The Birth of Legends [Worldbuilding]
[This isn't actually its own story - it's backstory and other world details for the World of Hybrids series, because I got carried away writing about it. Make sure you read the stories before reading each corresponding section.]
Part 1: After The Stuff of Legends (WARNING: The Hugest)
Irma was born in the ocean to a mermaid and a merman. (Hatched, if you must know...) She always wondered about the land, but her parents told her it wasn't worth it, and she became more or less resigned to her fate. She eventually became a teacher, but began to feel bad about keeping her students in the dark with regard to the land; she didn't feel she could be a very good teacher not knowing such a large part of their world.
She's very embarrassed to admit it, but Irma tried flopping around to explore the land for a while, to little avail. Harmony found her doing this one day, and though Irma fled in embarrassment that first time, they soon got to know each other very well. Harmony got Irma a wheelchair, which was good for general purposes - but of course, what she really loved was having Harmony carry her through the air. And Har loved Irma's smarts and her stories from undersea, since she'd never be able to go there herself.
They eventually decided they didn't want to leave each other, and Irma came to live with Har in the mountains. Irma decided she would quit teaching in the ocean until she'd learned enough about the land - realistically, though, she'll probably never go back, except possibly if Harmony dies before her. (Hybrids usually have the same kind of lifespans as anyone else, and Har is only a few years older than Irma, so who knows.)
Back to Harmony's past: Like Melissa, she was born to non-hybrid parents and abandoned, but was left in an orphanage. She was soon picked up by Nina, an old lamia who always wanted a child, but was never trusted with them because lamias were said to eat children; Har was probably only handed over because she was a serious troublemaker and they wanted her gone. Harmony was happy with her mother, though became very self-sufficient due to Nina's age and general lack of mobility.
When Nina died, Har didn't want to stay, so she went up to the mountains and built a house. She still came down (and still does come down) every once in a while to meet old friends or get food and supplies, which led to her meeting Irma. She sometimes feels like she has a similar relationship with Irma as she did with Nina, but feels bad for thinking so, what with Irma being younger than Har.
The day they found Melissa, Harmony was taking Irma for a swim in the ocean; Irma gets a bit homesick at times, whereas Har considers the world her home. (The surface of it, at least - if she could somehow go underwater, she'd probably start to miss the surface.) Har found Melissa floating near the shore and thought she was dead; actually, she was letting her snakes drink, which kept her hydrated without having to directly drink the ocean water. Har called Irma over, Melissa woke up, she told them "Medusa" - and the rest is in TSoL. The two had entertained the idea of adoption before, but they didn't seriously decide anything until that day.
Prior to their daughter's interest in living with non-hybrids, Irma and Harmony were content living in isolation. Irma lived much of her life in the ocean, so she feels awkward with just about any surface-dwellers besides her family. Harmony lived with people of all kinds and learned to be initially distrusting of anyone she met, so naturally she chose isolation after Nina died. Irma took down Har's defenses rather quickly, but there was still a period where she was reluctant to get attached to her.
Irma and Harmony both like to be fashionable, and are frankly appalled their kind are never shown wearing anything decent in legends; Har in particular has been known to yell "Put some clothes on!" whenever she sees harpies on TV. Ocean fashion is quite distinct from surface fashion, so Harmony had to teach Irma a lot - something she quite enjoys having the opportunity to do, as Irma otherwise seems to know so much more about everything. Irma wears surface clothes most of the time as, well, they work better out of water. She rarely decorates her tail at all (despite that being common practice in the ocean), and at times wears long dresses that mostly cover it. Har doesn't think she should hide her tail like that, but Irma insists that's not her intention.
Harmony and Irma have some differing views on what the legends really signify. Irma believes that Medusa, for example, existed in nearly the exact way she is described - but the fact that she was a monster shouldn't be held against everyone of her kind. Harmony, though, feels that there are two likely possibilities: One, "Medusa" didn't exist, but was made up to demonize snake-haired people as a whole. Two, she did exist, and was demonized by some group that hated her - maybe not even a large one - and their hate managed to survive long after both she and they were dead. (You can tell Har was influenced by the situation of her mother Nina, who was discriminated against with no basis beyond the legends.) Either way, the existence of the legend indicates that people resembling Medusa were around back then - that, they can firmly agree on. Melissa seems to lean more toward Irma's side, but she may change her mind someday.
