Director and Commander Morgan were cursing under their breath for
half an hour while Cora and Don got to work. Tai turned every sub
driver, and every Wet-Worker with a Synth-Partner out of bed. The
news about the missing Submarine spread almost instantly through the pilot corps. Hours
before day-shift, and only the civilians were sleeping.
Massey Caves were four hours away by submarine. Ten hours for a
Dolphin. That was far too long.
were only a few Submarines in range for an emergency trip. The craft
that were already deployed had all been busy preparing for Landfall,
weighed down with cargo that couldn’t be replaced easily. They
couldn’t dump their payloads.
time.” Morgan reported to the Director. “We can’t get the Cargo
Haulers back here in time without dumping their cargo. But if we
don’t haul them in, there are only three craft than can carry
passengers.” He looked to Cora. “And one of them is the Hydra
bit her lip. “We don’t need to get submarines out there. We have
to get the Dolphins out there.”
Bridger looked physically ill at the words he was saying. “Cora,
using the Dolphins as guides may be our only chance, but there’s no
way to get so many Dolphins out there in time. Nor is there any way
to get those children back with just the Hydra
I doubt they’re carrying an extra eight hours of air for every
was a moment as they turned the problem over in their minds. Any sub
could fit people inside it, but each submarine was designed with a
purpose. Even if you could cram people in on top of each other, the
ship’s life support systems were designed to handle a specific crew
we have to dump the cargo, and route those Cargo Subs to the Massey
Caves for the rescue, or here for re-tasking.” Morgan said firmly.
seen the manifests on those submarines, Morgan.” The Director bit
out. “There’s no way to make Landfall if we dump that cargo. That
equipment isn’t pressure-resistant, or waterproof. It’s designed
for indoor use. It’ll take us years to rebuild those stockpiles
it takes us another five years instead of five months.” Cora put
in, trying not to hide her suddenly hopeful thought. “Half the
Ark-Hive either has a kid, or a kid of a friend on that submarine,
Dad. You lose those kids, and you can forget Landfall. You won’t
make it to Lights Out.” She held out a hand to him. “Delay
Landfall. Drown the schedule.”
Director seemed to hesitate for a split second, before the familiar
steel-resolve came back. “No. We’re not changing the schedule,
and we’re not losing the sub. There’s got to be a way.”
and Tai quickly prepared the Hydra
for launch. “Cora, I don’t know how you talked your father into
difficulty.” Cora admitted, as she slipped into the pilot’s seat
and keyed the radio. “Hydra
requesting permission to leave.”
waters, Cora.” Her father responded personally. His tone dropped
suddenly. “You very sure about this?”
way.” Cora told him. “I know it is, because if there was anything
else that was remotely possible, you never would have given me
gestured over their shoulder at the equipment rack. Procedure said
that visiting crew and apprentices had to stow their gear in the
Docking Bay, but with all the focus on their ship when they had brought the
Cache in, Cora had sent her prospective apprentices straight out.
wetsuit and dive equipment were there, hanging right beside Cora’s,
right where she’d left it.
left the Ark-Hive. Within seconds, almost a dozen dolphins came
powering out of the airlocks in Pursuit. Cora slowed her craft long
enough for each of them to swim up and bite down on some part of the
craft with their beaks, the way Delphi did when he wanted to feel the
speed and ride the wake.
was the most Aquan designed ship in the fleet, long and flat like a
smooth stingray, and it had a dozen dolphins holding onto the wings,
as Cora lead the way to the Massey Caves.
on the craft said anything for a while. Tai and Cora each took their
turn glancing back at Nix’s suit. A light flashed on the console,
and they both relaxed. “We’ve reached Dark Water. We can talk.”
Tai said, letting out a breath. “Don and I told Nix.”
she take it?”
like you’d expect.” Tai admitted. “We’re still here, so she
didn’t turn us in before she left…” He looked back at her suit,
worried. “What if that’s the last time we talk to her?”
find her.” Cora promised. “There are five other ships, all
heading the same direction. The Hawk
is faster than all of them, and will get there hours earlier; but
there’s only enough room for three or four people. Dozens of people
need rescuing.” Cora looked back at the suit. “Our job is to find
them, and work a plan.”
give me a pulse here!" Cora called.
echolocation rang out for a split second, and Cora's TABB lit up with
the 3D Model. She scanned the image a moment. "And now the other
way, please." Delphi squeaked and clicked again, and the
receiver gathered the echo, drawing the other side of the cave onto
the image. Cora couldn't make out anything more than four feet away,
but she could see her TABB clearly enough, and the dolphin's natural
sonar was drawing her a very complete picture of the cave…
the tunnels that branched off from the cavern, almost invisible in
the darkness and the silt; but it was clear as Light Water to the
dolphins. Cora unslung a relay from her pack at set it at the branch.
“Tai, I’m placing another repeater.”
to your TABB is still clear as a bell.” Tai reported from his post
on the Hydra
“I’m sending a homing beacon down the other branches of that
tunnel. Still no return ping. She’s in there deep.”
clicked and whistled. “Great Ones say Metal Whale came in here.”
read the translation. “Tai, are you picking up whalesong?”
Nothing on thermals or sonar. I thought it was just usual background
says the whales saw the School-Sub come into the Massey Caves
alright. We haven’t missed them.”
clicked again. “Great Ones are coming. Help Delphi. Help Cora.”
read the translation with a smile. “They’ll get here before
anyone else from the Ark-Hive does.” She gestured. “Another pulse
Dolphin did so, and both Tai and Cora studied the return image on
their screens. “It wouldn’t be that way. Couldn’t fit a sub
half that size through there.” Tai said. “Left branch?”
