sent Cora a soft look. Cora returned it but only briefly. Usually,
their trip back from the Dark Water would be the longest they had
alone together. But now they had two more people on board. People who
might be allies, but were more likely to tell her father things that
they didn’t dare let him find out.
wouldn’t stop yapping about the whale to Tai. She told him
everything, and then she told him again. Ben, on the other hand,
focused his attention on Cora. He had questions. About the Cache they
had collected, about the people at Cameron Outpost, about how
Lapthorne usually did things.
did her best to answer his questions without actually telling him
anything. She knew that of the two of them, Ben was the more likely
to be put with her permanently.
then, as they approached the Light Waters around the Ark-Hive,
we have you on our screens.” The radio crackled. “Status?”
answered. “Mission accomplished, Ark-Hive. Ship and crew are well.
Uploading telemetry and mission reports now.” He tapped at his
terminal for several seconds, when the screen suddenly went blank.
screen came back, this time with 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.
Pirate Hack?” Ben seemed perturbed.
Members of the Ark-Hive, and all her Outposts." A
heavily modulated voice reported. “You
have been deceived.”
watched the screen with open fear. “Should we be watching this?”
She sent a glance to the omnipresent monitors and cameras. “I mean,
stress, kid.” Cora soothed her. “The entire Ark-Hive is seeing
this. Ditto for the colonies. Even the Stingray’s can only do so
much to keep us all in line.”
now, the Hydra Hawk, the only submarine permitted to run Aquan tech,
is coming in to dock at the Ark-Hive. It’s mission was the capture
and return of a Cache of precious items from the days of the surface
dwelling. These valuables are the only resource that can never be
replaced, copied, or adapted from anything else.”
screen flashed, showing hints of the antiques. Things that nobody
alive would recognize. Memorabilia of all kinds, actual paper books
and photographs, various keepsakes that the original colonists would
never have gotten back.
have been seven discoveries of such caches in the last five years.
But the general population of the Ark-Hive has only been made aware
of two of them. The rest, are locked away in Gold Sector, where only
the Command Level staff and the Board of Directors can even consider
looking at them, let alone sharing in them.”
Screen showed images of some of the Board of Directors going through
the memorabilia, putting some of the priceless items in their own
pockets, poring over the rest. But nobody who wasn’t Gold Level.
a time when the Director himself is insisting that we all return to
the desolation of the surface, whether we want to go or not, he and
his people are refusing to even let the rest of you see what might
even be possible from that world. And why? Because it’s rare, and
that makes it valuable. And anything valuable is kept away from
anyone below Gold Sector.”
screen showed the water-droplet icon again, and went to black.
had already keyed her radio. “We’ll need Stingray guards in the
Docking Bay. We have cargo, and if you’ve had your eyes open at
all, you know what the cargo is. Get there before anyone else does!”
She took a breath. “And somebody better know where I’m supposed
to take this thing once we dock.”
a first timer got a warm welcome. Nix and Ben had taken their first
mission, and made it back safe. There should have been applause, or
at least some recognition.
there was cold anger. They had all seen it. Gold Level Residents got
to drive submarines if they wanted to. But they didn’t handle the
dockwork. By the time Cora had jumped down from the Hydra
and signed in her manifest, a crowd had gathered. They were watching
her with cold, suspicious eyes.
know you. She
thought to them silently. I
know you all. You’re my friends. We talk. We work together every
day. Am I the enemy that fast?
guards came in with their weapons, and their rigid precision, and put
a wall of bodies between Cora and the people who had always been
happy to see her.
felt Tai squeeze her arm for a split second, and she shook it off,
grateful for the quick measure of support. “Let’s get this Cache
stowed away fast.” She told her crew. “Little Fish, I would like
you both there while we catalogue this stuff. I don’t want there to
be anyone thinking that something didn’t make it to where it was
it going?” Ben asked innocently.
question.” Tai said tightly, glancing back at the row of guards
making a path for them. “Once we’re done, report to your
managers. You’ve made it through your first mission, now you need
to know how to report what happened.”
reported to his manager, who happened to be his father, posted
outside The Director’s Office. When Ben arrived, someone else was
waiting for him.
Director was not pleased. “Ben, there were fewer than five people
in the world who knew that the Cache in question had been found. The
Pirate Hack was broadcast within five minutes of your sub arriving.
You hadn’t even docked yet. Who else knew?”
bit his lip. “Sir…”
plainly.” The Director said. “That’s an order.”
nodded. “There were people at Cameron Outpost. They saw the Cache,
hooked up to the Sub. I only got to know a few of the people there,
but Carter? The local Stingray Commander was… well, he was joke.
