User:Michael Bard/Dreams can become Nightmares; Nightmares can become Dreams
Author: Michael Bard
Dreams can become Nightmares; Nightmares can become Dreams
by Michael Bard
I could hear George's voice echoing in the entry chamber to our submerged lab.
"Didn't you say you had lost your video camera?"
I had. Two days ago it had disappeared. George swore he knew nothing. "You finally admit that you hid it?", I called.
"No. Its right here in front of me."
"What?" I clambered through the doorway from the common quarters into the entry chamber. I could hear the water rippling against the sides of the hole that led outside. There was George holding my camera, still dripping. He was completely dry.
"Where'd you hide it?" I asked. I wasn't amused.
"I didn't put it anywhere. I swear. It just turned up."
"Just turned up. Really." I walked over and pulled it out of his hands. "Well make sure it stays 'turned up' this time!" George just shook his head as I walked away carrying my camera.
I reached my bedroom and grabbed a towel to dry off the camera. I checked it, and noticed that the tape was almost completely used. Oh great, George probably left it running taking a picture of a piece of coral. I pressed the rewind, and waited. Eventually it stopped. I opened the viewer and pressed play.
There was some static, and then the picture started. It showed a section of the reef, in deeper water. In the picture was a dolphin, or what looked like a dolphin. I looked closer and saw that it had a human head, and hands.
I could hear something from the tape, but it was too quiet to make out. I turned the volume up as far as it would go.
"...isn't a trick. I am really a merman." came out as a loud whisper.
I hit the stop button. What the hell was going on. I rewound it to the beginning and listened.
"Hello finally. I apologize for borrowing your camera." There were bubbles coming from his mouth as he talked. He paused, and then continued. "This isn't a trick. I am really a merman."
The figure smiled, and swam around a bit for the camera. His entire body was gray, and very similar to a dolphins, except for the head and arms. He was bald. His mouth, and especially his eyes were large. In fact they glowed like a cat's. Finally the merman stopped and continued.
"I apologize in advance for the pauses. I can only speak for a bit, before I run out of air." He shrugged and I noticed that the bubbles from his mouth stopped when he stopped talking. "I have a story to tell, and a favour to ask. So listen."
I paused the tape, and closed the door to my room. I sat down comfortably, and restarted the tape. And listened to a story of dreams and nightmares.
I was once human, just like you. Just a student, looking to make his way in life. I had finally graduated. No more panicking about finishing my Thesis. No more trying to fight off sorrow (and lawyers) with my parent's death. No more living in terror of my committee. No more annoying undergrads asking the silliest of questions. That was all behind me. All that remained was to find a job and move into the final direction of my life. What really happened I never imagined back then. Then my goal meant resumes, interviews, meetings, and long periods of boredom as I awaited a response.
The final straw occurred on a day that was like any other day. Sleeping until noon. Reading some journals and the internet to keep up to date. Cursing my supervisor for not knowing anybody who needed an assistant. Checking e-mail, calling friends, waiting for the phone to ring, or even for the mail to come. Once again my e-mail contained only notes from friends, and some persistent undergrads. My friends and teachers still hadn't heard of anything. Finally it was time to check the mail.
I went down to the lobby and opened the box - a letter! Hope dawned. Where would I go? Would I finally swim with dolphins again? Would I be the one to learn their language? I ran upstairs and ripped open the letter, still filled with hope and anticipation, and a little bit of fear. I unfolded the paper and started reading - and read the typical words once again: "We are sorry to inform you...".
I crumpled up the letter and threw it against the wall. "God Damn it all!" I shouted at the uncaring heavens. I sat down at the computer and began to sob. Letters, resumes, calls, contacts - nothing had worked. Like all the other graduate programs, there were too many new marine biologists, and not enough jobs. As my friends had kept telling me, it wasn't what you knew, it was who you knew. I had tried to be smart. I went to the local university to save money - no sense in being buried in thousands of dollars in debt. As I lived along the west coast the university actually had a marine biology course. It even had a bit of a reputation. But not enough. I had the skills - having graduated at the top of my class. I had the knowledge, the dreams, the published papers. But it was a small university. With a small facility. With a small set of contacts.
Which meant no fucking job.
I screamed again.
That was it. I needed a break. Fortunately graduation occurred in the spring so I could be pissed at the world in summer. I knew it was wrong to go alone, wrong not to tell anybody, but at that point I didn't care. I grabbed my free-diving equipment and cycled to the docks where I kept my kayak. I locked up the bike, changed into my wetsuit, and paddled away towards the kelp forest. Diving always helped me relax. I reached the edge of the kelp and just stopped. And drifted.
Around me there was no sign of humans, no buildings, no structures. I could hear the seagulls screaming above and could hear the faint shush of waves against the rocky shore. I heard a splash off in the kelp and saw some slight ripples - probably an otter. The fishermen told tales of mermaids, but then I knew that was just wishful thinking. I let out a deep breath I hadn't even realized I was holding and closed my eyes. If only my life could always be like this. Quiet, and with no need to find a job. I put my weight belt around my waist, put on my fins, my mask and snorkel, and lowered myself into the water.
At first there was silence. Then I began to make out the faint shush of waves, and a faint clicking in the distance. I could see the kelp waving ahead and moved off towards it. Now I was truly alone, surrounded only by the movement of the sea and kelp. I could feel the motion of the water slowly lifting me up and down as I swam along the surface. I took a deep breath and dove.
Fast but steady kicks drove me deep, until all I could see was the waving kelp and the dancing rays of light around their leaves. It was only here I felt at peace, only here could I truly relax. I slowly began to swim back to the surface, swimming around and dancing with the rays of sunlight. I brushed against some kelp and stopped, just hovering there. If only I could stay here forever. But then I still had to breath air, and that need began to make itself felt. I gently cleared the snorkel just before surfacing and just lay there, feeling the warmth of the sun.
Below me, I saw a pair of sea lions come out of the kelp, and then zoom back in. I inhaled and dove to join them. They welcomed me as one of their own, and we danced and twirled amongst the kelp. But I, being only human, kept having to surface, while they danced below me and laughed.
Why was it I belonged here, but couldn't stay? I had tried SCUBA; I had tried rebreathers; I had even tried one of the new artificial gills made with one of the new wonder metals introduced a couple of years ago - but holding my breath still made me feel the closest to belonging. But I still knew that I didn't. After a while the sea lions abandoned me and went off into the kelp. I surfaced and sighed. And began again to cry.
All my dreams of knowing this world, of living and loving it, of exploring and discovering its wonders, lay before me, in the depths. Unreachable. I couldn't find a job in my field, like so many others. Sure, I could work at a fast food place. I had substantial savings from my parents. I could have gone into engineering, or some other physical science and get involved in the recent explosion in space travel. But it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't really mean anything. I belonged here. I knew I belonged here. I began to hyperventilate, and then took a deep breath and dove.
I kicked hard, and dove down deep. Deep into the kelp, until the rays of sun were lonely ropes leading back to the world I wanted to abandon. Finally I reached the base of the kelp. I stopped. The light was dim, but I could still see. Off in the distance I heard the call of a hunting Orca. I felt it not only with my ears, but with my entire body. I just remained still, letting the current push me into the kelp.
My reverie was distracted as the need to breath made itself felt. No, I couldn't stay here. I was a land animal and stuck with it. There was nothing I could do. I started to move upwards, going faster and faster as the need for air became more urgent. I rushed up and finally broke the surface, spit out the snorkel, exhaled, and sucked in a huge breath of air. Below me lay the world I wanted so desperately to be with, the world I had worked my entire life to join. But too many schools and classes had fed my dreams; too many graduates and too few jobs had dashed them.
I raised my head out of the water and looked for my kayak. It had been pushed into the kelp and I began to swim towards it.
If I was a creature of the sea, then I could stay in it. I wouldn't have to worry about jobs. Even if I had to, there would be many offers. Being able to stay in the water indefinitely, unencumbered by limiting equipment, I would be able to do so much that others couldn't that I would have to refuse some of the jobs offered. I let out a sick laugh. If only. If only I were a merman, then life would be so much better.
I reached the kayak, took off my fins and threw them in. I began throwing in the rest of my equipment.
A merman. Not needing any of this. Finally being one with the world I loved.
I laughed bitterly.
I carefully pulled myself into the kayak, grabbed the paddle, and began to make my way back home.
If only I was.
Then there was an itch in my memory. I remembered seeing something on the internet about transformation, about a new body. As I paddled I tried to remember, but the memory kept itself hidden.
I got home, put the kayak away, clean and packed my equipment. I got on my bike and raced for home.
There was something I had seen. But what was it? This nagged me all the way like an itch that couldn't be scratched. I went upstairs and awoke my computer from its sleep mode. I went to Yahoo and searched for Merman and Transformation. And then I found it.
There was nothing about a merman, but there was an article about some lucky rich person who had their brain transplanted into a new, custom grown body. It had taken him almost two years of therapy, but he became the first human to fly under his own power, without any artificial aids. I remembered that there had been quite a fuss about the morality of it. But since it was the person's brain that had been moved, not replaced or regrown, at least it hadn't been outlawed.
I did a more specific search, and found more information. The article I had first read was almost ten years old. There had been numerous additional transplants, some for emergencies, and some for a lark, but always by the rich. I did further searches and finally found a site that offered the transplant into 'a body of your dreams'. For only $5,000,000 dollars. US. I didn't have that kind of money, I had maybe a tenth of it if I sold everything.
So close. The technology was there. My dream was there. But I couldn't do a thing about it. Like living in the ocean, so close, yet so unattainable. I closed the site and went back to Yahoo. Maybe I could find something outlining the dangers and the risks. Maybe I could find something that would drive the dream out of my head before I went mad.
I found another site, this one for a company called "You Reborn". It sounded so corny, it had to have something negative to it. I went there and began to read. They offered to transplant anybody to anything. And for no charge.
I read further. What they offered was to transform their patrons into another, more job friendly form. Then the patron would work off the loan for the transplant until the debt was paid. I fell back into my chair and closed my eyes.
The answer was there. I could do it. I really could.
Right then I sent them e-mail expressing my interest. They responded a few hours later and suggested a meeting. I arranged to meet them in two days. The rest of the day, and the next, were spent almost in a dream. I picked up the bullet train tickets I needed and arranged the hotel rooms. I couldn't sleep that night but ended up pacing and packing. I finally gave that up and started to browse the internet at random. I started looking for various sites describing dangerous, and highly paid, jobs for divers. Given that 'You Reborn' would be selling my services, it would be useful to have a list of services I could provide. In the morning I took my bags and went down to the train. I finally fell asleep during the trip.
The conductor woke me when we arrived and I took a taxi to my hotel. Of course, now that I had slept all day, I couldn't get back to sleep. I managed to keep myself occupied with late night television programs. Still, I arrived for the meeting almost an hour early. Fortunately I didn't have to wait too long to be led in.
I was invited into a small room, tastefully paneled and furnished. There were three interviewers, two male and one female - all were in at least their 50s, although with surgery and genetic engineering it was getting harder and harder to tell.
The eldest walked up to me. "Good morning, Mr. William. I'm Dr. Taylor. We spoke on the internet a few days ago. My companions are Dr. Eldenveis and the lovely Dr. Bowald." He motioned towards the woman.
I was seated, and the questions began.
Dr Bowald led off. "Mr. William, why are you here? You're still young. You're well educated - you even have a doctorate that many would envy. You're reasonably well off. Why do you want to give it all up?"
I swallowed and forced myself to think before I answered. "You're right, I'm young, educated, but I'm not happy with my life. I've worked hard to get my skills but now they're worth nothing. I have no job, and no prospects in my field. I'm not happy with that. With your services I can learn and grow, and use my education."
