Chapter 76 – Meanwhile, back at the Aquarium
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. . . Ellen? 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 old 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 that Mindy was watching with a puzzled look on her face. She seemed to be concerned about something.
“Is something bothering you?” Katherine asked.
Mindy blushed a bit. “I don’t know if I dare ask, but I’ve been studying a lot about you mermaids over the last few weeks. The news stories talk about two men being kidnapped along with the women, and during the news conference, a merman named Allen talked to a reporter about being forced to have breast augmentation surgery.”
“So you’re wondering if Ellen is really Allen?”
“Yes. But I don’t want to embarrass you if it is a sensitive topic.”
“That’s OK.” Allen said. “I’m not really embarrassed about it. I’ve just found it easier to pretend I’m Ellen most of the time. It saves explaining to everyone I meet.”
“I guess I understand. But when I saw you kiss Katherine and when I noticed the way Katherine was looking at you something just didn’t feel right. And I saw your name plaque on the wall that said Mermaid Katherine and Merman Allen. I’m guessing you’re a couple?”
“Yes, we’re married.”
“So, should I keep calling you Ellen, or should I switch to Allen?”
“It’s probably easier if you stick with Ellen, since other people might hear. But we could go with Allen if that makes you more comfortable.”
“Ellen is fine. I’m afraid even though I know you’re a man, I have a hard time thinking of you that way.”
Allen wasn’t sure he liked the implications of that comment, but he didn’t say anything. Mindy then changed the subject.
“You guys must be in 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.
As they wheeled their way back to the practice pool, they met Carla coming the other way. She had a large bag hanging from the back of her wheelchair.
“You’re on your way to the hospital?” Allen asked.
“Yes. Dr. Hansen is going to start the separation process.”
“Good luck. We’ll stop by to visit in a day or two.”
Chapter 77 – Rescue Plans
Dave called Allen the day after Mindy’s visit.
“We have a plan in place to rescue Marta’s sister now.” He said.
“Great! What are you going to do?”
“I’ll tell you all the details on the way. I would like a few of you to come with us. I think having other merfolk to talk to will help any that we rescue feel more comfortable.”
“I’m sure any one of us would be happy to come.”
“Good. Do any of the mermaids speak Spanish?”
“Yes. Maria, Fernando, and Anna all speak it fluently. Several of the rest of us can speak at least some.”
“That’s what I thought. Marta told me her sister doesn’t speak any English, so it would be good to have some Spanish speakers with us. Why don’t you talk it over with the others and pick two of you to come, with at least one being a Spanish speaker.”
“Okay, I can do that. When are you leaving?”
“Whoa, that’s really fast.”
“The faster we move, the less likely it will be that we tip anyone off. Speaking of which, when you talk to the other merfolk, make sure no-one else can hear. There still may be informants at the aquarium.”
“Of course. I’ll be careful. Where should our volunteers meet you?”
“Just have them come to the lobby about 9:00, and someone from our team will pick them up.”
“You got it.”
Allen hung up, then put his phone back in the cabinet and swam out of his bedroom into the rec area. Katherine, Audra, and Renna were in the room, all working away at their computers. Allen went to Katherine first. After a quick kiss, he asked her to help.
“Dear, I just got some news from Dave. Can you swim to the Arena and get Daphne and any of the full-time merfolk and have them meet in the potty pool next to the rec room?”
“Sure, honey. I’ll go. Is it an emergency?”
“No, just something I want to pass on to everyone in private.”
“All right. We’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
Next Allen went to Renna and asked her to gather anyone in the cafeteria, then he asked Audra to find anyone in the greenhouse or the practice pool. They all swam off on their errands and Allen went to the potty pool to wait for them. They showed up in ones or twos after a few minutes. Once they were all there, Allen put his back to the entrance and started to tell them the news.
“What did you tell the part-timers?” He asked.
“Fanny and Samantha were in the cafeteria.” Renna said. “I asked them to go to the mermaid swim pool and fill in for Lacy and Fernando.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea. I didn’t think about needing someone to fill in. Did you tell them why Lacy and Fernando needed to be relieved?”
“I told them there were some reporters who wanted an interview.”
“Are there any other part-timers here now?”
“Josephine is in the arena.” Daphne said. “I left her there to watch things while I was gone.”
“Those are the only ones on the schedule for this morning.” Renna said.
“Good. Dave wanted me to be careful in case we have another informant—though I’m pretty sure none of our part-timers would do that.”
“It doesn’t hurt to be safe.” Katherine said. “Someone else might have a sister like Marta did.”
“So what’s this all about?” Anna asked.
“Dave has a plan to rescue Marta’s sister.”
“Great! What is it?” Asked Audra.
“He hasn’t told me the details yet. But he wants a couple of merfolk to come with him, and he’s leaving tonight. At least one of the ones who goes needs to be a Spanish speaker.”
“Did he say who he wanted to come?”
“No, he asked me to get two volunteers. So who wants to go?”
Unsurprisingly, everyone raised their hand. Then Audra spoke up.
