"Damn it. Poseidon's gone," Santiago stamped his feet and yelled at his cellphone. His display brought a shush from Miss Leslie the librarian. Trying to be quiet, he dragged Ethan and Higashi behind a book stack. Tagge a pledge at La Fraternidad de los Pescadores stood nearby and listened.
"I just saw him at dinner," Ethan said. Tagge put a goofy grin on his face and leaned forward.
"You ate dinner with Poseidon?"
"No, Khalid and his family. He's leaving with his Father. He was just made ambassador to Mars Prime."
"Khalid's the new ambassador?" Tagge gasped like he didn't understand. Santiago shook a fist at Tagge.
"Open your ears. His father not him."
Miss Leslie headed their way.
"His father was Ares, lover of Venus, lost his balls to a moray eel." Tagge said. Ethan and Higashi giggled. Santiago turned with a growl.
"What are you talking about?"
"Khalid, the ball-less." Santiago flipped the bird at Tagge.
"Incapable of saying no to his father," Ethan said. Santiago gestured dramatically not realizing that Miss Leslie stood behind him, arms folded, face stern, a head and shoulders taller than his diminutive form.
"Smart ass. Who's going to be our Poseidon for the Carnaval," he asked.
"Silence!" Miss Leslie commanded too loud. She surprised Santiago. He jumped a foot in the air and turned, startled and stared up at her face. Ethan and Higashi smirked and giggled, embarrassing their friend even more.
"One day you're going to give me a heart attack then you'll be forced to give me mouth-to-mouth," Santiago's voice echoed across the library, raising heads. Miss Leslie brandished a rolled newspaper and swatted Santiago twice. The smacks brought approving nods and encouragement from some of the library patrons.
"Why is it always the shrimps that have such nasty, dirty mouths?"
"You liked it last night when I stuck my tongue up your hoo-hah." The Library was filled with audible gasps, a guffaw, swiveling heads, choked laughter and frantic movements to hide. Miss Leslie sucked air like a gaping chest wound.
"Get out!" Swat. "Get out!" Swat "Get out!" Swat. "I've told you before the library is not your personal meeting room." Swat, swat, swat. "Hold your meetings in your frat house. This--" she raised the rolled up newspaper again but stopped, straightened her jacket, and pointed the rolled newspaper at the door. "--is a place for study."
Santiago broke for the door.
Tagge checked out his art books at the computer scanner and held them in front of him like a shield. At six-foot, ten-inches, he stood taller than nearly every citizen of New Atlantis. Undaunted, Miss Leslie herded the four young men to the exit with the rolled up newspaper and chased them from the steps, harrumphing and sputtering and stamping her feet. Only the edge of the college green stopped the rampage.
"Dean Dickhout will hear about this," Miss Emily stamped her feet and marched back into the library.
Above the four boys, the mid-winter constellations twinkled on the reinforced transparent aluminum ceiling. The artificial breeze filled the night air of Northern Atlantis College's Main Dome. Fake crickets chirped in the real grass. Nine fathoms above, a hurricane raged. It's tidal swell and waves washed over the barren sand-wash that once was the east coast of North America.
Santiago cornered Higashi and Ethan against a stanchion at the entrance to the aquaculture bridge. Bemused and grinning with impish intent, Tagge stood behind Santiago and leaned over the small man. Santiago didn't realize he was there as he unleashed a diatribe describing Miss Emily as the upcoming apocalypse, a creature of woe, and a sign of the moral decline and the fall of civilization. When he ended, he chicken-necked his head around and stared up at Tagge's grinning face.
"Damn you pledge."
"You're such a funny little man." He patted Santiago on the top of his head like a puppy dog. Santiago turned a vivid red.
"Back-off," growled Santiago.
"As long as I can keep my grades up, I'll be your Poseidon," Tagge offered. Santiago stared at his too tall tormenter. There was nothing much god-like or inspiring to see. Tagge's stringy blond hair, mangy beard, and old clothing marked him as from the lower classes.
"You're just a pledge." Santiago stuttered out a response. In three days their Valentine Festival -- Carnaval de Azul Del Mar y Cielo Dorado -- would begin. La Fraternidad de los Pescadores had to present the new Poseidon and the position carried symbolic power.
