Undressing, Paradoxically

The last time Edward had lowered himself into the water, it was staining with dark red clouds. Today, the pool was a pure, clean blue, the surface spotting with tiny droplets and air bubbles. The water seemed pregnant, bulging and undulating ever so gently with the swell of aeration currents.

As he released his grip from the poolside ladder, Edward experienced a brief sliver of sensual guilt. There was something exhilarating about entering the enveloping warmth. It was almost indecent, a kind of violation. He paused to savour the moment, then with a powerful thrust of his legs, launched himself onto his back, arms outstretched, and let himself float toward the centre of the pool.

From the middle of the water, the large electronic display on the upper gantry was clearly visible. Pool temperature read 32.3 degrees, just below body temperature. The last digit fluctuated slightly as minute temperature variations were detected by sensors situated all around the inside of the pool.

Edward manoeuvred himself to a vertical position, gently flapping to keep his head above the water. He switched on his belt transmitter. Several smaller digits lit up on the gantry display. The biggest one, in red digits, was his internal body temperature. Currently 36.7 degrees, it was taken from sensors in his rectum, oesophagus and bladder. Nothing if not thorough this current team, mused Edward. Might have done with a bit more lubricant, though. Other digits, in green, showed his heart rate, respiratory rate, and yet another blood pressure.

Attached to Edward’s forehead was an experimental sensor hood, so complex it commanded its own row on the display. The headset (or cyber-muffs, as Edward liked to call them) comprised a cluster of sensors to track bloodflow, vision and hearing. More experimentally, special sensors were being tested to monitor his mental acuity and level of consciousness. All of these readings were synthesised in a complex algorithm designed to monitor his mood state, represented by a graduated colour wheel on the gantry. Currently, the wheel resembled a sort of circular rainbow. Edward was clearly in a very good mood.

There was one final display parameter. Currently this read 00:00:00.

Edward’s transmitter now hissed into life, and Sue’s sultry, calm voice filled his ears. “Ok Ed, thirty seconds to lift-off”. Sue was sitting behind the glass front of the pool-side control room, her neat blonde bob rim-lit by an angle-poise, her geeky black glasses offset by bright red lipstick. It was a look Edward adored.

“Roger. Transmitter self-check reads OK” replied Ed. “Oh and Sue, if there’s going to be any paradoxical undressing, this bloody cyber-crap will be the first to go.”

“Har har, very funny” mocked Sue. “Well, that’s twenty grand’s worth of kit, so I should bloody well hope so. Just make sure you don’t break it.” Edward laughed, his vibration mic leaping maniacally up and down his Adam’s apple. “Anyway, if we do get to that stage Ed, I’ll have your pics on facebook in no time”

“And I will kill you.” retorted Edward.

“Ok, 10 seconds… final check… OK… 9… 8… 7… 6…” Edward watched his vital signs, noting a slight increase in heart rate. Only to be expected, of course. Then the colour wheel started to darken ever so slightly. His mood had shifted. This was not expected.

“Abort! Abort!” shouted Ed, splashing the surface of the water.

“What’s wrong?” asked Sue, frowning as she halted the countdown.

“Something I forgot to ask” said Edward.

“OK, what?”

“Will you marry me?”

“Stop messing around or I’ll bloody well have you court-marshalled!!!” hissed Sue. She was grinning all over her face.

Despite their jocular banter, Edward’s colour wheel had darkened a little more, now a reddy-blue hue.

“3… 2… 1… 0…”

The timer read 00:59:59. “We are go, go, go!” said Sue, slightly sarcastically.

Nothing happened. Edward just bobbed up and down. He continued to float peacefully, a slight smile on his face, as he gazed over at Sue in the control room. Time drifted, five minutes elapsed. Sue noted a shift of two whole degrees. Then another five and another 3 degrees. Twenty minutes passed in this way. “Status normal, Ed.” said Sue. “The mood read-out is interesting, though” she added, rather huskily.

“How come?” came a slightly hoarse reply.

“Er, that purple-red hue shift indicates sexual arousal.”

“mmmmmmm…”

“Ok lover boy. Apart from wanting to get your leg over, how are you doing?”

“Nothing untoward, so far. But it feels much warmer. How come?”

Before Sue could answer, a small access door at the end of the pool room opened. A tall man in an bright orange boiler suit stepped onto the poolside. Around his waist he wore a black belt. Edward noted with some alarm a rifle tucked under his arm. Almost immediately, Sue burst through the door of the control room, stark naked except for her glasses and a pair of red high-heels. She faced the intruder head-on, legs spread. She mimicked a gun pointing down, hands together at her groin. Raising her weapon slowly, she aimed, James-bond style, toward agent Orange. Orange raised his rifle and pointed it at Sue. He fired.

Whoosh. The rifle burst open and became an umbrella. Very politely, Orange stepped forward and held the umbrella over Sue’s head. He took her arm in his. The pair moved off side-by-side, Sue’s bare naked buttocks undulating provocatively as they headed toward the exit door.

Edward realised with a jolt he was witnessing a wedding. The research pool, with its grey steelwork, exposed pipes and wiring had become a cathedral, the poolside the aisle. The bride and groom were to be spliced in a military-style ceremony. Edward knew that he should be the groom, not agent fucking Orange.

“Hey, leave her the fuck alone” screamed Edward. “She’s marrying me.”

With a cold smirk on his face, the orange-clad groom turned to look at Edward. Sue’s voice crackled back to life in his headset. “Hey Ed, cool it. You’re terminal now. I can’t marry a dead man can I?”

Edward’s mood indicator turned a dark ruby red, his face contorted with pain and rage. He began to cry.

The water felt hot. Edward felt hot. He ripped off his cyber-muffs, and flung them across the pool. Flailing furiously, he managed finally to undo his transmitter belt, and let it sink to the bottom of the blue swirling water. Next, he began to unzip his wet suit from the neck down, exposing first his naked chest, then his shrivelled groin.

Above his head, multiple flashing red lights appeared. He vaguely heard a klaxon sounding. He thought the facility might be under attack. It all seemed rather distant to Edward. Through blurred vision, he made out scores of men in blue, pointing and shouting furiously at him from the poolside. He had to get away.

*

Edward opened his eyes. He was immersed in a small stainless steel bath of warm water. Looking down upon him were a team of serious but rather relieved-looking men in blue uniform. He tried and failed to pull himself up. A beaming Captain Jackson handed him an orange mug of hot cocoa instead.

“Well done, Edward. You managed the longest duration we’ve had at delta zero. We had to pull you out when you started to undress, of course. Common decency and all that!” he quipped. “Full debrief tomorrow at 0-800 hours.”

Jackson turned and marched away, tapping the floor with his umbrella as he went.

Then Sue’s smiling face appeared, her blonde hair contrasting nicely with her black top. “Yes, I will”

“Will what?” asked Edward, weakly.

“Marry you” came the reply. The team all clapped and cheered.

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