: Fame Girls Ella
"I hope you aren't afraid of the water, Miss Ghirardi?" the man behind the desk as he passed the contract for her to sign.
"Heavens, no," Kaitlen replied. "I grew up around the sea. My granddad even owns a small fishing boat in Vancouver."
"That's good. You aren't afraid of anything in particular in the ocean then?"
"Not really. I respect the dangerous stuff like sharks but they're usually safe if you don't do stupid things like thrash about a lot."
"Good enough then," he passed the contract to her. "We've an opening for someone in our sea water aquarium staff."
"And you are sure my lack of experience won't matter?"
"You'll get all the training you need. We'll make sure of that."
"Okay," she signed the contract and passed it back. "And I start Monday then?"
"The movers will be there at 8 AM sharp."
"I can't believe you folks do all this. Room and board, medical, the whole bit. And a great salary, too."
"How else would we keep our staff happy and with us. Some of our staff have been with us nearly a decade now."
"Really. I hadn't realized you were in business that long.">
"Not here, of course. But they immigrated here rather than leaving us when we moved from our last site."
"That must have been quite the undertaking."
"Taxes can become a real problem."
"For all of us," she smiled.
He led her to the door, shook her hand warmly and let her out. Kaitlen couldn't quite believe she'd gotten the job. After all, there had to be dozens more out there with more experience than she had. Still, she wasn't about to turn them down. The economy wasn't at its best now and she'd been job hunting for nearly a month. This job, with its wonderful long term contract, was perfect for her. After the contract was over, she'd have a huge nest egg and be able to get the schooling she really wanted. With them paying room and board, that could easily run to $1200 savings every month! With a five year contract, that could easily total over $70,000 even without interest!
She drove back to her parent's home and began the job of packing her belongings. She'd been told simply to get things together. The movers would help her stow it for moving. They preferred to use their own boxes, of course. It made it easier to load the truck. Still, she wanted to get things ready for them.
On Monday, right on time, the truck arrived. The man and woman who were to move her things arrived with collapsible wooden storage crates instead of the expected cardboard crates like most movers. They carefully packed everything, wrapping the breakables in a variety of cushioning materials. Each piece was then carefully placed into one of the crates and secured to make sure nothing would happen to it. Kaitlen was impressed by their efficiency and caring. If their movers were an indication of the nature preserve as a whole, she was going to enjoy working in their sea aquarium exhibit. Because she only had a few things, they were finished in two hours. She decided to drive out to the nature preserve early rather than wait for her noon appointment.
She arrived at the gate and the gate attendant let her into the staff parking lot. She parking in the stall that had already been allocated for her car and was surprised when the attendant produced a cover and proceed to cover her car.
"We're downwind of some refineries and chemical plants, unfortunately. The folks in charge decided they wanted to protect their cars from the 'fallout' from the plants. It damages the paint. This is an odd place in that way. When something is good enough for the high management, it becomes good enough for everyone."
"So you get to cover everyone's cars every day?"
"Part of the service," he smiled. "You headed for the main center?"
"Yes. You wouldn't have a map, would you?"
"Better than that," he pulled his cell phone from his belt and put in a quick call.
The two chatted a bit while Kaitlen waited for her ride. When it arrived, it was a small electric cart painted in tiger stripes. The woman driving the cart helped her toss her small valise into the back and netted it down.
"Yes. I'm supposed to meet Dr. Hildaria at noon but the movers finished early."
"Knowing him, he'll make space in his schedule for you. He likes to greet everyone who starts with us."
"Are there really people who immigrated to keep working here?"
"Dozens that I know of. I'd guess maybe three quarters of us did that. It's a great job and you'll not find better benefits anywhere."
"It must be if people would move rather than find a new job."
"There's folks I can't imagine working in any other job. They just fit in so well."
Kaitlen was soon at the entrance to the main complex. A gleaming white and glass structure, it reminded Kaitlen more of a hospital than an administrative centre on a nature preserve. She waved to the driver as she started the cart and left. Picking up her valise, Kaitlen pushed through the doors and introduced herself to the receptionist
"You're a touch early. Shouldn't be a problem though. I'll phone Dr. Hildaria. I'm sure he'll be right down for you. In the meanwhile, help yourself to cookies and coffee in the waiting area."
Kaitlen nodded and wandered over to the leather couch. It was real leather and not some cheap imitation. Kaitlen was impressed. The coffee, too, was better than the usual cheap stuff in reception areas. She poured herself a cup, took a cookie and returned to the sofa to wait. Only a few minutes later, though, she felt dizzy. She dismissed it as excitement finished the coffee. The dizziness became stronger and Kaitlen tried to get to her feet to get help. Instead, she found herself collapsing on the sofa, her hearing muffled and vision blurred.
"She's ready," she heard the receptionist say through the fog in her head.
A few minutes later, she heard the footsteps of two people and the sound of something with wheels. The something with wheels proved to be a gurney.
"Get her up onto the gurney," a man's voice stated.
"Yes, Dr. Hildaria," a second man's voice replied.
Kaitlen felt several sets of hands lift her from the sofa onto the gurney and she felt them strap her onto it for safety. The blurred glows of the overhead lights flashed past as the group made its way down a corridor.
"Is the ER prepped?" asked the first voice.
"Just about. We'll need to bring the shark in sooner than we expected."
"Less than ten minutes. The capture team already has it in its sling."
"Excellent. She'll make a fine addition to the large sea water habitat."
Kaitlen, though the haze in her head, suddenly realized they were talking about her. She tried to fight the drug she'd been given but failed. Soon, the world began to grey out and she fell asleep still mentally protesting.
When she came too, everything felt strange. First, she was wet from sprayers overhead that were playing over her. Second she felt strange. Her lungs hurt like she'd was breathing something that burned them. She was suspended above a large aquarium in some kind of sling. Her arms stuck through large openings an, when she looked at them, she noticed she was gray and her skin looked rough like some kind of sandpaper. When she took a breath to protest, the burning increased. The shock stifled her protest.
"Ah, you are awake. Just nod if you are ready to start?"
Kaitlen, rather than risking another burn in her chest, merely nodded. The man signalled someone out of sight and the sling began to drop into the water. Kaitlen began to thrash to get out of the sling. They were going to drown her! She struggled to get free but to no avail. Just as her head was about to go under, she tried to take another huge breath. The shock of the burn startled her into sucking in a lungful of water instead. The burn died instantly. Instead of drowning, Kaitlen discovered she could now breathe the water.
"Excellent," a voice boomed through the water. "You can release yourself from the sling now, Kaitlen. There's a catch just above you on your right."
Kaitlen reached up and tripped the catch. She found herself rolling free of the sling and floating upside down towards the bottom. She twisted, righting herself and floated to the bottom. In righting herself she got a look at what they'd done to her. She was a mermaid now, the body of a large shark attached to where her hips had been. Just behind that, she discovered a set of gills. As she breathed, the water passed through her body and out through the gills.
For a while, she lay on the soft sand, just getting used her new body. How had she gotten herself into this? Why hadn't she completely read the contract instead of listening to the benefits and paycheque only? And then one more question struck her as she lay on the sand in the warm water. Could she stand being a shark mermaid for the next five years?