Undressing, Paradoxically

There was always something exhilarating about entering an empty, perfectly still pool, Edward felt. It was almost indecent, a kind of violation. Yet the last time he’d lowered himself into the military test facility, the clear blue water was slowly staining with dark red clouds. This time, the pool was just a pure, flat blue, the sheer surface bulging and undulating ever so gently with the swell of the aeration currents, spotting slightly with random droplets and air bubbles.

As he released his grip from the poolside ladder, Edward experienced a brief sliver of sensual guilt. 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.

Even from the middle of the water, the large blue digital display on the upper gantry was clearly visible: 14.4 deg C. 22 degrees below body temperature, there or there abouts. The last digit fluctuated slightly as minute temperature variations were detected by thermo-sensors situated all around the inside of the pool.

Edward now manoeuvred himself to a vertical position, paddling to keep his head just above the water line. He switched on his belt transmitter, glanced up and watched several smaller digits light up on the gantry display. His vital signs. The biggest one, in red digits, was internal body temperature (36.7 deg C), taken from sensors in his rectum, oesophagus and bladder. Nothing if not thorough, this current team, mused Edward. Could have done with a bit more lubricant, though. Other digits, in white, showed 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 of digits on the poolside display. The headset (or cyber-muffs, as Edward liked to call them) comprised a cluster of sensors meant to track things like vision, hearing, mental acuity, level of consciousness. That sort of thing. More controversially, all these readings were synthesised in a complex algorithm designed to monitor his mood state, represented by a graduated colour wheel.

Currently, the wheel resembled a sort of circular rainbow. Edward was clearly in a very good mood.

There was one final display parameter. Time. Currently this read 01:00:10.

Edward’s transmitter now hissed into life, and Sue’s sultry, calm voice filled his ears. “Ok Ed, 30 seconds to lift off”.

Sue was sitting behind the glass front of the gantry control room, her neat blonde bob rim-lit by an angle-poise, her geeky black glasses offset by bright red lipstick, as usual. 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 go under with 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…”

He watched as the time display decremented, noting a slight increase in heart rate. Only to be expected, of course. Yet Edward’s mood also shifted marginally, and the colour wheel started to darken ever so slightly.

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

“What’s wrong?” asked Sue as she furrowed her brow, and halted the countdown.

“Something I forgot to ask” said Edward.

“What?”

“Will you marry me?”

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

Despite their jocular courtship banter, Edward’s colour wheel had darkened a little more, moving towards a red-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 and floated. After 50 seconds, the fluttering temperature display grudingly settled on a tiny 2 tenths of a degree change.

Edward continued to bob peacefully, a slight smile on his face, as he gazed over at Sue in the control room. Time drifted, 5 minutes elapsed. Sue noted a shift of 2 whole degrees. Then another 5 minutes and another 3 degrees. 20 minutes passed in this way.

“All OK, 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, and a tall man in an orange boiler suit stepped onto the poolside. Around his waist, a contrasting black belt, and 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. Putting her hands together at her groin, she mimicked a gun pointing down. Raising her weapon slowly, she aimed it, James-bond style, toward agent Orange. In reply, Orange aimed his rifle at Sue. He fired first.

Whoosh. The rifle turned out to be an umbrella, and opened instantly. Very politely, Orange held the umbrella over Sue’s head, and took her arm in his. The pair moved off side-by-side, Sue’s bare naked buttocks undulating provocatively as they headed toward the massive exit door.

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

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

The orange-clad groom turned to look at Edward, with a cold smirk on his face. 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 his 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. It all seemed rather distant to Edward. He thought the facility might be under attack. 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 was 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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