was climbing around the Maintenance Tunnels of Green Sector. He was
following a map, drawn in hidden marks. Tai’s TABB lit up with a
black light, a feature that only Aquans had built in.
every turn in the tunnels, there was a small arrow, and a love heart
drawn. Tai followed with a smile, until he found his way to an
intersection, so deep in the tunnels that he had no idea it was
there. One tube lead to the left, and he followed it to find a dead
end. A small room, big enough to sit up in. But unlike the rest of
the tunnel, it was clean, and made nice. There were two floorchairs,
a small lantern, and a basket full of food. There was a rolled up
mattress, a small music player, a Reader...
sat in one of the chairs, pouring drinks. “Welcome to The Hermit
Shell.” She grinned at him.
came in and settled into the other seat. “An exclusive club with
only the best company.” He gave her a soft kiss hello and accepted
the drink she offered. “I just don’t get why we couldn’t have
lunch at the DJ Locker?”
this is the one spot in the Ark-Hive that nobody knows about. The
logs say that the tunnel ends at the last intersection. No people, no
monitors, nobody. Not even Don knows about this place.” She kissed
him back in return. “You’re the only one I’ve ever brought
honored.” Tai commented, unflappable.
shifted her seat over so she could sit with him. “For weeks, it’s
been… well, y’know. When I have to get away from all of it, even
away from nice people… It’s something most people don’t have,
but I have one place where I know, for a fact, that nobody’s
watching or listening. I think people need that. Something we’ll
never have in the Ark-Hive.”
anywhere else in the ocean, these days.” Tai observed. “But if we
only have an hour or two of real… privacy; I’m glad to spend it
the only one I could share this with.” Cora agreed. “Anyone else
would rather defeat the purpose.” She tried to smile for him. “And
I know you had other plans for the day, but in fairness, so did all
be helped.” Tai admitted with a sigh.
good news is, the record will never be broken now.” Cora offered.
still can’t believe they cancelled The Games.” Tony complained.
shushed him. “Hey, next year we’ll have them on the Surface. Who
knows what kind of challenges we’ll have in the air? Races over
hillsides instead of through corridors? High Jumps?”
jumps. Pff.” Tony scoffed. “This was gonna be my year!”
don’t give me that look.” Tony scorned. “I could have done it.”
freedive record can’t been broken” Lisa said gently. “124
Meters on one breath? Anyone who tried for 125 has barely survived
drowning. Speaking for myself, I’m glad to know you’re not gonna
drown before we see the surface.”
wasn’t used to it. Every time she walked into Green Sector, she was
approached by someone who wanted to shake her hand. Every time she
reached an Outpost, she was given a round of applause. Tai and Nix
were getting the same. It had been more than two weeks since the
rescue, and she was still getting the same attention.
try and make them stop.” Nix asked her plaintively, and Tai had
laughed. “I’m serious, I’ve never been popular before, and it
seems to agree with me.”
don’t confuse us of all being adored with people sucking up to
Cora.” Tai grinned. “After the last few weeks, there’s nobody
left in the ocean that doesn’t think Cora will be the next
was about to say something when her TABB chimed. “My father wants
to see me when we dock.”
had been entertaining, even encouraging for the first few days, but
now, Cora could feel eyes on her every time she came into drydock.
Next to her, finishing the docking procedures on the HydraHawk,
Nix was apparently having the same thought. “It was easier when I
didn’t have this big secret.” She whispered to Cora.
almost smiled. Nix, at least, understood the need to keep such
conversations private. It was easy to be overheard in the corridors,
or in the elevators. But in the Docking Bay, there was no chance of
anyone picking up their conversations over the noise of industry.
was getting closer every day, and the work just became more and more
frantic. Rush and disorder were death on submarines, but The Director
was determined. His schedule had been altered here and there, but not
pushed back by so much as an hour.
were starting to ask questions, wondering why the date for Landfall
was carved in steel. But questions were dangerous things in the
Ark-Hive, so they never went anywhere.
walked with Cora for a few minutes until they got to the elevators.
Both of them started receiving the messages that had been sent to
them while they were out in the ocean. Nix checked hers and winced.
someone has a crush on you.” Cora sing-songed.
do I shut him down?”
don’t.” Cora told her. “Ben’s a good kid. And with Wayde…
gone, he’s almost certain to take over as my father’s Assist. He
could use the company of a… friend.”
gave her a sideways look. “Is that an order?”
knew Nix was trying not to ask the question. They were getting near
the elevators now, which meant they could be recorded. Anyone
listening would hear Cora trying to set her apprentice up on a date
with an old classmate. Nix was asking if getting close to Ben was her
first assignment from the Aquans.
harm in being friendly, Nix.” Cora said gently as the elevator
arrived. “It’s a fact of the Ark-Hive: We’re stuck with each
split off from Cora when they reached The Director’s Office. Ben
barely noticed Cora go into the next room, eyes on Nix. “The
uniform really suits you.” He stammered out.
shut the door before she could hear Nix’s answer. Some things she
wasn’t game to train Nix in.
father waved her into the seat opposite his own. “Time to
capitalize on your fame. I need you to go out to the Outposts, put a
little shark into them. Who needs help, who needs a kick. The only
person you have to clear things with is me.”
include Morgan?” Cora couldn’t help asking.
kindly lets me run the Ark-Hive, and I let him think he could remove
me whenever he wants. As long as Morgan doesn’t want my job, we
have a healthy working relationship.” The Director gave her a look.
