on the Ark-Hive ended the day you understood. Childhood ended the day
you understood why Grey Sector was more dimly lit. The day you
understood why nobody made eye contact with the Stingray. The day you
understood why someone you knew for years could suddenly be dragged
away, with a bag over their head... and why everyone looked away when
moment of realization didn't come from the knowledge that something
was terribly wrong with our small Underwater City. The moment came
when you realized there were no options. In centuries past, there
were choices that a person would have, ranging from reporting to the
proper authorities, to an open revolution.
none of those options were available in the Ark-Hive. Any violent
action would be disastrous for the last tiny colony of humanity.
Friend and foe alike would be wiped out, and all hope for the future
would die with them.
that was the point of the Ark-Hive: To be the last, desperate hope of
survival for a people that had wasted their every other chance, and
now clung desperately to the possibility that they would one day be
able to try again.
on the Ark-Hive ended the day you understood why there was only one
chance left, and when it came, each and every one of the few thousand
remaining human beings had to make a choice.
your second chance is the only one your species will ever get, what
do you do with it?
From the Private Journal of Director Cora Bridger, Founder of New
Days to Landfall.
went too deep."
heard him say it, but didn't respond. She couldn't move, and if she
could breathe, it would be hard enough to groan, let alone answer
is he talking to?
told herself. Think!
You were in the Macallan Trench...
remembered the Mission. She was releasing the marker buoys...
left the sub.
opened her eyes with a short gasp of effort. Her eyes hurt. Her bones
hurt. Her ears hurt.
She groaned, realizing.
came to her side immediately. "Hey there." He said softly.
"We're safe. We're in the Macallan Trench Forward Observation
nodded weakly. She couldn't focus, and her head was pounding...
it together. She
told herself. Focus
on details. Focus on something singular. Decompression. You know
about that. What do you know?
tried to remember the briefing. All Sub-Drivers were trained in
recognizing the dangers of pressure changes. Don
gave the briefing. How did he put it?
at pressure, your body adjusts to the external weight of water.”
Don's voice came out of her memory. “But
the nitrogen molecules in your blood do not. Gas can compress a long
way, but when it's inside you, the rest of you isn't so lucky. When
the pressure changes too rapidly, the air in your lungs or in your
blood starts to expand, and your body fluids start to fizz like
carbonates. Treatment: Long term therapy at a tightly controlled air
pressure. Several of our deepest outposts are designed to perform
this very function.”
was working. Her brain had stopped reeling from one thought to the
next. The panic faded, and she focused on her friend. "The sub
cracked? We should be dead."
shook his head. "Not the hull, the engine casings. We couldn't
control the return assent."
groaned. "I remember. The sub lurched, and.... I don't remember
anything after that."
hit your head." Tai filled her in. "Once I got the
thrusters running and you stabilized, I brought us here. It was where
the early Trench
Miners were based, back when the Trench was open. I figured,
if they left anything at all behind when they packed up, it
would the Decompression Chamber."
groaned again, and looked about the chamber as her vision started to
clear. She had mottled bruises on her arms. She'd been driving
submarines since she was fourteen, and knew well the signs of ‘the
Bends’. "Did you report in?"
radio on the sub wasn't working. Odds are, the tossing back and forth
knocked around the antennae." He gestured around. "But even
if we could call for help, I don't know what they're going to do to
rescue us. We’re still below the Green Zone. We'd need to
pressurize for the Ark-Hive. That'll take at least two weeks. We
either do it here or take our chances going back."
held out an arm, and he carefully pulled her to a sitting position.
Her eyes had cleared enough that she could see clearly around the
chamber. It was about the size of her quarters back home, maybe a bit
bigger. The walls were featureless, picked clean, but there were two
bunks bolted into the wall, one above the other. Nothing but metal
walls with rounded corners.
scanned left. A table, also bolted into the wall, with one chair. The
airlock door was intact and sealed... And in the upper corner, one of
the omnipresent Cameras. "The place has been completely picked
clean, but the camera's still on?"
but I don't know if it's working." Tai nodded. "We're a
long way from home." He gestured at the only porthole in the
chamber. “Delphi refuses to leave.”
struggled to the porthole, and found the dolphin's beak pressed up
against the plexiglass. A dolphin was always smiling, but his eyes
clearly grew relieved when he saw Cora was awake.
distress call, right there.” Cora declared immediately.
never make it.” Tai countered. “He went as deep as we did.
