Friday, 30 March 2018

11 Chapter Eleven: War


Warfare on the Ark-Hive was suicide. We all knew it. There was a reason Stingray never had projectile weapons, and why we worked very hard to convince my father that Aquans didn’t exist anymore. We lived every day with the ocean just inches away, and after a while we forgot just how dangerous that could be. We even fought, to the death, to stay at the bottom of the ocean forever.
I should have seen that neither side wanted peace, but I didn’t, because I considered the leaders of both sides to be a father to me. And because I thought we all knew that one bad blast, one bad shot, would doom us all. I thought they knew that making peace was the only hope of survival for anything.
But since when has that stopped anyone?
[Taken From the Private Journal of Director Cora Bridger, Founder of New Eden. (2351-2418)]
~~/*\~~
62 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
The Ark-Hive was ready to implode.
Tensions had been simmering for longer than Cora had been alive. Everyone below Green Sector resented everyone above. The Stingray were feared by everyone; and it was understood that a general uprising would cause total extinction, though every few generations, there came a time when nobody cared.
Three months from Landfall, it felt like another uprising was coming. Stingray were visible in every public place. The people that were busy didn’t dare so much as look up from their work. People who were off-duty were staying to their quarters. But with so many people from the Colonies and Outposts still filling up every billet, the Ark-Hive felt more crowded than ever, though nobody was speaking above a whisper.
Cora walked through the hallways, feeling eyes on her every minute. She could tell. They all wanted to ask her. Because The Director’s Daughter would surely know if the report was true; and they had all been sentenced to a slow death without their knowledge. But nobody dared approach her. Cora had always respected the ocean, but had never been more aware of the sheer tonnage of what was above their heads. The whole human race felt it about to crash down on them.
She hadn’t seen Tai all morning. He was on Maintenance Duty. She kept her cool for five hours. The hardest part had been when she’d come back to her quarters in Gold Sector for lunch. She hadn’t dared stay in the Pilot’s Mess. But even in her own home, she hadn’t been able to escape entirely.
~~/*\~~
Ano, I can hear you thinking it so loud, you might as well ask.” Cora said around a mouthful of soup.
Is it true?” Ano asked, and the fear was obvious in her voice. “Will we die if we go to the surface?”
Cora felt a pang. She had been juggling cover stories and alibis for as long as she could remember, but Ano was family in a way that even her father would never be, and now she had to hide what she knew. “I haven’t spoken to my father since the hack went live.” She said honestly. “I’ll speak to him about it… but the Pirate Hacks have an annoying record of accuracy.”
Ano bit her lip. “That means we… I mean, we won’t go, if it’s true, right?”
Cora twitched. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you, Ano.” She promised seriously. “Not ever.”
Ano softened and hugged the younger woman. “Thought I was supposed to take care of you, kid.”
Yeah, well…” Cora hugged her back. “Some things you can’t save me from.”
~~/*\~~
61 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
Cora finally got her chance to talk to Tai the next morning. It was early, even before morning chow, and Cora was glad for it. If she’d had to wait another day she would have lost her mind.
Stingray were still stationed at every intersection, every checkpoint. The intersection between Gold and Green Sector had been fortified overnight, which did little to calm the tensions, but did plenty to calm the Board of Directors and their families. Everyone was expecting a riot or an uprising, but Cora wondered if it would happen. Weir Syndrome wasn’t something that could be conquered with a fight.
Whether or not that would spare anyone from the rage of a mob was another matter.
One of the sonar buoys needed light repairs. It was simple work, but it would take them out of the Ark-Hive, so Cora volunteered. Regulations meant that she couldn’t go alone, so Tai went with her. Ordinarily, the two of them would be talking like the couple they were, or at least the old friends they had always been. Today they were dead silent, aside from the formal procedures for undocking and navigation. Cora kept one eye on the indicator light that meant someone was listening to conversation in the cabin of the Hydra Hawk.
The light flickered. Tai tapped the controls. “We’re out of range of-”
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” Cora roared. He nearly jumped out of his skin. It was the first time anyone had raised their voice since the last Hack. “You have any idea the bomb you set off?!”
How long were you willing to pretend the bomb wasn’t already ticking?!” Tai fired back. “You’ve loved Don like a father ever since your mom died, and the minute you found out he wasn’t perfect, you suddenly started playing your own game. Except what you’re doing is worse! You knew sending the people back to the surface was a death sentence, and didn’t even want to warn them! Why wouldn’t you warn anyone, Cora?!”