“Something you need to remember, when you run the show.”
shuddered. He wasn’t even pretending it was a question any more.
stop for you is Outpost Varuna. They’re behind on their regular
shipments.” He told her. “It’s an unfortunate consequence of
what happened to the Cousteau.
The Large subs all double as cargo haulers out on the Dark Water
range.” He turned his TABB to show her. “It takes five subs the
size of the Hydra
to do what a Hauler like the Cousteau
could do in one trip. As a result, their runs to the other Outposts
are falling behind.”
badly are they behind schedule?” Cora asked. “And by the way, I’m
Resource Management now. Shouldn’t I have that information?”
do. This is me briefing you.” The Director pointed out.
checked her own TABB. “Dad-”
in this room.” He cut her off without looking up from his TABB.
swallowed the sigh. “Director,
those five submarines that are needed? They’re only behind because
they’re hauling supplies all the way back to the Ark-Hive. A trip
to Base is triple the length of trips between Outposts on the
submarines are needed in both places, or all the schedules fall
apart.” The Director countered. “We can’t leave them stationed
on the Deep Range permanently.”
know. But there is one thing I can suggest. Summon the whales back.
They have the towing power of-”
The Director shut that down directly. “Bad enough that they got
involved last month.”
involved? You mean when they saved dozens of lives?” Cora couldn’t
believe it. “Da-Director, if I had told you how we were towing the
are you telling me you would have ordered me to let those kids die?”
Director glared. “Are you under the impression that what those
Whales did for the Cousteau
was a good thing?”
is a complete write-off. That’s what’s causing the current
problem with the food shipments.” He spelled it out for her. “To
say nothing of what that day meant for you. You may not see this
quite like I do, but after the Rescue, about six people came and
quietly asked me how you made that work. How does The Director’s
own little girl have the capacity to summon a pod of whales as a
She cut him off. “If you’re not my father in this room, then I’m
not your ‘little girl’.” She waited for him to acknowledge
that, before she fired back. “Six people came to see you? Over a
hundred have come to see me and said that they don’t care how I did
it, they’re just grateful their kids are safe. You can be mad, or
you can be grateful, but you can’t be both.”
if it was anyone else, there’d be an Inquiry. Why do you think I
spun it so hard in your favor? Reminding people whose daughter you
were and giving you the credit for saving those lives is what saved
you. I’m not calling Morgan and telling him to investigate you. I’m
just trying to warn you: Your name is being cheered on right now, but
not by everyone.”
looked down. “Director, I know that we’re past the point of
‘overlooking’ things, but… The current workload is getting more
than stressful, it’s dangerous! Lighten the schedule.”
don’t understand why we have to be up there by a certain date. I’m
Resource Management. We can support a surface colony, and
least one of the Domes for-”
normal usage, but we have no idea what’s up there.” The Director
countered. “Seasons and tides are things we have to be aware of on
the surface. No human has cared what time of year it was in almost
three hundred years. There hasn’t been a time with this many
question marks since the Ark-Hive was founded. Our forefathers put
everything they could get into this venture, and it took all of that
and a lot of improvisation to just make the attempt. They calculated
everything we need, and were off by as much as thirty percent. Do I
take the same risk with all our lives?”
was about to answer, when the Director’s TABB buzzed. Right
on cue, Don.
Director took the call, and excused himself. There had been a contact
from one of the Outposts, and he needed to go to the Communications
else would have to leave the office until he returned. Cora
instant his footsteps faded, Cora was up and behind his desk, at the
new safe. Her father had over a dozen passwords and combinations. She
knew most of them. The safe was small. The kind used for paperwork of
keycards, not valuables. The lock was a keypad, not biometric. But
the pad had both numbers and letters. The combination could be
blew through every password she knew, birthdays, everything he’d
The safe was a new addition, and apparently the password was
something he hadn’t used before.
digits.” Cora thought aloud. “Letters and/or numbers…”
TABB buzzed. It was Nix, telling her that her father was returning.
She quickly cleaned up any trace of what she had been doing and
ducked back into her seat… as he walked in. “Anything serious?”
I didn’t know already.” The Director waved it off. “Those
whales had to muscle the Cousteau
clear of those caves by brute force. The lines they used to tow it
twisted the frame. The interior barely held integrity long enough to
get the kids back to the Ark-Hive. That was a really heavy piece of
equipment being wrenched around like a Dolphin’s toy. It’ll never
work again. Not in any usable hauling capacity. Get over to Varuna,
find out what can be done, and make sure the staff are on side.
Lately, I’ve gotten the sense from their reports that they’re
starting to forget who they work for.”
nodded. “When do I leave?”
refuelling the HydraHawk
the way.” Cora paused. “Having to go through the Board, then you,
then get back to them is starting to cause a delay too. It might be
best if I just worked directly with the Outpost Commanders.”