“We could draw straws, but I think I have a better idea.” She said.
“I could pull rank on you, since I am your employer, but I need to stay here to run the aquarium and Burns Pharmaceuticals. From the beginning, Allen has been the person most affected by Carlos. He has also been our leader during our escape, so I think he should be one of the two who go. I recommend that Anna be the other person, as she speaks Spanish, and she is in a similar situation to those who will be rescued. The rest of us volunteered to be merfolk, but Anna and Fernando were forced into it. That should help her relate to the people being rescued.”
“So, what do you all think about my recommendations?”
Allen looked around the pool. He could tell that all of the others wanted to find a reason why they should be the ones to go. Several tried, but after a short discussion they all agreed to Audra’s plan. They all went their separate ways, but Allen could tell that his wife was unhappy, so he suggested they go back to their sleeping pool to talk.
“Are you unhappy that I’m going with Dave?” He asked her.
“I know it’s logical, and I agree with Audra that you are a good choice to go. But that doesn’t make it feel any better. What if something happens and you are captured again?”
“I’m sure Dave won’t be putting us into danger. He knows what he’s doing. Didn’t he rescue you from North Korea?”
“He did. But I keep seeing myself back there, helpless while General Pak seduced me. I just feel safer when we’re together.”
There wasn’t really much that Allen could say, so he just held his wife and they spent the afternoon in each other’s arms. When 9:00 drew near, Katherine went with him to the lobby. Allen sat in his wheelchair, a small bag with his extra shirt and bra in his lap. Katherine sat beside him holding his hand, and Anna sat next to her, her own bag hung over the handle of her wheelchair. Precisely on time, a large van pulled up to the door and two men dressed in black hopped out. One of the men was Dave, and the other was Craig, one of Dave’s team. The van was equipped with a wheelchair lift, and the two men helped Allen and anna inside and locked their wheelchairs down to the floor.
“Now can you tell us your plan?” Allen asked him.
“Yes. We’re on our way to the airport, where a plane is waiting for us. One of my operatives managed to penetrate the compound a few days ago, and she has hidden radio-controlled gas bombs throughout the building. I was able to make contact with an old associate of mine. He is now a Colonel in the Guatemalan army, and he is one of the few people I can be sure is not on the take. He’s going to make sure our extraction team can get into and out of the complex without running into any other Guatemalan forces, and then he’ll be the hero who captures the King’s gang leader and brings him to justice.”
“What is our part in all of this?”
“Given your limited mobility on land, you will stay in the airplane and be there to work with the rescued women on the way back.”
“Well, it sounds simple.”
“Plans always seem simple until you try to carry them out, but I have a good team.”
Chapter 78 – More Mermaids
The next morning, the mermaids were given another stack of ration bars to share and they each got several swallows of milk from the drinking tubes. The others settled down to the floor of the pool to write messages in the sand, but Monica felt restless and practiced swimming instead. It was still tiring, but after a time she felt like she was getting a little better. She was just settling down with the others when they heard noises coming through the ceiling above them. They all swam up near the top of the pool and waited. After a few minutes, a hatch in the ceiling opened and another mermaid dropped out – Tania. They all gave her a hug and then Christina started leading her around the pool, giving her the same tour she had given Monica the day before. A few minutes later the hatch opened again and Andrea fell through. That made eight mermaids now. Seven of them were former harem girls – half the total number. Did Mr. Simons plan to turn them all into mermaids? What would he do with them when he was done? He didn’t seem interested in watching them perform like Carlos had.
No new mermaids were added in the next two days. According to the others, this was unusual. Before then, there were new additions every day. So maybe eight was going to be the final number. There were ten sets of clamps on the wall, so Monica wondered if they still might get two more. Though a few were a little reluctant at first, the other mermaids soon joined Monica in her morning swims around the pool. There was little else to do, as Mr. Simons apparently didn’t eat in the mermaid restaurant area, and he hadn’t contacted the mermaids in any way other than to dump them together in the pool. On the third day, things changed. In the morning, Mr. Simons and two other people came into the restaurant and Mr. Simons spoke to the mermaids through the underwater speaker system.
“Good morning, girls.” He said. “Today you are going to get your pictures taken. This is Francis, my photographer, and his assistant. I expect you to do everything he asks you to do. If he reports back that you have been cooperative, you will get breakfast. Now, swim out in front where Francis can see you.”
They all swam out and lined up in front of the clear wall of the pool. Mr. Simons handed the microphone to Francis and left the room. The assistant started setting up a tripod, camera, and lights while Francis spoke to the mermaids.
“What beautiful and challenging subjects!” He exclaimed. “Turn around so that I can see your backs.”
