this story was commissioned by Phil Velasquez
and written by Quentin 'Cubist' Long

  I been thinkin' about it, and I'm pretty near certain it begun down around Mexico way, when Kathy says to me, "Serena-girl, I do believe I finally done gone an' found us the Big One!"
  'The Big One', meanin' the one big score we'd need before we could settle down proper. Well, I knew she weren't joshin', on account of Kathy don't talk like that 'cept when she's excited, and there's ain't hardly but one thing ever got her that worked up! But excited or no: Even tho' she's a whole lot smarter'n me, I've noticed she ain't always right. So I says to her, "You know, Kathy, it ain't like it's the first time..."
  Now, both of us know for a fact that she'd much rather be called by her initials than by 'Kathy'. But by the same token, she knows that I don't call her that 'less'n it's mighty serious, so that got her attention an' calmed her down both. "Yes, Serena, I know," she says, and she's gotten back into that special actress kinda voice she uses 'most everywhere. Now, I can see puttin' on airs like that when there's a reason to, but Kathy? She's like to think that just gettin' up in the mornin' is a right fine reason! "You're right, and I apologize most humbly for the times I've been wrong before. But I know the Big One's out there, Serena! And why should we let someone else grab it just because we slacked off?"
  Well, that's true enough -- 'You ain't gonna win if'n you don't play the game,' as Pa used t' say -- but there's been so many Big Ones that turned out to be Little Ones when we caught up to 'em! So I says, "You know I ain't no slacker, K.C.! I just want to be sure we got us the proper address before we go knockin' on the door, is all."
  And then Kathy gets this fire in her eyes. I used to think it was kinda nice, showin' her determination and all, but of late I've started to think that it don't suit her. And she says t' me, "So do I, Serena. So -- do -- I. And making sure of the address is exactly what I aim to do tonight. Don't you wait up for me, because I don't know when I'll return."
  "Alright, K.C. But you take care o' yourself now, y' hear?"
  She smiles and says, "Don't I always, Serena?" And then she's out the door, leavin' me in the rooms we've picked out in this here resort. The place has a Spanish name, Cabber San Lucy or somethin' like that, and it's awful pretty hereabouts. Not as pretty as back where we growed up, o' course, but I surely can see why they built a resort on this spot. I don't expect Kathy sees how beautiful it is; the beauty she's got eyes for, it mostly comes with numbers and dollar signs...
  Me and Kathy, we been best friends since before I can remember -- but come recent years, I ain't so sure I like her as much as I used to. She's changed, an' that's a fact. I surely wish I could say it's all been for the better, but it ain't! Y' see, we growed up in a little patch o' land we called 'Pig Broke', on account o' there weren't but three families anywhere near, an' every last one of us was pig broke. The place didn't have no real name, seein' as how it was unincorporated, but one o' my great-granddaddies first call it that, as a joke y' might say, and I guess the joke stuck.
  Anyway, we's all white trash in Pig Broke, an' that's why I talk like this. Sure, I can talk proper when I've a mind to, but I ain't ashamed of who I am nor where I come from. Kathy, now she's ashamed o' her roots! I s'pect it's that she don't see what she don't want to see, kinda like her missin' the beauty of Cabber San Lucy. Her folks an' mine, we had just the one television set between us; to me that teevee was a magic mirror like from a storybook, showin' us everything in the world outside o' Pig Broke, but Kathy thought it were just a 10-inch screen with the color all shot t' Hell. I was proud o' Pa for all the work he done with junked car parts, alternators an' batteries an' the like, settin' up wheels in the crick to make power so's we could watch shows -- Pa weren't educated, exactly, but my Lord he was smart! -- and Kathy looked down on it all, on account o' it wasn't proper electricity from a proper power line. I used to could bring her 'round to seein' things my way, but it never stayed on her very long...
