Allen and Katherine spent their days off considering what they wanted to bring with them on Tuesday morning. There wasn’t a whole lot that they would need, other than some books to read and toiletry supplies. They put everything into large reseal-able bags to protect it from the water. When they arrived at the basement room very early Tuesday morning, Cammy was waiting for them, and a second table had been set up. Katherine got onto one table and Cammy got right to work on her tail. Allen laid down on the other table to nap while he waited for his turn. He woke up a few hours later when Cammy nudged him on the shoulder.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. It’s your turn now.”
Allen looked over at Katherine. She was still strapped face down while the last of the scales on her back side dried. Her hands were strapped to a board above her head so that webbing could be applied between the fingers.
“How did it go?” Allen asked.
“Cammy says it went well.” Katherine answered. “I actually napped through some of it. And we both got serenaded by some impressive snoring on your part.”
“Snoring? I don’t snore!”
Katherine and Cammy both laughed at that, then Cammy had Allen get undressed so she could start on his tail. She worked for about half an hour, getting his fluke in place as well as the initial tube around his legs. Then she took a break to release Katherine from her straps. Katherine slid into a wheelchair and came over to watch Allen for a few minutes before she left to start work for the day. Cammy let the glue dry, then continued working on Allen. The process did go slightly faster than the week before, and Allen was ready by 11:30 AM. He wheeled past Katherine’s office before going to the pool.
“How do you like the new tail?”
“Well, I hate how long it takes to put on, but it is very nice once you’re in the water and swimming with it. I have to admit it looks better, as well.”
“So what are you working on?”
“Well, Audra told me that the computers in the mermaid living area can access the work network, so I am moving all of the files that I might need to a network storage location. Audra told me she wants to do a tour of the new mermaid living area at 3:00, and after that we can move in.”
“That sounds good. Most of my files are already on the network, but I can move a few more before 3. I’ll see you for lunch!”
Allen took his turn feeding the fish, then had a late lunch with Katherine. They were both famished because they had gotten up and eaten breakfast very early that morning. At 3:00, they joined the rest of the mermaids and Audra in the practice pool for the tour of the new mermaid living area.
“Allen, most of this is your design. Would you like to do the honor of leading the tour?” Audra asked.
“Certainly.” Said Allen. “Follow me ladies!”
Allen led the way into the greenhouse room, which they were all familiar with by now. But instead of heading right to the mermaid swim pool, he turned left. The barriers over this tube had been removed, and now Allen swam through it. Although the tube was located high in the wall of the greenhouse pool, it curved up slightly as it entered the cafeteria pool. This pool was much shallower than any of the others, with the water only about five feet deep.
“This is the cafeteria pool.” Allen announced. There were four large round tables lined up near the far side of the pool, each attached to the floor with a large center post. The tops of the tables were about 6 inches above the surface of the water. In the far wall of the pool above the water level was a sliding glass serving window.
“We can order food from the company cafeteria through the serving window. They have special floating trays to put it on so that it will be easy to carry the food from the window to a table.”
Renna swam to one of the tables and sat on the bench that surrounded it. It took her a moment to figure out the best way to maneuver her tail over the bench to allow her to sit comfortably. The rest of the mermaids joined her at the table, finding that the five of them could easily fit.
“Planning for expansion, I suppose?” Lacy said, indicating the other three tables.
“Those were Audra’s instructions. As you will soon see, we have sleeping space for ten mermaids, and it wouldn’t be hard to add even more.”
Once they had all had a chance to explore the cafeteria pool, Allen swam through another tube to the recreation and study pool. The rest of the mermaids soon followed.
“We’re calling this the recreation and study pool, but I think it would be more accurate to say it is the living room.” Explained Allen. There were five tubes leading off from each side of the room, but dark curtains obscured what lay beyond the tubes. On the opposite wall of the room there were eight smaller screens and one large screen embedded in the wall of the pool just above the water level. Chairs were attached to the wall in front of each small screen, and a large, semicircular couch sat in front of the larger screen.
“The screens are touch-screen computers.” Said Allen. “You can use them to access the network and spend your work hours in here without ever having to leave the water. The screens can also be used as televisions, or we can download movies to watch or play games. The larger screen is the same, but it is there so that we can watch a movie as a group. The tunnels to the sides lead to individual bedroom pools. Shall we go look at one of them?”
“Let’s check out that one.” Said Audra, pointing to the tube entrance in the far left corner.
So they all swam over to the tube indicated. Allen pulled aside the curtain and they all swam through. They entered a pool which would be rather large for a bedroom – 12 feet wide and 26 feet long. There was a railing around the entire room right at the water level, and in one corner, a large air mattress had been lashed to the railing on two sides. Allen seemed surprised and looked at Audra.
“Do you like it?” Audra asked. “I had the construction crew combine two of the rooms to make a double for you and Katherine.”
“Thank you. It looks great.”
There were cabinets built into the walls all around the perimeter of the room, just above the water level. Lacy and Renna swam over and looked into the cabinets, while Allen pulled himself up onto the air mattress.
“Is it comfortable?” Katherine asked.
“Come hop on and see.”
So Katherine joined Allen on the mattress.