I bet you’d hate spending all that time away from the Ark-Hive with
your co-pilot.” The Director drawled sarcastically, already turning
back to his console. “Give Commander Lewis my best. And remind him
snorted. “I will.”
starting to think I should just move in here.” Nix yawned. “The
passenger seat in the Hawk
is still bigger than my rack in Grey Sector.” She leaned back in
her seat. “Even has more leg room.”
can sleep in a minute, apprentice.” Tai grinned over his shoulder
at her. “But first, what do you remember?”
yawned. “Varuna Outpost. Breadbasket of the Ranges. Provides 80% of
the food crops to the Dark Water Outposts. The Ark-Hive is
self-sufficient, but only half our population is there. The Outposts
are where the rest of the people live, and it was deemed inefficient
for the Ark-Hive to ship food out to them regularly. Far more
effective to have a farming colony. Primary sources of food are
fisheries, kelp farms, and breeding tanks.”
Now, why are they sending us?”
get the food shipments back on schedule.”
how are we meant to do that?” Tai drawled. “Do we have a cargo
sub with us?”
no.” Nix admitted.
so we can’t speed things up on the shipping side, and for all my
father’s talents, he can’t make plants grow faster or fish spawn
more often. So that leaves…”
Nix guessed. “Can they turn organics into food faster?”
idea. Find out when we get there.” Tai told her. “That’s our
job. That, and to remind Commander Lewis that The Director suddenly
remembers where to find him on Radar; and that’s not always a good
thing.” He turned and checked his console. “And we’re clear.”
He reported. “Nix, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Stingray
listening devices only work as far as the Light Water. We can talk
freely as long as the Range Light is on.”
said nothing, but her eyes glinted.
quite serious, sweetie.” Cora promised. “If anything Tai and I
had said to each other in the Dark Water was audible, at least one of
us would have been thrown in Circular Quay years ago.”
prizes for guessing which one.” Tai said under his breath.
let out a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding. “First time in
my life I’ve been out of range of those microphones.” She sounded
awed. “I… I have no idea what to say.”
two more experienced Aquans chuckled.
actually; there is one thing.” Nix piped up suddenly. “Cora, your
father asked me to keep tabs on you and Tai. He had Ben pass me an
actual weave-paper note, so that it wouldn’t be recorded.” She
bit her lip. “Do you think he suspects something?”
giggled. So did Tai. “Yes, he does. But not what you think.” Cora
promised. “He suspects me and Tai of being in love. Which we are.
Why he’d want details, I can’t imagine, but don’t worry: We’ll
set you up with some notes to give him.”
was still looking at the speakers. “I hate my quarters.” She said
to it clearly. “I can’t even stand up in there any more, and I
hate that people born in Gold Sector never have to duck.” She
leaned back from the Speaker, waiting quietly for a moment.
grinned. “If you need to get it all out of your system, we could
park it for a while and let you have the cabin to yourself.”
flushed. “No. I might start getting used to saying what I think out
loud. Dark Water is one thing, but it seems like a nasty habit to get
chuckled. “All right, apprentice. Your other
briefing. Varuna Outpost is the only Outpost on the Ranges that is
completely self-sufficient. Obviously, this makes it of interest to
the Aquans. The plans for Landfall include getting everyone out of
the Outposts, and taking along anything we might need up there. We’re
supposed to find out how much is going, who wants to stay, who’s
them they don’t have a choice.”
they have a choice.” Cora nodded. “But Tai holds the record at
124 meters; so I don’t like the odds if they choose the
alternative.” She checked her console. “Tai, come about to
bearing 040. We don’t want to approach the place from this
not?” Nix asked.
Outpost looked like any other Outpost on the Ridges. Curved edges and
individual sections, connected by tunnels and pipes, mounted on
support beams. But what set this place apart, was the surrounding
peered out at the dark water, when Tai hit the sub lights and lit up
a whole forest. Towers of green, leafy plant life extended upward in
a straight line, planted deep in the sea floor, and reaching up so
high that nobody in the HydraHawk
could see the tops of them.
are they?” Nix asked, awed.
Cora said simply. “Same stuff you get in the Cafeteria. This is
where it comes from. Hundreds of square acres of Kelp, growing and
being harvested every day.”
towers of edible plant life surrounded the Outpost in every
direction, making use of every inch of space. There was one corridor
of open water, and Tai drove the right down the middle of it, toward
the airlock. Nix was glued to the window the whole time. The Outpost
was lit up brightly, but little of the light made it past the endless
columns of gently waving kelp. In and out out them, she could see
divers with dolphin partners, swimming up and down the length of
them, choosing sections to harvest with care.
had a firm grip on the helm. Cora did too, eyes constantly moving.
“Watch for cross-current. One of the Delivery Subs just left dock,
and if they disturb the kelp too much, I don’t want us getting
rotors? Probably safer than anything the Earthers build.” Tai
checked the warning light automatically. It was still safe to talk.
