Board Meeting was tense as Cora briefed the rest of the Leadership on
the situation. “With the Production and Processing permanently
wrecked, our Outposts are no longer facing a shipping problem. Their
food capacity is now at less than a third of what they need to
more than nine thousand people.” Amos declared darkly.
nodded. “Our best projections say that we can keep everyone fed for
another four weeks, at most. Two weeks before it becomes a problem,
Director let out a breath. “All right. I’m issuing an executive
order that all Outposts beyond the Light Water are to go on immediate
about the Ark-Hive?”
We have huge stores and our own food comes from an entirely different
source than the Outposts on the Ranges.” The Director dismissed
instantly. “Cora, Amos, put your heads together and come up with a
schedule that will allow the Ark-Hive to supplement their food supply
from our stores.”
been running the numbers most of the night.” Cora yawned. “There’s
no way that will help anything. Not for long. Another week at most.
Three weeks if we go on rationing too.”
That’ll put us even further behind schedule on Landfall.” The
Director scowled. “Hades, I’ve never known a run of bad luck like
did they come up with?” Tai asked as they sat together in The
useful.” Cora admitted. “The Board likes to waste Air-Mix, make
themselves feel like they’re achieving something. But that’s not
what I wanted you to know. Tell Don that I found out what the new
safe in my father’s office was for. Medical Records. Specifically,
father? He is… unwell?”
he’s not unwell. He’s dying.” Cora said plainly. There.
I was able to say it out loud and the world didn’t fall on me. “The
thing is, I’m absolutely positive he was hiding something more.”
Cora said quietly. “There were a lot more files in the safe and-”
was interrupted by the feel of his arms going around her. The hiding
place was cramped, but she settled into him gratefully, suddenly
feeling like there was more air in her lungs.
you okay?” He asked her, lips against her hair.
actually smiled a bit, eyes tearing up again. “It’s funny. I
always knew that if the Exodus worked, I’d never see him again.
I’ve spent years and years getting myself into a mental place where
I can handle losing him. I feel bad that I don’t feel worse.” She
he didn’t answer the question.” Tai nodded. “His illness is why
you have to be on the surface, and in charge by the schedule he’s
set, but why does the whole human race have to go with you?”
don’t know.” Cora admitted. “Does it bother you that we have
exactly one place in the world where we can speak privately, and we
always seem to spend the time talking about my father?”
your father. Your family. And his plans.” Tai grinned. “And our
plans. And how our plans affect his plans, and how his plans affect
our plans concerning his plans…”
chuckled. “Mm. Oh, and speaking of my family and plans...”
with Ano?” Tai nodded. “I imagine it’s not going to get any
then.” Cora agreed. “One day we’ll be done with all this, Tai.
I’ll miss Ano like crazy, but one day it’ll just be us and the
ocean, and clear water all the way ahead of us for life.”
wonderful.” Tai agreed. “It’s why I joined the Aquans, you
know? The Earthers, like Amos and your father? They spend their lives
trying to wrestle the ocean into giving them what they need. They
don’t understand that you can never win a wrestling match with the
oceans. And you don’t have to. What I loved about the Aquan team is
that they… didn’t need as much. As much equipment, as much power,
as much garbage, as much… anything. They just accept what’s
already down here. Coral, cave, fish, Dolphin… A million times
easier than Domes, Processor, Submarine… All those machines are a
waste, because the Ocean always wins.”
ocean always wins.” Cora agreed. “I think that’s what I love
about it most. It’s just… everything.” She leaned up and kissed
his chin. “You’re the only one to feel that way as much as I do.
As much as my mom did. Love you, Stripes.”
be nice.” Cora said to Ano, as she went to answer it. It was not a
will be.” Ano promised.
came in. He’d made an effort, having scrubbed up his uniform;
changed his hair to be a bit neater. He’d never taken the effort
can’t impress me.” Ano told him, by way of greeting.
thought that I could, but if I make an effort, you have to.” Tai
laughed at that, and the mood relaxed. She hugged him close and lead
them over to the table. “Sit, sit.” She told them. “Tonight we
have wakame noodles, battered and served with Pickled Octopus filet,
and cream sauce. I pulled a few strings in the aeroponics bay, got us
some actual strawberries to go with dessert, which is an Asakusa Nori
eyes boggled, and Cora felt her heartrate tick over. Tai was used to
eating processed seaweed packs. This kind of luxury was exclusive to
Gold Sector, and even then, only in extreme cases. Ano was an
excellent cook, but neither Cora or her father ever really bothered
to sit and linger over a meal when there was so much to do. “Here,
Tai.” She rushed him past that point. “Sit by me.”
you must be getting excited.” Ano said knowingly as they sat down.
older woman scoffed. “Not like that. What I mean is, you must be
excited about Landfall. It’s the perfect solution for you. Tai,
I’ve noticed Rhea has accessed your File a few times, at the Public
looked over at Tai sharply. “Rhea? From your old class?”
sank into his seat. “I heard something like that, yes. She’s Blue
Sector. A Pilot from Green Sector is… Well, a good match, rations
wise. She can provide a higher priority for medical rations, Green
Sector means better quarters.”
was gobsmacked. “You never mentioned this.”
should he? The match won’t happen.” Ano said warmly. “Landfall
in a few months. If it goes well, those kinds of matches won’t be
important anymore. You two might actually have a shot.” She gave
Tai a firm look. “You don’t really think you’ll be dumping The
Director’s Daughter for anyone better, do you?”
don’t believe there is anyone better.” Tai said simply.
kept glancing at the table. Cora understood why. Ano had served a
meal with such casual luxury, and Tai was having a harder time with
that than he would a savage beating.
was nice of you to do this.” Tai said finally.
