To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to chapters 1-25.
Once Dr. Hansen and Audra had compared notes, they called a meeting of all the mermaids in the cafeteria to explain what they had found.
“Much of what I’m going to say is still speculation.” Audra began. “We certainly haven’t had time to perform any scientific trials. So we’ll start with the data we have gathered and then give a summary of what we think it means.”
“First of all, even though I came up with the name mer-milk, this fluid is quite a bit different from normal human breast milk. Milk normally contains a lot of proteins, sugars, and fats that provide nutrition to the baby. But along with the food portion of milk, a lot of other things come along for the ride – stem cells, immunoglobins, growth factors, hormones, anti-inflammatory agents and anti-infection agents. It is all of these bonus elements that make human milk so important to babies. They help the baby grow and develop, and strengthen her immune system. Mer-milk turns this around- there are very few nutritive elements like fats and proteins in the liquid, but there are large amounts of the other kinds of cells and materials, including several that we don’t yet understand. I think we have all experienced some of the hormonal effects of this milk. That is what drives the feelings of pleasure we get from drinking it. Dr. Hansen can explain what we think the other material is for.”
Dr. Hansen sat on one of the cafeteria tables and looked around at the mermaids.
“I’ve given presentations in large lecture halls to groups of distinguished scientists.” She started. “But I’ve never given a presentation while wearing a swimsuit before. I feel like a beauty contestant doing the question and answer competition.”
Everyone chuckled a little before she continued.
“I hope you understand that much of this is guesswork at this point. I hope to spend more time studying you in the future. In fact, I intend to ask the hospital to reduce my patient load so that I have time to make a more thorough study. As Audra has mentioned, the liquid Allen and Fernando are secreting is unlike milk in many ways. It contains large amounts of bioactive cellular material that is affecting your bodies in many ways. There is apparently a large pheremonal effect, something we have never really seen in humans before. In fact, there must be something different about your bodies, because the pheromones seem to affect you while having no effect on us non-mermaids. Audra and I have done some genetic analysis on a few samples of the fluid and we see both human and fish-like DNA in the cells. As she mentioned, various growth factors are present, and I expect these may be contributing to the changes I am seeing in your bodies. I think you will all be happy to hear that we did Carla’s last operation yesterday and she now has fully functioning legs again. It will take some time and some physical therapy to get her back to normal functioning, but she is well on her way. But as we performed the operation to separate her legs, we noticed a lot of growth in her tail area. Her muscles and tendons were shifting location and function to support a fully functioning tail. Even her bones were changing. Her spine was lengthening and she was growing new vertebrae. I did a scan of Allen just the other day and the changes are even more advanced in his case. His leg bones are losing mass and his body is using the calcium to build new bones in other places.”
“But what could be causing all of these changes?” Lacy asked. “Aren’t our tails entirely artificial? Is it the healgel?”
Audra answered the question. “It’s not healgel, at least not on its own. We did years of medical trials on thousands of people and never saw anything like this. But the lotion I developed to help protect our skin from the constant salt water immersion seems to be a major contributor, perhaps combined with the accelerated growth provided by the healgel. If you remember, I developed that lotion using genetic material from discus fish. The reason I chose discus is that they produce large amounts of protective slime coating. They produce that coating to feed their young, so there may be a connection with breast milk there. I inserted that genetic material into some corynebacteria, one of the beneficial bacteria that we all have on our skin. I figured those bacteria would multiply in our wet environment and generate the protective coating for our skin, and I was successful. But apparently that genetic material has not remained confined to the corynebacteria. Somehow, it has combined with the cellular machinery of our bodies and is now changing us into something new.”
“Is there no going back?” Anna asked. “Can the changes be reversed?”
“I think it can be reversed.” Dr. Hansen said. “Especially if we start early. It would probably be easier for the newer mermaids, but the longer you stay in this form, the more changed you will be, and eventually you will reach a point of no return. It seems like the key is to kill all the corynebacteria, then start making the physical changes. That is what we did with Carla. But I’m not sure how the mer-milk plays into all of this. Carla hadn’t yet experienced its effects. If we were to try the reversal process on one of you, you would probably get sick again, and we would have to experiment with various treatments to counteract the symptoms until your body no longer needed the mer-milk. My question is, who wants to try? If someone wants the process reversed, I can take them back to the hospital with me and we can start the process immediately.”
