announcement just kept playing on every terminal, over and over.
Every public place, every intersection, everywhere Cora looked, her
father's face was beaming back at her; declaring the news. "We're
going back! We're all going back!"
moved faster each time she heard it again. The people of the Ark-Hive
were in shock, some with tears streaming down their faces. Some
looked terrified. Cora just moved faster until she was almost
running, but she forced herself to walk normally. Don't
run, don't draw attention, don't get noticed, don't run!
made it to the elevators and found Tai waiting for her when the doors
opened. She immediately felt better. How
can just seeing him have that effect, today of all days?
anything interesting happen to you today?" He asked, unflappable
as always. It was just an ordinary day with him, and as the doors
closed, she fought the urge to kiss him square on the mouth just for
being unimpressed. She immediately made a hand signal that anyone who
worked out in the ocean would recognize.
made a gesture back. ‘Soon.’
didn't react, audibly. The elevator was being monitored, like
everywhere else in the Ark-Hive. The elevator moved, and Cora made
the best of it. When it was just them by themselves, the problems of
the world seemed far away. "So, how's everyone reacting in Green
couldn't be more excited."
know how they feel.” Cora said. “I couldn't believe it when I
heard the announcement."
saw you on the dais." Tai commented. "You looked good up
there, surrounded by the Committee. You looked very poised, very
natural. You'll make a fine Director, on the surface or not."
conversation was stilted, awkward, professional... it was like she
was still talking to her dad. The doors opened in Green Sector, and
Cora led the way out.
Don saw them come into his private lab, he gave them both a careful
look, and hit a button on his TABB. "Gold Sector, this is Green
One, I'll be running an acoustics test on one of my aquatic
specimens, and I will need the monitors switched off. Access Code
The answer came over the Comm, and then the camera lights switched
trust that?" Tai asked.
for a second, but I can run my jamming equipment without them being
able to call me on it."
long?" Cora asked him evenly.
few minutes. Long enough to have the conversation." Don promised
her. "Did you know about the Landfall announcement?"
found out when you did." She promised them both.
wouldn't he tell his daughter?"
saw the reactions. He didn't tell anyone." Cora told him. "If
I'd known, I would have found a way to warn you it was coming, though
I have no idea what we could have done about it."
very little." Don conceded. "But that's all in our wake at
this point. What worries me is this: You've been rigging the Drone
Tests of the surface for the last five years.”
do the tests actually say?” Tai asked with interest.
surface has been improving steadily since the Second Ice Age ended. But
we’ve kept all the readings on the wrong side of ‘borderline’
for a while.” Don told him, “The next test wasn't scheduled until
next year. Why did he move it up to last week?"
don't know." She whispered.
only thing I can think, is that the Probe launched while you were out
of the Ark-Hive." Tai put in. "You couldn't rig it if you
only found out after it launched."
has me worried too." Cora agreed. "But that's in our wake
by now as well. What matters now is Landfall. How does this affect
growled. "We expected much more time. Landfall has turned our
five year plan into a five month strategy. Our best projections say
that we'll only get two thirds of our Exodus preparations finished in
that's why." Cora suggested. "By taking the whole Ark-Hive
by surprise, he may want to flush us out. Or at least rush us enough
that some of our people will make mistakes and get caught."
he didn't tell you." Don repeated. "Do you think you're
sure I'm not."
The Director's promoting me." Cora said quietly. "I just
don't know where yet. He's being a lot more cagey than usual."
it's me." Tai said suddenly. "I was out of the Ark-Hive
too, when it launched. Cora told you there were breadcrumbs that led
to me. If the Director suspected me of
Aquan, then maybe he moved up the Probe because he thought I was the
one rigging them."
Cora said with certainty. "If my father suspected you, you'd be
screaming for mercy in the Quay by now."
glad you're a pilot. You'd make a lousy doctor with that bedside
manner." Don joshed her. "All right, marching orders. Tai,
tell your contacts to curtail their skimming. It'll be all hands on
deck, and if everyone's busy, one of our more eager members might get
bold enough to take something we can't cover for."
whatever your promotion is, you're still a pilot in the short term. I
want you talking to the Outpost commanders. We know four of them will
back us. Find out what their contingencies are for evacuation or
seizure. One way or another, I don't think the Domes are going to be
in play much longer."