I thought it was long past time.”
we’ve met before, several times.” Tai reminded her.
but that was when you were Meyrna’s Apprentice. The rules have
changed now, somewhat.”
chuckled. “Not that much. I remember a few people had some things
to say on Meyrna adopting a kid out of Green Sector.” He sent Cora
a glance. “Maybe the Bridger women have a weakness for me.”
was about to say something when her TABB chimed. She checked the
screen. It was Nix. “I should take this.” She stood up, and gave
Ano a pleading look. Be
just smiled at her.
didn’t go to her room to take the call. She snuck to the door to
her quarters and opened the hatch as smoothly as possible. Nix was
there. “I went to Ben. He tells me that the number of people who
can access a medical report for The Director is less than five.”
I’m not in the loop, so the number is lower than that. Cora
thought. “Good work.”
more thing. Ben didn’t look that number up.” Nix reported. “He
tried, to impress me with his new access, but there’s a new
password on the medical logs. He swears it wasn’t there when his
father was doing the job.”
other files in my father’s new safe.
Cora thought. “What does Ben think about his father?”
face grew colder. “It’s not like he’s the first one to have a
family member Bagged. Everyone below Blue Sector knows what it’s
I don’t. Cora
thought distantly. Because
I’m Gold Level. Stingray barely notice me.
was another candid reminder that there was always a wall between her
and the people she cared about. Nix made her goodbyes and Cora
hurried back to the dinner table, mindful of making sure Tai and Ano
when she got back to the table, she found they were laughing and
talking like old friends. She had apparently walked in mid-story. Ano
was smiling wider than Cora had seen her do in years. “...wearing
those dolphin onesie pyjamas! It was all we could do to keep her from
diving straight into the Moon Pool. Meyrna didn’t have the heart to
tell her she wasn’t a real dolphin just because she was dressed
was laughing himself sick. “Oh, I wish I could have seen that.”
I have pictures!” Ano said eagerly. “Meyrna saved a box of baby
things. Cora’s first tooth, first stuffed toy, first drawing-”
beamed, just as Cora elbowed him hard. “Would it have killed you to
be a little less
nice?” She hissed at Ano.
Days To Landfall
Dome in the Ark-Hive had a cafeteria. Gold Sector Quarters had their
own kitchenettes. Cora made a point of eating with the other pilots
when she could, but word was getting out about the food shortages on
the Outposts. Most everyone here knew that she had her own gourmet
food, and everyone knew people who lived in the Dark Water, going
hungry. This was not the time for making a principled stand by lining
up with a food tray like everyone else.
Rationing hadn’t reached the Ark-Hive yet, but every pilot she knew
was sneaking some of their food off their trays and wrapping it to
take to friends while on assignment. All of Cora’s friends on the
Ranges were other Aquans, and there was no chance she could take them
food. She had to pretend she barely knew them.
unable to eat with her co-workers, and unable to help her friends,
Cora waited out the lunch rush with the only person left she could
talk to, sitting on the edge of the Moon Pool at the Observation
Deck. Delphi came up to join her. “Cora Sad.” He squeaked.
a long week.” Cora admitted, reaching out a hand to rest on his
grey skin. “I’m sorry we haven’t swum together for a while.
Things are happening fast now.”
always does.” Cora agreed. “But I have to drive out to the Ranges
first. I just wanted to check in with my best bud. How have you
hunt. Find food. Humans stop feeding.” Delphi reported. “Humans
scared. Hungry. Great Ones call Delphi. Great Ones show us where fish
run. Dolphins eat. Humans need fish?”
have fish.” Cora smiled. “Those fisheries where we spawn them? We
have fish. We just… can’t get enough of them where they all need
help.” Delphi ducked under the water and swam away.
sighed. Landfall was getting closer, and if their plans didn’t
work, she’d never see Delphi again. She
wasn’t getting to spend any time with her
friend before risking a goodbye.
have your whole life once you manage the Exodus. She
Everything else is temporary. Three months. A person can hang by
their wrists for three months.
