When Allen and Katherine showed up for work on Tuesday, October 4, Paul, who had been the guard at the desk for some time, shook their hands and told them goodbye.
“You’re leaving? Why?” Katherine asked.
“Our security company was bought out by a big conglomerate called Crown Holdings, and they are moving me to another job across town.”
“That’s too bad.” Allen said.
“It’s been good working with you two.” Paul continued. “I just wanted to wish you good luck.”
“We hope everything turns out well for you also.” Katherine said.
They continued to their offices, and once Allen had settled in, Audra came to see him, followed by a woman wearing a short pleated skirt with torn leggings. Her hair was shaved on one side of her head, and dyed pink and long on the other half.
“Allen, I’d like to introduce you to Cammy Green. She’s one of the artists who makes the mermaid tails for us.” Said Audra.
“Nice to meet you, Cammy.” Said Allen, shaking her hand.
“Good to meet you too.” Cammy replied. “I’m looking forward to this transformation.”
Audra led them both down into the basement, where an unused room had been set aside for the process. They made sure that Allen stopped in the bathroom first. The room was mostly bare except for a padded examination table like you would find in a doctor’s office and several bins and cans stacked neatly to one side. Audra opened one of the bins and took out a large absorbent pad. She placed it on the table near the middle and then handed another one to Allen.
“Take your clothes off and lay on the table.” She told him. “Then cover your front with this pad. Cammy and I will wait outside until you are done.”
Allen took off his clothes and laid down on the table. The room felt a little cool without his clothes on. Once he was in place with the pad on top of him, he called for the two women to enter. When they came in, they were both wearing medical scrubs and latex gloves. Audra used some medical tape to attach the top edge of the pad to Allen’s stomach. Then she pulled a strap out of the side of the table and fastened it across the middle of the pad.
“This should hold the pad in place for now.” She said. “Now lift your feet up a little.”
Allen lifted his feet up and Audra smeared them with a generous coating of gel.
“This is the new adhesive gel that Katherine has been helping us develop.” She said. “This will be one of our first big tests of its properties.”
Cammy pulled out a large tail fin and slipped it onto his feet. It was painted to match the tail he usually wore, but this one ended at his ankles. Allen wiggled his toes and felt the adhesive fill the gaps between his feet and the tail fin material. Audra slipped a basketball-sized pillow under Allen’s heels, so that his legs were held up off of the table. Then Audra smeared more of the adhesive gel all over his legs up to the tops of his thighs.
“You should have had Katherine come in and do that.” Allen commented.
“Be good.” Audra said. “We might have her come in and help with some of the more delicate parts later.”
Once Allen’s legs were thoroughly coated, Audra and Cammy took out a sheet of silicone material that had already been cut in a trapezoidal shape. They wrapped it around his legs and the two edges of the sheet butted neatly together along the side of his leg. Audra held the two edges of the sheet together while Cammy used duct tape to hold them in place. She placed long strips of the tape next to each other across the seam all the way up the side of his leg, until the silicone sheet was completely sealed around his legs with the seam held tightly together.
“Now we have to wait twenty minutes while the adhesive sets.” Audra said. “We need you to keep your legs still during that time. The rest of this process will be handled by Cammy, but I’ll check in on you from time to time, and Katherine will probably come down to see you when she can.”
Audra left, and Cammy asked. “Is there anything I can do for you while you wait? Would you like a drink?”
“No thanks, I’m not thirsty yet. So were you the one who made my original tail?”
“Yes. Do you like it?”
“Yes, it looks very nice, and it fits well.”
“So I heard your legs are stuck together because they were burned. Would you mind telling me the story of how that happened? Or is it too personal? I’ll shut up if you want me to.”
“No, I don’t mind. I’ll tell you how it all happened.”
So Allen spent most of the next 20 minutes telling Cammy about the accident with the sub and how he was held captive afterward. Cammy’s phone beeped just as he was finishing.
“That means the glue should be dry.” Cammy said. “Let me just check and make sure.”
She peeled off some of the duct tape over the seam near his ankles and poked at it with her finger. She seemed satisfied with the result, because she started removing the rest of the tape. One the tape was all gone, she took the pillow out from under his feet.
“Now for this next part, I’m going to strap your legs down, because I need them to be as still as possible, OK?”
Cammy pulled several more straps out of the side of the bed, and fastened them across Allen’s legs just below his knees, above the knees, and then across his torso as well.