They followed his directions and he took a few group photos, then started to separate them out and work with each mermaid separately. His greatest difficulty came with their hair. In the water, their hair tended to float around their heads, getting into their faces and eyes. The mermaids had taken to braiding each other’s hair or knotting it behind their heads to keep it out of the way. They had no rubber bands or bobby pins, but they found creative ways to knot the ends of the braids or even tie them with a few strands of loose hair. Francis didn’t want any braids or knots. He ordered them to let their hair down, then spent a lot of time trying to get photos where the loose hair floated attractively instead of getting in the way. It took about three hours for Francis to get all the photos he wanted, and the mermaids were extremely grateful when he was done and they were finally able to get their breakfast of ration bars and milk.
What do you think that was all about? Monica wrote in the sand after they had settled down.
I think he’s planning to sell us. Answered Jennifer.
What makes you think that?
Remember how he talked about efficiency and making money? Mr. Simons is all about business. He wouldn’t keep us here without a reason, and his reasons always lead to making money. I think he plans to sell us off, and the pictures were for advertising.
I’m afraid that makes a lot of sense. Christina added. Carlos sold one of the first batch of mermaids before they got away. And I heard him talking about who he might sell the others to.
What would someone want with a mermaid? I doubt there are many people with private pools where we could perform. Tania wrote.
I’m afraid the people he would sell us to are more interested in our performance in bed than in a pool. Wrote Christina. And we would be the perfect bed slaves – our tails make it so we can’t run away, and if we did, with no breathing discs we would suffocate in a day or so.
After their conversation, the mermaids were subdued as they thought about their possible futures. At least now they were together, and they were mostly left alone. But what would the future bring?
Chapter 79 – Covert Operation
Allen and Dave’s team landed at the airport in Puerto Barrios just after midnight. The plane had its lights turned off and the pilot navigated to a landing using night vision goggles. It was a small airport that didn’t normally operate at night, so the landing field was deserted and the lights in the terminal were off. The pilot turned the plane around and parked it at the beginning of the runway, ready to take off again at a moment’s notice. Ten men dressed in black slipped out the door, leaving Allen and Anna to wait in the plane with the pilot. Just outside the airport, three large vans waited on a back road, and the men climbed into the vehicles and drove off.
Teresa Malagro sat in her bedroom in Magnum Simons’ estate. Mr. Simons was a suspicious man, and it had been very difficult for her to arrange to get hired. But web developers with experience in the dark web were hard to find and Teresa had been one of the few available who was willing to work in Guatemala. So far, Mr. Simons had been pleased with her work, and he didn’t suspect her real reason for being there, even after one of the captive women had managed to steal a pair of scissors from her room.
Teresa had spent the past week creating advertisements for Mr. Simons, and he had been pleased with the results. She knew he had already been getting some responses based on an older ad done before she was hired. But now he had a new set of high-quality photos and he wanted Teresa to develop a set of ads highlighting each individual mermaid. The work was interesting if she didn’t think hard about what it was being used to do. But Teresa could at least hope and plan that her ads would never yield a customer for her employer. Security was tight, but the guards had never found the hidden gas canisters sewn into the bottom of her knitting bag. They had searched all of her luggage, finding only her clothes and toiletries. Teresa had thought it strange when given her packing instructions – shoes were not allowed, other than the pair she wore on the way there. Pants were also proscribed, and she was required to wear pantyhose or tights with her skirts and dresses. The guards had confiscated her shoes and the pair of exercise shorts she had packed, but hadn’t found any of her carefully hidden items.
Once inside and working daily with the computers, it had been child’s play for Teresa to hack into the security system and set all the door locks to accept her thumbprint. Over the next few nights, she had crept out of her room late at night and set her gas canisters throughout the building, slipping them into every air conditioning intake vent. The vents were set high in the ceilings, but Teresa had been a rock climber for years, and any guards who had seen her would have been surprised to watch her clamber up the wall, bracing herself between the wall and the molding around a door. It only took her a moment to climb up and slip the small flat canister between the grate and into the vent.
After several nights of such covert activity, Teresa’s work was almost done. She looked at her watch one last time. It was 1:00 A.M., time for the next phase. She went into the small bathroom attached to her bedroom and removed the special “tampon” she had been carrying inside herself since she came to work for Mr. Simons. She wiped it off with toilet paper, then pulled her black tights back up and went to lay down on her bed. Once she was comfortable, Teresa pressed a button on the transmitter in her hand and then lay down as the invisible gas spread throughout the building. She fell asleep, joining the guards who collapsed at their posts.
A few minutes later, three vans pulled up to the gates. A man in black got out of the first van and pressed his gloved thumb to the plate beside the gate. It opened, revealing a guard laying across the driveway in front of him.
“It looks like Teresa’s done her work.” The man said to the driver of the first van. Then he dragged the unconscious guard off of the driveway and the vans drove up in front of the front door of the mansion. The same man got out and pressed his thumb to the plate that made the bridge extend across the moat, then he opened the door. Two other men came with him, rifles at the ready.
“We need to find Teresa first.” One of the men said. “She should be in a room on the second floor.”