"Pah! All that 'serve mankind' stuff." That was from Dr. Eldenveis. "Everybody says it, and some even mean it at the start. That doesn't tell us anything about why you're willing to give up your humanity."
I had thought of that. If I did go through this, I would no longer be human. But my soul and dreams would. I took a deep breath and calmed, remembering the sea lions. "Would I give up my humanity?", I answered. "My body wouldn't be human, but my soul would be. My mind would be."
"So you think, young man. Those who have changed have had their minds, their souls, changed. We're not just a program in an organic computer, we're the sum of our bodies. If your body changes, then your soul well change too."
This wasn't working. I had to convince them. "How do you know that? How do you know that my soul hasn't already changed? You don't even know what I want, yet already you're condemning me."
Finally, Dr Taylor spoke. "We know much more than you think. Before we replied we searched and purchased information on you. Nothing illegal, but you'd be surprised at what is readily available. From your purchases, hobbies, and education, we can be reasonably certain that you want to become something aquatic. Your whole life has been in that direction, your education was more of an excuse to achieve it, then a real desire for knowledge on your part."
Was this true? Was my learning all an excuse just so I could be with the sea? I fell back into my chair to think. I tried to remember my years of schooling and my favorite memories. Some dealt with discovering truths, of solving puzzles. But most involved moments of quiet beauty in the ocean. Finally I replied, "You may be right. But, so what? I have the knowledge and the skills to understand and live in the sea. The fact that my life revolves more around enjoying the sea, then studying it, simply makes me a better candidate. If you are right, and my whole quest here is to be of the sea, not to learn about it, then that truth makes me an even better subject. It means that until I am transformed I'll do whatever it takes to achieve it. And once it is complete, then I'll do whatever it takes to make use of it. Whatever, whether it involves studying the ocean, or simply working within it." As I said this, I realized that this was the actual truth about what I would do. I could no longer back down and give this up.
Back to Dr Bowald. "If this is true, then why does it make you a better risk? How do we know that you won't just swim off when its done?"
"Because I won't. I'm not that kind of person."
"Maybe you aren't now," she continued, "but what will you become? If we agree to help you, we are placing a substantial investment of time and money into you. What guarantee do we have that we'll get a return on our investment?"
Of course it was about money. Wasn't everything. "If you perform the transformation, then I will be unique. There will be no place for me to hide. The only way I could escape would be to flee into the wild and live as a beast. Even that would be difficult as even the wild stretches are frequented by divers, tourists, and scientists. I would have to hide from everybody and everything for the rest of my life. Or, if I remain with you, then I spend most of my time working, doing what is needed. This could be mining, oil drilling maintenance, rescue, whatever. There's certainly lots of need for cheap help in those areas which you, through me, would be in a perfect position to supply." I could see that line grab their attention. "The rest of the time I could enjoy the sea, as you have so analytically described, but I would also have the benefits of modern society. How could I relax and enjoy my life if every moment was that of a hunted animal?" There. That should show them.
Again it was Dr. Eldenveis' turn. "What kind of services could you provide, and what kind of rate could you earn?"
Finally, questions to which I had the easy answers. "There's all kinds of standard jobs. The main two are underwater drilling and underwater mining. Both are performed primarily by machines, but humans are still needed for maintenance and unexpected situations." I paused and concentrated on trying to not sound like a lecturer. "Lets look at underwater drilling. Currently, human presence is maintained by telepresence, and through divers. These divers go on deep saturation dives using helium and oxygen mixtures. This is highly dangerous, and few volunteer. It use to be more common, but studies on older saturation divers revealed various cumulative nervous and neural system damage caused by breathing compressed air. They can still find divers, but the cost of a typical one month dive for a team of three men has run up to about four million dollars."
Their eyes definitely lit up at that. So I continued in the same vein. Fortunately, in addition to my frantic internet cramming, I had done a presentation on this in view of using it for an in depth study of deep water organisms. My ultimate conclusion was that any such thing would be too expensive. I spent almost an hour explaining that as I would be breathing oxygen dissolved in the water, I would not be dealing with compressed air and helium removing the risks with breathing compressed air. Because I could survive at depth without equipment, my costs would be immensely less than any divers that needed equipment. Finally, since I would live there, I would have no time limits and no limits for decompression. This meant that I could move from one site to another in days, instead of in months.
Dr. Taylor interrupted, "Don't the artificial gills that have become available get around the decompression problem?"
Well, somebody had done some research. "Not really. The problem is that man is still an air breathing mammal designed for one atmospheric pressure. The current gills are heavy and bulky, and still have some problems." I remembered my close call - fortunately I was close to the surface and was able to make a free ascent. "Even when they do work, there is still air in the lungs which has to be under pressure to equalize. That pressure still forces the nitrogen into the blood stream with the same results. Since I would be a new being, as you pointed out, my body could be designed to avoid these problems. It would probably be easier to have the lungs mostly fill with water and use them only as needed for buoyancy. They would have to be designed properly, but it could be done."
At this point, they asked me to wait outside while they discussed. But I didn't care. I knew that I had won.
I took them only five minutes, but they said that they would do it. They arranged for a full holographic bodyscan, and arranged a meeting later in the week to discuss design.
I had crossed the first hurdle. Although it wasn't much of one as I was the perfect candidate for what they were really seeking.
The next few months went quickly. I took an apartment near the offices of "You Reborn" and worked with them on my new body. They convinced me to go with the classical "merman" appearance with a single tail. The reason for this was efficiency. I wouldn't lose out on land as I couldn't walk in either case, but could get around in a wheelchair. The single fin avoided the turbulence effects generated when kicking when the two flippers passed each other. It also allowed more volume and less surface area. That was the main decision, and the hardest to convince me of. I wasn't as ready as I had thought, but their enthusiasm pulled me along. I wasn't convinced about that much divergence from the human form until simulations proved that I couldn't walk if I wanted any kind of significant underwater mobility.
By the time we were done, my new body looked like a classical merman only from a distance. Up close, it was greatly different. The head was closest to human. The neck was longer and capable of additional movement so that the face and mouth could easily face directly forward (or straight up if the body could stand). The mouth was significantly larger to aid water flow over the gills, and the eyes were even larger for improved eyesight in deeper water. My new head would be bald since hair would only cause problems. Below the head, the arms and hands were unchanged since they would still need to manipulate human equipment. However, there was some slight webbing between the fingers so that they could be used as pelvic fins to aid in swimming.
In the rest of the body, the differences were even greater. The most complex design was the chest the organ layout. My new body had to have lungs since communication and air breathing would certainly be useful. The lungs could double as a buoyancy bladder. In front of them, along almost my entire chest, would be the gill slits. A human is warm blooded and needs much more oxygen than a fish. That was the main reason for the numerous gill slits, and the much larger mouth. Behind and around the lungs would be the heart, liver, kidney, etc. There would be a penis, but it could be hidden in a sheath except as needed. Below the chest my body continued on into a long tail, ending in a huge fin that was almost two feet wide. The tail was simple as it was only a continuation of my spine, along with a lot of muscle and blood vessels. It wasn't scaled, but instead was covered with blubber like that of a dolphin. In fact my entire body would be covered in blubber which made it look a bit fat and undefined. I would even be coloured gray. The tail would move primarily up and down, again like a dolphin. There was no biological need for this, but their belief was that it would be easier for me to learn to use it that way, than if it moved from side to side. And there were various other fins. Dorsal fins along my back and tail, along with pelvic fins at the approximate position of my waist (I wouldn't really have one, but the location was the same), and anal fins further back along the tail.
By the time this was done, I had sold my house, and moved near to "You Reborn" permanently. I sold most of my possessions except for a few keepsakes. Most wouldn't be needed where I was going. I also had to arrange my affairs and shut everything down. My family was dead and I had no close friends so that was easy. However, I did have a number of associates at the university, and where I had done various projects and studies, and they wondered about the sudden cessation of my search. I couldn't tell them the truth as it was one of the conditions of the transformation so that there would be no competition for as long as possible, or so I was told. I told those who asked I was doing some private studies and couldn't talk about them. This was sufficient.
It took only a few months before the final design was done. The growth, biology, and genetic design had been studied and simulated endlessly to make sure it was right. Even though we had mapped the entire human genome, and much of various animal genomes, knowing what did what was not the whole puzzle. Meanwhile, various nanites were injected into my body and I spent days in virtual simulations of my new form. The simulations weren't all that good, but I had my dreams. Through the simulations, the nanites mapped the electrical signals I gave my body to swim and move. This information would be used during the actual brain transplant. It wouldn't be perfect, but it was already much better than the first transplants who had to learn everything.
I was in the simulations for almost a year while the nanites grew my new body at an accelerated rate. The muscles were stimulated, but the brain was kept isolated to make sure it never developed. It was to be disposed of. The other possible concern was tissue rejection of my brain in my new body. This was resolved by including, as part of the created genetic code of my new body, two sets of applicable cell chemical identification codes - the new body's and my own. There was no sense in having my new body eat my brain.
For the last three months I lived in the simulation. This did damage my health and fitness, but it prepared my mind, and programmed the nanites, for the transplant. Finally, my new body was ready. I had lived it in simulation for months. In fact, I was so used to the simulation I had forgotten what my old body was really like. But I was as ready as I could be.
To preserve the accuracy and continuity of the simulation, and nanite monitoring, I wasn't removed from the simulation. Instead I discussed the procedure with Dr Taylor from within it. The actual transplant would be quick and take only a couple of hours. This included the opening and closing of my skull, the actual transplant of my brain, and making the majority of nerve connections. Then I would be awoken and the doctors, through the nanites, would stimulate (and build as required) additional nerve fibre connections. I would need to be conscious so that these connections could be monitored and tested. I agreed that I was ready and was put to sleep.
When I awoke, I was lying on a bed. I could feel warmth on my face and could see a dim red glow through my closed eyes. They were being kept closed for protection until I could fully control the eyelids. I could sense my body but couldn't control it. Then the fun part started.
Most of my senses and basic functions were already connected and tested using feedback from the nanites. They needed my input for the finer control. Hearing was first, and they did fine testing by monitoring activity patterns in my conscious brain. I could always hear, but the final connections made it much clearer. Now that they could communicate, the next project was to gain some speech. It took almost an hour of trial and error before I could finally speak words that could be understood. Although they were mumbled and quiet. Then came the rest of the connections. First were the eyes and eyelids. That was fairly quick and soon I could see the bright lights above me. Because of the bright lights, I ended up keeping my eyes closed for most of the rest of the operation.
After this came the rest of the body. First were the arms and hands. This portion consisted of requests to move this arm, twitch that finger, etc. It was done quickly as there was little change and my former brain wiring for that had already been mapped in detail. Additionally, it was only to make sure that I could move them, not that I could control them. Next was voluntary control over my lungs and gills. This was done carefully, and with artificial respirators, until I could control them, or let the medula oblongata (which was the one originally grown with my new body) take over and control them automatically. Five hours had passed.
Finally came the connection of my new tail and fins. This was the most difficult because it was all new. The simulations had generated electrical patterns in my brain, and nerve firing patterns throughout my body, but it was only a simulation. Through my input, and the nanites records from the simulation, connections were made and tested. For nine hours I tried to move my fins and wiggle my tail with varying degrees of success. Gradually I grew to have at least some control, and could at least cause the tail to quiver in various ways using the various muscle groups along it.
Finally, the operation was over - I was now a merman.
By this time I was so exhausted and fatigued from the whole experience my entire body was sore. The doctors disconnected most of the monitoring equipment and wheeled me into my recovery room. There I finally fell asleep.
Some time later, I woke up. I was lying on my back on the special bed that had been built for me. I could feel the cool air on parts of my back, and on the fins.
My fins. Real fins.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry so I did both.
A nurse came in thinking I was in distress, but I was finally able to calm down and motion her off. It wasn't distress, it was joy. Sheer, unbridled joy. When I was calmer she offered me a glass of water. I drank it, or at least tried to. Some was swallowed, but most came out through the gills along my chest.