“It does seem very comfortable.” She said, laying an arm over Allen’s chest and giving him a kiss.
“Hey, that can wait until the rest of us leave!” Said Renna.
Allen grinned and he and Katherine slipped off the mattress. They all swam back out into the main room and started investigating the touch screens. It took Allen a few moments to navigate to the network and confirm that all of his files were accessible from here. He checked out the TV icon and found a basic selection of local TV channels.
“I’ve set up a basic television connection.” Audra said. “If you want more than that, it would need to be paid for with your personal funds. You can all get together and decide what you want—whether a more extensive package of cable TV channels or streaming services like Netflix.”
Recreation and study pool with sleeping areas
It was almost 4:00, so Katherine swam back to take her turn feeding the fish. The rest of the mermaids explored for a few more minutes before gradually trickling back to the practice pool to be lifted out by Fernando. Allen followed, but he asked Fernando to lower the bags of personal supplies they had brought with them. While Katherine worked, he organized their possessions in the cabinets in their room, then went to one of the computers and worked until 5:00. One of the things he did was start a list of extra things they would like for the living area. He added a few waterproof keyboards to the list. The touch screen was convenient, but way too slow and cumbersome if you were trying to write a document or an e-mail. Once Katherine was done, they swam to the cafeteria pool and ordered their dinner. They had just started to eat when Audra swam back in.
“May I join you?” She asked.
“If you two don’t mind, I thought I would stay overnight tonight as well. I’m very excited about our new facility, and I want to get first-hand experience with it.”
“Well, it is your money that is paying for it.”
“How do you like it so far?”
“It’s a bit overwhelming.” Said Katherine. “You really are planning for people to live here full-time, aren’t you? Your end goal is to actually transform people into mermaids.”
“Yes, and I plan to be one of the first. The technology doesn’t yet exist to make a fully biological mermaid, but your new tails are one way to get close.”
“I’ve been wondering.” Allen said.
“Wondering about what?”
“Well, there are some details to wrap up, but the mermaid living area will be complete soon. Will I still have a job after that?”
“Oh, I have lots more things for you to do. We still need to complete the dolphin arena, and then there is one more thing lacking for the complete mermaid experience.”
“We need to figure out how to let our mermaids breathe water. I’ve been doing some investigating, and I paid some consultants for some preliminary designs, but I need you to help develop something practical. I’ll send the files over tomorrow and you can start looking at it.”
“That sounds like an interesting problem. I’ll enjoy working on it.”
“Good. Now, enough talk about work. Shall we find a movie to watch tonight?”
Allen and Katherine agreed, and the three of them adjourned to the recreation pool. Audra used her Netflix account and they searched through several movies until they found one that appealed to all three of them. Then they sat on the couch and watched the movie together, though Allen and Katherine paid more attention to each other than they did to the movie. When they were done, they split up and did their own individual activities until bedtime. Allen logged into his Steam account and downloaded a game to one of the computers. Katherine got out one of the books she had brought with her. When it got late, they said good night to Audra and went to bed. Being newlyweds, Allen and Katherine were both eager to try out the new bed. They found that they had to make a few adjustments to accommodate the tails, but they were young and resourceful, and they enjoyed the challenge. When they settled down to try and sleep, Allen had difficulty relaxing. The room was warm and humid, so sheets and blankets were not needed, but Allen was used to having some kind of covers. After tossing and turning for a time, he got into one of the cabinets and pulled out one of his nightgowns. By staying on the bed, he could put it on without getting it wet. Once he had some cloth covering his body, Allen was able to relax and quickly went to sleep.
Mornings were certainly easier in the mermaid living quarters. Allen and Katherine woke up a little later, and Katherine put on a new swimsuit top and combed her hair. Allen went bare chested, but his hair needed a little combing as well. It was starting to get a little long. Perhaps he would get it cut on his days off. There was a mirror on the inside of one of the cabinet doors, and he used that while shaving. It was a little tricky to shave in a pool when you couldn’t stand on the bottom, but Allen found he could shave with one hand while holding onto the railing with the other. Then they both used the potty pool and met Audra in the cafeteria. Allen ordered an omelet for breakfast – much better than his usual bowl of cereal. The three of them chatted over breakfast, and then Audra swam out to the practice pool to get out of the water and change. Allen and Katherine went back to the recreation pool and logged in to separate computers. By the time Allen had finished answering his e-mails, he got a new message from Audra with the information on the water breathing apparatus.
Apparently a lot of work had already been done on this problem. Fish used gills and absorbed oxygen directly from the water, but since they were cold blooded their oxygen needs were low. And gills required a large surface area in contact with the water, with water in constant motion across them. Given the oxygen needs of a human, gills did not seem like a viable solution. So some people had been investigating electrolysis. Since water was made of oxygen and hydrogen, oxygen could be obtained by splitting the water molecules into their component parts. All it took was an electric current and two electrodes. Audra had hired some consultants to investigate this process and to try and minimize the size of the apparatus needed to make it happen. It took Allen the rest of the day to read through the consultant’s reports and understand the many problems they had encountered while trying to package an electrolysis device. The problems were numerous and the solution had not been found. Oxygen can become toxic at high pressures underwater, so an electrolysis device that created pure oxygen might not be the best solution. The hydrogen could simply be released into the water, but it might be necessary to introduce nitrogen or some other gas to maintain the proper oxygen pressure. In addition, the energy required for electrolysis was high enough that the batteries required would not be easy to fit into a small package. The problem looked like a difficult one.
