The Mermaid Experience – Chapter 64: Engineering Independence

To start at the beginning, use this link:  Link to Chapter 1

After the busy weekend, Allen had some time to do some research.  His experiences surviving in the open ocean during the escape had gotten him thinking.  There had to be a way to ensure the breathing collars always had power.  It only took him a day or two to find a technology that he thought was suited to the task.  He called Audra over to his computer to explain it to her.

“What have you got?”  Audra asked.

“Have you heard of piezoelectric crystals?”  Allen asked.

“I think so.  The name sounds like something I’ve heard before, but refresh my memory please.”

“They are materials that generate an electric voltage when they are bent or compressed.  They use them in things like tennis shoes that light up when you walk.”

“You think we might be able to use these crystals to charge the breathing collars?”

“Yes.  They mostly come in small sizes that don’t generate much power, but if we linked a series of them together we should be able to generate enough power to recharge the collars.”

“Where would you put them?  They won’t fit in the collars will they?”

“No, we need a much larger area.  I was thinking we could embed them in our tails.  We would have to run a wire from the tail to the collar, but since we are almost constantly moving our tails we could easily generate enough power for the collar.”

“Hmm, that sounds promising.  I suppose we could run the wire up our spine and cover it over with some silicone.  It could be like a dorsal fin.”

“That’s the kind of thing I was thinking of as well.”

“Can you build a prototype?”

“I think so.  Can I have some money to spend?”

“Of course.  I’ll get a budget set up for you.  Send me an e-mail with an estimate of what you think you will need.”

Allen continued his research and found a local company that specialized in piezoelectric power generation.  He made a call and was able to quickly arrange for some company representatives to visit and talk to him about the possibilities.

Wednesday morning, Allen rode his wheelchair down to the lobby to meet the representatives.  A man and a woman walked through the door almost exactly on time.  The man wore the customary business attire of a polo shirt and slacks, while the woman was dressed in a knee-length pencil skirt and a white blouse.  She had dirty blonde hair cut short in a practical style and she wore a large pair of glasses.

“You must be Henry.”  Allen said to the man.

“Yes, that’s right.  I’m Henry Baughman.  And this is Mindy Malco, one of our technical experts.  I brought her along to answer your technical questions.”

Allen shook their hands, introducing himself as well.  After the introductions, they spoke about the aquarium for a few minutes, but Mindy seemed anxious to get on to business.

“Shall we go to your office and get down to the details?”  She asked.

“I’m afraid we can’t visit my office unless you brought swimsuits.”  Allen answered.  “But there’s a conference room we can use just down the hall.”

Mindy adjusted her glasses.  “Your office is in the water?”

“Yes.  As you can see, my movement is a little restricted on land.  We have a living area for the merfolk with an area we can use as an office.”

“Why don’t you just take the tail off?”  Asked Henry.

“It’s a long story, much of which you can find on the news sites.  I’m afraid if I take the time to tell it, we won’t have time to talk about piezo generators.”

“Let’s have a seat and talk then.”  Henry replied.

Allen led them to the conference room and they began discussing the details of what he needed.  It became quickly apparent that although Henry was familiar with the product specifications and prices, Mindy was the expert on piezoelectric devices and their properties.  Allen explained the power needs of the collars and the storage capacity of the batteries.

“To generate that amount of power you will need a pretty large area of our material.”  Mindy explained.  I would estimate about 200 square inches, so something 10 inches wide and 20 inches long.”

“Well, my tail has plenty of surface area.  I think we could easily fit a patch that big or even bigger on it.”

They continued their discussion for some time and eventually agreed that Mindy would make a sample piezoelectric generator patch that Allen could try out.  She seemed quite excited at the prospect and asked if she could be present when he did the testing.  Allen agreed, and they made arrangements for her to return on Monday with the sample.