Days To Landfall
were everything in the Ark-Hive. Especially the essential ones like
food and drinking water. Nobody had much excess. Calories and
vitamins were all calculated, and portions served appropriately. As a
result, extra food was unusual at the best of times. Enough to keep
people healthy, few snacks. Snacks were rewards and perks.
the Outposts on Rationing, the people already concerned about being
marginalized and ignored by the leaders of the Ark-Hive grew quietly
furious. With rationing unnecessary on the Ark-Hive, not much changed
for the people closer to where Cora lived. As days passed, Cora
delivered food from the storehouses out to the Ranges, and saw the
people there staring at her with eyes that grew hungrier and more
envious with each passing day.
to arrival?” Cora asked quietly.
hour.” Tai checked. “I’ll call ahead, tell them to have guards
ready at the Docking Bay.”
them to move quietly. I don’t want armed Stingray hanging around
the airlock for too long. Everyone will know we’re coming.”
getting like that, isn’t it?” Tai nodded grimly. “Last time we
were at Cameron Outpost, my ‘friends’ there put me against a wall
and flat out begged me for food. Another week of this, and the
Ark-Hive will have to go on rationing too, just to prevent riots from
breaking out in the Outposts.”
does that mean for us?” Nix asked from behind them. “For the
Aquans, I mean?” The fear was apparent in her voice.
and Cora traded a look. “Want to bring her inside?”
why not?” Cora grinned. “You go with her. I’ve got paperwork to
finish. Resource Management, y’know?”
sealed the Dive Hatch shut behind them, and Nix checked her Breather
again. “I’m good. First time we’ve gone EVA without Cora or
Delphi.” Nix grinned, checking his position with her suit lights.
don’t bite.” Tai chuckled. “And turn off those suit lights. You
wanna live in the Dark Water, you have to be comfortable with night
diving. Below the Euphotic Zone, we get no natural light from above.
It takes a fair amount of work making the ocean provide light, so you
gotta know how to move in the dark.”
switched off her lights. Light from the luminous plants was distant,
but the plants didn’t move, and Nix was able to orient herself,
find a direction. Sound moved fast in the water, and between her ears
and her TABB, she was able to follow his movements as he headed for
the sea floor.
we haven’t really spoken, since you found out The Big Secret.” He
said as they swam away from the HydraHawk.
shivered. “When I found out, I wanted so badly to be scared of you,
Tai. It would have been easy to turn you in and let them shoot you,
if I had a ration card for every time a girl said that to me.” Tai
drawled. “Okay, so you’re worried about the food shortage. I
assume Cora let you in on the plan for Exodus.”
and I don’t see how it could work.” Nix admitted. “The schedule
is so tight, how could we ever hope to just… sneak away with enough
submarines and equipment to leave it all behind?”
you’ve been running with us enough to know that the problem isn’t
equipment, it’s policy. We could build outposts out of stone and
coral that would stay strong as steel for centuries. We can grow
luminous plants and fishes and minerals enough that we don’t even
need the UV lanterns, thanks to our vitamin diets. We can have
trained Synth’s towing more cargo than our own cargo subs can, and
they can do it for generations, because all of them can multiply on
their own.” Tai told her. “The reason we don’t have it now is
because The Director is so hellbent on getting us back to the
Surface, as has everyone in his job, for longer than we’ve been
alive. Anyone who suggests these solutions gets noticed by Morgan.
Trust me, leaving is the hard part, staying away will be easy.”
with the famine? People are ready to riot over non-toxic seaweed.
We’re running out the clock on Landfall, and our people need to eat
if to answer her, Tai turned on his suit lights again… And a forest
of plant life lit up in front of them.
Nix burst out laughing.
called Dwarf Kelp. It grows as much as the regular stuff, only it
of growing straight upwards like the regular farms do. It means we
can produce as much food as a Kelp Farm and do it in half the space.
Without synthing it with the bioluminescence like we do in other
workspaces, it doesn’t glow, so you could swim right past it and
never know it was here.” Tai explained.
on earth did you pull this off?”
something they put together early on.” Tai explained. “Back when
‘Ocean Solutions’ wasn’t a dirty word. The early Aquans seeded
a lot more of this stuff. When the rules changed and we realized we
were going to have to go into hiding, our early leaders let the
Ark-Hive think it had died out on its own.”
was silent for a long moment. “How much more?”
know what you’re thinking.” Tai sighed. “Cora’s already said
could end the Food Shortage if we told people.”
could The Director if he put his people out in the water and told
them to follow the animals. They have to eat too. Cora’s suggested
using Ocean Solutions at every step of the Landfall Process to
lighten the schedule, ease the resource drain... and he’s shut her
down at every step. Convinced they’re not ‘reliable’.” He let
out a breath, sending a stream of bubbles up. “Nix, the Ocean is
the most dependable thing that there’s ever been.”
ran her fingertips across the plants. A funny looking fish peeked out
from between the leaves at her, and retreated. “What do you mean,
dependable? Down in Grey Sector, everyone’s afraid of it. The
slightest creaking noise and everyone cowers.”
did too, my first time out.” Tai grinned. “You saw how Ben’s
first Dark Water dive went. Did I ever tell you about mine?”
shook her head, and nearly turned in place as the water exaggerated
her movements. “No, you didn’t.” She tried again.
my instructor was Cora’s mom.” Tai told her. “It was a long
time ago. I was the youngest Apprentice in eighty years. She took me
out on a Dark Water run, and then went quiet, turned all the lights
off. I freaked out completely.”
Nix found that hilarious. “You?”
out worse than Ben did with the whale.” Tai confirmed. “And then
I hear her voice in my ear, telling me to go limp, let the water
carry me for a minute. I do that, and… I don’t sink. I can feel
the water around me, and it isn’t rushing past me. I’m completely
still. And I stay that way for ten minutes, while Cora’s mother
just keeps talking to me.”
did she say?”
thing that you have to remember now: The Ocean is the ultimate
provider, and the unquenchable enemy. No deals to be made, no respect
for your anger, no interest in your threats. The ocean always wins.”