Cora agreed. “We’ve doubled back on our own tunnels twice. My
guess is, the pilot knew he was getting turned around in here, and
was trying to find his way back out.”
did his tracking systems fail?”
when we find them.” Cora shook her head. “Delphi, pulse the
ceiling, please.” The Dolphin did so, and Cora checked her
readings. “This is insane. We’re closer to open in these
caverns than we were at the tunnels. How deep did they go?” She
looked back. “Delphi? Where’d you go?”
air was getting thick in the Cousteau.
was doing his best to keep the kids calm, but the longer they waited,
the more the tension grew. Kids under twelve never exactly sat still,
and trapped underground, underwater, far from home, without so much
as an answer to their mayday was making the littler ones break down
wasn’t taking it well. “My dad’s not getting any answer.” He
confided to Nix. The two of them had been on a mission together. They
were the oldest on the Cousteau,
and the only ones eligible for Apprentice Rank. All the other
apprentices were on their assignments.
looked at him sideways. “Your dad, he works with The Director. You
two live in Gold Sector.” She observed. “I noticed you freaking
out a bit on the Hydra
squeezed his eyes shut. “Don’t tell anyone?”
you’re claustrophobic?” Nix didn’t even blink. “I live in
Grey Sector. This chair I’m sitting in is the most room I’ve had
to myself since I got tall enough to reach both sides of my
shivered, feeling the sub close in. “How do you handle it?”
showed him. “Close your eyes.”
now, you could be anywhere.” She said to him softly. “You could
be in the Observation Dome. It’s empty. Hundreds of square feet,
decorations along the walls, endless ocean outside, visible for
hundreds of metres. You’re kicked back with a cold drink, and
there’s nobody around.”
that’s not true.” He said softly.
it?” Nix said, just as soft. “If I was half an inch out of your
reach, you could stretch your arms out in every direction and never
find me. With your eyes closed, you could be two feet from anything,
or a milion miles clear.”
despite himself, he could hear his heart rate slow down a little.
“This is what you do in Grey Sector?”
Nix was about to continue when she saw the lights play over her from
the porthole, and she let out a sudden bark of laughter. “Either
oxy-debt is making me see things, or we’re rescued.”
chattered happily, just outside, though Nix couldn’t hear it.
read the translation. “He found them! Tai, I’ve got the
following Delphi’s beacon. I don’t like what I’m not seeing.”
Tai called back. “I’ll relay word to the Ark-Hive, but…”
fired another pulse, and the picture became clearer to them.
“Correction, I don’t like what I am
seeing.” Tai swore under his breath. “We’ll never get it out of
actually had to float halfway on her back to see where Delphi
wriggled his way between the rocks to rejoin her. “Looks like the entire cave
entrance fell in. Delphi found a way through up at the top, but
there’s no way we can dig this much rock out of the way.” She
swam up to meet Delphi. “But I think I can widen a space in the gap
and get in there myself.”
if you get trapped between the rocks, or if there’s another slip, I
won’t be able to get to you in time. And for all Delphi’s gifts,
he doesn’t have opposable thumbs.” Tai warned her.
be careful.” She promised. “Delphi, I want you to take one of
these relays, and hold it up to the gap in the rocks. I need to keep
an open comm to Tai.”
took the repeater from Cora’s hand and turned in place smoothly,
holding it up. Cora had done cave diving plenty of times, and knew
how to move in enclosed spaces. But never in a place with so recent a
cave in. Move
deliberately, don’t struggle, don’t panic.
She told herself. She could feel rock on her every side, and the dirt
shifting, both above and below her. She could see lights ahead.
after a few endless moments, she made her way through. The Cousteau
was beneath her, lights bright. Cora pulled rocks and dirt aside to
widen the gap before she pushed away from the cave in and got a look
at the submarine. “Cora Bridger to Cousteau,
are you receiving?”
Yes, we receive! Thank god!”
Is that you?”
it’s me. Where are you, Cora?”
entered the chamber you’re in.” Cora reported, shining her torch
over the submarine. “Report on your status?”
and passengers are alive. Some injuries, not serious. But the rear
half of the submarine is buried. Last time we tried to work the
engines free of the cave-in, we started a fire in here… Hull’s
intact, so’s the forward airlock… But our propulsion is offline.
Electrical discharge from the fire.”
hours, give or take.”
bit her lip, still near the gap she had squeezed through. “Tai, can
you still hear me?”
can see the Cousteau.
Looks like the hull is intact… but it’s got nowhere to go. Can’t
even turn around in here. The drive section and the engines are all
buried under the cave in.” Cora let out a breath. “But I have
radio contact. Let me set up another relay at my end; they’ll be
able to contact the Ark-Hive.”
we… get the families into the Communications Centre?” Don asked
the Director quietly. “Reports from the site say there’s no joy
on a rescue. We’ve got way too many people in that submarine to try
and get breathers through to them. We don’t…” Don squeezed his
eyes shut. “Rescue Subs don’t have enough dive masks for so many
people that small, and we’d never rotate them fast enough, with no
sub that can hold enough people.”
Director was unreadable. “Day shift begins in another hour and a
half… We’ve got time to try and work the problem before the
families wake up and realize what’s going on. Our job gets harder
the rest of the Dolphin teams around to the outside of this cave, and
see if they can find the weakest point.”
want to blast them out through the mountainside?”
odds than blasting them out through the cave-in.” Cora told him. “I
need the dolphins to sonar the whole mountainside, and find the
weakest, thinnest point in the rock. Delphi, if you can hear me, I
need you to go back to the Hydra
get Nix’s suit. I need her with me.”
you blast the mountainside, and you could tear more holes in her
to take the chance.” Cora told him firmly. “We can’t get them
all out by EVA, and their life support is trashed. We have to tow
them to safety.”
