Aise’s pod had gone on from Antarctica after the summer thaw, swimming up the warm current to more temperate waters. But Aise had refused to leave her new friends. Her mother had tried to pull her away, but one of the penguins had bitten the older mermaid’s hand. Now the mermaids were gone, and it was just the ice and the wind and the penguins and Aise. Just the way Aise liked it.
It was fishing time, so the penguins climbed to the top of an icy mountain and began sliding into the sea. Aise followed them, though she didn’t know how to catch fish and didn’t much like the taste of her distant cousins. She flopped on her belly and slipped gracefully down into the deep blue water.
She realized she was famished. When Spots brought her a nudibranch he’d plucked from the ocean floor, she ate it gratefully. It tasted better raw than the way her mother usually served it, in a seaweed salad. Who needs mermaids? Aise thought. I’m better off alone with my penguin friends.
Early the next morning, a strange bird with a whirring propellor landed on the ice. Humans bundled up in fat coats began chasing the penguins with tranquilizer guns and cages. They were about to load the cages into the helicopter when a chorus of mermaids at least a thousand strong rang out from the north. The men stopped, scratching their heads.
Aise joined her family in singing the humans into a stupor. They were dumped back into their mechanical bird and floated out to sea, to awaken in the middle of nowhere, without enough fuel to return and capture the penguins.
Aise’s mother put a hand on her shoulder, after looking around nervously to make sure no penguins were around to bite her. “I love you more than anything, Aise,” she said. “That’s why I let you stay where you felt happiest.”
“I’m glad you came back,” Aise said. “I’d be all alone now if it weren’t for you.”
“That’s what family is for,” Aise’s mother said. A penguin swam up to her and cautiously nuzzled her arm. She smiled.