off was purely routine. They'd done it a thousand times. Even so,
Cora found herself watching him more carefully. She didn't know what
had happened, but hadn't had the nerve to push it. If she made a mess
of it, she'd be locked in with him for days and days. Just mentioning
the wrong word had made it awkward with her best friend.
now they were out of the Pressure Chamber, and she couldn't put it
off any more. “When we get back, there'll be questions.” Cora
told him. “Leave them to me.”
standard, when a mission goes bad.” Cora nodded. “The only
questions for you will be from my dad, and what we got up to while we
well that makes me feel better.” Tai groaned sarcastically. “What
sort of questions will there be for you?”
will want to know what happened, since a Sonar Pack is no small
was a masterpiece of understatement. Resources were tightly
controlled on the Ark-Hive. The submarines were a hugely versatile
tool and their time was scheduled down to the minute. In all
likelihood, the Hydra
had been found and towed back to the Ark-Hive, but it would still
throw a lot of people off their timetables. Someone would demand an
worry, Stripes. I was the pilot of record. The conversation is with
me.” Cora promised him. “But, uh... while we're on the subject,
happen back there?” She could feel him tense, sitting next to her.
“I know you left the submarine, what I don't know is why you didn't
verify the exit first.”
got distracted.” Tai told her firmly. It was a tone that indicated
he wanted no further conversation on the subject.
what?” Cora was startled. Tai had been driving subs as long as she
had. At that depth, you didn't get distracted by anything. “What
happened? I was locking the sub down for the trip back... I handed
you my breather and headed for the controls... We've done it a
hundred times before. What distracted you?”
doesn't matter.” Tai shook his head. “My attention was elsewhere
for a second is all. Like you said, we've done it a hundred times...
When something becomes routine, you can do it on autopilot. I missed
set the controls to keep going and turned her chair around, making
them face each other, close enough that their knees were pressed
together. “No. I don't buy that. I haven't pressed it, but when we
get back, I'm going to have to make a report on it, either to my
father or to Stingray Commander. You ever faced Commander Morgan in
person before? He makes sharks sweat. What do I tell him?”
worry about it!” Tai started to snap, his voice getting harsher.
well!” Cora scorned. “I'm sure Commander Morgan has never heard
before! You want to get us both slammed into Circular Quay? I'll
smooth it over, but if there's something going on; it's my head on
the block right next to yours! Tai, you know better than anyone: You
never ‘miss a step’ when you're that deep, or when you're in the
airlock!” She was getting loud now, made all the more harsh by the
tight quarters. “So what happened?!”
did.” Tai said finally, the words coming out in an explosive rush.
did? I did what?” She was honestly confused.
had just come in, and getting out of my way by changing in the hall,
and you were checking my suit was sealed... And I... oh Hades...”
He had flushed bright red. “I noticed! Alright?!”
first instinct was to burst out laughing. “You telling me we spent
two weeks living hip-to-hip in a pressure chamber because I was
changing out of my deepsuit and you were checking me out?” She
shook her head. “Nope. Not buying it.”
sell yourself short.”
not that.” She was smiling, blushing a little herself. “What I
mean is, every pilot team goes through the same thing. We don't get
privacy. Nobody below Gold Level gets privacy, and Sub-Drivers less
than anyone. Everything under the Ocean is Co-Ed. So Rule Number One
stare, don’t care.” Tai nodded, like it was obvious. And it was.
It was a simple fact of life. But then he hesitated. “But I've
had... trouble following that rule with you. Only with you.”
me?” Cora asked, a split second before she realized what he was
never said anything." He breathed out like he'd been holding it
in forever. "And I never would have, because I know how the
world works, and I know that you'd let me down easy, and then never
speak to me again. But what can I say? We were by ourselves, a
hundred miles from anyone, and you were nose to nose with me, running
your hands over every seam and seal in my suit for the checklist, and
my brain went somewhere else for a moment."
swallowed, tried to speak, swallowed again.
say anything." He said firmly. "Right now, it's like
looking past the Trench. Anything could be out there, good or bad.
Right now, you could say anything, good or bad. But whatever it is,
we're going to be back in Light Waters in about twelve minutes, and
I'd rather not share this conversation with Stingray and their
Directional Mikes, or whatever they've got in the cabin. So... let's
not say anything until we get home."
nodded compulsively, relieved.
if you like, once we get back, we never have to say anything at all."
Tai finished, and calmly turned back to the controls.
was giving her a way out, and she was so grateful it made her teeth
ache. A few moments later, the sub rose over a ridge, and they were
suddenly bathed in light. They had reached Light Water.
we have you on our screens. Please identify crew.” The voice came
over the Comms the instant they could see lights.
took over the Comms and responded. “DSV
to Perimeter Watch. Two crew on board, returning after rescue
mission. Is that you, Vaughn?”
Lieutenant. We were glad to hear you two were safe. Welcome back to
Light Water. A little bookkeeping for you: Crew health and medical
let Tai handle the questions and looked back at the water around her
home. Lights were bright here, and strung along at regular intervals.
The lights were bright enough that even the ocean floor seemed as
well lit as an indoor room on Gold Level. Below them, she could see
people in their suits, going about their business. Modular habitats
like the one she'd just escaped had been placed all over the place as
workspaces, to oversee farming and resource gathering. She liked the
geometric patterns of the underwater railways that served to take
people from the Ark-Hive to their off-site workstations. The lanterns
followed the tracks, putting out enough light and warmth to make this
small part of the endless ocean feel as natural as being inside.
the west she could see the Desal Plants that ran day and night to
turn the ocean into freshwater for them. To the east she could see
the imposing structure of Circular Quay; The Stingray's most secure
prison, in full view of everyone on the Ark-Hive, just to remind them
all they were always under the watchful eyes of their police force.
To the north, she would have seen the memorial, if the Main Structure
hadn't been in the way...
as Tai brought them into dock, she saw the Ark-Hive itself, hundreds
of meters tall. Five Domes, with multiple levels in each, stacked on
top of each other, each dome getting narrower as they stacked higher.
A central trunk ran down through all the Domes for support, and three
large support towers were placed at equal intervals around the dome
sections. Cora liked the towers. They were so reassuring. They hadn't
moved so much as an inch in hundreds of years.
looked up to Gold Sector automatically, right at the apex. It was the
only section that had a totally transparent dome on top, giving
everyone lucky enough to live there an easy view of the ocean around
them. She could see her neighborhood promenade under the Plex, and
the usual crowd of people looking out at the water.
working animals, and even the wild ones that knew to come for food,
circled around the top of the Dome like a halo, enjoying the warm
water and the attention of the humans. It was the only place in the
ocean that was so busy around the clock.
Hangar was Industrial Hub of the Ark-Hive. Everything that came in or
went out was based out of the Hangar; everything that had to be
constructed was built in the Hangar.
was the largest chamber in the Ark-Hive, built in a circle around the
moon pool. Air pressure kept the water from boiling up to fill the
whole chamber, and the pool was wide enough to take entire
submarines. The Moon Pool went down almost fifteen feet. The larger
submarines couldn't fit under the complex, but the smaller submarines
were docked in Ports that surrounded the Moon Pool on all sides.
