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Lysette was not in a good mood. "I want every goddam scientist from the goddam R&D team down here now! I put up wi-" the speaker in the control room gave out under the strain of her tirade, and a tech gave a sigh of relief.
"I'm sure it'll be fine, Lys, but you broke another com speaker. Just calm down and we'll have you out once you're back down to 1.5 bars. Should only be another two minutes." Jim reassured her. James "Jim" Mercer was the head of the testing department for BioMech INC., which gave him a handy excuse to personally oversee all the trials in which Lysette participated. He turned from the mic to address the control room, "You guys have got to remember to put a gain stop on her equipment. She's upset enough as it is, I can only imagine how pissed she'll be at not having a functioning com." He allowed a mock-rueful smile to spread across his face, "and who do you suppose will catch the brunt of her ire?" The chuckles from around the room let him know the tactic had worked, just as the door to the control room burst open putting everyone back on edge.
"Stop! Jesus, Stop! You'll kill her!" The technician was heaving in the doorway, his face drained of all color. "5 bars... give her 5... bars at least... she seemed OK... at 5 bars..." His legs failed him and he fell in a heap in the doorway. Jim, having already grabbed his lab coat and two radios from the charging station, leapt over the gasping student in his way, and started to sprint for the hydraulics lab.
Jim and Lysette had gone to high school together. She was captain of the swim team, and he joined the cheer squad as the mascot just to be able to watch her. Of course, he'd never let on that it had been his only reason to pull himself away from his books. She was one of the few popular people who didn't mind mingling with the outcasts. In fact, she seemed to genuinely enjoy herself no matter the company, and had the unique ability to let others in on the fun with her mere presence. Of course, it didn't hurt that she had a swimmer's physique, though he wished she would let her deep auburn hair grow a little longer. When she had been invited to try for the 1996 Olympic team, he finally managed to find the courage to ask her out for a celebratory dinner. He thought he would die when she said yes.
Sometimes he still wished he had died in that moment, since it probably would have been better for her. If he'd never asked her out, if he'd just been a little late for the date, if he had reacted a little sooner, or later, or differently, they wouldn't have been hit by the drunk on his way home, and she would still have her right leg. Those were the hardest times, but they were the times that tempered him and made him the man he was today. They were the driving force behind his dual doctorate in genetics and robotics.
In the months after the accident, Lysette had come to depend on James. She knew he blamed himself for her injury, and it was hard watching him be so tough on himself, but he was the only one that could clear her moods when they became overcast. He didn't let sympathy guide his actions around her the way everyone else did, which quickly made him her only friend. Once she made it back to school, they became inseparable. Though she never admitted it, even to herself, she was unable to find a prosthetic she could stand to wear the entire day just so he would have an excuse to push her wheelchair. In fact, it wasn't until the dinner celebrating his second PHd that she discovered her feelings for him. Unfortunately, he dove straight into work. He had been working at BMI for three years when he completed his studies, and now that they were done, he quickly rose through the company to become the head of the testing department, where he refused any further advancement.
Tuning the first radio to the com frequency of the dive suit, Jim began to pray "Lys? I'm on the Motorola, calm down and let me know what's going on." While he waited for her reply, he switched the second radio to the control room. "Control, what happened? Lysette isn't responding."
"We don't know, Doc. everything looks fine here. We took the pressure back up to 5 bars. I think Peter's in shock though, we have him lying down with his feet up. He isn't making a lot of sense yet."
"What's he saying?"
"I think he's praying. I thought he was an atheist?"
Checking the first radio to make sure the volume wasn't down, Jim began pleading as he rounded the corner to the hydraulics lab. "Lys, honey? Are you there? I need you to check your gain, I can't hear you." He gave her a moment to respond, then switched back to the second radio, "Control, how's our gas?"
"Just a sec," came the response. "Doc, both tanks are at half capacity, but..."
"You cut out there, please repeat?"
"Doc, according to the usage record, she hasn't drawn any gas in the last minute and a half." He passed the door to the hydraulics lab and slid to a stop in front of the little viewport in the door of the pressure chamber. The inner pane had a crack in it, and was obstructed by a piece of the dive suit. He fished the first radio out of his pocket.
