Dr. James Auldon
I watch as Bailey and Suzie are brought up onto the platform. Both mermaids are on the same gurney, pushed by Dr. Patron’s new helper, Elizabeth Montes, who seems to have taken a shine to the mermaids. Suzie is curled up on her stomach, blue eyes constantly looking around, fear and distrust thick in her wide irises. Beside her, Bailey is sitting up, her tail swinging freely over the edge of the gurney. Her fingers are curled around the handle of the gurney to keep her balanced and her other hand rests in her lap. I glance at her stomach, note that not even a scar remains as evidence of her injuries. Dr. Patron’s methods in that matter impress me greatly. I’ve always wondered how he manages to get healthy skin to form instead of scar tissue. It’s a secret that he guards closely.
Miss Montes brings the gurney to a halt at the edge of the platform. I nod at her, a motion that is returned before she silently retreats. Whether she’s just quiet in nature, frightened out of her mind by Dr. Patron, or afraid of me, I'm not sure, not that I mind the silence. A good employee can do their job without opening their mouth more than necessary.
I snap my fingers together, watch with satisfaction as Bailey’s spine straightens at attention, her eyes meeting mine, awaiting a command. Her muscles are slightly tense, fearful, but she appears to have focused all her attention on me. Good. Now the real test would be, can I keep her attention while ignoring her. I walk over to the gurney, focus my attention on Suzie, who shrinks back as I approach. I feel Bailey’s gaze, still watching me in case I suddenly want something from her, yet her head hasn’t moved, as though she’s afraid that will get her into trouble, so she instead watches me from the corner of her eye. Even better. I walk around behind Suzie and scoop her up, ignoring the startled hiss of air that escapes her. I press my hand against her neck, hold her still as I take a few steps then toss her into the tank. “Get in the water,” I don’t turn around to look at Bailey as I speak, and instead give the gurney a slight push away from the edge of the water. I keep my peripheral vision trained on her, studying her reaction to the challenge. She stares at the space between the gurney and the tank, practically see her realization that she won’t make the jump.
I watch her glance around, and then grab the bar of the gurney and shift, beginning to lower herself to the floor. When she’s nearly there, her fin millimeters from the tiling, and most of her body is hanging, I stop her with a grunt, knowing it will be straining on her muscles to pull herself back up. “Don’t touch the floor; you are not to be on it unless given specific permission.”
I try not to smile as she sighs, strains to pull herself back up onto the gurney.
“Still waiting,” I remind her of my previous command. “I don’t have all day.”
She glances around again, shifts her weight to try to move the gurney closer. A decent plan, except I keep my foot against one of the gurney wheels, preventing it from moving. I want to see how she reacts to a command she can't follow through with. She slumps with defeat and I briefly wonder if she’ll simply not try. Then she makes a noise. Not an attempt to speak by any means, nor is it a sound of complaint, protest, or despair. Instead, it’s more of a grunt, an attempt to get my attention. I comply with her whims and turn to face her. “Well?” I demand, arching an eyebrow. “What’s the problem?”
She bows her head, traces a scale on her tail, and chews her bottom lip. I smile, happy with the obedience part of her improvements. I’ll still have to see how well she handles training later.
“Answer me,” I keep the command firm, but refrain from yelling at her. This is good, after all.
She hesitates, but then meets my gaze. “I can’t jump that far like this. I’d hit the floor, something you don’t want, and I cannot shift the gurney closer,” she murmurs, her shoulders slumping.
“So you can’t obey me?”
She flinches, but nods.
“There will be times when situations like that arise, where you are physically incapable of following a command, but not to do so would be disobeying. So what should you do?”
“Ask for help?” She suggests, her answer more of a hopeful guess than a confident reply.
“You don’t have permission to speak,” I state.
Instantly she closes her mouth, lips pressed tightly together, and fear clouds over her gaze.
“Theoretically, Bailey. You have permission to speak right now, but I mean that you won’t always. In fact, most times you won't, and it may not be me giving you the command that you cannot carry out; someone else may not wish to give you permission to speak. So, what do you do in this situation if there is no way for you to solve the problem?”
She bows her head again, clearly lost in thought. “There isn't anything I can do,” she decides finally. “If I cannot ask for help, or am refused if I am allowed to ask, and I can’t obey, then the only thing I can do is try to carry out an order, even if failing would mean breaking one of the rules. At least it would be better than outright refusing.”
I nod. “Yes, good, at least you are on the right track, no one will punish you as harshly for trying and failing to execute an order. You will still be disciplined, however, if it happens to be a different employee other than myself, and I will correct them if need be, but you should be prepared for that.”
She chews her lip and nods her head.
“So I will only tell you once more. Get in the water. Don’t touch the floor.”