Ricky sort of just fades out of the picture soon after TSoL, and Melissa is perfectly glad about that outcome. She wanted him to realize hybrids weren't something to make a big deal of, just to respect as people - and while he's no longer especially interested in Melissa, the fact he leaves her alone now shows that he's learned. That's what she hopes, at least.
Not long after TSoL, some more coaxing from Melissa leads to Harmony - with considerable technical help from Irma - setting up wireless internet at home. It's basically a necessity for Melissa to keep in touch with her school friends, and it helps the whole family get a better idea of how things are going for their kind all over the world - they feel bad about not setting it up sooner, really. Harmony is impressively dexterous with most things considering she has to use wings, but keyboards are a different story. Irma and Melissa, of course, are master typists... although the latter can cheat a bit.
The global community, having been unable to really come together for a long time, has yet to agree on a lot of exact terminology. Most of them just say "hybrid" and "non-hybrid" since it's most easily understood, but some feel there should be a shift away from that, as it implies the majority is "pure" and they aren't. Others argue that the terms are fine, and people should just accept that everything is a mix, so "purity" is an arbitrary concept that shouldn't be idolized. Many hybrids recognize that humans are inherently not so different from other animals - and indeed, the phenomenon affects all animals, though hybrids without any human element are even less studied. (It can be... a bit of a classification nightmare at times, admittedly.)
There remains no explanation for why the phenomenon happens, and not many hybrids believe there really needs to be. Of course, worried couples want to know how they can "keep it from happening to them," and unless some solid answers come up, those people will always provide a market for savvy businesspeople to make up bogus tips for "hybrid-birth prevention."
magnificentblue asked: Does Irma's tail dry out or anything? Is keeping hydrated a concern or not?
It might dry out and get uncomfortable if you set out to make it do so, but they've never really cared to try. It'd take days so long as she was drinking a normal amount of water. Bathing takes care of the rest - and she likes a big bath, so she uses a pond outside the house.
magnificentblue asked: what's ocean fashion like?
Different materials are used due to availability and their behavior in water. And trends developed separately from the surface, plus they suit different features. Many outfits revolve around incorporation of the tail - that's half a merperson's body, so it's not like you're going to leave it totally uncovered, unless you've got one really pretty (or blinged-out) tail. Irma likes the novelty of surface clothing and finds the styles more interesting, on top of the other reasons for wearing it. Oh yeah, and Harmony can wear most usual clothes, but sleeves are no good.
magnificentblue asked: Wouldn't they just call non-human hybrids "chimeras"? That'd be a pretty easy blanket term.
Well, most people will think of the lion-snake-goat Chimeras, so that could be confusing. (Also, see the other connotations of "chimera" below.) But what I meant by "classification nightmare" is scientific classification - what do you call a mix of Mustela putorius furo and Sciurus carolinensis, and how can you tell that's exactly what it is? But it's so far out of public interest that it's not presently a major concern.
magnificentblue asked: This is a little goofier, but does Har molt, or Melissa's hair shed skin? I guess that qualifies as MORBID CURIOSITY.
Har's wings are much like bird wings, so they molt - that's just the way bird wings work. Irma sweeps up the feathers without too much wisecracking. Melissa's hair isn't just "some snakes," though - they have quite a few weird properties, like how she "thinks" they grow back. (This certainly doesn't help the assumption that they're going to be more deadly than normal snakes.) As far as anyone knows, they don't shed, which might be owed to her washing them. But if Melissa wanted her hair to grow longer and thicker, she might be able to make them shed - seems like more trouble than it's worth, though.
The most common slur against hybrids as a whole is "chimey" - that one's been around for a while, which is largely why they're hesitant to use "chimera" to refer to their kind, human element or not. However, generally insults tend to be more focused on the specific hybrid, typically associating them with the animal they're mixed with and implying a lack of humanity in that way. Har got a lot along the lines of "birdbrain" and "worm-eater," and as mentioned, she considers "harpy" to be quite insulting. Irma avoided discrimination for the most part (though was told of Har's experience), but her kind have the derogatory name "Chips" (as in "fish and"). I'd go on, but I don't want to sound like I'm chimeracist.