The rest of the week went smoothly.  Allen had extra time to work on some plans for updating the mermaid quarters because the part-time mermaids filled in for at least half of the normal mermaid duties.  When Monday came, he was excited when he got the call from the guard telling him that Mindy had arrived.  He asked the guard to escort her to the locker rooms, and he swam out to the practice pool to meet her.  Audra was very interested in the project as well, so she joined him.  The guard led Mindy into the room and then lowered the crane and lifted Allen out of the pool.

“Welcome to our practice room.”  Allen said.

“Thanks.  I’m excited to see if this works.”  Said Mindy, hefting the sack she was carrying.

“This is Audra Burns.”  Allen said, pointing down at his boss.  “She’s the owner of the aquarium.”

“Nice to meet you, Audra.”

“Can I see the prototype?”

“Sure.  It’s right here.”

Mindy opened the bag and lifted out a large sheet of material.  It was about a quarter of an inch thick and shaped like a trapezoid about three feet long and about a foot wide, tapering to half that at the end.  A wire exited from the middle of the top end, terminating in a plug designed to fit into the charging port of Allen’s collar.

“Are you ready to try it out?”  Mindy asked.

“You bet I am.  How do we attach it?”

“Well, I understand you have some special adhesive here that we can use to stick it to your tail.  I thought we would use that.  Then it’s just a matter of plugging it into your collar and then we can start testing.”

“It sounds like we had better go down to the tail assembly room.  Audra, do you want to come with us?”

“I think I probably should.  That way I can keep Mindy company while the glue dries.”

The guard brought a wheelchair for Allen and then lifted Audra out of the water and got her situated in a wheelchair as well.  Then he stood with Mindy while Allen and Audra went into the locker rooms and put on shirts.

“Thanks Alex.”  Audra told the guard when she came back out of the locker room.  We’ll take it from here.

Alex left for the front desk, and Allen led the way to the elevators and the tail assembly room.  Once they got there, Allen took off his shirt again and climbed up onto one of the beds.  He laid face down on the bed while Audra got out a bucket of the adhesive.  Audra helped Mindy apply the adhesive to one side of the piezoelectric sheet and stick it to the back of Allen’s tail, centered on his knees.  The cord from the top of the sheet ran up Allen’s spine and plugged into the bottom of his collar.  They used the straps on the bed to hold the sheet firmly to Allen’s legs and the cord to his back while they waited for the adhesive to dry.

“I read everything I could find on the news sites about what happened to all of you.”  Said Mindy as they waited.  “But there really isn’t much detail there.  Can you tell me more?”

“I suppose we have 20 minutes to kill.”  Allen said.

“There should be a book out in six months or so.”  Audra added.  “I just spoke to Kari Davis and she wants to write it.  We worked out some financial arrangements, but I have to present it to all the merfolk and get their buy-in before we move forward.”

“I look forward to reading the book, then.”  Said Mindy.

“In the meantime, we can fill in a few of the details for you.”  Allen said.

They spent the next 20 minutes talking about the experiences the merfolk had gone through as Carlos’s captives and during their escape.  Once the adhesive was cured, Allen put his shirt back on and got back into his wheelchair.  Then they all went back up to the practice pool.

“How are you going to know if your piezoelectric sheets are generating power?”  Allen asked Mindy.

“I brought a meter that I can connect between the wire and your collar.  If it’s OK with you, I thought I would get in the water with you and monitor the meter while you moved your tail.”

“That would be fine with us.”  Audra told her.  “Did you bring a swimsuit?”

Blushing slightly, Mindy nodded.  “It’s in my bag.  And I tried to seal up the meter to make it watertight.  Can I change in here?”

“Certainly.  I’ll show you an empty locker while Allen calls the guard back up here.”

Allen put his shirt in his locker and then called the guard.  A few minutes later Audra and Mindy came back out of the locker room.  Mindy was wearing a retro two-piece swimsuit with a blue and white striped halter top and high-waisted bottoms, and she had left her glasses behind in the locker room.  She was carrying a handheld meter that had been sealed into a clear plastic box.  Two wires exited the box through rubber grommets.  A moment or two later, Alex the guard entered the room.