“Cora, go private.” Tai told her. She did so, and he dropped his
tone. “Towing ships are coming, but they're still ten hours away.”
less than eight hours of oxygen left.” She confided in him. “By
the time help gets here, I’ll be looking at a tomb.”
did this happen?” Director Bridger demanded of Morgan. “How is it
possible that we didn’t have any of our Heavy Movers within twelve
hours of the Light Water? How is it possible we don’t have any
rescue craft that can tow a School-Sub that size in reach?”
got subs scattered to every corner of the map. That’s what happens
when you tell us to pack up the whole ocean and move it to the
surface.” Morgan said firmly. “Something was going to give
eventually. The real question is how did Wayde, your
get behind the controls of a School-Sub he was barely qualified to
drive, and get buried that deep in a maze when he had a clearly
kid’s on board. He wanted to show off for his son before we all
left the ocean.” Bridger shook his head, and then paused. “Or, do
you think it’s something else?”
looked carefully at the cave in. There was a lot of mangled
equipment. She looked at the sonar array. Something had been wired
in. Something new. It was a receiver.
pick up nav beacons.
Cora thought to herself. So
why does this one look so much newer than the rest of the sub? Did
someone add this? Was it for repairs? If it was put here maliciously,
it could lead Wayde anywhere.
looked through the porthole into the airlock as it drained. Delphi
had swum in, dropped off her suit and mask, and swum back out again.
suppose you’ve got about forty more of those?” Wayde quipped
changed into her suit quickly. “I don’t know why Cora wanted me
out there, but I’m glad to help.”
less set of lungs on board buys us time, but not long.” Wayde told
her. “Do good work out there.”
met Nix as she came out the airlock. They were close enough that Cora
could see her eyes. Nix wasn’t as happy to see her as the rest of
the people on board. Because
Tai and Don just told her the big secret, and now Nix is angry.
“It’s good to see you.” Cora said honestly. “We were
water feels different in here.” Nix answered. “Less… I don’t
catch. Not many people would have noticed that.” Cora told her.
“It’s freshwater. The caves have lots of freshwater pockets. The
ocean outside is saltwater. With the difference in density, having a
narrower entrance can actually keep the salt out.”
took a deep breath, mixer sending out bubbles, as she swam back up to
the gap. “Good question. We need to get some gear, maybe some
reinforcements. We’re heading back to the Hydra
first. It’s in the main tunnel, near the entrance.”
I lost you!” Nix called.
looked back. In the darkness, there was no sign of her. Or anything
else. “Dropping flare.”
bright light flared, showing the whole cavern, about forty feet
across. Nix quickly found Cora again, and swam back up to join her.
“Dark in here.”
it is. Even moreso than the Dark Water outside.” Cora agreed. “Back
when I was your age, there was some talk about sealing off some of
these caves and turning them into an outpost, but it’s just too
damn easy to get lost.”
swum up and followed Cora, wriggling her way between the rocks. “We
can’t get them out, can we?” She said quietly, once they were
past the signal booster. “Even if we could get earthmovers into
this cave, there’s no time to dig them out.”
probably true.” Cora nodded.
mean, I know we’re all pressurized to this depth, but the water’s
freezing, and without breathers there’s no way the kids could just
hold their breath…”
room for them on the Hawk
anyway. We’ll have to take the whole sub. So we take them out the
does that mean?” Nix asked, but Cora was already on the other side
of the landslip and it took Nix a few minutes to catch up. “Other
gripped Delphi’s harness with one hand, and Nix with the other. The
caves were pitch black, but to Delphi, it was a highway, and he towed
the two of them through the tunnels and the hairpin turns at full
speed; while Cora explained. “According to the Dolphins, there’s
less than four feet of rock between the Cousteau
and the ocean. There’s a Geo-Research Outpost fairly close. They’re
not set up for a rescue, and they don’t have the oxygen resources
to take in dozens of houseguests. Not without asphyxiating
themselves. But they have seismic charges.”
have spare suits too?” Nix asked. “Just in case? A few, at least?
I don’t want to be the only
that made it off Cousteau.”
squeezed her hand. Lights were ahead, and they came out of the
blackness to the Hydra
Tai was visible through the canopy, and he waved to Nix. “Good to
see you out of there, apprentice.”
call me that.” Nix said, mindful that the channel was open. Her
comment was technically correct. Her assignment wasn’t official
yet. But the other reason was because Nix hadn’t decided what to do
about the Aquans she knew.
tapped at her TABB and Delphi wheeled around in the water, the other
dolphins doing the same. They started clicking and whistling, almost
in unison; a lot louder than Nix was used to.
was that?” Nix asked. “Don’t tell me they can signal the
no. Not at this range. Tai will take care of telling Base what we’ve
found. Delphi’s calling reinforcements.”
took a breath, letting bubbles escape her mask. “Call it a hunch.”
She waved it off. “Let’s get aboard.”
Nix pulled her mask off and took a deep breath. “Huh. Air was a lot
thicker back on the Cousteau
than it is here. I hadn’t even noticed.”
get a lot thicker still before this is over.” Tai told her.
word on what’s happening back on the Ark-Hive?”
been listening to the Open-Band. No reports yet. A few people
wondering about the overdue sub… But I don’t think it’s dawned
on them just how serious it is yet.” Tai reported. “And Nix, just
so you know, we can speak freely in here while we’re in Dark
nodded, her face changing.
sighed. “I wanted to be the one to tell you. I wanted to…”
recruit me.” Nix said flatly. “I’m not an idiot. I know how
risky it is for you to talk about something like this. The only
reason you’d tell me is if you want something, or if you think I
agree with you.” She glared hard at Tai. “You have any idea what
you’ve done to me? If I don’t turn you in, I’m dead.