The Dockrats had him eating out of their hands.”
The Director said with a frown. “It’s unlikely that our
mysterious Pirate is somewhere on the Fringes. He’s too well
informed. But we have a schedule, and we can’t let Dockrats tell
Stingrays what to do, can we?”
Days To Landfall
arrived at her father’s office, and nodded a hello to Wayde. “I
was summoned by the Director.”
you call him that at home too?” Wayde asked. “He’ll be a few
minutes. He’s finishing up a meeting.”
who?” Cora started to ask, when the door opened suddenly.
Carter of the Cameron Outpost was being hauled out of Director’s
office, his uniform stripped to the waist and two tough Stingray’s
gripping him by the shoulders. Commander Morgan was keeping pace with
him, his shark-hide baton already bloodied. None of them even looked
at her as they dragged Carter away.
Carter looked. He looked at Cora, and beneath the fear was betrayal.
He thought she had turned on him. He knew he was doomed, and assumed
it was because of her. She wasn’t so sure he was wrong.
he asks, tell my father I’m late because I had to use the head.”
Cora told Wayde, and hurried off.
jumped as Cora burst into his laboratory. The look in her eyes was
wild, and he read the room quickly. He reached into his pocket and
hit the button. "Speak quickly. I can only keep us quiet for so
long. And you'll need to think up a reason if anyone asks why you
came running in."
gotta get our people out of Cameron Outpost." Cora breathed.
"Carter just got dragged in by Morgan. It's a matter of hours
before Stingray cleans out the rest of our people."
late." Don admitted regretfully. "Lapthorne called in. Even
as he was contacting us, he was dragged away in Cuffs. I'm still not
sure that they haven't tracked that signal he was sending."
winced. "If... No, never mind."
knew what she was asking. "It's not your fault." He
promised her. “New Commander at Cameron will likely be Adamson.
He’s one of ours, been waiting for a chance to be useful to the
cause. Of course, he’ll have to wait for his chance until things
cool off over there. I don’t know who Carter’s replacement will
what happened to Carter, he won’t be as easy to handle.” Cora
not your fault.” Don said again. "It's a war of ideologies,
and we've got four months left until we reach the point of no return.
It's going to get worse before it gets better. That's not your fault.
If the Pirate Hack didn’t set him off, something else would."
you the one behind the broadcasts?" She asked him softly.
shook his head. "No. One of the downsides of working as a Cell
Group. I'm not a hundred percent sure that the broadcast is anyone
connected to us at all."
glanced back at the door. "We've been talking too long."
She told him and turned to go. “It had to be Ben. He and Nix were
the only ones at Cameron Outpost that weren’t already on our side,
and I can’t believe Nix would rat.”
TABB chimed, and she froze when she looked at it. “It’s from
received a call from Cameron Outpost."
Bridger looked up from his desk and found Cora coming in. "You’re
late." He told her. “Sit.”
blew right past that and stayed on topic. "The new Commander
there wanted to assure me that the Outpost stands ready to provide
whatever the Ark-Hive should need during the Transition period to
Landfall." Cora reported.
The Director said shortly.
did he call me?" Cora asked tightly. “I saw Carter getting
dragged out of here not ten minutes ago. If there’s been a change
of management at Cameron, why is the new guy calling me and not you?”
told Wayde to route any calls regarding transition to you." The
Director sighed. "You wanted to know if I was grooming you to
take over, or to take a post on the Board. That may be, but first you
have an entirely different job."
transition." Cora guessed.
The Transition Team is run by me. But you've spent as much time out
there, bouncing around the Dark Water, as anyone else alive. As my
daughter you have the implied authority, which is something nobody
else has had until they were twice your age. You have relationships
with the Outposts; which is going to be vital for the next few
just looked at him.
Management." Her father declared.
felt her stomach jump up next to her heart. Resources were the
currency of the Ark-Hive. It was a closed community, and the last
refuge of the human race. Every time someone breathed, someone else
had to grow algae to replace the air. Any time someone ate, someone
else had to collect more food. Any time someone needed a sub, nobody
else would be able to use it.
now that The Director had declared they were all moving, never to
return; the constant negotiating, bartering and trading of resources
had kicked up into a whole other gear.
is no way, no way at all; that you'll be able to get the rest of the
Committee to agree to putting your own daughter in charge of Resource
Management." Cora declared. "I'm not so sure that they'd be
wrong to criticize."
we only have to keep ahead of things for four months."
we don't." Cora insisted. "In four months, we're on the
surface. No Domes, no supplies, no buildings, no quarters, no
furniture, no nothing. If they already hate you... hate US, before
they even get that far..."
broke off when she saw him looking at her. There was something new in
his eyes. Something he hadn't shown since her mother died. Cora
hadn't realized how much she missed it, or even that she'd missed it
was proud of her.