Dolphins had access conduits all over the complex that led to the
lowest part of the hull, where the Moon Pool released into open
ocean. The Divers had several hatches that could lead them all over
the place for maintenance. But the vast majority of the transition
between the ocean and the habitat was done through the Main Hangar.
she is!” Tai pointed. “Don brought her back.”
followed his pointing hand to see her sub, safely back after drifting
away from them at the Trench. “Don? Don towed her back?”
he dropped off our care package. Usually done by Stingray, but he was
the closest sub with a tow cable, I guess.” Tai shrugged it off.
“Looks like she held up okay.”
was almost ten years old, but Cora and her mother had designed it
together years before. It was a somewhat controversial design, since
it had taken its design from aquatic creatures more than human
engineering. Its hull was eight feet wide, but its wings were more
than twice that. It was painted in coral and water colors, meant to
blend in. The wings were flexible, which made the sub move like a
stingray, not using propellers or turbines like the older subs did.
her father had insisted that more conventional engines be installed
anyway. “It would be wrong to gloat.” Cora observed. “Dad never
liked the Waterfins design, and he forced me to include the regular
that was the part that caved in and nearly drowned us?” Tai
smirked. “Right. He nearly lost you, and it wouldn't be wise to say
'I Told You So'.”
third Docking Port from the entrance belonged to Cora, as it had
belonged to her mother before her. The Hangar was always loud and
busy and full of workers and machinery busily performing their tasks,
but Cora barely noticed them after this long.
roads in the Ark-Hive led to the Ocean.
the earliest days of the Ark-Hive, every Sector and Dome in the
Ark-Hive had ocean access via water tunnels and Moon Pools. When the
Ark-Hive Mission began, centuries before, the priority was breeding
animal and plant species that could handle the acidity in the Oceans
outside. The only way to do that was to control a large body of water
inside the structure, where it could be sealed and manipulated.
Aquarium had run through the entire Dome, with new breeds of fish and
plant life migrating back and forth between the science stations.
Every Dome had access to these water-tunnels, large enough for
human to swim through, visible to walkways at many points through
later, the Oceans outside had healed, and the animals and plants were
able to survive outside the Dome, but the tunnels remained. Some
still had new synth-species in them, though resource management had
limited the number of new species being created.
water-tunnels ran the entire length of the Ark-Hive, and over the
centuries they had been used as escape tunnels during fire and
flooding, laid with pneumatic messaging tubes, as well as access
tunnels for the Dolphins.
of the apprentices, a young girl with her red hair pulled back in a
tight ponytail, was sitting on the edge of the pool, with her feet
dangling in the water. She was tossing sardines into the mouth of a
familiar Dolphin that was floating on the surface, chattering
sight of Delphi moving on his own and scarfing sardines, made Cora
feel immeasurably lighter, but Don waved her over quickly, and she
moved to speak with him before Delphi could notice her arrival.
got to your TABB before your father did.” Don promised her. “I
don't know what you have on here, but I thought-”
was looking right through him, focused on more important things.
“How's Delphi? He looks better.”
is better. Last two weeks, we had to keep him in a sling, half out of
the water. But his blood pressure has settled some. We had to operate
to repair some internal hemorrhage, but he made it. Once those
stitches heal, he'll be back to normal, but dolphin skin isn't the
easiest thing to stitch. They never leave the water and they never
stop moving, so we've had to keep him in the Moon Pool here.”
he free to go?” Cora asked quietly. “I'd keep him inside. Those
service tunnels run all the way to Gold Level, and I'd like to have
been asking to leave too, but I'm afraid not. His muscles aren't
working right just yet... He thinks he can't swim because we have him
held in a smaller tank, but the fact is if we let him out, he'd
sink.” Don said gently. “Nix has been helping with his care and
noticed Nix for the first time. The girl wasn't quite old enough to
be an apprentice yet, and the patch on her jumpsuit said she was a
the Moon Pool's better than being in a sling, I guess. At least here
he can talk to other Dolphins too.” Cora gestured. “What's her
She's here all the time. Pre-Apprentice in Admin, but she spends as
much free time here as we let her. Why not go over and introduce
nodded and headed over to speak with Delphi. "Hey there."
Cora smiled sweetly at them both. It was impossible to be unhappy
when there were dolphins around, and the relief that her friend would
recover was palpable. She came over to the other side of the raised
pool, and the Dolphin wheeled gracefully over to come to join her.
glanced at the girl holding out the small fish, looking a little
disappointed that the dolphin had so swiftly left her side. Cora
signaled the lovely animal to follow and made her way around to the
other side of the large water feature. "Hi. I'm Cora." She
girl looked down shyly. "I know who you are, ma'am."
you did not just 'Ma'am' me." Cora scorned. "So, you're the
one that's been sneaking my Dolphin sardines, huh? No wonder he never
comes around at feeding time." Her tone was light, putting the
girl at ease. "You want me to introduce you?"
the Dolphin?" The girl seemed delighted. "I didn't know you
could do that."
nodded, and pulled Nix's wrist closer, tapping a passcode into the
girl's TABB. "There's a small synaptic reader. They get
implanted into working Dolphins at the start of their training.
Dolphins talk to each other with their echolocation. All those clicks
and whistles that let them see? It's also how they communicate. The
implant lets us mimic those sounds, the way human earpieces sends
transmitted sounds straight into your ear." She tapped at her
TABB. "And if we can speak it, we can understand it too. So,
what's your name?"
Nix." The girl stammered a little, and Cora typed it in for her.
"I knew they were smart..."
like we are." Cora assured her. "They're the closest to
sentience we've found down here, and our geneticists are always
pushing the edges, but they're not quite like us. But they're smart
enough to remember names, smart enough to learn, smart enough to talk
to each other..."
Dolphin clicked and whistled for a moment, rising up out of the water
enough to brush its bottle-nosed beak against Nix's leg. Nix could
see the translation as it scrolled across the screen. "Hello,
Nix. I am Delphi. Thank you for all the tasty fish. Like salty fish
lots! Can we be friends?"
giggled a bit. "I'd like that, Delphi. It's nice to know your
strolled over to join them. “Cora, a word?”
nodded, and made her goodbyes to Delphi, heading over to join Don in
his private office. Once they were alone, Don turned to face her. “Is
there another reason?”
reason for what?” Cora asked innocently.
flat out ignoring a summons by The Director, and coming here instead.
Because you seem to be a million miles away, even when you're
speaking with Delphi.”
considered waving it off, but couldn't help but be honest. “I just
had a conversation that completely turns your way of thinking on its
head.” Cora confided in her former mentor. “I'm re-living every
conversation I've ever had with Tai, and...”
told you.” Don breathed.
reacted. “Did you know about this? Why didn't you tell me?”
chewed his lip. “Your father summoned you to his office. He...
wants a full report on what happened out there. What are you going to
tell him about Tai?”
I'm not going to tell him
about this!” Cora scorned. “You think I'm going to tell The
Director that a Green Sector Pilot has a crush on his only daughter?
