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The Mermaid Dynasty

A Short Story by Samwiz1

Joshua Brooks


         As I draw nearer to my deathbed, many of my underlings and old “friends” have asked me to give an account of my life for the public record. A good number of people have been angrily hounding me for far too long about crimes I could never have admitted to committing, and I am tired of the facade. I was guilty, as you all likely knew, but that mattered little in the end. However, if I am to update the record to the full truth of my life’s work, I would first have you know who I am.

          My name is Joshua Brooks. I was born in 2214 in the undercity of New Honolulu, where I have resided my entire life. Graham Brooks, my father, was a local manager of one of the many water purification plants run by the fledgling Mermaid Group. He was a genuine man and one of the rare men of faith still standing strong in our dying world. In his line of work he was responsible for the general management of the employees at Water Purification Center number seven. Under his watchful eye the northeastern districts of the city were provided with a consistent source of fresh and clean water, with only a handful of water-related outbreaks popping up during his term. Before his promotion to local manager, he was a skilled (but uneducated) mechanic working on the outside. As you know, both the surface and the shelled oceans are perilous terrains, but he was never one to shy away from a challenge, and his reputation is what secured his promotion in his later days. He met Irene—my mother—a few years before his promotion at one of his routine rounds to fix a malfunctioning intake pipe below the shell, as she was a university student who had been granted permission for a tour of the intake zone by a collegiate partnership with the Mermaid Group. My father assisted her in putting on the complicated dive suits needed for descent, cracked jokes on the way down the elevator, flirted a bit once they were under the shell all while giving her a very informal tour... from their stories, they had a grand time on that first day, but an urgent broken pipe report was filed while they were by the damage zone and he was the only employee nearby. He excused himself from the conversation and set to repairing what was apparently just a pressure-related crack—fairly standard procedure, if a bit rarely used—but the speed and work ethic with which he set to his job impressed Irene, and when he half-jokingly asked if she’d like to grab a drink with him after his shift she said yes. The rest is simple history, and I was born shortly before my father’s promotion.

          My own story begins with the standard education system. That is to say, my life was forged in the fires of a joke. Before I had learned to walk my babysitters were trying to see if I could tell the difference between Mozart and Fox. When I started to learn to read and write I was being peer-pressured into every honors program under the sun. And by the time I had graduated from basic education, there wasn’t an organization—including the government—that hadn’t already tried to recruit me at half a dozen points. I know what must now be going through your head. “But if you were such a prestigious child,” you’re saying, “why did you stay in one of the poorest undercities in the United States instead of heading to Dallas or Washington?” A fair concern. The reasoning is simple: at any other organization, I would be exclusively valued for the immediate contributions I would bring. As a logistical genius, the federal government wanted me for the military, the heads of every city government wanted me for their infrastructure, every corporation wanted me for my economic wit, and every non-profit wanted me to so they would seem more legitimate. The difference with all of those is that while the Mermaid Group of New Honolulu still did want me for my brains, they also respected the legacy of my father’s brawn, and introducing a generational aspect to the workers there would be both a practical morale-building tool and an employment incentive. So at the ripe age of 17 I put on my father’s fanciest (and not-quite-fitting) suit, put a yellow-dyed artificial feather behind my ear (it was a fashion at the time, popularized by a folk song a young band had worked into one of their larger works), and strode into the Mermaid Group’s headquarters in the center of the city with a job application in hand. I never made it to the front desk before an executive who had been standing about idly shouted at me “you’re hired and promoted!”

          The next few days were composed of endless legal documents I had to sign (with DNA, of course—this wasn’t some cheap yeast factory in the northwest quarter, after all) before I was formally given the job. The CEO of the Mermaid Group at the time was a man named Lopez Lopez (a name he was made fun of extensively for, but he embraced it). He welcomed me to the company at a private meeting in his office, told me a tall tale of one of my father’s great exploits in saving an entire plant from collapse by venturing topside to reach a filtration system in the middle of a meteor shower—a story I had heard a thousand times from both my parents, and this CEO’s telling of it was somehow the most impressive and fictitious I had heard so far. He made all the usual spiels about how I was destined for greatness and that with an upbringing such as mine I could have done anything in the world. It was a pitch I was used to from everyone wanting to get my help on something. But then he shifted his tone, blinded the windows, checked with his secretary to ensure we had absolute privacy, and then he promised me the world. Mermaid Group already had a stranglehold on New Honolulu’s water supply, and soon it would begin expanding under ghost corporation names to make a play for every business in the city. When I saw the potential and ambition this company was reaching for, what choice did I have but to accept? With reach such as that, no child would have to starve and no mother would have to perish as long as I could simply wrangle the entire resources of the city to prevent it. He made an offer: I would be his student while he lasted, and then I would carry his legacy. A dynasty was being founded, and the genius son of a local legend would make the perfect heir to the throne. You will all know that I accepted that offer, though I suspect the offer was a secret until now.