As the week progressed, Allen researched other possibilities. One promising lead was a material developed in Denmark. Researchers had developed an organic crystal that rapidly absorbed oxygen from water. Heating the material released the oxygen, and the cycle could be repeated. Allen sent some requests to the researchers to find out more about the material and to see if samples could be obtained. He also investigated various carbon dioxide scrubbing materials, as removing the carbon dioxide would be just as important as adding oxygen.
On Friday the weather was cool, and those who were out in the mermaid swim pool felt really chilled. They spent most of their time in the water. The event was still very popular, so the number of customers was still the maximum of 50 for each session, but many of them left early when they got too cold. Saturday was a little warmer, but still cool, so Allen put his swimsuit on over his tail. Many of the customers asked about it, but when he explained that even mermen needed to keep warm, they were understanding. Katherine and Lacy chose their swimsuit tops with the most coverage, but both of them wished for something warmer. They spoke to Audra that afternoon and asked if they could get something more appropriate for cool days. Audra was very understanding and told Maria to order short sleeved wetsuit tops for all of the mermaids.
That afternoon after the last fish feeding, Allen and Katherine swam to the practice pool so that Fernando could lift them out. When they got there, Audra was waiting at the edge of the pool.
“We have a problem.” She said.
“What kind of problem?” Allen asked.
“Cammy called me an hour ago. She is feeling very sick and won’t be able to come remove your tails today. How would you feel about keeping your tails on this weekend? Of course, you can stay here if you want.”
“Well, I suppose we didn’t have any specific plans for our days off.” Katherine said.
“I was hoping to get a haircut.” Allen said. “But I suppose I could use a wheelchair.”
“Oh, you can’t get your hair cut anyway.” Audra said. “Didn’t you read the requirement for all mermaids to keep their hair at least shoulder length?”
“Yes, but I thought that only applied to female mermaids.”
“No, I intended it to apply to mermen as well. Haven’t you seen all the mermen shown in movies and stories? They always have long flowing hair, though not usually as long as the mermaids.”
“Okay. I guess I didn’t have any plans for the weekend after all. I suppose we can stay here for another week.”
“Thanks. I guess I need to find someone to be a backup for Cammy, but this will save us for now.”
The next two days went quietly for Allen and Katherine. They didn’t have their usual weekend chores, like shopping or cleaning their apartment, to occupy their time, so they were able to relax and read or watch TV or play on the computer. They didn’t have too many clothes to worry about, but their swimsuits and nightgowns needed to be washed, so they asked Lacy if she was willing to take them home and run them through her washing machine for them. She agreed, but Allen made a note that some kind of laundry facility was needed. He also decided that food preparation and storage would be needed. It was convenient to have all their meals provided by the cafeteria, but it could become more expensive than cooking their own food. Allen and Katherine both enjoyed cooking at least some of their own meals as well.
They began their normal work schedule again on Tuesday, and Allen continued his investigations into the absorbent materials. One of the researchers contacted him and they began a correspondence. With this first-hand knowledge, Allen learned about a lot of testing that had been done by the Danish researchers, and was even given instructions on how to make the material himself. Allen also contacted the consultants that Audra had used and arranged for their help investigating this new possibility. The rest of Allen’s time was taken up by plans to incorporate new additions into the mermaid living area. Audra was very pleased with his list.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted you and Katherine to spend time in the facility.” She said. “I figured that with actual use we would find things that needed to be added or changed.”
Their second week of living full time as mermaids came to a close on Saturday. Allen and Katherine were lifted out of the pool at the end of the day and taken down to the changing room, where Cammy applied the solvent and removed their tails. Katherine inspected her own and Allen’s legs carefully to see if two weeks with the special adhesive did any damage. She found healthy pink skin with nothing unusual other than the loss of hair. They went back to their empty apartment late at night and fell into bed. There were a few errands to run over the next two days, and the young couple took advantage of the opportunity to get out and spend some time in a park. They also contacted Beth, Allen’s physical therapist, and got the contact information of the woman who made Allen’s swimsuit. They called her up and arranged for some measurements so she could make a couple of longer suits for Katherine as well as a couple more for Allen. They asked her to have them delivered to the aquarium when they were ready. Monday afternoon they got a call from Audra.
“Would you be willing to spend another two-week stint in the mermaid facility?” Audra asked.
“I suppose so.” Katherine answered. “Is Cammy taking time off or something?”
“No, but the tail-making process is so time-consuming that I want to minimize how often we do it.”
Allen heard the conversation from across the room. “Just as long as I am free on November 9. I don’t want to miss that doctor appointment.”
Katherine relayed Allen’s statement to Audra.
“Of course. I guess you can both go back to the regular tails that second week of November. Some of the other mermaids can use the new tails that week. Maria is already joining you for this week.”