There was silence for several minutes as the mermaids all pondered whether they wanted to go back to having legs or not. Finally, Daphne spoke up.
“I think it may already be too late, especially for me.” She said. “The change may be physically possible, but when I think of leaving my mermaid sisters, and especially of going without the mer-milk, my guts twist up in a knot and I start to hyperventilate. I don’t think I could do it.”
Once Daphne had voiced her fears, the rest of the mermaids echoed her feelings. None of them was willing to go back.
“What about Allen and Fernando?” Dr. Hansen asked. “You two are experiencing some of the same physical changes but without the benefits of the mer-milk.”
“I don’t think that is entirely true.” Fernando said. “Although we may not be drinking the mer-milk, I for one get great pleasure from providing it– and a very visceral reaction to the thought of not being able to do so. Even before the other mermaids started getting sick, I was planning to cancel my breast reduction surgery. And I’m not sure Allen would have been able to go through with it, either.”
Allen nodded. He had been getting ready to go to the hospital for the surgery, but more because he thought it was expected of him. Even then his desires had been changing, especially since it was obvious that Katherine didn’t want him to go through with it.
“I would like to do more scans and tests on each of you.” Dr. Hansen said. “If we can understand how this happened and control it, there’s no telling what we could do– But I think it may be possible to learn how to regenerate organs or lost body parts.”
They all agreed to allow Dr. Hansen to do her tests, and then Allen offered to escort her out of the mermaid quarters.
“No you don’t.” Maria told him. “Audra can escort her. It’s time for Lacy and I to get our mer-milk for the day.”
Allen looked at the time and saw that she was right. The two mermaids practically dragged him back to their quarters, where he lay back the bottom of the pool and pulled off his top. The two mermaids eagerly latched on, one on each side. Although the process was enjoyable, Allen wondered about the future. What would it be like to do this every 2 or 3 hours for months or years? When their bodies stopped changing, would the mer-milk stop?
Monica went back to her room with Gretchen after the doctor’s discussion.
“I was a little surprised back there.” She wrote to Gretchen.
“Surprised? By what?” Gretchen wrote back.
“I thought you would ask to be changed back. You don’t seem to be very happy here.”
“I’m not sure what I feel. I’m surprised that you have been so welcoming to me after what I did working for Carlos. I was also surprised Ellen was willing to help me when I was sick. I can still feel some tension, especially with the older mermaids who suffered under my commands, so I thought about leaving. But then I thought about what would be waiting for me if I left. Would they send me to jail? Even if they didn’t, what kind of life would I have? Do you know what I did before working for Carlos?”
“No. I guess I never really thought about it.”
“I was a porn actress. A man I thought loved me convinced me to go into that line of work right after I turned 18. I thought it would be glamorous and exciting, but it turned out to be degrading and painful.”
“So how did you end up with Carlos?”
“I was one of the few women who managed to stay away from the drugs, so after a while I started learn the business side of things. Eventually I was directing the films instead of starring in them. Then Carlos approached me with a job offer, and you know what happened from there.”
“How did you end up as a mermaid?”
“Haven’t the others told you about their escape?”
“No. I’ve been practicing my English, but it is still hard to have a conversation, especially when I have to write my side of it out.”
“I’ll be glad when we get our throat valves put in. When are you scheduled?”
“Lucia and I go tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it. So what happened?”
“Ellen broke a wire off the decorations in the tank and somehow Audra used it to open her wall clamps. Then she grabbed me and pulled me into the pool, and they trapped me in her clamps and crawled out to the ocean. I was still stuck in the clamps two hours later when a guard found me.”
“How come you didn’t drown?”
“Carlos had things set up differently then. My head was out of the water. To my surprise, the guard didn’t let me loose. He went and told Carlos what had happened. Then I think they spent several hours chasing after the escaped mermaids. When he got back, Carlos was very angry. He came into the room and looked down at me and said since I let the mermaids escape I would have to take their place. He had Sophia inject me with something, and when I woke up I had a mermaid tail.”
The next day, Lucia and Monica rode to the hospital with a guard who spoke Spanish. A kind nurse got them ready for their operations, and by that afternoon their epiglottis had been cut open and replaced with a valve like the older mermaids had. Fernando had to come in the evening to give them their mer-milk, and they slept on hospital beds with plastic covers, covered by damp towels to keep their skin from drying out. After giving them a day to recover, they were sent back to the aquarium and replaced by Veronica and Andrea. This pattern continued until they had all received their valves. Christina and Gretchen were the last two to get the operation, and when they returned they were surprised to see the cafeteria decorated with plastic streamers and Katherine hard at work baking a cake.