Domes are the entire Ark-Hive." Cora blurted in shock. "What
exactly do you mean by, 'not in play'? You wouldn't..."
No strikes against the Domes." Don promised her. "I guess
you haven't read the Landfall Charter. No reason you should, it's
been completely irrelevant for centuries. But the original plan, back
when the Ark-Hive was a temporary measure, was to detach them and
float them up to the surface as a temporary Surface Base."
Domes can float?" Tai was stunned.
Domes can detach?" Cora was equally stunned.
you can imagine the problem. All our plans were for us to have at
least one of them under control, at least for the first stage of our
transition. But with the whole place being ordered to prepare for
Landfall, I don't know what we'll be left with."
importantly... how many people will want to go back to the surface?"
Tai put in. "Every plan I've heard was just for the Aquans we've
already got on side. At least some of them might decide to go for it
if they've got a wide open Earth to live in."
at least some of those that we haven't recruited will prefer to stay
in the ocean; a place they've known and grown up in and lived in for
a dozen generations." Cora pointed out. "Isn't that the
whole point of the Aquan movement? The idea that our time on the
surface is long done, and the ocean is our home now?"
so many centuries, what is there to go back to?" Don asked
logically. "The world was spent. Sucked dry and spat out. And
that was centuries ago. Maybe it's all healthy and beautiful again,
but the air only just became tolerable for us. Who knows what kind of
plants and animals might be up there now; if any of them are left."
Ocean is a known quantity." Tai put in. "That'll be enough
for most people. The surface doesn't hold any appeal for anyone, no
matter how many stories we've heard. Nobody's factored Landfall into
their plans for their kids."
matter." Cora waved that off. "The Great And Powerful
Director Poseidon hath spoken. He decides we're all going back, and
everyone's too scared of him to say ‘no’ to his face."
and Tai traded a look. She could practically read their mind.
shook her head slightly. She was the Director's Daughter, but that
didn't make it easier for her to defy him. "Man, we were so
years." Don said absently. "But now we've got four months."
I might have less than that." Cora put in. "The Graduation
is in a few days. And my father has been sniffing around some of the
students. He says... He says it's time I took on an apprentice."
Don hissed, annoyed. "Of all times?"
He's right." Tai spoke up. "Cora's the right age, and she's
got duties that take her through different outposts. She should have
received an apprentice months ago. Holding off is just as awkward as
having one assigned."
a bad time for Cora to have a pair of eyes on her every second."
Don argued. "Especially when The Director is choosing whose eyes
we... adjust the course?" Cora suggested. "Because we all
know that most of our people get recruited when they're at the
Apprentice level. If I had some say over who got assigned to me, this
could be an advantage."
nodded and checked his TABB. "We're running out of time on the
jammer. Calm your contacts. There's going to be a lot of panic, and a
lot of uncertainty out there after the Announcement. Don't leave them
alone long enough to stress themselves out. Assure them that we're
prepping for this. Their plans changed, so have ours."
are we supposed to get to all of them?" Tai asked logically.
"Transportation and assignments between the Outposts are watched
closely at the best of times. How do we do it now? Especially if Cora
has to babysit someone the whole time?"
it out." Don told them, as though it was just a matter of
thinking about it a little harder. "Cora, do you have someone in
mind as a preferred apprentice?"
haven't met any of the students up close yet. But actually, that
raises a problem." Cora began. "Tai's the right age as
well. And once the Graduation Ceremony is over, he'll be assigned an
apprentice too. How do we stack the deck with two
apprentices? One is pushing it."
chewed his lip. "There's a way. Have Tai declared your Co-Pilot
on a permanent basis. You're Gold Sector. It's within your rights to
select your own crew. After the announcement, there's going to be a
lot of traffic."
father won't want her driving that much." Tai argued.
if my dad wants me on the Board, or as his assistant, I could run a
lot of missions for him. You know he hasn't left the Ark-Hive in
years. Having his daughter as his go-between is good politics. I
could have you declared my co-pilot for when I'm on missions, and as
my sub-driver for official visits."
you two are paired up, then regulations say you can split a single
apprentice between you. So we'll need to fix your simulator scores."