"Lys, I need to know that you're all right, I don't know what happened, but I'm sure we can fix it. I'm at the viewport, if you can hear me, at least let me know you're ok." He rested his forehead against the glass, starring at the radio, feeling his heart sink lower every second he waited for a reply he was starting to think wouldn't come. Suddenly he heard a knock from inside the chamber. Snapping his attention to the little window, he saw Lysette's face filling the port with the biggest grin he had ever seen anywhere. As waves of relief washed over him, he lifted his radio again, but she shook her head at him, and then it registered. Her helmet was off. He put his hand against the glass, a motion she mimicked, and they just stared at each-other for a while.
Jim spent the next six weeks going over every shred of research, every document, every memo. Any piece of information remotely related to deep dive suite project came under his scrutiny and was committed to memory. He couldn't find anything that might be responsible for the accident. One of the big problems about diving at depth is that the diver can only carry so much breathable gas. Strenuous motion, like swimming, causes the diver to consume more gas. Now that the suit had been built, it was left to BMI to create a propulsion device. The device they came up with was based on a mako shark's tale, and they developed an experimental neural interface to control it. The problem had to be somewhere in the integration of the interface, but nothing would come to mind. Every time he hit a dead end, he would change his tack and look at the problem of communicating in the absence of air.Still, at least he was able to prove early on that is was safe to depressurize the tank and get her moved to a large pool.
Since no solution presented itself to either problem, he decided the only thing that could be done would be to run the experiment again. The preparation for using the deep dive suit was very involved. The tests and treatments required took three weeks to complete, but he managed to get them resolved in two and a half. He was suiting up when the VP approached him.
"Jim, we need to talk about this test. I think it's a bit reckless repeating this test, given the results of the last attempt. I defiantly can't agree with you being the subject of such a test. In fact, I could have your job for having hid your intentions for so long."
He didn't stop putting on the suit for a moment, didn't even look at his boss. "I know what you're saying, Bill, but what would you do if you were me and it was Carol trapped in a 55,000 gallon pool? It's very likely that today's test, if it follows the same path, will get Lys out of that pool, and if it doesn't, at least I can keep her company." Bill's resistance melted under the strength of Jim's resolve, and the VP helped him finish suiting up.
Standing in the pressure tank, Jim was getting the last of the monitors hooked up when Bill's voice came in over the com. "Jim, you need to calm down. I can't blame you for being nervous, but I will pull the plug if your cardiac readings get much higher."
"Thanks Bill, but you've got it wrong. I'm more excited about this single test than I was when the cybernetic leg was finally successful. Looks like we're locked down here, ready when you are."
"Copy that, beginning the fill sequence." A moment later sea water began rushing into the tank as the air escaped out of the bung in the top. As the water crept up his legs, Jim could feel previously unnoticed tension draining from him. He smiled as he was lifted off of his feet, and he adjusted his buoyancy compensator to keep him somewhere between the ceiling and the floor. A feeling of deep serenity filled him as he lay floating weightless, and he wondered if Lys had felt this.
"5 bar," Bill's voice woke him from his euphoria and he wondered for a moment how they had gone from the filling sequence to pressurization without him checking in. Then the intoxication of weightlessness began to overtake him again. He shook his head to drive it away. He'd been diving before, what was this strange sense of well-being that threatened to rob him of his faculties?
"Wait. We need to run a propulsion sync diagnostic. We ran one at 5 bar during Lys's trial."
"Forward." At the request from the control room, Jim thought of moving forward, and the command was relayed correctly. "Good, now left." again he thought the command and the computer simulation moved accordingly. "And right." Another success. "Ascend?" He was four for four. "And descend. Looks good, we'll continue pressurization."
"10 bar, looking good in there, though your endorphins are slightly elevated. How do you feel?"
"What? 10 bar already?" he thought. " Oh, I'm great! I can't even feel the pressure yet. You said it was 10 bar?"
"10.3 and climbing. You sure you're OK?"
"Yeah, I was just thinking there may be a correlation between the pressure and the increased endorphins, though I can't imagine what might cause it. I believe I'm feeling their effect. Lys became unresponsive at 18 bar, it may have been the doping effect of her endorphins, but I'd like to continue on to make sure."