"Then make me a full brother of Pescadores."
Santiago faced a dilemma. To fail would mean disgrace. Panicky times call for desperate measures. This was a possible solution.
A century earlier the coastal cities of the World faced inundation as the polar icecaps melted to nothing. Civilization moved to high ground but the cyclones and hurricanes ravaged the land with salt water. Tidal walls failed. The discovery of nickel and molybdenum nodules from the ocean floor provided the high strength alloys for underwater habitats. The first wave of humans to take refuge became the elite. The second wave became fish farmers, go-betweens, and middlemen. When the last of the landholds failed, the survivors became servants, laborers, and lowest of all miners.
This moment, history didn't enter into Santiago's thoughts. He needed a Poseidon and was desperate for a volunteer. Santiago, Ethan and Higashi held a wordless discussion of pokes, nudges, head-nods, shuffles, and shrugs. They made the most important decision of their young lives without words. Santiago mumbled the decision still facing away from Tagge.
"Go collect whatever's important to you," He should have asked about Tagge's past. Most men in Tagge's family died young from decompression sickness, their bones riddled with holes or their minds addled from Heliox while mining metal nodules. He was the first of his family to attend college and the reason for his intelligence was his unique parentage and altered genetics. He hesitated, unsure he heard Santiago's words. Santiago turned and hollered.
"Are you deaf? I said go get your stuff."
Tagge went to his dorm and collected a few changes of clothing, a second-hand drawing tablet, and his art portfolio.
In an hour, he stood on the deck of the lowest chamber in the Fraternity Dome was cold. Most of these old chambers began as airlocks and were converted to storage. Santiago stood next to a cloth-covered statue and a life-sized 3D printer.
"I always thought Poseidon was temporary tattoos, a pair of speedos, flippers, and a trident," Tagge said.
"We're not like other Fraternities. Pescadores' Poseidon isn't a stage trick. That's why the choice is so prestigious." Santiago pulled the cloth. A life-sized bronze-tone Poseidon stood in naked glory, trident in hand, heroic musculature, gills, webbed feet and hands. It had curly hair, thick beard, and Tagge's face. Tagge walked around the statue, examining it.
"Did you just create this?"
"I printed it while you were collecting your belongings. That's what you'll look like in a few hours."
"Awesome, but I don't have gills and I'm not that muscular."
"You will be for the opening of the Valentine Carnaval."
Santiago made it sound like a simple paint job. A man disappears before the Carnaval and at the opening ceremony a demigod reappears from the ocean depths with hearts and flowers, stupid but entertaining.
Santiago once lived it.
Tagge always thought Santiago looked familiar -- a shift of shoulders, a head movement, a turn of phrase. He finally found proof in the archival book stacks--a yearbook. Unfortunately, Miss Leslie got her hands on it and she was determined to ruin Santiago.
"When I revert will I lose half my age like you did?" Tagge asked. The question stopped Santiago.
"What are you trying to say? I was never Poseidon." He shook his head and tried to shrug away the accusation.
"You can't hide cheekbones or that funky skull of yours. Anatomy 101."
"That was my cousin. Every male in my family has my face. I'm a legacy student. Besides, it was years ago when you were what, an impressionable ten year old boy?" He walked over to the statue for comparison. It was nearly two foot taller and fifty-plus pounds beefier. He put a hand on its shoulder to illustrate the differences.
"I don't believe you. I have an eidetic memory," Tagge proceeded to mimic Santiago's speech as Poseidon from twelve years before word for word, gesture for gesture and when Santiago tried to deny it a second time, he recited the rest of the speeches from the Mayors of the various domes. Santiago's shoulders slumped.
"Damn your memory. How long have you known?" Santiago asked.
"Since yesterday when I found your yearbook on Miss Emily's desk. I borrowed it when she chased us out of the library. Do you remember what she wrote in it?"
Santiago raised his hands defensively and laughed.
"I remember her being a wallflower."