Cora’s mother an Aqua?”
think so. If she was, she never admitted it.” Tai said ruefully,
having wondered the same thing. “But she understood what Commander
Morgan and The Director never have: You can wipe out the Aquans, but
you can’t beat the ocean. That’s why they’re going to lose.
They refuse the Ocean that they’re living in. They won’t accept
its resources, won’t care for its creatures. And that’s why they
aren’t surviving down here.”
the ocean always wins.” Nix nodded. “Tai… I can feel the water
starting to move.”
Currents at play, rubbing against each other. Variations in
temperature and salinity mean that even on the ocean floor, there are
rivers and updrafts and waves. A few places, the salt gets so much
thicker you’d swear you could see lakes and rivers running along
the ocean floor. In time, you’ll learn them all the way I did. But
for now, rest easy about the Food Shortages. You’re an Aquan now.
Part of the Deep. And it will provide.”
closed her eyes, let the water carry her. Except she knew she wasn’t
moving. She could feel movement, but knew she wasn’t caught in it.
She switched off her suit lights, just let herself… be. In the
dark, there was nothing to get closer to, or further from. There was
no up, or down; because the ocean buoyed her neutrally. But she
didn’t feel isolated or cut off… she felt expanded.
are you thinking, Nix?” He said in her ear.
I feel… Everywhere.” Nix said vacantly, as though she was far
Go with that. Sound travels very fast in the water, because every
drop is connected to every other. Listen to it, let it tell you
could hear the tiniest sounds echoing through the water that rested
against her ears. She could feel the tiniest currents. She was barely
aware of her breathing, the water filling her ears made her heartbeat
so loud and clear… and then it slowed, soothing her. She felt like
she was aware of everything. She was aware of the tiny fish darting,
and the drift of the dwarf kelp. She could hear Cora moving about on
She could hear playful whistles and clicks in the distance...
moved suddenly, reaching out and grabbing Tai. She hadn’t seen him
in the darkness, and he hadn’t announced himself, but somehow she
knew he was there.
laughed, delighted. “Do you hear them, Tai? Can you hear the
didn’t say much when they climbed back aboard the HydraHawk.
She felt like she was glowing. “I had no idea…” She hummed.
smiled at her from the pilot’s chair. “You see why we can’t
just leave? Maybe once we were meant to be up there, but we live here
now. We aren’t ‘making the best of it’, and we aren’t
‘fighting for life’ at every step. That’s what my father is
doing. People like us…”
belong here.” Nix agreed quietly, serene for the first time in her
life. She looked to Cora. “I don’t wanna go back. You’ve seen
Grey Sector… My father, he has to go back to the surface, but...”
won’t be long now.” Cora promised. “This? What you’re feeling
right now? I’ve been this way for more than ten years. Admittedly,
easier in Gold Sector than it is down in Grey, but…”
is that?” Tai asked suddenly.
turned to look at the console. There was a bogey on sonar. It looked
like a cloud on the horizon. “Light up the exterior lights, I wanna
did so, and the three of them let out a shout. On the edge of their
vision was a huge school of fish, swimming quickly in a straight
line. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of them… And as they
looked closer, they could see why the school was so tightly packed
together, swimming so straight.
were being herded. Dozens of dolphins, a few wearing harnesses, were
swooping left and right, scaring the fish into a common direction.
They were posted on all sides of the swarm, above, below, beside, and
behind, keeping the fish in line, almost as fast as Tai could point
his lights at them.
checked the bearing. “They’re heading for the Ark-Hive!”
weren’t just our Dolphins, either. They were wild ones too, ones
that haven’t been trained.” Cora exclaimed. “It’s
didn’t know they could do that! Do they think it’s a game?” Nix
Dolphins will invent a game to play if we don’t give them one.”
Cora hummed. “But I think it’s a lot simpler than that. They know
about the food shortage, and they wanna help.”
better call ahead and tell the Ark-Hive what’s coming to Dinner.”
Tai laughed. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’d lay
odds nobody back there has either. I better warn them before the
Stingray Patrols start getting jumpy.”
Days To Landfall
Director made an announcement. The people of the Ark-Hive had seen
the Dolphins bringing home food in huge quantities. Like the Cousteau
before, they had a clear view of the whole thing. A day later, the
audience gathered again as the Director gave word on the matter.
is clear, that our trained Dolphin teams have become aware of the
food shortages affecting our brothers in the Dark Water Outposts.”
He declared to the whole Ark-Hive. “We’re very lucky to have
their help, especially as our time in the ocean comes to a close. But
even for the smartest of our creatures, there are limits to what they
can do. They have, after many hours of work, succeeded in herding a
school of edibles into our catchment areas, in capacities that nearly
tore the nets. But clearly this cannot work for every outpost, simply
because they don’t all have the facilities, and the ocean is a big
place when you’re trying to herd a thousand slippery creatures into
a straight line.”
was a rumble of agreement from the Observation Dome.
if we can’t take food to the hungry people, we must bring the
hungry people to the food!” The Director declared grandly. “As of
1200 hours today, the Ark-Hive is officially recalling the Outpost
Populations home to Base!”
words set off a silent roar that threatened to break loose. Stingray
guards quietly slipped into position around the Observation Dome,
expecting a riot to break out.