She gauges the expanse a bit, shifts around on the gurney. I watch her tail muscles bunch and coil beneath her, then she launches herself, heedless to the fact that it will probably hurt. But she surprises me, and quite possibly herself, by clearing most of the jump, landing in the water, the tips of her fins still smack the edge of the tank, but she jumped farther than I thought she could from a sitting position on land. I watch her cringe, coil up momentarily to inspect her fin, know that it was likely very painful. I wait a moment, whistle sharply when they both begin to descend further. It only takes a couple of seconds for Bailey to break the surface again, and I note Suzie hovering under the water near her fin.
“I didn’t give you permission to leave,” I inform the girl, but I decide to let up on her for today.
She drags her fingers through the water.
“Sorry,” she whispers.
“Apology accepted. I realize that you are still adjusting to the new role, and I'll give you a few chances, but I want to see genuine improvement, you understand.”
“Good. Now your speaking privileges are being revoked once more. You will meet your trainer in an hour. I expect a decent report will be given to me after. Go.”
I watch her dunk back under before I walk away. I stuff my hands into the pockets of my lab coat as I walk back towards my office.
Things are finally going to go my way. Bailey is settling down, and Suzie seems to follow her everywhere and copy her at times. I train Bailey, she trains Suzie, and I end up with perfect performers.
I still remember the day Suzie came here, small, frightened, and wide-eyed. I had seen her potential then, too, but hadn’t been in the position of authority then to have had any say in how she was handled and trained. At the time, there was more focus on the science, than the exhibit. They’d wanted to know everything possible about her.
I tip back in my chair and put my feet up. That day had been exciting. It was the day my world turned upside down too, my entire career was about to be challenged. Science and myth were about to clash. It was beautiful.
I smooth the wrinkles from my lab coat, and stuff my hands in the pockets. Dr. Patron had gone for the specimen, and we were all eager for his return. The excitement bubbling in me even managed to trump the bitter dislike I hold for the man. We were hired by different departments in the marine biology section around the same time, yet he has risen to a position of relatively higher power, despite the short time of employment. I had higher credentials, but they admired his cold heart towards his work, pouring his mind into it, without second thought. I, on the other hand, liked to think of the future, rather than the immediate knowledge. It wasn’t the most popular opinion, though lately I’d been getting some recognition.
My thoughts return to the present when Dr. Patron comes striding through the loading docks entrance, a smug look on his face. A helper from the garages is right behind him, pushing a large dolly with a wooden crate on it. It takes only a few moments for the helper to tear the lid off the crate. A pair of thick gloves cover Dr. Patron’s hands as he reaches into the crate. A hiss resounds from inside the crate moments before he hauls our prize out and onto the floor by its tail. Brown hair falls to its chest, frames the face of what looks like a five or six year old child. Large, crystal blue eyes, that couldn’t possibly get much wider, are full of fear as they dart from person to person surrounding her. Bright, sapphire blue scales gleam like little gemstones on the, slightly stubby, tail that is her body from the waist down. The fin is a wide, deeply cut fluke that is a lighter blue with two navy blue circles in the middle. Within each of those two circles are a bright white spot. The creature’s lips are pulled back in a fearful snarl, revealing tiny incisors. She curls her fin close to her body, and despite the threatened pose, I note the moisture in the corners of her eyes and see more than the fish. I see the terrified baby, torn from its mother, and know that we have to be careful with it.
The chief of the biology department steps forward so he towers over the mermaid, who glances up and shies away almost instantly. “I want a full physical exam done immediately, complete sets of x-rays and proper samples taken and documented as soon as possible,” he orders. “Anyone stepping up to get it done?”
I raise my hand, eager for a chance to study this creature. “I-”
“I will,” Dr. Patron raises his voice over mine. “I already had the lab space prepped before I left.”
“Very well, I’ll expect documents on my desk by tonight,” Dr. Calloway decides. “You are all dismissed.” I watch him walk away, disappointed and angered. Still, it isn't worth arguing over, so I make my way back to my workspace to finish my own work.
It’s late when I finally finish filing my own documents away and leave the office. As I walk down the empty, dimly lit halls, I take a moment’s pause outside the door of one of the tank rooms. This is where they are keeping the mermaid. Swiping my key card, I push the door open and peer inside. The tank is open, no lid on it; not that the creature could go anywhere anyways, and is knee high and about two meters long on all sides. The creature has her back to me, her small hands hugging her shoulders as she rocks herself, slowly, back and forth, her head and shoulders above the water. Wanting simply to observe, I silently close the door so not to alert her, and step forward.
Remaining oblivious, the child continues to rock gently. I strain to hear the soft whispers escaping her, eager to learn the type of vocals these creatures make.
“Mommy… Mommy, please…want to go home…come get me, mommy, please. I am scared.”