The Quay would snap Tai up in an hour, if we were lucky.”
face changed, and a slow smile spread over his face. “Ah. So, what
you plan to do about it then?”
was hoping you could offer some advice.” Cora said plaintively.
not going to tell you what to do with your suitors, my dear.” Don
chuckled. “But if it matters, the rest of us assumed it was
rest of us?” She repeated. “How many people knew about this
before me?” She stammered. “And why would you think it was
mutual? I mean, he's my friend, and my Co-Pilot. So...” She
shrugged. “Sure, he always brings me Caff in the morning when we're
assigned together, and I know he likes jelly on his waffles instead
of syrup, and when we're on overnight missions he always sleeps on
the starboard side bunk because he knows I sleep facing the wall, and
I owe him a lot for bringing Delphi into the Ark-Hive, and yes I like
the way he always sends me jokes when I'm in boring conferences with
my dad, and I always make sure to play the music he likes on long sub
rides...” She broke off suddenly.
was smiling broadly.
lowered her face into her hands. “What am I supposed to do?”
pushed her TABB back into her hands. “Go see your father. Find out
what happened to your submarine, and go back to work.”
took the TABB, strapped it to her wrist with a sigh, and rose to go.
while I've got you here, you mind if I ask you something?" Don
tapped at his own TABB as he followed her out. "There was a
launch, while you and Tai were in the Pressure Chamber."
blinked. "A launch? To where?"
enough, to the surface."
felt her stomach drop. "Surface probes don't launch until
January. Why would my father send one up now?"
don't know, but I was hoping you'd heard something about it.” Don
shrugged like it didn't matter. “Another week, and Delphi will be
ready to swim again, I promise. I can shift him up to Gold Seven if
you like. Having you closer might help keep his spirits up.”
was still a million miles away, but she still had enough presence of
mind to smirk at that one. “Don't let my dad hear you talk that
way. He'd think you were too close to the 'damn synths'.”
had only followed about half of this, but she looked sadly at Delphi.
“Well then. I guess this is goodbye. I'm not cleared for Gold
watched the young girl for a while and smiled. “You know what? You
are now. But only for The Common Areas.”
blinked. “What? Really?”
Delphi would like to have some friends around when I'm working.”
sorry, partner. I had my break when I got up from the Trench. Now you
get one for saving my life. Relax, eat lots of sardines, okay?”
Delphi whistled, and even the flat computer translation couldn't hide
had spent most of her childhood years touring the extended reach of
the Ark-Hive in all their Outposts, tagging along as her father's
assistant. She was always aware of how life in the ocean and life in
the Habitats had their similarities.
the Stingray Squads, the comparison was obvious. They were sharks.
The grey uniforms and the white armbands were modeled off the colors
of the Stingrays that they were named for, but they moved like
sharks. When they entered a room, everyone in it reacted accordingly,
giving them plenty of room, when they weren't fleeing outright.
the Director's daughter, Cora had grown up with Stingray guards. A
lot of them considered her a favorite. But even in a room full of
innocent people, they had a way of causing panic; the way a shark
did, even when it wasn't hungry. They were predators.
Morgan was their Commander. He reported directly to her father, and
they had worked so closely together during the Purges that Cora had
actually thought of him as an uncle. So she took it in stride when
the elevator doors opened and she found him waiting inside for her.
stepped inside. The doors hissed as pressure equalized in the tubes.
An instant later, they were rocketing along toward Gold Level.
sidled up next to him. "So. Anything interesting happen while I
took a look at your submarine. She's a gorgeous thing.” Morgan
reported. “Frankly, I'm jealous. If you were anyone else's
daughter, I would have 'confiscated' it by now.”
snorted. “Don gave you the report?”
your accident? He gave us the full interview transcripts. While we're
in an elevator and off the record, is there anything else I need to
know? Any more... relevant information?”
Cora lied smoothly. “But I'm sure my dad will find something.”
usually does. In fact, he ordered me to leave any further questions
to him.” Morgan smirked. “I think he's more worried about you and
a guy being sealed up in a small Pressure Chamber for that long,
snorted. “And I'm betting you knew before I did that it was a dream
come true for Tai.”
did. But it's not our policy to peek in on such things.” Morgan
told her. “Say what you want to say."
aren't a couple. I had no idea until a few hours ago that he wanted
to be one.” Cora dove right in. "But Tai is, quite rightly,
terrified of how my dad will respond to the notion of a Green Sector
Pilot having a crush on his daughter."
never smiled. Never more than a smirk. "I won't tell. I'm
Stingray. We don't tell half the things we know."
smirked tightly. "Mm. What's that going to cost me?"
still didn't let the smirk grow. "You're not implying that I can
be bought, are you, Lieutenant?"
dream of it." Cora said without missing a beat. "Have you
noticed that you’re the only Stingray who calls me by my rank
instead of ‘Miss Bridger’?"
my doing. I like to remind my people that the Leadership have kids in
positions that may fall under their jurisdiction. Don’t want my
people ruffling the wrong fins.”
matched her tone. “You’re not implying that I might seek to
influence the course of justice, are you, Commander?”
dream of it-” He was about to say more, when both of them froze.
Their TABB's both lit up as a message came in. The visual glitched
dramatically, and came back with a new feed. A rotating water droplet
curved on a black background, which rotated into a perfect sphere.
The sphere changed shape to show an undersea map of the earth, with
the landmasses drawn in black.
second the TABB glitched, Cora knew what she would see. So did
Morgan raged, suddenly two feet taller and a whole lot more menacing.
Cora eased a step away from him automatically, impossible to do in
the tight space of the tube.
Members of the Ark-Hive, and all her Outposts." A heavily
modulated voice reported. “You have been deceived.”
the last two weeks, more than half of all Deep Water Operations have
been put on hold, citing limits in Resource Management. The orders
have been manipulated and folded into other projects to conceal the
fact that Gold Sector has shut down all research and development into
ocean solutions. This will cause starvation on the lower levels
within the year. Some people have noticed this trend.”
images rolled past the screen. Quick shots of people's faces. Their
uniforms were visible. Submariners, stall-keepers, school teachers...
And then the images grew a lot more scary. It showed those same
people, but the images weren't ID Photos, they were surveillance
pictures of prisoners.
the last six months, the number of people Bagged has increased 20%.”
The narrator continued. “We are told this is for our protection. A
suspicious mind would say this is an exercise of power. But the
evidence shows it can be far more simple and shallow than that.”
followed two quick shots. One of a woman being dragged away by a
Stringray Agent. The image zoomed in quickly on the prisoner's pearl
broach. A moment later it was showing a candid shot of the same Agent
on a date with an attractive woman. The woman was wearing the same
distinctive pearl broach.
the twelve people Bagged in the last six months, more than half of
them were taken by this man, Agent Liko of the Stingray Squad... and
one of Commander Morgan's personal Gold Sector Guards. On every
arrest he has made, the prisoner's personal assets have all been
seized. The official ruling is that it is part of the investigation.
Agent Liko now holds more IOU's and Ration markers than anyone else
on Stringray Squad.”
shuddered. Nobody knew where the messages were coming from, but one
of the prisoners that had flashed up on screen was their friend
Alison, in chains.
the time the pirate broadcast was over; the elevator had deposited
Cora and Morgan at Gold Sector. The two of them wasted no time
heading to the Boardroom. Every screen, every terminal, every TABB
along the way was showing the pirate signal, until the image glitched
for a moment, and they all returned to normal.
had pure thunder on his face. Cora offered him a reassuring smile.
"Maybe he didn't notice?"
snorted. "You better head in. Give me another thirty seconds.
I'm not going in there until I have something to tell him."
when the Boardroom Hatch opened, Cora knew that sub had sailed. The
Director himself was standing half an inch from the doors. His eyes
swept over both of them instantly. “Cora!” He exhaled powerfully.