          Six years after I accepted Lopez’s offer, he died. It was sudden, and I suspected foul play was involved. I found some loose evidence connecting the death of CEO Lopez Lopez to the Radiant Dusk Oil Rig Republic, a raider outpost on the surface a hundred miles out. They had been known in the past to prey on some of the few international cargo transports heading to the U.S. from the People’s Republic of Earth, and a loose jacket someone left on a chair at the crime scene was registered to be a missing product from an ice train that group was responsible for pillaging. I alerted the feds (after my own men had scouted out the rig to make sure it was too tough of a task to easily solve on our own), and after a lengthy siege the rig finally expelled the guy who had worn the jacket. He denied any involvement, of course, and the charges couldn’t stick without evidence, though he did serve a brief stint at a labor camp for being in possession of stolen goods.

          That, I suspect, is as much as you remember from that trial. Now it’s time for the rest. The man in question—a brute named Gordon—was hired by me. I used an intermediary (another of my hired brutes, extending in a long chain up to myself) to approach him and offer him a deal. He was a nobody raider in a nobody tribe, and he had apparently been a dubbed a coward for his lack of kills during the raid on that ice train I mentioned a moment ago. One of my other agents approached me with this information thinking I could take him on as another down-on-his-luck recruit, but the man’s resume included some unexpected skill with black market poisons, so I hatched the plan. Raider Gordon would be given funds by yours truly (passed through a million shell companies first, of course). He would use these funds to buy whatever equipment he needed to cook up a neurotoxin capable of instantly incapacitating and slowly-but-painlessly killing a man, then he would (using credentials I would grant) poison Lopez’ afternoon cocoa with it. He would flee back to his tribe’s oil rig, he would eventually surrender himself, I would ensure the prosecution in his court case fell apart, and he would spend a few months living like a king in my “premium” labor camp, where I send anyone who’s more valuable simply not doing labor. He agreed to all these points and carried out the plan, and by the week’s end I had taken control of the Mermaid Group. Lopez was dead and buried in a surface graveyard. He was like a father to me for the first few years, but after the third year he started needlessly treating me harshly and constantly making clear that he could have me killed at any moment. Thugs were sent to my door in the middle of the night to demand my presence for the most petty reasons, my meals were forced to dance to the boss’s tune whenever he came up with a new diet idea, and he made sure my submissiveness made me the laughingstock of the company, despite my clear mental prowess and authoritative lineage. Once my father died, I lost all restraint, and my scheming began. I will attribute who I am remembered for today to this one key moment: this murder was the start of my ascent—or my descent, depending on how you look at it—into the highest rings of power.

          I spent the next two and a half decades growing my influence in the shadows and consolidating the Mermaid Group into the financial beast you know it as today. It started with finalizing our stranglehold over the water purification facilities in the city, though that was only a formality and had been mostly completed by the Lopez administration anyways. Any purification sites not owned by the Mermaid Group had agreements with us to adjust prices accordingly, and (after we petitioned the government to loosen some of the few remaining antitrust laws in the name of financial stability) we managed to absorb the few remaining (semi-independent) stations into the company. Next, we set our eyes on surface access. There are a few lifts spread throughout New Honolulu that give citizens access to the surface, but we managed to blackmail enough politicians (most of them had been sleeping with each other’s wives without any of the others knowing, it turned out) into voting to privatize the lifts to generate some new tax revenue. Soon after the cheesily-named “Aloha Earth” company was founded to manage the lifts, we blackmailed their new CEO (also a politician; no surprises there) into letting us do a “merger” in the name of “centralizing utilities access for a more efficient city.” This “merger” granted Mermaid Group exclusive control over all surface lifts in the city, as well as formally recognized that the company now served the purpose of managing the utilities of the city. It wasn’t long before we also absorbed the local power company (its boss was looking to retire and he had no heir; it was easy enough to make promises and offer to give his children scholarships in exchange for a genuine merger), the train company (a simple case of an accident on the way to work led to a power vacuum in that area of business that we were all too happy to fill), and even the business of managing imports and exports (the previous guy responsible for that got caught with some compromising evidence of collaboration with the PRE that just so happened to magically appear out of nowhere, and the government decided I would personally be a good choice for his replacement—it wasn’t difficult to merge the personal responsibility with the Mermaid Group’s crawling tendrils).