“How free are we to talk in there?”
don’t.” Cora told her. “We’re a cell group. We know each
other, and Don. That’s all. I get missions to talk to others
sometimes, but that’s all. The whole Outpost could be Aquans and we
wouldn’t know it. As long as we don’t know, we can’t talk.”
docked in Varuna’s Airlock, and Cora immediately climbed around the
hull to let Delphi out. The Dolphin swam free of his place on the
submarine gratefully, and stretched his tail out. “Delphi swim.”
a lap of the Outpost, make friends with the other Dolphin teams.”
Cora told him. “Stay close. We’ll go for a swim later, once I’m
done meeting with Commander Lewis.”
that thing away from the Harvesters!” A voice called from the other
side of the Docking Bay. “Hard enough to meet quota without getting
a Dolphin snagged in the rotors!”
‘thing’ was instrumental in saving over two dozen children last
month!” A voice called back pointedly before Cora could get angry
enough to shout it herself. Cora turned to see Commander Lewis coming
into the Docking Bay. “Lieutenant Bridger. A pleasure to have you
here with us.”
looked around subtly. The one that had shouted about her Dolphin
looked askance at her. Commander Lewis had just barely emphasised her
name, and telling the whole Docking Bay that her Dolphin was involved
with the Cousteau
the situation very clear.
apologize for the tone Fraser took with you.” Lewis said once he
and Cora were alone in his office. “Fraser works the Harvester, and
those machines are tempermental, the production line always needs
monitoring.” He already had a clipboard with the production
statistics on his desk. “We’ve had biologics getting in there and
screwing up the work before; and with the Transport Schedule thrown
out for weeks…”
understand.” Cora said. “I wasn’t offended. And if you’ve got
those numbers on hand already; then you obviously know why I’m
here. The Director wants to know what you’re doing to get us back
looked at her sideways. “Permission to speak freely?”
confusing me with my father, Lewis. Say what you want to say.”
Schedule is… borderline impossible.” Lewis said plainly. “With
gone, that’s over seventy percent of our shipping manifest just
filling up the corridors. I can’t break it up into a dozen smaller
shipments, because the subs I’ve got are barely holding together,
and the subs from the other Range Outposts are all overworked too.
Landfall has doubled everyone’s workload, and with Resources so…
expensive, it’s not like we were flush with excess time and
problem that everyone is having.” Cora admitted. “As much as I
hate to say it, you can make up the difference by putting every
resource on this, and increasing shift length by three hours each
rotation.” She saw the look on his face and pushed through it.
“You’d have to delay your second-class duties and-” He reacted
again, and this time she called him on it. “Okay. What?”
Class Duty is… Well, it’s the only personal time anyone gets.”
Lewis explained. “The Ranges are being fed by us, and we can only
slow down our workload when we’re performing another duty. One that
isn’t as intensive. And if it involves travelling to one of the
other Dark Water Outposts, then whoever gets that duty also gets a
few hours to sleep or cool off in a Sub, time with other people, away
from the Production Line… There’s just so much to do, we have
people fighting over the chance to do anything else, just for a
didn’t mention this in any of your reports.”
did, once. Your father responded by declaring our time off to be
wasteful, and increasing the Quotas.”
let out a breath between her teeth. “It’s the ocean. We’re
surrounded by food.”
yes. Gathering and Production equipment, no. If we can convince
people to eat raw kelp, fine. If we want to process it and make it
edible first…” Lewis looked exhausted. “We’ve put in
petitions for using more Synths, more anything
that would reduce the strain on the workers… There’s no
Observation Domes here. There’s no Symphonies, or Projectors, or
Museums full of Cache Treasures. The people here only have work, and
the only time off they have is ‘Second Class Duty’. I tell them
that the Ark-Hive has denied them even a few hours where they have to
I’ll have a riot on my hands.”
Director mentioned that he’s starting to get the sense that several
Dark Water Colonies are having the same reaction. That… shall we
say, discipline is starting to wane here.” Cora said with distaste.
looked outraged. The kind of anger that only came from sudden fear.
“I’ll have you know, I’m registered with the Stingray as a
certified loyalist of-”
Lewis. We know you don’t write these reports.” Cora waved it off.
“And between you and me, I don’t see how you can drive your guys
any harder. However, we don’t have any other choice. With your
primary Cargo Submarine declared a write-off, we have to find other
ways to feed almost eight thousand people.”
are nine other Heavy Cargo Subs in the Ocean with the Cousteau’s
all of them are already on assignment.” Cora cut him off. “Before
you say anything, I’ve been singing that song for days. But
Landfall is apparently inviolate. Everything else is expendable,
including food and water.”
Lewis gave the matter some thought. “Well, there are only two
options. I can make a large shipment and send one large craft around
to all the stops on the Deep Range Circuit.”
you don’t have anymore.”
I can process the harvested material we already have backing up and
combine it with synthetic protein paste.”
turn the entire food supply for the Dark Water Ranges into emergency
rations.” Cora supposed. “High energy emergency rations means the
servings aren’t as big.”
I do that, I can make lots of little shipments and send everyone home
with the proverbial ‘food basket’ whenever they come by.” Lewis
nodded. “But that means bringing different production lines and
different equipment online. Equipment that has been... unmaintained,
for some time. The thing about Emergency Rations is that you only
make enough of them to cover an emergency.”
this qualifies. The Director won’t be swayed on the date for
Landfall, and once that’s over, we can all go back to normal.”