“Are you alright?”
fine, dad.” Cora promised. “You saw it?”
did.” The Director hadn't taken his eyes off his daughter. "And
Morgan? I'm trying very hard not to look in your direction right
now." The Director said calmly. “Cora, go wait in my office.”
did so, obediently. The second she was away from Morgan’s gaze, she
let the disgust she felt for him show on her features, just for a
second, before she waved at her father’s assistant and went into
the private office. She could hear her father's icy voice slicing
away at Morgan, and her ears followed the conversation further down
the hall. The instant they were out of earshot, she made it from the
doorway to her father's desk in two long steps. Before she had even
sat down in her father's chair, she had tapped in his passcode at his
took her only a few seconds to read the Stingray Reports. Alison had
been Bagged, and was currently being 'held and questioned'. Cora felt
a shiver. Her fingers hesitated over the interface for a moment,
before sending a new command. As far as Stingray was concerned, The
Director had just ordered them to let Alison go within two days,
unless she gave them something relevant.
few more moments, and Cora had found the results of the surface
probe. The report had come in as normal, and her father had received
it, and then changed the clearance level to maximum... but not until
why would he seal the file up a week after getting it? Cora
asked herself. What
was he afraid of?
noticed the original file had a date attached. The original report
had been sent on to a few select people. Morgan, Amos... and her?
Cora checked her TABB. The one that Don had given back to her. The
one that Alison had when Cora was out at the Trench. She tapped at
the screen quickly, and found that her TABB had received the copy of
the message, just as her father's computer said... and that it had
been forwarded to someone else, while Cora was in the Pressure
Chamber with Tai.
Hades.” Cora hissed, sucking in a breath. She checked the date, and
realized. The implications left her trembling. She felt like she was
trying to breathe through a straw.
was the day that Alison got Bagged.
knew her father's office like the back of her hand, and she could
hear the faint sound of her father's voice. He was on his way back,
and she knew exactly how long it took him to get from the conference
room to his Private Office.
and efficiently, she started tapping at her father's computer,
covering up or deleting what she had seen. It took half a second
longer than she would like, and she had to dive back into her chair,
just as the door opened. "I thought you had the Pirate Station
handled." Cora said as her father walked in. Her voice was cool
and relaxed, giving no sign that she'd nearly been busted snooping
through her father's files.
said we had the signal
handled." The Director countered. "It’s been fifteen
years since we shut down the Aquans. The Pirate Station went quiet
after the Purges. I don’t know who brought it back, but the Aquans
have been wiped out. Whoever’s using their old playbook has his own
agenda.” The Director nodded curtly. His expression didn't change
much. Cora had spent her life trying to figure out if he still had
feelings. After the death of her mother, he had withdrawn completely.
“Now then... are you alright?”
smiled a little. “I'm fine, dad.”
What happened out there?”
I was unconscious for a lot of it, but the engine took damage from
somewhere, and couldn't handle the pressure. Sub lost guidance, and
everything went sideways.” Cora waved a hand back and forth like it
didn't matter. “Tai saved my life.”
The Director grunted. “I don't like the idea of you being out there
for so long alone with a guy.”
worry, dad. I've had all my birth control shots.” Cora said
father had a vein throbbing in his neck. “Not funny.”
aware I'm twenty-two, right?”
don't approve of that either.” Her father took the hint and moved
on. “My overpaid sources tell me that you docked almost an hour
ago. I assume you had good reason for not coming to see your father
wanted to check in on Delphi.” Cora nodded. Her father gave her a
look, like she was a silly child, and she jumped on the defensive.
“He saved my life, dad. He nearly killed himself getting back to
tell someone that me and Tai were stranded. How can I not worry about
someone who nearly kills themselves to help me?”
someone, Cora. It's a Synth. It's only alive because someone in a lab
thought it would make a good working animal. You don't get choked up
over the animals we breed for livestock; and they keep you alive
every time you have a meal. Don't get emotional over them.”
that's where I was.” Cora didn't agree with him. She couldn't.
was... worried.” He admitted, but his expression still didn't
change. “We went over the Hydra
with a fine tooth comb. No sign of sabotage.”
think there would be.” Cora shook her head. “This was an
accident, plain and simple.”
so simple. The engines were completely ground to scrap. The gears
failed. So either interface error put the engines into overload and
blew them out, or the moving parts seized up.” He gave her a look.
“We didn't find any sign of Interface error. You were at the
controls? Your co-pilot?”
the airlock when it went wrong.” Cora confirmed. “Nothing wrong
with the controls.”
it was a maintenance issue. I've already had the relevant personnel
investigated, two arrests made for incompetence.”
mouth became a very thin line. “You did that without hearing from
did you know that I didn't?” Her father asked practically. “If
your sub engines could fail, who's to say others couldn't? There was
a mistake that very nearly cost your life. And by Sub Implosion, no
winced. Officially, submarine implosion had killed her mother. “I’m
sorry I missed the anniversary.”
time it’s happened; and it wasn’t your fault. Now then.” Her
father moved past the whole topic quickly. “There is a Board
Meeting tomorrow morning at 0930 hours. I want you there.”
felt a thrill of horror go through her. She'd been dreading this
since she became a pilot. “Okay, Dad... I get that the last two
weeks have pushed a lot of buttons for both of us, but we agreed when
I told you I wanted to train as a Driver that you couldn't keep me
locked up in the Ark-Hive my whole life. And at this point, it's more
not telling you to resign from the Corps. In fact, your status as a
highly-rated pilot will become a major asset soon.” Her father
interrupted. His tone was cool, but not harsh; which was pretty warm
for him. “But I need you there at the meeting this time.”
Cora asked, intrigued.
why would I waste time telling you that when you could just show up
and find out?”
made her way to Gold Seven. Centuries before, one of her ancestors
had used this room as her laboratory, but now it was a common area
for Gold Sector residents. The large room had a raised moon pool that
came up to waist height. Space was the most precious currency in the
of the Ark-Hive had been done in total secrecy. But Cora had seen the
records. The residents had barely made it off land. The submarines
they used were varied, and in a lot of cases, the only ones left
after Total Collapse.
of the originals were left, of course; but the more modern
manufactures were all based on the original designs. A lot of them
were unrecognizable after so many generations of innovation and new
materials, but the structure of the Ark-Hive was unchanged by
centuries; it just added new compartments at various levels.
in Gold Seven, there was a museum for the few artifacts of the
surface that had survived, or been found in one piece at the bottom
of the ocean.
that time of night, it should have been empty, and Cora found only
one other person was there. It was the girl that had been keeping
Delphi company while he healed. Nix was sitting at the edge of the
pool with Delphi, but her eyes were roving over everything, having
never seen any artifacts from the surface before. Cora watched her
silently for a while. The young girl was focused on the photos of
when the Ark-Hive opened. Back then, there were no lights set up
around the structure, the ground was wild and rocky. Back then, the
view from the Dome was thick with murky, poisoned water.
couldn't help but compare it to the view she had through the Dome
now. Nix was looking back and forth, obviously thinking the same
thing. The centuries had made the oceans clean and healthier than
they'd ever been.
you know that Dolphins and Whales used to breathe air, like we do?”
Cora said by way of introduction.
jumped in surprise and spun to look back at Cora as Delphi whistled a
yes. They all died out in the early 2080's. Of all the ocean
creatures, they had to breathe the air.” Cora gestured at the early
pictures. “Back then, the air was even more toxic than the water.