I listen, in shock, to her sobbing pleas, a smile forming slowly on my face. The reports hadn’t spoken of this, Dr. Patron clearly didn’t know. The mermaid was intelligent, spoke English, and I was the only one who knew. For now though, perhaps it had best stay that way. It can be a special secret that I can hold, something that Dr. Patron won’t know. In the future, I’ll utilize it.
I readjust my glasses, breaking out of my daze. To this day, I remain the only one who knows about Suzie’s little secret. I’ve been considering revealing it, at least back at her, so that I can start training her properly. I’ve let her keep her secret and in truth she’s done a very good job, though, once you know, it becomes a little obvious. She reacts to things we say, subtlety and not all the time, but she does do it. It makes me wonder how no one else has noticed, though I suppose that being aware of it makes her actions much more obvious.
I know that Bailey lies to me too, about Suzie, that she’s helping hide her friend’s intelligence, but I won't call her out on it. She’s a good girl, just needs to be taught properly. She’s strong and receptive, so she’ll learn fast, in fact it’s why I chose her. Katherine Waters. She never knew it, but she was decently famous in the photography world, gaining more and more response, even a small fan base, but I doubt she was aware of the attention, no one approached her directly. I watched her for months, learned her habits, her qualities, likes and dislikes. She had a certain affinity for the water not too many people her age had. She didn’t surf, and when she swam, she tried to stay under as long as possible. That was where she always was, under the water. Snorkeling, diving, holding her breath, she was constantly beneath the waves. And so it was only fitting that she be the one I make belong there. Not that she’ll ever be beneath the waves, but she is beneath the surface which is close enough in my opinion.
It was… regrettable that she had a family to leave behind, that she was happy, but she fit the role so perfectly, was so easy to lure, and most importantly, was genetically, physically, and mentally strong enough to survive the transition. I never told her, but with the animals, and the comma patients, the change didn’t take so well. Normally they started to whither after a few weeks with the tail. She’s excelled far better than I could have hoped, though I made sure she thought the opposite, even scared her a little with termination, something no one would consider doing because of the effort and funds that have been put into Bailey. Not to mention how it would look if she disappeared and a new mermaid showed up.
I lean further back in my chair, think back on the day we brought her here. It was a carefully conducted plan that began with email contact, a job offering.
I sit at the computer, stare at the words I’ve written, double checking for flaws.
To Miss Katherine Waters,
My name is Johnathan West, and my wife and I are in Australia on our honeymoon. We both recently received our basic diving certifications and are hoping to plan an excursion during our stay. We’ve been informed that we’ll be hard pressed to find both a dive master and the photographer we would like to hire on such short notice without expending unreasonable amounts of money. We were then informed of you and told it was in our best interests to contact you as you can cover both jobs.
Just to clarify, you are a certified dive master?
I have reviewed your online portfolio and I am very impressed. I would like to hire you for a two hour excursion this Friday and again on the Saturday. Are you available and what sort of rates do you have?
Everything seems to be in order, so I hit send, before returning to my work while waiting for a response.
I rush to the computer when it whirs to life, signalling an email not three hours later.
I am flattered that you like my work, and would be honored to photograph your honeymoon excursion.
Yes, I am certified as a dive master as well, but I’m afraid that you have been given misleading information. While I am certified, I cannot be both photographer and dive master. The dive master’s job is to guide the excursion and make sure everyone gets topside safely, while a photographer’s job is to take high quality images. Both jobs cannot be effectively done by one person, and since it is crucial that my attention not be on the camera, you would not end up with many or good quality photos like I'm sure you were hoping for. As of this point in time, I am available for a weekend excursion, but if you want my services, I'm afraid that you will have to hire me as one or the other and fill the remaining job slot.
I'm terribly sorry if this is an inconvenience, but safety comes first and it really isn’t worth your money to hire me as a photographer as well because they will not be good pictures.
However, if you are willing to find someone else, I may be able to help you find a dive master on short notice, but it would mean paying separate people.
I curse silently as I read the email. I should have considered that. It’s crucial she be alone, but no one hires one person for two jobs like that; not when it’s a dangerous sport like diving. I try to mend the error without trying her patience.
I perfectly understand your concern. I am afraid that no one is available. My son is with us, as this is a late marriage; he is working through his diving courses and has taken a course, but has yet to be certified completely as a dive master. He is the one who encouraged us to get ours as well. I am unfamiliar with diving as a whole, but is it possible that him being with us would allow you to better focus on your camera. Technically you would still be dive master, be he is trained. I am so eager to share this memorable experience with my wife and son, I will pay you well, but I fear that there is simply not enough time to hire anyone else in such a tourist rich dive area like this.
Again, I reread my words before deciding to include a price suggestion, one that anyone would be hard pressed to refuse. Her response only takes moments now that she’s clearly online.