Clang-bang, straight to the Quay. Black Bagged and never heard from
aren’t what they say we are, Nix.” Cora said gently. “And just
so you know, we could all have what we want. I’m Resource
Management now. I’ve checked the quotas, checked the inventories.
There’s enough resources that if the Aquans and the Earthers
decided to cooperate, we could both have everything we want.”
Resources have been tightly controlled for so long, the assumption is
we’re on the edge of disaster. And we are, but not for this. If my
father would just ease the Schedule and let us go, he could still have Landfall.” Cora
sighed. “But he won’t. He’s dug himself too far and he won’t
how do you plan to leave?” Nix wavered.
not telling him.” Cora said simply. “I run the Resource
Allocations now. Nobody will starve, nobody will drown, nobody will…”
She trailed off. “If Morgan finds out, he’ll kill us. If my
father doesn’t find out, then he’ll get Landfall. Just a few less
workers, a few less mouths.” She held out a hand to Nix. “The
only question is: Which way will you go?”
stared at her extended hand, long and hard, not reaching.
radio crackled, breaking the tense moment. “Hydra
this is Plato Outpost. Your Dolphin teams contacted ours. We’ve
been advised of the situation. What do you need?”
took the radio. “We need Seismic charges. Enough to crack a rock
wall four feet thick without burying whatever’s under it.”
was silence from the other end for a while. “We have shaped charges
that can do that. But, of course, to catch a large quantity of rock
before it collapses, you’ll need some serious towing power. Do you
have Heavy Subs on standby somewhere?”
can handle it.” Tai told him. “We’ll need your towing cables
too. And whatever rock-anchors you have on hand.”
we keep all that stuff stored here for mining. But our cables hook up
to huge gears that
are secured to the
Outpost itself. We can’t uncouple gears that size. They’re locked
into the foundations. All we can send you are the anchors and cables.
How do you plan to pull them?”
leaned over Tai’s shoulder to call into the radio. “Leave that to
Director had started informing the families. Until the HydraHawk
reported back, there wasn’t a whole lot the Ark-Hive could do. In
fact, there wasn’t a whole lot anyone could do.
thought we had another heavy sub in for repairs.” The Director
asked Amos. “Sub Repair is a priority, is it not?”
is, sir. Or at least, it was a week ago. But with the recent
announcement, the Engineering Department has suddenly had their
workload triple. It’s been centuries since we needed a land
vehicle; and now we need quite a few of them, and we need them to be
built in a way that can be packed into landing craft and assembled on
the surface.” He waved upward vaguely. “We’re working from
centuries-old notes about what the surface is like. The first few
surface drones we sent up back then burst from the surface pressure.”
He paused. “I actually wonder if living on the surface can be good
if that were true.” The Director commented darkly, glancing at the
safe behind his desk. He was about to call in the next family when
his TABB buzzed. “Go ahead.”
reconnected with the Hydra
Shall I put them through to you directly?”
And use personal security encryption.” The Director gestured for
Amos to leave them as the call was put through. “Cora, what’s the
support on the Cousteau
is fading. We’ve made contact, and everyone inside is well, but
they’re trapped. Heavy movers won’t get them out easily. We’ve
gathered some geologic charges, and we think we can get them out, but
there’s no chance we can get anyone equipped for an extra two dozen
passengers here in time.” Cora reported. “We’re working on a
calling in every level of assistance we can find out there, but…” The
Director sighed. “The only help that we can get to you in time are
courier craft. They can only carry one or two people. Our people are
calculating how many can be ferried from the Massey Caves to the
nearest Outpost, given the breathers and wetsuits you have on hand…”
enough.” Cora answered. She had done the math too.
tell Wayde that it might be time to start… making some choices.”
me you won’t order him to get the Gold Level kids off first.”
I leave to Wayde.” The Director said. “Remember, his kid is there
that was a pleasant conversation.” Nix drawled.
nodded. “Everything the Ark-Hive can send that has the power to
move the sub would never fit around the turns and corners. And
there’s no chance that we can get them out EVA. Not enough suits
and breathers to go around. If we stay in our Dive Suits the whole
way, we could still only take so many. Not enough seats to go
around.” She grinned at Nix. “And for my father, those are the
only options that come to mind.”
let out a breath. “Alright, you got my attention, Aquan. What’s
the option he missed?”
Solutions.” Tai smiled. “Nix, there’s a reason why we asked you
to join the rescue.”
was confused for a second, when she heard the sound of whale-song
coming through the hull. It had been in the distance for a while, but
it usually was in the Dark Water. It was suddenly coming a lot
clearer, and closer.
crew of the
looked out at the ocean, and their augmented canopy gave them a
clearer view of the distance, and the pod of whales that were closing
in on the Massey Caves.
can reach for miles and miles.” Cora explained. “The Dolphins can
call almost that far. If your
was anywhere in the area, the Dolphins would reach him.”
not exactly mine.” Nix pointed. “But he’s here.”
can tell?” Tai was surprised. “The whale you helped wasn’t
me, I can tell.” Nix said softly, gazing out at the giant creature.
grinned. “Let’s get back out there.” She ordered. “Tai,
you’ve got the instructions from Plato, and you’ve got the sonar
maps from the Dolphins. You’re going to have to guide us precisely.