While there don't seem to be any observable limits to what kinds of hybrids might be born, the distribution seems quite skewed to certain types, so certain hybrids like mermaids and harpies have much larger groups. Religious types consider this a compelling argument for a higher power, though unfortunately, there's no small number of them which view hybrid birth as punishment from their god(s). (For instance, some Jews and Christians believe that while Adam and Eve were 100% human and initially given "mastery" over animals, that was revoked when they sinned. This isn't explicitly mentioned in Genesis, but the people who think that suppose that nobody even wanted to acknowledge hybrids.) The distribution may be mostly a kind of survival of the fittest, though, as children generally have a mix of their parents' characteristics. But like the chance of a hybrid being born to non-hybrid parents, there's a chance a child of hybrids will be a non-hybrid.
Scientists don't know exactly why these deviations happen, which some theists will harp on, but there have been theories about as-of-yet-unpredictable mutations changing the resulting offspring. (Trust me, genes are pretty different in their world. Not like they'd ever know that.) And a good deal is understood about development after the point where these mutations are believed to occur. Or at least, for the standard human reproductive system - mermaids have a very different one where offspring hatch from eggs, for example. Studying how different reproductive systems interact - in the event that they can at all - is a difficult prospect and not as thoroughly studied.
The study is a huge place, open air, and thus Harmony's favorite part of the house. Irma brought a lot of books (water-resistant, of course) with her from home, so the whole bottom level is filled with bookshelves. There are a bunch of small cliffs jutting out up above (where Har might perch if she's feeling moody, or where the family might have a meal if it's a nice day and Har feels like carrying everyone and everything up), with the "top shelf" being way up on the highest one. Since most of the books are water-resistant, rain isn't a major problem, but those that aren't have to be kept under a cliff where they won't get wet.
Harmony and Irma prefer to let Melissa pretty much run free and figure things out for herself. Predictably, Irma did most of the early teaching to get her reading and speaking proficiently, and then she could read what she wanted from the study. Nina raised Har in a rather hands-off way as well, and Irma doesn't think it's right for parents to force anything on their children, given how she was told she should never leave the ocean. Still, they're very affectionate and look out for Melissa all the time - they even let her play in the mountains, but obviously need to keep a careful eye on her.
Harmony's arms are more or less just wings. But there are hand-like bits at the ends, albeit without well-defined fingers, so she can grab or punch things with those. She has human feet (other bird hybrids may have talons), but is skilled at wrapping her feet and/or legs around things to carry them (like Melissa coming home from school). She has impressive arm strength and is fairly light, but it's not out of the question that some kind of magic (like that surrounding Melissa's hair) is involved in allowing her to fly as well as she does, especially when carrying a load. Maybe her motherly love just gives her superhuman strength (and grip!).
Irma's physiology is a little boring in comparison. Out of water, she's basically a regular old human, only with a tail for a lower body. She can move around pretty well with her arms and some flopping when she's not in her wheelchair, though she always feels a bit embarrassed doing it. Any water her body absorbs can have the oxygen extracted from it if needed, keeping her oxygenated underwater.
Irma's greatest secret is that she's really, really scared of deep-sea creatures. I mean, who isn't. But around Har (who finds most sea life pretty gross - no offense, Irma), she pretends it's no big deal since she's lived her whole life in the ocean, and it's for that reason that she's ashamed to admit the truth. She does like to know everything about things, after all, so she hopes that maybe some day there'll be deep-sea hybrids who can help make things a little less unknown. ...Even if that's simultaneously her nightmare.
On the subject of Irma and animals, she has a pretty poor grasp on most non-aquatic ones, though she's always trying to learn. As such, when teaching Melissa, Harmony has to take over and teach the both of them. Even if her knowledge isn't the greatest or most comprehensive, it still impresses Irma; Har won't let her live down the time she was awed by "the cat goes meow, the dog goes woof..."
Irma has a complicated relationship with Disney's The Little Mermaid, which ends up being a kind of ironic love for it. She appreciates the original story as a relatively accurate description (with numerous metaphors at work) of the hardships for a mermaid who wants to live on the land; Irma knows how lucky she is to have someone like Harmony. It's far from perfect, but not bad for its time. Disney's version utterly convolutes the plot with unnecessary characters and changes the message entirely: it's a happy ending when Ariel becomes a human. So for all intents and purposes, she should hate it, as most merpeople do. But one fateful night, she watched it with Har, and their commentary made it into a story about a ditzy mermaid who gave up her voice for legs of all things and whose dad has just been waiting for an excuse to be rid of her. She now considers it something fun to laugh at, rather than something to watch the "intended" way.
