woke up sharply as the shutters began to retract. She moaned,
wondering if maybe she could sleep a little longer. The water outside
her room was a dark blue, and glowed with the brightness of the
lights from the Grid, which were slightly muted by the lightness of
the water and she yawned; gathering the will to wake up.
was movement outside the Dome and she pried one eye open to watch.
She envied the Dolphins, gliding around so quickly. They were lovely
to wake up to, with their endless play.
then a far more humanoid shape glided over the Plex, right above her
bed, and she squeaked, pulling the covers up over herself. The domes
of all the private quarters were transparent, but they could be
turned opaque; to give her a view or to give her privacy.
she saw it was Tai and relaxed. Reaching one slender hand out from
under the sheets, she pressed a button on the TABB beside her bed and
whispered instructions to it; opening a private channel between her
and the man scrubbing outside her window. “Getting a good view?”
just cleaning the Plex." With perfect innocence, Tai answered.
“The question is, are you
getting a good view?”
clean to me.” Cora got up, made a show of stretching a little, and
came the few feet to the transparent wall of her room; putting a long
soft kiss on the transparent wall between them, as close to his lips
as she could reach...
Tai promptly scrubbed the same spot on the other side with his
She breathed back, reaching for a notepad. Paper was hard to come by,
but living in Gold Sector had its privileges.
I kiss you, even like
I want three levels between us and your father. At least.” Tai
returned, a trail of bubbles escaping from his mask.
smiled at him; and the running joke that had been between them ever
since they became more than co-workers. In the weeks they had become
more than friends, Cora and Tai had been happier than they'd ever
been. “Good morning, by the way.” She said, and then held up the
message she’d quickly scribbled down. Alison
is okay. I got her out and sent to one of the Outposts for ‘hard
relief was obvious from his posture, and he made the hand signals for
before swimming away. Cora tore up the precious page and disposed of
them carefully, taking the special effort to eat one or two bits with
Alison’s name on them.
turned back to her bed, and tugged the sheets into something
resembling order; before dialing the TABB to turn the walls opaque.
She loved Tai, but it was rare that anyone went outside alone,
especially for maintenance, and she didn't want just anyone to watch
her get dressed.
had her breakfast ready when she came into the Common Room. Her
father was still there, which was unusual for this time of day. At
times, Cora was convinced he slept in his office. Ano set a plate
down for her, and she slipped into her seat as though she had been
there the whole time.
got three different readings.” Her father was saying into his
headset. “Is that instrumentation or is someone screwing with it?"
almost inhaled her breakfast. It was a rule in her father's household
that you stayed at the table until your meal was done, and Cora had
other tasks to perform. She was still chewing when she went over to
the Plex tube that ran through their home, along the wall where it
met the corridor. She pressed her TABB to the transparent tube and
pushed a few buttons. The feeder opened, and Cora checked how much
organic matter was being fed into the water. A moment later, the fish
came for their own breakfast, keeping them in one place long enough
for her TABB to get a scan of it.
came over, nudging her playfully. "I wonder why I bother to
cook. You gulp it down so fast; do you even taste it?"
course I do." Cora promised. "How many strings did mom pull
to get the best cook in the Ark-Hive assigned to my dad?"
chuckled, looking at the transparent tube herself. "I could
swear that some of these little guys follow me when I run my
think so?" Cora smiled. "We're doing some pretty wild
gene-hacks, but a fish still has the memory span of... well, of a
know it's silly." Ano waved her off.
not as silly as you think." Cora told her. "I looked it up
when you last asked about it? The last gaps were fused into sections
about a century after the Ark-Hive started. These Aquatic Tubes run
the whole length of the complex. Every Sector, every Level. So, I
suppose it's possible for these fish to follow you... but why would
they want to?"
another check on the sensors, and report back.” Her father almost
growled to whoever he was talking to. He listened for a moment. “Then
check it again.”
sent Ano a look, and the older woman retreated quickly from the room.