"Ok, we're nearing 11 bar." He had to do something to try to counter the increase in endorphins, but what would that do to the experiment? He was pretty sure Lysette wouldn't have been aware of them, nor the danger they represented, so she wouldn't have tried to resist them. He resolved to let them be as he sank further under their influence.
"15 bar." Bill gave him a moment to respond. "Jim, you're at 15 bar. Your endorphins are high, but not dangerously so. Everything alright?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah," he was clearly drunk on his blood chemistry. "Everything's ffine. I'm starting to feel the pressure an eeentsy bit, but it's not bothering me at all. How are you?"
"You sound strange, you sure you're OK?"
"What? Oh, I'm fine. 15 bar. Check. How are my metrics?"
"Everything looks normal. Physically these readings are consistent with about 6 bar of pressure."
"That'd be, what? 10 meters down? This suit is phenomenal!"
"You want me to check that? Because I can. If you want me to, that is."
"I know. I'm just feeling a little fuzzy. Nothing else off-kilter besides the endorphins?"
"Ok, let's keep going!"
"No, I think that's enough. We're stopping now."
"No, we're not." There was steel in his voice now, "We're going to 18 bar, because Lys went to 18 bar. And if I'm still talking at 18 bar, we'll go to 20. Because we stopped when Lys didn't answer. I know I'm at risk. So was she. I know I might end up swimming with her, but there are plenty of people here that can analyze the data we capture today every bit as well as I could. We're not stopping, because the moment I go out, something completely bizarre and unpredictable could happen." He knew he was rambling, he just couldn't stop. "We're not sto..." The edges of his peripheral vision had started to turn grey, with some kind of strange sparkle-spot effect. He heard someone shouting something, but it didn't matter. He said "Now that's interesting." which stopped the shouting for a moment, but then it returned. Suddenly he became aware of a terrible burning weight, like someone had dropped a flaming bowling ball on his chest. He gasped for air and found that breathing caused a pain like searing knives slicing across his back.
"Did we make it? Did I get to 18?" He decided not to talk for a while.
"You made it to 17.6 Bar. We're normalizing the pressure now. What was so goddam interesting?"
"Later. Let me know. At 5 bar." He dearly missed the endorphin haze he had been in for the last half hour. The pain continued with every breath. He was breathing as slowly and as shallow as posable, and it was starting to make him dizzy.
"12 bar." There was something very wrong with the suit. It didn't fit properly, it was pinching his lower back. Between the pain under his shoulder-blades and the dizziness, he couldn't think, and thinking was probably crucial at this moment. With shaking hands, he began to remove the suit. At least it was something to concentrate on other than the pain. He removed the gloves first, then tried to go for the boots. His attempts were rewarded with a dull nauseating pain from his legs, now playing in concert with the agony in his back. He had to pull his knees to his chest using his hands to get at his boots. Once they were free of their clasps, they floated away of their own accord. For a moment he let panic grip him as he realized his feet had gone AWOL, then it was replaced with joy, knowing the experiment had worked. As quickly as he could, he undid the fasteners at his waist and started working the pants down his legs. About mid-thigh the pain in his lower back subsided, and the rush of cold water up his torso cooled the pain in his upper back.
"Slow down, it worked!" were his last words as he took off his helmet and fought his instincts against taking his first breath of water. He understood now that his lungs had become gills, the burning in his back and the dizziness was due to the hyper-oxygenation of his blood. No wonder Lys had been so perturbed! He also found that he had developed a second, inner eye lid. Moving his attention, he watched with fascination as his tail, now free of the confines of the dive pants, began thickening as it filled with muscle and blubber. The skin on his tail was turning a deep grey on the back, and a lighter silver in front, and two small flukes could bee seen on the sides at the end. Now that the pain from his gills had gone, the endorphin high was kicking back in, though it was more subtle and easier to deal with now. He removed the top of the dive suit, and could finally move and breathe freely. Passing water through his gills was a new sensation, and he took a moment to revel in it. It was like sliding his hand through the water while he drove his speed boat, except his hand wasn't nearly as sensitive as his gills seemed to be. The feelings were getting him excited and he went back to watching his tale come in. By now his anus had been pushed to right under his scrotum, but they were in the process of spreading out again as his tail lengthened. His penis was harder than it had ever been, and he moved to inspect it, when a knock at the viewport interrupted him. Bill had a radio in his hand and was holding up seven fingers. He gave bill a shrug and flashed him a silly grin, then went back to watching himself change.
