In the early afternoon of the following day, Miranda Bradford swam toward her intended target - a small catamaran in a lake where Karen and Pamela Neuman were lounging. The popularity amongst their peers for finding Paige in the river days earlier had blossomed into such that they desired a greater isolation for mutual relaxation. However, that circumstance created an opportunity for danger. Miranda had one of the special ambulite rings on her right finger to enable greater stealth, an oval swim mask on her face, and was wearing a dark-blue one-piece swimsuit and large swim fins. She postulated also that she had all that was needed in her utility and weight belt about her curvaceous torso to do her nefarious mission, to intimidate Paige into surrendering the ring she possessed.
Like Paige previously, Miranda also felt no need to breathe, to exhale underwater, and she donned the mask to prevent anyone from recognizing her. Nevertheless, when she did surface once about a dozen meters from the small craft, she saw the two teens sunning themselves and not paying attention to anything in the water to their rear. A warm front had blown through the area late yesterday, and they had chosen a fine way to escape the heat, but not a more deadly more mature female predator.
Karen turned over on her back, put on sunglasses, and Pamela sat up and said, "This sure was the right thing to do today. I'm just glad no news reporters are taking pictures of us yet in a helicopter for saving that woman in the river."
"For sure, but we sure got many guys wanting to be our boyfriends now. Someone or others probably followed us to the river and saw us find her from a distance."
"It was no big thing."
"It is now, thanks to them gossiping all over about us."
"I had to tell a couple guys what we did too, or they promised to go to the TV station and blab about it."
"The recreation center is about that bad. Even wearing the hottest new clothes there will get anyone more popularity than they deserve."
"Speaking of heat," Pamela replied, "I am smothering in it now in this muggy air and warm sun. Shall we get ourselves wet?"
Karen nodded. "You go. I just put a lot of suntan lotion all over me and don't want to leave a slick around the boat. How far are we from the shore?"
"I donno. Maybe three-hundred feet. Why?"
"I don't want it to be too big of a job for us to paddle back to it. The sail will be useless without any wind."
"Well, I won't be going THAT far."
"I know, unless you turn into a mermaid."
Pamela made a "tsk" sound at her, shook her head, and let her legs into the clear calm water. It was cool enough to require some getting used to, and the process of getting all the way in was gradual. She was treading in it several meters from the craft within the next couple of minutes and did very little splashing, only brief bobs and some floating. Her slender body had a buoyancy that had to be maintained by movement, and it was tested by a subsequent backward somersault. While conducting the act with confidence, Karen reached aside and turned up the radio near the edge of the blanket. Her more noisy return to the surface was thus barely heard.
After she gulped another deep breath of air nearer to the watercraft and swiped the hair out of her face, Pamela suddenly felt a pair of hands tug her down fast underwater. There was no time to utter even an abbreviated exclamation, and her eyes widened in surprise as they saw the blurry shimmering surface grow more distant. The grip was released from her lower legs when she was about three meters down, but just after kicking them to ascend less than half the way to it, her attacker went into action again with something more exotic.
Miranda quickly wrapped an arm around her neck from behind, bent her back, and attached a 2-inch high-tech electrochemical disc to the middle of her forehead. Merely pressing the jewel-like center of it during the application put the thing to work. Synapses fired on a mass scale through her brain, and her mind became fugue. All the muscles of her body totally relaxed next, to allow Miranda to easily take her back down further. The girl also felt no need to breathe in Miranda's embrace, and only the increasing pressure of the water squeezed the air out of her lungs through her partially open mouth.
When Miranda swiftly had Pamela some eight meters below the surface and largely concealed in the dimmer greenish water where the pressure restricted buoyancy, she removed the futuristic mind-neutralizing disc and gave her a last shove downward near the bottom. She hovered nearby as the girl appeared to come out of a dreamy state, blinking her eyes, and shaking her head. However, when she shortly opened her mouth wide, Miranda knew well that she was sucking water into her now-aching empty lungs. The panicking teen kicked her legs once and uselessly waved her arms about but did not go up. Miranda bade her farewell with a couple waves of her arm, like she did earlier in the day to Paige's sister in a different location when she instinctively reached at her, and returned to the silhouette of the vessel to complete her devious mission.
Upon hearing no movement in the water for a long minute, Karen sat up on the catamaran and peered carefully overboard. "Pam?" she queried. "Where are you?"