“You can have Alex lower you into the pool like us, or you can just jump in.”  Allen told Mindy.

“I think I would like to be lowered down into the pool.”  Mindy answered.  “I’m not a very strong swimmer.”

Allen and Audra were lowered into the pool first.  Mindy followed, gripping the ropes on the sling tightly as she was lowered into the water.  She slipped out of the sling and tried treading water, but her hands and feet flailed ineffectually and she had trouble keeping her head above water.  Seeing her distress, Audra quickly swam up behind her and wrapped an arm around her waist, supporting her with her head up out of the water.

“You really meant it when you said you weren’t a strong swimmer.”  Audra said.

“I’m sorry.  I just really wanted to be here and see how my generator performed.  I should have just stayed up on dry land.”

“Nonsense.  You have nothing to worry about.  We’ll support you and you will do just fine.”

“Why don’t we take her into the cafeteria?”  Allen asked.  “She should feel more comfortable in there where the water is shallower.”

“That’s a good idea, Allen.  Mindy, why don’t you hand Allen your meter and then hold our hands.  We’ll help you swim to the cafeteria.”

Allen took the meter in his right hand and held Mindy’s right hand with his left hand.  Audra held Mindy’s other hand, and then the two of them swam slowly and carefully over to the tube to the greenhouse pool.  Mindy gradually relaxed and began kicking with her feet, letting the two merfolk pull her through the water.  They passed through the tunnel and out into the greenhouse pool, and Mindy’s mouth dropped open when she saw the underwater garden below her.

“That’s beautiful!”

“It’s even better under the water.”  Allen said.

They swam through the tube into the cafeteria pool and over to one of the tables.  Mindy gratefully slid onto the seat.  Katherine and Carla were sitting at one of the other tables with Wendy, one of the new mermaids.  When they saw the visitor, they quickly swam over to meet her.  Allen did the introductions, then asked Mindy what she wanted him to do for her test.

“First, I need you to turn around so that I can hook up the meter.  Then I think you could hold on to one of the benches and just kick your tail like you normally do when swimming.  That way I can watch the meter and see if we’re generating the right voltage and current to charge your collar battery.”

Allen turned his back to Mindy so she could hook up her meter.  She unplugged the cord from his collar and plugged it into one of the wires coming from the meter, then she plugged the other wire into the collar.

“OK, you can start kicking now.”

Allen slid off the bench into the water, held onto it with his hands, and kicked his tail gently up and down.  Mindy eyed her meter and made appreciative noises as she watched the numbers dance on its display.

“Very good.  Now kick harder, like you are swimming fast.”

Allen obeyed and Mindy seemed very pleased with the results.  She had him kick at various speeds and intensities while she watched the meter.  Finally she seemed satisfied.

“The piezo generator seems to be functioning quite well.”  She said.  “We had to build some regulation electronics into it to convert the power generated by the piezoelectric cells into the right voltage and current to charge your collar, and they appear to be functioning properly under all the various levels we just tested.”

“Are you happy then?  Is your testing done?”  Allen asked.

“Not quite.  We also need to see if we can generate enough power over time to keep your collar charged.  Do you have any way to tell how much charge is in your battery?”

“The charger has a little indicator on it, but it is like a cell-phone or something, it just has 5 lights and they light up as it charges.”

“That should be good enough.  For the next couple of days, I want you to do your normal activities, except go plug into your charger about once an hour.  Then keep a record of how many lights are lit and a short description of what you were doing during that hour.  Don’t stay plugged in, because we want the piezo generator to do the charging.”

“That should be easy enough.  When do you want to check back in?”

“How about Wednesday?”

“That will be fine.”

“Good.  I’ll be expecting your call.”

Mindy unhooked her meter and Allen helped her swim back out to the practice pool, with Katherine helping this time.  Then they went back to their normal activities, interrupted every hour for Allen as he recorded the information Mindy needed.

Link to Chapter 65

Link to Chapter 63


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