Two more black-clad forms slipped through the door and stood guard while the original three stepped over the unconscious guard and ran up the stairs. They tried each door along the front hallway, and they all opened even to gloved thumbs from different people. When none of those rooms held the woman they were looking for, they started doing the same along the back hallway. In the second room they tried, they found Teresa sleeping soundly on her bed, fully dressed in a navy blue dress and black tights. One of the men injected an antidote into her arm, and within a minute or two she woke up.
“Great job, Teresa.” Said Dave. “All the guards are out cold and the doors open for us. What do we need to know?”
“The mermaids are downstairs, but the only access to their pool is via an outside door at the back. There may be a guard on the beach who didn’t get gassed. I can show you the way to the slave quarters, but we need to get to the control room first. Those women are wearing shock collars that will kill them if we don’t deactivate the base station before taking them out of the compound.”
“Lead the way.” Dave said, then lifted a walkie-talkie to his mouth. “The entrance to the mermaid pool is around back. There may be a conscious guard on the beach.”
Teresa led Dave and his two associates down the hall to the control room and opened the door for them. The wall of video screens in the room flipped between images of nearly every room and hallway in the mansion. A guard slumped over in a chair in front of the screens. On the back wall was a metal box held closed with a padlock.
“That’s the collar control unit.” Teresa said. “I think Simons has the only key.”
“Which room is his?”
“The last door in the hallway.”
Dave nodded at one of his team members, who slipped out the door. Then he stood looking at the monitors while he waited. One of them showed the beach, where a guard stood looking out to sea. A shadowy form slipped up behind the guard, knocking him down with a quick slam from the butt of a rifle. The commando then moved out of the camera’s view. Dave shifted his view from one monitor to another until he saw a group of men moving in a large empty room. They stopped in front of a counter with some kind of control panel, then started investigating the floor. Dave could see a seam in the floor and some kind of trap door apparatus. The men investigated for a moment, and then Dave’s walkie-talkie buzzed to get his attention.
“Yes?” He answered.
“We’re in the room above the mermaids, but it seems like everything is controlled from a console. Can Teresa do anything to help us?”
Dave looked over at Teresa. “Do you have any way to activate the controls for the mermaid area?”
“I never found anything like that on the network. It must be local. I could go down there and try to help, but it would take some time.”
“Let’s see what we can do first.” Dave said, then activated the walkie-talkie again. “She doesn’t have access. Can you force it open?”
Dave watched the screen as a couple of the men pulled out pry bars and started working on the hatch. He was interrupted when the man he had sent to find keys returned.
“These are all the keys I could find in his room.” The man said, holding out a hand with a key ring and several loose keys in it.
Teresa tried several keys that looked like they were about the right size, and the third one opened the lock box on the wall. Inside the box was a simple electronic box with three buttons on it and a small LCD display that said “Active.”
“So do you know how this works?” Dave asked.
“Luckily, I was able to find the specifications in the house computer. It’s a simple transmitter that sends a short range signal. The collars are set to shock lightly when the signal drops below a certain level, and to give a lethal shock if the signal disappears.”
“So if we turn it off, it will kill the women?”
“Yes. But Mr. Simons had a fail-safe built in so that he could send a code that will turn off the collars.” Teresa reached up and pressed the first button twice, then the third button, followed by the second button three times. The transmitter beeped and then the message on the screen changed to “Inactive.”
“You should be able to move the women now. But I would cut those collars off as soon as possible.”
Dave looked back at the screen showing the room above the mermaid pool. The men had managed to force open the trap door and were now lowering ropes into the pool below.
“It looks like the mermaid rescue is in good hands.” Dave said. “Let’s go see what we can do about the other women.”
He changed the channel on his walkie-talkie and spoke into it again.
“Have the rest of the men meet me at the front door. Bring some wire cutters with you.”
Teresa followed Dave and the other two men back down the stairs to the front door. A group of four more commandoes waited for them there. Teresa led them down the hall to the harem, where they opened the door to the first bedroom to find a woman asleep on her bed. Teresa sorted through her handful of keys until she found one that would unlock the shackles at the woman’s wrists and ankles. Then one of Dave’s men lifted her up while another one used a pair of heavy duty wire cutters to remove her collar.
“I’ll be as careful as I can, but her neck may be a bit scratched up when I’m done.” The man said.
Once the woman was free of the collar, another one of Dave’s men put her limp form over his shoulder and carried her out to the waiting vans. The rest of the group continued down the hall, opening doors and releasing the women within. About half of the rooms were empty, but they found seven women in all. Teresa followed Dave out of the building with the last unconscious woman draped over his shoulder. When they got to the vans, two men approached them with one of the mermaids seated between them on their crossed arms. The woman looked upset, and she seemed to be trying to say something, but the only sound coming from her mouth was a faint gasping.
“Don’t worry.” Teresa told her in Spanish. “We know about your collars and we are set up to keep you breathing. We’re going to take you someplace safe.”
The woman seemed a little less worried and stopped trying to speak. Teresa climbed into the back of one of the vans, which was crowded with commandoes, unconscious women, and two mermaids. The two mermaids sat on the floor of the van with three women sleeping beside them. That did not leave much room for the three large men and Teresa to crouch around the edges. The vans drove quickly away from the compound, and after a short time Teresa heard helicopters above and large vehicles passing them on the road.