We won’t even be in the ocean any more.” Lewis snorted.
“Lieutenant, the pressure on some of those tanks will go beyond the
Red Line even under the best of circumstances and if I have to keep
that equipment running around the clock…”
think it’ll overheat?”
regulator is under a mile of seawater, and won’t overheat unless a
volcano opens up underneath us.” Lewis said. “It’s not the
temperature, it’s the pressure. To make smaller shipments fast, I’d
have to bring some other Processors online, and they… are offline
for a reason.”
about preserved goods and emergency rations you already have?”
gone. We have the capacity to create long-life supplies, but that
requires specific chemicals and freon gases, all of which is created
at the Ark-Hive. With Landfall so close, those resources have been
cancelled. All our preserved food is being reserved for use on the
surface, until the Life Sciences Department can create stable surface
food supplies. Assuming we don’t find some source of nourishment
waiting for us up there.”
nodded. “The whole thing is being carefully timed that way. Raw
materials for you to produce food will run out exactly when you run
out of customers. Food Drops
colonies will stop at the exact moment we don’t need colonies any
more. Resource Management.”
idea on a spreadsheet, but it means there’s no margin for error.
What does The Director intend to do about the inevitable ‘wild
screams at me, then I scream at you, and miracles happen.” Cora
gave a long suffering sigh. “Bring your other production lines
online. I know it’s a risk, but they only need to work for two
months. By then, everyone on the Deep Ranges will be in the Ark-Hive,
ready for Landfall.”
know you hate being ‘bad cop’.” Tai said softly.
be much longer.” Cora promised and changed the subject. They didn’t
get much downtime away from the Ark-Hive, and while the cafeteria
wasn’t exactly hidden, they took a moment to enjoy a meal without
Morgan or her Father watching. “Ano asked me about you yesterday.
She wants to know when she gets to meet you.”
met me dozens of times.” Tai teased. “Who do you think told me
about your favorite music the first time I made you that mix-list?”
choked on her Kale. “That was years ago. Exactly how long have you
been pining over me?”
object to the term ‘pining’ since it was clearly mutual the whole
wants to have you over for dinner.” Cora got back on topic. “She’s
been saving up her ration cards and putting aside bits and pieces
from her own personal stores. She wants to make a fuss about my first
serious guy, and she’s asked that it be a night when my father will
be working, so that she has you in her sinister clutches all night.”
thought Ano liked me.”
adores you, but there’s a tradition of tormenting the boyfriend,
and with mom gone, and dad… well, if he wants to grill someone, he
can have the professionals do it. Ano wants to play ‘mother’ for
a little while, and she’s been doing that for ten years, so I…”
She smiled impishly at him.
already said yes.” Tai nodded with a wry grin. “Well, we can’t
put it off forever. Family is family, after all.”
said nothing to that, but felt a wave of sympathy for him. His family
was Green Sector, so there was never any real chance of siblings. His
father’s number had come up in the Lottery years before, once Tai
was old enough to be assigned his own Quarters and assignments. After
moving out of his father’s quarters, his father’s name had gone
into The Lottery with the other Empty Nest parents, and now her
beloved Tai had no family left.
Sector can have family.
She thought quietly. If
my mom hadn’t died, I could have siblings right now. I have Ano and
Don. Tai never had anyone who he could pretend was his family.
look sad now.” Tai observed.
came around the table between them and took his face between her
hands, kissing him soundly. “Love you, Stripes.”
you, Shells.” Tai responded automatically, touched.
Nix, she loves you too. Not like I do, but as a big brother at least,
and Don…” Cora trailed off. He was giving her one of those smiles
please continue.” He teased and kissed her chin. He pulled back and
looked at her worried face. “What? What is this for? What’s
looked down, a little embarrassed. “I just realized… I mean, you
never told me all that time, because you figured we wouldn’t have a
shot. Gold Sector being matched with Green Sector? Can’t work for
long. If it wasn’t for my mom, we never would have met, would we?”
Tai admitted. “But either we make Landfall, or we pull off the
Exodus. Either way, we can change those rules, since we won’t be…”
Tai was smiling softly for her, pulling her in closer. “We could
actually get to keep each other, Shells.”
could.” Cora smiled, and hugged him tight. “So don’t get
either.” Tai smiled and hugged her tighter. “Nix is watching us.”
broke the hug and waved their apprentice over. “What’s the word?”
the Scheduling problems back at Base, travel time to the Ark-Hive,
and the Docking schedules there, we’d be better off sleeping here
reported. “I already spoke with their Ops Manager, and he’s got a
room for us. It’s not comfortable, but it’s the only room left
with a hatch and a bunk.”
two pilots nodded, yawning. It had been a long drive to be sure.
already checked the room. There’s only one bunk. So I’ll bed down
in the HydraHawk.”