“This way you won’t roll your body and inadvertently move your legs.” She said.
It was now much harder to see what Cammy was doing, but by craning his neck a bit, Allen could get the general idea. Cammy was taking the gel and applying it over top of the silicone, then attaching rows of scales around Allen’s legs. She couldn’t reach the back side, so Allen assumed that would be done later. Each row of scales overlapped the one below it, like the shingles on a roof. Or like the scales on a fish, now that Allen thought of it. Most of the scales were green, though they were of varying shades. Some of them were orange or had orange parts on them. As Cammy worked up his legs, Allen realized that she was duplicating the mandarin fish design that he had on his old tail. Audra came to check on the progress once or twice, but Katherine didn’t show up until Cammy was nearly to the tops of his thighs. She rolled through the door in her wheelchair with her tail on after doing the 10:00 feeding.
“Wow! That looks really good.” She said.
“Hi honey. Have you met Cammy?” Allen asked.
“No I haven’t.”
“Cammy, this is my wife Katherine. Katherine, this is Cammy. She’s one of the artists who make our tails.”
Cammy was already looking at Katherine’s tail.
“Hi Katherine. I don’t remember doing your tail. That must have been Linda’s work. Is it holding up well for you?”
“Oh, yes. It has been very durable. Audra said you were probably getting to a part where I might want to help.”
“Isn’t it my turn to feed the fish?” Allen asked.
“Yes, but Renna is taking your place today. Audra said you wouldn’t be ready in time.”
“He’s not quite half way done.” Said Cammy.
“So what do you need me for?”
“Well, it’s time to do the scales around his private area. Audra thought it might be more comfortable for Allen if you helped with this part.”
“Before we start, I’m beginning to get thirsty now.” Allen said.
“Of course.” Said Cammy. “Do you want water or something else?”
“Water will be fine.”
Cammy left the room for a minute and came back with a bottle of water from the cafeteria. She poured it into a sports drink bottle with a straw and handed it to Allen. He sucked at the straw until his thirst was quenched, then handed back the bottle.
“So are you ready now?”
“Well, there is one other thing.”
“I really need to go to the bathroom as well.”
“We can’t have you moving around just yet. The glue is still drying. That’s why Audra got these pads. Would you be more comfortable if we left the room for a minute?”
The two women left the room and Allen bunched the absorbent pad between his legs to catch the urine. A few minutes later Katherine poked her head in the room.
“Are you done?”
“I’ll help you clean up.”
Katherine came in and undid the strap across the pad, then peeled up the tape holding it to his belly. The pad had done a pretty good job of catching all the urine, but there were a few drops on his legs. She cleaned him up with a baby wipe, and then got a new pad and taped it in place again. She didn’t put the strap across again because Cammy had told her to leave it off. Once Allen was covered again, and after they had shared a long kiss, Katherine went out and told Cammy they were ready.
Cammy and Katherine continued to apply more scales, now gluing them directly to Allen’s skin. Because the scales overlapped, the seam between the silicone tube around his legs and his own skin was hidden. They applied the scales up and around the inside of Allen’s thighs, with Cammy letting Katherine handle the ones closest to Allen’s private parts. Allen held the pad in place and pushed it from side to side to allow access to the places where they were working. Once the scales were completely covering his legs, Cammy went to one of the bins and pulled out a semicircular flap of silicone with overlapping scales on one side.
“This is for covering your groin area.” She said. “It has a set of hooks along the bottom edge to help hold it down when you are swimming. But now you’re going to have to remove the pad so we can attach it.”
First Cammy measured carefully where the flap would be placed on his abdomen and made a few marks with a grease pencil. Then she turned her head to the side while Katherine removed the pad and slathered the adhesive gel onto Allen under the marks. Katherine put the flap in place and then Cammy turned her head and they both worked to seat the flap into the right location. Then Cammy continued adding rows of scales overlapping the top edge of the flap and continuing up his belly to just below his belly button. The last two rows of scales were a little smaller and tapered so that they looked like they naturally stopped at the belly button level. When they were done, it was well past lunch time, so Cammy and Katherine went to the cafeteria while Allen waited for adhesive to cure. Katherine brought back a sandwich for Allen to eat, and he drank some more water as well. Then it was time for Katherine to return to work and for Cammy to start working on the back of Allen’s legs. Cammy released the straps holding him down and had Allen roll over. She taped another pad over his bottom and then strapped him down again.