Part 2: After Ideal With It
Harmony is bisexual as hell... though you wouldn't see much evidence of that anymore, since she's now rather reclusive and very happy with Irma. Before that, though (particularly while living with Nina), she hit it off with all kinds of people, ending up as "just friends" with the majority. Irma is a lesbian. While living underwater, she never showed much interest in anyone, especially men, so she (and most everyone around her) quickly assumed she just wasn't one for relationships. Things got much clearer for her after meeting Har.
Melissa and Luna are still pretty young, but they're helping each other start to learn some things about themselves. Melissa is definitely a little... oblivious, being that she's been been sheltered and raised by Harmony and Irma for most of her life - but a lot of what may appear to be obliviousness is just her being aromantic, and thus uninterested. On the other hand, while Luna is still trying to determine her sexuality somewhat, the one thing she knows for sure is she wants a romantic partner. She came to put her hopes in Melissa, though found her suspicions about lacking an interest in romance confirmed. However, they still have a strong friendship built on mutual understanding: Melissa accepts that Luna occasionally wants to cuddle and do lovey-dovey things and grants her that, while Luna recognizes that Melissa will rarely reciprocate because it's not her thing. Whether or not Luna feels the need to look for someone else in addition to Melissa is yet to be seen.
Luna hated her horn for most of her life, as it represented the expectations people had of her and made her a clear "other." Since the narwhal revelation, however, she's been learning to be a bit more proud of it. (Melissa thinks it looks great on her, so that's part of the reason.) But of course, it's not easy trying to put all that hatred she directed at her horn in the past, and she's still seen the exact same way by almost everyone regardless of what she calls herself. But at least she doesn't feel like ripping it out anymore.
Part 3: After A Little Harmony
Tails are basically the most commonly-developed hybrid part, a statistic which is thought to have some relation to the human tailbone. Since tails are so common, there's relatively little discrimination against people just because they have a tail. And I mean, come on, they're cute. Most of the relevant articles of clothing these days have flaps to accomodate the wearer having a tail or not. Certain types of tails (Robin's) can be more bothersome than others (and/or too big for those flaps), and things like snake or mermaid "tails" are an entirely different matter, since they're lower body replacements rather than something sticking out of your lower back.
Speaking of tails that get in the way, Robin usually wears a long skirt with a slit in the back for his tail to fit through. He can't really say how much he likes or dislikes it as he doesn't have much of an alternative (pants are arguably doable, though uncomfortable), but people thankfully pick up on the necessity pretty quickly and don't question it. Nina typically only wears skirts/dresses for formal occasions or when she doesn't expect she'll have to move a lot, as those easily get messed up when she does. (Her main two modes of movement are slowly bunching her tail up and pushing forward, or rapidly oscillating and whipping it left and right. I think we all know which she likes better.)
Candice has a dog tail and not much else, though one could argue she has puppy-dog eyes. Also, she likes to wear earmuffs that resemble dog ears to complete the look. Yeah, they sell those.
I sorta wanted to leave some of the details about Harmony's birth ambiguous, but oh well, I'll clear it up. First of all, Robin ended up handling things because it was found during pregnancy that the child would be a bird hybrid. He hid it from the couple for a while, but seeing Nina's views on the matter eventually convinced him to break the news, and do what he could to ensure they wouldn't give up on the baby just because "he" was a hybrid.
However, Harmony being a trans girl was outside of their expectations, and is the primary reason she was abandoned by her parents around the age of ten. Harmony was totally ostracized at the orphanage, considered a boy by most and a "they" by Candice until Nina visited. Candice always had good intentions, of course, but just didn't know what was proper.
Part 4: After Out of My League
The general public uses the term "merperson" (or maid, or man, or etc.) to refer to the "standard" idea of one, the same one that exists in our world: top half pure human, lower half generic fish tail. (And equipped to live underwater, naturally.) Those who have more distinctive tails from other sea creatures may or may not be considered or consider themselves merpeople, and even moreso when they have unique features beyond a tail. But many sea dwellers argue that since the "mer" in the word just means "sea," it should encompass any sea creature hybrid, and that it's a kind of erasure to focus on the one type of merperson everyone is familiar with. So... when I say "merperson," that's usually my intended meaning, essentially equivalent to "sea dweller." (I mean, unless there are non-aquatic-hybrids living underwater somehow...?)