“Those must be Dave’s friends in the Guatemalan army, here to arrest the kings’ gang.” Teresa thought.
After an uncomfortable hour-long ride, the vans pulled up at the airport and the men began quickly transferring the rescued women to the airplane. The harem girls were starting to regain consciousness by this time, but they were still groggy and uncoordinated. Teresa spoke to them softly in Spanish, telling them they were being rescued and reassuring them that they would be safe soon. In only a few minutes, they were all aboard the airplane and it took off from the darkened runway, heading towards the safety of the United States.
Chapter 80 – Extraction Successful
Monica woke to the sound of grating and scraping coming from above her head. It was pitch dark and she couldn’t see anything, but she continued to hear the sounds from above. Was Mr. Simons coming to take them away? If that was the case, why didn’t he just open the door? Could it be someone else? Someone who wasn’t supposed to be there? Not wanting to be so close to the hatch above, Monica unplugged from the wall and slipped out of the clamps, then swam over to Gretchen, who was next to her. When their hands met, Monica could feel that Gretchen was also awake. In the darkness they couldn’t write in the sand, but they communicated through urgent touches. They started swimming to each of the other women, holding hands so they didn’t get separated in the darkness. Once they had all gathered together, they moved to the front of the pool, away from the hatch above.
After several minutes of the noises from above, a crack appeared and a beam of light shone down through the water. The dark form of a man dressed all in black dropped down from above. He had a flashlight in his hand, and he swept the beam through the pool until it rested on the group of huddled mermaids. Once he saw the women, he pointed the flashlight at a white sign in his hand, then popped his head back up to get a breath of air before diving deeper and approaching. Monica swam to meet him and he stopped in the middle of the pool to light up his sign, which had a message in Spanish.
We are here to rescue you.
The guards are incapacitated and it is safe.
Please come with us.
After he was sure Monica had read the sign, the man returned to the hatch for another breath of air. Two ropes were lowered down through the hatch, and the man hung in the water near them, lighting the area with his flashlight. Monica was not sure if the others had been able to read the sign or not, so she swam back to them and motioned toward the hatch. Tania and Gretchen were already moving in her direction, and the others quickly followed. When they arrived back at the hatch, the man pantomimed climbing up the ropes and then waved them forward. Tania was the first to try climbing up the rope, followed by Monica who climbed the other one. She pulled herself up through the hatch, which had apparently been pried open, as she could see that the metal had been bent and distorted. Once her hands appeared above the water, strong hands grabbed her wrists and lifted Monica out of the water. Several men stood in the room, all dressed in black clothing. Two of the men crossed their hands between them, making a seat by grabbing each other’s arms. The one who had lifted Monica out of the water guided her to a sitting position on the side of the hatch, then grabbed her around the waist and lifted her up, placing her on the arms of the two men. She could see another group of men doing the same for Tania.
No sooner did Monica get herself settled with her arms around the shoulders of the men who were carrying her than they started to walk quickly out of the room. They crossed the bridge over the moat of glass and went outside. Monica caught a glimpse of one of the guards apparently unconscious on the ground as they walked around the building to the front. Once it sank in that they were actually being rescued, Monica started to worry about what would happen when her breathing discs ran out. Would she be rescued only to suffocate while her saviors tried to figure out what was wrong? Her rescuers carried her towards a line of vans parked in front of the house. A woman in a short blue dress and black tights stood next to one of the vans. Monica tried to say something to warn the woman about her collar, but of course, no words came out of her throat.
“Don’t worry.” The woman told her. “We know about your collars and we are set up to keep you breathing. We’re going to take you someplace safe.”
Monica relaxed and the two men set her down on the floor in the back of one of the vans. In just a few minutes, she was joined by Veronica and Jennifer. Then two more of the men arrived, carrying Daniella and Juana over their shoulders. They laid the two women down on the floor of the van, making for a very crowded space. Daniella and Juana were unconscious, but seemed to be unharmed. Monica noticed that their shock collars had been removed, so apparently their rescuers knew about that problem and how to remove them without shocking the girls. Three of the men joined them in the back of the van, crouching uncomfortably around the edges, and then they started moving. Monica cringed in fear when she heard helicopters overhead, but the men seemed unconcerned and the van continued on unmolested.
After driving for an hour or so, the van arrived on the runway at the airport. A jet waited on the runway with its engines running, even though all the lights were out at the airport. Two of the men picked Monica up and carried her up the stairs into the plane. Monica was surprised to see a long room with comfortable padded chairs along each side. Two mermaids were already seated at the front of the plane facing back towards the chairs. It had been a few weeks, so she wasn’t sure, but Monica thought these were two of the mermaids that had been in the tank before and escaped.
“Please have a seat. I’ll explain everything when everyone is aboard.” Said the smaller of the two mermaids in Spanish.