She asked him, unnerved; right before she got it. “Ohh, that was a
test, wasn’t it?”
passed. So, we're dealing with a Public Relations problem." Her
father drawled. "Second rule I ever taught you?"
bring up a problem without a solution." Cora recited. "I
hate that rule. It means the only problems you know about are the
ones that are already fixed."
you have a solution or not?" He smirked.
he's still smiling.
Cora knew him well enough to know he had three or four faces he
showed when he wanted to appear agreeable. The smile on his face
wasn't like any of them. He was actually proud of her.
Yeah, I have an idea." She heard her voice say out loud. This
is freaking me out! "But
it's kind of a difficult ask. For sure, nobody else on the Board will
think of it."
before you make it my decision, you should hear what I have to say
first." Her father warned. “Because I have another assignment
was the strangest thing." She murmured.
still your father." Tai offered. "I only know him as 'The
Director' but surely there's some love there. I mean, he might be our
enemy, but he's family to you."
know that. I mean, intellectually, I know that. But he's never shown
it. Not once, since mom died. I... I'm ashamed to admit this, but for
a long time, I wished Don was my father, and not him."
if your father and you have finally found some common ground..."
Tai hesitated to go further, and Cora suddenly realized why he looked
leaned in closer and gave him a soft, lingering kiss. "Tai, I
didn't become an Aquan out of a fit of teenage rebellion. If my
father suddenly became a cuddly stuffed toy, I'd still want to stay
in the ocean. It's home. It's... Nix was walking six inches off the
deck after making friends with the whale. That's me, every time I go
outside. It's what we talked about in the Chamber; about how the
Ocean connects to itself like a second skin, so when you're out
there, you're connected to everything. I can't let that go."
held her a little closer, and she nuzzled into it gratefully. After
the meeting with her father was over, she had to talk to Don, and he
was out on assignment. There was no shortage of work for Submarine
drivers, so it wasn’t hard to slip away for an hour with her
She sighed. "He was proud of me for reading the population. It
wasn't anything I did, or the fact that I was his daughter. He was
proud of me for being a politician. His only point of pride was that
I was thinking the way he does." She sighed. "Sorry."
what?" He asked her.
don't get a lot of these private moments. Routine runs in the Dark
Water only gives us so long without anyone listening; and now we get
one trip in three without little ears in the backseat listening to
us." She sighed. "I'm sorry that I keep turning these trips
into my own private therapy sessions."
chuckled. "You are... the most capable person I've ever known. I
don't know what I have to offer that you can't handle yourself. But
you know what? We've got a great big world outside. And it's ours.
When we get out there, you'll be needed. I'm always going to be ‘the
guy standing beside Cora Bridger’; but next to you is the only
place I want to be. It’s not a hardship."
sell yourself short." She told him. "You're as central to
the team as I am. All the Cell Groups out there and The Chief in
here. You know as much about the network as I do. If something
happened to me, you could take it over without missing a beat."
shushed her. "Don't say that."
let it go because she didn't want to fight about it, but inwardly she
believed she was right. “Anyway, he said ‘no’ to my idea.”
out the latest Cache to the general population?”
that was always a pipe dream. Not enough to go around.” Cora
admitted. “But the whole idea of the surface treasures is that they
get given to people who show some kind of excellence. They’re
priceless rewards. He could at least try and let some of these
priceless items get to people who are deserving at Green Sector and
below.” Cora yawned and settled in tighter. “Someone like you.”
snorted. “He give a reason, at least?”
opinion is that the Pirate Hack forced his hand.” Cora explained.
“He can’t follow an idea that comes from an opponent. He just
can’t show that much compromise.” She was silent a moment. "Tai?
If we manage to pull this off... If we actually get to leave my
father and all the rest of them behind? What happens then?"
word. Vague word." Cora argued. "I mean... We both know how
to live off the oceans. We know how to rig a container up as a home,
and pressurize a cave. Those are basic survival skills for Dark Water
Drivers. Anyone on Team Aqua knows how to find food, and filter
drinking water... We do this right, and we won't just be living in
narrow outposts. We'll have the whole ocean to lose ourselves in."
me too." Cora admitted. "But I don't think I can do that
any more. One way or another, I'm in the middle of this now."
were always in the middle of this." He told her. "Being
your father's daughter put you in the middle of this. And I liked
that you were one of us. Everyone in the Ark-Hive spends their lives
under a thousand eyes, and I felt better for it, knowing that you
were watching too. Don may be the head of the Aquas, but you were
always the heart."
biased." She kissed his nose impulsively.