Nix smiled secretly at the two of them. “See you both in the
was gone before either of them could figure out what to say to that.
think she means that in the sweetest possible way.” Cora offered
Days To Landfall
woke up suddenly. She was alone, and all the lights were out, so the
room was nearly pitch black. In fact, there was no light from the
porthole either. In an unfamiliar room, it took Cora a few minutes to
shake off sleep and figure out where she was.
are the lights out?” She thought aloud. Her TABB provided some
light, and she scanned the small room. Her timer said it was 0400.
“But the lights outside should be on.” Cora said to herself. “The
Kelp Forest has people working on the night shift too… There should
be lights out there.”
then the room shook, just for an instant.
was full awake instantly. Something was happening. Something bad. She
tapped at her TABB. “Bridger to Ops.” There was no answer. Cora
worked the frequency finder. “Bridger to anyone in range, come
here!” Nix’s voice answered, but Cora could barely make it out.
“Talk fast, I can’t keep a signal up for more than a few-” The
rest was lost to static for several seconds. “-cking bay is full of
smoke! I ca-”
Cora thought archly. Smoke
was the greatest terror of any Outpost or Submarine. Contained in a
small, pressurized environment, it would spread death quickly and
leave nothing behind to rebuild. Every Outpost had alarms and backups
to warn the entire Outpost immediately. But Cora hadn’t heard
anything. No alarms, not even lights…
swiftly understood. “The power! The power is out! Fire in the
came out of her room and ran for the generators. The Range Outposts
were designed with the working equipment centralized, and the living
spaces around them. If the fire was big enough to cut the power, and
burn out the backups; then it must have spread already.
was no smoke in the corridor, and the emergency chemical lights were
giving enough glow to see by. People were waking up, the shuddering
in the walls getting their attention.
Cora shouted at them. “All hands to duty stations! Fire in the
few started running with her, and after a moment she let them take
the lead. They knew the place far better than she did.
Generator rooms were in the central section of the Outpost. There
were three ways in. Cora ran to the nearest one, and found Tai was
already there in a Breather, dragging someone out of the Generator
was so relieved to see him she nearly pounced, but held herself back
just in time. There were no doubt going to be a lot of questions
asked, and she didn’t want anyone reporting that she apparently had
no idea where he was in the leadup to the fire. As half a dozen men
in fireproof gear went running into the room, she found Commander
Lewis. “What happened?!” She demanded of him.
overloaded.” Lewis growled. “Apparently the load on regulator was
what he was worried about.
Cora thought grimly. “Anyone else in there?”
more.” Tai told her, about to go back in. Cora grabbed him and
checked his hands. He’d been burned, but not very badly.
this is their Outpost, they’ve got people for this.” Cora told
people are scattered all over the complex.” Lewis told her. “The
fire is in the works. They’re trying madly to stop the smoke from
asphyxiating the whole crew. They’re pulling the electrics before
the entire outpost goes up in flames. They’re sealing every hatch
there redundancies and backups for this sort... of... thing.”
Cora’s voice faltered. She knew the answer to that. The backup
parts were all being used. Resource Management had determined that
extra parts were unnecessary.
Cora thought bleakly. Or
at least, I helped.
took Tai’s breather. “Get those hands fixed.” She told him.
“How long left on this?”
ten minutes of air.” Tai didn’t bother arguing. He knew she’d
made up her mind. “Two of them, on the lower level. Hoses are on
the left of the hatch. Cora… Don’t be crazy?”
squeezed his hand. He knew her too well. She was feeling guilty
enough to run into a burning module, but she was staying calm. Lewis
was also pulling a breather on. Cora didn’t try to talk him out of
get those guys out, and we can breach the Halon System.” Lewis told
her. “If the vents don’t let us do it, we can just break open the
tanks. It’ll smother the flames, and anyone without a breather.”
we better get them out!” Cora shouted to him over the growing roar
of the fire. “Tai, seal the hatch behind us. We’ve got air, and
there’s no sense feeding the flames more than we have to.”
had been trained in fire suppression. All pilots were, as well as
most people over the age of twelve. Fire was something that everyone
had to know how to fight. Minutes counted in an underwater fire. Cora
had heard once that the Air-Mix they breathed was different to the
atmosphere on the surface, and burned at a different velocity.
had been given the tour of the Generator Room earlier in the day. It
looked nothing like that now. Thick clouds of smoke filled every inch
that wasn’t covered in sheets of flame. Cora’s Taqs compensated,
the way they did with the Dark Water, but it only helped a little.
stayed low. Commander Lewis kept his hand on her back all the way so
they wouldn’t lose each other.
are down, but my people were fighting the fire from the other side of
the Module at last report!” He shouted to her over the roar of the
flame. “Your man said the two were on the lower level!”
is good, because I don’t think we’d be able to find our way up.”
Cora shouted back, as she found the hose. “Let’s do this!”
water was being fed from the ocean, and the pressure was enormous. It
took both of them to point the water where it was needed, but they
started gaining ground at last. They went deeper, and Cora noticed
other teams heading towards her, also with hoses. They made their way
toward the middle of the room…
found Fraser, also wearing a breather, trying to lever a hunk of
burning debris off his friend. Lewis left the hose to Cora and
hurried over to help him. “About time!” Fraser yelled at them.
“Get Baz outta here.” He was already back at the control panel.
