To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to Chapter 1
Allen tested the piezoelectric charging patch for two days, then had Katherine help him take it off so he could give it back to Mindy. She arrived after lunch and Allen was waiting in the lobby for her.
“Your charger worked like a charm.” He told her.
“That’s great!” She answered. “Did you collect the data on charge levels for me?”
“Yes I did. Here’s a spreadsheet with the data in it.”
Allen handed her the spreadsheet and she looked at it for a few minutes.
“It looks pretty good.” She said. “But you did drop a couple of bars overnight. Maybe I need to increase the size 10% or so.”
“What would it take to get some production versions of this?” Allen asked.
“You’d have to ask Henry about that. They don’t like me to talk about money. But I think we can have something made up in just a few days.”
“I’ll call Henry right away then. I think we want to order one for each of us.”
“Great! We’ll need a measurement of your spine from the bottom of your collar to just below your um. . . buttocks. So we can give you the right length of wire.”
“I’ll get everyone’s measurements and e-mail them to you. Thank you for working with us. I know this is a tiny order compared to what you usually do.”
“We try to treat all our customers the same, whether large or small. Besides, your case has been fun and interesting.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. Have a nice day.”
“Umm. . . Allen? There is one more thing.”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“Can I bring the chargers back in person? I’d like to see them in action.”
“Well. . . You realize it will take about two hours each to put the patches in place? Cammy will have to take off a bunch of scales, glue the patch in place, and then replace all the scales. And it takes some time for the adhesive to cure.”
“I guess that’s true. Sitting around all day for the installation wouldn’t be much fun.”
“Why don’t you ship the patches to us and then come a day or two later? We’d be happy to show you around and let you see how the chargers are working.”
“You’d do that? That would be great! I have to admit that I’ve visited the aquarium a couple of times since starting on this project, and I’ve become obsessed with you merfolk. Even though you had to help me swim, my last visit was amazing!”
“Well, we definitely will need to arrange a visit and a tour for you then. Once we know when the chargers will arrive, we’ll set up a date.
“Thank you! I’m really looking forward to it!”
Mindy practically danced out of the lobby to her car. Allen watched her go, glad to have a supplier who was so excited about helping them out. Then he turned his wheelchair and headed back to the mermaid quarters to tell Audra and the others about the chargers. Audra was very interested. She had been following Allen’s testing very closely. But some of the others were not as excited.
“I don’t like the idea of having some wire glued to my back.” Said Renna. “What’s wrong with just plugging in every night like we have been doing?”
“I won’t force it on anyone.” Replied Audra. “I just like the idea of being independent. Remember how worried we were after we escaped from Carlos? If we hadn’t managed to get the solar panels for charging, we would have had to go back to him or suffocate.”
Allen collected the measurements he needed from everyone, including Renna, then sent an e-mail off to Mindy. Audra called Henry and arranged for the financial details to be taken care of. The chargers were delivered just four days later, on a Monday. Audra called Cammy and arranged for her to come that very afternoon. She worked on Audra first, covering the wires on her back with a thin flexible silicone sheet painted to match Audra’s skin. Allen was next, but he had spoken with Cammy earlier, and she put a dorsal fin on Allen’s back over the wires. It had a locking spine built into the front end, so that Allen could erect the fin by arching his back or let it fold against his spine by a kind of twist of his shoulders. Lacy and Anna got their chargers on Tuesday, and Lacy asked for a dorsal fin while Anna just asked for a flat cover.
On Wednesday morning, Mindy came for her tour. Allen met her in the lobby, with Katherine by his side.
“How have the new chargers been working?” Mindy asked them.
“So far they have been great.” Allen replied. “We haven’t had any issues.”
“I brought my swimsuit.” Said Mindy, holding up a gym bag. “I’m looking forward to my tour.”
“We thought you might be interested in seeing the installation process first.” Allen answered. “It’s Katherine’s turn to get hers installed today. Do you want to come see the beginning?”
So they led Mindy down to the tail building room and introduced her to Cammy, who was already working on Fernando’s tail. Fernando was laying on his stomach and the piezoelectric patch had already been put in place. Cammy was working on gluing scales back onto his tail over the patch. They stood and watched the process for a few minutes as Cammy glued the last two lines of scales onto Fernando, then installed the cover over the wire running up his back. While the glue was drying, Katherine climbed up onto the other table and Cammy started painting solvent onto the scales where her patch would be installed. They watched for a few minutes and then Allen turned to Mindy.
“Have you seen enough? Ready to get in the water?”
“Yes I am.”
“Good. I have a surprise for you that I think you will like.”
Allen led the way to the elevator and then up to the locker room. When Mindy had finished changing into her swimsuit, he met her outside the locker room with Paul the guard. He was holding one of the breathing collars with a mouthpiece and a couple of monofins were on the floor next to his wheelchair.
“Is this your surprise?” Mindy asked.