Don began. "Though not by much. You two work together well. And
once you confess to your dad that Tai is your boyfriend too-"
Cora blurted, flushing.
blinked. "Oh. Sorry. Was that a secret?"
and Tai traded an awkward look. "Masters of deception, are we
the perfect cover story, though. If you two go everywhere together?
The questions stop with you being a couple. Anyone who suspects you
will stop looking at that point."
had been very quiet during all this.
suddenly noticed him not saying a word. "Tai... we do this, your
career begins and ends with The Director's Daughter. You're at my
level, and you're a good driver. We do this, and you're basically
running errands for your girlfriend for life. You could..."
finally spoke up. "Cora, if this doesn't work, I'll be clapped
in Circular Quay by the end of the year. And if your father has his
way, none of us will be driving subs ever again."
right, then you know what to do." Don said. "Put yourself
down as assistant teachers. I'll run my list of possible recruits and
select the students you train, and I'll see if I can arrange it so
that you only get two in your class."
hope we can spot the one The Director wants us to take." Tai
Days To Landfall
Events had become less common in the Ark-Hive than they used to be.
Cora had attributed it to the way her father faded into his work
after her mother died.
now things were accelerating wildly. Cora was having trouble keeping
up with all the orders her father was sending out.
announcement that Landfall was less than six months away had filled
the Ark-Hive with a kind of terrified energy. Gold Sector was full of
anticipation. None of them had ever seen the surface, and most of the
records of that time had been sealed, or destroyed in the passage of
centuries. But when Cora walked through the Corridors of the Spire,
and listened to the chatter in the Common Areas; they were excited
too. They were preparing to explore the unknown.
down on Green Level, where the rooms were more cramped, and the work
was harder, and the families were held together by proximity; the
fear was greater than the excitement.
of them had ever seen the surface. It had been removed from their
collective thoughts by centuries of willful separation from the world
above. But now that they had the chance to go back...
everyone wanted to leave.
did her best to hold still while Ano fussed over her. "The
stupid suit fit me last time I had to wear it." She complained.
was unflappable. "I don't know why you have to go, anyway. You
haven't been to a graduation since you graduated."
Director's trying to push a permanent Apprentice on me." Cora
sighed. "I'll get dad to give you a raise if you'll go in my
place and pretend to be me."
snorted. "I'm sure nobody will notice the switch." The
older woman commented with light sarcasm. "Besides, I like
fussing over your uniform. It feels like I hardly see you anymore."
felt a spike of guilt. Ano had practically raised her after her
mother had died. In her father's household, hard and unyielding; Ano
was her closest, warmest family. And Ano didn’t know the truth
about her either. There was a solid wall between her and anyone not
in on the secret. “There… is a reason for that.”
know.” Ano said kindly. “I’m glad you and Tai have finally
sorted yourselves out.”
winced. “Did everyone on the Ark-Hive know before I did?”
believe there were one or two Little Fish in Grey Sector who didn’t
know anything about it.” Ano teased. “And I know for a fact that
nobody has the nerve to tell your father.” She chuckled at the open
relief on Cora’s face. “But just so you know, you can’t keep it
know.” Cora sighed. “How bad will it be?”
father is not a warm man, sweetie. That was your mother’s area. In
fact, just between us, I overheard them talking about the day when
their wonderful, beautiful daughter would inevitably fall in love.
They agreed that she would handle it.”
smiled sadly. “I really miss her, Ano.”
older woman gave her a quick hug. “I know, Starfish. So do I.”
I realized… I mean, when Tai…” Cora pulled her head in
awkwardly as she picked up her TABB and started fiddling with it. “I
really wanted to talk to her about it.”
can always talk to me.” Ano reminded her gently. “I’m no
substitute for your mom, I know; but-”
been pretty close for going on a decade now.” Cora assured her, and
subtly turned her TABB around to show Ano the message she’d written
here. Walls have ears.
read the message and her face changed. Everyone knew that the
Ark-Hive was monitored, but nobody really gave it much thought. Cora
wrote more. We’ll
talk later, after dad finds out from someone other than you.
joined her at the elevator to the Observation Dome. The second the
doors closed, Cora made the hand signals for ‘time’ and ‘ready’.