My gills, on my chest.
I started crying again. I did have a lot to learn.
I still couldn't stop as the nurse removed my wet sheet to replace it. Then I could see all of my new body. Through tears of joy I saw my grayish body gradually slimming into my long tail and flukes.
My tail and my flukes.
I could feel where they were with amazing clarity. I could feel the coolness of the air against them. I tried to move them and could even make my tail quiver.
I tried to wipe the tears from my eyes to see more clearly. Unfortunately, all that happened was that I slapped myself in my face. It hurt too. The nurse came over from what she was doing and grabbed hold of my hand. I could feel her hand, feel its pressure and warmth, but I couldn't move my arm where I wanted it to go. She carefully began to move it back and forth, just moving the joint at the elbow. I could feel the movement of the muscles, and tried to help the movement, but failed.
"Don't worry, it'll come with time.", she said.
I grinned, or at least tried to. "I have to start somewhere. At least I know that my face can feel pain." It still stung.
Before we could continue, Dr Taylor came in. "So Thomas, how are we doing today?"
Over the last year, we had all come to a first name basis. "I'm feeling fine. Great. In fact amazingly great. Deliriously wonderful." I started to cry and he waited until I calmed down. Finally I continued, "It feels really strange, and at the same time wonderful. I can feel the temperature on entirely new parts of my body. I can still sense the drops of water remaining on my gills. That feels really weird - I feel wet and cool, but on the inside."
"And the rest of it?"
"My tail?" I looked down at it again, and tried to move it. Again it quivered and wiggled around like a loose high pressure hose, although not as much. "What can I say? Its closest to moving both legs, but different. There's no waist or knees. There are no joints to move or bend." I said this while trying to understand the sensations I was feeling. All I could say to describe it was, "It feels really weird. There are no joints. It almost feels like a giant slinky, but with control."
He laughed as my tail moved, seemingly at random. "Not very much, yet."
"There are some practical things that you should know before we get started on the rehabilitation.", he began. "Currently you are hooked up intravenously, and for urinary elimination." I finally noticed the tube coming out of a certain private organ, poking out of its sheath. "The first thing for you to learn is control over basic functions - eating and drinking."
I looked down at my still damp chest and couldn't help but snicker.
"Then we'll move you to an aquatic environment so we can get rid of that tube. There we can begin to work on swimming and arm and hand motions. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
And he was certainly right about that. It was almost a month before I had control over my lungs, stomach, and gills, and could finally eat and drink without making a mess. The first few times were really messy. I kept having to drink lots of water to clean the food off of my gills. I also practiced breathing water. This was achieved by putting a hose in my mouth and pumping water through - this had to be done so that my body and my mind knew what tube to put the water down.
The other big problem at the beginning was solid waste elimination. Like fish and dolphins, my anus was now on the front of my body, in fact below my penis and between my anal fins. It made using the washroom very awkward. I had to be supported over a large basin in a giant sling, like that used for transporting dolphins, while I did my business. The tube kept getting in the way. Any remaining embarrassment that I had about others seeing me unclothed went away the first time I had to use the washroom.
Finally I could drink and swallow and make sure the right substance went down the right tube. My new tank was ready and the day came when the last of the tubes were removed. You never want to see somebody pulling three feet of plastic tube out of your body - trust me. I was lifted into a dolphin sling and then carted across to my new home. By then I was able to help out somewhat with my arms and hands, but it was still hit or miss - I would have good days and bad days.
Soon I was suspended above my tank and lowered in. Divers were already there to help out. I laughed - I remembered when I was the diver helping to lower a dolphin into a tank. Then I felt the water on my flukes, and then my tail. Instinctively I held my breath as the water slipped over my chest, my back, and finally my head. The divers released me from the sling, while I still held my breath. Afraid. I swallowed into my stomach and reminded myself that all the help I could need was nearby. This was the final test of the new body. It should work. All the studies showed that it would work. All the simulations, all the tests. But would it? I forced myself to exhale the air, and inhale some water into my lungs so that I would sink. Then I began to swallow the water I would breath. I knew what to do.
As I slipped to the bottom, I kept swallowing. The water was only slightly below my new body temperature so it didn't feel cold. I could feel it enter my mouth and be pushed down my throat as I swallowed. I could feel the motion of the fluid as it flowed over my gills. I could feel the gill slits open and close, pushing the water out.
I felt my tail touch the bottom of the tank and stopped sinking. I remembered the others and managed to give the OK signal with my hand on my head as I concentrated on breathing (for lack of a better word). The divers stayed close, but let me be.
I concentrated and could feel the water in my lungs. There was no sensation of temperature, just a sensation of being full. I tried to exhale from my lungs - and stopped my swallowing - and could feel the water slowly being pushed out. I couldn't push it all out, and of course it had no affect on my buoyancy as the volume of air remained constant. I stopped exhaling and went back to swallowing so I could breath. I just remained there, concentrating on swallowing the water. I felt no need for air, and in fact felt no need to exhale. My gills were truly working!
But now I had the problem of buoyancy. I couldn't inhale or exhale, and stealing some air from one of the divers would simply avoid the problem, not solve it. I tried exhaling into my lungs but nothing happened. Was I doing it right? Then I remembered back to the simulations. In them there had been no effort to change buoyancy, simply the thought of rising. Could it be that simple? What could it hurt. I thought about trying to rise to the surface, and could feel my lungs start to expand. I slowly began to rise to the surface. I tried to move my tail to swim upward, but instead I just flailed around. A diver grabbed my arm and steadied me and helped me slowly upwards. It wasn't far.
Finally my head broke the surface. I exhaled the water from my lungs in a long stream from my mouth and started to breath. There was some water left inside my lungs, but that didn't bother my new body as it would gradually get rid of the water in other ways. I grabbed the edge of the tank to hold myself up, but of course my control failed and I slipped back under the water in a stream of bubbles as my lungs emptied and my gills filled. The divers grabbed my arms and helped me back up. Again I spit out the water and let Dr. Taylor grab my arms and help them grasp the edge of the tank.
Finally I was able to say, "I work!" The doctor just smiled and shook my hand.
From then on my progress was rapid. Divers remained standing by and two tubes were hooked up to oxygenate my blood in case there were problems while I slept, but my gills took over automatically. After a couple of nights the tubes were removed and I was finally free. Gradually the temperature of the water was lowered to a more likely 55 degrees, and I adapted without problems. The only real difference was that I could now feel the water flowing through my body as a coolness, rather than just a fluid sensation.
The other new thing to learn was communication. If I was still human, my vocal cords would now be immersed in water - useless. It was Dr Taylor who had come up with the solution. This was a separate chamber for the vocal cords that led into the lungs. Normally I passed air through this separate chamber, and then out through my throat. In my first attempts I used too much air and could get only a few words out before I sank and waited while my buoyancy system re-filled itself with air. Gradually I learned to talk in a quiet whisper, with long pauses while I reloaded my lungs with air. It could not be picked up easily, although further than you might expect due to the extra density of water. Eventually I wore a small amplifier and speaker so that I could be heard clearly.
Swimming came easily. Forward motion was almost immediate, but control was another thing entirely. For a while I wore a helmet to protect my head from the ongoing collisions. Gradually I learned control and could turn, stop, and twist however I wanted. The final test I gave myself was to dance along the surface on my tail like a dolphin. It took a bit of practice to get up, but once up I eventually managed to stay up for almost a minute. It took a while before I learned how to control my direction while balanced - fortunately they had put up canvas along the sides so I wouldn't hit the edge of the tank fall out. I did this exercise often to improve my strength and control.
The most surprising problem was control of my hands. Getting back the hang of arm movement was easy. Controlling the ten individual fingers was unbelievably difficult - it was the last thing I fully mastered. I lost track of the times I suddenly lost my grip and slid back under the surface. I kept dropping things and then had to try hundreds of times to pick them back up. If it wasn't for the continual feedback and adjustments from the nanites still in my head, its doubtful that I would ever have regained full control. For once I was happy it had taken me so long to find out about this transplant technology - nanites only became readily available about five years ago. Even if I could have managed without them, it would have taken much longer.
But gradually the control came. My swimming improved. My manual dexterity became even better than in my old body. Eventually Dr Taylor announced that my rehabilitation was complete.
But still, I was a tanked, captive merman. How would it be in the ocean?
A week later I found out. I went in a truck, held aloft in a dolphin sling. It was about half an hour until we arrived at a private dock. It was cold and windy, and the water was only about 60 degrees. Again there were divers in the water to help me out of my sling but now I could help them as well. The truck backed out onto the short dock and then I, in my sling, was lifted out and over the water and slowly lowered. The first thing I felt was the cold waves splashing up and over me. Where once they would have felt like ice, now they felt only cold. As the waves started rolling over me, I tried to time my breathing to the pattern of the waves, but only had mixed success. Fortunately I was soon immersed and released from the sling. Immediately I surfaced and gave the OK signal. Then, accompanied by the divers (this time with rebreathers at my insistence), i moved out into the bay.
We quickly left the turbulence of the shallows behind. I stopped and slowly sank to the bottom, overwhelmed by the immensity around me. I had heard the sounds with rebreathers but never as clear as now. I could here the clicks and rustles of various fish and animals. Below it I could more feel than hear the grumble of the waves as they broke upon the pebbled shore. Again there was whalesong, but this time it was a deep rumble that shook my entire body. Before I couldn't even hear it, but now I could at least feel it. Through my lungs and along my gills my entire body vibrated. And finally there was the feel and taste of the water. In the tank the water had seemed sterile and empty. But now the water was so much more. It felt and tasted alive. During some breaths it felt almost rough - I think because of plankton suspended in the water. Other breaths tingled my gills, like whisky down my throat. Other breaths were simply cool and smooth. I began to stoke strongly, dashing here and there through the water so that I could taste all the flavours that I breathed. Each was different, yet each was the same.
After a while I heard the clicks and whistles of dolphins nearby. I raced towards them, leaving the divers behind and quickly joined them in their games. I had swum with them before, and they had played and been curious. But now it was different. There was no play but quiet acceptance. Most of the pod stayed together, but the younger members dashed from the edges to explore and hunt. I joined a pair and dashed with them through the waves. To keep up I had to hold my arms flat against my side. It was almost indescribable. I had no equipment, nothing between me and the ocean. The dolphins sped ahead and now I could keep up with them. It took effort, but where before they would have left me behind, now I stayed with them. And there were even more wonders to find. As a sped along, the water rushed through my gills faster and faster. The tastes and feeling of the water changed continuously into an entire choir. I began to get a high off it as the oxygen roared into my blood. As the dolphins breached and leapt above the water I leapt with them too. I didn't need to, but did it anyway for the joy.
It seemed like forever, but eventually I came back to earth. My skin began to tingle with each breath I took and I finally heard the frantic beeping of the watch-radio I had with me. I stopped and watched as the dolphins went on their way. I calmed down and the oxygen levels in my blood returned to normal. Finally I turned and started back. My return took a while, most of it spent calming down the doctors and divers I had left behind via the radio. I didn't want to return, but I knew that I had to pay the price for the joy I felt. For the joy I had been given. Tomorrow I would start my training, or so I thought. It turned out that I would pay a high price for that momentary joy.
The next day when I awoke I realized I wasn't in my tank. And I had a splitting headache.
Instead I was drifting in a small stone crevice. There was light, but it was only a dim, greenish glow. The colour reminded me of phosphorescence from deep water algae. Where was I? I swam out into the dimly open water. There was another shock. Before me was a mermaid. Not a classical mermaid, but one constructed eerily similar to myself.
