To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to chapters 1-25
Fernando’s family ate breakfast quickly because they needed to prepare to move. The day had come for them to move to the habitat and start working on the electric kelp farm. After breakfast they each took a dry bag into their room and packed their possessions inside it. Some things, like clothing for out of the water, they left behind, as the aquarium would still be “home base” for them. Once their bags were full, they put on their new Piezo Products wetsuit tops and swam out through the arena and down the channel to the bay. One of Orca’s submarines met them not far from the entrance. A cable had been attached to each side of the submarine with a series of snap rings spaced along its length. Fernando swam to the front end of one cable and attached his dry bag to the snap ring. The other mermaids followed his example, hooking their bags to the cable and then holding on to the cable with their hands. Once they were all situated, Fernando gave a signal to John Sykes, who was piloting the sub. He pushed the throttle forward and the sub began to slowly accelerate. It was about 15 miles to the electric kelp farm, and John kept the speed low so it took a couple of hours for the trip. Monica enjoyed the ride, feeling the water rushing past and watching the sea life go by.
Eventually, they saw what appeared to be a flying saucer under the sea. To one side of the saucer were regular rows of the electric kelp waving in the water. Four squat legs supported the saucer from underneath, and the sub drove up next to one of them. A cable hung from the bottom of the habitat, and Fernando clipped it to the cable on the sub. All of them let go of the cable and massaged their hands, which had gotten a bit tired and cramped from holding on so long. A few minutes later, the hatch on the top of the sub opened up and Mr. Sykes came out. He was wearing a wetsuit and one of the removable breathing collars. He motioned for the mermaids to follow and then swam around the habitat until he came to a door. There were four numbered buttons in a square beside the door, and Mr. Sykes motioned for the mermaids to watch as he slowly pressed them in a coded sequence – 3-1-3-4-4-1-2. A minute or two later, the door popped open and the man waved Fern and Anna into an airlock behind the door. The door closed and a red light illuminated. Monica could feel a slight current of water from somewhere under the door as water was pumped out of the airlock. After a time, the red light went out. Monica pressed the buttons in the same sequence to open the door again, then she swam into the airlock, followed by Tania and Jennifer. They pulled the door closed behind them and waited while the water was pumped out of the room. Monica was surprised when the water level only dropped to about halfway down the wall before the inner door clicked. A motor hummed as the door opened and Monica swam out into the habitat.
Mr. Sykes said something in English, which Anna translated for the others.
“He says: Welcome to the habitat. I hope you will find it a comfortable home for as long as you need it.”
“Thank you for giving us work to do.” Monica replied.
Fern introduced Mr. Sykes to Tania and Jennifer, and by the time she was done, Andrea, Veronica, and Christina had entered. The introductions continued, after which Mr. Sykes gave them a tour of the habitat. The habitat was round, with 12 rooms spaced evenly around the perimeter. Ten of the rooms were individual sleeping rooms set up similarly to those in the mermaid quarters at the aquarium. One was the airlock they had come in through, and on the other side was a bathroom. The center of the habitat was split in two by a wall. On one side there were kitchen and dining facilities, and on the other side was a wall of monitors and equipment for controlling and monitoring the electric kelp and the habitat environment. There were handrails just above the water level all around the facility. One of the first things Monica needed to do was try out the bathroom. Unlike the potty pools in the mermaid quarters, this bathroom had a traditional looking toilet seat. A strong suction pump pulled feces into a containment unit. Urine was handled via a tube with a soft rubbery cup on the end. Monica put the cup over the vent in her tail and her urine was sucked away by the pump. When she was finished, several of the other mermaids were waiting to do the same thing, so she went out and explored the habitat some more. It appeared that one side of the control area was set up for entertainment, with a larger flat screen monitor and some comfortable chairs for watching videos or TV.
About the time all of the mermaids had refreshed themselves, the airlock opened again and another man in a wetsuit and breathing collar entered.
“This is Nick Jameson.” Mr. Sykes said with Anna translating. “He speaks Spanish, and he has been here for the initial electric kelp installation. He’ll stay with you for a day until you have learned how to install and monitor the kelp. He works for Piezo Products so even after he leaves you will be able to call him with questions or if problems come up.”
