Thursday morning Allen put on his striped skirt and a nice polo shirt for his trip to the aquarium in the morning. Seeing his choices, Katherine put on her matching skirt and a silky green blouse. Allen thought it was a little weird to be wearing similar clothes to his wife. Allen felt she filled out the skirt much better than he did. Katherine had the 10:00 AM feeding schedule on Thursdays, so they both changed and got into the water together. Allen started out with the monofin this time, and enjoyed spending an hour or so swimming and exercising with his wife. He felt a little less tired this time, so he stayed in the water while Katherine fed the fish. He swam through the tube to the aquarium with her and watched from the side as she did the feeding. When she was done, Fernando lifted them both out of the pool just in time to see Audra entering the room.
“Allen, I’ve looked over your resume and I think we would be willing to hire you. Are you interested in the job?”
“Yes, I think so. What about the salary?”
“We would pay you the same salary as your wife. That is our normal starting salary for new engineers.”
That meant the salary would also be very close to what he was getting at Orca. “That sounds reasonable. When would you want me to start?”
“Well, I know you are still recovering from your burns. Why don’t we give you a week or so to gain strength, and you can start on August 8th?”
“Thank you for this opportunity. I can hardly believe my good fortune.”
“Well, I like to think I am a good judge of character, and I believe that is one of the most important attributes in an employee. Your actions in saving us from those gang members and the way you have handled yourself since then are pretty good indications that I will be getting someone who will be an asset to my company.”
“Thanks again.” Allen said, blushing from the compliments.
“I believe Renna was going to drive you home. She’s going to measure you for your tail first, so dry off as well as you can and leave your swimsuit on for the measurements.”
Katherine had a second feeding time later in the day, so she left her tail on but replaced her swimsuit top with her blouse. Then she led the way to Renna’s office, with her using a wheelchair and Allen following on his crutches. When they arrived, Renna pulled up the order form on the computer and then got out her measuring tape.
“Wow. I expected to see scars from the burns.” She said. “But your legs are mostly just covered with new skin.”
Allen had avoided looking too closely at his legs before now, though Katherine had insisted they looked fine.
“Do you mind if I touch your legs?” Renna asked.
“No, go ahead. You’ll have a hard time measuring them without touching them.”
Before measuring though, Renna ran her hand up and down Allen’s shins, feeling the new skin there and in the space between his legs where they had grown together. The skin had not closed evenly between his legs, so it was thicker in some areas than others. The new skin had also grown back with very few hair follicles, so there were smooth and hairy patches on his legs.
“I’ve never seen the effects of healgel up close before.” Said Renna. “But I have a cousin who was badly burned a long time ago. Your legs look so much better than her arms. Anyway, let’s get to the measuring and then I can take you home.”
Renna measured around his legs in several places, filling in the form on her computer with the details. Then she showed Allen several pictures of the various colors and patterns available. He chose a mandarin fish design. It would have a green base color, with wavy orange stripes and blue at the tips of the fins. Once all the details had been entered and the order sent off, Renna took Allen back to his apartment. The next two days were Katherine’s days off work, though they both went to the mermaid pool each day so that Allen could do his exercises. Katherine spent the time with him, just enjoying the water like a normal person without a mermaid tail. On Monday, Allen invited Beth to come to the mermaid pool for his evaluation. He waited at the entrance so that she could get past the guards, then led her to the pool on his crutches. She watched him swim for a while, then did her tests.
“Well, you seem to be recovering quite well.” She said. “I don’t think you need my help any longer. It looks like your daily swimming sessions are working well to increase your strength and flexibility. As long as you keep eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, you should be in good shape.”
Beth said that she would communicate her findings to Dr. Hansen. Unless there were problems, Allen just needed to wait until his two months was up before scheduling the surgery to split his legs. So Allen kept up his exercising in the pool each day, spending some time practicing holding his breath so that he could be ready when his tail arrived. When August 8 rolled around, he wore his striped skirt and polo shirt and arrived ready for a full day of work. The mermaids and many of the guards were already used to seeing him travel through the halls on his crutches, but Audra met him at the door and introduced him to the rest of the office employees. Then she showed him to his office, which was just a few doors down from Katherine’s office along the perimeter of the large office workspace. He spent the rest of the morning doing paperwork and online training, then joined Katherine for lunch in the cafeteria at 11:30. After lunch, it was Katherine’s turn to feed the fish, so Allen joined her in the pool and did his exercising while she was in the aquarium. After she was done, Katherine kept her tail on since she would also be doing the 4:00 feeding. Allen changed back into his regular clothes and they both went back to their offices to work. Shortly thereafter, Audra showed up at Allen’s door.