I fear that you may be over qualifying me in your mind. You are aware that I am only in my teenaged years and while experience allows me to yield high quality photos, I have not yet been to school for it, can hardly call myself professional. It makes me wonder why you want me so badly? I can understand that time is an issue, and technically, I can legally do both jobs, but I wonder if you realize that diving can be dangerous and that you are entrusting your lives with a sixteen year old. I am not ashamed to admit I am very young, and I have been ridiculed and scrutinized for it, but it is true and I encourage you to understand what you are asking. Split attention between two different jobs…
There’s no sign off, as though she is incredibly concerned, probably is.
I am aware of your age and lack of degree. My wife and I have talked and this is something we truly wish to do. My son is confident that he can provide assistance as a dive master to allow you some breathing room. I have given an offer, one you are more than welcome to counter offer if you feel it is too little for your services. However, if it genuinely makes you uncomfortable, I suppose we can attempt to look elsewhere, I am only asking because I fear that this is our only option aside from forgoing the dive all together.
Trying to placate and guilt trip her at the same time seems like the best way to sway her. Luckily it works. Her reply takes almost twenty minutes, but yields promising results.
Your price offer is more than generous, I have no desire to charge more, however it is my job to let you know my opinion on the matter and I think it is a bad idea. Still, if you are this determined, I will play the dual role, but I must insist that we do two one hour dives on different days instead of a single two hour dive. Or a single, one hour dive would be even better. You can pay me less, in fact, I encourage that as well. I genuinely feel that at least going for less time or at least spreading it out, is in everyone’s best interest safety wise as it provides less time for something to go wrong, and, if we spread it out, allows me more of a chance to get a few decent photos.
I’ve got to give the girl credit, she is very honorable and seems to genuinely care about her clients rather than her paycheck. I send her a quick agreeing response and the times I would like. Time to set the rest of the plan in motion.
I watch, from the safety of my car, through the tinted windows for my target. A quick glance at my watch tells me I should see her any moment now. I know she had most of her stuff boarded on the boat last night and all that’s left is for her to meet her ‘clients’ today before departure.
Then I spot her, sandals sinking in the sand, tanned skin the color of melted caramel candies, sun-streaked brown hair flying loose in the light breeze, calm, friendly hazel eyes, and that single front lock of hair highlighted with violet dye define the features of Katherine Waters. She’s wearing light blue denim shorts and a T-shirt that advertises the marine park she calls home. A well-used tan backpack hangs from one shoulder as she walks across the sand towards the docks. I carefully remove my weapon from its spot, concealed under a blanket in the backseat. The thin nozzle and feathered darts of the tranquilizer only take seconds to have ready and aimed at the unsuspecting teen. I’ve used it many times before on sea birds and, using only relaxants instead of full tranq darts, on porpoises as well*. I crack open the window and aim it, wait for her to get an appropriate distance away. No one will hear the silent gun and she will barely feel much more than a sting, like from a bee. Or at least she shouldn’t.
With confidence, I pull the trigger. I watch her stumble as it hits, watch her turn, eyes full of confusion and slight pain, her hand groping for the dart protruding from her shoulder blade. She tugs it out, stares at it with a frightened look. It doesn’t take long for her to sink to her knees, eyes drooping as the drug takes effect. I step from the car and cross the deserted beach towards her just as she falls to the sand. I grab her by the arm, haul her up and drape her arm across my shoulders so that if somebody walks by it will look like I'm helping her.
Katherine makes a small, faint noise of protest at the back of her throat, words slurring as she tries to say something. I pay her no mind as I drag her back to the car and lay her inside. The drugs are effective, but it takes a little while for complete shutdown to occur with the type I’ve given her.
As I start the engine, she grunts, tries to sit up, even manages to lift her head a few centimeters off the seat before it lolls and drops back down.
I drive in silence to a secluded grove of trees about a mile away and stop the car, drag her out. By this point she’s barely conscious, unable to do more than move her eyes to glance at me. She looks scared, so I gently rub her cheek with my thumb. “You’re okay,” I whisper to her as I pull open the trunk. “I’m just trying to take you home, girl.”
Inside the trunk is the wooden crate she’ll be transported in, along with a few other supplies. I tug a blanket free. We’ll need her clothes for the corpse so I remove them and wrap her in the wool blanket. She’s no longer coherent enough to do any protesting, probably can’t even process what’s going on. I pick her up and slide her body into the crate. I position another dart against the skin of her arm. If she wakes up and moves it even a few centimeters, she’ll prick herself and fall back to sleep. I don’t want her waking before we arrive. Checking to make sure she has ample breathing holes, I close and latch the crate, shut the trunk, and begin driving to the airport.
Yes, Katherine Loraine Waters had been an excellent choice for this, and the two of them are going to be marvelous when I’ve finished training them up, and will certainly gain me a substantial amount of recognition.
I push away from my desk, shut down my computer, put away my files, and head down to check on their performance training session.