But if I was the first, which is what "You Reborn" had told me, then even if somebody else made others, there would be differences. I looked closer and realized that I could barely make out some minor differences in the dim light, but they seemed more like variations between members of the same species. Our fins and gills were exactly the same and in the dim light we both looked to be coloured black. If the person in front of me wasn't breasted, it could almost have been me in a mirror.
My panic was interrupted as I heard her whisper "Come." Then she slipped past me, back into the crevice I had awoken in.
What was going on? I followed her back. She stopped and I moved close so I could hear what she had to say.
"I'm Kristin. Welcome to the slavehole." Even through her whisper and the bubbles escaping her mouth I could hear the bitterness in her voice. I just watched her, confusion filling my mind, as she sank to the floor and we both waited for oxygen to be put back into her lungs so she could speak. "Was it Dr Taylor who got you too?", she finally asked.
I nodded. "What the hell is going on here?". I felt my body drift down to the rocky bottom.
She started to rise, and eventually was able to speak again. "Its all about money and cheap labour. How did he get you?"
"I was a marine biologist graduate with no job." She waited as I bobbed down and then back up. "Through him I thought I could get work in the oceans."
At that, she lost herself in contortions of helpless laughter and she dropped like a rock. I grabbed and held her as her movements pushed us along the floor and against one wall. As she sank I could first hear an unbelievable bitterness, but then could just see her motions as she ran out of air to laugh with. Finally she stopped and I waited until she could speak. As I waited, she looked like she had started crying, but in the dim light I wasn't sure. It must have been really dim with my enhanced eyesight. Eventually she seemed to regain some control and could continue.
"We are here to mine ore. Lots of work in the ocean digging...", her voice faded as she could no longer continue.
Mining ore? There had to be a cheaper way. All this effort, this secrecy, new bodies and brain transplants, just to be kidnapped to the bottom of the ocean to dig for rocks? Finally I had to say, "That makes no sense. There must be cheaper ways."
"Actually not. Pressure makes machines very undependable." She paused and I waited. "A biological solution is much cheaper."
"How can we be cheaper? The time, the cost...". This time I faded out, unable to continue. This wasn't making any sense!
She began to explain. "There are now 12 of us. I've been told we cost only half a million each."
I wasn't the only one? But how was this kept secret? How could this be true?
"We all went to 'You Reborn' with broken dreams. We all had no friends or family."
As I waited, I finally started to think. The euphoria of my new form was wearing off quickly. Why had they been so easy to convince - one short meeting and it was all set? It had taken only three months to design the new form? From scratch?
"Now its almost an assembly line. We go and train. We get reborn."
"But wouldn't there be some questions? Police, the government?"
"Why? They have a complete body. Dead of natural causes."
Finally I figured it out. It had all been too simple. The staff had seemed interested, but not really excited. They had been extremely insistent that I tell no one what I was really doing. And then they had my body, and even a replacement brain from my new body, to do whatever with. There were all kinds of things they could have done - drowning, automobile crashes - even suicide. Once, shortly after my parents had died, I had actually considered that. More questions filled my mind. Why did the others stay here? Was there no way to escape? How...
"Come and meet David. Then we have to get to work." She paused and I waited. "We have a quota to fulfill.".
She led me out into the bottom of the ocean abyss. That was why my eyes had been made so sensitive. All I could see were bits of the black mud bottom, those bits lit by greenish phosphorescent glows scattered here and there around me. In each of these pools of dimness I could make out a merman or mermaid digging and gathering round stones and putting them in baskets. I could clearly hear the clunks and tinks of their shovels against the stones as they worked. The glow they worked in was coming from a bar attached to their baskets. As I swallowed to breath, my gills felt the water. It was gritty and heavy, and I could taste the cold mud in it.
Kristin led me over to another merman who seemed to be sorting and organizing the stones. There were a number of baskets around him providing a little light, some partially filled. Scattered among them were some shovels sticking up out of the ooze. All were barely outlined by the dim glow. Near him I could see a bony fish, its body covered by its own phosphorescent dots, as it swam away into the blackness.
She spoke, "David, here's our new slave."
David let the sifter drift down to the ooze and turned to face me. I could see little of his features in the dim light, but his movements were stiff and awkward. He looked me over.
"What's your name?", he finally asked.
"He sounds so hopeful.", commented Kristin.
"Another strong back." David sighed.
He picked up a shovel and handed it to me. It was a single piece of cast metal. I slowly took it from him.
"Here.", he continued. "Enjoy. Kristin will show you where to start." He swam back to his sifter.
"Lets go. They've upped the quota." It was Kristin.
We swam over near to where a few others were working. The ooze was covered in the nodules being gathered by the others. A basket, with a pole covered with green phosphorescent algae welded to it, sat on the bottom, half sunk into the mud.
"You're a prisoner here. Forever. So dig." She let the shovel fall into the ooze and swam away.
From then on my life became that of a slave. The mining was easy, but tedious. The ores were mostly nodules lying all over the bottom - all we needed were the shovels and baskets. When a basket was full it was taken over to David and an empty one was taken back. David was a geologist and had actually managed his transformation without the nanites. His job was to sift out the more useful materials - silicates mostly. I remembered reading that the silicates had funny properties caused by the pressure. They were required for the construction of nanites. There was a bitter irony - I was mining the very stuff that made me possible. David, back when he was still human, had proposed many of the uses for what we were mining, and he had proposed the biological solution since mechanical methods were simply too expensive. He was the first to be transformed - then his partners had imprisoned him down here.
There was no light other than that from phosphorescent algae, and the glow of phosphorescence on fish. We slept when we were tired, and worked otherwise. Every so often, a very deep submersible minisub would come. It contained food supplies and replacement tools. We put the ore in large baskets which we connected to airbags that the sub provided. These were attached to the sub by high pressure hoses so that the sub could control the buoyancy and recover the air as the bags rose. Occasionally, when the nodules became harder to find, the entire group would move to another site. The submersible never had any trouble finding us. The food was mostly bags of rice and wheat compressed to half their regular size. There was usually some meat, but it was infrequent and often bad. Still, it was all we had. Strangely enough nobody ever got sick from it - our stomachs must had been enhanced to handle a wider diet.
The rest of the group was split roughly half and half between male and female. Most of the group slept in relatively stable pairs, some male-female, some same sex. A few drifted around and I did at first. One of the merman had formerly been a deaf person and knew sign language - I tired to get him to teach me, but he just brushed me off. Like the rest he had no hope for the future, and just went through life because he was too afraid to kill himself. Eventually I ended up pairing with Kristin. We had little time to ourselves - almost all the time was spent working or sleeping. What little joy we had was in each other.
After our first move to a new site we were able to stop early as our quota for that day was met early . I finally had some time with Kristin to ask some of the questions that had been forming.
"Why has no one escaped. Couldn't we just swim away?"
"To where.", Kristin spat back. "Nobody knows where we are." I waited. "The ocean is a big place. We have no tools." She paused. "No tools to catch fish and other food."
There were lots of supplies brought down by the submersible. All we had were shovels. We couldn't break the shovels as they were a single cast piece of metal. In the abyssal depths there was no coral, no kelp. Nothing but stones and mud and darkness.
"But couldn't we hoard food? Then sneak away?"
She turned away but I pulled her closer to me.
"It was tried by the first five.", she finally replied. Then she asked, "How does the sub find us?".
I looked at her with an expression of confusion until she answered.
"David had a transmitter planted. He removed it, but they still found the group."
I thought, and finally asked "Do we all have transmitters? Where was David's?"
"David's first transmitter was near the tip of his tail. They couldn't find any others." I waited until she could continue. "We all have at least one. Probably more."
This time it was I who turned away. Eventually I turned back, a thought, a hope, in my head. "Aren't some of these rocks magnetic? Couldn't we..."
"David made a compass. Which way is it to shore?"
That quashed that. Then, finally, true despair filled me. Before I had hope, but now all hope was dead. This time it was I who began to sob, and this time it was Kristin who held me. In the blackness our sight meant little. All we had was sound, and touch. Kristin's touch meant a lot.
The next few work and rest periods we spent together in silence, just holding each other as we slept. Then, while we were sleeping, I was suddenly awakened by Kristin screaming and sending up bubbles.
I held her close, "What is it? A nightmare?". Even though our entire lives had turned into one, I still had to ask.
Kristin just nodded. "I was remembering my past. Before I changed."
"Do you want to talk about it?" I didn't know if I really wanted to know, but if it made her feel better...
"Its probably going to sound kind of silly," she began, "but I was only going to use 'You Reborn'"
"What?". I had to wait until she could continue.
"Its simple really. My parents died when I was young, and I was raised by my uncle." She paused for air. "He had been a fisherman, and years ago he had pulled up some gold coins."
"Why didn't he salvage them himself?"
"He tried. He knew almost where there were, but they were in almost 1000' of water."
"Didn't he try to hire somebody to do it? It could still have been worth it."
"No. He checked and found that it was likely a small spanish galley, carrying salvaged spanish gold."
I waited and in my mind shook my head. Sunken treasure. That still didn't explain why nobody was hired.
"According to the records what gold there was would be worth about ten million."
"Not enough to even pay for the salvage."
"Exactly. It was always his dream, but he could never fulfill it."
"And where do you come in?"
"My parents died in a car accident when I was only three. The accident..."
She faded off and began to sob. I don't know if she stopped from lack of air, or if she just couldn't continue. I held her tight until she calmed down.
"My parents died, and I was paralyzed from the waist down. My uncle thought I was a burden."
I didn't know what to say. I waited until she could go on.
"Amazingly enough, when he died, he left everything to me. Maybe he did care, somewhere inside." She paused and yawned.
"Do you want to go back to sleep?"
"No, I need to talk." She paused for a second. I think to gather her thoughts. "I had known about the treasure, and finally I had the map."
"Did you check it out? Was it real?"
"Oh it was, but it just wasn't worth it to recover. Until I discovered 'You Reborn'".
"How did you find it? I found it by searching the internet."
"The same way. I was researching salvage, to see if I could find a way to make it feasible." She had to stop, and I waited until she continued. "I found 'You Reborn' and then I had an evil thought."
"It wasn't evil, it was only a dream. There's no way you could have known..."
"No, it was wrong. My plan was to get changed into an aquatic form and work."
She closed her eyes and almost started sobbing. I held her tight until she calmed down.
"I would work for them, until I could bring up the treasure on my own."
"Did you tell them about the treasure?"
"I kept it secret. It would all be mine. A repayment for the hell of a life my parents..." She ran out of breath and I waited. "For what they did to me. I would use 'You Reborn', get my treasure, and buy myself a new body." Again she had to pause. "Money and a new life."
"You were willing to go through the whole change just for money?" I was amazed.
"The money was a tool. A tool to buy my legs and happiness."
That I understood. "But it all went wrong. You were all prepared, and then they dumped you..." This time it was I that couldn't finish.
"Down here, buried in the cold, and the blackness." Then she began to sob uncontrollably.
I held her and whispered soothing words. "There, there. You tried. You had a dream..."
She grabbed my arms, and flung them off. "You don't understand!"
I just stared at her silhouette, helpless to do anything but wait until she could explain.
"In the car accident I was trapped in the car, in an icy lake, at night." She swam away from me, angry. In the dim phosphorescence from our algae I could make her out, driving herself up and down in the crevice we had chosen to sleep in. Eventually she wore herself out came back. "I was trapped in the dark, covered in water I couldn't see, up to my waist."
I began to understand her horror and what this place must be doing to her. I couldn't hurt the demons at "You Reborn", but I could begin to hate them.
Finally she was able to continue. "My parents could almost keep their heads above water. For four hours I listened to them slowly drown."
She turned away. I wanted to hold her, but didn't know what to do. I had begun to care for her and didn't want to force anything for fear of losing her. But I wanted to hold her. I knew that she needed love and caring. That she needed to feel a touch, any touch. I wanted to offer mine to her, but I didn't know if she wanted it. I stayed close so that I could hear her, and waited until she could go on.
