To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to Chapter 1
Katherine woke up from a long, restful sleep when the Gulfstream landed back in the US.
“How are you feeling?” Dave asked her.
“Better. Where are we?”
“We just landed in Houston. There’s somebody waiting here to see you.”
“No. I’m sure he’ll be picked up soon, though. It’s your mom.”
“Great! I’m sure she must have been very worried.”
“She definitely was. Shall we go see her?”
Dave picked her up and carried her down the stairs. There were several people on the tarmac, including a nurse with a wheelchair. Before Dave could set Katherine down in the chair, however, Janice rushed up and enveloped them both in a hug.
“Katherine! I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve been so worried.”
“You’re going to make me drop her.” Dave said. “Let me put her in the wheelchair.”
“Oh, of course. Thank you so much, Dave. I can’t believe you were able to rescue her from North Korea!”
Dave put Katherine in the wheelchair, then answered. “I’m going to have to ask both of you not to mention where Katherine was being held. We don’t want to upset any of the delicate diplomatic relations between our nation and various Asian countries that might or might not have helped with the rescue operation.”
“Honey, what’s that tube hanging out of your mouth?” Janice asked her daughter.
“It’s a breathing tube. My collar is set to cut off my air, and the medic had to insert the tube so I could breathe.” “And the next stop is the hospital, where we can give you a good check-up and take that tube out.” Dave said.
Following that pronouncement, they all started walking toward an ambulance parked not far away. When they got there, Dave lifted Katherine out of the wheelchair again and laid her on the cot in the ambulance. The nurse secured Katherine to the cot with a few straps.
“This is just so you won’t roll out of the bed when we go around corners.” She said. “Do you mind if I take your vital signs while we travel?”
“No, I don’t mind.”
Janice climbed into the back of the ambulance with the nurse, who made her sit on a seat and put on a seat belt. The vehicle began to move, and the nurse took Katherine’s pulse and blood pressure, and looked into her eyes with a light. She recorded her results on a clipboard. The trip didn’t take long, and when they arrived at the hospital, and orderly helped the nurse roll the cot out of the ambulance and down the hall to an examining room.
“Just relax for a few minutes.” She told them. “The doctor will be in to see you soon.”
Janice asked her daughter about her experiences, and Katherine started to summarize what had happened. She was only part way through her story when Dave entered the room, accompanied by Doctor Klaus, who had performed the tracheostomy and installed the collar. Another man entered the room with them.
“This is Eric Kensington.” Dave said. “He’s an engineer with the company that manufactured the collars. He and most of the other employees were not aware that the collar design had been manipulated. We are investigating the company to find out who has ties to Carlos Ruiz and whether we can prosecute them or not.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you as well.”
“Eric believes he can fix your collar so that it will automatically switch like it was designed to do.” Said Dave.
“That would be a relief.”
“We will need to take the tube out first, so there may be a few moments when you can’t breathe.”
“I’m used to holding my breath. As long as it doesn’t take more than about four minutes I’ll be fine.”
Dave nodded to Eric, who opened up the briefcase he was carrying. Inside was a jumble of wires and electrical components, all hooked up to a cell phone. Eric flipped a switch and then tapped at the phone for a few moments.
“I’m ready now.” He told Dave.
Doctor Klaus had Katherine open her mouth and tilt her head back, then he slowly pulled the tube out of her throat. She felt a gagging sensation as it passed through her epiglottis, but once the tube was gone that feeling passed. There was also a soft click as the valve closed again, cutting off Katherine’s airway. Eric made a few adjustments on his cell phone and the valve opened back up.
“It appears to have worked.” Katherine said. “Is this permanent?”
“No.” Eric answered. “The radio control circuit is still in your collar, so if someone sends the right signal it could switch off again. Once Detective Johnson explained how this extra circuitry had been designed into the collar, I studied the plans. I believe I could make some adjustments that would remove the radio control section, but it would involve cutting into the collar.”
“I’m not sure I want the collar or the tail anymore. I think I’m ready to go back to being a land person for a while.”
“I thought you might feel that way.” Dave said. “But I’ll have to ask you to be patient a little longer. Several of the people at the aquarium had to be involved with your kidnapping, and we need time to figure out who it was.”
“Well, Carlos bragged that the security company was on his payroll, so I would start with them.”
“Based on his actions, I’m pretty sure Jonas Fulton is involved as well. Can you wait a few days while we work on this case?”
“Of course. I want to talk things over with Allen and Audra as well. So I might as well wait until they have been rescued.”
Doctor Klaus interrupted their discussion. “I would like to examine Katherine now. Could I ask the two of you to wait in the hall?”
“Of course.” Dave said.
He and Eric left the room, and the doctor had Katherine open her mouth again so that he could inspect her throat and make sure there was no damage. The examination did not take long and he determined that her throat was OK.
“Doctor Hansen will be coming by later on to check out the rest of your body.” Doctor Klaus said. “Have you had any other health issues during your captivity?”
“No, I feel pretty healthy.”
“That’s good. Call me if you experience any problems with your throat, or if you decide to get the tracheostomy removed.”
“Thank you Doctor.”
Janice came back into the room and they spent the next few hours talking to each other. Katherine felt strange doing so much talking after such a long enforced silence. Once or twice she even lifted her hands and signed a word to emphasize a point. They were interrupted by nurses from time to time as they came to check on Katherine and record her vital signs. A meal was brought into the room for them to eat, and when they were done, Dr. Hansen came to make her examination.