I am." He chuckled and kissed her ear. "But it's true. When
one of us has a problem, we go to whoever we know in the network.
When we can't help ourselves... most of us look to you." He
sighed. "And given what you've just told me, you're on the
inside with your father in a major way."
has me scared, to be honest." Cora admitted. "My father
moved me onto the Board, or at least a lot closer than I was. He's
promoting me. A lot. More than he should."
things are happening a lot faster than they ever have." He
soothed her. "It's jarring, but... Could it be, your father has
confidence in you and love for you, and at last he's got a way to
could just say something."
was a time I was too terrified to say something." He reminded
her. "It's not always that simple. For someone like your dad,
giving promotions is easier than being honest."
was certain, he was gentle, he was sincere, and she relaxed into it.
The creeping sense of nerves that her father's sudden personality
change had brought about began to fade, just being alone in the ocean
with the man she loved. "I don't want to be vital." She
confessed quietly. "I want to go out into the water and leave
the Domes behind and not have to worry about all the people we know
being in danger."
a little while yet, you've got a job to do." He told her. "And
my job is to be the one you count on while you do your job. But
eventually, this crusade will be over."
let out a breath. "I'd like to head west. Out past the Dark
Water. I... I've heard about the waters in the Pacific. There have
only been two probes that transmitted from that far out. They say the
water is clear and warm. They say the whales and the dolphins are
attracted to the warmth, so there's plenty of life."
ever been out that far." Cora mused.
be in Ocean nobody has ever seen. Warm and clean and untouched. I'd
like to go there one day, with you."
would like that." She said softly. She knew it wouldn't happen.
It was a dream. One that she felt incredibly drawn to. "I would
like that very much."
have to come back, of course." She said finally. "I mean,
we can hold out pretty good. And if we took supplies with us, we
could set up a pretty nice little private kingdom for ourselves. But
without the rest of a community, there's only so long we could last
it alone." She chuckled. "Believe me, babe: If it was
possible to last out there solo, more than half the Aquas would have
stolen a sub and gone for it long ago."
was about to answer, when Cora’s HUD lit up with a sudden warning.
Waters! No Submersible Craft!
saw it, and they both straightened up, heading back to their posts at
the controls. "How long will you need?"
too long, once I find him." Cora turned the sub quickly to kill
speed. As the sub halted, she rose from her seat, kissed him swiftly,
and collected her facemask.
waters were not uncommon around their outposts; especially in the
science stations. She would have to go closer on foot. The Plains
were close enough to Ark-Hive depth that she wouldn't have to
She thought distantly to herself as she snapped the seal shut on her
wonder how we'll do that. Landfall means going above the Blue Line.
Nobody's done that in centuries.
set her TABB to make the Hydra
hover, and let herself out the floor hatch.
didn't see much more than rock and silt as she walked. She could have
used her suit turbines to stay off ground level, but if the place was
restricted, she had no idea what the sound of her suit jets would
stir up, so she walked, watching where she planted her feet.
glow took her by surprise. She looked up and saw a line of
purple-white light, zipping back and forth in front of her face.
She'd never seen it before. At least, not at this depth. There were
fish that glowed with natural, biological light. But none of them
ever swam at this depth.
fish clipped up quickly toward Cora, drifting a few feet in front of
her. When it stopped, Cora was able to focus on it. It was a regular
clownfish, the kind that lived in the Reefs. But its white stripes
were glowing brightly.
Cora switched off her suit light to get a proper look at it, and
keyed her TABB to turn off the Hydra
lights as well. Aside from the fish, there was no light visible, as
the rest of the Ocean by Night went dark...
then everything lit up brightly.
laughed automatically, delighted. Huge schools of fish had suddenly
lit up, replacing the lack of light with their own brightness. It was
soft and natural light, but there were thousands of fish, creating
explosive waves of light that moved wildly back and forth as whole
schools, whole multitudes of fish gleamed brightly. The ocean itself
was a canvass of beautiful light.
like it?" A voice called over her TABB.
She called back. "Where are you?"
huge clouds of fish seemed to... shiver, as though every fish in the
group was suddenly aware of a predator, and they schooled apart. The
effect was like two curtains of living light being pulled back to
reveal the stage beneath. The huge volume of fish began circling in
two points, and between them, Don became visible. He was wearing his
own EVA suit, tapping at one of the outdoor mobile workstations,
usually used for running digging equipment. She strode over to join
him, eyes glued to the light show overhead. "How are you doing
bio-luminescence into species that don't usually have it is a
relatively easy gene-hack. We've been doing that since the 21st
century." Don told her. "But getting them to respond to
stimuli... that's fairly new." Don gestured, and Cora strained
to see through the clouds of fish, getting a look at tower points
within. "I managed to get them to respond to the electrical
patterns. Some animals track by scent, some by sight, and some can
detect biological energy fields. They can sense electrical fields.
