by Sarah Mansfield

A dull pain pulsed through his shoulder, becoming increasingly painful as he came into consciousness. Hugo blinked awake, sitting inclined in a cushioned chair inside what appeared to be a luxurious boat. Clear tubes ran from the back of his neck and his left shoulder, glistening silver-blue liquid trailing through them from a small conductor box sitting on the floor beside him. Realisation struck him as he came to his senses; he had woken up from being unconscious and hadn’t the faintest idea where he was or how he had come to be where he was. Hugo was unbeknown to what liquid was pouring into his neck and shoulder and as he stared at the tubes, he began to feel uneasy. He yanked them out and tossed them to the floor, rubbing his aching trapezius with shaky hands. He stood up gingerly and struggled towards a window on the opposite side of the cabin. He grasped the windowsill for support; as he looked out his fears were confirmed. He was stranded on a boat, surrounded entirely by endless waves and a vast blue ocean on all sides. He knocked against a plant in his nauseous state, dirt spilled out of the pot and fell onto his hand. As it touched his fingers, a euphoric sensation drifted through him as and he drew his hand back in surprise. His fingers began to turn green, and he watched, perplexed as moss sprouted from his pours and erupted onto the back on his hand. He let out a choked cry, stumbling backwards in shock as he tried to shake of the moss, but it clung to his skin like glue, remaining firmly attached. Hugo stifled a scream. He examined the moss carefully, looking it over without touching it with his opposite hand. It seemed perfectly alive and healthy as though his hand were a damp rock amid a forest. Hugo scanned the room, his eyes falling on the tubes that lay pumping silver-blue liquid onto the wooden floor. What was in that fluid? A thought washed over him, what else could he do with this strange new ability? His eyes trailed around the cabin until they fell on a window presenting the ocean outside. I wonder… He stood up and walked out onto the deck of the boat. The ocean looked peaceful and warm as it glistened pleasantly in the sunlight. He hesitated for a moment, then walked to the side of the boat. The water looked inviting and without more than a second’s thought, he plunged into the waves. The euphoric feeling washed over him again as his head disappeared beneath the surface and he was swallowed. After no more than a few seconds, Hugo felt his neck splitting at the sides and oxygen flooded through his lungs as though he were breathing above the water. Could it be..? He reached a hand to his neck and gasped, lines ran along his skin, and he could feel them flared as he inhaled. Hugo swam towards the surface, surprising himself at his capability and long strokes. As he broke above the waves, his breathing felt restricted. This, he had not thought about. He looked at his hands half-expecting some sort of seaweed or growth to appear, but as he watched, his skin weaved itself between his fingers, creating webs where there was once air. He submerged himself beneath the waves again, taking in a deep breath through his new gills. Perhaps this could be fun. He scanned his surroundings under the water, the sand couldn’t have been more than fifteen meters below him. Glancing about, a flash caught his eye; he turned to see a pearl glinting about fifty meters away. He was curious and decided to test his abilities. He would go to the clam, retrieve the pearl, and then come back to the boat. His strokes were long and powerful as he propelled himself through the water. He felt like a sea serpent charging rampantly through the sea, graceful and unstoppable, owning the ocean like it was his own. He almost overshot the pearl in his excitement, catching himself before he went too far. The clam stood on a pile of rocks, surrounded by clumps of seaweed. He brushed against the seaweed before resting on a rock to stabilise himself. As he leaned forward towards the pearl he felt his hand suction to the rock. He paused, frowning as he tried to pull it back, but to no avail. His hand was stuck to the rock, imprisoning him, even as he tried to pry himself free. He was trapped, taking his place beside the clam as seaweed like so many other people had been before him, left to watch as boats drifted past above him.

“Test 23 was a fail.”