Her expression made it clear she meant it as a question.
nodded, and made the signal for ‘now’.
look good in your uniform.” She offered.
not mine. It was in the Reclaim pile.” Tai offered. “I’m lucky
they didn’t use staples to adjust it for me.”
chuckled. “What do you plan to do when we get back to the surface?”
wonder what will happen to Sub Drivers?” Tai quipped. “Will we
still be partners, do you think?”
we’re not, I’ll quit. Dad can’t do anything about it once we’re
on the surface.” Cora said lightly. Did
you get all that?
She asked the monitors silently.
father will have me killed if he found out.” Tai said, not entirely
not like that, Tai. He’s really a wonderful man, and you know he’s
loyal to his family.” She smirked when Tai gestured for her not to
lay it on so thick. “I still say we should just tell him.”
I thought a lot about what you said yesterday, and… I figured you
might be right.” Tai said, glancing at where they thought the
microphones might be. “I know you hate keeping this a secret. Maybe
we should just tell him.”
wouldn’t be the first team to fall for each other. I sent the
request for us to be permanently assigned together this morning.”
Cora agreed. “I love you, Tai.”
you.” He said back, and pulled her in for a kiss. They kept the
kiss going longer than usual. Cora pulled back just enough to check
the elevator controls. Another
doors opened. Nobody was waiting, but the corridors of the Ark-Hive
were narrow enough that someone was always within sight. Cora and Tai
broke the kiss, as if worrying about being caught out, and made their
way to the Observation Dome. With
Cora thought to herself;
that’ll be enough to get the word out.
took less than two hours for her father to get word.
Director made his speech, once again pushing reminders about
Landfall. The staff of the Ark-Hive was assembled, by rank and by
Department. Cora was a Sub-Pilot, and from Gold Sector, and the
Director’s Daughter. She had a seat in the front row, her father
beside her. The seat on her opposite side was empty, in honor of
where her mother should have been sitting.
Graduation was the most important day on the calender, and it opened
with the Speeches. There was only so far that anyone could advance in
their career, short of founding another Outpost, and there was no
chance of that happening with Landfall so close; so the Ark-Hive
found other ways to show appreciation for their workers. Reputation
was a very powerful commodity.
Department head came up and gave promotions, new assignments, laurels
and praise to various members of their teams.
Director sat beside his daughter and leaned over. “You picked a
hell of a time for this.” He said to her quietly.
got the call already.
Cora smiled innocently at him. “I have no idea what you mean.”
mean your new boyfriend. I told you to just airlock him.”
I’ll have you know that due to his fear of you, Tai was a perfect
gentleman the entire time we were decompressing. Didn’t even admit
how he felt until we got back.” Cora said seriously. “Which
really sucks, because we wasted all that time.”
if you want me to be okay with this, you should stop doing that.”
Her father warned.
was afraid that you would have him killed; and I told him that you
were a wonderful human being who would never be that petty or cruel
to someone who meant so much to his daughter.” Cora gave him a
cunning grin. Your
move, old man.
The Director sighed. “You’ve put me in a bind there, daughter
grinned. “The request for assignment changes has already been sent.
Wayde should have it ready for a signature soon.”
problem.” The Director commented. “You and that guy are supposed
to be assigned your apprentices. I’m about to appoint them to you.
I’ve bent the rules far enough because of your special status. If
you’re a permanent team, there’s-”
have to pick one of the two.” Cora agreed. “But there’s going
to be plenty of jobs open over the next four months.”
orders have already gone through.” The Director pointed out.
handle it.” Cora said. “You know, dad; I can’t help but notice
that since we started this conversation, you’ve never once asked if
I’m happy, you have no comment on the fact that I’ve actually
fallen in love; and you haven’t even said his name.”