  Me, I blame Kathy's parents. As God is my witness, I'll never know what possessed 'em to saddle her with a name like 'Katerina Celeste'. Seems t' me that a high-falutin' name like that, well, it's just like askin' to pour buckets o' trouble on the poor kid who bears it! But they name her by that name, and then they dote on her more'n is good for any little baby, an', well, I s'pose the wonder is that she turned out near as nice as she did. No sense cryin' for more than what she got.
  Fact is, Kathy's always been smarter'n me, an' prettier'n me, and she can just about charm pictures off a wall when it suits her. With her brains and her beauty and all, not t' mention her folks spoilin' on her, it's only natural that she might get t' thinkin' that she's better'n everybody else. And I can see how growin' up white trash might be hard on a body what thinks they're better'n everybody; might just inspire a burning need to do anything at all that can get 'em to the kinda place they thinks they deserve. So when her Ma finally died, why Kathy up an' decided it was time t' seek her fortune in the great big world, and me bein' her best friend, she couldn't leave me out of it, now could she?
  Well, that was thirteen years gone. We been roamin' around ever since, mostly the U-S-of-A but also a mess o' other nations. Seen a lot of places, met a lot of people. Also spent a lot of money, none of it rightly ours. That used to bother me a mite, but it were just Kathy usin' her charms t' persuade folks to give us the cash, so that's alright. What ain't so right is the times when when she's been an out-an'-out deceiver as well as a charmer... but Kathy don't listen to me on such things, so I keep my mouth shut, neither talkin' nor askin' questions what I might not like the answers to. I does what I can t' keep her honest, but... it's hard, even so. It truly is hard.
  Anyways, we seen a lot of people an' places, like I said, includin' more'n a few that I wouldn't o' much minded stayin' around for a while. And they's been times when we had ourselves a little ol' nest-egg would've done for a start on settlin' down -- of course, Kathy won't hear of it. Not while the Big One is out there just waitin' for us t' pick it up, she won't.
  Well, it's past midnight, and of a sudden there's a knock at the door. I hear Kathy hissin' "Serena!", all quiet-like so as t' not disturb anybody in the rooms next door, and I lets her in an' lock the door. She's got a shit-eatin' grin on her face, so I expect things went well, and she shoves this plastic-and-parchment sandwich in my face and she says: "It's for real, Serena! It's for real!"
  "You got the address?"
  "Address, nothin'! Serena, I done got the whole darn map!" And she goes an' lays her prize down on a table, smoothin' it out so's it's easy to read. After thirteen years, I should hope I can recognize a treasure map when I sees one, and that's what we're lookin' at now! As I'm lookin', Kathy says, "You know that cute, Mexican-lookin' feller who been givin' me the eye over supper these past few days? Well, turns out he's in charge of 'acquisitions' for some big ol' museum 'round these parts."
  "An' I s'pose this map was a recent acquisition."
  "That's right! And d' you know where it was acquired from? A site only just uncovered last year down Brazil way, that's where. Seems as this here map was sittin' in a concealed pocket in a chest, which was so old it kinda crumbled itself to bits while the museum was tryin' t' clean it up! Just think on it, Serena -- this map, sittin' there in the dark for all those centuries, just waitin' for us t' find it!"
  "So you borrowed it, didja?" 'Borrowed' -- that's one way to put it, alright. Not the best way, but then Kathy don't like to hear me name her thievin' for what it is.
  "I surely did, Serena. But don't you worry; once we're done with it, I'll be sure it gets back to the museum here!"
  Well, we didn't spend too much more time talkin', because we was packin' up and checkin' out. No surprise for me; soon's Kathy mentioned that museum guy, I figured we'd have to leave mighty quick-like.
  A couple days after we got shut o' Cabber San Lucy, we's on the Isle of Trinidad. Nice place, but we ain't got time for lolly-gaggin', on account o' we're goin' for the Big One, and we need a stake for supplies an' transportation and such. Well, we gets our stake. I ain't proud o' how we done it, but... it don't take more'n three days for us t' collect $11,000 American, and I guess that'll do.