Director disconnected the call, and turned to his daughter. “Cora,
what have you got on today?”
tapped the TABB on her wrist, “Uh... I've got an appointment this
morning..." She gestured at the Plex tube, and the frantically
feeding fish within. "And I think the synth-fish are just about
ready for transplanting. I can do that as soon as I get the Hydra
charged up. It'll take most of the afternoon."
your appointment this morning, but assign the transplant to someone
else.” Her father said firmly.
do that.” Cora shook her head. “It's my Life Sciences Project. I
was the one that sold Don on letting me run it from here. I can't
just tell someone else to finish my work, especially since everyone
else who can do it either has a million other things to do, or no
Submarine of their own.”
know, but do it anyway.” Her father said in a tone that allowed no
argument. “I'll make it an order, if anyone wants to pick a fight
with you about it.”
She warned him. “We've talked about this. I have to earn my keep. I
refuse to glide along on the wake, just because I'm The Director's
agree, and I'm pleased that you feel that way.” Her father said
seriously. "But I want you close by today; and I want you to get
an apprentice this week at Graduation. You'll need the assistance."
Cora demanded. “Why this week more than any other week?”
Director sent a glance at Ano. The older woman had developed near
telepathy by now and knew when to leave the room. "Cora, you've
done twice the work of anyone your age, but by now you should have
had an apprentice, you should have accepted a permanent training
post... I love that you're a master of all trades and skills, but
it's time we got serious about your future."
this is it, girl. You've been dreading this for three years; don't
lose it now. Do not lose your temper.
"Dad, I agree. But I know what you mean, and-"
for the best." He cut her off.
fired back. "So when you say 'it's time we
get serious' what you mean is that you've picked a job for me and you
expect me to take it." So
much for not losing your temper.
father's face turned to stone, and his mouth became a thin line.
"Cora, you always knew it was expected that you would take over
from me one day..." His tone changed. "And there are...
shall we say, special circumstances which require you start preparing
was about to fire back when his wording pulled her up short. Her
father chose his words precisely. "What sort of 'special
Director didn't let it show on his face, but Cora had grown up
reading his tells. He was excited about something. “You'll find out
a third of the Deep Range missions have been rescheduled... The Life
Sciences Department has had a block on their Resource Management...”
She spread her hands wide. “What's happening that none of us know
about?!” At that moment, her TABB posted an alert and she waved it
away, impatiently waiting for an answer.
Director raised an eyebrow at his daughter. “You just got done
telling me you didn't want any special treatment, but you don't mind
putting off your Mentorship by two years, and you don't mind asking
for information that nobody else at your rank would have... Pick a
winced, but didn't let it show on her face. Because she'd chosen her
side a long time before, and it was hard to forget that her father
led the opposite side. She waved her TABB a little. “I have to go,
or I'll be late.”
haven't finished your breakfast."
be helped, I'm meeting someone."
your 'appointment'? There's nothing on your schedule." Her
father commented. "Something personal?"
took it in stride. "Ben. He wanted to go over his
simulation results." She gave him a curious look. "Actually,
I was a little surprised to see him in the Simulators. I thought he
was on the short list for your new Assistant?"
father just gave her a mysterious smile. "You don't want to miss
couldn't help but wonder about that smirk as she left. The last thing
she saw was him pulling her plate over. He probably wasn't hungry,
but wasting resources of any kind was the cardinal sin in any
Outpost, including the Ark-Hive.
the lower levels of Gold Sector, away from the Dome, there were
several areas that were not walled off. Cora wondered what they were
built for. As the only space they had, the Ark-Hive reinvented itself
with every new generation. What was a storage space later became a
for now, this open area was a Promenade. Food Court, some shopping
stalls, most of it mobile, all of it run by people waiting for time
and equipment to become available.
DJ Locker was a small eatery, which served tasty food and homebrew
drinks. But it wasn't the food that drew the customers, it was the
place itself. Every building in the Ark-Hive was made out of similar
materials, but The DJ Locker managed to make its interior seem like
something from another world. Cora knew what lumber was, of course.
She had seen pictures, but as far as she knew, there were only a few
things left in the world made of actual antique wood. But the Locker
had made a reasonably good copy of lumber walls, strung with
odds-and-ends from various eras.
while that may have made the eatery popular with a few residents,
there wasn't enough traffic through this area to make it worth the
time for many customers. That vague obscurity is why Tai and Cora
came so often, glad to have their privacy.
can't stay long." She promised. "I'd love to stay longer,
but my dad wants me in more of the Meetings now."
grooming you." Tai commented.
think he is." She admitted softly.
smiled serenely, tracing circles on the back of her hand. "You
could do a lot worse."
cast her gaze about a moment and slid around the table to sit closer.
