considering his idea. What his father didn’t know was that Seti had extensive knowledge about Brett Leland’s research as well as the work of other research teams who’d spent time on the station.
Every time a new group of scientists arrived, Seti waited until they were all asleep and entered the station through the moon pool. He checked on the animals they’d taken from the reef and read through their records to ascertain their research goals. If their test subjects weren’t being properly cared for or their motives weren’t pure, he made sure little things went wrong, nothing to harm the humans but enough to hassle them and make them less likely to want to return.
The last time Brett Leland had come below, Setiwan took his explorations further. He’d crept into the station’s bunk room and watched Brett sleep. He couldn’t explain why the man called to him, but he hadn’t been able to stop himself from leaning down and brushing the man’s lips with his own. Brett had groaned, a low soft sound that had Seti stroking his cock and wishing he dared take his explorations further.
“I’ll go on board and talk to them.” Setiwan’s heart pounded. No other Guardian would dare make such a statement to his father. Hiding from humans while underwater was the number one Guardian law.
His father didn’t yell or pound his desk as Setiwan had expected, but the tic by his left eye betrayed his annoyance. “Not while they are below the surface.”
Setiwan pushed harder. “I can’t learn about them if I’m not allowed near them.”
“You will wait until they surface.” His father’s voice was stern but still controlled.
“The station will be sold by then.”
His father narrowed his eyes. Seti felt as if his father could see right into his thoughts. “You will not reveal yourself to Dr. Leland, no matter how certain you are of him.”
Setiwan respected his father. And while he spoke his mind when others wouldn’t, Seti rarely went against direct orders. But he wouldn’t let the station be destroyed nor could he imagine watching Brett Leland night and day for the next two weeks without talking to him or touching him. Seti stood and walked to the window, angling himself so he could see the ocean. There had to be a way to convince his father.
“Setiwan, I have a meeting in ten minutes.” The coolness in his father’s voice let Seti know his patience was nearing its end.
He needed to convince his father today, or he might be too late to save the station. As he watched a boat out on the water, an idea formed. It was crazy and yet, it would give him a way to explain his extensive knowledge of Leland’s research and a chance to be closer to the scientist who’d become an obsession. He turned back toward his father. “Dr. Leland and his students bring animals on board to study. I’ll let myself be trapped. Then I’ll study them from inside the station.”
His father shook his head. “I don’t think–.”
“We need human allies. You know we do.”
His father rubbed his forehead and pinched the bridge of his nose as if staving off a headache. “I’m willing to consider that possibility. But you’re not to let anyone see you in your human form. If after further investigation, you still believe that Dr. Leland can be trusted, I will arrange to meet him through my university contacts.”
Seti wanted to push for more, but for once he quit while he was ahead. “Thanks, Dad.”
He’d made progress, more than he’d expected. If his father could sanction Seti’s presence on the station even in animal form, he might change his mind about hiring Brett once he understood the man’s scientific genius.
* * *
Brett watched the fish swim by the large observation window, mesmerized by their beauty. Within moments, he’d spotted parrotfish, spotted rays and butterflyfish swirling through turquoise brain coral, pink fan coral, and an incredible rainbow of other structures all created by tiny invertebrates. Two weeks. That was all he had left at the underwater research station that felt like a second home.
For the last five years, he’d spent half the year in Indonesia working at the marine research center funded by his university back in Los Angeles. He oversaw the research that took place at the underwater station and went on several lengthy underwater expeditions each year. But that was about to end. Marina, the underwater station, was on the market.
Fucking assholes at the university. They didn’t give a damn about research or about the fact that this was one of only a handful of healthy coral reefs left in the world. All they cared about was money.
His department head hadn’t had the balls to tell him they were considering selling Marina and shutting down his program when Brett was topside. They’d waited until he’d begun his mission, knowing he had limited communications and wouldn’t want to surface to confront them.
He’d known funding was drying up, but he thought he had a few months to find a solution. To make matters worse, the department was considering a bid from Stanley Corp, a conglomerate that had been cited time and again for creating environmental hazards. Stanley wanted to use the station as a base for collecting samples to use in experimental beauty products. Not medicine or research to help save the marine environment. Fucking shampoo and eyeliner.
He rubbed his eyes and glanced at a poster showing the history of underwater research. At the top was a picture of Jacques Cousteau’s first underwater station, Conshelf. Near the bottom was Aquarius, the station that Marina was based on. It had only recently been decommissioned. The thought of all the work that had gone into Marina being lost to corporate greed made Brett’s stomach knot.
He kept hoping some brilliant plan to save the station would pop into his head, but so far he hadn’t come up with anything. The best thing he could do for now was continue with the studies he’d planned while searching for a way to keep Marina out of Stanley Corp’s hands.
If only he could figure out why this reef had remained healthy when other reefs in the same region had suffered from higher water temperatures and pollution. But researchers from many different institutions had been coming to the station for five years studying the coral itself as well as many of the species that lived in and around the reef. No one had been able to pinpoint what made this reef impervious to the forces that had destroyed almost all similar structures.
As he watched the parade of species through the window, a male broadclub cuttlefish swam into view. The creature watched him, hovering in front of the window. Brett found himself unable to look away. The creature’s skin shimmered and changed in a dizzying display of colors and patterns, and he seemed to be watching Brett, studying him.
“You ready?” Sophia, his most promising grad student, was standing in the doorway of the observation room, suited up to head out with him and collect a variety of species to study.
Brett forced himself to smile. “Sorry. I lost track of time. I need a few minutes to double check my gear.”
“No problem.” Sophia beamed at him. She was so eager about their research. It was going to devastate her when he broke the news about the station.
A few minutes later, they were in the water. After they’d trapped several fish, Brett led the way to a section of the reef where cuttlefish often swam in search of the crabs they liked to feed on. They found and captured two of the creatures more rapidly than he’d expected. But a third continued to lead them around the edge of the reef. Brett was certain it was the same one that he’d watched from the window. They could have found a more docile one that was easier to trap, but he found himself drawn to this one. After years of working with cuttlefish, he’d been amazed to learn how distinct their personalities were, and this male was spunky and creative.
He motioned for Sophia to hang back as he made a slow approach. The cuttlefish stopped swimming away and turned to face him, colors strobing across his body in the technique his species used to mesmerize prey before moving in. Brett shivered. Strangely, the creature seemed to be sizing him up. He knew he wasn’t in real danger, but he would swear the cephalopod was marking him as prey. Even crazier, the little guy seemed to be laughing at him. What is with you?
Take me in and you’ll find out.
Brett’s heart stuttered. There was no way this creature had just spoken to him. He must be losing his mind. Maybe the news about the research station had put him over the edge. The fish stopped his display and floated docilely in the water as if deciding to let Brett catch him. Brett slipped him into the sample box, eager to learn more about what this creature could do. He turned to Sophia, signaling that they should head back to Marina.