Of course I would have, but it had to be timed-”
Drown that, right now!” Tai interrupted. “If the Exodus worked like it was meant to, all those people who would go back to the surface wouldn’t know about it until we were out of reach. How were you going to warn them then?!”
We had a plan!” Cora snapped.
His face changed again. The same way it had whenever the subject of the future came up.
What?!” Cora demanded, right in his face. “What do you want to say to me? You’ve been swallowing it for two months! What is it?”
Tai finally said it. “Has it dawned on you yet that you’re the only winner here?” He growled, low and tightly controlled. “If your father’s plans come true, you’re going to rule the human race in some brave new world. If Don manages to pull off the Exodus, you get everything you want, and won’t even have to confront your father about it. If Morgan catches us all out, I’m a dead man. What will he do to you? You may be the only one immune to failure. You talk about ‘the plan’ and ‘the timing’, but you’re the only one that doesn’t have to worry.”
Well, I do.” Cora snapped. “I worry about you all the time. I love you to bits, and every time we meet, I wonder if this is the time when being in my wake is finally going to get you killed. Don’t act like I don’t have skin in the game.”
Tempers cooled a little as they both fought for words.
Cora…” Tai tried first. “Nobody below Gold Sector decides… anything. Food is rationed, work is assigned, most people choose their partner for survival, more than anything like love. If ‘the way things are’ doesn’t let people decide what they’re having for lunch, how long will it take everyone to get to the end of the page when we tell them this?”
Cora hissed. “You aren’t thinking…”
Are they going to fight back? Are they going to join the Aquans? Are they going to stage a sit-down in the Observation Dome? Are they going to riot? We can’t let thousands of people get marched up to the surface without ever having a chance. And it’s going to take them longer than a few minutes to make a choice that will decide their lives, and the life of the species, Cora. We can’t spring this on everyone at the last minute. It may be convenient for us, but it’ll be too late for them to do anything about it.”
Cora hesitated. “You’re right.”
Tai blinked. “Wait. What?”
She nodded. “You’re right. I hadn’t considered that. Whatever the reaction’s going to be, it’ll take a while to gather momentum.”
Tai blinked. “Well… yeah.”
Don’t be pleased with yourself, it was still an outrageous move that’s going to get us all caught or killed or both.” She held a hand up. “But you woke the Ark-Hive up, that’s for sure. People are thinking now.” She took a deep breath. “So there might be another option on the table.”
Your father won’t compromise.”
I know.”
And I know you think Don can do no wrong, but he won’t either. He’s as determined as your father.”
Believe it or not, Tai, I’m more worried about you right now. The one point my father and Don will agree on is to strangle you to death, if either of them knew who you were.” Cora mused. “Look, if we’re going to keep you out of the Quay, we have to move fast, and we have to find a way to spin this into a win for my father and Don at the same time. We do that, and we point both of them at each other again, instead of you.”
How do you plan to do that?”
~~/*\~~
It’s getting ugly out there.” Cora said quietly.
Her father looked up, surprised. “Cora. I didn’t hear you come in.”
Cora nodded. “It’s not often I find you in your study. You’re usually at the Office. Don’t tell me the odds finally stacked too high against you?”
Too many people know where my office is.” The Director admitted. “Morgan tells me it’s a good idea to stay home, and while I don’t agree, I see his point about the rest of my staff. Being too public can put some of them in danger today. And for all I know, one or two of them might be ready to murder me.” He sounded unconcerned about it, and Cora was ready to slap him.
Keep your cover! She told herself. “Dad, I’ve been getting the question from everyone I know, including Ano. I won’t lie to her. I mean, I get that there’s an official line, but I won’t lie to Ano.” She took a breath and tried to make it sound like she didn’t know the answer. “That Pirate Hack. Is it true?”
Her father looked at her. “Yes.”
And despite herself, Cora felt a little elated that he didn’t lie to her. “And the Board?”
I told them it was a lie.” Director Bridger said without blinking. “The Pirate Station has put out stories about half the Board Members. Being able to call whoever it is a liar is what they want to hear. The Board won’t be a problem.”