They did another round of introductions with Nick. He had a slight accent, but Monica was impressed with his Spanish. He must have lived in a Spanish-speaking area to be that good. Nick had one length of the kelp with him, and he set it on one of the dining room tables and explained how it was hooked into the grid of electric kelp outside the habitat. There was a small base that they would anchor into the seafloor using two long, screw-in spikes. Then two short cables were connected to two other units to tie them into the electrical grid. Once the cables were connected, there was a strap around the kelp that kept it rolled up into a cylinder. They had a special tool that they could use to release the strap and then the kelp would unroll and begin to sway in the current and generate electricity.
Once he had explained everything, Nick had them each practice connecting the cables and releasing the strap. It didn’t seem like a very difficult task to Monica. Once they had all had a chance to practice, Nick led four of them outside to try an actual installation. They swam a short distance from the habitat to where a large crate sat on the seafloor. Nick lifted the lid and motioned for each of the mermaids to reach inside and take one of the electric kelp units from inside. As Monica reached inside for hers, an unexpected current pushed her to one side and she banged her arm on the edge of the crate. She could tell that things would be a little more difficult in the open ocean than they were inside the habitat. When everyone had one of the units, Nick led them over to the electric kelp installation area. Monica counted 15 rows of kelp, each with about 30 strands of kelp in it. Each strand was about a foot away from the other strands on each side. Nick made a hand signal that Monica thought meant to “wait,” so she and the others hovered in place while Nick swam back to the habitat. Monica could see him working with something behind one of the legs for a moment, and then he came back, carrying something that looked like a large, battery-powered drill in his hand.
Nick pointed to Monica and indicated that she should put her strand of kelp down next to the others, starting a new row. She put it in place and then put one of the anchor bolts through the hole in the base of the unit like Nick had shown them inside. Then Nick fit the driver he was carrying over the top of the bolt and activated it. He planted his feet firmly on the bottom, and Monica could see his muscles straining to hold the driver in place as it screwed the anchor bolt into the sea floor. When he was done, Nick held out the driver to Monica and motioned to the other bolt. Monica put it in the other hole and slipped the driver over the top of the bolt. Then she dug the tips of her tail fin into the sand and pressed the trigger. There was a side handle on the driver and she held it tightly. She could feel the driver trying to push her sideways as it screwed the bolt into the ground, but she used the weight of her body and the strength in her tail to push back. Once the kelp strand was in place, Monica handed the driver back to Nick and then attached a cable between her kelp strand and the one in the row beside it. Then she released the strap and unrolled the kelp. Veronica was next and she repeated what Monica had done, except that Nick let her drive both of the anchor bolts. Veronica also had to connect two cables – one to Monica’s unit and one to the adjacent row. Tania and Andrea followed, each installing her own kelp strand. Andrea got surprised by the power of the driver and found herself being spun around by the device, but she let go of the trigger and took a more secure stance, then finished driving the bolt without further problems. When they were done, they swam back to the habitat and through the airlock.
“You all did a great job out there.” Nick told them. “I had some doubts about whether you would be able to handle the driver, but you are apparently stronger than you look.”
“Swimming all day builds muscle.” Veronica told him. “I’m a lot fitter than I used to be.”
“I can see that. Now, if you will all come over to the control area, I’ll show you how to check on the units you just installed.”
Nick led them to a touch screen and showed them the menu commands to look at the details of the kelp grid. The screen showed a contour map of the seafloor near the habitat, with a grid of green dots overlaying one section.
“These dots represent individual kelp nodes.” Nick said.
Then he touched one of the dots and the screen zoomed up for a closer view. Now there was a small window beside the dot listing the status of the kelp node along with the instantaneous and average power generated.
“This is the last strand just installed by Andrea.” Nick told them. “As you can see, it is generating power and it is functioning properly. If there was a problem, the dot would turn red and you would hear an audible alarm.”
“Then what would we do?” Tania asked.
“Then you would simply swim out and replace the malfunctioning unit. You would store the bad one here in the habitat and Piezo Products would pick it up on their next visit to take back to their lab and analyze. We haven’t had a problem with any of the units installed so far, but one of the beauties of this system is its modularity. The loss of any one node is barely noticeable and can easily be fixed.”
“This all seems simple enough.” Commented Monica.
“It is. I expect the main difficulty you will have will be the schedule. Starting tomorrow they want you to install 200 nodes per day. Even with all of you working I imagine it will be pretty demanding.”
Nick finished explaining the monitoring functions on the touch screen and then took the other half of the mermaids out to demonstrate installing the kelp. Mr. Sykes had left in the submarine while Monica and her group were practicing, so the four of them were now alone in their new home.
“Shall we pick out our bedrooms?” Andrea asked.