With a little luck, I was able to breed that into some common fish."
they sense the energy coming off those tower lights, and they...
what? Chase it? Attack it?"
like that." Don nodded. "You dial the power up and down a
tiny bit, you can make them follow, or stay in one place. Beyond
that, all they need is food. It takes less than a tenth of the power
of running the actual electrical lights, because of course…"
the light they generate is natural." Cora nodded. "A mobile
floodlight that keeps breeding and going where you call. No
maintenance, no parts required."
nodded. He then signalled her silently with one hand. A hand signal
she recognized. "So." She said brightly. "The Director
wanted me to talk to you about laboratory schedules."
nodded, working his TABB. "Naturally. Now that we're going back
to the surface, I imagine we'll need to adapt a lot of our biologies
to live in dirt instead of tanks."
nodded. "Can I give you a hand with this equipment?"
glad to have an extra set of hands." He said graciously, tapping
away at his TABB. An instant later, he held out a hand.
for the cue, Cora handed him the other end of the tether. He attached
it and spoke to her in a lower tone. "Signal-Jack is active.
They'll be hearing chit-chat for a few minutes."
Director finally gave me my new assignment." Cora made her
report. "I had to come tell you."
I ask, do you always refer to your father as 'The Director'?"
Don asked her with some amusement. "Because it's a little..."
know. You aren't the first one to say so." Cora admitted. "But
we’re the only family in the Ark-Hive to have a surname, and I
think... When we discuss this sort of thing, it helps not to think of
me as his daughter; given how he's likely to react when he finds
the time that happens, we'll be on the far side of the Outposts, and
we won't be back."
will anyone else, if the Earthers manage to pull off Landfall."
Cora commented lightly. "But I may be able to help you there."
new post: Resource Management."
laughed delightedly. "Oh, my dear girl. You hit the jackpot."
smiled. "You would have been proud of me, Don. I got the
assignment and I acted like I was being punished. It was all I could
do to not turn cartwheels."
let out a breath, a cloud of bubbles floating up from his mask. "So.
With your new job, I imagine you have a pretty good idea of the
resources of the Ark-Hive?"
out what's available isn't the problem." Cora told him. "The
problem is that for every person and project that needs something,
we've got enough resources to satisfy about two thirds of them. And
that's not even counting our 'extra-curriculars'. In fact, The
Director told me to shut most of your Bio-Tech projects down in favor
of what we'll need for Landfall."
you keep ahead of it?" Don asked her.
can. But I need to know how much of what we're doing here is
absolutely necessary, and how much of it can wait until after
rather depends on how much the Earthers are leaving behind when they
head for the surface." Don commented.
that's my job." Cora nodded. "To figure out how much we can
take with us." She hesitated. "Without getting caught, at
let out another breath. "Well then. It seems you've been put in
the most pivotal chair in the world."
nodded weakly. "I know."
noted her tone. "You are... upset?"
more than anything." Cora admitted. "What we're doing here
will decide the fate of the entire human race, to say nothing of all
our lives. The finish line just suddenly got so... real; and I'm a
little... scared out of my mind."
if it helps, I believe you can do it; and I'll feel better knowing
you're in the mix." Don checked his TABB. "The signal block
has been running too long. We'll have to wrap this up quickly."
He looked back at her. "With your new post, you'll be on the
move. We'll have to accelerate the removal of your apprentice."
He glanced over. “By the way, you were right. Nix was assigned to
me. She’s glad to be around living things, but I think she really
wanted to be out there with you.”
mutual. Ben’s trying not to freak at the idea of spending so much
time on the Deep Ranges.” Cora nodded. "That's the other
reason why I came to see you. We'll need to arrange an argument."
nodded. "I'll arrange a suitable point of friction with your
father by the end of the day."
be tricky." She said with grim irony, and disconnected the
tether between them.
appreciate your help with this, Cora." Don continued, as though
they hadn't been speaking the whole time.
all hands on deck, after last week's announcement." Cora said
I know it. Your father has me culturing every kind of biologic we
have in Ark-Hive Storage."
we haven't been using?"
we need for life on the surface. The probes can carry up bacterial
and fungal cultures while they check surface conditions; they can
even scatter seeds in the air, but you can’t do that with animals."
I've never seen a land animal before." Cora said brightly.