Suddenly his pants floated up to the top of the tank, as his legs were being absorbed into his body. He realized he couldn't feel them anymore and felt a momentary pang of sorrow for their loss, but the thought of being with Lysette again quickly dissipated his sadness. His vent had already claimed his anus, and was struggling to overtake his testicles, then with a very interesting sliding and sucking feeling they disappeared as well. All that was left was his rock hard penis, which was turning an alabaster white and growing in size, becoming more difficult to keep out of Bill's field of view. He took the recently liberated pants and thrust them at the viewport, understanding now, why it had been blocked when he came to help Lys. The sudden movement brought two things to light. First, he was beginning to gain feeling in his tail with a sort of pins-and-needles, extremity waking up feeling, and second, his tail was getting quite long. He estimated it to be almost two meters, measuring from his navel to the tips of his flukes. With some regret he noted that his penis was sliding up into it's new home, so he decided to give his newest appendage a few tests.
His first few experiments proved fruitless, then counterproductive, which was at least progress, since it let him know what not to do. As it turned out, moving a vertically-oriented tail was nothing at all like moving a horizontaly-oriented tail. Finally he got a good stroke in and nearly propelled himself through the viewport, which was going to need to be replaced again. This also brought about a fit of knocking. Moving the pants, he flashed another silly smile at his boss, who was now holding up two fingers. He gave him a thumbs up and noticed they were bring in a sling and tank to move him.
He was moved to the smaller tank, an experience he'd rather forget, and Bill gave him his biggest shock of the day. He reached into his breast pocket and produced what looked like two waterproof graphing calculators. He had been prepared to become a merman, or even a mermaid, maybe, but to have his friend solve the communication problem was not something he had even considered. Bill turned them on and handed one to Jim who blinked at the bright screen containing the instructions for the device's use.
"Screen too bright." He sent his first message, impressed at the little machine "Think eyes changed too." Bill started typing and he took a moment to strap the device to his wrist which presently gave him a small electric shock.
"FUNC + 3 will let you change display ;)" came the reply.
"Not too fond of message notification either :p"
"Best I could come up with, deal with it." this time the shock was at a different location. At least they could have a lengthy conversation without their arms going numb.
"Better move quick getting headache for air." Bill dropped the other communicator in the tank and turned on the aeration system, then supervised the move to the 55,000 gallon tank. Jim took the opportunity to read the instructions in more detail. They had a 2 mile range, though that would be diminished in the water. They used a kinetic recharging device that captured the energy of swimming and could recharge the battery from fully drained to fully powered in about an hour. The battery was a new polymer based design, and could probably last 72 hours without needing to recharge, but this hadn't been tested. Each unit had 11.2 GB of storage, and could connect to the internet wirelessly using a WiFi hotspot that had been installed at the pool.
Lysette was idly swimming laps around her little pool when she noticed the commotion. Unfortunately the wind was breaking the surface of the water making it difficult to see anything above. She leapt out of the water and recognized the tank she had been moved in before she landed back in her pool. There was something in the tank, though she couldn't make out what. She decided to risk a jump over at the shallow end, where they were, to see if she could get a better view. She made a pass to help her judge where and when to jump, and was coming around again, when the tank and it's contents were emptied into the water in front of her. Nimbly dodging this new addition, she swam under and past it, then something clicked in her mind. Slowly she turned, dreading what she thought she saw and hopping she was wrong. Before she could get all the way around, he had rushed to her, and was having trouble stopping. Her mind was reeling, why would he do this to himself? He had to know what the result would have been, and now he's condemned himself to this lonely life as well. She would have burst out crying if she still had tear ducts.