          Twenty-five years after Lopez’s death I was celebrating my golden jubilee with the mayor of New Honolulu (a friend of mine with just enough political instinct to know what was good for him and offered to run under my banner), the Secretary of Defense (an elderly woman who used to run an arms manufacturing conglomerate in the middle of town but who I managed to get a fancy office in exchange for her business), and the President of the United States of America (named Selman Cawthorne; he used to be on the board of directors for the Mermaid Group before I promised to throw the company’s entire weight behind him if he ran for office to finally abolish the Sherman Antitrust Act, which he did). The world saw it as a prosperous relationship and thought things could only keep getting better for everyone. But as you probably know, behind the scenes Cawthorne broke ranks with the rest of my associates and started campaigning for multiple consecutive terms. My agreement with him was that our resources would only be expended as long as the antitrust acts stood, and that once they fell his job was done and he should return to the company. He got a taste for power, however, and he ran for a second term. And—by using the tricks I had taught him—he won. He grew more distant from the company even as the other Mermaids insisted we continue to funnel resources to him and his efforts, blind to the truth that he had abandoned our cause. Two decades later and he was at the end of his fifth term preparing to run for his sixth. It was only at that point that the board heard about his plans to reintroduce antitrust legislation to prevent our growth, as he had heard we were making moves to secure water supplies in more cities across the western seaboard. I suspect you are familiar with what happened next, as it became the single most documented event of this century. Regus Reynolds, one of the many thugs (but one of the smarter ones) in my employ, shot President Cawthorne in the heart while he was giving a speech in downtown New Honolulu, framing it on Macintosh Bradson. Mac, as he was called, journeyed across the nation to prove his innocence against the web of lies Regus and I had formulated, and in the end he surprisingly succeeded. Regus was given the electric chair, and I walked free anyways. Regus went with honor to his death, but I would never have given up that easily, and though the world knew I was guilty, my lawyers were the best in the world, and no case against me could have possibly stuck.

          So here I sit, on an ancient throne in my silvered bubble hall at the peak of the dead mountain of Mauna Kea, receiving eruptions of hatred at every public move I make. And that hatred is fairly earned. I write this now—not to pardon myself—but to explain my life. I believe somewhere I went wrong. Whether it was only after the assassination of President Cawthorne, or if it was when I started to take power over the city, or if it was the killing of my previous boss, or if I was simply doomed from the start to be a pawn in the games of others, I cannot answer. I will let history decide that much. Given by the time you are reading this brief autobiography I will have already had my component atoms spread across the seabed my parents found love above, I now leave my vast estate to the company I gave my life to, as I have had no sons or daughters with whom to share my wealth. Love would not have suited me anyways.








Lopez Lopez


          As I grew older, it never failed to amuse me how people were surprised at the double name. When I got my first job at a local food distribution center I put on a shiny white nameplate that read “Lopez Lopez: Clerk.” Somehow that always made people do a double-take, and I made many early friends that way.

          I am, of course, Lopez Lopez, head of the Mermaid Group of New Honolulu, and if you’re seeing this document it is because I succeeded. The lawyers responsible for managing my estate after my death have been instructed that these words are not to reach the public ear until after the death of my protégé, Joshua Brooks, however that death should come about. Having done the mathematics on the possibilities given the course I have set his life down, I suspect he has a 27% chance of living to retirement and then dying of natural causes, a 59% chance of being murdered for reasons political or business, and a 12% chance he is executed by electric chair for either treason or murder. There remains only a 2% chance that he dies for reasons not related to health or the Mermaid Group—for he is about to ascend to its throne and his life will be defined by its strength—but I’m willing to accept that risk.