Everyone below Gold Sector believes it. At least, the ones that have come rushing to me for details.” Cora put in. “Are you less worried about that because nobody below Gold Sector can do anything about it?”
Cora, I don’t have a choice either. Look at the Charter. By Law, I have to get us up to the surface when it’s liveable. That’s the whole point of the Ark-Hive.”
Mm. So, mind if I play this one out in my head for a minute?” She said darkly. “Your unhinged rush to get everyone back on the surface? It’s because you don’t want people to see the symptoms. If we went up in stages, over the course of a year or three, then it would be obvious. You don’t want them to know.” She had no trouble working a few tears up. “And you wanted me to stay ignorant, so that I would lead two thirds of the world to their deaths.”
And one third to the future.” The Director said firmly. “Cora, those ten years will define the next thousand years of the human race. Long enough to populate a whole new generation for yours to raise. Cora… You’re young enough that you will live a long and healthy life.”
Dad, you want to put me in charge of these people, and you honestly don’t think I care about everyone who’s a few years older than me?”
Oh, of course you do. That’s the problem, Cora. You care too much. That’s why I didn’t tell you. You’d have never been able to keep that to yourself.”
Make it a Forum.” Cora told him. “Give everyone a vote: To stay in the ocean, or go to the surface.”
We have to go to the surface.” Her father said firmly. “Cora, I get that the ocean has been your whole life. It’s been mine too, but just remember that humans are not an aquatic species. We never have been. The Ark-Hive is a lifepod for the whole human race, and we can finally land. Even if it’s comfortable and familiar here, it’s the Director’s job to keep the mandate of the Ark-Hive in mind. And you need to know that, since you’re going to have the job soon.”
That’s not why.” Cora told him. “Tai said something to me when the news broke… About how nobody below Green Sector chooses anything. And he’s right. Resource Management has been the rule of Poseidon and Davy Jones alike for longer than we’ve been alive. The Lottery is bad enough.”
I know it’s cold. Even borderline evil. But it has to be done.” The Director sighed. “Another reason why I didn’t want to tell you.”
Dad, people have to at least be able to process this.” She insisted. “You give them all the facts, and then, whichever way the vote goes, they at least know that you know about it, they at least know what’s coming.” She gave him a hard look. “You have Weir’s Syndrome. Are you telling me you’d have rather not known about it?”
What if the vote goes the other way?” He warned her.
Do you care?” She challenged him.
Actually, I do. We still have to wrangle these people; and that’s harder to do if they feel legitimately screwed over. It’s important that we get back on schedule.”
Schedule. The Schedule is an execution order and you know it!” Cora was doing a slow boil, and getting hotter. She had already known the truth, but she finally had a chance to say all the things that had been boiling away in her head since she found out. “All your talk about presenting my ascension to your job as an accomplished fact, and now I find out that the only reason why, is because I’m still under twenty five, and if you took another year to get us all on the surface it’d be too late for me!”
The Director didn’t even blink. “And that doesn’t give you incentive?”
I find out that you’ve sentenced two thirds of the human race to a slow death just to save me and you think I’m okay with this?!”
You’re my daughter.”
Not good enough, dammit!” She declared. “I’d rather stay Below!”
The words hung in the air. It felt so good to say them out loud where he could hear them.
Cora, we’ve lived here for generations. Long enough that we’ve forgotten there was any other way to be. The records all exist, but they aren’t practical for us, so nobody views them.”
Nobody views them because they barely have credits enough to eat and free time enough to sleep, let alone go looking through Archives for four hundred year old pictures.”
He kept going as though she hadn’t interrupted. “But the ultimate flaw in the entire Aquan argument? Humans aren’t meant to live underwater. We’re a surface species. Our ancestors screwed up the land and the sky and even the ocean so badly, that they had to lock their descendants into this world. If this life was so much better, then don’t you think they would have been living it already?” He paused to make sure she heard him, and Cora nodded with a sigh, conceding that point. “The duty of the Ark-Hive is to put back what was lost. It took hundreds of years to restore the oceans, but we did it! The ocean was dead. The plants and animals were all dead, and we brought them back. The surface was given oxygen by the plants our ancestors planted. The land has a chance again. We have to go back, or there’s no point to us even being here.”
There’s us.” Cora said softly. “We’re here now.”