Director made his case quickly. “The Recall was always part of the
plan. Hunger has forced us to accelerate that part of the Schedule.
But remember, all this is temporary. In a few months, we’ll have
the whole wide world above. Nobody will ever feel crowded ever again.
This is my pledge to you: I will make that happen, no matter what.”
took less than an hour for someone to respond to his speech,
Waters Run Deep!” The Pirate Station declared on every screen.
of the Ark-Hive, you have been Deceived.” The modulated voice
narrated the images of fiery explosions. “The idea of using Ocean
animals to help with food supply was rejected by the Director several
days ago. The animals did it anyway by themselves, and Director
Bridger took the credit after the fact.”
footage rolled, showing images of the Dolphins herding the fish.
repeated requests from several members of his most trusted staff, The
Director has consistently refused to allow the assistance of Ocean
Solutions, maintaining a policy of strictly refusing help that is not
under the direct control of his pilots.”
addition, the Outposts that remain on heavy rationing have had their
food supplies restricted, due to a lack of transport submarines. Yet
still, Ocean Solutions are refused. The Director has decreed that
starvation of others is preferable to compromise. Is there anyone
that doubts they are able and willing to do the job?”
make the point, the footage showed the now famous footage of the
Cousteau being towed home.
saw Cora coming into his lab and quietly switched off the monitors.
“Four minutes.” He told her. “Do you have any idea what your
father is thinking? The schedule was already insane, and now he’s
accelerating the whole thing by cramming us all in cheek-by-jaw for
three months? Do you have any idea why?”
thinking that he can hold the inevitable back just long enough to get
us to the Surface. I’ve already told him we can’t get back to
what we had a week ago. Our stores can’t handle an extra eight
why do it?” Don demanded.
Director is…” She was an inch away from telling him about her
father’s illness, but she didn’t. Instead, she moved on to
another urgent topic. “You heard the Board talking about the food
shortage. About the dolphins not being able to bring in enough for
was there.” Don agreed. “There’s rage building all over the
Outposts. There was, long before this happened. Almost eight thousand
people, getting hungry enough to kill someone.”
reacted. “But… they won’t, right?”
gave her a canny look. “Are you under the impression that I can
decide what thousands of homeless, hungry, legitimately angry people
will do for the next three months?”
know where there’s more food.” Cora said quietly. “Food that
the Outposts can get to in time, without coming back in.”
looked confused for a second, and suddenly realized, jaw dropping.
That is not an option.”
might be our only option.” Cora said. “I’m Resource Management
now, Don. I’m serious.” She spelled it out for him. “We Do Not
Have Enough Food. And if my father does call everyone into the
if there’s a total recall of all Outpost Personnel? If there’s a
total shutdown of-” Don paused, searching for words. “The losses
could be inevitable.”
silence. Cora stared at him.
looked away. “Don’t look at me like that. All I’m saying is,
there’s a reason Resources are currency around here. They run too
thin, for exactly this reason. The Director’s trying to centralize
a community that’s spread out. Landfall meant that sooner or later,
something would snap.”
but that wasn’t what you were going to say.” She said softly.
“You were about to say: If there’s a total shutdown in food
distribution, it would be helpful to our plans.”
hesitated for a split second before he said it. “Well, it would.
have half the people and security in the Ark-Hive on their backs from
starvation rations? Of course it would.” Cora scorned. “But those
you’re talking about. People who-”
who would think nothing of locking us all up in the Quay.” Don
pointed out. “Cora, figure it out: this isn’t careful planning
and preparation any more. Landfall is in less than twelve weeks, and
your father won’t lighten the schedule for Davy Jones himself.”
know.” Cora said softly. Nothing more than that.
people we just can’t make deals with, Cora. Some things we can’t
was like talking to my father again. They’re both as determined to
be right as each other.” Cora said later to Tai.
is… He is right, you know.” Cora sighed. “We could save them,
Tai. Those people who crowded around us all month, we could save
them. And the only thing stopping me is Don, and the only thing
stopping him is the same fear that keeps…”
shushed her, stroking her hair. "Don's smart. He'll find a way.
One way or another, we'll be okay."
y’know. Whenever my dad and I are at odds, I go to Don. But I can’t
go to him, and I can’t go to the Director this time. I... I wish my
mom was here." Cora sighed into his chest. "I wish I could
talk to her."
checked the Navigation panel. "We're not that far out, if you
want to go by and see her."
hesitated. "Yeah. Actually... I'd like to. I missed the
Anniversary this year."
Memorial was outside the Ark-Hive, halfway between the Domes, and
Circular Quay. It was once a transport yacht called the Tulley.