          Reader, you are likely a normal citizen of the United States of America, living on a dying planet hurtling through empty space ever further from our home sun, desperately trying to make sense of this unfair world. I will be frank with you; the world is a cruel place, and I am partially responsible for perpetuating that cruelty. I can only offer my apologies for that. Through my actions I monopolized the water purification industry in the undercity of New Honolulu, and through my legacy I suspect I will have monopolized almost all industries in New Honolulu under the Mermaid Group’s conglomerate. This will only have positive short-term effects; the economy of New Honolulu will become more streamlined, prices will go down, government spending will shift increasingly to caring for the poor and away from subsidizing the increasingly autonomous businesses of the area... but there is, of course, a dark side to this truth. The Mermaid Group will spread its tentacles to every corner of society and its influence will be felt throughout national politics for many years to come, with its greatest leader, Joshua, becoming synonymous with a combination of cunning business and government corruption. Under him, New Honolulu will flourish, but it will flourish exclusively under him, with other forces for change being suppressed. I have seen it fit to make this tradeoff because in the short term it will prevent more people like me from emerging from the slums with a cutthroat mindset, and in the long term I’m sure some other force will be able to break apart the Mermaid Group’s hegemony, if it becomes too dangerous. Maybe this letter will accomplish that task.

          But I digress. Reader, I know what you’re wondering, if you know recent history to any extent. The question on your mind is as follows: Will this document give any hints to solving the murder of Lopez Lopez? Dear reader, I will explain it to you.

          Joshua Brooks was one of the strangest men I ever met. He was a nice kid when he needed to be, like so many others in the business, but he was ruthless when cornered and he always got his way once his head was set in a direction.

          “New hire to see you, sir,” my secretary Anne told me via the intercom on a Q4 day around 3:00am. “It’s the Brooks’ kid.”

          “Send him in,” I replied, straightening my tie. The first impression was key, and it had to go right. The kid walked in—he couldn’t have been more than 20 years of age—and nervously took a seat at the desk. At least, he has a nervous expression and demeanor. But I watched his eyes, and they were consistently darting to every corner of the room, picking up any bits of information that might serve him in the conversation to come. He was almost as shrewd as me.

          “Is that Fox’s Grayhound’s Revenge playing?” He noticed one of the music tracks wafting lightly out from behind the ventilation where a small speaker had been hid.

          “Yes, it’s a personal favorite of mine. The story’s good, the music’s a masterpiece. If only I had time to get through it all again.” He nodded in tense agreement. I could tell he wasn’t a huge fan; probably loved the first game more than the sequel. Fair enough. “So, you’re Joshua’s kid, is that right?” He nodded his head again, trying very hard to keep his expression neutral. “Just so you’re aware, you’ve been hired on the spot as an exclusive result of your father’s reputation with the company. He’s been one of the most loyal men we’ve ever had, and it would be a crime not to give his son a chance. Do you understand that?”

          “Yes, sir,” he responded dryly. Did he normally sound this professional, or did he merely revert into a more respectful tone when I mentioned his father? Probably the former.

          “Your job with us is going to start with a year of your father’s work, followed by an immediate promotion to local management if you can prove yourself worthy of such a station,” I told him with a swagger, my voice echoing off the marble walls of the mostly-undecorated office. “Your father negotiated such terms with us as a condition of his own past promotion. Together you will run the two purification stations in the northeast quarter of the city, and after his eventual death or retirement you will take over his station as well.” He tried to look nervous, but that was when I first saw through the façade. He wasn’t shy. He was regal. It wasn’t since I met President Lewis that I had seen someone with that appearance, and to the time I write this recollection I haven’t seen anyone who could match the look. He took in the news trying to feign surprise, but that was one emotion he wasn’t great at mimicking. I suspect he probably just wasn’t used to it enough to know how to fake it. “I have big plans for you,” I finished, “if you can perform them. We’re moving into the next act of this company’s great play, and you’re going to storm the stage. In exchange for your cooperation in this and attendance at weekly meetings with me for the purpose of greater information exchange, you will receive a high salary and potential for advancement. Do we have a deal?”

          I held out my hand, and then he did something unexpected. He hesitated. It was only for a moment, and I would never see such hesitation until the second half of the story I’m about to get to, but it was there. You could say that the handshake was a deal with the devil, and I wouldn’t blame you, given the circumstances. But Joshua Brooks decided the devil was a better broker than anyone else worth his attention, and he shook my hand. “Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down.”

          “I know you won’t. And call me Lopez.” I cracked a smile, and I saw his shoulder dip just a little as he relaxed slightly.