Monica was already seated where the men had put her down, so she just nodded her head. The men continued to shuttle back and forth from the airplane to the vans until they had brought in all of the rescued mermaids and harem girls. Some of the harem girls were awake now, and the men just led them by the hand, but one or two were still sleeping, so they were carried into the plane and buckled into a seat. When two men entered the plane carrying Gretchen, the two mermaids in front seemed shocked. They had an intense discussion with one of the men who seemed to be the leader of the group, but eventually they seemed to reach a decision. The man went to a bag and pulled out a black t-shirt, which he gave to Gretchen so she could cover her bare breasts. He had a conversation with her in English, and Gretchen nodded and burst into tears. By this time all of the men had entered the plane, sitting in seats toward the back. The woman who had re-assured Monica was also there, sitting closer to the front. The last man to get in the plane closed the door, and then Monica could feel the aircraft moving down the runway. She had never flown in an airplane before, and her hands gripped the arms of her seat as the acceleration of the airplane pushed her back in her seat. She felt a lifting, floating sensation as the plane left the ground, and then heard some clunking noises from beneath the aircraft. She looked around to see if she should be concerned, but the men seemed perfectly comfortable. Then the mermaid in front began speaking again.
“Hello everyone. My name is Anna, and I used to be one of Carlos’s captive mermaids just like you. A few of you may have even seen me when you worked in the restaurant.”
Then the other mermaid spoke up. Her Spanish was broken and halting, but not so bad that Monica couldn’t understand her.
“Hi, my name is Allen. I was prisoner too. I am man, but Carlos gave me these.”
It was hard to believe this mermaid was actually a merman, but the deeper voice and slightly more masculine face made the story believable. Anna pointed to the woman who had been at the estate.
“This is Teresa. She is an agent who was instrumental in your rescue. I’ve asked her to hand out a pad of paper and a pencil to each of you that you can use to communicate with us. While she’s handing them out, I’ll tell you a little bit about where we are going.”
Monica looked at Teresa with interest as she unbuckled her seat belt and passed out paper and pencils. This woman was a spy? Then the mermaid began to speak and Monica listened carefully.
“We are headed to Texas, in the United States. That’s where Allen and I lived before we were captured by Carlos. Unlike you, we were merfolk before we were captured, though we didn’t live full time in the water like we do now. There is a facility in the Gulf Aquarium in Galveston where we can live, and you are all welcome to stay there as long as you want. The United States is willing to grant you all refugee status because of your unique situation, but any of you who want to return to your home countries will be welcome to do so. Now, what questions do you have?”
Monica quickly wrote down the question that was in the top of her mind.
“Why are you still wearing your mermaid tails? And when can we get our tails taken off?”
Monica handed her paper to Teresa, who collected it along with several others. Anna looked through the stack of questions she was given and chose to answer Monica’s first.
“One of you wants to know why we are still wearing mermaid tails and when you can get yours taken off.” She paraphrased. “I’m afraid I have a bit of bad news about that. We’re still wearing our tails because they are now a part of our body. Carlos had his doctors seal them on with healglue, a special substance that helps your body grow around prosthetics. We think it might be possible to remove the tails surgically, but it will be a long and difficult process. One of our fellow captives is in the hospital right now having that done. In the meantime, we are all stuck as mermaids.”
If her fellow mermaids had been capable of speech, there would have been quite a commotion on hearing this news. As it was, there were shocked faces and many tears, along with exclamations of sympathy and support from the harem girls. When the commotion had died down a little, Anna addressed the next question.
“The next question is related. You want to know when you will be able to talk again. I have better news on that front, as you can tell since you are listening to me. In the case of Allen and me, we have a valve in our throat that is controlled by our collar. It automatically opens in the air and closes when we are underwater. Carlos hacked into our collar’s controls to force it to remain shut, but we were able to change that and get it to function normally again. We’re not sure if your collars work the same way or not, but once we get to Galveston we’ll have our experts look at your collars and figure out how to make them work like ours.”
Monica wasn’t totally convinced by that answer. Hadn’t the doctor said something about sewing her epiglottis shut? That didn’t sound like a valve that could be fixed. But she decided asking about it could wait until later. Anna continued answering questions, and Monica learned that Mr. Simons and his guards had been arrested by the Guatemalan army. Anna wasn’t sure what would happen to them, but she hoped there would be enough evidence to convict them despite their many friends in high places. The other questions were details about where they were going and what they would be doing when they got there. Monica only listened to them with half an ear, as she pondered what it meant to be stuck as a mermaid. Her attention shifted back to Anna, however, when she heard her ask.
“Which one of you is Monica Garcia?”
Monica raised her hand.
“Your sister Marta will be waiting for us when we land.” Anna told her. “She’s been very worried about you.”
That prompted a lot of questions, which Anna patiently answered, assuring her that Marta was OK. It sounded as if she might be in a bit of trouble for helping Carlos, but Anna assured Monica that they were doing all they could to help her.