“Commander, the fire is shorting out the regulator!”
knew that!” Lewis was hoisting his wounded man up in a fireman’s
carry as someone gave him oxygen.
not the Production Line Regulator, the Hydraulic
one!” Fraser told him.
looked horrified. “But if the fire has shorted out the Hydraulics,
then the pressure on the support struts might be in jeopardy!”
Lewis told Cora. “With everything burning hollow and the water
sloshing back and forth… If the weight shifts around too much-”
was a sudden creaking noise, deep enough that Cora felt it in the pit
of her stomach, loud enough that it carried over the din. All of them
looked up at the walls, waiting for them to cave in. “Too late.”
Fraser sighed, as though such things happened every day.
OUT!” Lewis roared. “Seal the hatches! Seal everything!
caught Fraser’s hand, tossed aside her hose and ran for the hatch,
when the floor suddenly shifted beneath her feet. She was sent
wheeling, facedown in icy water. She fought to get upright, caught
the barest glimpse of the hatch. Lewis was through, holding the door
open for her. He dared not come back into the room…
then the ocean came pouring in through the wall around the hatch, and
Cora could see Lewis realize it.
Fraser screeched behind Cora as Lewis slammed the hatch shut, sealing
off the next section, with them on the wrong side of the door. Fraser
barely had time to let out a cry before the section lurched again,
and the ocean came pouring in.
Cora told herself. If the hull had ruptured, it would have imploded
instantly, and they’d both be dead already. But instead, it was
filling up with water. Icy cold ocean water, barely a degree above
freezing solid. The seals around the hatch had torn away, but if the
hull hadn’t imploded…
foundations!” Cora shouted to Fraser. “The support struts of this
section are failing! Crash positions! Grab onto something!” She
tapped at her TABB, the water waist high now. “Nix! Bring the HydraHawk!”
The answer came, barely audible over the static. “I can’t drive
was another creaking noise, like someone was tearing the world apart…
the whole world pitched sideways. Cora felt the water leave the
floor, felt the floor jump up and slap her, felt the water crash down
again. Something else hit her, and she felt seawater against her
lips. The breathing mask was broken, the hose torn.
pulled her up just long enough to grab another breath as the water
sloshed back, slapping them off their feet again. There was a loud
bang as the room suddenly stopped spinning around them. The place was
wrecked, all jagged metal and destroyed machinery.
torn section of the hull was now sideways, water still flooding in.
Air pressure kept almost ten feet from flooding, but the waters were
still rising, the hull leaking in a dozen places after the impact.
was gasping beside her, turning blue. “Well…” He coughed.
wasn’t faring much better. The water was cold enough that she could
feel it stabbing into her like a thousand knives all over her body.
Cora wanted to scream, but had to save her air, even as her limbs
betrayed her and her hands went numb. “W-w-we Have t-t-to get-t-t
out!” Cora said to him. “My breather’s scrapped. How’s
checked the gauge. There was enough to get one of them all the way
there, or both of them halfway. “124 meters.” She
whispered to herself. “T-Today’s a good day to break the
had apparently read her mind. “Go. Take it. You’re the Director’s
Daughter. My life ain’t worth spit if I don’t save you.”
are you worried about, Fraser? The cold will kill us both before we
get halfway to the Docking Bay.” Cora stuttered out. “We dive, go
for the break in the hull, then make speed for the-”
long beak poked up from the water between them. A familiar dolphin,
carrying a small pack on his harness. Cora recognized her suit,
folded and secured, as Delphi clicked and whistled. “Cora! No
n-noticed.” Cora let out a breath. “Delphi, hurry! We gotta get
out of the water before we freeze!”
water broke again, and Tai came up, wearing his suit. “Oh, thank
mercy.” He said when he saw her. “Are you alright?”
I look alright?” Cora was already trying to get her suit unpacked
with fingers that wouldn’t move. “Tai, this is Fraser. He doesn’t
have a heat-pack-k, he doesn’t have a suit, and his Air-Mix has
just enough to get him to safety if Delphi tows him.”
go!” The Dolphin said immediately, and Fraser gripped the harness.
second they were alone, Cora let out a short scream. “Tai, this is
really freakin’ cold and I can’t-t make my fingers work!”
immediately got to work helping her get into the suit. “When the
module broke off and fell, I thought for sure…”
I woke up and you weren’t there, I thought the same.” Cora said
as they both kept treading the rising water. “I thought we agreed
we were gonna keep each other forever. We agreed that just last
night, in fact.”
could barely get the wetsuit on her trembling body. “I remember.”
was no help, having trouble moving her limbs. “Tai, I’m not as
cold anymore… I’m going hypothermic. Hurry.”
gave up. “This isn’t working. It’s hard enough to get into one
of these things without it and you being soaking wet.” He sent a
glance upward. The chamber was almost full of water.
get the torso piece on, and fire up the heat!” Cora croaked, lips
now solid blue. “I would honestly prefer to suffocate!”
did so, and Cora let out a scream again. The heating elements in her
wetsuit were in such contrast to the water that she felt like someone
was branding her. She twisted herself in a knot trying to hold on,
and Tai pulled her face mask over her, just as her head bumped
against the ceiling.
returned then, whistling. “Cora! Help Cora!”
got them to the HydraHawk.