“Yes. With this collar you will be able to breathe underwater like we do. And if you want to try one, you could use a monofin to swim like we do as well.”
“Oh yes! That sounds very nice. Is it hard to swim with the monofins?”
“It does take some practice. But with the breathing collar you won’t run out of air, so it won’t matter if you are a little clumsy at first.”
“OK, what do I do?”
“First, why don’t you sit down on the side of the pool and see which of these monofins fits you best?”
Mindy tried the two monofins on and quickly found that the smaller one fit her quite well. Then Allen wheeled over next to her and hooked the breathing collar around her neck.
“Now pinch your nose and take a few breaths through the mouthpiece to get used to it.” He told her.
She did as instructed and smiled as she realized she could breathe comfortably through the mouthpiece. “Are we ready now?” She asked.
“I think so. Let me get in the pool first, and then Paul can lower you into the water.”
With the ease that comes of long practice, Allen pulled himself out of the wheelchair and into the sling, and Paul lowered him into the pool. Then Paul helped lift Mindy into the sling and lowered her down as well.
“Any last questions before we go under water and can’t talk?” Asked Allen.
“What if I have a question?”
“Just point up to the surface and we’ll swim up to talk. Since you’re not good at treading water yet, we’ll go to one of the walls to give you something to hold onto. And if I see you’re having trouble, I’ll take your hand and guide you. Remember, with the collar you won’t run out of air. In fact, to start let’s just sink down to the bottom for a few minutes so you can get comfortable using the collar to breathe. Then we’ll try swimming.”
“Okay. That sounds good.” Said Mindy, with just a hint of a quaver in her voice.
Then Mindy put the mouthpiece in her mouth and slipped off of the sling. Allen gave a thumbs-up signal to Paul so that he could go back to the front desk, then he took Mindy’s hand and just relaxed. The weight of Allen’s tail and Mindy’s monofin pulled them down feet-first to the bottom of the pool. Mindy felt a bit of fear in her stomach as the water went into her nose, but convinced herself it was just like putting her head under a shower. She closed her eyes as she sank to the bottom and felt her feet touch the floor. She could feel the comforting presence of Allen’s hand holding her own, and she could feel the regular pulse of air flowing into and out of her mouth. After a few moments, she opened her eyes. Allen sat beside her, watching her eyes for signs of panic. She looked around at the walls of the pool, and then she looked up at the surface so far above her.
They sat there for several minutes as Mindy’s heart rate gradually slowed. In time, her mind was able to convince her body that she was safe, and she felt comfortable in letting go of Allen’s hand. He looked at her and then pushed himself gently off of the bottom, then swam in front of her, undulating his body and legs slowly and gently. Then he stopped and motioned to her. Mindy pushed herself up with her hands and tried kicking with her feet. It felt strange to have them tied together in the monofin, and she ended up kicking harder with her right foot, making her body twist in the water. Her heart started to pound again, but then Allen swam up next to her and took her hand. He smiled and nodded his head. Feeling a little more confident, Mindy tried again. This time her feet kicked together and she felt herself moving through the water. Allen let go but stayed right beside her as she continued kicking, trying to undulate her whole body like she could see Allen doing. Eventually she felt a fragile confidence, like a novice ice skater who managed to make it around the rink without falling down.
When Allen felt she was ready, he motioned with his hand to indicate that Mindy should follow him, and then he swam up closer to the surface of the pool. Mindy followed as he approached a tunnel leading out of the pool. Though they were now just under the surface, Allen didn’t rise any farther. He just swam into the tunnel. Mindy followed him as they swam through the tunnel and into another pool. Mindy remembered the greenhouse from her previous visit, but from underwater it was far more beautiful. Long green fronds of kelp and other underwater plant life rose from the bottom of the pool to the surface, dappling the light from the skylights above. Along the sides of the room, racks contained more plant life, and even the walls were mottled with patches of green algae. Allen dove deeper and led Mindy through the kelp beds. They swam through the plants for several minutes before arriving at another tunnel. Mindy recognized this one from her previous visit as well. They swam through and into the cafeteria. This time, Allen swam over to one of the tables and broke the surface, sliding into place on one of the seats. Mindy came up as well, sliding onto the seat next to him, though a little less gracefully.
Anna was sitting at one of the other tables talking to Lacy. Allen introduced them and then they went back to talking among themselves.
“How are you doing?” Allen asked.
“Good, I think. It was a little scary at first, but you were right about the collar. Now that I don’t have to worry about drowning I can concentrate on the swimming and enjoy my tour a little better.”
“How does the charger feel? Is it working OK for you?”
“It seems to be working quite well. I check it with our non-portable charger periodically and I never seem to drop more than about one bar, except overnight.”
“That’s good. I like the dorsal fin covering the wire. Does it help you swim, or is it just decorative?”
“That’s one of the reasons I added it. I wanted to experiment and see if it would help. It makes sense that they must have a purpose since so many fish have them.”