“What is the party for? Gretchen asked Monica.
“It’s for our wedding!” Monica replied.
“All of ours, even yours if you want it.”
“And who are we marrying?”
“I will be marrying Fernando, and I assume you will marry Allen.”
“But they are already married. What happened to Katherine and Anna?”
“It was their idea.”
“Now I am really confused. Please explain it all to me.”
“I can explain.” Allen said.
Gretchen almost jumped out of the water. She hadn’t heard him come up behind her.
“I assume you were talking about the wedding.” He said. “That’s what ‘boda’ means, right?”
“Yes. What is this about Monica marrying Fernando, and me marrying you?”
“What do you feel like doing when I come feed you mer-milk each day?” Allen asked.
Gretchen’s face turned red. “I think you know.”
“I do.” Allen replied. “And Katherine noticed as well. So did Anna. They knew that Fernando and I, and all of you mermaids, were holding back because we were already married to them. And even though they are both very traditional women who believed in monogamy, they felt that our case is different. Our bodies are changing into something new, and our new biology is prompting us to act differently. So without any prompting from their husbands, they decided we should all get married. Then we wouldn’t have to hold back any more.”
“But polygamy is against the law.”
“Yes it is. So our wedding will not be legally binding. But Anna and Katherine found a minister who they trust, and they feel that a wedding valid in the eyes of God is sufficient, even if the state does not recognize it.”
“But nobody asked me.”
“That’s what I’m here for now. Gretchen, will you marry me? You will be one of seven wives, and Katherine will always be first in my heart, but I will try to treat you all fairly.”
“Well. That’s not exactly a super-romantic proposal.”
“No, and this isn’t exactly a typical situation. We’re kind of making it up as we go along.”
“You don’t know my history.”
“No I don’t. I don’t know you very well at all. And you don’t know much about me, either. But I hope we will come to know each other better. If we forget the past, is there anything about your future plans that I should be concerned about?”
“No. I think I’m learning a better way of life, and I don’t want to go back to the past. Your proposal may not have been romantic, but I think you’re the first man in my life that has ever been honest with me. So I guess my answer is yes.”
Tears started to trickle down Gretchen’s cheeks, and Allen gathered her into a hug. It felt strange to feel his breasts press against her own, but her body responded powerfully to his embrace. Once she had gathered her composure again, Gretchen asked him when the wedding would take place.
“Tonight at 7:00.” He answered. “Katherine and Anna didn’t feel we should wait.”
“Tonight! But I’m not ready!”
Monica chimed in from her seat at the next table. “Come with me, Gretchen. We’ve made everything ready while you were gone.”
Gretchen followed her friend and roommate back to the practice pool, where a guard lifted them out and set them in wheelchairs. Monica took her into the locker room and showed her one of the empty lockers, which was now filled with white wedding dresses.
“Katherine has been working with a seamstress friend of hers to alter these dresses for all of us. I think this one on the end is yours.”
“But where will the wedding take place? And what about all of your friends and relatives? I may not have anybody who wants to be here, but surely the rest of you want to share this day with your loved ones.”
“We decided to keep the wedding a secret from most people. They wouldn’t understand, and if the word got out we would have a media circus. I think Dave Johnson and Janice Larsen will be there as witnesses, but they won’t be any guests. Now stop worrying and try on your dress.”
The dress had an empire waist and a long flared skirt that covered Gretchen’s tail. The scalloped neckline showed off her cleavage without being overly revealing, and Gretchen was very pleased with the choice.
“I like Katherine’s style.” She told Monica. “What are Ellen and Fern going to be wearing?”
“Katherine and Anna debated about having them wear some kind of suit, but in the end they decided to have them wear colored dresses. Ellen’s is blue and Fern’s is a pale green.”
“Ellen and Fern didn’t get a choice?”
“I think they may have wanted something different, but they let their wives make the final decision.”
“That sounds nice. Where is the wedding going to take place?”
“In the aquarium lobby.”
Gretchen took her dress off and they swam back to the cafeteria pool to help make treats for the evening.