          That’s how we met. And it doesn’t answer your question in the slightest. “How does that relate to your murder?” I bet you’re asking. Well, the plot twist you probably weren’t aware of is the fact that I was murdered by Joshua Brooks, who likely became CEO of the Mermaid Group after my death. Or maybe you did know this. There is a small chance he screws up the murder and its information leaks, but I doubt he’d be in any danger of losing his position even if that did become common knowledge. The second plot twist I know for a fact you’re not aware of is that I was murdered by Joshua Brooks, who was manipulated into murdering me by me. Allow me to explain.

          The Mermaid Group is on the verge of greatness. As I sit writing this, the poisoned cocoa that will kill me stews in front of me, waiting. Good old Joshua just had it brought in (via an intermediary) a few minutes ago. The intermediary is a tree-trunk of a man named Gordon Krell. I run my own private spy network—which Joshua will inherit after my death, of course—whose sole job is to find people perfectly suited to do dirty work for me. I’ve never ordered a murder be carried out, but many other pettier crimes in the realm of espionage and intimidation could be tied back to me if someone looked hard enough. This Gordon fellow is one such individual who has skills I find useful, but he alone of all my hires will be more important than all the rest. It was he who poisoned my drink, at the order of Joshua, under the suggestion of yours truly. Of course, Joshua thought he was the one who recruited the poisoner, but I first recruited the poisoner to look recruitable. A small bribe from an anonymous source made sure Joshua heard about Gordon’s talents, and the rest is history.

          But, I can hear you say, dear reader, why would Joshua want you dead? Didn’t you hand him the world and more? Yes, that is true. His entire life was owed to me. But that was exactly the problem, and it’s exactly what I wanted. When Joshua first started working, he had a fair degree of autonomy and he worked in cooperation with Graham, his father. But when Graham retired and Joshua took over his responsibilities, I started demanding two meetings a week, then three. When once I was content to let Joshua work and watch the profits rise, I soon began to eat into what little free time the poor man had, and he began to resent me for it. At the three-year-mark I threw a birthday party in his honor and demanded every employee of the company attend, regardless of rank. The party flopped with poor music, cold food, and childish brands making token appearances as decoration. He tried to chew me out for the whole debacle after the fact, but I ensured I got my way and I beat it into him that it was a great honor and that with a single word he would be back out on the streets and worth nothing. It broke my heart to say all that, as I had grown rather fond of the boy, but it had to be done.

          The next three years of his life would be characterized by a horror I tried to lay out upon him, increasing my control with every move. The first move was requesting he move closer to my office so it would be easier for me to reach him at a moment’s notice. He chafed under this directive, but it was established nonetheless. The second move was sending hired thugs to occasionally harass him on his way to and from work, ensuring that he would have to take my bodyguards wherever he went. I suspect he found out I was behind that one, but I can’t be sure. And the last straw? Dear reader, the last straw was when I demanded that he swear an oath of celibacy. He was never interested in romance, and—though he always had an eye for Anne, my secretary—he had never even had sex, to my knowledge. Anne tried a few times to make something of it, but Joshua was always busy. At least, that’s all I told Anne whenever she asked me about it, and eventually she was discouraged enough to look elsewhere. But that wasn’t the point. The very idea that I would demand such a thing of Joshua reduced his selfhood to be a puppet on a single very thin string, and that was unacceptable. Aghast, he stormed out of my office, and he has stopped showing up to meetings for the last few weeks since our conversation. Unless he lives to retirement and has time to reflect on his life’s work, he will go to his grave not knowing that I did what I had to do, and though that breaks my heart, I know my company’s legacy will be secured under his bitter watch. Last night I sent him an encrypted private correspondence demanding he show up to our next meeting or his job would be on the line, and considering he also received news of Gordon’s availability at the same time, the only possible outcome of the situation was obvious.

          In the small chance that he is afforded a slow and peaceful death, I have instructed my lawyers to keep a letter of similar substance to this one to present to Joshua, asking that in his twilight years he forgive me for what I did. My life has been defined by the Mermaid Group and its growth, and I would have it grow past my death, as its very soul is my own. Prosperity will be brought to New Honolulu, and under the Group’s rule there will be peace in the streets and plenty in the markets. A worthy cause, I would say, for sacrificing power to my legacy.

          Reader, I must thank you for bearing with me on this final conclusion of my life. It was fun, if a bit painful. And now, if you will excuse me, this delicious-looking cup of cocoa will not be kept waiting any further, and I ache for the sunlit halls of my fathers.

For obvious legal reasons, don’t steal this. © Samwiz1 2022

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