"Well, I'd better get moving. The one thing nobody has to spare
is time. See you at the next Cabinet meeting."
at The DJ Locker, Lisa and Tony were on a break. Lisa would never
admit she'd noticed, but Tony was taking more of his breaks to
coincide with hers, and she rather liked it.
Pirate Hack had been seen in the Locker, too. The customers were all
talking about it, but only in whispers. Lisa had long figured out
that the Monitors were offline in the Locker, but she didn't know how
many of the regular customers had figured it out.
knew. That was why when they went on break, they only ever went as
far as a private booth. They never did more than talk or eat; but it
was nice, not having to weigh their words.
wonder why the Monitors don't work, but the Pirate Hacks do."
Tony wondered out loud once they were alone. "I mean, if the
screens can't see out like the other public ones can, why do we get
between us, I think that the Stingrays are the ones that shut off the
Monitors in here." She smiled winningly. "I guess even the
Law needs a place to bitch about their bosses."
found that hilarious.
smirked. "I'm not worried. As long as the Director's Daughter is
a regular, I reckon the boss feels pretty safe."
surprised she comes down to Green Sector, since all the good stuff is
in Gold Sector." Tony groused lightly, almost to himself.
heard him anyway. "If you believe it. It's a Pirate Hack, so who
knows if any of it is legit." She saw his face and deflated.
"Yeah, I don't buy that either. It isn't right."
do you think about Landfall?" He asked finally.
a place I've never been. I'm supposed to get excited about it?"
Lisa said with a smirk. "But here's the thing: All the stuff
from the surface? All the stuff that might get us excited about going
back? I've never seen any of it."
be something wild in those Caches." He commented, mostly as a
joke. "All the people who see it would go for Landfall right now
if they could make it happen."
Six months from now, we'll have all of the surface that we can get."
admit, part of me is really excited about it." Tony admitted. "I
mean, it's something neither of us thought we'd ever see. The Land."
Cora? Don't go in there."
turned. Wayde was coming up behind her, waving her off from the
conference room. "Your father is in there with the Life Sciences
Director, and they're having a... 'discussion'."
nice, loud one?" Cora guessed.
enough to strip panels out of the bulkhead." Wayde agreed. "And
just to warn you, I've heard them naming names."
my name one of them?"
was about to answer, when the door slammed back on its hinges and Don
stormed out. "WHEN YOU'RE READY TO SEE SENSE, I'LL BE DOWNSTAIRS
DOING MY JOB!"
and Cora plastered themselves against the wall as Don stormed past.
He didn't even look at them. The door to the Director's Office was
and Cora traded a nearly telepathic look. One
of us has to go in there.
"Arm wrestle you for it?" Wayde asked blithely.
poked her head in the conference room. Her father was brooding over
by the porthole. His frame radiated so much tension that for a
moment, she thought the water outside was starting to boil. "Before
I come in, do I need to go get my wetsuit? If you're going to punch
out a bulkhead, I want to be ready."
Bridger saw his daughter hovering behind the doorframe and gestured
for her to come in and join him. "First rule of handling
shut the door behind her. "In victory, be gracious. In
surrender, use a proxy." She recited from memory. "The
surrender doesn't get done in person unless the victor is your equal
not proxy." He corrected.
remember, but I have the sneaking suspicion that you're planning to
go and make peace." Cora drawled. "It would help if I knew
what the fight was about."
Director sighed. "It's been centuries since we were on the
surface. None of us know what to expect when we get up there. For
sure, none of our immune systems will have any idea what to make of
surface living. Plant and animal species have obviously adapted to
the current conditions, at least enough to scrub the atmo. But..."
we'll need crops to grow, animals to work with, and none of us has
seen a surface animal. Ever." Cora finished. "So what did
you ask Life Sciences to do?"
told him to start work on new land species. Land and air. He flat out
refused. Said that 'in his expert opinion'..."
snorted. "Oh, your favorite phrase."
wants to kick up the breeding cycles for the wild fish to the same
level they are in the food tanks." The Director finished. "It's
like he's not aware of the timetable at all. We need viable animals
by the time we get to the surface."
took a breath and stepped into the ring. "He's probably thinking
that we need food supplies in much higher quantities, if we plan to
live without our food tanks. The Landfall plan you have is for us to
spread out into two colonies, to improve our chances. Don's thinking
that even land based civilization can live well off the ocean."
know that, and he's not wrong; but that's not the point. The oceans
are healthy and productive and rich. The land... who in hades knows?
I want my best geneticists working to correct problems we may have
waiting for us. I want to do for the surface what we've done for the
oceans... and we won't have nearly as much to fall back on when we
have the oceans." Cora pointed out. "Even if we're making
use of them from the surface, we'll have food and water and... well,
other stuff too, probably." She looked hard at him. "So.