She must have seen him on that first jump, and now she was coming around again to meet him. For eight long weeks he had looked forward to this reunion, and now the moment was at hand. He could hardly contain himself. In fact, he could hardly be contained, as in his fit of joy the tank tipped dropping him on the concrete . The interns and technicians that had been guiding the tank this far all got together to help him as he pulled himself along the walkway and into the pool almost right on top of her. It took a moment to get his bearings, and another to remember how his tail worked, but once those were settled, he was off like a shot to be at her side. As she turned to meet him, he tried to stop short, but had underestimated the power of his tail again and nearly collided with her. The look of mingled rage and despair on her face nearly broke his heart. He handed her her communicator, and managed to show her how to turn it on. She looked at it for a moment and some of the tension seemed to leave her. She started typing.
"Why would you do this to yourself?!" appeared on his screen with the little shock.
"How could I ever leave you?" was his only response.
Her emotions overwhelmed her, and she embraced him, and wanted to cry again, but completely different tears. After a moment, she broke the hug and swam toward the privacy enclosure that she called home. Pausing to steal a glance at his new form, she was surprised to find a growing part of her hoped he would follow. As he floated there, she could see the changes in his physique the transformation had wrought. His torso seemed larger, the muscles better defined. He had always taken care of himself, but had never sought the toned muscles that, even now, were becoming easier to see. From her own experience, she knew it would take about a week for all of the changes to subside, though the major ones were done. Turning back to her room, she felt herself blushing as she thought of what he might look like once his form had settled. As close as they had been before, they had never been intimate, mostly due to her resistance, but now she was hoping that it wouldn't take too much longer to cross that threshold.
She swam off, and looking over her shoulder, invited him to follow without needing the com. He took a moment to admire the view before accepting her invitation. The two months she had spent getting used to her form had granted her a grace to her stroke he knew he would never match. He had seen her new form recently, but now he could pick out subtleties that had eluded him before. The striped dolphin markings on her tail were similar to his, but different enough to be easily identifiable, if you knew what to look for. There was something intoxicating about the exaggerated arch in her back where her torso met her tail. As he continued to enjoy the view of her backside, he noticed the edges of her gills were changing from their usual silverish grey to a deep pewter, and suddenly he was reminded of her nakedness. The location of the gills made it hard for her to wear any clothing that would effectively maintain her modesty, so her second week in the pool, she had done away with modesty altogether. He began to swim after her, and descended a bit so that he could catch glimpses of her bare breasts. He wasn't sure, but he thought they had grown since she had walked on land. Previously they had been a B cup, but now he thought they might be a double C or even a D.
That night, after becoming intimately aquatinted with each-other's new forms, they had a long discussion. Lysette didn't like the electric shocks much either, but she had to admit, they were effective. They came to a consensus, and Tim sent an email to Bill. Two months later, Bill was standing at the edge of the pool with his own messaging device.
"You were right, we're going to lose the contract."
"And given my notes, all the research, samples, and data, still no one has found a way to reverse the process?"
"Unfortunately, no. Are you sure you won't reconsider? If there is anything you need, we should be able to provide it."
"No, we've already been here too long. Lys wanted to leave the day after I arrived. We want to get out there and see what we can see. Besides, how long do you think the board will allow research as unprofitable as this continue?"
"I didn't think you'd change your mind, and you're probably right about the board. We were lucky to get 5 months. Although, if we can find a way to reverse the process, I'm sure there are worse ways to spend a vacation than being a merman in the Caribbean. I had these made up, just in case." After he sent the message, he dropped two new communicators in the water.
"They're the same as the originals, but they use an LED to notify you when you have a message, have a radio tracking device you can activate in case of emergency, and on the back there's a diving knife. We also managed to add a small camera and got the storage up to 23.2GB. I had hoped you wouldn't want them though."
"Can't ask for much more than that, could we? I'll be sure to send you pictures from Australia's reefs"
"The helicopter will be here this evening, there are a couple last minute things I need to take go take care of."
An hour later, Bill produced one more surprise. In addition to the promised Justice of the Peace, he conducted every member of both their immediate families onto the small testing platform where the ceremony was being held. The wedding was interesting, to say the least, and they had to have their cake cut for them afterward, but the unique, happy couple following the sunset on a helicopter bound for the Pacific coast was a highlight that no one present would soon forget.