His arm quickly pulled her close and she relaxed into him.
brushed his lips against her cheek. "When do you have to go?"
told my dad that I was meeting with one of his students." She
told him with a slight smile.
smirked. "If I didn't know you better, I might think that you
the thought." Cora smirked. “I didn't have any luck finding
out what he's doing with the Life Sciences Department. Don says he
knows, and that we shouldn't worry.”
politics.” Tai declared. “The Soldier and the Scientist don't get
on, and your dad is flexing his muscles.”
sat quietly a moment. He pulled her plate over and the two of them
ate quietly, still leaning tightly into each other. "I don't
wanna be Director." She said softly. "He is
grooming me for it, but... I don't want his job."
not you, then who? We could end up with someone a lot worse."
thanks." She snorted.
flushed. "I just heard that the way you must have heard it, and
we both know that's not what I meant. Just think of all that you
could do as Heir Apparent."
was about to answer when her TABB, and the PA came to life at the
same moment. Tai reacted, and she realized he was receiving the alert
too. Tai saw her look, and had a similar gaze. It must have been
something big. As two people with a Big Secret, it made them both
hands will report to the Observation Deck at 1350 today for a
priority announcement from Director Bridger.” The
announcement came in unison from every speaker and screen. “All
Outposts will make similar arrangements for all hands in their
respective authorities. All ships will dock at their most convenient
port and Wet-Workers will cease operations until 1430. Repeat,
Director Bridger will address the population at 1350 today. All hands
are required to attend or view."
announcement stopped, and there was dead silence in the Ark-Hive.
Cora felt her heart pounding. "Everyone? All at once? Ceasing
all operations? Has that ever happened before?"
At least, not that I can think of." Tai looked downright
terrified. "Must be something huge. What do we do?"
to the Observation Dome at 1350." Cora said like it was obvious.
"I'll probably be on stage with the rest of the Board. I'll blow
you a kiss."
will not." Tai said.
smirked and kissed him sweetly. "I'll come and see you after.
Wear your dress uniform again. I never told you this, but I liked you
in that." She kissed him again and turned on her heel, heading
out of their little sanctuary. She could hear the whispers already.
Whatever was happening, it had people nervous. This was a place where
new things were looked upon with secret awe or open hostile
suspicion, depending on which side you took. People in the Ark-Hive
weren't quick to react when something changed.
thought to herself. Whatever
it is, don't let it be something that could put Tai or Don in danger.
Observation Dome was the only place in the entire Ark-Hive that was
open to people from every Sector. The Dome over the open plaza gave
anyone within an incredible view of the Oceans outside.
Cora had never seen so many people in there at one time. The stage
was set up, as it was for graduations and official functions, but the
entire population of the Ark-Hive was present. They lined every
square foot of available space. Balconies and windows across every
building of the Observation Level were crowded with more faces.
was in fine form, organizing people into the most efficient layout so
that the maximum number of people would have a view of the dais. The
stage had been set at the top of an elaborate staircase. The
omnipresent cameras were all recording, with a few mobile ones
surrounding the podium. The stage was a good bit larger, and Cora
suddenly understood the reason her father insisted she cancel her
afternoon. She was expected on stage.
entire Board of Directors was lined up behind her, and she was posted
six inches from the podium, where the cameras were sure to pick her
up. Cora had never felt so conspicuous in her life. She carefully
didn't let her gaze focus on Tai or Don. The rest of the Corps was
nearest the stage in the audience, and Cora wished she could stand
was a great current of energy in the Dome. None of them knew what was
going on, and in such a tightly regulated community, something so
completely out of the norm was intimidating.
then her father came from an entrance somewhere and took the stage.
Someone cued him, and he began to speak. “When the Earth died, The
Ark-Hive was established. The ocean was sick to the point of
poisonous, thick with garbage and waste and chemicals and decay.