It was the victim of the last great Aquan Uprising. That was what it
was called, but everyone who visited knew it as a short, brutal war
fought by means of executions and assassinations.
had been declared the victim of sabotage, and gone down with all
hands, including Cora’s mother. The Director had the wreck put
under a small dome and turned it into a Memorial for everyone killed
in the Aquan Conflicts… Or anywhere else on duty.
year, the Ocean claimed a few victims. Their names were added to a
Memorial Wall, which had long since grown too long; having stood
since the Ark-Hive was founded. When Meyrna Bridger was added to
their number, the Wall of Names had been moved to the Tulley,
and now surrounded a larger-than-life statue of The Director’s late
wife on all sides; with benches for people to sit, lots of places for
people to write tributes, leave messages...
took a submersible, or a long hike in full dive gear, to get to the
Memorial, so on any given day, there weren't that many people
present. With the schedule so tight, Cora and Tai docked the Hydra
and found they had the place to themselves.
them, a list of names, the statue, and the cameras.
came over to the Memorial statue, and sat before it, gazing up. It
had been almost ten years, but the picture Cora had of her mother,
both carved in stone, and in her memory; had never changed a bit.
Cora whispered to her mom. "I... I'm sorry I didn't make it back
for the Fourth. I would have been here if I could." She looked
down, mindful of the cameras. "Things are happening. I... I hate
to say this, but I don't know if I'll be able to come back."
had stepped back, giving her some room, but she waved him over to
come and join her. "I never told you what happened, did I?"
She said to him quietly.
there anyone left in the ocean that doesn’t know the story? The
last act of the Purges was the Aquans trying to escape. Four
mutinies. Three ships sunk by Stingray, and the fourth became this
memorial.” Tai gestured around the Tulley.
“Your mom sabotaged the turbines, sank her own boat; got herself a
Cora nodded. “I like that everyone thought my mom was a war hero.
There were enough victims that day.”
squeezed her shoulder in solidarity; and the two of them sat beneath
the outstretched arms of the shrine for a while. After a moment, he
took out his TABB and tapped a few buttons. Cora glanced up and
noticed the camera light was off. Tai wanted to talk privately. "So.
What's the real story?" Tai asked.
fool you, huh?" She said ruefully.
hunched your shoulders whenever you had your back to the cameras. The
same way you did in the Pressure Chamber, back before I knew you were
Aqua. So... What were you hiding? Or would you rather not talk about
was silent a long moment. "I've never talked to anyone but Don
about this... But my mother was murdered."
He was stunned. "Why?"
I figured most people would ask 'by who?'" Cora commented.
"Okay, here it is... Everyone was told my mother was caught in
the middle of an Aquan raid. But I was Don's apprentice at the time,
and I knew full well that was a lie. Nobody believed she was
targeted, because she was the one person on the Board of Directors
that was arguing in their favor. But my mom was loyal to her husband,
so the Aquans never claimed her as a member."
know all this, but if she was targeted..."
me something, Tai... In all the time we've been alive, how many
people do we know that have been dragged into Circular Quay?"
There could be a thousand people in there by now." Tai said
how many have ever come out?"
At least, none that I know of."
nodded. "Something that my dad didn't know... Mom was
investigating why. She was digging into what went on in there.
Something that nobody but Stingray Squad ever knew... Before he rose
to Intel and Security Chief, Morgan was the C.O. of Circular Quay."
had your mom killed?" Tai was stunned.
went down and imploded soon after." Cora nodded.
cover any evidence." Tai let out a low whistle. "Can you
glanced around, put her back to the camera. “Don gave me a video,
of my mother having a confrontation with Morgan. It ended with him
shooting her three times. That's the ironic part." Cora nearly
laughed. "I have proof, but I got it through Don. If I tried to
tell my father that his right hand man had his wife killed... I could
do it, at the cost of Don, and me, and every Aqua stupid enough to be
my friend." She rolled her head to the left slowly, looking at
him. "So. Now you've got the poison pill, just like me."
She looked back out the viewport. "Don worried that a ten year
old wouldn't be able to handle it. And when Morgan got promoted, I
wasn't sure I could. But... Don never questioned my commitment after
let out a breath. "I can't even imagine."
face changed, going dark. "No. You can't. I see Morgan every
day, and I smile at him like he's a trusted ally... But I swallow it,
because I'm keeping secrets too. I can't tell my dad not to trust his
friends when he can't trust his daughter." She lowered her
voice. "Day's going to come when my father knows the truth about
me. When that day comes, I aim to be far away from him. But that will
be the day when Morgan's secret comes out..."
father will kill him dead."
gave a single nod. "Part of me wishes I could stick around to
see it happen." She shook it off. “We could end the food
looked at her. “The ‘kelp farms’?” He sighed. “Yeah, that’s
been on my mind too. We went past three of them this week. The
Outposts don’t even know they’re there.”
the problem with way things are.” Cora sighed. “Nobody explores.
We’ve got the biggest, widest untapped frontier, and we never look
past the lights.” Cora stood up and turned back to the statue. “Mom
understood that. Dad called her his mermaid. I remember, he said to
her once that if it happened in our lifetimes, she would be the most
important thing he could ever give to the Surface.” She said
softly. “I think that if she’d lived, my Dad wouldn’t be such a
hard man. He might even be willing to compromise. Slow the schedule,
even let people go if…” She trailed off. “Mom was the one thing
he…” She trailed off again.
stared at her. “I can’t tell what you’re thinking right now.”
was staring at the statue of her mother. “Meyrna Bridger.” She
said finally. “I remember when I was little, I couldn’t really
say her first name. It was tricky to pronounce, tricky to spell…
But you know what it is?”