"A wallflower? She remembers it differently. She wrote: 'To my darling stud muffin and special Valentine, I long for your embrace. We will always be together.' In return you called her a brown-bagged, mattress-backed, sperm bank and broke up. That was breathtakingly not nice and she really, really, really hates your guts. Hurricane Leslie is probably screaming through the college dome looking for the yearbook right now."
"That woman could cause a great deal of trouble for me." Santiago pounded one fist into his other hand.
"The College archives contained a single copy in the reserved stacks. That copy is in my backpack. Call it payment, in advance, for services rendered." He leaned against a worktable, waiting for a response. Red-faced, Santiago sputtered. He thumbed through the yearbook to determine its provenance. The love-struck and now vengeful Miss Leslie certainly appeared in it along with the documentation of another dozen acts that Santiago hoped long forgotten. He shelved the yearbook next to a set of manuals and spoke slowly.
"I was young and stupid and I regret my misdeeds."
"That's a good rationalization. Good enough for you to let me be Poseidon." Tagge smiled, sarcastically.
"Yeah," Santiago sneered. He pointed to the chamber. The lights in it revealed a Laser DNA modification chamber. Tagge's eyes popped open and his face lit up in surprise.
"I thought only one Jankowsky Chamber existed." He walked over and touched it.
"Eighty years ago Cyrus Jankowsky was president of Pescadores and he left a legacy to the brotherhood." Santiago walked to the controls. "It turns you into Poseidon. The first cycle bulks your muscles. After a rest, a second cycle grows scales, gills and fins."
"Two cycles? Didn't expect that."
"Single cycle transformations aren't reversible, too much DNA alteration."
Tagge opened the door to the chamber and stepped inside. Santiago waved at him, puzzled and amused.
"Leave your clothes outside."
"Silly of me. How many lives does this thing give? You're on your at least second life, aren't you?" Tagge asked, shucking his clothing and stepping inside the chamber as a sign of trust. Santiago locked it.
"Am I going to regret making you Poseidon?"
"I'm won't summon the Kraken to shake the foundations of the world. I bet my girlfriend I could do it."
Annoyed at Tagge's answer, Santiago shook his head negatively and put his hands on his hips.
Tagge waved him off.
"You're overthinking this."
"If you don't present as a stunning Poseidon, the brotherhood will blame me. I could make life your painful with this thing." The bank of lasers on the side of the chamber glowed blue and hummed to life. Tagge's attitude changed.
"I promise not to disappoint. If you're worried, join me and become Triton. We can both kick off the Carnaval, swimming alongside each other. We would be celebrities for life."
"Been there, done that." Ten laser beams hit Tagge's body. They traced the contours of muscles before penetrating his DNA and changing it. His body pulsed rhythmically like a dance of changes. Each movement relieved the stress and caused his muscles to grow larger, stronger. Instinctively, he flexed and let the Lasers remodel his body but his body started to burn.
"How long," he gasped, hurting.
"Less time than it took for me."
Tagge didn't ask again.
Santiago took his yearbook and reminisced the pain. He found pictures that incriminated him and Miss Leslie as friends with benefits: her profession of love, his messages of lust, both ragging their classmates as ugly inferiors, his words glorying in being a rotten little prick to everyone. He set the yearbook on a shelf and waited for Tagge to finish.
When the first transform cycle ended, Tagge stumbled out of the chamber on webbed feet and collapsed onto Santiago. They wobbled over to an air mattress where Tagge collapsed and slept. Hours later he woke, hungry, aching and stronger than he ever imagined. The hefty growth of curly blond hair and full beard tickled. Santiago handed him a water bottle. Tagge grabbed it and crushed it, squirting water over his face.
"Too strong," Tagge said, gulping another.
"Your body has to get used to being stronger. You can break bones, ride the giant squid and swim with the great whales. To do that takes muscle, scales, and gills." Santiago motioned for him to walk around the chamber. In the Mining Dome, he was always cold. Here, the metal floor didn't feel cold. Neither did the circulating air. The chamber held a variety of devices that only Poseidon could use on Valentine's Day--pink underwater thrones, crowns, masks for pink sharks, dolphin heads, a fish head with sharp teeth far deadlier than any in the textbooks, and an underwater airlock. He ripped a strip of cloth off a pink costume and wrapped it around his crotch like a loincloth. Santiago chuckled.