There was so much corruption, that it's a miracle it didn't eat
through the walls. And believe it or not, we built the Ark-Hive here
because it was the safest and healthiest spot left in the world. Now,
nearly three centuries later, the oceans have been restored to health
and beauty. But before the ocean turned blue again, and there was
something good to look at... The interior of the Dome was designed to
project images, much the same way our holographics do.” He gestured
to someone, but Cora didn't see who. “Run it.”
reacted as her father stepped back to be beside her, and threaded his
fingers through hers. It was the first time in years that he'd made
such a gesture. Cora wasn't game to remark on it in front of
everyone, but at that moment all the lights went down. The whole dome
above lit up with a display a moment later. Cora leaned back in her
chair to see it all. A few moments later, her jaw dropped open.
dome had become a dark blue blanket, wonderful and limitless. The
infinite was peppered with shining glowing points of radiant light.
So many points of twinkling light; some alone in the blue-black
ocean; some places so tightly packed together that it had ceased to
be points of light and instead become a fine haze, like the filmy
see-through fabrics that some of the Gold Sector Women wore around
their shoulders. The image was moving as the billion points of light
moved in a flawless pattern of perfect harmony and color.
is it?” Cora whispered, so breathlessly that she barely heard it.
her father heard. He held the microphone in his hand, and told the
whole Ark-Hive what they were looking at. “It's The Sky. The sky by
night. Above the surface is a whole other infinite layer, and there
had no idea...” Cora breathed.
image changed instantly, and she gasped. The night sky was now
replaced with a long desolate ocean of pale white, that did not move.
There were small spiny creatures that Cora couldn't begin to guess
at, scuttling along the bright glassy surface.
sand.” Her father said, divining her confusion, and he continued to
explain to everyone, though he was only looking at his daughter.
“You've seen sand, but not like this. It's called a desert. A place
without any water at all, or so little of it that the sand goes on
forever without water on it.”
image changed again, and Cora felt her jaw drop right
to the floor.
Water, at last, something she recognized. Huge amounts of water, but
seen from above,
as it cascaded over a ledge. The water changed from a blue she
recognized to a stunning white froth; churning together as it came
hurtling over an edge she couldn't see and crashing to a depth she
couldn't make out. The lines of falling waves went further than the
recording could show her; the falls just going on forever and ever;
as myriads of multi-colored light shone out from the sparkling mists.
Her father said gently. The whole Dome gasped. He had them all under
an incredible spell, and Cora suddenly realized that she wasn't the
only one having a complete brainlock at the images. Her father was
showing the whole Ark-Hive. Every outpost, every screen... The
whole human race is seeing this.
image changed again, to show an open space of land. Cora had grown up
in the Ark-Hive, the oceans able to conceal anything more than a few
hundred feet away. She had never seen a horizon before, let alone the
endless flat plains of gently waving green plants that she saw in an
endless carpet. Small colorful plants, ablaze with an incredible
display of variety popped up here and there.
Flowers.” Her father pointed them out.
creature floated across the sky, as the stingray did over the dome.
Her father named it, and Cora felt her hands tremble.
image shifted again, now a flatter plain with thinner, pale grass.
The image included a trio of animals that walked on four legs,
covered in tawny fur. The group was instantly recognizable to anyone
as a family. One was lithe and lean, the larger one powerful and
covered in a collar of long golden fur... and the smallest was the
single most adorable thing that Cora had ever seen, as it rolled
around playfully on it's back, pawing at the pale grass.
Her father pointed to the animals, and then to the plants. “Trees.”
images came thick and fast then, too fast for her to contain herself,
too fast for her father to identify anything. An incredible variety
of things that crawled and ran, and flew and scuttled across all
varieties of land and grass, and dirt, and trees. Beyond the scenes
of living things were scenes of people too. More people than Cora
could comprehend, in small villages, or elaborate marketplaces, or
huge silver and concrete cities with towers that reached high enough
to grace the sky.
finally, explosively, it ended, the display going dark and the lights
rocked back and forth on her feet, completely shattered, gasping for
air. Tears were running down her face in gentle rivers; as she
struggled to comprehend the sheer awesomeness of the world above. The
wonderful, beautiful, incredible, incomprehensible world.
lights came back up and she saw they were all having the same
reaction. Every face wore the same look of rapt disbelief. Her father
had returned to the podium. “Three hundred years ago, the world
above experienced Total Collapse.” He declared. “Our ancestors
had all that, and then they sucked it dry. Wasting anything is a sin
on the Ark-Hive, but it wasn't always like that. You just saw the
world of five hundred years ago. There's nothing left. And once it
was gone, what was left turned so toxic that nobody could even try
and restore it.”