Days To Landfall
wasn’t nearly as difficult to distract as Wayde had been. All Cora
had to do was hint that Nix wanted to see him… privately. Nix would
make him look for her for a few minutes, which would be all Cora
snuck into her father’s office and went right for the safe.
safe unlocked quickly, and Cora let out her breath. Her father hadn’t
said her mother’s name aloud since the funeral. Whatever was in the
safe must have been pretty riveting.
went down to Grey Sector.
the Ark-Hive was a city, Grey Sector was the the slums. To save
power, only one light in three still lit, giving the corridors a
feeling of being long and narrow in the darkness. Grey Sector was
also where the majority of the equipment was installed, and the
sounds of heavy machinery, rushing water and sewerage rang out almost
had to hold her breath the entire way to the living section. Not many
people were forced to live below Green Sector, but with Landfall
coming, people were being forced to double up, make room for each
door opened, and a rail thin man with cloudy eyes peered out. He
could barely see Cora standing right in front of him. “Who are
need to speak to Nix.” Cora said, a little revolted by the smell
coming from the vents.
man let her in, felt his way to the side of the chamber, and sat down
on a packing crate. The chamber was as narrow as a janitor’s
closet, and only had one room. The furniture was just packing crates.
despite the smell, it was clean, and Nix was at the back of the room.
Around her little space, there were sketches on the walls. Sketches
of whales. Nix was standing in the middle of the room, still small
enough that she didn’t have to stoop below the low ceiling. Her
eyes were closed, and her expression peaceful.
recognized the ‘escape’ and waited respectfully for her to
finished her meditations and froze when she saw Cora. “Ma’am.”
She said carefully.
have work to do.” Cora told her quietly. “Can you spare a few
eyes flicked to the blind man. She pulled her jumpsuit up over her
shoulders, suddenly back in uniform. “Dad, I have to go back on
duty. I'll be back when I can.”
Old Man held a hand out, brushing the side of her face with the back
of two fingers. “Aye.” He croaked. “I'll be here.” He broke
down coughing, and Nix put a mug of something that smelled faintly of
ammonia in his hand quickly, before hustling Cora out.
understood. It was the first time she had come to Nix's quarters.
First time she'd been in Grey Sector for a long while. While she made
it a point never to act superior towards people who lived so far
below her deck, she had to admit that the conditions were making her
all but dragged her away from the door, squeezing her way through a
few groups of shambling people until they reached the water pipes.
The roar was constant, quiet enough that they could still hear each
other, loud enough to not be recorded. “It's the fumes.” She told
Cora, scared. “My dad's been 'monitoring' the waste reclamation for
most of his career. When you're a seventh generation Grey Sector,
it's not like there's a lot of room for advancement, and... He swears
he can still do the job even after all the damn chemicals sent him
blind. And he can. You listen to those machines, the pipes... You can
diagnose more stresses and system failures from the sound they make
than anything else. Everyone at the plant helps each other, because
the second any of them has to admit defeat and retire...”
get it, Nix. The Lottery isn’t the kindest fact of life.” Cora
shushed her apprentice and pulled her in tight for a hug. The poor
girl seemed scared out of her mind; and Cora didn't blame her. The
Retirement Facility was the only place less appealing than Circular
Quay was rumored to be. “I won't tell anyone how bad it is. You can
trust me.” She broke the hug and chewed her lip. “But in a few
minutes, you may not thank me for it.”
there's something I need to tell you. Something bad. And on this
subject, you're the only one I can trust.”
is this place?” Nix asked quietly.
call it my Hermit Shell. It’s the only place in the Ark-Hive that
isn’t monitored, and is big enough to fit two people.” Cora told
her. “And it’s the only place we can speak about this. Nix, I
need to talk to someone, and I can’t with anyone else. Not even
Don. Not even Tai. Not about this.”
not sure I want to know, after a build up like that.” Nix murmured.
Don already knows, and if he does, then Tai might too.” Cora took a
breath. “My father has a hidden safe. I finally got into it a few
hours ago. It contains medical evidence, taken from the usual monthly
checkups of everyone in the Ark-Hive. The files also contain a
message from Don, signing off on the results as accurate.”
do to results say?” Cora asked.
heard of Weir Syndrome. People who go too deep for too long?”
how they can’t take pressure shifts again, and have to stay in the
one Outpost.” Nix nodded. “Yeah. I know about it.”
father has recently been given proof that not only does he have it,
but everyone else in the Ark-Hive might be developing it naturally.”
Nix said instantly. “We’d know by now.”
would, but none of us have ever gone shallow.”
Cora explained. “It’s hard to spot, because it doesn’t affect
everyone the same way. We’ve all been pressurized to this
and have been for centuries. Nix, nobody had ever done that before.