"At least my junk won't be hanging out," Tagge said. He spied boxes of takeout food on a desk. He sat and opened one.
"I can fix that."
"I don't understand?"
Santiago weighed his answer.
"Years ago, I dangled and didn't care. It wasn't a problem the first day and much of the second day. Then the groupies started and the seekers turned up, seeking attention and turning me into a rabid, humping schnauzer. That got old and stupid real fast. I stayed true to the spirit of Valentine and played cupid." Santiago hung his head in shame.
"I didn't think that anyone would risk modified DNA creating a chimera."
"They didn't know or didn't care." He hesitated, shaking his head again. Tagge put on his most sympathetic face. Santiago continued. "A dozen women got pregnant. The Archon and Advisors of Pescadores gave me the option of supporting all those kids or reverting to childhood and going through puberty again. They buried me deep in the system and I stayed hidden until you and Miss Leslie discovered my secret." Santiago put his head in both hands, seeking sympathy. Tagge shrugged and ate a full container of fried fish, ignoring the pathos. When he finished, he smacked his lips and belched.
"They dangled and you ate the worm hook, line and sinker. Got napkins?" Tagge asked, wiggling his fingers in the air.
"They'll never take the hooks out. They own you. Carnaval is like the gladiator contests of Ancient Rome; red blood and pink sex for the masses." Santiago threw a jar of hand sanitizer to him. Tagge wiped his fingers and dried them on his old and too-small t-shirt.
"I guessed as much. I'm hungry and stiff. It's a shame I can't get to a gym." Tagge stood up and flexed his new and massive musculature. He could touch the ceiling of the chamber and do one-hand pushups. He tried handstands and touched his toes to the ceiling, did splits between benches.
"The machine creates heroic muscles good. You'll look like a true god of the seas and oceans when you get scales. That's what sells the illusion, the scales." Santiago set up the controls of the machine for gills and scales. An image of the colorations appeared on the control screen. The deltoids and back were gold, the biceps, triceps and lower arms emerald green along with the breastplate and torso; dark blue-green shark coloration covered the image's hips, thighs and legs. He tapped a button and added a modesty pouch.
"You want me to add webbed hands and feet? A fin on your back and head, fins on your arms?"
"Hell no. I'd look like that twentieth century movie monster--the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Those gill slits are atrocious." He ran his finger along the thickened neck. His movement caused Santiago to push his chair away from the console and launch into an animated speech about transformations.
"They're show gills, big enough to supply oxygen but look ugly. People might think that but they stay quiet. If you want to stay underwater for more than ten or fifteen minutes without surfacing then you need water flowing over gills. I calculated that to swim deep and fast, the most efficient structure is a blowhole and gills that can act like lungs on the surface. However, creation of the water path around your bone structure and internal organs is impossible to reverse. It's permanent. The Archons don't like a Poseidon they can't revert. It's the same for a Triton. They require skeletal changes to form a tail with a fluke and once you grow a tail, you can't revert. Plus, the functional ones are ugly. A triton like Bernini's statue with tentacle-like legs can't even swim fast."
Tagge pulled a chair over to the computer console and sat.
"You really thought about these changes. How deep can I dive and how long can I stay underwater?"
Santiago typed in a few commands. The specifications for a Poseidon appeared on the screen.
"Twelve minutes and fifteen or sixteen fathoms. Longer than that, you have to carry an Oxy-tube. Deeper will cause brain damage. You might look like the god of the sea but you're still human and still basically live on the land. Like I said, this is like Circus Maximus for Atlantis, nothing but make-believe."
"That's pathetic. I have brothers and friends who train to hold their breath for that long and on saturation dives my brothers can dive ten times as deep."
"Poseidon dives unprotected and lives. Ordinary men use pressure suits to protect their bodies and we both know there's still damage. I've seen what happens when a pressure suit fails. It crushes." Santiago grimaced at the thought.
"We call it the octopus death," Tagge said in a soft voice.