  Next stop is a Brazilian coastal city, Salvador by name, an' the map says the Big One's about 350 miles offshore from there. We gets full divin' gear, wet suits an' air tanks an' suchlike, the whole ball o' wax; ain't nowheres near the first time we've gone below, so we knows how not get ripped off or nothin'. We also hire a good boat for a 2-week cruise, with an option for 2 more if we need it. As usual, Kathy takes care o' the money, as I just can't get the deals like she can. Not sure I'd want to if I could, t' be honest...
  Anyhow, it ain't so long before we're sailin' out on the Atlantic. The sea's a lot calmer'n I'd expect, for some reason. Neither me nor Kathy feels like questionin' this good fortune; we just takes advantage of it. The old map don't quite match up with the charts we got nowadays, but it's tolerable close, leastways it's close enough that we figure we got the Big One pinned down to within maybe 30 miles. And that's why we got the boat for two weeks -- 30-mile radius give us nigh-on 3,000 square miles o' ocean floor t' go searchin' on. An' that's exactly what we do.
  First day o' searchin', we drop anchor at 9 AM sharp, an' we're in the water come 9:30. Kathy sure is pretty when she's puttin' on her wet suit; if I swung that way, I expect I'd'a jumped her bones years ago. But I don't, so I ain't. I can still 'preciate good looks for what they is, though! And what Kathy is, well, it's curves like sex on a stick, and then some, 'specially in skin-tight rubber what must've been custom-made. My own wet suit ain't so hot-lookin', o' course, but then I ain't neither, so that's alright.
  Underwater is different. We got us some big ol' knives for in case o' some fishies don't know to stay away, and the both o' us hopes we don't need to use 'em...
  First day's searchin' come up dry, you should pardon the expression. Second day likewise; we thought we seen a landmark from the old map, but it weren't nothin'. And 'nothing' is what we find on the fourth an' fifth days. Sixth day, we do find one o' the old map's landmarks -- hallelujah! -- an' then another, an' another, and...
  By mornin' of the eighth day, we pretty well knew exactly where everything had t' be, so that's when we found it. Kind of a weak-like glow, you'd have to be powerful close to see it, shinin' forth out of a cave. The old map didn't say nothin' about a glow, but it's right where the treasure is. So I guess that's it, and Kathy agrees. We swim on in, shinin' our own lights inside so as to give any critters warnin' an' let 'em go away before we get there.
  And I will be dead and damned if I ever know what hit us!
  When I wake up, I'm feelin' a mite woozy all over, but I guess that ain't so peculiar after you been knocked out. Lookin' about myself, I see we're in some kinda cave, a grotto -- an' Kathy's here, too! She don't look t' be hurt none, praise the Lord! and she's just comin' around herself. As it happens, only after I'm satisfied of Kathy's health do I notice that we ain't alone down here. An' when I gets a good look at our host...
  My Lord in Heaven! she was green all over! And she had gill-slits in her neck, and fins an' scales on her arms an' legs, and powerful wide nostrils underneath o' big, shiny eyes -- in fact, she was like to be some kinda half-fish critter out of a sci-fi movin' picture! She ain't hardly wearin' nothin, just a few golden baubles, a necklace and so on. And then it's like a voice talkin' straight into my head, never mind the ears: You from surface?
  Well, I don't mind sayin' I'm more than a little frightened, so I takes the little wax notepad hooked onto my waist, and I writes to Kathy: WE GO!
  Kathy ain't havin' any o' that -- she shakes her head and writes on her own pad, BIG 1!!! WE STAY.
  I ain't so sure of our havin' enough air t' stick around down here, so I check my gauges... and both my tanks are emptier'n Pa's bank account!
  I get that voice-in-my-head again (Kathy too, it looks like): No worry for air.