"I erased most of it from my memories. For years I had nightmares but couldn't remember them."
I could see her trying to talk, but she had run out of air. She finally stopped, impatient, and waited until she could speak again.
"All I had was a fear of dark places. I planned to stay near the surface. To have lots of light."
Now it was her who whipped her tail and swam into me, pushing me back. She grabbed me and held me against her, her head over my shoulder. I clasped her tight. I could feel her gills and my gills pushing against each other, until a rhythm formed and they pumped in opposition - one set open while the other was closed.
"I began to remember the truth in dreams." she finally whispered. "Tonight I remembered it all."
She began sobbing again, her skin black in the green phosphorescence, and all I could do was hold her. I couldn't think of what to say. I couldn't think of what I could do. At that moment I resolved that I would find a way to escape. I would bring her back to the light. No matter what it took. No matter how many humans got in the way. I realized then that I would kill, if that was what it took.
I was glad that she was holding me.
By this point I had lost all track of time. All we had was our waking and sleeping cycles. Nobody knew how long they were. We could have kept track of them, but nobody actually cared enough to bother. Not even myself. I wanted to escape. I burned to escape, to free Kristin from her hell. But the sea depths were featureless. We saw more fish than I had expected, their dim glowing points our only company. I knew we weren't in the arctic or antarctic. But that was the limit of my knowledge My goal to find a way out kept me sane. Others weren't so lucky.
Near the end of a work period, one of the other women, I think her name was Alison, finally lost it.
"I can't take the darkness! I..." She kept shouting, but made no sound. Then she started swimming up. A few of us were able to race to her and grab her, but she whipped her tail like a mad thing. I lost my grip and was thrown off, but others held on, and the rest came to help, and we dragged her back down.
She never stopped struggling. Occasionally we could hear her scream "Light", or just hear her make senseless noises. Then David swam up.
"Let her go" he whispered.
"What!", I shouted.
"Let her go" he repeated.
By this time the woman had stopped struggling and was simply sobbing.
"There's no sense in forcing her to stay in this hell", David continued. "Let her go."
We obeyed, but only I glared at him. Then, as we were distracted, she whipped her tail and was out of, the force of her swimming covering us in a cloud of mud. I started to go after her but David put his hand on my shoulder.
"We can't guard her all the time. It is her choice." He paused and we all waited to hear him finish. "It is her way of escaping this hell."
He turned and slowly swam away, and the rest of us gradually went back to work.
A few days later the submersible arrived. It was carrying the usual supplies, but also the remains of a tail gripped in one of the sub's manipulator claws. It was easy to see due to the bright yellow glow from the bubble that contained the sub's three man crew. We all recognized the tail, and who it had belonged to. As usual David swam up to meet it, but this time those in the sub ignored him.
From the sub a voice shouted out at us, "This is what happens to those who try to escape. There is no way out. Stay, and work, and you will live. Try to escape and be reduced to this. Come, look, and remember. All of you. Then you can get on with the loading, and get your supplies."
Then we all had to look at her remains. Closely, and for a seemingly endless time. When it was my turn I looked and recognized the signs of an embolism from rising too fast - even our tissues require some time to adapt. There were signs that various fish had eaten bits, and a large piece had been taken by a shark. Finally one of the people in the submersible shouted out "Next!" and I moved on.
When we had all seen the remains, it was dropped and we watched it sink into the ooze. Then we began loading the ore. Eventually we could unload our food and more phosphorescent algae. We all watched as the sub made its way back to the surface. A place those aboard were sure we would never see again.
That night, Kristin and I couldn't sleep. We needed to comfort each other. Again our gills began to pulse in opposition. I kissed her, and she kissed back until we had to stop to breath. I could feel my groin begin to warm, and could feel my penis creeping its way out of its sheaf. We intertwined our tails and used them to pull ourselves tightly together. We both needed the closeness. I could feel Kristin responding.
Then she suddenly shoved me away.
I slowly swam back towards her. I didn't know what to do. I hadn't forced it, it had just happened. Did she think I forced it?
She answered my fears. "No, not here. Not when we're like this."
I think I knew what she was going to say.
Eventually she was able to ask, "What would be worse? Having a human baby die horribly when it was born..."
"We aren't human anymore. We can't have a human child." After I said it, I realized it wasn't me; it wasn't the race of the child.
She grabbed hold of my shoulders and pulled my head right up to hers. "Or have a child that can live here with us?"
It was the hell we were in.
That thought, and her words, hit me like ice water over my gills. I could feel my penis slither back into its hole. I just nodded, but this time I knew what to say. I told Kristin my story. In the darkness, I told her of my dreams and how they had brought me to this place. Of my hopes and joys that had turned to ashes in that abyssal deep.
That night, and for many thereafter, we held each other tight as we slept. But we did nothing more.
We had moved twice more before a new victim came. It was another woman. The sub brought her down, unconscious and strapped to one of the deflated balloons. We untied her and I took her off to the side to wait beside her until she awakened. As the now second most recent slave, it was my job to give her the good news. At this site there were no caves or crevices, simply an endless plain of mud and ooze. I swam back and grabbed a basket to provide some illumination. I returned, let the basket drop, and settled to the bottom, waiting for her to awaken.
Eventually her eyes fluttered open, and her hands reached up to cradle her head. I remembered the headache I had awoken with and sympathized. Her first words were even more cliched than mine.
"Where am I?"
I still had hope, unlike Kristin when she had welcomed me, so I gave nicer answers. "You are somewhere at the bottom of the ocean. You've been enslaved."
"What? But why? Who...?" She kept talking but made no sound as she ran out of air. She started to swim around jerkily, as though she was finding it hard to control herself.
Was I that clumsy once? I remembered the dolphins and knew that I hadn't been. Was I the exception, or had something changed? I swam over and carefully grabbed her arm. She jerked it away, but then she looked at me and began to calm. I reached for her hand, and she let me hold it. I could feel her fingers quivering.
"You were created as a cheap biological solution to deep water mining." I watched her in silence until I had more air and could continue. "The people at 'You Reborn' lured you with false promises." She looked startled at that name.
"What is this 'You Reborn'? I've never heard of it."
"What?", I shouted this out - and couldn't say anything more.
"My aunt paid for my operation. It was at a place called 'New Lives'".
Was she operated on by the same person, or was more involved? I had to know. "Who was the head doctor in your case? Was it a Dr Taylor?"
"I've never heard of him. My head doctor was Dr. Rasmussen."
"What did he look like?"
"He was a short man, about four and a half feet. His hair was dark, and he was always clean shaven." She paused. "He was cute."
I didn't recognize the description at all. All the doctors that I had met were much taller. "Where did you receive the transplant?"
"Just outside of New Orleans."
I could see her expression flickering between confusion and panic - it must have mirrored mine. I had been transplanted near San Francisco. This meant that there was at least one more group involved. How many people were involved in this? But first I had to calm her down. I thrust my thoughts aside and turned my attention to her. "Well, now it doesn't matter. Now you're here with us."
"Who's us? I thought I was going to be the first. Is it just the two of us?"
"You're the twelfth." I remembered Alison and the pieces of her that were brought back. "We all thought we were the first."
"Then what the fuck is going on? I was ready to show myself to the world. To get all the glory..." She faded out as her air ran out. I waited as the truth dawned on her. Finally she asked, "There won't be any glory, will there?"
I shook my head. "No glory. All we do is dig through the mud, and curse those who trapped us here."
"What keeps the guards here? Can't we overpower them?"
I remembered when I had been like that. She seemed so eager, so young... Could that be it? "There are no guards. Just us slaves." I had to know. "How old are you?"
She wasn't even startled by the question. "I'll be fourteen in August." She winked at me.
I opened my mouth, and let all the air out of my lungs and sank to the bottom. They were doing it to teenagers! So young they were almost children. Fourteen! She swam over moving strangely. Then I realized why - she was trying to wiggle her waist seductively. How could I break her heart with the truth? But it had to be done.
"You have no waist, and I'm already spoken for. Now stop and listen." She turned her head in a sulk, but stayed close until I could continue. "We have been forced into slave labour against our wills. We can't escape." I had to wait for more air. "We can't escape because nobody here knows where we are. We could swim away but in what direction?" I could see her starting to sob and reached out and held her by her shoulders. "We have transmitters implanted somewhere so that even if we left they would still find us."
Now she was sobbing. I held her, thinking of Kristin and her own hell.
After a while the new girl spoke, still crying. "My aunt." She paused, forcing her voice to steady. "She forced me into this. She wanted to be famous through me." Her voice was quivering and she spoke the next sentence so softly I almost couldn't make it out. "She made me want to be famous."
"But you will be famous, someday." I whispered in her ear. "We will escape. I will find a way." She looked at me but I had to wait before I could go on. "You'll be famous for bringing the monsters who did this to justice." I held her until I had the air to continue. "Come and meet the others. Then you have to get to work." I paused and continued with bitterness in my voice, "We have a quota."
I held her arm and led her to meet the others. There was a shovel waiting for her and she quickly learned what to do. It wasn't very hard. She was still quite awkward, and I could see the others noticing. I moved near to Kristin to talk.
"How is she?" Kristin asked.
"She's only 14. Her aunt sold her into slavery."
Kristin stopped working and stared at me.
"It gets worse." I continued. "She had her transplant performed in New Orleans."
Bitterly she reached the same conclusion I had. "So now there are two groups in on this."
"And here we are. Trapped in hell while they just laugh..."
I grabbed her. "We are not trapped. There is a way out."
A sickening laugh billowed out of her. A couple of the others working nearby stopped and turned towards us. The new woman - I hadn't even though to ask her name - came near, but kept a slight distance.
I grabbed Kristin and held her face a few inches away from mine. "There is a way out. There's always a way out. We just have to find it."
Kristin pulled herself loose. "And why do you say that? There's no hope for us."
"I don't know! But there has to be..." I was shouting and ran out of air too quickly.
"They're all scientists. They've thought of everything. They've probably simulated everything we could try!" Now Kristin was shouting too.
"I'm a doctor too!"
"And what good does that do?" Her voice, for the first time since I had met her, turned sarcastic, "Do you want to kiss my tail and make it better?"
"I don't do that. I have a doctorate in ocean biology. That's where we're trapped..."
She broke in and screamed out, "And what good will seaweed and fish..." She couldn't continue.
That was it. The answer. The thing they had missed. I hugged her to me. "A fish. That's our way out."
"How the hell will a fish help!?" she screamed.
"We have to find a fish that lives only in these waters. When we find it I'll know where we are."
"You'll know what ocean we're in?"
"There are species that are much more localized. There are some fish that live only in the pacific deeps." She started to calm down but had to wait until I could continue. "Others live only off of certain coasts. We're probably in the abyssal deeps off of the shelf. But..." My mind was racing faster than I could talk. I forced myself to calm down until I could continue. "The coastal shelves are fairly narrow. As soon as we can find a localized species, I'll know what shelf we are off of." I cursed the limits of this body as I waited for air to continue. "Then we'll know where we are. Then we can use David's compass and make our way back to the shallows." I waited until I could shout out the conclusion, "We can find our way home!"
The reaction was a lot less than I had hoped. As Kristin and my argument had passed, so had the interest of the others. They were back at work and didn't even look up as I shouted out 'home'. It was Kristin, and the newcomer, who knew what I was saying. We all hugged each other now that we actually had a glimmer of hope.
Finally I turned to the new woman. "What is your name anyway? I have to address my good luck charm somehow."
The newcomer smiled and actually laughed. "My name is Diane."
I laughed. "However, we can't get away yet. You have to learn to use your body." While I waited until I could speak again, I picked up a shovel. "You have to learn how to use this." I handed her the shovel, and she grimaced.