The Ark-Hive was the last ditch effort to avoid extinction. There’d
never been babies born on the ocean floor. There was no evidence our
ancestors knew what living entire generations at the bottom of the
ocean would do to us.”
you saying we can’t go back?” Nix breathed.
about the pressure differentials is making a permanent change in the
people down here. Since nobody has ever tried to return to surface
level, it hasn’t mattered, and nobody’s noticed. But with
Landfall happening now…” Cora took a breath. “The report says
that anyone over the age of about twentyfive is too far gone to adapt
to a normal lifespan on the surface.”
twentyfive?” Nix thought aloud. “What about people older than
than that, and anyone who moved to the surface will experience an
accelerated form of Weir Syndrome.” Cora said, face drawn with sick
dread. “Average life expectancy… about eight years. Maybe ten at
most. That’s more than three quarters of the population. Landfall
would be a slow death sentence for this generation.”
the Director knows this?” Nix was awed at the secret she now held.
“Has he… I mean, in the files, was there any response?”
father wanted to know what would happen to any newborn babies in that
eight year gap.” Cora scorned. “Apparently, they would be fine.”
swiftly understood. “So he’s not telling anyone. That’s why
The Director is obsessed with getting everyone up there at once.
Eight years is long enough to have a whole new generation, and just
enough people under twenty five would be able to raise them. One
generation gap, and humanity is a Surface Dwelling Species again.”
She covered her face. “Populate or Perish. That’s us that he’s
talking about, you know. The ones that will live out their lives,
looking after a dozen brats per adult. That’s you and me he’s
I can’t believe is that Don knew!” Cora growled. “And he didn’t
covered her mouth with both hands. “All of them. All the adults.
Your father was really going to send them all up there…”
I have no idea what to do with this information, and I can’t go to
anyone else. If I go to anyone, I either risk outing myself as an
you get someone that Don has in his pocket; and if he was in on this,
that may be dangerous.” Nix guessed. “Funny, but until five
minutes ago, you
were one of his top people.”
nodded heavily. “I know.”
bit her lip. “Give me an order.”
took her breath. “I need to know where Don stands. Nix, I know you
don’t like cozying up to Ben, but… I need to know where Don was
for the day and a half before the Cousteau
suddenly drove itself into a cave-in.”
think Don did it?” Nix breathed.
perfect, isn’t it?” Cora offered. “The Cousteau
goes down, the whales get credited with saving dozens of kids,
including you. The same event means that everyone’s schedules get
thrown out, the Ark-Hive gets filled with hungry people, and everyone
suddenly loves the wide open ocean.”
when word gets out that they... can’t... leave...” Nix trailed
noticed Nix’s eyes getting big, and turned to look. Tai was there,
in the doorway to her hiding place, and it was clear he’d heard
set her jaw. Unpleasant.
“Nix, give us the room. I won’t insult you by asking if you can
that would be insulting, wouldn’t it?” Tai drawled, as Nix
couldn’t look him in the eye for a moment. “How much did you
to know that I should be outraged in at least two different
directions.” He eyed her. “Three, if what I think is true. You
got this shocking revelation, and you suddenly decide you can’t
trust Don, the man that you’ve said repeatedly you’d prefer as
your own father.”
know.” Cora whispered.
then came the part where you decided you not to tell me about it…”
Tai scowled hard.
know.” Cora winced hard. This was going to be messy.
if Don can’t be trusted, then neither can I.” Tai guessed.
“Dammit, Cora; you know me. You KNOW me! How could you not…
not that I don’t trust you, Tai. But I wasn’t ready to tell the
whole Ark-Hive yet.”
know I’m not a gossip!”
let out a breath and went on the offensive. “I also know you’re
the Pirate Station that keeps hacking in.”
look of shock on Tai’s face both confirmed it, and gave them both a
few silent moments to cool off.
did you know?” Tai whispered. “When?”
few weeks ago. Because I do
you.” Cora said simply. “When we got back from Nix’s first
mission, the Broadcast happened from the minute we hit Light Water.
I’m betting you bundled the kids off to a poker game and put
together the video, then transmitted to your broadcast equipment the
minute we came into range. The Pirate Hacks since we found that Cache
have been… very up-to-date with information. I’m involved because
of my father. You’re involved in those events because of me. I
appreciate you not using me as a source too often, but sooner or
later, Stingray are going to put together the fact that only eight
people on the Ark-Hive know the things you broadcast.”
sort of the reason why I broadcast them, Cora. Those things can’t
be kept a secret.”
nodded. “And we’ll just blow right past the point that you didn’t
tell me about your ‘other job’, given that you’re yelling at me
for having this
secret for ten minutes…”
we’re a cell network. It’s how we survived the Purges. First rule
of a Cell is that you only tell others what they need to know. It’s
not because we don’t trust each other, it’s because we trust each
other so much that we don’t need to be informed.”
this isn’t that. Your secret was something you should have
reported, and the minute you found out Don knew already, that should
have been the end of it. You have the information, your Commander has
the information, and then you wait for orders. But you decided to
talk to someone about it. And who do you pick? Nix. The youngest,
greenest recruit in the whole network. You go to Nix before you talk
to me. Is it because you think I’m going to blab it out to everyone
right away? Or because Don recruited me, and you don’t trust him
bit her lip. “I think Don sabotaged the Cousteau.”
nodded. “I think so too. Notice how I haven’t put word about that
would never let you.”
doesn’t know about my ‘other job’.” Tai told her. “He
didn’t teach me how to Hack, and he didn’t start the Pirate