Where do we plant the charges? Where do we secure the lines? Watch
our feeds carefully, I don’t want us getting confused.”
have to be pretty accurate.” Tai agreed nervously. “According to
the Dolphins, there’s a thick plate of hard rock. We blast around
it, we can take it out in a complete piece. We put the charges in the
wrong places, it will fragment.” Cora keyed her TABB. “Delphi,
you’re with me. Tell the others to help Nix. She’ll be figuring
out how to get a pod of whales to tow these cables.”
will?” Nix was surprised. “I have no idea how.”
it out.” Cora said simply.
felt one of the Dolphins press his beak into her back, and propel her
up toward one of the whales. It was ‘her’ whale, crooning softly.
The giant creature turned and brought his eye to meet Nix. The song
changed gently, rolling through the water in a way that made Nix feel
like her cells were being shaken apart.
dolphin came up to hover beside Nix, squeaking happily. Nix checked
the translation on her TABB. “Nolly call Great One. Delphi says
Great One help Nix.”
hope so.” Nix whispered, reaching out a hand to rest against the
wall of whale that filled her vision. “I hope that you can
understand enough. Don says that Whales are just on the edge of
sentience. But we can both talk to Dolphins.” She took a breath.
“The Dolphins are all wearing harnesses, and I’m betting whales
are smart enough to grasp the reason why.” She reached out her
other hand. “You are one of the biggest, mightiest things in the
ocean. There was a time when you needed the help of one of the
smallest to survive. Can I ask you to return the favor now?”
was clicking and whistling and squeaking in rapid-fire. But he was
playing too, rolling back and forth, waving his head up and down
exaggeratedly. Nix wondered if that was part of the language.
zoomed up to join them, also ‘talking’ to the whale. Nix checked
her TABB. “Great Ones help. Save boat. Save human young. Help Nix!
felt herself smile just a little that the Dolphin would say ‘please’
when a human wouldn’t even know how to ask.
was on the line to the Ark-Hive.
the families are being informed.” Commander Morgan told him. “The
Director is trying to prevent a full blown riot right now. Everyone
that doesn’t have a relative in there at least has a family
I speak to the Director?” Wayde asked brokenly.
Morgan said curtly. “Just remember Wayde, of all the families being
torn apart today, you’re the only one that gets to see his son in
let out a low sob. They’re
not even pretending that rescue is still on the table. It’s going
to be the worst disaster in Ark-Hive history, and it’s my fault.
A small voice wavered.
disconnected and turned to Ben. “Yeah?”
asleep. He…” Ben sniffed. “He just dropped off. I was talking
okay.” Wayde promised his son, trying to keep his voice level, even
as he coughed a little. “It’s okay to sleep. It’ll actually
save air.” He gave the boy a hug. “You, um… you should sleep
nodded, yawning. “Dad? How come you never tried for a second kid?
You had the Gold-Level Access. You could have applied for the
felt his eyes stinging, but from the emotion or the changing air, he
wasn’t sure. “Didn’t… enough room. Never enough room.”
two of them jerked with a start, and ran to the porthole. Half the
kids on the Cousteau
did the same. The ones that could still walk, at least.
they could see a hole in the wall, and ocean outside. The sub shifted
as the saltwater and the freshwater merged… Ben let out a cry,
expecting to be buried in another cave in.
the rock was falling away in one complete piece, out into the ocean.
are they doing that?!” Wayde asked in open disbelief.
Days To Landfall
new shift came on, and it was officially a new day in the Ark-Hive.
Those that hadn’t heard already were quickly informed.
PA announced the usual duty shifts, and a riot nearly broke out.
Morgan deployed his Stingrays to every public area, every major
went to work. It was the first time since the Aquan Rebellion that
the roster was openly ignored. A vigil formed in the Observation
Dome, with every family and every friend gathered, waiting for the
news. But nobody was expecting a happy ending. The families all knew
the rules about Population Control. They all worked in different
parts of the Ark-Hive, at every level. Gold Sector, Green Sector,
Blue Sector… all of them gathered together, comparing notes,
finding out who was in the area that could help, realizing that there
was no help coming.
Director watched from a safe place. Morgan came to join him
eventually. “Has there been any word from Cora?”
shook his head. “Last we heard, they were putting out a call to any
reinforcements in the local area to help with the rescue, and setting
charges to blast an opening in the Massey Caves.”
after that?” Director Bridger set his jaw angrily. “What is she
doing out there?”
Morgan admitted. “They set off the charges, and the blast knocked
out our signal relays. We’re blind again.” He shrugged. “We
call it Dark Water for a reason.”
Director scowled. “There’s no chance, is there?”
shook his head, expressionless. “Nosir.”
close.” Director Bridger growled, as though it was a personal
insult. “Four more months, and it would have been over. We’re
going out on the worst disaster in Ark-Hive history.”
lost people before.”
attrition and rebellion, not… Not children. Even the Aquans never
hit the children.” The Director scowled again. “Wayde and Cora
would usually be the ones to write me a speech. Something to… Well,
not make it right, but at least get people moving again.”
those people don’t get moving again when you tell them to, my
people will take care of it.” Morgan promised, cool as ice.
Bridger did a double-take at that ruthless statement. “Morgan, no
offense, but I’m glad you don’t have my job.”
smiled like a shark. “I don’t want your job, anyway. Six months,
and we won’t be here any more.”
the hours passed, the gathering changed from a Vigil to a Wake.
Director had been quietly speaking to the rest of the Board, and
quietly brought them around to his side. Even Don had offered no
argument. Amos was the last one he had to speak to, and Amos would
almost certainly be on his side already. “Terrible day.” The
nodded. “I have nephew out there myself.”