Professor McKay, the first Director, went out in a clunky metal sub,
using searchlights with barely enough light to see twenty feet, and
searched the entire Ocean floor for their bodies. He went out there
alone, for weeks. The Admiralty said that he was wasting his time;
but McKay did it. He found enough of them. It took them weeks
to record a genome back then... It took them over a decade to restore
a viable clone; let alone synth some gills into them; let alone
enough to repopulate the species. But they did it.” Cora stroked
her fingers over the Dolphin's side, and he chattered happily at her.
Cora looked back at Nix and gestured at the museum. “Ever seen any
of these artifacts before?”
shook her head. “I told you, my first time in Gold Sector.”
nodded. “It's not right that they never let you see what's in
here.” She shook her head. “But that's for tomorrow. Go home,
Nix. It's late.”
yawned. “Yes, ma'am.”
told you not to call me that.” Cora shooed her away and knelt down
next to Delphi once they were alone. “Hey you. How you feeling?”
sad.” Delphi whistled back. “What's wrong?”
sighed. Dolphins were just too perceptive. “Kind of everything,
right now.” She checked to make sure they were alone and kissed
Delphi's beak. “Some days, Delphi... you're the only one I trust.”
She sighed. “I'm sorry you're cooped up in here.”
Delphi squeaked. “Ride the deeps. Go fast.”
will.” Cora promised. “Soon.”
smiled a little. Dolphins, of all the creatures in the oceans, were
the only ones to wonder 'why'. “What do you think of Tai?”
friend. My friend. Your friend. Tai loves you.”
so I've heard.” She smirked. “You could have told me.”
checked her readout to make sure it was a question and not a
statement. “Yeah. I think I do.” She admitted with a sigh.
let out a series of clicks and whistles that didn't really need to be
translated. “Humans are weird.”
let out a bark of laughter before she could stop herself. “Yeah.
Yeah, we are.” She rose. “For what it's worth, I like you more
than most people I know... And I have to go and have a difficult
the Life Sciences Department, Don was working late. He turned his
attention back to his terminal after pausing to get a cup of fresh
Caff, and found someone had let themselves into his private office.
“Cora. You're up late.” Don remarked.
know why Alison was arrested.” Cora said darkly without preamble.
reacted, and sent a subtle glance up at the omnipresent cameras. The
indicator light was off. The cameras had been switched off for this
conversation, and that was no small trick.
left my Personal TABB with Alison, so that she could replace the
strap with one she'd made for me.” Cora made her case. “I was
meant to be back in a few hours, but things happened in the Macallan
Trench, and I didn't get back for weeks. The day I went, my father
launched a surface probe. I was given a copy of the results, just as
I always am. My father wanted me to have them. But someone tried to
change the results, and they did it from my
TABB. The one I left behind. I think that Alison hacked my passwords
looked at her evenly. “Well, I suppose that sub sailed, didn't it?
Alison was Bagged weeks ago.”
But there's more.” Cora nodded. “While I was in my father's
office, I took the liberty of reading the arrest report.”
get Stingray reports too?”
but that didn't stop me.” Cora blew past that. “Morgan's people
took Alison's TABB apart, looking for whoever she might be speaking
with. But they were looking at the wrong device. Since she had my
TABB, she would have my mail. So Ally got a look at some classified
material...” She let a breath out hard. “Don. You were the one
that gave back my TABB when I got home. You had it waiting for me
here in the bottom drawer of your own desk. So you either took it
from Morgan; and you’re not that insane… or Ally gave it to you
before she was Bagged.”
said nothing for a moment. “A... small lapse.”
small lapse that got you caught, old man.” Cora said angrily. “This
whole time, I've been trying to figure out why Tai left the sub, that
deep in the Macallan. When he confessed, part of me wondered if Tai
was really in love with me, or if he was using that as an excuse,
because he was hiding something else. And finally, it hit me: Why
couldn't it be both?”
laid it out. “You got me to ask my father about the Probe Launch,
because when Ally hacked my TABB, she didn't forward my mail to you.
She sent it to Tai! She was formerly his apprentice.” She tapped
her TABB screen. “I have the proof right here. A message, forwarded
to Tai. Morgan didn't catch on, because you had my TABB hidden in
your desk before he found it.” She started listing on her fingers.
“So you knew Tai had whatever classified information Ally found,
and you came out to the Pressure Chamber to conduct the interviews
before Morgan could do it.” She glared hard at him. “But either
Tai didn't have the nerve to tell you while I was three feet away, or
he couldn't receive his messages through miles of water. So you took
a detour to salvage our drifting submarine yourself, so you could
search it before towing her home.”
a really bold story on some awfully thin evidence, Cora.” Don said
without letting his expression give anything away.
is thin.” Cora agreed. “But real life usually is.” She sent a
glance up at the camera, still switched off. “And how much does
Stingray need, anyway? Especially for you. You know that Morgan
thinks Life Sciences is full of Aquan spies already.”
he does.” Don conceded.
is an Aqua." Cora declared with grim certainty. "And once I
figured that out, it took no time at all to realize that you
were the one that recruited him. Or at the very least, you're his
shook his head slowly. "You're too damn smart for your own good
aren't the first to say so." Cora said with a cold smirk...
before coming over and sitting with him comfortably. "Look, I
wasn't able to kill the report from the surface this time, but I
muddled up all the traces of the transmission on my TABB and I put a
typo in dad's order to send me a copy. If Morgan ever follows the
same thread I did, he'll figure it was a clerical error. You and Tai
let out a breath, relieved. "You're invaluable, did I ever tell
times, but I still like hearing it." Cora smiled warmly. "Why
didn't you tell me Tai was an Aquan too? My own Co-Pilot,
Don? I'm in the middle of three different situations with Tai, and I
would have liked to have known we had this in common."
know. I wanted to tell you, but when I found out that you and Tai
were becoming more than friendly, I didn't know if this would be good
for you, or bad for everyone else." Don explained. "It was
a mistake. One that very nearly gave you two a fatal case of the
I'd known he had a mission too, I could have done a much better job
of covering for him." Cora agreed. "As it is, my father
thinks the sub was sabotaged. You're lucky. If I was anyone else's
daughter, he would have had me locked up in the Quay by now."
Now you know." Don said quietly.
held up a hand. "No. No, I don't. What were we doing down there?