There was no response accordingly, and after removing the sunglasses and looking all around the craft faster, she said, "Oh, shit! Pam!"
No response again, and she promptly plunged into the much colder water. It practically shocked the air out of her lungs, and she returned to the surface gasping. After more long tense seconds, she took a deep breath and dove down to look for her. She saw nothing but green blurriness below, but Miranda clearly saw her from under the small boat. It's shadow provided strategic cover to hide in, and she attacked with the timing of a hungry shark -- before Karen reached the surface.
Miranda approached Karen from the front, with another disc in hand, but she was seen first. Before being able to apply it, Karen waved her arms about in resistance and caught one of hers -- the one with the device, and she lost it to the water in frustration. Then, the sexy antagonist knew more direct means were going to be required to subdue the older teen.
Karen was able to break the surface again, but she did not call for help. Her success at finding greater isolation from any others was a marked disadvantage now. She still was able to close the distance to the craft also, from six meters to four. Then, three, two, and one. Afterward, she was yanked down and embraced tight from behind. Miranda squeezed her upper torso and countered their buoyancy by letting the lower half of her lovely body rise up and kicking fervently with her finned feet. Karen shook her head to blind her with swirling hair, but Miranda's hold did not loosen as she twisted with her bikini-clad body in a downward spiral.
Karen squinted her eyes and grimaced as Miranda squeezed more and took her deeper. Her long legs moved as though she was peddling a bicycle in slow motion, and her lungs, already tired from a fruitless search at the surface, beckoned to her brain to breathe. With her arms pinned against her torso in the hold, her movements became useless sideways jerks some four meters down, and she uttered a short grunt with each desperate effort. Her hair trailed more straight, and Miranda's kicks had more influence as more bubbles rose through it.
Six meters below the surface, the girl stopped moving her legs and tried to play possum. Miranda was not fooled, as she did not become limp and relax in her stronger arms, but she became amused by the attempt. She pushed her down to near the bottom a couple more meters before releasing her and swimming around to the front of her. Karen's eyes were closed, still squinting much, and she kept her lips tightly sealed and pursed. However, she had surrendered most of her air in being allowed freedom, and had no buoyancy. After Miranda gave her a shove, she renewed her struggle to return to the surface.
Karen's ascent was met with brief physical taunts by Miranda -- pokes and jabs between flailing arms, as she kept easy pace with her. The unfortunate teen kept her eyes closed, and halfway back up to the needed destination, Miranda watched the last shiny bubbles emerge from her nose and rise faster through the water than her skinny spent body. Her mouth finally fell open, and her eyes stopped squinting when she next lost consciousness. Miranda saw her arch a little forward before sinking down again, limbs askew. Mission accomplished, and she departed the area unseen.
Blanche's ultimate fate was not any more favorable. She clung to life weighted to the bottom of a brackish deep lagoon miles away, as Miranda's plastic enclosure clung to her altered, largely anaerobic form. She tried also to just maintain neutral buoyancy with the injected air pocket within her that in a sense replaced her lungs. She floated above the dark slimy mud, tethered by a line to the buried weight, and moved in oozing movements in the clear storage bag. After saving strength for the past few hours almost weightless, she attempted to separate her soft elastic arms from her distended torso and draw her fused legs up. When the bag bulged on each side as she contracted into an oval ball, the air pocket shifted and rose through a rudimentary orifice of her combined bronchial and esophageal tube and ballooned fast in a bubble from her unrecognizable face against the top of the strange synthetic trap. As it did, she managed a long hissing moan and again hung suspended and squeezed more by the smooth plastic. She resembled an elongated sheathed greenish grub then and could do nothing more as she was stretched by the opposing elements above and below her.
Karen and Pamela Neuman made the news in the following day, when their drowned bodies were discovered. They were popular again. Paige was the first to learn of their "accidental" demise in the Bennet residence, and she informed Mark and Jolene of it as they returned from work early. She came out of the front of their house fast holding a newspaper and said, "Here! You see? Look what's happened to them."
Jolene saw the initial small article she pointed to and replied, "Oh, my lord! Not them! They were such good kids together. Who could have -- "
"This is Bradford's handiwork. I know it, and he's gonna get me next."
"Or anyone connected to you, Paige," Mark added.
A shudder went through Jolene's spine, and she looked across the car at him and said, "What can we do?"
"Anything we have to, Jo. Anything we must, with Paige here, to stay alive."
Story (The Pool?) concludes with "Vindication" -- later.