Chapter 81 – An Offer of Asylum
With all the questions and answers, the flight didn’t seem very long and soon they were touching down in a new country. Once they were on the ground and parked, the airplane door opened and several women came in with folding wheelchairs. The men who rescued them helped each mermaid into a wheelchair and then pushed it out of the plane, going through some kind of a movable hallway into the airport building. Several people were waiting in the hallway right where we entered. Two of them were mermaids in wheelchairs, though one wore a long dress that covered her tail so that you could hardly tell. Marta was also there, and when Monica was pushed into the hall her sister rushed over to give her a hug.
“I’m so glad you’re OK. I was so afraid for you.” She said.
Monica wanted to answer and ask Marta what kind of trouble she was in, but she had to make do with simply hugging her sister tight. The two mermaids who were with them on the plane were also hugging the two mermaids that had come to greet them. By the intensity of their kisses, they must be couples despite looking like four women. They were taken into an elevator and then out of the building where they were loaded into some vans. The sun was coming up and Monica looked out at the busy city as they traveled through. Some things looked very much like Mexico City, but others were much different. Everything seemed newer and wealthier than the city she had grown up in. Before long they were pulling up to the doors of a hospital. Efficient orderlies brought a wheelchair out for each mermaid and took them to a set of rooms along one hall. There were two beds in Monica’s room and Veronica joined her in the other bed. Marta came into the room with them, and after a few minutes a female doctor came in as well. She spoke in English and Marta translated.
“My name is Dr. Hansen. I’m here to check you out and make sure you are in good health.”
“Can you figure out how to let her talk again?” Marta asked, after translating for her sister.
“I can do part of that. We have an electronics expert who may need to look at her breathing collar before we know for sure what it will take.”
The doctor did a very thorough examination, spending extra time on Monica’s tail and using a special scope to look down her throat. When she was done, she told Marta the news.
“The doctor says you are like the other mermaids and your tail has grown onto your body.” Marta translated. “They cannot take it off without a long and complicated surgery. She was a little surprised about your throat. She said your epiglottis has been sewn shut, so it won’t be as easy to restore your voice as it was for the other mermaids. She thinks they might be able to put in a valve like they have, but another man will have to come and look at your collar first.”
Monica took out her pad of paper and wrote a question.
“How long until they can get it fixed?”
Marta asked the question and relayed the answer. “She says the expert will come to look at your collar this afternoon. Then it depends upon what he finds.”
Monica had no more questions, so the doctor moved on to examine Veronica. Marta was needed to translate for that examination as well, after which Monica finally had some time to question her sister at length, slowed by the necessity of writing everything out.
“Are you in trouble?” Was the first thing she wrote.
Her sister explained about being out of jail on bail, and how Dave Johnson was going to work with the courts to get the charges against her dismissed, since she had been under duress when she revealed information to Carlos.
“So everything will go back to normal for you?”
“Well, no. I lost my job. Luckily, Audra has a position open for me in her company. So I will be able to work there as a sales representative.”
“Who is Audra?”
That question sparked a long conversation while Marta explained about Audra, her businesses, and her status as one of the mermaids formerly held by Carlos. Eventually, they were both tired and their conversation lagged. Marta left to find a ride home and Monica laid back on the bed to sleep. She was awakened by a nurse gently shaking her shoulder.
“You have a visitor.” The nurse said, speaking in Spanish.
Monica nodded her head and sat up. The nurse escorted a skinny man with glasses into the room.
“This is Eric.” She said. “He’s here to look at your collar and see what it might take to get you talking again.”
The man put out his hand and Monica shook it. Then he opened a briefcase full of electronic equipment. He did a few incomprehensible things for a few minutes, waving some kind of wand over her collar and looking at readings on one of the instruments in his case. Then he spoke to the nurse again.
“He wants to cut into your collar to see the circuits inside.” She translated. “Is that OK with you?”
Monica nodded and the nurse had her lay down on the bed and hold still while the man cut into the side of her collar. Monica could feel pressure as he sliced through the outer layer of silicone, but there was no pain. Eric folded back a flap of the silicone and had the nurse hold it in place, then started touching various parts of the circuitry underneath with some wires connected to the instruments in his case, muttering under his breath as he did. After a few minutes, he stepped back and allowed the nurse to let the flap fall closed. Then he offered a long explanation to the nurse, which she translated for Monica.
“He says the circuit is different from what was in the other mermaid’s collars. I didn’t understand all the technical terms, but he says he thinks he can modify the circuit to open and close a valve like the other mermaids have. But you would have to have an operation to re-open your epiglottis and insert the valve.”
“Can he make it so I just breathe air all the time?” Monica wrote.
“He says that is up to the doctors.” Translated the nurse. “But if they remove your collar completely you should be able to breathe normally.”
The young man sealed the flap in her collar with some kind of glue, then left, presumably to check on some of the others. Monica noticed that her skin felt very dry and itchy, so she wrote a note to the nurse, who helped her get into the bathroom tub, where she soaked until her skin felt better. When Monica got out, Veronica needed to get in. The nurse brought them dinner, which they both ate eagerly. It tasted wonderful after weeks of ration bars. Monica and her roommate were sitting on their beds writing notes to each other when a man entered the room, pushing a wheelchair with Anna in it.