Director nodded. “I remember. It was quite a scandal, someone at
your level with a sibling.”
got permission legally.” Amos said, not really interested in
hashing it out. “But these people… how hard did they have to
fight to get Population Permits? So many of them…”
know.” The Director said sadly. “All I can tell them is what they
already know. We weren’t meant to live like this. That’s why
Landfall is so important. So much space and air just… waiting.
Drinkable water, falling out of the sky.”
can’t imagine that.” Amos admitted. “Can’t even picture it.”
He turned to The Director. “I must admit to feeling responsible,
sir. It seems my people didn’t build those kids a good ship.”
Amos. Nothing we’ve learned suggests equipment failure. It’s
pilot error.” The Director told him. “I worked with Wayde closely
for a lot of years. I have no idea why he picked now to diversify his
PA chimed the hour and the quiet sobbing turned to wailing. Once one
parent started bawling, the others couldn’t hold it back any
Director took a breath and prepared to approach them, when his TABB
chimed. “Director Bridger here, go.”
Something is coming in on Sonar! Bearing 095. Whatever it is, it’s
Director looked in the appropriate direction, which happened to be
out the Observation Dome, near the crowd holding vigil at the border
between the Ark-Hive and the Ocean. The Director wandered over,
peering past the people, out into the water, when the Dome suddenly
heard whales singing.
Song was never particularly musical or happy. The creatures were just
too big. It sounded almost like a dirge for a moment, when someone
pointed and let out a shout of disbelief, as the bright lights of the
Light Water revealed what was coming.
first thing visible was the Hydra
gliding smoothly through the water in the way a more traditional sub
never could. Most of the people in the Ark-Hive had heard of the
unique ship, but most of them had never seen it in the water before.
The natural looking ship glided into view, with a group of dolphins
cavorting around it playfully.
instant later, it was followed by a whole Pod of Whales, each one with a tow
cable attached, some by gripping with their mouths, some with loops
tied around their huge bodies like a harness. At least four of them
towing, two pushing from behind.
were towing the Cousteau
people assembled were shouting, exclaiming in disbelief. As they got
closer, more details were apparent. Each whale had an escort of two
trained Dolphins, all of them swimming in perfect formation,
adjusting their path when the Cousteau
started to tilt or pitch.
huge humpback in the lead had a small human riding on his back,
waving excitedly to the Observation Dome. A few people waved back reflexively; tears streaming down their faces.
Dolphins slowed, and then, as if they had rehearsed it, took off in
different directions, as the whales lowered the damaged sub to the
ocean floor in a free spot. The whales dropped their lines, some of
them with help from Nix and the dolphin teams, but the whales didn’t
leave, staying where they were.
dolphins swam and spun and wheeled
and corkscrewed in front of the Observation Dome like they were
putting on a dance, or an acrobatic show; as if saving their children
was the most fun thing they had ever done, and they knew they’d
done it well.
Director’s eyes were fixed on the Hydra
calculating the changes already. When he was told that Cora and Tai
were trying to call in, he had his people send the call to the PA
this is Hydra
Cora’s voice said brightly. “The Cousteau
has been salvaged. But their Air’s getting tight, so send breathers
out immediately. Dolphin teams standing by to carry them out, and
passengers in. No casualties.”
words set of a roar of exultation that wouldn’t stop for anything.
The Director applauded louder and longer than any of them.
dolphins had spun into every access hatch they knew, collecting
equipment. Training dolphins to take emergency oxygen out to the
immediate area was not a new trick for them. In fact, it was one of
their most basic duties…
then the airlock of the Cousteau
opened, and the dolphins took the supplies in, and waited. The Whales
waited too, hovering over the space between the Cousteau
and the Ark-Hive, seemingly concerned for the young passengers
you ever seen this before?” The Director heard someone ask. It was
a sentiment shared by several people. “Look at them!” “They’re
huge!” “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” “They’re
acting almost human, aren’t they?” “They saved the kids!”
“They’re amazing!” “A dozen subs couldn’t have done that!”
Director felt his heart give a solid thump, because he knew that much
was true. Before that sentiment could spread any further, someone
pointed at the Cousteau
airlock, and the first passenger coming out.
Docking Bay!” Someone shouted, and what was a rapt audience
suddenly turned into a stampede, rushing through the corridors,
heading for the stairs, the elevators, the access tunnels, some of
them even heading for the Moon Pools and trying to make a swim for
eventually, the crowd made it through. Stingray saw an oncoming mob
and drew their weapons. Morgan and Bridger together were shouting to
open the doors and let them into the Docking Bay, trying to prevent a
massacre over a misunderstanding, but once the doors were open, there
was dead silence, as everyone gathered around the huge Moon Pool,
was a flash of movement, and a small face broke the surface with a
gasping, and being pushed to the ladder by a Dolphin, one kid had
made it safely off the Cousteau,
and there was a round of applause as the Dolphin made sure he was
taken up by the gathered crowd, before diving back down again.
later, another dolphin emerged, with a little girl hanging on to his
Someone screamed in delight and the girl was hauled out of the water,
promptly handed to her mother.
blankets!” The Director shouted to the watching DockRats.
“Blankets, hot drinks, food, breathing masks, heat-packs; bring
as he was saying it, another child was brought to the surface. And
another. And another.
wake had transformed into a celebration. A hundred people cheering
and applauding and weeping with gratitude as the dolphins brought
their lost boys and girls back to their arms.
last ones to come up were the Hydra
crew. Tai, Nix, and Cora.
was an eruption of noise and emotion when they climbed out of the
water. Cora pulled off her mask as soon as she broke the surface, and
turned to give Delphi a peck on the beak. It was an action that
caused another round of applause.
came up and found her father waiting for her, arms open, and tears on
his smiling face.
returned the hug, but inwardly she was surprised. Her father never
reacted this way. Not even when they had privacy. She indulged for a
moment and enjoyed it. So much so that she almost didn’t notice
Morgan, over near the wall, giving a nod to Randall.