“That sounds like a good idea.” Tania said.
They each took their small bag of belongings and swam around the habitat, looking into each bedroom. They were all basically identical, so Monica chose one of the ones closest to the bathroom. She put away her possessions in one of the cabinets and hung up the small picture of her family on the wall. Just a few minutes later, they were all done and they met back in the central area. They investigated the entertainment options available and turned on the TV to watch the news. When they got to the weather, Monica smiled a little. The weather above the surface of the water wasn’t likely to affect them much. She was still smiling when Nick returned with Fern and the other mermaids. Nick began showing them the control panel and Monica went to the other side of the habitat with Veronica, Tania, and Andrea so as not to interfere with Nick’s teaching. Monica was starting to feel a certain longing and her thoughts kept returning to Fern.
“Nick is planning to spend the night, isn’t he?” She said.
“Yes.” Answered Andrea. “Mr. Sykes said he would spend tomorrow with us.”
“So how are we going to get our mer-milk? I’m not sure we want to tell Nick about it. He doesn’t even know that Fern is male.”
“And what about me?” Veronica added. “I drew #2 and I was looking forward to spending the night with Fernando.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about it.” Andrea said. “Most people aren’t that observant. We can just slip away one by one to visit Fern in his room. And if Nick does notice anything we just tell him Fern is having her period and we’re going in to comfort her.”
“That should work.” Tania said. “I’m usually one of the first to get the mer-milk, so I’ll pull Fern aside and tell her the plan.”
Once Nick finished teaching the others about the control panel, they all gathered together in the control room and found a movie to watch. Fern and Tania slipped away without Nick making any comment. In fact, Nick seemed much more interested in Monica than in the other mermaids or in watching the movie. He sat down next to her and tried to start a conversation.
“So, Monica. I’ve heard a little bit about what happened to all of you mermaids. It sounds like you went through some pretty awful things.”
“Yes, it was pretty bad for a time.”
“What did you do beforehand? Where are you from?”
Monica didn’t see much harm in having a conversation, so she told Nick about growing up in Mexico City and working in a restaurant. Then she asked him about his life. They moved to the far end of the room so they wouldn’t disturb those who wanted to watch the movie. She found out that Nick had grown up in Texas but spent two years living in Argentina as a missionary. That explained his fluency in Spanish. Monica found his missionary experience to be very interesting, so they spent some time talking to each other, until Christina swam up and tapped Monica on the shoulder.
“It’s your turn to go be with Fern.” She told Monica.
“Oh, excuse me Nick.” Monica said. “Thanks for the fascinating conversation.”
“What’s wrong with Fern?” Nick asked.
“Nothing to worry about.” Christina told him. “It’s that time of the month and we just thought it would be nice to keep her company. So what were you and Monica talking about?”
Nick allowed himself to be diverted and seemed happy to have another beautiful mermaid to talk with. Before too long it was time for bed and everyone slipped away to their individual bedrooms.
“I just hope I can sleep.” Nick told Christina as she got ready to find her own room.
“Why wouldn’t you?” She asked him.
“Before you mermaids came we kept the habitat dry inside. I’ve never tried to sleep on a floating air mattress before. What if I roll over and fall into the water?”
“It does take some getting used to. I don’t even use a mattress.”
“Where do you sleep then?”
“I just let myself float under the water. It’s the softest mattress in the world.”
“I keep forgetting you can breathe underwater. I think I’ll stick with the mattress.”
With various mermaids visiting Fern throughout the evening, Nick didn’t even notice that Veronica stayed the night in Fern’s room. The next morning, Monica cooked breakfast for them all – huevos rancheros made with supplies she found in the kitchen. Nick was very appreciative.
“I was surviving on cereal and sandwiches before. Jim and I weren’t much for cooking.” He said.
Jim was another diver who had helped Nick with the initial kelp installation. After breakfast, Nick took them all outside and they started working to install more of the kelp. There were three of the drill\drivers, so they took turns using them to secure the kelp units to the sea floor. They found that after installing about five of the kelp units, the battery on the driver would run out, and then someone would have to return to the habitat to replace it. There were extra batteries and a charger inside the habitat, but the battery had to be changed in air, not underwater, so swapping for a new battery took some time. They worked on three different rows of kelp, with the mermaids taking turns installing the units and ferrying supplies back and forth. Monica began to see why it would be difficult to install 200 units per day. They all worked hard with only a short break for lunch. Finally at dinner time, the sub from Orca came to pick up Nick and the mermaids were left alone.