“This is Dave Johnson.” Anna told them. “He was in charge of the group that came to rescue you.”
Monica wanted to jump out of her bed and hug him, but she just smiled and nodded her head.
“He’s here to give you your choices for where to go next. You can stay at the aquarium with the other mermaids, or if you are tired of being in the water the nurses can clean off your skin so it won’t dry out and then the US government will let you stay in a hotel until you figure out what you want to do.”
“But either way we’re stuck with these tails?” Monica wrote.
After the translation, Anna answered. “Yes, either way you will have the tails for a while. If you want them off, there is a victim’s compensation fund that will pay for the surgery. But it will take several weeks for the courts to authorize payment, and your immigration status will have to be determined before they do anything.”
“So if we go to a hotel we will be in wheelchairs?”
“What is this aquarium like? Is there room for us all?”
Anna smiled. “There is lots of room, though we might have to double up on bedrooms for a while. You can always come see the aquarium and move to the hotel if you don’t like it.”
With that information the choice was obvious and they both decided to go to the aquarium. An hour or so later, they were loaded back into vans with all of the other mermaids and on their way to the aquarium. The harem girls had all been checked out and taken to a hotel already. Most of them would be taken home in the next few days, with the exception of Ximena, who came from Guatemala and did not feel it would be safe to return home. She was applying for permanent asylum. The ride to the aquarium took a while, so Monica was able to see more of the city as they drove through it. They finally pulled up in front of a large, cylindrical building with a huge empty parking lot around it. Brightly colored pennants with pictures of sea life on them adorned the light poles. They went through a door into a lobby area with a guard sitting behind a desk. Beside him were three mermaids in wheelchairs. Monica recognized Anna and Allen, who had been with them on the plane. Another mermaid with long wavy red hair sat between them. She was wearing a red swim dress that fit her snugly down to her hips with a Gulf Aquarium logo on the front. Once everyone was out of the vans and waiting in the lobby, she began to speak, and Anna translated for her.
“Welcome to the Gulf Aquarium.” She said. “I’m Audra Burns and this is my home. I was kidnapped by Carlos Ruiz and held in the same pool you all recently came from, so I understand a little of what you have gone through. You are welcome here for as long as you want to stay, but you may also leave at any time. I, too, am stuck with a mermaid tail that cannot be removed without surgery. I have chosen to stay this way, at least for a time. But Carla, another one of my group of mermaids, is currently in the hospital undergoing the surgery to get her legs back. Once the doctors have finished with her surgery, they will have experience and knowledge to help them do the same for any others who want it. The same healgel and healglue that has been used to make us this way has made me a very wealthy woman, and if need be I will pay the cost of your surgery. But for now, welcome to the aquarium. Please follow me, and we will show you your new home.”
The tour that followed left Monica dumbfounded. Even the smallest of the pools was five times bigger than the pool in the estate, and the greenhouse pool with its underwater garden was beautiful. The ended at what Anna called the recreation room. On each side of the room were tubes leading to sleeping areas.
“With all the extra mermaids we’ve had to double up.” Anna said. “So I hope you don’t mind sharing a room.”
They started on the left side of the room and Monica could see name plaques on the wall next to each tube. There were two plaques next to most of the tubes, and it looked like a few of the plaques might have been recently moved. As they moved around to the right side of the room, four of the tubes had no name plaques beside them.
“These four rooms will be for you. We weren’t sure who wanted to be together, so you can decide amongst yourselves who will be room-mates and then we will put your name plaques up. Let’s go in the first one and you can see what the rooms are like.”
Monica was quite pleased with what she saw in the room. There were cabinets in the walls for storing possessions, a rail around the wall just above the water level, a mirror, and two air mattresses floating on the water. Andrea climbed up onto one of the air mattresses to try it out, and they all agreed this was a huge improvement over the wall of the pool at the estate. When they came out of the sleeping pool, Audra was waiting for them with a new red swim dress for each of them.
“Once you’ve settled in, we can take you shopping for some more clothes.” Audra told them, with Anna translating.
Monica was happy to have something to wear other than the bikini top she had been stuck with for her entire time as a mermaid. They huddled together and decided who would be roommates. Monica ended up with Gretchen, as no-one else was willing to share a room with her. Gretchen was just grateful that even one person would be willing to accept her.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” She asked Monica.
“I know you worked for Carlos, and you were directly in charge of the mermaids. If I had been in that original group I’m not sure if I could have accepted you. But I’ve made some pretty stupid mistakes of my own, and I believe people should get a second chance.”
“Thank you. I’ll try to be worthy of your trust.”
“What did Dave Johnson say to you on the airplane?”
“He asked me if the other mermaids could trust me.”
“What did you say?”
“I said if they could accept me after all I had done, then they could trust me.”
The tears started to flow again, and Monica found herself hugging the woman and telling her that it would be all right.