It took another three hours or so for Cammy to glue all the scales onto the back of Allen’s legs. She put another flap in place over his bottom and finished putting scales on to match the level of the ones in front. Katherine finished out her work day and came down to help with the last half hour or so of the whole process. She stayed in the room and chatted with Allen and Katherine while they waited for the last of the adhesive to dry. When the time was up, Katherine brought a wheelchair for Allen to ride in and Cammy undid the straps.
“Can I move around normally now?” Allen asked.
“Oh, yes.” Katherine answered. “The adhesive gel is very strong and durable once cured. Without the solvent, it won’t come off without tearing your skin.”
They rode the elevator up to the first floor and escorted Cammy out to the lobby. Audra was waiting there, chatting with the new lobby guard at the desk. When she saw Allen, she immediately came to look at his new tail.
“Cammy, that tail looks fantastic!”
“Thank you. It will probably go a little faster the next time, but the process for building it seems to work well.”
“Now I understand why you need the mermaid living quarters.” Allen said. “There is no way we could do that every day.”
Allen’s tail did look much more lifelike and realistic. The overlapping scales rippled and moved against each other in a natural-looking three-dimensional way. Allen wondered what the customers would think about his new tail. They said goodbye to Cammy and then went home. It was a little more difficult using the wheelchair, but the crutches just wouldn’t work with the wide tail, and Allen was used to getting around using either aid. That night they tested whether the flap would allow them to have normal marital relations and found that it worked just fine. The tail didn’t work too well with the bedsheets, however, as the wide flukes lapped over the end of the bed. So Allen slept without covers and wore one of his nightgowns for warmth. He reluctantly admitted to Katherine that getting them was a good idea. It took Allen a while to go to sleep, because the tail fluke prevented him from rolling onto his side, but eventually he managed.
The next day, Allen’s turn at feeding the fish wasn’t normally scheduled until 2:00 on Wednesdays, but Audra found him first thing in the morning.
“I really want to see how your new tail works in the water. Would you mind coming for a swim this morning?”
Allen didn’t mind, so they both went to their respective locker rooms and changed. All Allen had to do was take his shirt off, but Audra took longer as she squirmed into her tail. When they were both ready, Fernando lowered them into the pool. Audra watched as Allen swam around the practice pool, then they both swam through the tunnel into the greenhouse pool. After exploring the plant life for a time, they surfaced and Audra asked Allen how the new tail felt.
“Very good.” He answered. “It has a snugger fit, so it’s a little easier to bend my legs and kick.”
“I like how it looks, as well. I have had one thought about an improvement.”
“How would you feel about having webbed fingers?”
“I don’t know. Would it make it hard to hold things?”
“I don’t think so. I have some clear, flexible silicone sheet material that I think we could glue between your fingers to make webbing. You would still be able to hold onto things, you just couldn’t have anything between your fingers. Shall we give it a try?”
“Why not? If it doesn’t work out we can always take it off again.”
“OK, now how about one time down the slide before we get back to work?”
“You’re the boss.”
They swam over to the slide tube and took turns sliding into the mermaid swim pool, which was empty on a weekday. They came back through the lock and then went into the practice pool so Fernando could lift them out. Allen dried off and went back to his office, leaving Audra to the longer process of getting out of her tail. He’d been working for about half an hour when Audra sent him a message asking him to come to her office. When he went in, Audra had him pull his wheelchair under the small table she had in one corner. On the table was a board with a number of thin straps attached to it.
“I had one of our machine shop guys make this board so that we could hold your hands still for the glue to dry.” Said Audra.
“I guess you were pretty sure I would agree to this, then.”
“If you hadn’t, I probably would have tried it on myself. Are you ready to get started?”
“OK then, put your left hand right here on the board.”
Allen put his hand in the spot indicated. His wrist was right over one of the straps, and Audra tightened it down, holding his hand in place. There were also small straps for the tips of each of his fingers and his thumb, and Audra tightened them down as well, fixing Allen’s hand in place with his fingers spread. Audra opened a box under her desk and pulled out a jar of the adhesive gel and a thin roll of flexible silicone. She measured the spaces between Allen’s fingers and then cut out segments of the flexible silicone. Then she used the adhesive gel to glue the segments to the sides of his fingers. When she was finished, Audra asked Allen to put his left hand on the board, and she secured it in place and repeated the process of attaching the webbing to the fingers. About halfway through, Allen’s nose began to itch uncontrollably. He knew it was all psychological, but he had to ask Audra to scratch it. She grinned and complied with his request, then went back to her gluing. When she was done, Audra looked at the clock and stood up.