  No air!? But... Well, now. Ain't that a fine how-d'ye-do? Never woulda thunk I'd go crackers and not know it! But if I is gone insane down here, I'm dead anyway, so I may as well get it over with. I spit out the mouthpiece, and... I'm still breathin' easy! What's more, I don't feel the water pushin' against me when I move; it's like I'm back up in the air topside, except that I do feel the wet all over, an' the light ain't changed neither, an' I am floating over the floor!
  See? No worry for air! 'says' that strange 'voice', and I swear I can 'hear' a laugh creepin' around the edges o' the words. I do believe it's the green lady talkin' in our heads! I Thalassa, sea-goddess. Why you come here?
  'Thalassa'? Hmph! She's 'Miss Greene', an' that's a fact. At this point, I wish I could reply, I truly do -- apart from everything else, I don't like the notion of this, well, creature, puttin' on airs o' divinity. I'm wonderin' how I can get notions across to Miss Greene, seein' as how I sure can't do the talkin'-in-head trick, when Kathy pokes her nose in.
  We are travelers, Kathy 'says' back to Miss Greene there, and I guess she surprised a year's growth off o' me! We can't do that!
  It is part of the gift, with you I share, Miss Greene 'says', and that's just about when I catch on -- the mind-speakin' is of a piece with the water-breathin' and such. I still ain't about to believe she's the goddess she paints herself up as, but seein' as how she can do all that, I reckon Miss Greene can call herself what she likes with no argument from my side. An' then she turns those big, fishy eyes on me, and she 'says', Perhaps 'god' for you not-same as 'god' for me?
  Well, I s'pose that makes sense -- I don't for a minute believe she's really speakin' English, so whatever's translatin' for her, could be that 'god' is as close as it can get to something else which ain't God at all -- so I nod and smile. And I do wonder about Miss Greene, where she come from an' was she ever human an' all, but it wouldn't be polite to pepper the girl with questions, so I try not to even think on 'em any.
  The gift you share with us is a remarkable thing, Kathy 'says'. Is there anything we might do for you, in return?
  I guess I know the earmarks o' when Kathy's up to something, and she is now. Miss Greene don't appear to notice; she 'says', Gift is gift. No return needed. You like see home?
  Kathy 'says' That would be very nice, please, before I realize Miss Greene's offered to give us a tour of her place. Now, I'd never have asked on my own, but since she's offerin', I'm happy to take the tour! An' that's what we do, startin' with one particular chamber that were nothin' but glarin' lights. Soon's my eyeballs adjust, I sees that there's just a whole lot o' metal in there -- gold an' silver, mostly, formed into jewelry and so on.
  I swim up for a closer look, to see if my eyes is deceivin' me or not, an' Miss Greene's 'voice' is amused as she 'says' Allowed touch. So I pick up a honkin' thick bracelet, and it sure do seem as heavy as gold! I turn it around in my hands, and even I can tell its workmanship is mighty fine. That's all for me; I'm convinced. What we got here ain't just the Big One, it's the Biggest of All Big Ones! I'm powerful sorry we can't take anything, but it's got itself an owner already, and I ain't no thief. So I put the bracelet down an' swim back over to Miss Greene.
  I give the mind-speakin' a shot: That's awful pretty, Miss Greene. Thanks for lettin' us see it.
  Welcome to you. Lonely, I, for very much time -- and I get the notion that she's been down here for centuries, maybe even millenia or longer -- but duty is here and alone.
  Is there anythin' I might do t' help out..? Now, I don't know as there's anything I can do to help Miss Greene, but it'd be downright ungrateful o' me to not even make inquiry.
  She smiles. It ain't quite a human smile, but the sadness shows on it all the same. No help, you. Treasure of Gods here, need guardian eternal; absent replacement, cannot leave. Not ask you.
  I will serve. It's Kathy's 'voice' -- but what's her angle? You have granted us life where we would surely have drowned. We owe you our lives, and I would give mine to you gladly.
  Replace self, you are willing? Guard? Serve with all of heart and soul?