My dad thinks I was there to place the earthquake sensors in the
Trench Walls. My mission for you was to make sure they didn't read
anything below the halfway point. Tai was there for something else
entirely. What's in that Trench that you don't want my dad, or
Commander Morgan to find?"
sighed. "The Macallan Trench isn't it. It goes too deep for us
anyway. It's the caves that matter."
drew the map in her head. The Macallan Trench went so deep it
probably reached all the way through to the Atlantic. Nothing that
went in lasted past the halfway point. Anything that made it to the
bottom would be crushed to the tiniest size.
about a hundred feet below the rim, were a series of caves. They were
small and hard to get to, and in a rather hazardous bit of ocean. The
Ark-Hive was constantly monitoring for tremors...
realized. "It's a cache, isn't it? You've got something hidden
the caves." Don nodded. "And before you ask, I won't tell
you what, and you know why. We keep secrets for the same reason we
carry extra oxygen breathers in our subs."
know." Cora nodded. "Okay, none of my business. But you
really should have told me. Because Tai left the submarine. I didn't
know it was part of the mission, official or secret. He left the sub
on his own, after I planted the last of the rigged sensors in the
winced. "It was you. The engines didn't cave from the pressure,
it was you."
nodded quickly, glancing to the camera. Still off. "I couldn't
let him spend too long thinking. So... yeah, I shutdown the engine
and kicked the revs up. Metal grinding on metal got his attention
real fast, but..."
the engine blew out with so much water on it, and your diversion
nearly got you killed." Don nodded. "Does Tai know this?"
hope not. My little improv got two maintenance staff Bagged, just
because my dad couldn't think of anything else to do! To say nothing
winced. “It was a mistake to keep you both in the dark about each
it was. One that we never make again.” Cora came to her point. "I
want Tai as my full time partner."
looked over. "Really?"
know it's a problem, putting two agents together too long." Cora
nodded. "But call it a hunch. Graduation is in a few weeks, and
I'll be given an apprentice. You know my dad's going to choose one
for me personally. If I'm going to have a pair of eyes on me every
minute, I need someone in my corner."
talk to Tai about this?"
yet." Cora sighed. “Because solving the mystery didn't fix the
problem. Whatever those reports from the surface said, we couldn't
alter them, and if Tai was smart, he deleted everything the second we
got within range of the Ark-Hive.”
did.” Don confirmed. “I have no idea what your father knows about
say it again: Surface probes don't launch until January. Why would my
father send one up now?" Her hands started to shake. "And
why would he wait until I was off the Ark-Hive?"
don't know. The timing may be a coincidence, but it has me worried."
Don admitted. "Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe he suspects
something. The good news is, Ally got caught trying to change those
reports from your
She got Bagged!”
no, not good.
But she did it while you were away from the Ark-Hive, so if The
Director has doubts about you; they'll be mollified."
nodded. “Wayde tells me that the... routine is being altered. Some
of our more Ocean-Based resources are being curtailed.”
nodded. "If there's a crackdown coming, it couldn't be at a
worse time. Things are accelerating in preparation for Exodus. I wish
we could slow it down and play it safe, but the rest of the team is
getting nervous. After the surface probe launched, the rumors started
going crazy. If he's looking at the surface again, then it's because
he thinks there's something new to find. This one isn't routine."
let out a breath. “I know that Rule Number One is not to ask for
details on other cell groups... but I'm one of the few people who
knows that you're not just part of the Aquan Movement, you're the
Leader of it. So, can I ask you a question?”
years.” Don was way ahead of her. “In three years, we'll be ready
for a self-sufficient colony of our own, and can live totally
independent of the Ark-Hive. If I can get enough Resources together
to breed us some more working animals, and the rest of our network
can harvest enough supplies to see us through our own growing
seasons, then we can live entirely off the ocean; the way we always
years.” Cora chewed her lip. “So we just have to buy ourselves
is a tricky animal when you have a Big Secret, Cora.” Don said
warmly. “But if anyone can do it, we can.” He spread his arms
wide. “And by the way, I am so glad to have you back safe!”
stepped into his gentle hug, and she returned it gratefully. "I
wish you were my father." Cora whispered impulsively in his ear.
fingers tightened on her shoulder for a moment, and he drew back a
little. "You father is not a bad person, Cora." Don said
gently. "He's just not open. Not to the future, not to people
who disagree with him... not even to his daughter. That doesn't make
him a bad guy, or even a bad father. We could be planning to strike,
but we only wish to leave and make our way."
looked down, a little uncomfortable by what she'd confessed.
gave her a smile. "Hey. Half of you came from him, so he can't
be too bad."
smiled a bit. A real smile this time.
checked his watch. “Six minutes. You better get that camera back
I've apparently got an early start in the morning too.” Cora nodded
and turned to go, heading for the door before the cameras came back
Days to Landfall
look at Tai was all she needed. He knew. Don had talked to him
sometime during the night. He knew they had something in common.
“Hey, Cora?” He called. “I need a Co-Pilot. Twenty minute run,
just to the Quay and back. You busy?”
at the moment.” Cora said smoothly. “Let me get my Suit.”
and Tai spoke only of their instruments for the first ten minutes,
until they reached the halfway point in their journey.
set her controls to automatic and swiveled her chair to face him
read her expression and gave her a quick nod, pulling back his sleeve
to reveal his TABB. He tapped at the display for a moment, and Cora
subtly glanced at the camera. The light had flicked off. "Have
you ever done that on the Hydra
had the nerve." He excused. “We've got two minutes or less
before someone gets suspicious.”
I know why Don didn't tell me." Cora said quietly. "Why
reason you didn't tell me." Don told her kindly. "Because I
didn't know you were with us, and rule number one when you have a
dangerous secret is not to tell anybody."
let out a breath. "Weeks
we were locked in that Chamber, and I was tiptoeing around words,
wondering if you were suspicious..."
went through the same thing." He admitted ruefully. "And,
no offense, but it was a lot worse for me. I'm a Green Level
Sub-Driver. You're The Director's Daughter!"
actually burst out laughing. "And here you were, worried we
didn't have anything in common. The biggest thing we could ever have,
and neither of us dared to mention it."
laughed too. "Tell me about it."
settled. "You know... Even if we could only talk about
nothing..." She felt herself blush a little. "You have no
idea how much I enjoyed sitting and talking about nothing with you."
She saw the suddenly hopeful look on his face and sighed. "It's
true. Those weeks in the Pressure Chamber, it was the first time in
forever that I could forget about everything else." She looked
you're gonna hurt me now, aren't you?"
She admitted. "When I found out you were one of us, I started
reliving every conversation I ever had with you. And I'd already done
that once, when I found out... Well..."
agreed." He reminded her. "Never have to mention it again."
know." She nodded. "But my point is, I've been thinking
about it a lot." Her gaze softened. "We had some good
times, didn't we? I mean, we've been partners a while, even before
did." He nodded. He’d noticed she was using the past-tense.
took his hand, holding it between hers. She knew she was almost
taunting him now; she could even feel his heart speed up. "Tai,
I've been talking to Don, and I've been talking to my father.
Something is coming. I don't know what yet, but dice are rolling."
think so too." He nodded.
a moment between letting go of the dice, and when they hit the table.
Breathe wrong in that moment, you change how the dice come up. That
moment is coming." Cora whispered. "I feel like I'm holding
my breath, and I don't know what to do about anything else." She
sighed and squeezed his fingers a moment. "Having you around...
it's like there's more oxygen."
smiled. "It's how I feel about you, Shells. Even if nothing
between us happens... It's just easier to breathe when you're
sat silently a moment, comfortable with the moment. Then Cora turned
back to the controls. "All right, Stripes. We've got places to
checked her dress uniform. It had never really been comfortable to
wear, but as a member of the Corps, she was required to wear her
dress uniform when in the presence of the Board of Directors. They
were each the heads of their Departments and that made them the most
powerful people on the Ark-Hive, so it was a firm rule. She checked
the time again, unwilling to be early or late, and she was about to
head in... when Wayde stopped her before she got to the door. “Excuse
me, Miss Cora; you can't go in there.”
checked the time. “I was told to be here at 0930.”
Ma'am, but the meeting started at 0900. The Director ordered me to
make sure you didn't get in earshot until early business was tabled.