“I forgot about a meeting with the new head of security. It shouldn’t take long, so I’ll be back to release your hands. Don’t go anywhere.”
Although it was only Allen’s hands that were strapped down, he really couldn’t go anywhere. He had locked the wheels on his wheelchair when he pulled up under the table, and without his hands he couldn’t unlock them or move the chair. So Allen sat quietly for a time, wondering what Audra’s next idea would be. Audra’s meeting took longer than 20 minutes, and Allen was considering whether or not he should yell for someone to come help him when she came back.
“Sorry about that.” Audra said. “Now let’s just free your hands.”
She undid the straps on his fingers and wrists, and Allen lifted his hands and flexed his fingers. When he pressed his fingers together, the webbing folded up in between his fingers and he could hold a pencil almost normally, although he had to hold it with the tips of his fingers instead of in between them. It didn’t seem like the webbing would interfere with most of his normal activities. He wondered if it would make a difference when swimming. Audra also inspected his hands carefully and seemed pleased with the results. Since it was now almost lunch time, Allen went to the cafeteria and met his wife. He showed her his new webbed fingers.
“What do you think?” He asked.
Katherine looked carefully at his hands. “I think Audra is really getting carried away. Does that get in the way?”
Allen showed her by taking a few bites of his lunch, holding his fork almost normally. He reached out with his left hand and took Katherine’s hand in his. “I guess we can’t interlace our fingers, but we can still hold hands.” He said. Katherine seemed happy enough and gave him a kiss. Then they finished their lunch and returned to work.
At 2:00, Allen got back in the water for his turn at feeding the fish. He swam a few laps of the practice pool to see if the webbing helped. It seemed like the webbed hands helped him maneuver and steer more than they helped with speed. He used his legs and tail for that. Allen finished out the week with his new tail and webbed hands. When Friday and Saturday came around, the customers in the mermaid swim area seemed very impressed with his new tail. Many of them commented on how realistic it looked. When Allen’s last shift in the pool ended on Saturday afternoon, he rode his wheelchair back down to the room where Cammy had put his tail on at the beginning of the week. Audra and Katherine were both there. They had him lay on the table and then started painting the tops of his scales with solvent. A vinegary smell filled the room as the solvent slowly dissolved the glue holding the scales in place. It took several coats of solvent to remove the scales, and as they came loose, Audra or Katherine would wipe them off and then sort them into several bins depending on their size and color. Katherine did all the work around his groin, and once she removed the flap, they gave Allen a disposable pad to cover up with. The work was slow, but at least Allen didn’t have to stay immobile. They took a break for dinner and finally completed the tail removal at about 9:00 PM.
“I’m glad that’s finally done.” Allen said when the fluke was finally pulled off of his feet.
“Yes, it is quite a time-consuming process.” Said Audra. Are you willing to go through it again next week?”
“Do you want me to?”
“Oh, definitely. Our customers certainly noticed the change. I got a lot of favorable comments. In fact, I would love it if Katherine could join you.”
“Me? You want me to trade in my legs for a tail for a whole week?”
“Well, you’ve seen how Allen gets along. And remember, the rest of the mermaid living quarters opens up next week. You wouldn’t have to get in a wheelchair at all if you didn’t want to.”
“What do you think, Allen?”
“I’ve invested months of my time into the mermaid living facility. It would be interesting to try it out. But I wouldn’t want to spend my nights there without you.” Allen answered.
“All right, Audra, I guess I’d be willing to try it out.”
“Wonderful! If I remember right, you have the 10:00 AM shift on Tuesday morning, Katherine. So I will need you to be here about 2:30 in the morning so that Cammy can have you ready in time for your turn. Allen, you can come in with your wife or show up at 6:00 AM. Cammy figures that she can put on one of the new design tails in about 4-1/2 hours now that she’s done it once. This way we can have Katherine ready for her shift and then you ready for yours at noon.”
“Wow!” Said Katherine. “Two-thirty in the morning is awful early.”
“Well, we can’t let the process take all day like it did for Allen this week. We still need you to be able to cover your shifts.”