That night the three of us slept together. Kristin and I as lovers. Diane as a child in her parents bed.
It seemed as though my naming of Diane as my good luck charm was more prophetic than I could have believed. The three of us began working a little harder, and then exploring a little before we fell asleep. As long as our quota was met, nobody cared. Kristin and I were tired and ready for bed when Diane swam up towards the glow of our basket, lugging a fair sized fish with her. Her control over her body had improved substantially since she had arrived. The fish struggled a bit, but she had no difficulty keeping a hold of it.
"Thomas!" she called out. "Do you recognize this one?" She was struggling to hold on to a fish that was almost as big as she was - and she was in the body of an adult which in her case was six or seven feet long. The fish wasn't struggling much, but it was a hand full. By the time she had dragged it into the dim phosphorescence so that I could clearly see it, it was stupidly easy to recognize.
In front of me, now passive, was a massive Coelacanth. There was no way I could be mistaken about that one. All I could do was shake my head in amazement.
"Do you recognize it?" asked Kristin.
I could only laugh and hold my head. Kristin reached over to hold my arm and offer her comfort. "Nothings wrong, nothing at all.", I said. "Don't you recognize it?"
"It looks old." Diane put in.
I turned towards her. "You have just caught a Coelacanth. Possibly the most recognizable deep water fish."
Kristin turned away. "Let it go. It lives all over the place. Another one that doesn't help at all."
As Diane let the monster go, I swam over to Kristin and began to whisper in her ear. "Not at all. The reason it is so recognizable is that it was thought extinct." She turned to face me but had to wait until I had the air to continue. I felt the motion of the water behind me and knew that Diane was near too. "It was found in 400 million year old fossils. Then, about a hundred years ago..." I ran out of air and had to wait to continue. "About a hundred years ago a fisherman in Africa pulled one up. They've only ever been found..." In my excitement my mouth kept moving, but the air wasn't there.
"We're in Africa?" Diane asked.
"At least not in it, but hopefully somewhere nearby." Kristin responded.
Then I could speak again. "Only off the east coast of Africa, near Madagascar. We must be somewhere in the south-western Indian Ocean." Then I yawned.
"Lets get back. We have to tell everybody!" Diane shouted.
Then Kristin yawned. "In the morning. Lets get some sleep first."
"We have to make plans before we can leave." I continued.
We soon made it back to the rest of the group - we had made sure to stay in site of the glow of their baskets. All were already asleep, except for the watchman (or in this case woman). She just nodded as we returned. We found an unoccupied spot and quickly fell asleep. I slept the best I had in god knows how long, now that I really had hope.
We awoke in the morning, still groggy. I reached for a shovel but Diane was all over me.
"Lets go. Lets tell David where we are."
Kristin was still awakening. Then I remembered Coelacanth and the truth about where we were. I waited until Kristin was ready and then the three of us swam over to where David was already working with the sifter.
"David, I know where we are."
He stopped sifting, pulled out a large ball of metal and put it in one of the baskets beside him. Then he started sifting again. Diane swam over and grabbed him.
"We're in the Indian Ocean." She said. "I found a soel-o-anth." Her pronunciation was fairly close, but not quite right.
Then David turned to me. "The Indian Ocean is still quite large."
"Coelacanths have only been found off of Madagascar." I waited for more air. "We must be off the east or south-east edge of the African shelf."
He turned away and started sifting again. "That's nice to know."
This time it was I who grabbed him. He dropped the sifter into the mud as I forced him to listen. "With your compass we can get away. We know where to go. We can see the sun again."
David just stared at me. Kristin had remembered and turned away. "Until they track us and bring us back. Then again, maybe they'll just kill us."
I let him go and turned away. "Then we have another problem to solve. We have to find the transmitters and remove them."
David whispered so that only I could hear. "Then one of us must die so we can find them."
I spun around to face him, but he continued.
"There may be other problems."
"What if they put something in our food. Something we have to have to live."
"What?" Kristin and I both chorused.
"I've thought about this a lot over the years." He sighed and we were forced to wait until he could continue. "They could have added some kind of chemical dependence to our bodies."
"Oh my god", I whispered.
"I don't think they did, I didn't think of it until much later."
"Why wouldn't they have thought of it?", Kristin asked.
"They never were very imaginative." David replied.
I nodded. "Then someone has to test this. I'll live off of nature for two or three months and see what happens."
"No!", Kristin shouted. "If he's right, you could die."
"I'll stay here. If I get weak, or don't feel well, I'll eat some of the food they bring."
"He's right.", David broke in. "It can't be fast acting or they would risk us dying if they were delayed."
That reminded me of our task masters. "What about my quota. I'll have to spend most of my time hunting."
"I'll talk to the others. Between the rest of us, we can manage it."
David floated up off the bottom and we all swam over to the group.
"Meeting!", David shouted at the top of his lungs. He couldn't say any more but the rest had heard and they swam over. When they were all present David spoke. "Thomas here has a way out."
A couple snickered, but nobody turned away.
I spoke out, "I know where we are. We're in the south-west corner of the Indian Ocean."
"How do you know that?" somebody asked.
"I found a fish that told him.", Diane broke in.
"She found a rare fish that is restricted to only certain waters.", I answered.
"How sure are you?" another person asked.
"With the fish I found, there is no question. Anybody ever heard of a Coelacanth?"
"I have!" another person called. "Weren't a couple dredged up off of Africa."
"And nowhere else.", I continued. "Finally, we know where we are, and with David's compass...", I had to stop to generate more air.
"We know where to go." Kristin finished.
"Then lets go now!" somebody called out.
"We can't." I replied. "David fears we may be dependent on an additive to our food." There was no response to this as everybody waited until I could continue. "I'm going to live off of normal fish for a few months to prove, or disprove, this."
"So why are you telling us this now."
"Because I won't be able to work while I hunt. You will all have to perform my quota."
At this there were some groans. "That's extra work...", someone mumbled.
"Not much!", Kristin answered. "A little bit of extra work from all us so that we can all escape."
"You can manage it. I'll help if necessary." David said.
And that was enough. They all went to work, and I began to hunt for my dinner.
I swam away from the group, but made sure that I stayed near enough to see the dim glow of the algae so I could find my way back. Then I began to circle around looking for prey. Generally the abyssal deeps are barren, but around us fish were fairly common. I think it was because of our digging which brought up additional nutrients into the water. It could also have been our supplies since we were never that neat about how we ate them.
I decided to look for a smaller fish, one that I could eat comfortably. One that I knew wasn't poisonous. Most of the fish around were too small - the one I was looking for would be about a foot or so long. It took longer than I had expected, but I finally spotted one. I recognized it from the pattern of its phosphorescence. Now I had to figure out how to get it.
The first thing I tried was to sneak up on it. I swam slowly, and tried to act casual as I approached it. Unfortunately, I could get only to about five feet. From then on my prey kept its distance. I tried getting above it and slowly forcing it to the bottom, but it only sped up a little and moved off to the side. This wasn't working. It was working so poorly that my prey was able to put on a sudden spurt of speed, zip over, and gulp down its meal. I was so bad at this that my prey had time to fish. But, had it shown me the secret?
I started to move slowly towards it, and it kept its distance. Suddenly I put on the best speed I could, with my arms at my sides, and sped towards it. It turned to flee but I was faster. I reached it, reached out with my arms, and fell behind. I tried again, with the same result. I stopped, and watched as my prey stopped too. I was still stuck at the five foot limit. The water was now so black that all I could see was my prey's phosphorescence.
Now what? I remembered an old video of spearfishers and remembered how they had kept their arms in front of them while they swam. Would that work? I moved my arms above my head and clasped my hands together in a fist. It felt awkward, and I could feel my muscles stretching, but it could be done. Then, once again, I sped after the fish. I caught up to it. I grabbed it. And missed. I fell behind, but clasped my hands together and caught up to it again. And grabbed it. And caught it.
It slipped out of my grasp and stopped about five feet away.
AHRGGGH! Now I knew how to catch the fish. The question was how to keep the fish caught. Diane had caught the Coelacanth more by nudging it in the right direction. It was so much bigger than her, it probably didn't consider her a threat and hadn't really resisted. But I needed a smaller fish that I could eat. So where could I grab it? Grabbing it on the body wasn't working. I couldn't get a hold of the fins as they were in motion, and too flimsy anyway. Could I grab it by the tail, in front of the tail fin? Once again I held my hands in front, sped after my prey, caught up to it, grabbed for its tail, and missed. I tried again, and missed again. And again, and again. This wasn't working either. I stopped and glared at it's lights, five feet away.
So what else. Could I use its body openings? I couldn't reach its mouth. That left the gills. I would have to catch up, and stick my hands into its gills and hang on. Fortunately my fingers were tough and callused from the slave labour. So once again I clasped my hands above my head, sped after it, grabbed for it, and missed. I tried again, and missed. Finally, on the third time I got it and shoved my hands into its gills. Finally I had it!
It started struggling frantically, and I was dragged around, not much but more than you might expect. Slowly we were sinking to the bottom as its struggles grew feebler. Was there a quicker way? I remembered staying with some native hunters and remembered how they killed the fish they caught by biting them behind the head. So I tried it. And it actually worked.
Now I had a dead fish in my hands.
And now I had to eat it. Five years ago, I couldn't have done it. But a new body, being poked and prodded, being enslaved and forced to eat scraps, certainly kills any squeamishness one might have had. I turned it over, pulled off the various fins from the body by feel, and took a big bite out of its chest. It was crunchy, but actually better than what we were being given. I greedily ate the whole thing, except for its head and tail.
Finally I was finished, and let the scraps drift to the bottom. A could see the lights of a couple of small fish around me, gulping down the scraps, but I ignored them. There was nothing else but blackness. The hunt had taken me far away from the rest of the group. I had no idea which way to go.
I forced down panic. I wasn't in any immediate danger of death. I had lots of time. There had to be a way to find them. We were in water. Water conducts sound better. Aha! I stopped, and even stopped breathing. In the distance I could hear the faint sounds of metal against metal. That must be them. I started breathing, and began making my way back. It didn't take long, the hunt must have circled around, and shortly I could see the glow of the phosphorescent algae from the baskets. My first hunt had been a success.
However, I was still hungry, so off I went after another one.
For few weeks, I successfully hunted and lived off the land. As time passed, I found that I was actually feeling stronger, and could swim faster. Whether it was practice or simply better nutrition, at that point I couldn't say. The cause turned out to be something much worse. Each day the hunting became easier, and soon I had much of each day to myself. When the rest finished and went to sleep, I returned and slept with Kristin and Diane. The only fear remaining was what if the sub came back while I was gone?
I was a fair distance from the camp when I heard a strange hum in the water. At first I couldn't figure out what it was, but then it hit me - the sub from the surface. I had never heard it coming before, but by then my hunting had taught me to pay much more attention to sounds. I swam back to the group as fast as I could and grabbed a shovel. Then I moved back the way I had come, to the edge of the group, and started working. I was afraid that if I was in the group, they might be suspicious if they were monitoring my signal.
Fortunately my fears were groundless. The sub arrived, we loaded the ore and unloaded the supplies. As I helped unload, I had to force myself not to recoil from the garbage they were feeding us. Eventually the sub left, but to be cautious I spent the rest of the day working with the group.
As I worked, I noticed that the group seemed to be very quiet, and only moved a little. Even Kristin and Diane seemed listless. I swam over to them, to see if anything was wrong.
"Are you all right?", I asked Kristin.
"Why? I feel the same as I always have. Are you doing all right?"
I didn't answer, being lost in thought. She said she felt fine, that she felt the same as she always felt. Meanwhile, I could hardly keep still.
"Are you sure you're all right?", she asked. "You look like you're in pain." She began to look worried
In pain? I had never felt better. I looked at myself, and saw what was worrying her. She, and the others, just drifted and dug. Their fins rarely moved. They swam slowly. I looked at myself and saw that my tail was slowly moving around in a circle. My arms were always in motion, keeping me in place. Her arms just hung onto the shovel.