You don't have the clearance.”
set her jaw. “My father wanted me here, but he didn't want me to
hear anything that was said?”
until 0930.” Her father's assistant said firmly.
is this how it always is? Speak of secret things early, and then
invite in the riffraff like me?” Cora said with a smile, but she
was fishing for information.
gave her nothing. “I really couldn't say.”
waited impatiently, wishing Tai was there, or that she at least had
someone to talk to that wasn't as completely in her father's pocket
as Wayde. Finally, her TABB chimed the half hour and she headed in
before Wayde could stop her again.
got three different readings.” Her father was saying into his
headset. “The readings are changing every hour. Check the equipment
and give me a fixed result. Launch another if you have to!" He
turned to the door and waved Cora over to sit on his left, his
assistant to sit on his right. “Amos, the relocation plans aren't
acceptable; I need a timetable that works. You’re the Department
Head for a reason.”
respect sir, but six months is not enough time.” DH Amos insisted,
with a nervous glance at Cora. “We can meet the deadline, if we had
more people on side and helping with preliminaries.”
good time.” The Director looked to his daughter. “Cora, I get
nothing but blank looks from my Yes Men; so I'll ask you: Can you
explain to me why everyone in the E-Ring of Green Sector keeps
wanting to change rooms?”
didn't have a clue what they were talking about, but knew that asking
for details wouldn't get her anywhere. “You don't know?” She said
aloud. “E-Ring is where the water ducts run closest to the
habitats. All the water pipes that feed seawater into the dynamos?
It's like living next to a toilet that never stops flushing. That's
white noise after a while, but, the E-Ring is where everyone gets put
when they get too big to live with their parents...” She sent her
father a secret smirk. Because
people below Gold Sector are crammed in tight.
was kicking himself for not seeing it. "We could look into
changing some of the rooms status; change them from temporary living
quarters to full time storage..."
shrugged. "If you want. I think that the people who live there
are only here for a while; and they like having their rooms closer to
their assignments." She noticed the jug of fruit juice on the
boardroom table. "Is this for anyone?"
yourself.” Her father looked from his display to the jug as though
he hadn't known it was on the table. “Every department head and
captain in the room, and none of you know the place you live in well
enough to understand that? I'd fire you all and let my daughter run
the place, but she doesn't want to.” Not one of them could look at
him, or at Cora, and he returned to business. "Now then, on with
the regular meeting. Wayde? First item on the agenda?"
as always." Wayde told him. "Resource Management."
think we all knew that was coming." Don commented lightly,
provoking a grim chuckle from the room. The agenda didn't change much
from week to week. For all that the Ark-Hive had succeeded in, it was
still a closed system. Every time the population grew or shrank by
more than a few members, every time a new outpost was sanctioned or
shut down, every time a new project was begun or canceled, it
required taking those resources from somewhere else. Being the
Director meant your first duty was to make all the children play nice
and make sure none of them went without supper for too long.
want to be the first one in?” The Director asked.
will.” Don raised a hand. “I've run the numbers, and our planned
Whale-Synths won't eat more than the Air-Breathing kind. Now that
we've reintroduced the Sperm Whale and Narwhal species into the wild,
we have an opportunity-”
also have more food.” Amos put in. “With the whale breeding done,
we have enough food stores that we can free up a dozen breeding
tanks. Why spend those resources on another science experiment when-”
it doesn't cost us anything more than it did a week ago.” Don
interrupted back. “We keep those breeding tanks open, and in return
I can give you Heavy Movers that will never break down, and will
breed more Movers without construction.” He smirked at Amos. “Build
me a submarine that can do that.”
whale is not a reliable work machine.” Amos said, and the entire
Board leaned back in their chairs. It was clearly an old argument.
you’re the head of our Engineering department. By definition, you
only trust things you build yourself. But: pound for pound, a whale
can tow as much weight as a Heavy Sub.” Don insisted. “With the
right harnesses, it can even carry more cargo.” He turned to Cora.
“We have an experienced Sub-Pilot that works extensively with a
regular Synth-Dolphin partner. Ask her!”
both turned to Cora, and she hesitated. Her father gestured for
attention before she was forced to take sides. "I agree it has
potential." The Director said, and Don deflated. Cora knew why,
because she had heard it before too. When her father opened by
agreeing with you, it meant he was about to shoot you down. "But
your time is needed more urgently elsewhere." He checked his
notes. "At least, it's about to be, all going well. Plus, we
don't know how much longer we're going to be down here, and as with
everything we turn loose from our laboratories we have to consider
what the long term effects will be. The underwater species in
particular will continue long after we return to the surface; and
we're already taking liberties with what the future of our oceans
will look like."
have lived under the ocean for a long time.” Don pointed out.
“Humans are slow to adapt to change, but remarkably adaptable once
they accept the need. We live under the water, we need Ocean
could almost call that an Aquan Philosophy." The Director
commented blandly, and everyone tensed a little.
took it in stride. "And if they said night followed day, would
it be treason to agree with that? I'm in the business of ideas,
Director. Old ones, new ones. As long as they improve. Where it came
from is less important than where it leads."
that, we agree." The Director nodded, and the room relaxed. Cora
let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding.
received a Private Message on her TABB, and checked it discreetly. It
was from her father. Throw
Don and Amos a bone. Both of them. Something you can provide
personally. Do it before the meeting breaks up.
Doctor?" Cora said aloud, as though she'd just thought of it. "I
was looking over your schedule for the month, and I was wondering why
the Algae Batteries were still on the 'untested' list. Outpost Sidon
could really use a portable biofuel generator right now."
know." Don agreed. "But it needs to be tested under real
world strain. The schedule is so tight, nobody can put up a spare
submarine for a proper test flight."
can." Cora told him, and everyone looked over, surprised. If The
Director's Daughter had a spare submarine lying around, they wanted
to know about it. "I'm slated to make a Habitat Drop this
afternoon. I was planning to hitch a ride with the Nemo's
but my Hydra
can handle it."
on." Her father put a hand up. "The Hydra
isn't rated for a Habitat Drop."
because it doesn't have the range." Cora told him. "But I
can change the batteries from the inside myself. If these Algae Tanks
are all they're supposed to be, I can make the trip, even with the
smirked at Don. "And if they're not, then your prized 'Ocean
Solutions' will have stranded The Director's Daughter halfway to the
sent Amos a light glare, no love lost between them. "They'll
work. We know they'll work." Don promised, suddenly eager to
have a volunteer. "Procedure means we have to prove it, and if-"
cut him off. "Actually, now that I think of it, I can take a
copilot along and rendezvous on the return trip with the DSV
Commander Amos, your trainees need a supervisor, and if I have a
copilot, I can peel off and supervise their next Scenario on my way
could work." Amos said with a nod. "It's a blind test, so
they won't know the difference."
trip, three tasks. And shared evenly across the different
departments, no less.
The Director glanced around subtly. Everyone had their own agendas in
this room, and had to share the same resources. And by the simple act
of having his daughter present, he was winning people to his cause.