Dolphins can handle a lot more than us, but if he went back to the
Ark-Hive, he'd Bend-Out just like we would.”
winced at the thought. “I know. But there's no choice. It's not
like we can bring him in here. He either makes it to help, or he goes
belly up right outside this window.” Through the window she started
making hand-signals. Go.
Find. Human. Get help. Hurry. Danger. Hurry.
head nodded up and down dramatically, and he spun on his tail,
powering off into the ocean. It was dark enough that she lost him
quickly. In her state, Cora exhausted easily, and she settled back on
her bunk. "By the way, why do I have the bottom bunk?"
smiled with affection. "Because I couldn't be bothered hoisting
your unconscious body into the top one."
rolled her eyes a little as she passed out.
Days to Landfall
woke to the sounds of conversation. She could move easier now, and
looked over towards the airlock. Tai was there, speaking through the
intercom at the airlock window. Someone had docked with them. She
rubbed her eyes a moment. "Tai? Who is it?"
looked back at her, startled. "You're awake!" Tai walked
over from the airlock to help her stand, and Cora could see the face
on the other side of the door.
She called out. "You came all the way out here?"
you two are still my best team." The older man said with
came over slowly. “How's Delphi?”
Don reported. “The Bends had him by the gills by the time he made
it to one of our Outposts, but by a miracle, the one he picked was a
Synth-Animal Station; and they had enough gear to put him in
recovery. He's not out of danger yet, but he's alive.” Don smirked.
“Pretty brave partner you have there, Miss Bridger. A lot of
Dolphins would have lost it before getting halfway home.”
joined Tai painfully and sat down. "If you're here, then I
assume my father knows?"
Director sent a care package." Don promised her. "He sends
his apologies, but-"
waved it off. "Dad hasn't left the Ark-Hive for ten years, I
wasn't expecting him to come."
was." Tai mumbled in a low voice from behind her. She pretended
not to hear him.
the airlock door, there was a compartment where they could pass
things through from one side to the other. It had been crammed full
of ration cubes. She collected them, and tossed them back to Tai. By
the time she had turned back, Don had already refilled the
compartment from his side. More rations, a hand-pumped water
purifier, and a small cooker. Don lowered his voice. "Tell your
co-pilot to cook something." He almost whispered to her, barely
audible through the speaker.
pretended she hadn't heard him, and collected the cooker. "Hey,
Tai?" She said as she held the gear out to her friend. "I
think before he leaves, we better make sure all this gear works. I
mean, it's still a fifteen year old pressure chamber. You never know
what we'll need to rely on most."
nodded and took the assorted supplies over to the table, at the far
side of the chamber.
turned back to Don. "I'm a little surprised that you came
yourself. You're the head of Life Sciences, I would think you've got
plenty of things to do."
know, but your father was worried." Don excused. "He wanted
to know you were okay, but he couldn't leave the Ark-Hive. So I
volunteered to come personally. It was my mission that had you two
‘scoping the Trench."
nodded and put her hand up to the glass. "I'm okay. We both
much older man mirrored the gesture. "I know. I'm glad."
His eyes flicked over her shoulder, up to the camera. Cora knew what
he was looking at, but didn't dare turn to look herself. Don lowered
his hand, as though it was nothing more than a handshake. "How
did the mission go?"
got the sensors placed." Cora promised him, but then she lowered
her voice and tilted her head back toward Tai, just a tiny bit. "He
left the submarine. Halfway down that Trench, he just went for a walk
outside. I still don't know why." She licked her lips. "It
doesn't seem likely that I would have been left out of anything
official, given that I was the pilot. I can't believe he had anything
personal going on; not halfway into The Macallan... So what was he
softened. "You're worried." His eyes flicked over her
shoulder, up to the camera. "Have you asked him about it?"