She reached me and placed her hand against my forehead. "Your temperature feels all right. I think."
Then I had it. They were all drugged. I had been drugged!
"I'm fine, really." I said as I backed away a bit and watched her arm fall to her side. "Its you, its all of you."
"You're all drugged. Not a big dosage, just enough to make you a little lethargic." She looked confused as she waited until I could continue. "Just a small deadening to keep you from wanting to escape. But its out of my system."
I could see her making the connection. "Its the food?"
"Exactly. No chemical dependencies as we might rebel and suicide." I wanted to finish the thought, but had to wait. "Enough so we don't have the energy to try anything." I grabbed her arm, and began pulling her over to David. "We have to tell David. We all have to start eating food we catch."
When we reached him, his first thought was also for my health. "Are you all right?", he asked. He paused and looked at me. "You seem at lot more energetic."
"Exactly. I've worked the drugs out of my system."
"The food they're giving us must contain some kind of drugs to dull our minds."
"And to dull our will." David had got it too. "So much less dangerous then a chemical dependency. So much more insidious."
"So what can we do about it?", Kristin asked.
"We can all eat real food. I can't bring enough for everybody, but I can certainly bring a lot."
And so it went. I started to spend the whole day hunting, and shared most of my catch with the others. Within a week I could notice the difference in them. Within two weeks, discussion of how to escape became continuous while they worked. Others joined me, and I led them on the hunt, and soon we were all living entirely off the sea. The work actually went faster, and we had to make an effort to slow down so as not to get too far ahead and make our masters suspicious. Within three weeks, everybody was raring to go. Then David called a meeting.
"We've accomplished much.", he began. "We know where we are, we know where to go." He paused to generate more air. "Our systems are free of drugs. But we still have one problem."
"The transmitters.", somebody called out.
"Yes.", David said. "Now what do we do about them?"
"We have to find them, and remove them.", somebody else called out.
"Yes. But where are they? One was in my tail. We know there are others."
"Can they be detected? Are they magnetic?" a clever woman asked.
"No. That was tested when we took mine out."
"Can we feel where they are? Then dig out any lumps?"
David responded again, "No, we already tried that, and we couldn't find any."
There was silence. I didn't know what to say. Nobody else knew what to say.
"Would they still follow us?", Diane asked.
"We represent their income. They're due shortly, and they would have to follow us"
"Why?", I asked.
"If we escape, and tell other humans, then they would be criminals."
"Just what they deserve!", a bunch muttered.
"To prevent that, they would try and destroy us by any means." David's answer quashed any other responses. For a long time there was silence, then David spoke again: "Somebody must die so that we can find the transmitters."
People started muttering and looking at each other. I knew I was safe - my knowledge was needed. I could recognize the fish. I could navigate... I stopped when I realized that I was thinking up excuses. That was probably what others were doing. Or thinking up reasons why somebody else wasn't needed. This needed to be stopped. We needed a volunteer. I thought of Kristin and Diane. Neither, especially Diane, was really needed. Diane was the newest. She would be the logical choice - all the most recent transmitters would certainly be in her. This had to be stopped now. I would volunteer.
David beat me to it. "I will do it."
I swam up to him. "But we need you. We need you to lead us."
"You can do that. You've been doing it almost since you arrived."
I had? I thought back. I had instigated everything. I had found the loophole. I had learned to fish. I had led the hunt. I looked around. Kristin and Diane looked sad, so did most of the others. A few simply looked relieved. Then I had a better answer. "No. We'll draw straws. We won't single anybody out."
I looked at David. He didn't seem happy over my idea. In fact he looked almost sad. Sad and bitter.
"We can use some of the fish bones.", David said. "I'll go and get them." He started to swim off.
I watched him go. Something here didn't add up. Why would he volunteer? Why would he be bitter? I saw him pick up a shovel, and then it hit me. "Stop!", I screamed out and started swimming towards him. But I was too late. I watched him pick up the shovel, and jam it through his chest. I was only seconds too late. His blood was black in the dim light.
"Its all my fault." He muttered. He looked at me. "Lead them into the light, away from my dark...". And he died.
By that time the others had come up behind us. I let go of David's body and watched it sink to the bottom. Then I turned. "He made his choice." I swallowed deeply into my stomach. "I will search his body."
I saw Diane turn away, and start crying in Kristin's arms. Most of the others just looked stricken. A few looked like they wanted to help, but I waved them away. One or two looked relieved.
Kristin swam up to me, still holding Diane. "You don't have to do it right now."
"I don't know if I could wait."
"Do you want me to stay?"
I heard Diane whimpering. I could feel my hands start to shake. I would have to use my fingers to tear into him. I finally managed to reply, "Its better if you don't." Then I called out, "Everybody should get back to work." They just glared, but I had to wait to continue. "We could have visitors, and we don't want them to know about this." They started to turn away, slowly. Then I whispered to myself, "Yet."
I pulled David's body over to where he worked, where there was more of the algae so I could have as much light as possible. Then I started. I knew I had to work quickly, in case the sub came. But I still had to be careful.
I don't remember much of what I did. I know I did it, but I've since blanked it out. I had been inured to a lot of things, but nothing like that. I finally found two more transmitters, one at the back of the neck, one at the back of his left wrist. When I was done, I started swimming away, dragging the torn and bloody corpse beside me. Kristin saw this, dropped her shovel and swam towards me.
"What the hell are you doing?", she asked. "He should be buried."
I stopped and turned to face her. I could barely speak. "Yes. But if he is buried, and they come, they will know something is wrong." Fortunately I had to wait for air at that point as I couldn't go on. I finally got some control back. "If I take him away, we can act as though he went mad and fled. Fish will eat him and hide what I..." I lost it completely, and started vomiting.
Kristin swam over and held me. We both turned away from the corpse. When I stopped heaving and my breathing calmed down she said, "Go, and do it quickly. You have paid more than enough already." Then she turned and swam back to the group.
I looked down and saw a lifeless arm sticking up out of the ooze. I reach down, grabbed it. It was cold and hard. Then I started swimming. As hard and as fast as I could.
I don't know how long, or how far I swam. But, long after I knew it was far enough, I stopped. I could see nothing but blackness. I couldn't hear a sound. "Good bye David." Then I dropped the corpse and watched it sink.
I started swimming down and back as best I could. I listened carefully for any kind of sound, and eventually I heard it, down and off to my left. I turned and slowly made my way back to it. When I arrived, the group had stopped working and gone to bed. Kristin and Diane were together - Diane was asleep, but Kristin was still awake. She held her arms open, and welcomed me into them.
That night we finally made love. At first I was too dead inside, but she awoke my body. I finally noticed what she was doing when I felt our gills slip into opposition and she pulled me tight against her. "But, you said you didn't want to risk children..."
"Now we can escape. They will be born in the light."
She kissed me to silence my protests, and finally I began to kiss her back.
This time we continued.
Eventually, sated, we fell asleep.
I was jerked awake the next day by Andrew, another one of the captives. "Wake up!", he whispered. "The sub is coming..."
That shocked me awake. I shook Kristin and told her, "The sub."
"What sub...", she was still groggy until it hit her, "Oh god, the sub!"
We grabbed our shovels and went over to the group and started digging. A few minutes later we could see the lights of the sub. It stopped, and shone a blinding spotlight over us. Finally we heard a voice boom out, "Where is David?"
This was the moment of truth. I swam up and spoke. "We don't know. This morning he was gone."
I could hear some whispering in the sub, but couldn't make it out. Then the voice spoke again. "Where is he!"
"I don't know! He's...", I ran out of air. They didn't believe me. They must have found the body too soon. I was dead.
Suddenly the sub moved off. We all watched it go until it was gone. What was going on? Maybe they were going to search for him... "Get back to work. They're just searching for the body."
"They know, don't they.", somebody said.
"No they don't.", I snapped back. "This is going to work, we just have to do our part." I picked up my shovel and started working. Soon the others followed suit.
Eventually the sub came back, and we could all see that it had the body. It came and stopped and shone its painfully bright lights in our faces. "You who spoke before. Come forward."
They knew. They knew. I slowly swam forward.
The voice boomed out: "This is what happens to those who try to escape. There is no way out. Stay, and work, and you will live. Try to escape and be reduced to this. Come, look, and remember. All of you. Then you can get on with the loading, and get your supplies." Then the voice spoke to me, "You, look!"
It had worked! I felt weak in my tail, and couldn't swim forward.
They must have mistook my delay for fear as the voice shouted out, "You will look and remember!"
I swam and stared, and remembered. Remembered his sacrifice. Remembered, and felt my hate grow. Then the voice called the next person over, and the next, until all had seen. Fortunately, the message being given wasn't what they intended. We all knew the truth. We knew that they had been fooled.
Finally all had looked, and watched as the remains were dropped to sink into the ooze. "You who spoke out before." I swam forward. "You are now in charge.", the voice said. "Keep the quota and you will live. Now start the loading!"
As before, we loaded the sub, and then took off the food supplies. As the rest loaded, the voice instructed me on what to look for. They wanted the precious metals - gold and silver. They wanted the silicates. I was told that these would be the lightest and largest nodules. By the time their instruction was done, the loading and unloading was complete. We all watched as the sub started making its way back to the surface.
The rest just stared as it went, hatred in their eyes. "Get back to work!", I shouted. They stared at me in shock. I picked up a shovel and started working. Others started to get the idea and went to work. I waited until long after the sub was gone before I spoke. "Bastards."
Everybody dropped their shovels and cheered. At least for a bit until they ran out of air. Then they all just hugged each other. Kristin and Diane hugged me.
Eventually we all calmed down and they turned to listen. "I found transmitters in the back of his neck, and at the back of his left wrist." I waited for more air. "I will take the first ones out. Watch, and then start doing it to others."
I swam over to where we had been hiding the fish bones for when we needed them, and motioned Kristin over. Then I carefully dug into her skin and removed the two transmitters. And carefully put them aside.
Kristin turned, "Let me crush them!"
I saw others nodding. "No. We want them to keep operating. We want to hide our escape as long as possible."
The removal was quick, as the transmitters were planted just under the skin. The reason they couldn't be felt was that they were so small. Because they were only embedded in blubber there was a lot less bleeding then there could have been - even when we had to dig around for them. Finally it was done.
All of the transmitters had been neatly piled in one of the baskets. I swam just above it, grabbed it, and shoved it deep into the silt. When I was done I turned to face my people. "Tomorrow we leave."
Again the cheering was short, as the air was limited.
I didn't sleep much that night, and I don't think anybody else did. I was able to finally nod off, but was awoken shortly after by a crowd eager to go. They had abandoned their shovels and baskets, some driving them deep into the ooze. They all looked at me, waiting.
"We are about to go to the surface. We have to rise slowly."
"Aren't we aquatic?", somebody asked. "Aren't we free from decompression?"
"Yes. If we had to decompress from this it would probably take years."
"Then lets just race to the surface. To freedom."
"We can't!" I waited for them to quiet down. "Our tissues still require some time to adjust. If we race up, we'll die." That quieted them down, and they waited until I could continue. "Lets grab the shovels and the baskets, and get going."
This shocked them. "Lets just go! Lets leave those things behind!"
"They are also the only tools we have. We are aquatic, we have to live in the ocean." I paused until I could continue. "We will need tools to build a new home."
"We can find others! We don't want these!"
"We can probably find others. What if we can't? We can always throw these away later." I swam and grabbed David's sifter which contained the fish bones we had used as needles and the compass. The compass had a thong made out of fish gut which I hung around my neck. "Now lets get going." Then I started swimming slowly upwards.