let out a cry of pure grief. They had only known such things had
existed for thirty seconds, and already they were horrified to think
of what had been lost.
first of us poured all their hopes for the future into one last gasp
of the human race. Ask anyone who works in the water: One deep breath
is the difference between life and death. The first of us held their
breath for the entire world. Three hundred years later, and here we
are. Grey Sector’s Storage Bays are filled with the stored seeds of
every plant, and the embryos of every animal. Day and night, our
technical skills have given new life to the Oceans, and given us food
words set off a murmur. The surface was never spoken of.
now... for the first time in three hundred years... our surface
probes have declared that the air is fit to breathe, and the soil can
make things grow. What we have done for the oceans, we must now do
for the land.”
silence. The crowd was struck dumb.
our heritage.” Her father said powerfully. “Our forefathers fled
to this place, and we forgot that it was never supposed to be our
home. We were meant to go back. If we couldn't do it, then our
children would; or their children would. We're meant to live on the
land, as were our ancestors and their ancestors before us. The Earth
is our home. The Ark-Hive was just a place for us to survive. And
now... it's the only hope to restore what was lost.”
could hear the ocean roaring in her ears. Roaring so loud she'd
barely been able to make out anything he said, after the words 'go
sounds like an impossible job, to take a dead world, swept clean by
time... and turn it into that, does it not?” He pointed back up at
the Dome, now clear again, showing the ocean outside. “But we've
done it before. We turned the poison oceans healthy and filled them
with life. It took centuries, but we did it. And now that we know we
can, our forefathers can have their last hope of survival fulfilled!”
words set off a roar. A roar so loud that it made the dome tremble,
but Cora was so overloaded by what she'd seen and heard, that she
wasn't sure if it was excitement, agreement, or rage.
been waiting so long, and now at last we can start. We can do what
all of this was meant to do, and start putting it all back!” Her
father's voice roared over the din. “Four months from now, on the
anniversary of the Ark-Hive being established, we fulfill the purpose
that all of this was meant for!” He pointed back at the Dome. “In
four months, there's a whole new world to restore! Four months, and
we can walk without suits, without breathers, without submarines! The
date for Landfall has been set! WE'RE GOING BACK! WE'RE ALL GOING
clapped her hands over her ears as the roar got louder and louder.
The crowd roared, jumping up and applauding, screaming, a lot of them
were weeping, caught up in the energy of the moment. The Dome lit up
again, showing them the projections of surface life. The crowd
reacted again, shock giving way to fascination, and the cheers grew
stronger and hungrier.
couldn't help it. She looked at Don. He was not as enthusiastic. His
eyes were cold and deadly, though a smile was plastered on his face.
He was already adjusting plans, revising schedules, preparing for how
this changed things. Cora gave herself a quick mental slap. She had
been getting caught up too.
entire Dome was cheering, taking up his rallying cry as a chant.
"WE'RE GOING BACK! WE'RE GOING BACK! "
clapped louder than anyone else, with a big smile fixed on her face.
And as her father moved into the crowd, Don excused himself. The
Director was shaking hands, offering congratulations, accepting
praise. He'd never been the most popular leader of the Ark-Hive, but
in the last five minutes, he'd reminded them of the surface. It was a
bedtime story that everyone had outgrown, and he'd just taken them on
a tour, and claimed credit for getting them there.
kept clapping until she was sure that her father's entire protection
detail was focused on him, out in the crowd, and then she slipped
back toward one of the entrances. Once she was alone, she had to lean
against the wall, shivering.
said that all our plans for Exodus were three years away from
She thought to herself.
But we're four months from Landfall.
She told herself firmly. For a moment she'd been uncertain, wondering
if her father had a point. Maybe the flaw in the Aquan philosophy was
just that humans were never meant
to be in the water.
changes nothing. She
told herself again. The
ocean is my home. The ocean is Tai's home. It's Don's home, and I'm
not abandoning her just because my dad told us all to do it.
deep down, she wondered if the rest of the Ark-Hive would still feel
that way. She could still hear them chanting.