On Tuesday, Audra called everyone in to the practice pool. When they got there, they saw a woman sitting on the side of the pool wearing a wetsuit and a monofin. She had dark skin and her hair was done up in a long braid down her back.
“I’d like to introduce you all to Daphne, who has just been hired as our dolphin trainer. She was previously head trainer at Sea World, but has agreed to come here and try our new training method. She’ll be getting a dolphin-themed tail in a couple of weeks, and I will need you all to help her learn the ropes.”
“Does this mean the dolphin arena is finished?” Allen asked.
“The pool and connecting tubes are done, but they are still working on the stadium. But with the pool complete we can start the training.”
“And just what is this new style of training you mentioned?”
“I’ll let Daphne answer that one. Why don’t you join us in the pool, Daphne?”
Daphne indicated her agreement by pushing off the edge of the pool and diving in. She swam over to the group of mermaids, struggling a little to get used to the monofin.
“Now that you’re a little closer, why doesn’t everyone introduce themselves first, and tell Daphne what you each do aside from being a mermaid.”
They formed into a rough circle and went around, telling the new girl what they did when not feeding the fish. They ended with Lacy, who told Daphne she was the Aquarium Marketing Specialist.
“Thank you for welcoming me.” Daphne started. “I came here because Audra has a fascinating idea about training dolphins. As you know, there have been quite a few protests lately from people who claim places like Sea World are abusing their animals by holding them captive in relatively small pools. Audra’s plan is to use wild dolphins for our show.”
“How can that work?” Renna asked. “You mean we won’t train them?”
“No, we’ll train them. What I mean is we will work with the wild dolphins that live in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I think Allen is aware, but the rest of you may not know that the pool in the dolphin arena has a channel that connects it directly to the bay. We plan to use food to encourage dolphins to enter that channel, and if we can get a consistent group of dolphins to come up the channel into the arena, we will start to train them in the traditional manner, with lots of love and lots of treats.”
“Won’t it be hard to have regularly scheduled shows? What if the dolphins don’t show up?”
“That is the chance we are willing to take. We might need to develop an alternative show for times when the dolphins don’t cooperate.”
“That sounds like a really ambitious idea. Do you think it will work?”
“I’m counting on it. We may need to try different techniques until we find out what works. That is why we are starting now. We hope to maybe start having shows in the summer, but that will all depend on the dolphins.”
They talked for a few minutes longer, getting to know Daphne a bit, before Allen had to leave and feed the fish. Daphne wanted to watch, so she swam to the edge of the aquarium to watch while Allen did his thing. She watched him for a few minutes, then left with Katherine, who showed her around the mermaid living area. When Allen finished, he found all the mermaids back in the rec room and asked Audra if they could see the dolphin arena.
“I think so.” Audra answered. “Let me call and make sure the construction crew has removed the barrier in front of the access tube.”
Audra made her phone call, and the answer was yes. “You might want to put your warm tops on.” She told the mermaids. “It is pretty cool outside today.”
They all swam back to their rooms and put on their wetsuit tops, except for Allen, who was already wearing his swimsuit. Then Audra led them through the greenhouse and down the slide into the mermaid swim pool. The weather was cool, but sunny, so it didn’t feel too bad to be outside. They followed Audra across the pool to the new access tube. This tube was the longest in the whole complex, and when they reached the end they found they were in a large round pool with transparent sides. A set of concrete bleachers was being built around the pool, with an opening in one end for customers to enter. A second tube left the side of the pool, but this one was not enclosed like all the others. Rather it was a “U” shaped trough with an open top.
“If you swim out that, you’ll soon find yourself in Galveston Bay.” Said Audra. “We won’t go that far on our tour today, but in the future Daphne and some of the rest of you might be going out there to meet the dolphins with food and show them the way back to the arena.”
“Our plan is to have a boat out in the bay that drops fish in front of the dolphins and leads them back here to the entrance to the channel into the arena.” Chimed in Daphne. “We may need to go out to the entrance with buckets of fish to lead them through the channel to the arena.”
Allen could tell that the arena was connected to the bay, because a few fish swam around in the pool, darting down to the bottom whenever one of the mermaids approached, and then rushing to the channel and out when the mermaids moved away from it. There was a circular platform in the middle of the pool, and it had a pole with an arm and a swing near the center. At the top of the pole was an 8-sided video screen similar to those seen in sports arenas. Next to the pole was a large fake rocky hill that hid the control room and storage area for the presenters.
“What’s the swing for?” He asked.
“Well, most of these kind of shows have the trainer standing next to the water. Since Daphne will be a mermaid, she will need somewhere she can sit above the water and make her presentation. There will be a control room under the hill where an aquarium employee can rotate the pole and raise or lower the swing, along with managing lights, audio-visual presentations, and such.”