He was gaining support for his daughter. He sent her another Private
received the message and showed no reaction, tapping a response. It
must be genetic.
got away from the meeting as quickly as she could. Her father
summoned her right back in to have more private conversations. Anyone
who didn't get what they wanted during the meeting, she had to make
nice with. Anyone who did get their way, she had to learn more about
the project in question, so that she understood it fluently.
work in the Domes.” Her father told her. “You work with the
people who have to transport things, and have to do things. Time for
you to learn the other half of how this place works.”
have you for that.” Cora had countered.
but I won't be around forever.”
hadn't responded to that, but the Aquan plan was always to gather
enough supplies... and escape the Ark-Hive's reach, en
She had always planned for a future where her father would never find
her. Having him move her closer to a leadership role was becoming...
wanted to talk to Don, but he was a Board Member, and the others
would notice if she gave him special attention. Instead, she went to
took Cora a while to track them down. In the Hangar, in one of the
secondary Moon Pools, Cora found Tai at the edge of the water,
lashing a familiar Dolphin to a Sled. "Hey there." Cora
came up behind him. "How are my two favorite boys?"
chattered eagerly. "Get boat! Go fast! Ride The Deeps! Ride the
giggled. It was the happiest she'd seen him since the accident. “You
decided to go swimming without me?”
smirked back. “You had a meeting. Don said that Delphi couldn't
handle ocean swimming yet, but he was miserable. I keep him lashed to
the sled, and he won't pull those stitches.” He tickled the
dolphin's beak. “You've surfed the wake before, buddy. Gotta let me
handle it this time, okay?”
chattered, eager to go.
beamed, already pulling at the collar of her uniform. “I'm going
sled jets were mounted at the base of the sled, on either side of
Delphi’s tail. The jets frothed as Tai dove, and Delphi squealed as
he turned up the thrust to maximum. Cora held on to one of the grips,
and Tai to the other, with the Dolphin between them.
was like dancing. Cora had never learned to dance, but here she was,
with two of her favorite people, twisting and wheeling through the
water. The Cleaners and Maintenance Workers all looked at the odd
trio as they passed. Most of them were smiling at the sight. Cora
waved back at them, enjoying the moment.
turned the sled upward, climbing along the structure of the Ark-Hive.
It seemed smaller this way, winding in and out of the spaces between
the towers that supported the domes and met at the apex of their
home. At every level, there were Aquarium Tubes that housed all the
working animals and project creatures of the Ark-Hive. On the higher
levels, there were windows and viewing platforms.
saw people pointing at them, and she couldn't help but burst out
laughing. She looked back to Delphi, and saw he was having the same
reaction. Dolphins were always smiling, but she could feel his glee
radiating off him.
looked a little further, and saw Tai. He was keeping one eye on their
course, and the other on the two of them. He was making whirls and
spins and turns, for no reason but to make them both smile. He was
guiding them up around the structure, for no reason but to show the
whole Ark-Hive how much fun they were having. The affection on his
face was a living thing, and Cora suddenly felt so... free.
the Ark-Hive, some of the synth-whales were circling, as always. They
saw the humans taking the dolphin for a flight, and their song
changed subtly. There was always a background sound of whalesong, as
water conducted sound perfectly, but they sang a new song for the
wounded dolphin and his friends; and their dolphin dance had music.
another moment, Cora noticed that the other Synth-Dolphins had
noticed. They all knew each other, of course, and they knew that
Delphi had been sick, but seeing him race again set them all off, and
Cora suddenly found herself surrounded. Almost a dozen dolphins broke
away from their duties and came running to swim in perfect formation
with them. She felt their beaks press into her back, suddenly making
her go faster and faster... before all the newcomers exploded away
from them in a burst of movement and sound!
was such a wonderful dance. It was an experience of pure joy. After
weeks of wondering about Tai's loyalties, weeks of worrying about
Delphi’s health, weeks of worrying about her father's agendas... A
few minutes in the water with them, just feeling the ocean welcome
her into itself, feeling the current hold her up and part before her
as she moved... She hadn't felt so complete and content in a long
would do anything to have this dance last forever.
then her TABB chimed, as if to answer her. She checked the message.
Time was up.
knew it too. They gaze met across the dolphin's back, and she could
see him having the same thought. They didn't want it to end. They
wanted to keep going. They were almost willing to go right away and
never go back.
time to get you back inside.” Tai said finally, and Cora sighed,
surrendering to the inevitable.
Swim more!” Delphi chattered.
Delphi. I promised Don, no more than an hour. You still need time to
heal your insides.”
back up to Gold Seven. Nix is there, and she has sardines.” Cora
told him, helping Tai steer the sled back to the conduits. “Don't
swim too hard. Let yourself float.”
Delphi chattered. “Swim more later?”
will.” Cora and Tai promised in unison.
and Tai climbed up one of the side ladders into the Hangar, keeping
out of the larger craft's way. They could have come in the conduit
with Delphi and stepped out in Gold Sector; or anywhere else in the
Ark-Hive, but the tunnels were narrow for a pair of humans, and
procedure was to enter through the Main Dock.
was peeking at Tai all the way back inside, and then kept glancing
back, every time there was a lull in the activity. She was still
staring as Tai went to check the manifests while she was deep in
thought. He came back over and reported to her. "The Hawk's
new batteries have been installed. Power levels seem nominal. You
should see the things."
Algae batteries?" Cora nodded. "I've seen them. Never seen
them hooked up to a sub before, but I'm told they work as good as the
well, that's for us to prove, I guess.”
was a nice thing you did for Delphi.” Cora put in. “If it was up
to my father, he would have had Delphi put down, and given me a new
was a little caught off guard by the shift in conversation. “Yeah,
well... For all the talk about how much humanity belongs in the
ocean, nobody ever asks where the Synth's belong. I don't like the
idea of them being so... replaceable. Especially not him. He needs
oceans as much as I do. I didn't want him to forget the part that he
loved most about being a Dolphin.”
stared at him a long moment.
tried to shrug the attention off like it wasn't a big deal. “So,
the batteries are being installed, and they'll be ready for testing
in another twenty minutes or so. I've already spoken to Ops about
merging our missions. They're always happy to free up a Sub, even if
only for an hour.”
was still just looking at his face, deciding something.
tensed a little under her scrutiny. “What? Do I have something on
Cora spoke. "Tai, do you remember what we were talking about on
the way back from the Pressure Chamber?" She said quietly. "That
subject that we never got back to, and agreed we wouldn't have to
talk about again?"
looked sharply, surprised. "Yeah."
in case you ever wondered when it happened for me? It was just now."
was stunned, until an amazing smile bloomed on his face.
nodded, not a trace of hesitation. "Anyway, I need a co-pilot.
I'm doing a shakedown of the new battery equipment. Are you busy?"
at all." Tai agreed.
two of them, very calmly went to the Submarine Bay and stepped into
Tai took the copilot's chair and called for clearance to leave.
of it was very routine, very practiced.
this what life with him will be like? Cora
asked herself as the Hydra
sped away from everyone, leaving them alone in the ocean. With barely
a glance at him, she reached under her console and hit the switch
that jammed the listening devices. It wasn't uncommon for them to go
for long stretches without saying anything.
licked his lips for a moment, and then keyed a button on his console.
The turbine controls between them retracted, to give them both room
to stand up. But instead of standing, they turned their seats toward
each other, and leaned in close for a soft, lingering kiss.
broke the kiss but stayed close, resting their foreheads together,
breathing each other.
He sighed. "Life just got a lot more complicated, didn't it?"
smiled happily. "Oh yeah, we're good and doomed." She
kissed him quickly again, and then pulled back. "Well, you're
doomed. Dad can vanish you much easier than me."