Randall was one of the Ark-Hive’s Stingrays. Morgan kept him close
for more unofficial missions. Ones that even the Director didn’t
know about. Cora watched over her father’s shoulder as Randall made
his way out of the Docking Bay. Nobody else noticed, too caught up in
took hours for the party to stop, but eventually parental instinct
won out over public celebration, and the kids were each taken back to
their quarters, small and crowded though they were.
tucked Ben into bed and just… looked at his son for a while.
wasn’t your fault.” Ben yawned, the day catching up with him.
can’t be really mad. You’ve known the Director for years and
true.” Wayde shushed him. “Now, Fyne, across the hall is going to
check on you tomorrow. If you need anything, talk to her... I have to
do something at the office.” Wayde coughed a bit. “I… may be
some time. Sleep well, okay?”
Love you, dad.”
you.” Wayde whispered, and turned out the light.
walked out of his quarters without making a sound, or saying a word.
He walked to the nearest porthole, and gazed out at the ocean for a
while, in no particular hurry.
soft footstep came up behind him. Wayde didn’t turn to look who it
was. “Randall. Just… make it quick.” He said plainly, and shut
his eyes, as the black plastic bag went over his head.
Director returned to his office. All in all, it had gone well, and of
the humans involved, his daughter had gotten most of the credit.
Director received an unmarked note from Morgan, tagged to delete
itself as soon as the message was read. It was the way Morgan worked.
Bridger brought the message up.
has been dealt with.
Director sighed as the message deleted itself. He didn’t like that,
but he wasn’t about to let Wayde go unpunished. He worked too
closely with the Director to have a near miss so public and so
second message came in a moment later, just like the first.
wetsuit was still on the HydraHawk
from her mission as an apprentice to Cora and her partner. Ben was on
that mission too. Why was his wetsuit removed between missions, but
Director had no answer to that one, and the implications weren’t
pleasant, as the message deleted itself without a trace.
Days To Landfall
days after the rescue was completed, the pod of whales left the
had been a hundred people requesting clearance to go out and swim
with the whales, who had quite happily stayed to join the
celebration, so much as they could.
single person in the Ark-Hive had seen it happen at some point. A
grateful parent would go out to the whale, and the huge creature
would receive them gently, before another family came and took their
place. The Observation Dome was packed with people watching the whole
thing, remarking on how… human the reactions were.
crew had been asked for their opinion on the matter. Cora and Tai
were smart enough not to comment. Nix ate up the attention and told
the story a dozen times.
Schedule had been completely disrupted, but the Director was
determined to get them all back to work.
those whales are heroes, and I’m the greedy dictator who won’t
even let people see the relics from Caches.” Director Bridger had
told his daughter ruefully. “I’m afraid I can only think of one
way to get everyone back on side. And that’s to join the party.”
days after the rescue, the people in the Observation Dome waved
goodbye to the whales as they swam away. The Dolphins escorted them
out of the Light Water and came back to keep dancing around the
Observation Dome. They’d keep playing as long as someone was
willing to watch them.
then the main entrance doors opened, and in came the Stingray Squad.
The crowd froze, having expected this on some level, waiting for the
‘unauthorized party’ to be broken up.
instead, the squad started rolling in hand carts. Tables, display
stands, glass cases… In each one was something unique, something
ancient, never seen before. The applause started again, when they
came to realize what it was.
Director stepped into the room as his people set things up, the
crowds willingly parting to let them work. He tapped at his TABB and
spoke, his voice being amplified for the room. “The Observation
Dome is largest public area on the Ark-Hive. In five months, we’ll
all be on the surface, with nothing but open space and wide open land
to roam. No suits, no breathers, no pressure.”
he spoke, Cora came in. Her father had left a message that she was to
meet him here. She had no idea why, but as people started smiling at
her, the pilot-navigator of the HydraHawk,
she came to realize, as her father made his speech.
ago, these Caches were dropped, for the simple reason that the ships
were desperately needed.” The Director told the crowd. “They
needed every hand and every craft they could get, making this place
ready in time. The personal effects of the first colonists, the
personal belongings of our own ancestors, were sealed up, and left in
the ocean.They survived. We’re still finding them, even centuries
later, mostly intact.” He paused, waving for his daughter to come
stand next to him. “Before the rebellion, it was decided that the
Caches, and all relics of the surface should be kept in storage. The
last time the Aquan Movement had someone in my job, the surface was
all but stricken from the record. It’s a policy that I honestly
hadn’t thought to change.” He put an arm around Cora, making sure
everyone saw it. “Over the last few days, my daughter, and our
resident hero; has made a rather passionate plea on your behalf, that
everyone should have the right to enjoy the momentoes of a place that
is not only our past… but now, at last, our future as well.”
hadn’t said a word to her father on the subject, but knew to keep
smiling, as the crowd applauded and cheered her name again.
Director smiled broadly. “I’m afraid there aren’t enough relics
to go around, not for everyone, but we have enough to open them for
display to the general public…” He smiled. “And yes, that
includes everyone, from Gold Sector to Grey.”
cheer went up.
you come back tonight, bring your children!” The Director declared.
“They should see this too.” He gestured to Cora. “We all have a
lot to be grateful for!”
audience roared again, and Cora felt her heart speed up. Her father
was giving her the credit for the biggest PR win he’d ever gotten,
and reminding them of the Cousteau
at the same time.
change has been incredible.” Don said in her ear once the ‘Grand
Opening’ got started in earnest.
blinked. “What do you mean?”
gestured. Over at the tubes, where the fish and working synths swam,
the little kids from the rescued Sub were all gathered around, waving
up at the fish. Cora looked over to the Moon Pool, where more of them
were gathered around, tossing treats to Delphi. The dolphin was
lapping up the attention, turning cartwheels for them, playing to the
crowd. Cora noticed that the kids weren’t the only ones enthused.