“I’m sorry it took me a while to come see you. I was in the middle of a delicate operation. Would you mind undressing so I can look you over? I want to make sure all that time spent in the water didn’t cause any issues.”
Katherine slipped out of her clothes and set them aside.
“Mom, save those for me.” She asked. “They may be reminders of my captivity, but you have to admit that’s a really nice top and bra.”
“They look expensive. I’ll make sure to keep track of them.”
Dr. Hansen carefully looked over all of Katherine’s exposed skin.
“It looks like your skin is in very good shape.” She said. “Of course, I can’t see what’s going on under your tail, so I will want to have a look when you get it off.”
The doctor rubbed the skin on Katherine’s torso where the first row of scales attached.
“Did you notice that your skin has grown around the top edges of the scales?” She asked.
“No. I never thought much about it.”
Dr. Hansen lifted up several scales to look at their connection to the skin underneath. She also felt around Katherine’s legs, squeezing the tail to feel the legs underneath. She poked at the tail where it covered the gap between her legs.
“This area seems much firmer than I expected. Is there something inside your tail between your legs?”
“Well, we all noticed when we woke up at Carlos’s place that it felt like the gap between our legs had been filled up with something. I guess we didn’t think about it much after that. We had other things to worry about.”
“That’s certainly understandable. Would you mind if I made an incision underneath one of your scales? I would like to take a sample of whatever they put in there to see what it is.”
“Go right ahead.”
The doctor signaled to one of her nurses to bring a scalpel, and she lifted one of the scales on Katherine’s tail and cut through the silicone underneath.
“Ow!” Exclaimed Katherine. A drop of blood oozed through the cut in the silicone.
“I’m sorry.” Doctor Hansen said. “I didn’t expect to find any skin in that location.”
“Oh, no!” Said Katherine. “I think I know what they did now. They must have filled up the gap between our legs with healgel. We had a variety designed for prosthetics that encourages skin growth around foreign material like the silicone in my tail.”
“I see. I’d like to do an MRI. Then we can see more of what is going on under the surface.”
“It may take a little while to get everything organized, so I hope you don’t mind sticking around for a while longer.”
“That’s fine. I’m not sure where I would go anyway.”
The doctor left and a nurse gave Katherine a hospital gown to put on. She spent some more time talking to her mom until a nurse finally came in to take her to the MRI room. The nurse brought a wheelchair and pushed Katherine down several halls, up an elevator and over to the room with the MRI machine in it. The nurse and the MRI technician had her lay down on the MRI table, then they moved the table through the machine. She had to lay absolutely still for a long time while they did the scans. By the time they were done she was feeling rather tired and hungry. The nurse took her back to her room and she had some dinner and then went to sleep. Janice went back to her hotel room for the night. The next day, Dr. Hansen came back with the MRI results on a laptop. She put it on a cart and showed Katherine and her mom the results.
“It looks like you are right. They must have used some kind of healgel variant, because your skin and even muscles and tendons have grown to fill the area between your legs. There is even some tissue extending down into your tail fluke. Your ankles have also changed. Since you spent so much time swimming instead of standing and walking, your hamstrings have shortened and your tibialis anterior has lengthened. We see this kind of thing in women who wear high heels too much, but in your case it is because you have been keeping your feet extended in your tail fluke. This makes your muscles well adjusted for swimming, but if we were to remove your tail you might find it painful to stand and walk.”
“So I’m in the same boat with Allen now.”
“Pretty much. You’ve actually grown more tissue between the legs than he had, but assuming all of you received the same treatment I imagine he’s grown in a similar way.”
“So what do I do now?”
“Well, I guess I would say that you are a perfectly healthy mermaid. There’s no reason for you to stay in the hospital any longer. There is still the possibility of a separation operation, though in your current state that is even more difficult than what we were contemplating with Allen. I would suggest you check out and concentrate on finding your husband and friends. Once you are all safe, we can decide what to do next.”
A bit stunned by the doctor’s revelation, Katherine and Janice went through the checkout procedures and left the hospital. Katherine wasn’t sure where to go next. She couldn’t stay at the aquarium until Dave had rooted out all of the Kings gang associates who might be there, and she wasn’t sure if the apartment would still be available after sitting empty for so long. They decided to go there and see.
“Why yes, your apartment is still available.” Said Rosa, the apartment manager. “The rent has been paid even though no-one was in there. And Detective Johnson asked me to hold it for you. Are your friends back too?”
“Not yet, but we expect them soon. Who paid the rent?”
“I don’t know. It was a money transfer from a bank. I assumed you or your friends had set up an automatic payment.”
“Maybe one of the others did. Can I get a duplicate key? Mine was stolen.”
“Of course you can, but I’m afraid I will have to charge you the $10 key replacement fee.”
Janice paid for the key and then they let themselves into the apartment. Everything was untouched, just as Katherine remembered it looking when she last left.
“Do you want to stay here with me, Mom? It will save you money on your hotel bill.”
“Thank you. That would be very helpful. The last couple of months have really drained my savings.”
“What about your job?”
“So far, it is still waiting for me. But I’m not sure how much longer they will hold it.”
“Well, maybe now that I am back you can go back to work.”
“Not until I hear that Allen and the others are safe as well. I can find a new job if I have to.”