I told him that my memory was a little fuzzy after I got knocked
did you lie?" Don asked quietly.
voice lowered again, becoming plaintive. "I like him, Don. He's
a good guy. We can't just... If he was up to something down there,
and it gets back to my dad..."
smirked a little. "You don't have to worry about Tai. I just had
a chat with him, and I'm satisfied it's not a problem."
reacted. "Then why did he break protocol?"
was... distracted, and more than that I won't say, because it's not
my business." Don told her, reassuring and strong for her, even
through a solid wall. "But your father is going to want to know
what happened. So you two had better put your heads together and...
sort out what went wrong."
translated in her head. Get
our stories straight.
She nodded. "I will."
there anything else you need?"
thought about it for a moment and sighed. "A time machine?"
your father mentioned the date." Her old teacher said softly.
"I'm sorry about missing the fourth."
glanced over her shoulder. Tai had heard that, but wasn't watching
her. "Couldn't be helped. It was going to happen eventually, I
guess." She sighed. "Old traditions. "
the way." Don smirked, his voice returning to normal volume. "I
asked Ano if there was anything you might want from home." He
gestured at the compartment. "She sent a care package. If
there's nothing else, I'll see you in two weeks."
made their goodbyes and Don left them. Cora broke down coughing
again. She noticed a slight movement out of the corner of her eye and
glanced up at the camera. It hadn't changed... And Cora suddenly
realized what she'd noticed. The small red light had suddenly
felt a subtle shiver. When
did it turn off? It was running when we got here. More important, who
turned it off? Cameras in the outposts never stop recording. They
an off switch.
had come over to the box, looking it over. Like all containers in the
Ark-Hive, it was watertight, stackable, with resealable latches. He
opened it, and broke into a bright smile. "Oh, how sweet."
Cora looked over as he pulled out a stuffed blue dolphin, with
polished black pearl eyes. He held up up to her like a beloved pet.
"What's his name?"
flushed a little in embarrassment. "Why did she put that in? I
haven't used that in ten years."
smiled broadly. "I won't tell Delphi; you know how he gets."
flushed, smiling ruefully. "That's Neptune."
his credit, Tai managed to keep from bursting out laughing.
childish, I know." She admitted. "My mom named her."
raised an eyebrow. "Is that a problem?"
was smiling about the stuffed dolphin, but it didn't reach his eyes.
Privacy was a non-existent in the Ark-Hive, especially for
sub-drivers, so you kept to yourself and kept all your most private
thoughts hidden. Cora had known her friend long enough to read the
signs. “Something wrong?”
shook his head, but she reached out and caught his hand, giving him a
firm look, until he sighed and confessed. “Don mentioned that one
of my... appointments was canceled. Alison was arrested this morning.
She got Bagged.”
grip on his arm tightened. “Bagged? What color was the bag?”
Tai told her absently. It had been the first thing he'd asked too.
“But if they took her to the Quay, you know the odds on ever seeing
her again. He looked quietly furious. “She wrote stories, Shells.
She wrote stories, and she got Stung for it.”
know. I told her to pick a less dangerous hobby, but I guess making
hides didn't engage her interest enough.” She gestured to the
sharkskin strap that tied Tai's TABB securely to his wrist. The
Ark-Hive was a working colony, and everyone wore a uniform or a
jumpsuit most of the time. There had been some variety in
accessories, and their friend had made extra income by turning spare
animal leathers into woven bands and straps. “That's one of hers,
isn't it? She was making me one too.”
That seemed to get his attention.
know what it's like in Grey Sector. Rations get tight, so I make it a
point to give them some business. Especially friends of yours.”