Nix was in the pilot's seat, white-knuckled grip on the controls. Tai
took over and guided them away from the Kelp Farm. The ‘forest’
was tangled and being torn up by the sudden collapse of whole modules
of the outpost.
water was full of escape pods, and other submarines, all of them
evacuating. Cora could see huge bubbles exploding out of the open
they get a handle on it before the whole thing comes apart?” Nix
asked, rubbing some warmth into Cora’s arms.
don’t know.” Cora croaked. “But either way, food production is
shut down. Tell Lewis we’re alive, and get us back to the Ark-Hive.
I have to brief my dad.”
what he said would happen.” Cora wrapped her fingers gratefully
around the hot drink. The cold had left her bones on the trip, but
the memory of it was still intense. “The equipment that should
never have been used overheated, and the replacement parts and backup
generators were already packed because the Recall order is less than
two months away, and they weren’t equipped to increase output and
lower preparation at the same time. Behold the result.”
long to get back on schedule?” The Director asked.
swatted him. She was the only one alive that was able to do so.
“People are dying
I don’t mean to seem unfeeling, but there’s a much larger issue
‘larger issue’ is a joke!” Cora scorned.
upset, so I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.” The
Director glared at her. “We’re talking about your future. That’s
run the numbers eight times. We can lighten the schedule! Do it in
stages! A Surface colony can live, and live damn well off the ocean
for generations; we’ve been doing it all this time. Leave one or
two Domes behind after Landfall, and the Ark-Hive can live long and
sustainable with less people and less equipment. Especially if you
get off your high horse and use the Synths. We can have it both ways,
if you lighten the damn schedule!”
we could have ended the rebellion six months earlier if we’d just
given the Aquans everything they wanted.” He fired back. “Some
things you just do not compromise on. Some people you do not shake
is this the same thing?!”
me, it is.” The Director told her. “To do what you suggest would
mean to leave half our population behind for a year, maybe more.”
what?! After centuries in the ocean, that’s a dealbreaker?” Cora
demanded. “What am I missing?! I’m serious! What’s the hurry?!”
finally, The Director gave her an answer. “You are!”
words hung in the air for a long moment. “I am?” Cora repeated,
confused. “I don’t understand.”
a sigh, her father turned his chair around to the new safe. Cora’s
eyes flashed, but he put his body between her and the keypad. She
strained her ears to listen as he punched in the code. Six
digits. Letters or numbers?
got a quick look inside the safe when he opened it. He pulled out one
file. There were a dozen others left inside. The safe was closed
instantly, and Cora made herself focus on the conversation.
father pushed the file to her, and told her what was in it while she
looked. “Did you never wonder why I haven’t left the Ark-Hive in
years? It’s Weir Syndrome.”
set her jaw. Weir Syndrome was named for the first man in the
Ark-Hive to suffer from it. Compression sickness that crept up by
inches. Cora and Tai had both been checked for it after getting back
from the Decompression Chamber. It was the unspoken fear of many of
the Deep Sea crews; because it was hard to spot, and came on slowly.
was always fatal.
He gave her a sharp look. “Clear eyes, daughter. I always knew I
wasn’t going to see the surface myself. If I even tried going that
shallow I’d… well let’s say it, boil from the inside. But I
still have time. Time enough, anyway. When the Board finds out I
won’t be going to the surface personally, they will come like
sharks. I have to have my legacy in place, and a change of power
completed before anyone knows there’s any question.”
Cora said quietly.
The Director agreed. “It’s been assumed that you’d take over
from me sooner or later. And you’ve got lots of appeal as a
candidate. You’re a hero after the Cousteau,
you’re already on a first name basis with most of the Outpost
Commanders and Department Heads…” The Director let out a breath.
“But when humanity reaches the surface, all the rules change. I
need an established fact. You need to be running the place before
eyes felt hot, but it took her a moment to realize she was crying.
The words on the file were blurring. The medical report was saying
the same thing.
Director came around the desk and lifted her chin gently. “Hey.
Don’t weep for me, daughter. I always knew that I wouldn’t make
it up there. Every generation to live in the Ark-Hive before you has
known the same.” His voice changed, becoming more personal and
gentle than she could ever remember it being. “Cora, I know I
haven’t been the best father. Your mother was always better with
you than I was. But there are four hundred years of your ancestors
all working toward the same goal. And you, my wonderful, brilliant
daughter, will fulfill centuries of work, all toward that one dream:
To take us all home.” He smiled broadly at her. “And not only
will I live to see you be part of the generation that finally goes
back to the surface… I get to watch as you lead them there.”
give you that, I will do anything.” The Director said gently,
hugging her close. “I worked so hard, and it will all be worth it.
They’ll write history books about you, Cora Bridger. You’ll be
the first Director in the history of the Ark-Hive to be more than
just a ‘caretaker’ for the human race. I’m so proud of you,
was too much. The secrets she kept, her own plans for the future, the
revelation of her father’s illness, the weight of the surface, and
the future… Her father’s approval was the final straw, and she
broke down sobbing on his shoulder.