As they swam back to the mermaid swim pool, Allen noticed an open gate at the end. “Is this to keep customers out of the tunnel?” He asked Audra.
“Yes. We’ll have a keypad with the same code we use for the lock entrance. We wouldn’t want a customer wandering out into the arena during a show.”
They returned to the warmth of the living quarters and went back to their normal daily tasks, with the mermaids taking turns helping Daphne learn to swim better with her monofin and hold her breath.
The next week was Thanksgiving, which Audra expected to be a very busy time at the aquarium. Because nearly everyone wanted to have a holiday, Audra picked a random name out of a hat. Lacy was chosen, so she got to take the week off and go visit her family. The rest of the mermaids were needed to help out at the aquarium. Janice wanted to come and visit Allen and Katherine, so they arranged to have her take a taxi from the airport on Monday. The young couple met her at the aquarium entrance in wheelchairs. They paid the taxi driver and then rolled out to Allen’s car. By this time, Allen and Katherine were both pretty adept at hauling themselves out of the wheelchairs and into the car seat, but Janice had to figure out how to fold the wheelchairs and put them in the trunk. They drove to their apartment and reversed the process.
“This seems like a lot of work.” Janice said. “Is it really worth it to be stuck in those tails all the time?”
“Well, we don’t spend much time on land, and in the water the tails really help.” Katherine told her. “I think it is still an experiment for Allen and me. Right now it’s a fun job and a different experience. If it gets old after a few months, we can always find something else.”
“I guess that’s one way to look at it. Can I come visit your mermaid living area?”
“I don’t know. So far, only the mermaids and a few aquarium workers have been allowed in. We’ll have to ask Audra. You realize there’s no place to stand in our area. If you came to visit, you would have to be swimming.”
“That’s OK. It might be fun.”
“We’ll ask Audra tomorrow then.”
The next day they woke up early and Janice drove them back to the aquarium. For Thanksgiving week, Audra was having the mermaids come out into the aquarium galleries to hand out goodies again. This time it was small plush lionfish dolls, since turkey fish is another name for the zebra lionfish. They also had coloring books for kids who didn’t want the stuffed animals. With the extra tasks added to the day, they were both pretty busy, but Katherine did find a moment to meet with Audra and ask if her mother could visit them in the mermaid quarters.
“I guess since you are living here nearly all the time, we ought to set up some kind of a visitor policy.” Audra said. “I think to start it will be this—one visitor per mermaid is allowed during non-work hours. But they need to leave by 10:00 P.M., and they will have to arrange with Fernando or Jonas to get them out when they go. Does that sound reasonable?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Good. I’ll pass the word on to the others when I see them.”
So Allen and Katherine went back to their apartment on Tuesday night, but on Wednesday evening, Janice brought her swimming suit and met them at the entrance guard post. She signed in and followed them to the practice pool, where Fernando lowered the three of them into the water. Katherine gave her mom a tour of the facility, although she left out the mermaid swim pool. Her mom had been there before, and it was a cold, rainy night. Katherine also introduced her mom to all of the mermaids except Lacy, who wasn’t there. After the tour, they all sat around one of the cafeteria tables and talked. Audra and Renna came and sat with them for a time, and Janice got to know her daughter’s friends a bit. Before long it was 10:00 and they had to take Janice back out to the practice pool so that Fernando could lift them out.
“Thanks for coming in on the day before Thanksgiving.” Allen told him.
“That’s OK.” He replied. “Anna and her mother are cooking and they would have kicked me out of the house anyway.”
Thanksgiving day the aquarium was closed, so Allen and Katherine stayed in their apartment with Janice and cooked a celebratory dinner for the three of them. Friday and Saturday were busy once again holiday travelers and their families came to the aquarium. On Sunday, Allen had agreed to take Lacy’s place, so Katherine spent the morning with her mom and then rode back to the aquarium parking lot where a taxi was waiting to take Janice back to the airport.
At the end of the next week, Daphne got her first mermaid tail. One of the sleeping pools in the living area was already set aside for her, but she started with one of the one-piece tails and she hadn’t stayed overnight yet. She needed to be able to take the tail off and go out on the boat in the bay as it worked to lead the dolphins to the arena entrance. Audra spent a week without a tail so that she could have some meetings and travel to visit suppliers, but as soon as she was able, she was back in with the other mermaids, doing business with a computer screen and phone in the rec pool. Maria came back from one of her weekends off and declared that she had put her possessions in storage and cleaned out her apartment.
“It makes no sense to pay rent on an empty apartment.” She said. “I have everything I need here now.”
The other mermaids thought hard about Maria’s decision, but weren’t quite ready to completely abandon the land. Allen and Katherine wanted to make sure there was still a place for Katherine’s Mom to come and visit.