I saw Kristin and Diane grab shovels and follow. Some of the others also grabbed shovels and baskets, but a lot didn't. Oh well, I would take what I could.
As we kept swimming, I reviewed what I knew. We were in the south-western Indian Ocean. Off of Africa the abyss was about 20,000 feet down. If we swam slowly and carefully, we could probably make a mile an hour vertically. That meant we had about four hours to swim. I looked at the compass that David had made. The magnetic end had laboriously been sharpened - it had been tested with the metal shovels.
I motioned the group to stop and held out the compass and waited for it to settle down. Then I turned to the north west and started swimming, both horizontally and vertically. The rest followed.
We continued this way for over an hour. Every so often I would stop the group and check the compass. Then we would continue. As time passed, people started to hurry but I kept at my slow pace and waited for them to slow down. One person wouldn't - I swam up after him and grabbed him.
"Do you want to die?", I asked. "An embolism is extremely painful." We looked down at the rest of the group waiting below us. I looked at him. "We will get there. There is an end to this." Then I swam back to the group and he followed.
Finally we could see the water lightening. People started swimming faster, but I kept to my pace. I called up to them, "The closer to the surface, the faster the pressure ratio changes." They stopped and waited. "We will make it.", I reminded them. The whole time Kristin and Diane remained at my side.
I checked the compass, and then we continued swimming. Soon the algae was no longer needed, and some dropped their baskets. "We will need those to hold our food when we get to a home." Most went and recovered theirs. I passed the sifter to Kristin and dashed over to catch one of the baskets and carry it myself.
We kept swimming. Then, it began to darken again. We stopped swimming. What was going on? Then I remembered.
"It's actually night now on the surface. This means that we are almost there."
They started to calm, but then we heard a familiar sound. The hum of the submersible. How could they find us? We had gotten all of the transmitters. Hadn't we? Then I saw the beams of light. People started moving away but I called out, "Wait! They need us. They won't just kill us." At least I hoped so.
A few stopped, but most kept moving away, starting to go faster.
"We can crack the sub. We can drown those bastards!" This was from Diane behind me. Is this what we had turned into?
Finally Kristin helped, "If they can still track us, fleeing won't help. Our only hope is in numbers!"
This brought most back. A couple fled into the darkness and we never saw them again. We were down to nine.
The sub came into the midst of us and stopped. "What are you doing!" somebody inside shouted. "We will be merciful. Return with us to the deeps, and we'll let you live."
Meanwhile I was looking the sub over. I needed to disable it. I recognized the model, and the power cables. I swam over and dropped the basket I was carrying. I began using my shovel to lever out the power cables.
"What are you doing! Stop it or die!"
Then the cables came loose from the batteries. The motors stopped and the lights went out. All we could see was the dim glow of the phosphorescence, and then the red emergency lights from inside the sub. The rest of the survivors swam with me to the front bubble where we could see the three men inside. Somebody started beating on the bubble with his shovel, but I grabbed his arm and stopped him.
"Wait. Lets see what they have to say." I looked in and could see the panic on their faces. Then I remembered the emergency air tanks. We didn't want them bobbing up to the surface. "This way!", I called. "We have to get these tubes loose." Already I could see them tautening with pressure.
I, and two others quickly swam over and pried the tubes loose. A sudden roar of bubbles billowed out, and the sub stopped rising. In fact it started slowly to sink. Then the air was turned off, but the sub was still going down. I swam back to the window.
I banged on the window, "How did you find us?"
"You'll die for this!" one of the men shouted from inside. But now the voice was starting to shake.
"No, you'll die. Only we can help you now." I waited until all of them faced me. "How did you find us?"
"There's a transmitter in the new girl."
They must mean Diane. "Where!"
"In her right wrist. There aren't any others."
"Why should I believe you?"
"There aren't, we swear!" The sub was still slowly sinking.
I swam over the Kristin and reached into David's sifter. I pulled out one of the fish bones we had used to remove the other transmitters.
"Diane, come over here." She swam over.
I held her right hand, and dug into the back of her wrist. I saw the transmitter come out and watched it glitter in the red light as it sank into the darkness. Then I swam back to the sub, and began prying out the rest of the cables.
"Stop! We'll do anything. We can pay you! We can make you wealthy!"
I kept prying cables out.
"We can put you in new bodies. We can restore you!"
That one deserved a response. "We should trust your honesty when you have us in your control?" I went back to prying until I could continue. "Look what happened last time we trusted you."
I looked around and saw the others, following me and the sub down. Finally the last of the cables were out.
"We'll do whatever you want! Don't let us die in the darkness!"
This time it was Kristin who responded. "You left us to die in the darkness."
"Lets get going." I said. "They won't bother us again." I could hear the screams fading out below us.
"Shouldn't we save them?" asked Diane.
I turned and watched the red glow disappear into the darkness. "No." I started swimming away, and eventually was joined by the rest. Below us there were faint screams, and then only silence.
The Dream Reborn:
It took only another hour, but finally we arrived. I was the first to break the surface. I spit the water out of my lungs, for the first time in god knows how long, and started breathing. The air was cool and smelled of salt. I hadn't smelled anything in so long. I inhaled deeply and held it, savoring the scent. I released it and started to breath air normally. I kept thinking about my breathing. It wasn't water. It was air. I could hear the splashes of the others on the surface. It sounded faint, metallic. So different from the sounds I had heard for so long. The water was calm, and the wind was cool on my face. I could feel the air, so different from the steady pressure of the water. Kristin came up and held my hand.
I looked at the stars, and spotted the Southern Cross - we were indeed in the southern hemisphere. I watched as a scramjet moved high above us, and looked at the twinkling lights of stars, and humankind's satellites. The entire surface glowed in the light of a half moon. It was so bright, so clear. I could see for what seemed an infinite distance.
Finally I shouted out "We're free. Free to go wherever we want. Free to make a home. Free to see the sunrise!" I could talk as much as I wanted without waiting for air.
Kristin hugged me. "We made it! We're free!"
Then I ducked down, and rose out of the water onto my tail, and danced. The others cheered and shouted. They tried, but nobody else could do it. We laughed with those who tried, as they fell sputtering back into the water. Finally, exhausted, we let ourselves drift below the surface and sleep. I tried to stay awake, to watch, but I was just too tired, and happy.
I was awoken by Diane hugging me. I could barely make out her features from the glare of the sun behind her. The sun. The light. I hugged her, and then raced to the surface, and danced in the early morning light. The others followed. I stared at the light glistening off of the tips of the waves. It was so bright, so golden. I dove under and danced around the light beams that illuminated us from the heavens. Kristin joined my dance, and then the others.
The sun, we could see the sun!
Eventually I calmed down, and waited for the others. We were all flushed with excitement. I had dropped my shovel and basket. My god - the compass! I flailed around, and then felt it around my neck. Thank the heavens I had put it there. I checked the others. Between us we had only one shovel - Diane had managed to keep it. But I didn't care, we were out of the abyss.
Kristin turned to me, "So, where are we going to go?"
"First we have to reach the coast." The others were crowded around.
I pulled the compass off from around my neck and watched it glitter in the sunlight. The sunlight, the wonderful sunlight. Eventually it stopped.
"We should go northwest. That should be the quickest way to land." I took the compass and hung it around Kristin's neck. "Lets go and swim in the sunlight!", I shouted.
Then I sped ahead, and leapt out of the water and back in, like I had with the dolphins so long ago. The others followed me below the water. Eventually I calmed, and went down to join them. Then we continued to the northwest at a good pace - probably 20-30 miles per hour. We all wanted to reach the shore. To see a bottom in sunlight. To stop and rest. The day passed, but there were few fish - we were too excited to eat anyway. The sun began to set, and the water darken, but we kept swimming. Then, just as the light was failing, we could see the bottom. We could see the bottom!
I swam down and touched it, then roared back to the surface to dance. I watched the others, some picked up rocks, others just hovered there in shock. We could even see some seaweed. Then, off in the distance, I saw the lights of a boat. I let myself slide back off my tail into the water. It was a fishing boat. I swam down.
"Meeting!", I called, and waited. Eventually, all eight of the survivors were floating in front of me.
I began. "Its time for a decision. Above us is a fishing boat. Do we want to contact them?"
"Yes!", Diane screamed out. Kristin reached over and held her back.
One of the men spoke, it was Andrew. "Won't they be afraid of us?"
Scott answered, "What if they are? We won't let them hurt us."
I responded, "They probably won't, they're just fisherman. But do we want the world to know?"
This time Mary spoke up, "No. Look what they did to us. They used us!"
Most of the others stated their agreement.
Then Andrew replied, "Do we want to hide, to live in the wild?"
I spoke up, "If we contact them, we can rejoin civilization. Some of us could even be changed back." A long silence followed this, until I finally continued. "Those who did it to us are still there. They would be able to find us."
Scott spoke again, "Then we'll kill them too."
"Civilization also means laws.", Kristin said. "They'll protect us, and protect them."
"But won't they be brought to trial?", Diane asked.
Marcia replied, "If they can be caught. They could be hiding their tracks right now."
I broke in again. "We need to decide now. Should we stay hidden?"
Tom answered, "If we stay hidden, then we can always contact them later, can't we?"
Andrew replied, "Of course. But once contacted, there is no escape."
Mary finally broke in, "We can't trust them. They used us. They enslaved us."
Marcia continued, "They know all our weaknesses. They know how to kill us."
I could see most nodding in agreement.
"Another point.", I said. "If we stay hidden, then its only us. Forever." I paused for air. "If we make contact, they could make more of us."
Diane then whispered, "We would always be alone."
"But we'd be safe.", put in Marcia.
"Then lets put it to a vote.", I said. "Do we make contact now, and commit ourselves?" I paused for air, and the others waited, "Or do we wait, and keep our options open?"
I started to call out votes.
"I vote we wait."
"I want to go home! Lets contact them."
"Wait and see."
"Stacey. You haven't spoken yet."
"I just want to go home. Contact."
"Contact - lets get those bastards!"
"Hide. Its too dangerous."
I looked around at them, then finally spoke, "Its been decided. We hide and wait."
Diane began to cry and I could hear Kristin comforting her, "Someday dear, we'll get you back."
We spent the night resting there, and the next day made our way further into shore. We didn't see any boat traffic, only coral and more and more fish. Finally we could see the shore. We stopped. Around us was coral and hundreds and thousands of fish. There were plants, anemones - life all over the place. And all of it was in the light. The bright, golden, light. The water itself tasted so clean. There was grit with each swallow of water, but it was different, it felt alive.
"This is it.", I quietly said. "Do we want to stay here?"
There was no argument.
We moved back into deeper water, and were able to find a shipwreck from the second world war in about 300 feet of water. There we decided to live. It was too deep to be frequently visited.
A few months later, Kristin and I were swimming in the shallows around the reef. She was pregnant with our child. The fish were plentiful, and still hadn't learned to be afraid of us. In silence, we both stopped swimming and stayed still, just enjoying existing.
I looked up towards the sky and saw the beams of sunlight shine down upon me, constantly in motion as the waves passed overhead. The sunlight cast no warmth, but just sparkled in the water before my eyes. In the distance, I could hear the faint calls of whales with my entire body, through my ears and around my gills. But now it was clearer, and deeper. It even filled and flavoured the water as I breathed it. This was a moment of perfect beauty. I was finally home.
"Now you've heard the story. Its time for the favour." The merman stretched and swam around a bit. "We are still hiding, but I want you to make sure our story is known." He paused until he could continue. "I want them stopped. They must be stopped." He paused and moved closer to the camera. The autofocus kept his face sharp until it filled the screen. "Find 'New Lives' and 'You Reborn'. Make sure the world knows what they did." He paused and I waited. "Make sure they never do it again, to anyone." He paused and spoke his final words, "I won't let my child be born into that danger."
The picture ended, and snow was displayed on the viewer.