Their parents were too. “Well, it’s only fair, I suppose.” She
said finally. “The Animals did all the work.”
single worried parent, every family friend… Pretty much everyone in
the Ark-Hive saw that Submarine getting towed home by Synth-Whales,
with you and Tai in the lead, and Nix riding ‘her’ whale the
whole way in.” Don declared. “Nothing the Pirate Hacks, nothing
the Stingray Commander, nothing the Director himself could say would
match up against that image. That’s the thing that’s going to
stand out and stay on their minds, long after they forget the danger,
long after they forget the fear.”
smiled, glad for it, and her smile suddenly froze. “Oh, Hades…
Don, tell me it wasn’t you.” She breathed. “I found…
something, wired into the antennae and sonar arrays. The Cousteau
could have been rigged, so that Wayde would follow a false beacon,
looked innocently at her. “I’m not sure what you’re implying,
but do you really think that even if I had the nerve to put so many
children at risk, I would actually have the ability to orchestrate
the whole situation so completely? I didn’t even know about Nix’s
made herself relax. “No, I guess not.”
left her then. It wasn’t wise for them to be seen together for too
long, even on a night where she was the hero of the hour. Cora
scanned for her copilot, the only one she could spend the whole night
with and not raise any red flags. She found him telling the tale to a
group of rapt listeners, and waited until they let him go before she
sidled in next to him. “I don’t like how I’m getting so much of
the credit.” She said to him quietly. “You and Nix were right
there with me.”
Nix was. I was waiting on the Hawk.”
Tai reminded her. “Besides, you’re the hero, but you’re not the
one getting the credit. That honor goes to the Dolphins and the
have worked out better if he’d planned it.” Cora said, low enough
that only Tai could hear her.
‘he’?” Tai commented. “Don, or your father?”
father?” Cora grinned tightly. “He went out of his way to tell
everyone that the reason they’re getting what they want was because
of me convincing him. We never even spoke about opening a museum.”
nodded. “He knows he can’t take the credit, since he was dead set
against opening the Caches to the general population. But if a hero,
a real hero, an icon, stood up to him and argued ‘on behalf of her
beloved people’? That
could agree to… as long as the hero in question had his name.”
winced. “I just made my father’s name stronger, and made the
Whales and Dolphins heroes at the same time.”
your father wants you to be his successor, he just handed it to you on
a plate.” Tai nodded. “What I can’t figure out, is why he’s
doing that now.
We’re a few months from Landfall. Surely he’ll want the Top Job
glanced around, and whispered warmly in his ear. To anyone else, a
romantic embrace. “My father has a new safe in his office. The
usual passcodes don’t work. He only put it in a week ago.”
important.” Tai agreed. “And we don’t have to worry about the
Ben/Nix debate anymore. Nix is officially our permanent apprentice.
Your father is looking for a new assistant, and Ben is available.
With so many people being given full time rotations for Landfall,
apprentices are getting accelerated promotions too.”
heard from him since we got the Cousteau
back to the Ark-Hive. Black Bag.” Tai murmured in her ear. They
both knew what that meant. Brown bags were cloth, and used only as
blindfolds while being dragged away. Black Bags were plastic, and
used so that your executioner didn’t make a mess when they drilled
you straight through the bag right away. “Remember, you should keep
whispering in my ear as long as possible. Good for our cover.”
it’s not cover, we’re really dating.”
best to sell it.” He grinned at her. “Love you, Shells.”
Days To Landfall
museum was the most popular place to be on the Ark-Hive, at all times
of the night. There were other places, but most of them were empty
now. The Green Sector Commons wasn’t the first place Cora looked,
but Nix was there. Her new apprentice saw her coming and turned away
wasn’t offended. Nix had been declared a hero, like Cora and Tai,
but she was still trying to process The Big Secret, and hadn’t
decided yet. But it had been a few days, and none of them had been arrested. Which
meant Nix was more okay with it that she let on, and it was time for
her to declare.
came over, not getting too close, giving the girl her space. Nix
you know that Whales teach classes?" Cora said softly. "We
always knew that they travelled in pods, and we always knew they sang
to each other. But only after centuries of listening to them sing did
we figure out what they were saying. Whale song is storytelling. To
each other, to dolphins..."
whales sentient?" Nix asked, too amazed to remember she was
angry for a moment.
a matter of debate." Cora nodded. "But I believe they are.
They died out, we brought them back. There was nobody to remember old
songs, or to teach them new songs. They started over from scratch
with our help." She let out a breath. "If they are
sentient, then we resurrected a dead sentient species and gave them a
chance to begin again. And now, my father plans to leave. Write them
off as animals and never speak to them again. But we're part of their
song now." She reached out and touched Nix for the first time,
clasping her hand. "And so are you. You saved one from the nets.
That whale sang as he swam away. What do you think he was telling his
You liked it when the whale thanked you for your help." Cora
said softly. Once again, it wasn't a question. “You saved the Big
Guy, and he came back to help us save Cousteau…”
don't want them to forget me." Nix admitted. "And I don't
want to forget them." She took a shuddering breath. "I
don't want to leave." She confessed, soft as a psalm. "I
don't want to leave the ocean."
know exactly what you mean." Cora smiled, and put an arm around
Nix, giving her a warm hug. "Welcome to Team Aqua, Nix."