Can I assume you need me to apologize for you, while you stand well
out of sight and find a way to punish him for insubordination?"
yes." Her father confessed. "The thing is, he's braver than
usual these days. His department just became considerably more
important than it has been in years. I can't have a divided cabinet
right now. Now, of all times!"
if you can't sack him, and you can't take away resources, what do you
plan to do?" Cora asked, starting to see the angles.
need to send him a message. Nothing that'll affect his work in a
serious way, just something to rattle his cage."
about his staff?" Cora offered.
Director shook his head. "His staff will be needed for what's
next." Cora watched him silently, and saw the exact moment he
had the idea. "But I've heard him say good things about his
newest apprentice. And she can't have been there long enough to
become pivotal. Assignments are up to me."
where will you send her?"
there's no shortage of places." Bridger waved that off. "It
doesn't matter where she goes, it matters that she's taken away from
him. It's symbolic, but the symbol has power enough for what we
chewed her lip. "Nix. That's her name, right?"
here's an idea. Assign her to me. Tell him I requested her. In
fact..." She pulled out her TABB and tapped at it for a few
seconds. "In fact, I just sent you the transfer request. If he
complains, then it's not coming from you; it's coming from the girl
that came by to make your apologies."
Director raised an eyebrow. "You already have an apprentice."
he's a good kid, but he's... Ben will be great on the surface, he'll
be great here in Gold Sector, but right now, I need someone who can
handle Wet-Working with a short curve. It's not like the kid I've got
now will need these skills for the rest of his life."
let's not pretend that you don't like Nix quite a bit more than any
of the other potentials in the lineup." The Director smirked.
worked with Delphi a long time, and if he likes Nix, then that's good
enough for me." Cora said calmly. "It's going to be hard
enough leaving Delphi behind."
Director considered. "And it's a clearer signal if I take his
apprentice from him and send her to my daughter. Very cold. How'd you
get so good at this?"
gave him her most winning smile. "I had a good teacher."
hate working like this." Cora nearly snarled.
shushed her gently, one arm around her shoulders as she leaned into
him, his other hand on the controls of the HydraHawk,
adjusting the autopilot. "This was the plan." He reassured
her. "We agreed, having Nix along would be the better option."
know, but..." Cora shuddered. "He was so proud
of me, Tai. We were talking about how to deliver a stinging slap in
the face to Don, and it was just so easy to play him. Me and Don...
we manipulated my dad into doing what we wanted him to do; and it was
He soothed. "We're not the bad guys in this story, Cora. We're
just getting out. That's all."
not sure there are bad guys in this story." Cora sighed. "He's
my father, Tai. Whatever else he did, however much I wish he was...
He's still my father."
The Aquans haven't been out for revenge since before Don was in
charge." He told her, not for the first time. "We're not a
violent group. This isn't a war, it's an escape plan. We won't hurt
him, Cora. We don't do that."
sniffed. "If I went with you, I might believe that. But if I
vanish with everyone else, he'll tear up the ocean floor to find me
if he has to. We both know that the odds are we can't do it subtle.
Not with a six month schedule. Don can keep people calm, but odds
are? We're going to be running for our lives and we'll be stealing a
fair amount on our way out. One way or another, this is going to be
transfer went through, of course." Don told Tai later that night
in private. "I know Cora's not comfortable with the scheming,
but she's very good at it."
think that's the part she has the most trouble with." Tai
door suddenly burst open and both men jumped away from each other
instinctively. Every meeting, every clandestine conference held with
it the certain fear that one day, they'd be caught.
framed in the door wasn't Commander Morgan, or any of his Stingray
guards. Instead... There was a young girl, looking madder than either
of them had ever seen her.
Nix snapped. "I just heard about-" She suddenly noticed
Tai. "You! You were behind this, weren't you!?" She spun
back to Don. "Sir, I swear I didn't know! I didn't complain or
lobby for it or anything!"
a good move." Tai offered. "Being that close to the
Director's Daughter? It's a great boost for your career."
had a career! I was assigned to Don, and the whole Ark-Hive is
yapping about their fight! This was The Director flipping off my
boss, and using me to do it." She spun on Don. "I swear, I
had nothing to do with it! I would never-"
course not." Don soothed. "I know all about it, Nix. And
strange as it may seem, I'm fine with it. You see, it was my idea
that you get sent to Cora and Tai."
caught the girl short. "It was?"