“Would you like a tour of our new area?” She asked him.
“You bet I would. I’ve been very curious about it. And I am supposed to be helping with the design.”
“Follow me then, and I’ll show you what we’re building.”
She took him down to the lower level of the mermaid pool building. Since this consisted mostly of a dark hallway around the perimeter of the pool, with no access to the pool itself, Allen and the mermaids had seldom been down there. Audra walked to a door at the back of the building and unlocked it with her access card.
“This is the new Swim with Mermaids pool.” She told him as they passed through the door.
On the other side of the door was a large outdoor area, fenced off from prying eyes by tall chain link fences covered with tarps. The area was filled with a large, Amoeba-shaped pool. A few workmen worked in the dry pool, installing what appeared to be part of the filtration system. About half the pool was shallow, perhaps 2 or 3 feet deep, while the other half was much deeper. An island jutted up in the center of the pool where the shallow part met the deep part. It was decorated with artificial stone and live plants, with several flat areas where mermaids could sit. A wide set of shallow stairs would allow easy entry to the pool from the shallow end. A line of changing rooms were located on the far side of the pool.
“It looks like you are almost done.” Allen said.
“Yes, we should be ready to start in a couple of weeks.” Audra replied. “I plan to have a meeting with all the mermaids this afternoon. – But I guess I need to say mer-people now that you will be joining them. We will need to work out a new schedule that includes time in the new area.”
“How will we get from the locker rooms out to this pool?”
“That’s where you come in. I hired an outside firm to do the design work for me, but they can’t seem to understand the unique needs of our mermaids. I wanted a way to swim between all the pools, but their solutions all involve walking.”
“Do you have anything in particular in mind?”
“Yes. First, notice the construction behind the pool? That’s the dolphin arena. Now come with me inside the mermaid living quarters.”
Audra led him to another large building to their left. He had assumed it was part of the healgel factory, but apparently it was not. They entered a cavernous space the size of a large airplane hanger. Another pool was under construction in one corner of the space, but it was less complete. Beyond the pool was a large machine with a 10 foot diameter tube of acrylic protruding from one end. Audra led him over to the machine.
“This is the machine we used to extrude the tubes for the aquarium. My plan is to connect all of the pools with these tubes. But the water levels are not the same in all of the pools, so I need you to help figure out how to make the transition from one pool to the other. The pool in front of you will be part of the living space for the mermaids. It will connect back to the mermaid pool by the aquarium as well as over to the swim with mermaids pool. I think we will need a few more pools that could be connected to this one as well – some bathroom facilities, a place to eat, bedrooms, etc. I want you to help figure out what we need, and then we can call in the architects to flesh out some of the details.”
“Wow! You certainly have some big plans. It should be interesting to work on.”
“I’ll give you the existing plans to work from. I do want it all to fit within this building, if possible.”
“I’ll start working on it right away.”
They returned to the offices, and Audra sent Allen a link to a directory that had all of the electronic drawings and models of the expansion. He worked on the design, reviewing all the existing plans and making notes about what he thought needed to be added. At 3:00, he went out into the central area for a meeting with Audra and the other mermaids. Lacy had even come in on her day off to be present at the meeting. Audra showed them all a picture of the new pool on the wall screen, and explained that she wanted to open the swim with mermaids event on August 19th. In addition to Allen and Katherine, Lacy was also aware of the new pool, as she had been working to developing marketing materials for the opening. Renna and Maria were getting the information for the first time, though they had been aware that an expansion was in the works. Audra’s plan involved having two mermaids in the new pool from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Customers would pay an extra fee to come swim in the pool with them, and those customers who wanted it would be provided with mermaid tails made of swimsuit fabric. Three other aquarium employees would be present at the pool, acting as lifeguards and helpers for the customers.
“This is going to really mess with our schedule.” Maria said.
“Yes, I know. Please make up a new one that includes time in the swim with mermaids pool. Allen’s tail should be arriving at the end of this week, so you can include him in the schedule starting on the 14th. Since the weekends will require more people, I think each of you should only get one of those three weekend days off work. Work with Maria to come up with a schedule everyone can live with.”
“We’re going to be spending so much time as mermaids that it will be hard to get our other work done.” Renna said.