Cora nodded. “I didn't know her as long as you, but... She was my
friend too. Brown bag. Not black. There's still hope.” Cora settled
painfully onto the bunk, and Tai came over to sit with her. She took
the stuffed dolphin, and ran a fingertip down its beak with a
nostalgic smile. "Feel the fabric? That's the same stuff our
overalls are made from. Rejects water completely, never soaks in; but
it still feels smoother than skin."
then, that would have been fairly new." Tai observed.
nodded. "This Dolphin was the first thing ever made from the new
fabric. DH Donaldson created the fabric, my mom and Ano stitched it
together into a toy for me, and I was the first one to get my hands
on our new miracle fabric." She shrugged a little. "Being
the Director's daughter has its privileges. I showed Alison something
like this, and... She said she'd try and make something that felt
didn't notice, but Tai winced when she mentioned her father.
was the last gift my mom ever gave me." Cora confessed quietly.
sat together on the lower bunk for a moment, until Cora's eyes
started to droop. The room wasn't spinning nearly as much, but she
had little endurance to spare. Tai squeezed her hand. "You
lay back, suddenly exhausted. He lifted her feet onto the bunk and
slipped her boots off. She could hear him rustling around in the care
package Ano had sent; and a moment later a soft blanket was tucked
around her. It smelled warm and familiar. Ano
sent the blanket from my bed. Some
distant part of her mind thought clinically.
tucked Neptune into her hands and she drifted off, as content as she
could be in the unfamiliar place. Tai
doesn't have anyone left to send him a care package any more.
She thought as she fell asleep. Tai
turned the camera off. How did he do that?
Days to Landfall
passed slowly. As a rule, there wasn't too much leisure time on the
Ark-Hive, or anywhere else in the inhabited ocean. Having to sit and
do nothing was unusual, and the novelty was wearing off. They'd
played hand after hand of cards until their fingers cramped. With
none of their usual work or diversions available, they had to amuse
could watch movies, or something?" Tai suggested.
hardline." Cora reminded him. "A picture of any decent
quality will never transmit through that much water. I don't keep
things stored locally on my TABB, internal or otherwise."
story short? Because my personal TABB is back home, getting a new
wristband, and the one I take out on missions with me is open to my
found that hilarious. "I have a few vids. But you'll have to
watch on my TABB."
to kill an hour or two."
came over and sat next to her on the bunk. She had to lean over him
to see it, but he didn't seem to mind, shifting to make room for her.
As she started to doze gently, he held still, letting her sleep on
Days to Landfall
was healing well, and began some light exercise. Tai's TABB needed
charging after a week, but the chamber was picked clean, and Don's
care package hadn't included a charging unit.
should go over our suits.” Tai said one morning. “They can send
us a ship on auto, but... We walked into the Chamber, we'll have to
walk out again.”
suits were a light yellow. They stood out dramatically against the
water, which was the goal. It made them easy to spot by passing
craft, rescue workers... Cora's suit was marked with a large star
icon on the back, and Tai's with a row of stripes. The identifying
marks were there to make it easy to tell workers apart over distance.
No matter how healthy the oceans were, no natural sunlight got so
deep, and a pair of submariners needed every advantage they could get
in working together.
suits look fairly intact, but the lines were twisted up from the
pressure shifts.” Tai decided after inspecting his suit.
CO2 scrubbers are still sealed.” Cora declared after a moment.
“Means we don't need to take air tanks.”
I hate those clunky things.” Tai yawned. “The breathers may only
last a few hours, but I'd trade an entire Day-Tank for the ease of
too.” Cora smiled. "You ever just... float?" She asked
him, as though dreaming. "Not swim, or try to rise. You ever
just let go of the ground, the sub, everything else?"
nodded, almost eagerly. "All the time. I take my weights out
there sometimes, and I'm careful to be buoyancy neutral. I can't rise
through the water, but I don't sink, because I make sure I'm not
heavy enough. I just... be."
what it is." Cora smiled. “I told my dad this once, he told me
that was just the feeling you get when you sleep.”
the same." Tai declared instantly.
even close." She agreed. "It's the weight. I can feel the
bed too much, and nothing from above. I can feel my weight pressing
me against the cot. When you're in the water, it spreads out
perfectly on all sides, so that you don't feel heavy anymore. You
just... Close your eyes and let it hold you up, hold you still. If
there's movement in the water, you don't even feel it as you move,
because you move at the same rate. When you just let yourself be in
the water, you're part of it..."
like being born, maybe.” Tai crooned. “Being alive without having
to be active. Just existing, connected to something that never stops.