And Cora was quite clever getting The Director to think it was his
plan." Don said grandly, as though telling a favorite
granddaughter a funny story. "You see, Nix... things are
happening quickly now. And not everyone is happy about it. You told
me about your dad being hustled out of his usual room and shoved into a
broom closet in Grey Sector. It’s happening all over. It's best if
we can do what we can to see these... painful disruptions coming."
stared at him for a moment. "I can appreciate that. I know at
least half a dozen people who would have liked a little warning..."
nodded in agreement. "Maybe even... a little more than just
being able to expect it? A lot of choices are being made for people
without their knowledge, let alone their involvement-"
Hades!" Nix blurted. "You're Aquans!"
and Tai just looked at her, not pushing. "Yes."
turned and bolted.
sent a quick glance at the monitor, and turned to Don. “Do I go
after her? She could rat us out right now.”
didn’t, when it was you.” Don said kindly. “I know this kid.
She’ll make the right choice.”
snorted. “And if she doesn’t, we’ll be summoned to the
Director’s Office before midnight for our execution, and maybe Cora
Days To Landfall
came into Cora's room and shook her awake. "Wake up." The
older woman hissed.
woke up with a groan. "What is it?"
father is calling a meeting, and it includes you." Ano told her.
"He says to get you into the Boardroom right now. C'mon, UP!
I'll see if I can make you presentable."
felt a spike of fear, even half asleep. "For tonight? It's...
hauled her blankets away. "I know. The faster I can get you into
your Dress Uniform, the faster I can get back to sleep." She
already had a comb in one hand, and Cora's dress boots in the other.
heart rate spiked when she was escorted by Stingray guards to the
Conference Room, and then spiked a lot more when she saw the company
she was in. It was just her, Tai, Commander Morgan, and Don.
dead. Me, Tai and Don, all dead.
the problem?" Cora asked Don quietly.
don't know." Don said, equally subtle. "But don't panic,
whatever you do. Don't tip your hand."
subtly looked over at Morgan, who gazed back at them like he was
dissecting them. Don't
reminded herself. He
always looks like that.
door opened, and in came the Director at a march, with three other
members of the Board with him. Cora sat down, but didn't relax. If
he's figured out what side I'm on, he'd want witnesses when he orders
me taken to the Quay.
apologize for the lateness of the hour." Director Bridger said
loudly as he swept in. Everyone hurried to their seat as he strode
swiftly to the head of the table. "There's been an accident. One
of our School Submarines was taking the Third Year Plebes to the
Caves off Massey Point for a geology lesson. Something went wrong.
They are now ten hours overdue."
winced. "How many?"
many as twenty three students, all under the age of twelve. Plus four
instructors, and the pilot." The Director informed them. "Our
information is sketchy, but it looks like they were going through the
Massey Trench, as is usual for lessons on underwater geology... And
he went into the wrong cave."
would he leave the markers?" Don asked. "I've spent a lot
of time in the Massey Caves with my apprentices. There are well laid
out beacons in there."
but it looks like the pilot was showing off. His son is one of the
students." The Director told them, glancing at his daughter.
“Cora, it was Wayde. He apparently volunteered to pilot the sub.”
felt her heart thud again. Wayde’s
son is Ben. Nix is probably in that class too.
received a distress call twenty minutes ago. The message spoke of a
cave collapse, and that was the last we heard." The Director
turned to his left. "Doctor, you've been in there more than any
of us. Tell us about the geography."
chewed his lip a moment. "There's... There are hundreds of caves
in there. Most of them are pretty stable, but there's a lot of twists
and turns. It's laid out a lot like coral. Dozens of large chambers,
with small passages back and forth between them. Some of the larger
passages are large enough to get a sub through. If one of them
Morgan spoke. "Then the sub could still be intact, just trapped.
How much air do they have?"
for another fourteen hours."
take five hours just to get out there." Don hissed. With all
those twists and turns? Could take days
find the sub."
been in those caves too." Cora put in. "The School Subs are
a type four, right?"
engines kick up a lot of silt. It would be easy enough to track if we
can get enough lights on."
can't get any of our halogens in there. Not at that pressure. All the
lights that are small enough to fit through a cave-in, and strong
enough to take the pressure? They won't illuminate more than ten
feet." Her father said grimly. "Cora. Tai. You two have
more Dark Water experience than anyone else in the Ark-Hive. If
there's something we're missing, tell us now, because I've got nearly
thirty people trying to take very shallow breaths."
might be a way." Cora said finally. "I've been
experimenting with 3D Mapping. The Massey Caves are left alone
between classes, but they're fairly well mapped. If there's a cave-in
somewhere, we might be able to compare to the charts and track them
chance you'd be able to get sonar equipment in there. At least, not