“I plan to eventually hire one or two more mermaids.” Answered Audra. “But the addition of Allen should help in the meantime.”
Once Audra was done speaking, the rest of them went to Maria’s office and huddled around to help her figure out a schedule. Allen and Katherine chose Sunday and Monday as their off days. Renna chose Wednesday and Thursday, Lacy picked Thursday and Friday, and Maria split her off days, taking Tuesday and Saturday. Once they had the off days selected, Maria worked to spread out the work evenly among all of the mer-people. The hours didn’t quite split evenly, so Maria gave Renna 12 hours instead of 13, since she had chosen to work all three of the weekend days. Once their future schedule was decided, they all went back to their individual activities for the rest of the day.
Allen spent the next several days working on the expansion plans. It seemed to him that the person who had worked on in previously had still been thinking like a land-bound person. Allen’s time in the pool and on crutches or in a wheelchair predisposed him to find solutions that would allow someone to stay in the water and swim from one pool to another. Based on the tube from the mermaid pool to the aquarium, Allen used the extruded Acrylic tubes as connectors from one pool to another. The most difficult parts of the design was the change in water level between the mermaid living area and the swim with mermaids pool. Allen struggled with that problem until he asked the extruder manufacturer if the extruder could make a curved tube. Although it had not yet been tried, the engineers at the manufacturer worked out a modification that would allow the machine to make the tubes curved. That let Allen design two connections to the swim with mermaids pool. One was essentially a water slide for going from the mermaid living area to the pool. The other was a tube with a lock built into it that would allow a mermaid to swim into the lock, adjust the water level, and then swim back up a curved tube into the living area.
When Allen was done, he took his plans to Audra and explained his design.
“Instead of wheelchair ramps and sidewalks between the pools, I used tunnels connecting each pool so that we could swim anywhere in the complex without leaving the water.” He explained.
“Oh, I like this.” Said Audra. “Why is this main pool called the greenhouse?”
“I figured if the mermaids would be spending a lot of their time in this living area, they would want someplace a little bit green and wild. I envision putting lots of skylights above this pool and growing seaweed and water plants in it. So it will be a kind of underwater garden.”
“Very nice. I like that idea. I don’t see any detail on what happens between or around the pools though.”
“I imagine there will need to be some infrastructure there for maintenance and such. But I thought I would concentrate on the living space for the mermaids first.”
“And what about these sleeping pools?” Audra asked. “Do you envision sleeping in the water somehow?”
“We may have to experiment a little.” Allen answered. “I think you could float an air mattress on the water or maybe rig up a hammock, but you would need some way to make sure we couldn’t roll over in the night and end up trying to breathe water.”
“Why do you have three different depths for the three main pools?”
“I tried to adapt the depth to the purpose of the pool. The cafeteria is the shallowest, because we will mostly be sitting and eating in that room. So it is deep enough to swim easily, but no deeper. The tops of the tables will be just above the water so we can have dry food. The recreation and study pool is deeper for more flexibility in playing games or practicing, and the greenhouse needs to be even deeper for the needs of the various underwater plants we want to grow there.”
“That makes sense. What are these chairs along the wall of the recreation pool?”
“Well, I imagine the mermaids will want to be able to watch TV or use a computer, so I planned for some kind of touch-screen combination computer/TV to be installed in the walls. The chairs are for the mermaids to sit in while they watch TV or use the computer. That’s why there is a couch on one end. I figure that end can have a larger TV screen for watching movies or shows as a couple or a group.”
Audra and Allen discussed the design for several hours, with Allen taking notes on the decisions they reached. The pools in the living areas would not have any floors around the perimeter like a normal pool. Instead, the walls would simply go straight up to the ceiling. Anyone wanting to be in those rooms would have to be in the water. There were also no doors for land-bound people to enter the pools—they would only be accessible to someone swimming through the tubes. Audra insisted on this design for privacy. She felt if this was going to be a living space for the mermaids, they wouldn’t want to have a separate land area in it where the mermaids couldn’t comfortably go. Behind the walls around the pools would be rooms for the filtration equipment, a kitchen for the cafeteria, and access areas for maintenance, but all of those areas would be accessed through separate doors not connected to the pools. Audra was very pleased with Allen’s plans, and she asked him to make the changes they had spoken about and then send them to her so that they could forward them on to a new architect and the construction company.
“I want to get the greenhouse pool and the connections to the practice pool and the swim with mermaids pool done as quickly as possible.” She explained. “That will make it convenient for you to move around in all the areas where you will be working.”