It's very... spiritual."
shivered pleasantly. He understood. It was hard to find someone who
could relate on this subject, and Cora closed her eyes, enjoying the
moment. "Everyone knows that water morphs to fit every shape.
What they don't tell you, is that when you go into the water it
just... fits into you so perfectly. It's like the water welcomes me."
was a pleasant, peaceful silence. Both of them were resting a hand on
the airlock wall, nearly touching, as though part of the ocean
still is great." Cora said with a smile, not opening her eyes.
"You know what's better?"
very fast?" Tai guessed with a grin.
tows me sometimes." Cora giggled. "Speed freaks. All
dolphins are speed freaks." Their hands brushed together by
chance, and she gripped his fingers in her own quickly. "What
must it be like, to be them?"
can't even imagine."
masks, no tanks, no breathers. Just spend all day in that state of...
evenness." Cora marveled, completely at peace. "One day,
I'd like to be like that. Even if only for a little while."
could almost call that the Aquan dream." Tai volunteered.
eyes opened, and she moved away sharply. The spell had been
shattered. Tai sat up too, aware of how badly he'd ruined the moment.
"Sorry, can we just-" He reached a hand out to her but she
was already out of his reach.
if we were back at the Ark-Hive..." Cora said finally. "I
would find something to change the subject. If we were in the Hydra
I'd break the silence with something routine and submarine related."
smirked. "Not a whole lot to distract you in a Pressure Chamber,
smirked tightly and turned away. “I'm making dinner.”
going to sit in here and take my foot out of my mouth.”
left the airlock, and glanced up at the camera. It was still on. She
didn't know if it was recording, but if it was, someone would have
heard that little conversation. If someone heard the conversation,
they would wonder why Cora didn't report it.
he Aquan? Does he think I suspect him? Is he sabotaging my suit right
asked herself sickly. Would
he have the nerve?
felt sick. She thought of Alison. Alison was a friend, and she'd been
Bagged for such a trivial thing... Tai was her best friend. She
couldn't let him get found out.
anything to find out.
Days to Landfall
dinner was great.” Tai offered.
you.” Cora said politely.
was almost the first words said between them since the awkward
incident in the Airlock. Cora had waited until Tai went to sleep, and
checked her gear again. He hadn't tampered with it, and she kicked
herself for thinking Tai capable of such a thing.
there was an incredible tension between them now. She had to do
I've never asked you, Stripes...” She licked her lips. "Why do
you call me 'Shells'?"
don't like it."
have no problem with it as a nickname, but I don't know where it came
from. I call you 'Stripes' because of the pattern you have on your
wetsuit. But my suit has a star pattern. Where did 'Shells' come
almost didn't answer her. "It was your mom." He said
finally, and tried not to lose his nerve when he saw the way she
froze. "She was my Mentor when I became an apprentice. One day
she was teaching me about underwater ecology; and about how long
coral lived. She was showing me some of the Coral Fields that had
died off, gone gray."
seen them." Cora nodded.
she was showing me how the Life Sciences division was reintroducing
plant and animal life to all the Grey Fields." Tai continued.
"And the one that adapted best was the Synth-Crabs. Tiny little
shells crawling along endless fields of grey coral. And I had just
met you, and I made some comment about your name being so close to
'Coral' and your mom made the joke that it was either 'Cora' or
rolled her eyes. "She used that joke all the time. Every time I
said I liked something, she'd make the joke that she was going to
name me after it. I was very nearly named 'Dolphin, TABB,
smirked. "Your mom was the first Instructor I ever met that had
a sense of humor."
was great." Cora agreed softly. It had worked. The tension was
broken. “So. We'll be heading back soon. What do you plan to do
shrugged. “I've got some credits saved. Being in here away from
everything gives me an extra week's worth of rations. Maybe I'll
splurge, get a mineral water bath.”
smiled a little to herself.
returned the smirk good-naturedly. “I know, Director's Daughter,
Gold Sector. You can probably have one whenever you like, huh?”
shrugged. “What answer would keep me out of trouble?”
snorted. “How about you? First thing you'll do when you get back?”
check on Delphi.” Cora sighed. “After this many days, he'll
either be out of danger or...”
be fine.” Tai promised her. “Don came out here himself. The Life
Sciences Department? They'll be all over it, taking care of him.”
was the second allusion to her special status as The Director's
Daughter, and Cora was trying to figure it out. He wasn't the first
one to have trouble with it, but this felt different. “Of course, I
don't suppose I'll get much time to visit Delphi.” She remarked.