"You know diving from doing it and I know diving because I studied diving physiology for decades. It was my doctoral thesis and a monograph. I reworked most of Jankowsky's designs based on the possible DNA changes from this machine." Santiago pulled a galley print from his backpack and let Tagge read it. In an appendix were illustrations of various body modifications and their suitability for underwater survival. Tagge put the monograph down. His face was grim. Conversion for safe mining was possible but unlikely under the current government.
"Everything in your monograph we knew from experience. The human body wasn't built for underwater mining." He tapped the desk with a finger.
"Those changes are the reason they trapped me into being Poseidon. Professor Geruchsniffer says the monograph is dangerous and won't be read into law for decades. This current government is all politics-for-show like the Carnaval."
Tagge scratched at his new beard. He leaned forward and pointed a finger at Santiago's chest in a challenge.
"You once asked me if you would regret turning me into Poseidon and I replied that I wasn't going to summon the Kraken. Would you be willing to shake the foundations of the world? What if Poseidon and his son Triton rose from the sea and claimed power? What if the god of the sea ordered society to change?" Tagge leaned back and folded his arms, hoping. Instead, Santiago gave him a harsh look.
"Before we go down the path of earthquakes and sea monsters I need to know one thing; is Miss Leslie in on your plan?"
"Hell no. She'd hates your guts and that's all that motivates her."
"Good. It's time for your second treatment but before you do, here's is a real Poseidon, a denizen of the ocean." The parameters of the transform would make this transformed man capable of deep dives with the whales and living on the floor of the ocean.
"The perfect Poseidon for the miners of the deep. I won't call you Sonny if you won't call me Sonny," Tagge said. Santiago shook his head up and down, agreeing.
"This design was Jankowsky's aim in creating the Laser Transformation chamber. I think he wanted to turn Homo Sapiens into fish-men and recreate civilization in the ocean. When I threatened to expose his writings, the Archons screwed me." Santiago's face scrunched up in a frown. Tagge pressed him.
"Let's make his dream come true. Would Poseidon look much different than merely cosmetic?"
"Not by much; thicker skin, stronger scales, sleeker gill slits, and webbed feet. The blowhole cover would resemble a pauldron. Years ago fraternities used blowholes, so you'll look retro. Only you would feel the difference between your current internal organs and the pressure resistant organs." He called the design on the screen, waited a moment and then turned the machine to standby.
"What's holding you back?" Tagge asked.
"Me becoming Triton. I might have led a despicable life but it's the only life I have. I'll be ocean bound and not able to walk again. That's lonely. Poseidon at least has family and friends."
"Not if there's a Shoal of Tritons. I'll call my brothers and their friends. They'll jump at the chance to be Tritons."
"That won't work. The Fraternity will go nuts with gossip if a bunch of miners show up at the front door. Then government will shut us down."
"You've got an airlock."
"Air locks require lots of air. Someone would notice."
"Not the airlock in this chamber. It's made for divers to enter with breathing gear. Pressurizing water is easy. The diver gears up, jumps into the pool, swims to the lock, seals the hatch and equalizes the pressure. It only requires a small pump to raise or lower the pressure inside the lock."
Santiago gave him a stupid and doubting look. He went to the controls at the main hatch and pushed a button. The door to a water-filled pressure chamber opened in the chamber's water pool.
"I feel real stupid. Never knew it worked that way. Tell your brothers that I'll be waiting," Santiago said. Tagge sent a message describing the airlock and entered the transformation chamber.
"They're already calling you our hero." He closed the door to the chamber.
"Remember what Ovid says: 'Then gives it breath; the blast with doubling sound, runs the wide circuit of the world around.' And 'it', my friend, is called revolution."
"!Viva la Revolucion!" Tagge answered. Santiago initiated Tagge's total transformation to Poseidon. When the Lasers hit, he could hear Tagge moaning. His transformation would be harsher. He dreaded it but first, he loaded his yearbook into a small submersible and launched it to the deep ocean floor.
"Maybe in this incarnation I'll enjoy humanity. I'll be Nerites to his Poseidon," he said wistfully to no one. He looked at Tagge changing under the influence of the device. "He wouldn't be as cut and buff or handsome as I like but he will unwittingly be Cupid's gift on this Valentine's Day from me to me. This may be the biggest adventure of my several lives."