The fish-people swim in lazy circles. Every six hours, a chute in the wall above the tank automatically opens, and guppies and minnows slide into the tank. Lee munches on minnows with vestigial back teeth while gazing at his reflection in a mirror. Amin grimaces and swallows guppies whole. Viv opts for the fish food pellets stashed in the decorative cave. The trio eat and sleep submerged. When bored, they breach the surface and argue.
“You caused this, Viv. You stole the holy water. You caused our punishment. Now you get us out of here,” Amin gurgles.
“Simple. Just jump out of the tank. You’ve done it before. Do it again,” Viv replies.
“You know I can’t breathe out of the water. None of us can.”
“No shit.” Viv flips water at Amin. “But I’ve been thinking. The drugs they gave us- they are active only in a hyper-aqueous environment. Otherwise, they would’ve injected us first, and submerged us later. They went to the trouble of tanking us, and cutting us underwater.”
Lee bobs his head, creating mini-whirlpools with his gape-mouth. “We’re fish, Viv, get over it,” he says, hyper-bulging his eyes.
Viv rolls onto her back and stares at the ceiling. “Not exactly. We still have our basic DNA- we’ve just devolved, that’s all. I bet if we jump out again- and stay out- the air shock will activate our latent, evolved DNA. We’ll probably feel like we’re dying at first, but that will be a side effect of our bodies reverting back to normal. Our skin will smooth, and our gills will fuse. We’ll be fully human again.”
“Seems kinda dangerous,” Lee says, flexing his face fins. “What if we jump out and nothing happens but we can’t breathe?”
“Then we die, of course,” Viv answers.
“I don’t wanna die. I’ve suffered enough,” Amin wails with a thrash.
“I’d rather be dead than live the rest of my life as a fish in a tank. Especially looking at you two. You guys really creep me out with your face fins and gape-mouths.”
Lee flutters his face fins. “We can’t help it if we adapted more than you did. Besides, I’d rather be adapted to my environment than be struggling against it. Looks like you barely adapted at all.”
“You’re right. I’m still mostly human, unlike you freaks.”
“I’m a merman, dear god, a merman!” Amin blubbers and thrashes in the tank, sloshing water over the sides. The auto-filler turns on, and fresh water fills the tank from the fill-hose.
“Calm down,” Viv says. “I figure since I’m the one the least devolved, I have the best chance of surviving outside the tank. So I will jump out first. If I survive, and am able to move around easily, I will help you two after you jump out. Understand?”
“Yes, I don’t wanna be a fish no more. Please help me,” Amin says, moaning.
“Suit yourself, Viv,” Lee says. “Just remember, after you jump out, we freaks can’t help you, because, you know, we’re fish. Understand?”
“Absolutely. Now get under me and push me out.”
Lee swims under Viv and hoists her up over the edge of the tank. She rolls, tips, and falls to the floor with a thud. First she lies motionless, then wiggles, then thrashes.
“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” she gasps, her gills pumping furiously. Lee and Amin watch gape-mouthed from inside the tank. Finally Amin dives to the bottom, grabs the fill-hose with his mouth, and rips it from the wall. He pulls it to the surface and aims the stream of water at Viv’s exposed gills. She sputters and spasms, and begins breathing again.
“What are you doing?” Viv calls out. “Let me die. I don’t wanna be a fish. You don’t either.”
Amin drops the hose. The food chute opens and lunch slides out. Lee scoops a mouthful of wigglers and swallows and watches Viv die. Amin dives to the far side of the tank, shoves his fin between the tank wall and the mirror, and the mirror snaps. Amin impales himself on a jagged shard, and the water billows red. A chemical sensor beeps from inside the decorative cave, and a cocktail of hormones pours out of the food chute and into the tank.
Lee sinks to the bottom and falls asleep.
The next day he drifts back into consciousness. The tank is dry, except for a small pool of blood around Amin’s dead body.
“Like you said, Amin, we just have to wait for a second Rapture,” Lee mutters to himself. He looks over the edge of the tank and sees Viv’s dead body. “The Rapture has returned, and it is dry. And this time I did not reject it. I had faith,” he whispers.
Lee crawls up the food chute, into the automated dispensing tank, and into a supply tunnel. Ten minutes later he pushes the grate off an access portal, wiggles out of the tunnel, and flops onto the dry floor. His gills are fused, his legs are separated, and his skin is smooth. After retrieving his street clothes from the processing room, Lee steps outside of the HOTEL for the first time in three months.
The sun is shining- no clouds today. He pauses in front of a window and studies an image- face fins and a gape-mouth.
“Amen,” Lee says, admiring his reflection.