“Dad will be all over me to get back to work.” She was leading
him. She was giving him the opening to ask about her father's work.
If he was Aquan, he'd make casual enquiries about what her father had
Tai didn't ask, and Cora hoped that was a good sign.
can check in on him, if you want.” Tai volunteered. “He's known
me as long as he has you.”
smiled a little. “That would be nice.”
Days to Landfall
woke up sharply. "What's that?"
groaned from the top bunk, still asleep. "What's what?"
threw back her blanket. "You don't hear that?"
Tai listened closely to nothing, and closed his eyes again. "I
don't hear anything." He groused. A few moments later, he sat
up, alert. "Wait. Yes, I do." He slid off the bunk and went
over to the porthole, peering out into the ocean. "I can see
running lights. They're heading for the Trench." He looked back
at her. "You can hear that?"
travels fast in the drink." Cora excused.
know, but still... What are you, part dolphin?"
chuckled, glancing back at her stuffed toy. "You aren't the
first to say so." She gestured in the general direction of the
porthole. “Our ride?”
think so.” Tai craned his neck. “Looks like a Clipper. It'll be
cramped, but we'll get back to the Ark-Hive quickly. Ten hours?”
twelve.” Cora agreed. “Gotta admit, part of me doesn't want to go
we've got a sub.” Tai gestured grandly at the drifting submarine
outside. “We could just keep going. Nobody's ever really bothered
to explore much beyond the Macallan Trench. If we can make it in the
Dark Water, we can make it anywhere.”
didn't make it, and we nearly died.” Cora pointed out with a tight
smile. “Besides, I wouldn't go without Delphi.”
too bad.” Tai grinned, checking the pressure gauges near the
airlock. “Well, if I'm reading this right, and I'd like to think
that I am... We can go whenever we want.”
went over the few possessions they had, started packing them up. A
Sub-Driver was an expert in packing things to maximize space.
sorry.” Tai said softly. “About the other day.”
tensed a little. “It's okay.”
it's not.” Tai shook his head. “After what the Aquans did to your
mom... Even a passing remark, even just as a joke... It was
incredibly tasteless of me. I'm sorry.”
She shushed him, coming over closer, close enough to touch. It was
the nearest they'd been to each other during their stay. “I love
being out in the ocean. That doesn't make me Aquan, it makes me a
good sub-pilot. I can say the same thing about you. I'm not Stingray;
people can talk around me without being terrified of using actual
caught her hand, squeezing her fingers. “I know. I trust you. But
I'm sorry I made it weird, being locked in here with me.”
wasn't so bad.” Cora promised him. “I just wish you weren't so
good at playing cards.”
laughed and headed into the airlock. Cora took one last look around.
It wasn't as bad as a lot of places that people worked. It was
actually roomier than Tai's room back at Green Sector. But she hadn't
sat still for so long since she was a little girl, and it had quickly
lost it's novelty.
in the airlock, she had the care package sealed, as it had been when
Don brought it. Tai was working his way into the wetsuit. They had
become a lot more comfortable and a lot easier to manage, to the
point where a lot of Wet-Workers kept them on as regular clothes. As
a matter of procedure, she checked the seals at his gloves and
facemask, and he did the same for hers. Cora checked the readouts.
“My scrubbers have enough for another hour. You?”
same. Air won't be a problem.” Tai agreed. “If you like, I could
go on my own, dock the submarine properly. Save you the trouble of
having to suit up.”
faint hint of suspicion came back, but Cora shook it off. If he was
planning to make a run for it without her, he'd missed his chance.
“Nah, I need to stretch my legs. We won't get much chance to do
that once we're on the way home.”