Director scowled. “Um…”
Cora supplied with a sigh. “His name is Tai.”
Tai.” The Director scowled again, but tried to hide it, aware of
how public they were. “Which apprentice are you keeping?”
you at the debrief tomorrow afternoon. Can’t pick a winner till
I’ve met them both." Cora told her father. "Don't worry;
we'll see what they're made of."
better. One of them is Wayde’s kid.”
that’s the one he wants me to pick. Cora
translated in her head, and put a smile on her face. “So, the
request is approved then?”
Director looked at her, then glanced over at Tai. "Oh, screw it.
You may as well bring him to dinner."
be nice." Cora said sharply. It was not a request.
will not." Her father said simply.
then the crowd started applauding and the conversation was over as
the next Board Member came up to give his speech.
could draw the entire timeline of a person’s life on Graduation
Day. The Observation Dome was split into five sections, according to
age groups. Cora had walked with her father round the edge of each of
them, as The Director oversaw each stage.
was recycled in the Ark-Hive, even the names. Population Controls
were tight, given the constant Resource Balance. When someone died,
their equipment and personal gear was refit and put back into
circulation. The Suits, the TABBs, and various other gear had names
stenciled on the side. It was easier to pick names for people than
still say reusing names seems ghoulish.” Cora murmured to her
know, but it’s out of necessity.” Her father promised. “Like
for us to say. The Director’s Family is the only one that gets a
the only ones that need them.” The Director told her firmly.
smiled at the newest residents of the Ark-Hive, each one being
assigned their new name. It wasn’t a lottery, and there were
relatively few newborns every year, so there wasn’t a fight over
names; but if there was, it was her father’s job to adjudicate.
group over were the schoolkids and graduates. The children were
praised for their best subjects, honored for their accomplishments,
and upon graduation, named as Apprentices. Her father gave each
student their accolades, and each graduate their new assignment. Cora
winked at Nix when her turn came up.
group were the single adults. Carnal liaisons in the Ark-Hive were
fairly frequent, with few other vices so freely available. But
marriages and children were an entirely different matter. While not
exactly having arranged marriages, there was an understanding among
most couples that matches were made for Ration Cards and better
Quarters. Blue Sector had better living arrangements, Green Sector
had better food. It was expected that two people would put their
names down as permanent co-habitants to improve their means. It also
improved the odds of getting a Permit for Reproduction.
appreciate you avoiding your boy-toy’s longing gaze for this part.”
Her father commented.
call him that.” Cora hissed back, keeping her face even. “Tai
would never get permission to move up to Gold Level, and you’d
never let me leave.”
never know. This time next year it may be Academic.” Her father
counting on it.” Cora said with grim irony. “Do we have to go to
the next section?”
do, you don’t.” Her Father said. “But you should anyway. The
not call it off?” Cora wavered. “If it’s the last one…”
we’re still here for now.” Her father told her patiently.
“We have the Lottery for the same reason we have the Quay. There’s only one prison, because we can’t have people think a
violent crime will give them three squares a day and a bed without
duty. Any crime that demands less than a life of hard labor…”
know.” Cora sighed. “What’s the count this week?”
men getting the lash. Usual reasons. Theft of ration, dereliction of
duty. But wh-”
it is!” Cora pointed at the last group. The elderly, the retired
and the Empty Nest family units were all gathered as they put their
names in the Lottery. Cora hated to watch it. Five names would be
drawn out, and those five would be given an hour to say their
goodbyes, before being given the last, and the largest, meal of their
worst part is the looks on their faces.” Cora moaned. “When their
number comes up, the person called is usually… Relieved.”
hate it too.” Her father sighed. “You head home, I’ve got to
meet our Lottery Winners and thank them for their service… And take
their ID’s down to the pool of Newborn’s Names. It’s not easy,
Cora; but this is the circle of life down here, including the 'Early Retirement'.”
Matchings, and Dispatchings.” Cora quipped grimly.
father almost smirked. “Our last Graduation Ceremony.” He said
softly. “Imagine what it’ll be like next year, Cora. No lottery,
the population limits get lighter… Everything we could ever want.”