  Yes, Kathy 'says'. I am willing to take your place, and I swear I will serve with all my heart and soul. Right then an' there, I swear to God I knew what she were up to: She's just greasin' up Miss Greene with a smooth-talkin' line, an' once she has what you might call the keys to the vault, why she just plays it as faithful an' vigilant as you please. But as soon as Miss Greene's gone, Kathy'll be gone herself, an' the treasure with her!
  Of course, Kathy knew what I was thinkin' the second I thought it, an' I knew I'd pissed her off somethin' fierce, on account of that mind-speakin' thing workin' both ways. I surely was in for it but good, just as soon as we got back on shore and into dry clothes! But Kathy didn't let on with her face, nohow...
  Miss Greene weren't at all concerned as she took off the golden necklace she wore. This, you must wear, she 'says', an' she hands it off to Kathy. It is symbol of office, link to powers. Without, term of service be not pleasant.
  Kathy takes it, 'says', I thank you, Thalassa, an' she puts the bauble 'round her own neck. Your kindness... and... Then she starts in lookin' kinda uncertain, and I ain't so sure what's happenin' myself, because of a sudden this golden chain come from out o' the necklace, tyin' Kathy down to the spot she's at. And what skin ain't covered up by her suit, well, it's lookin' dark green, and lumpy an' scaly to boot!
  Kathy? K.C.? I 'says', but she don't reply, 'cept maybe if'n you count incoherent rage an' fear as a reply, and her suit's in rags below the waist on account o' her legs gotten fused together into somethin' like a snake's tail, only bigger and longer, an' gettin' longer by the second!
  Miss Greene 'says', We go. Not safe now. I don't mind tellin' you, I am jus' plain shocked out of my wits; I don't even notice when Miss Greene gets hold o' me an' pulls me 'long. Kathy don't stop changin' just 'cause of me leavin' the place, and by the time I can't see her no more, there ain't so very much human being left to her body. Just a whole lot o' big old snake, roilin' and coilin' an' new coils showin' up as I watch!
  What with Kathy thrashin' around like an oversized python, it ain't long before somethin' structural breaks, an' the passage we come in through collapses! That's what I do, too -- collapse -- soon's Miss Greene lets go o' me. Feels kinda dead, real bleak and empty, inside m' skull, and I don't rightly notice the passin' of time, nor most anything else, for a while.
  Somewhere 'long the way I comes t' my senses, and me an' Miss Greene are swimmin' together, don't rightly know where.
  You are feel better, yes?
  I frown. The only 'better' is that I ain't dead inside, and I ain't so sure that's an improvement -- What did you do to Kathy!?
  I? Nothing. Kathy do to self. Symbol of office bring body into alignment with soul.
  I think on that for a moment, then I 'says', You mean to tell me that that bitty piece o' jewelry changed her outsides to match what she's like inside?
  Yes. She promised to serve with heart and soul. As did I, and predecessors before me. I was protector, turn treasure-seekers away with kindness; she will be fierce guardian, use fear and death. With her as guardian, I am free to see what has changed since last I saw surface.

  Well, we keep swimmin' along, an' I think on the Kathy I growed up with. And I think about how the love of money got its claws into her, more an' more with each year that passed. And the more I think on it, the more I think that Miss Greene's got a point: Kathy cares more for gold than she ever did for people, so it's only fitting that she's got herself all the gold in the world, plus a body that they ain't nobody ever gonna get friendly with. I reckon it's justice, of a kind. An Old Testament kind, to be sure, but still justice. Even so...
  Miss Greene, I don't rightly 'magine that Kathy's enjoyin' herself at the moment.
  No. She is not. But she give her word.
  That she did. That, she most surely did.
  We can return if you wish, Serena.
  And the question is, do I really want to come back there? As God is my witness, I can't decide. An' then I realize that the lack of decision is my decision.
  No. Not right now. An' I expect you'll be wantin' a guide to the modern world, so... let's get outta here.
  As you wish.
  An' we keep right on swimmin' along, up to the surface, up to the sun and a new life.