“So it does. Have you noticed anything?”
“Yes, a little. It seems to help keep me from rolling side to side, and it seems to help me make turns a little bit better.”
“Are you ready to move on? How would you like to see the Rec Pool?”
“I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Allen slipped off of the seat and swam towards another tunnel. Mindy followed him at her slower pace. Allen showed her the recreation pool and one of the bedroom pools, then back to the greenhouse pool. She met more of the other mermaids along the way.
“I would take you down the slide, but there is a swim with mermaids session going on right now.” Allen told her. “So we’ll enter the mermaid swim pool through the lock.”
He led her into another tunnel that curved downward and entered a room. It felt a little frightening to be in a room filled completely with water and no air at the top, but then Allen opened another door and they swam out into a large outdoor pool. Mindy could see several people wearing mermaid tail costumes, many of them swimming as slowly and clumsily as she did. Allen rose up to the surface and waited for Mindy to join him. She still had a hard time treading water, but Allen steadied her with one hand and showed her how to kick her feet and scull with her hands to stay in one place.
“This is where we come when we want to get some sunshine and fresh air.” Allen told her. “But right now it is full of aquarium visitors, so we won’t stay long.”
There were two other mermaids there, helping the guests learn how to swim in a mermaid tail. They waved at Allen, who waved back before diving back to the bottom of the pool. Mindy followed him across the pool to another tunnel. There was a gate across the tunnel, but Allen opened it by entering a code. This tunnel was longer than the others, and dark, as the only light came from the two ends. Once they reached the far end, they swam out into a circular pool surrounded by bleachers. Mindy recognized the dolphin arena from her previous visits as a paying customer. There was no show going on at present, but Daphne was present, as well as James, one of the regular dolphin performers. Daphne was working with James, trying to teach him to do a spinning jump. When James saw the other two people enter the pool, however, he quickly deserted Daphne and swam over to investigate Allen and Mindy. He swam over next to Allen, who rubbed his hand along the back of the dolphin as he passed. James approached Mindy more cautiously, pinging her with his echolocation sounds to get a good look at her. He circled around her for a bit, but then Allen raised his hand and kissed his fingers – a signal they used during the shows to ask the dolphins to approach a customer and “kiss” them with their beak. James bobbed his head up and down and then swam up to Mindy, bumping her cheek with his beak. Mindy took the opportunity to slide her hand along his side. Then James swam back over to Daphne, who had treats for him, unlike these other two visitors.
Allen surfaced next to the wall so that Mindy could hold on, and they watched Daphne and James work together for a time.
“The Dolphins really come here voluntarily?” Mindy asked.
“Yes. See the channel on the other side of the arena? That leads directly out to the bay. There are no gates or doors to block the way.”
“So why do they come? Is it just for the free fish?”
“Well, that’s a big debate. There are scientists who are studying our process and trying to answer that very question. The food is certainly one part of the answer, but I think they have also developed some relationships with the merfolk. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing them, but I think they come to visit their friends.”
After watching for a while, Allen suggested they return to the cafeteria, then he led the way back through the outdoor pool and the greenhouse to the cafeteria pool. Katherine was there, having just returned from getting her power supply installed. Like Allen, she had opted for a dorsal fin to cover the wires on her back, and she was sitting on one of the benches and practicing with it. Allen slid onto the bench beside her and gave her a kiss.
“How did you like your tour?” Katherine asked Mindy.
“Oh, it was wonderful!” Mindy answered. “It must be fun to be a mermaid!”
“It was fun when we first started. Now that we’re trapped this way, I really miss being able to walk.”
“I suppose it’s not something I would want to do full-time.”
“How do you like your dorsal fin?” Allen asked his wife.
“I’m still trying to figure it out. I can get it to go erect, but how do you make it fold back down?”
“It took me some practice to get used to the motion. You have to kind of twist your shoulder sideways a little to release the support ray.”
Allen turned his back to Katherine and demonstrated. He curled his back forward a little to make the fin erect itself, then he did a little twisting motion and the fin folded back down against his back. Katherine enjoyed watching the muscles on his back ripple and flex as he repeated the demonstration several times. She noticed Mindy watching with appreciation as well.
“He’s taken, you know.” Katherine said.
Mindy blushed a bit. “I know. You are a lucky woman- he’s been so kind and helpful. After my tour today I understand why all of you are in such great shape. I’m already sore and tired after just a couple of hours.”
“It gets less tiring once you get comfortable with the technique, but I admit swimming all day is a great workout. I remember how tired I was after my first few days.”
“Thank you again for making these power supplies for us.” Allen said. “I think they are going to work out well.”
“And thank you for the tour. I really enjoyed it.”
Allen and Katherine escorted Mindy back out to the locker room and then the front desk. They promised to keep her informed about the performance of their piezoelectric power supplies, and she told them she might be in touch. She had another project where she might need their help.