The very first merpeople were ill-equipped to live underwater like they do now, as they only possessed some of the characteristics for it. Most commonly, this meant having a fish tail (thus not being suited to live on land) but not being able to breathe in water (thus not being suited to live underwater, either). So they usually lived above ground but near water, and their descendants eventually acquired traits that let them go undersea.
Many of the first underwater cities were not far from the shores of land population centers, since merpeople were cast out of those places. (When merpeople were born in landlocked places, uh... they just had to make do. I wouldn't say cities in lakes are exactly common, though.) This history obviously meant that these cities initially distrusted and stayed isolated from the land, but the proximity also means that they can keep up to date on things if they wish, which often leads to changing attitudes about the land, especially after generations have passed.
At first, the cities rarely connected with one another. Some of the big ones coordinated a mail system using trained dolphins, but no one expended the effort to build any physical infrastructure. That changed when a certain radical and megalomaniacal mermaid attempted to unite many of the ocean communities to conquer the land. This attempt failed, naturally, and she is generally reviled for her actions. But the communications infrastructure she built remained, and continued to be developed. Improvements came along at roughly the same time breakthroughs were made on land, usually because, well, they were cribbing from the land dwellers. Ocean communications remained self-contained and separate from the systems on land.
Sea dwellers who work in scientific and technical fields have always tried to keep up to date with discoveries being made on land, always making sure their society isn't falling behind. They're often perceived as being copycats who are forever a step behind, and there is some truth to it. But let's be real, some things take real ingenuity to get working the same way underwater. Mer-scientists do plenty of their own ocean-oriented research as well, of course. They used to keep their findings to themselves, but these days they share it openly with land scientists in the interest of, well, science. Regardless, it created a stereotype of merpeople as cagey know-it-alls.
When the internet started getting big, not only did sea dwellers develop similar technology for the ocean, they figured out ways to steal internet from the land and access their network. Eventually the authorities took notice, and shortly afterward the land network began to officially expand into the ocean, starting with the cities which were on good terms with land dwellers. This expansion was slow, as some were stubborn and saw no point in connecting with the land. But by the time of the most recent stories, most ocean cities are connected.
Irma's city was a slightly further-out one, created by outcasts from offshore cities who came together. (There are a bunch of these scattered throughout the ocean.) At the time of OoML, the offshore cities were still making the decision to accept land internet, so it hadn't gotten to Irma's yet. Just a year or so after Irma left, though, they did accept it, and the residents became more knowledgeable about what was happening on land. Of course, Har and Irma didn't feel it was worth it to get internet up in the mountains (poor Lucy) until Melissa expressed an interest, so for a long time, Irma's communication with her hometown was limited to letters and the occasional visit when she got really homesick.
The most common "vehicle" used by sea dwellers is the seajet, which is... basically just an engine with handles that propels the "driver" forward. You can brake by pushing the handles inward, but there's not much in the way of speed control in the middle of a trip (though the default speed can be configured). Since it's basically just swimming but faster and less tiring, even children can use them once they've gotten good enough at that. Nets are usually employed to bring passengers and/or luggage along. (It may seem in poor taste with the former, but whatever works.) There are also seajets that have actual handles for passengers to hold (like, handles at the front for the driver, it connects to a "roof," and then additional handles in the back come down from the roof), but they're not very common. However, models with just two sets of handles (either side by side, or like a tandem bike with most of the bike missing) are fairly popular with couples. There are "roads" of a sort, but they're really just a bunch of glowing markers with signs telling you where they lead.
Irma and Lucy did have a father, but he disappeared for unknown reasons when they were young. Later on, about a year or two before OoML, their mother started going out a lot and not coming back for days at a time, and the sisters quickly discovered that she was mostly going to the land to get drunk - alcohol isn't really a thing underwater, you see. Though Irma was always wary not to not end up like her, Lucy was incredibly worried that Irma would end up like her; said worries deepened when she began to suspect Irma was going to the land without giving a clear reason as to why. Her attitude toward Irma was mostly intended to keep her in line and avoid such a fate, but she usually came off seeming like a total jerk. At first she hoped Irma had gotten a boyfriend, was going on dates with him, and was just too shy to admit it, but Irma's dodging the question left her little choice but to conclude she was in danger of going down their mother's path. Fortunately, Lucy eventually got the full story, and found she was understanding of Irma's situation after all.