Keywords: Transformation, Scifi
Species: Human, Dolphin
Animatronics
by Wolphin


I had been at the company for about a year, and I'll admit, it was 
great place to work.  The company I worked for was called 
"Cybernals".  We made robots, but specialised in animatronics, 
mainly for the movie industry.  I worked under Henry in the 
experimental division.  We produced the mechanic parts and then 
sent them to wardrobe who covered the form with a latex skin, 
added fur and did all the usual finishing touches.

When it happened we were about to begin working on a mechanical 
dolphin for some children's movie.  We were trying to get the 
actions of the dolphin less mechanical and more life-like.  Then, 
to complicate things even further the big boss came in, stole 
Henry (my boss), and gave me instruction to make the dolphin 
completely self sufficient.  Not only that, he wanted to begin 
shooting ASAP.  That was not what I wanted to hear.  We had only 
made one other self-sufficient robot and that was suppose to look 
like a robot, but a dolphin? That was going to be hard.

For those who came in late, I'll do a bit of explaining.  In our 
line of work, a self sufficient robot is one with no wires, leads, 
plugs or antenna coming out of it.  Making self contained robots 
is relatively common place these days, but a completely self 
contained animatronic robot is virtually unheard of.  Usually, 
there are wires, cables and ropes strung about all over the place, 
these are then either not included in the shot or removed during 
editing.  Each robot is usually controlled by at least four 
people, that is one for the face and head, one on the arms, one on 
the legs and the last person covering the remainder of the body.  
Sometimes there are a heap of people involved.  The robotic lion 
from Jamaji, for example had about six people operating in - 
including one inside.

That lion actually gave me a brain-wave.  It hit me like a pan-
galactic gargle blaster (slice of lemon wrapped 'round a large 
gold brick).  Why don't I design the dolphin with someone inside.  
I did some rough calculations and some one could fit inside, but 
it would be a bit of a squeeze.  I started  that afternoon.  It 
took me most of the week, but eventually I think I had most of the 
bugs ironed out.

I would lie inside the dolphin, it would be dry, but I needed a 
small scuba cylinder to breath.  The stale air could be expelled 
via the dolphins blow hole (I was quite proud of that idea).  Each 
eye would be equipped with a small CCD video camera, which would 
feed back to a VR style headset I would be wearing.  The angle of 
the cameras would take a little getting use to, but it wouldn't be 
as bad as some of the other things we've done.  A small echo 
sounder would be mounded inside the melon and this should 
interface to the microcomputer and feed back to me as a head-up 
display on the headset.

Movement took a bit of thinking.  Eventually I remembered 
something we had used a few month back.  It was funny stuff, sort 
of like a rubber, but it contracted when an electrical current was 
passed through it.  I remembered how, at the time, we had said it 
might come in handy in the future.  This also eliminated the 
problem of a skeletal system.  Usually we build a skeleton, and 
work from the inside out, but with this stuff we could use a 
light, flexible carbon fibre frame and put the rubber on the 
outside.  It there were two main strips, one above the tail and 
one below, by switching between the two, the tail could be made to 
go up and down.  Hence movement could be produced.  This also gave 
me some room in which to lie.

There were some other things which had to be taken into 
consideration like the power supply (gel batteries in-between the 
skin and watertight membrane, also gave the dolphin the look of 
blubber) and fin movement (more contracting rubber and servos) but 
eventually the mechanical aspects were taken care of.

After about a month the wardrobe team added their contribution.  
They had made an external skin like you wouldn't believe.  It was 
made from the latest space age stuff we could get out hand on, and 
was exactly like a normal dolphin's skin - it felt like a wet 
inner tube and even absorbed some water like a proper dolphin.  It 
could also stretch, which was lucky because I had to climb into 
the frame, then the skin was stretched over the tail and the 
watertight seal held it in position.  Once that hole was sealed I 
was trapped until someone let me out. 

The model shop spent a few days putting on the finishing touches 
and then it was ready for some sea tests.  The first few test were 
pretty apprehensive.  I had 80minutes of air with 15 minutes in a 
"spare air" tank and that was all.  It took two people to get me 
into the dolphin, three to move me to and from the water, then two 
to get me out.  That usually took about 30 minutes, which wasn't 
feasible so I added an air refill valve in the dolphin's blowhole 
so I could be "refilled" without having to 'dry dock'.

I'll admit the suit was a great success.  We often had people 
abusing us and yelling at us for doing such cruel things to a 
dolphin - like leaving it on the pier during meal breaks (I never 
knew people were so gullible or stupid).  From my point of view, 
the dolphin was incredible.  After a while I could perform some 
tricks which would be impossible for a normal human.  I also 
improved the system a lot - mainly to give me better feedback and 
make me feel good.  I added a tactile feedback to most of the 
outside world, so if something brushed against me I would feel it, 
and not slice the suit to pieces on the barnacles like I almost 
did one day.  A couple of sensors were added so that when I moved 
my arms or legs my fins and tail responded and I added a direct 
movement detector to the mouth, so when I open my mouth, the 
dolphin's mouth opened as well.

Eventually, after three weeks of testing and improving the robot 
was announced ready.  I had spend over 50 hours in the suit (as we 
now called it) I had got quite proficient in it.  To demonstrate 
this to the boss, I had managed a tail walk and double backflip 
when he came to check on my progress.  After seeing the results, 
he decided to begin shooting on Monday.

I was looking forward to having a run in the open sea and could 
hardly sleep over the weekend.  I was at the set by 7:30am Monday 
morning, ready and rearing to go.  The guys loaded everything into 
the boat and we headed out to sea.  On the way out, I gave the 
dolphin a final check and was sealed inside.  We quickly arrived 
and I was lowered over the side.  A slight kick of my flukes and I 
powered away.  

There was something about being on the open water.  It was 
exhilarating.  The feel of the waves, the sights, the sounds.  I 
found myself being washed away in the sensations.  I'm not sure 
when it happened, my conscious seemed to fade out, then fade back 
in and somehow I felt different.  I was still swimming around in 
the ocean, but somehow it seemed more real.  It wasn't until I 
broke the surface for air I realised something was wrong.

I stopped on the surface in surprise.  I was wet.  With a shock, I 
tried to stand up and tread water.  My head pointed skyward and my 
legs moved as one.  I didn't have any arms and I could feel a lump 
on back.  It suddenly hit me and I squealed in surprise.  I was a 
dolphin.  

I quickly regained my sensors and began checking out as much of me 
as I could.  As far as I could tell, I definitely wasn't wearing 
the suit any more.  Instead I was a healthy, fully grown, male 
Bottlenose dolphin.  Somehow I took the news rather well.  
I performed a perfect triple front flip.

I was vaguely interested in a boatload of people nearby who were 
frantically looking for something.  They were using all sorts of 
fancy equipment, there were various boats skimming over the 
surface and lots of humans with bulky gear in the water.  I tried 
to get them play, but they ignored me.  I heard a pod of my 
dolphin comrades in the distance and plotted an intercept course.

Occasionally my human side surfaces and I wonder how things would 
have turned out and exactly what did their frenzied search find.  
Then I think back to my new life and somehow it doesn't matter.




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