Right. Finally able to do what we were meant to do. The vote is a waste of time. It might prevent an uprising for a week, but…” He shook his head. “I need a better reason than that.”
Well, frankly…” Cora paused, then admitted it. “I want to know.”
Excuse me?”
I want to know what the rest of the Ark-Hive thinks. You’re setting the whole thing up so that I’ll be in charge when we get to the surface… I want to know how many people even want to go. You’re worried about the Board of Directors. I’m worried about everyone else.”
He nodded, like she had just proved his point. “Like I said, you care too much about things you can’t change. It makes you a good person, but it means you’re too easily led by others. If you’re going to be Director, you need to have the killer instinct. At least, enough to stay ahead of the sharks.”
Well, maybe in ten years when I’m in my office on the surface, digging a mass grave for two thirds of the human race, I’ll finally get my thick skin.” She said with biting scorn.
Dark silence.
I wanted to tell you.” He admitted heavily. “Wanted to find some other way. I had my best people working on a cure for over two years. They promised me they’d have it cracked in three months, but it’s two years later, and they’ve got nothing. There’s no cure for Weir Syndrome. If there was, I wouldn’t be in such a rush.”
Two years.” Cora said quietly, stricken. “You’ve been sitting on this for years. The whole time, since before the Landfall announcement. Before telling me about your health… You knew, this whole time. How long have you even known the surface was habitable? How long have you known you were dying? How long were you planning to make me Director?” She almost slapped her forehead, but restrained herself, the pieces all falling into place. That’s why he launched the surface probes early. The whole thing is academic if the surface isn’t liveable.
Long silence.
You’re the one insisting I take the job I didn’t want.” Cora pressed the point. “If you’re not on my side, how the hell am I supposed to do it with your help, let alone without you?”
Long, long silence.
A referendum.” The Director said finally. “Everyone in the Ark-Hive gets a vote. Stay, or go. But you better remember one thing: The Ark-Hive isn’t a democracy. If the Forum comes down a different way, all it does is weaken you.”
Weaken me? Cora thought, but didn’t dare say. Or you?
~~/*\~~
The minute she was able to leave her father’s side, she went to the plexiglass wall of her quarters. After a few moments, Delphi swam up to meet her gaze. She smiled back at him. He always knew when she was at her bedroom window.
But this time he had company. Nix was there, one hand on Delphi’s harness. Nix had learned the coded hand signals that divers used with their Dolphin-Synth partners, but was still working on the ones Aquans used with each other, safe from the omnipresent microphones.
Find the Chief.’ Cora signed to Nix through the window.
~~/*\~~
59 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
Spreading the word among Aquans was a difficult process. Stingray listened and watched at every corner, every room. Holding a large meeting was impossible. Usually, Cora was the one to deliver messages to Cell Leaders, but the closer they got to Landfall, the closer her ties to her father, and it was getting harder to smuggle her out to the Colonies for extended periods.
Don had called a meeting with two or three members of the Aquans, who would be able to pass the word without getting caught. Cora had used her position in Resource Management to explain the meeting away as dismantling one of Don’s smaller laboratories in preparation for packing it up. A job that took three or four technicians.
And of course, it has to be one of my Aquarian based labs.” Don sighed. “Your father has me running my Synth-Tanks day and night creating land-based species for recolonization. We only have a few probe reports about what’s up there, and I’m supposed to conjure the embryos that have been frozen for centuries into an ecosystem.”
I was talking about this with him last night, and he made one point that I couldn’t argue with.” Cora mentioned. “Humans aren’t an aquatic species.”
And Dolphins and Whales didn’t have gills, but times changed.” Don countered. “We made them change, to improve our chances.”
I guess that’s true.” Cora admitted with a sigh. “All this, over a shared desire for wide open spaces around us, and a different plan for where. Do we even know what everyone really wants?”
Hades, the vote was your idea, wasn’t it?!” Don was stunned, and not happy to hear it. “There’s a reason why I didn’t tell anyone, Cora!”
I’d love to hear it.” Cora said. She’d meant it to be calm, but it almost came out a snarl.
Cora, we go back to the surface, and we have a limited life span. You think resources are tight now? What happens when we all have less than a decade to do what we want to do with our lives?” Don countered. “If we try to pull off the Exodus now? You think there’s any chance we can slip away quietly?”
We were never going to. Maybe before Landfall, we could have. But the schedule’s so tight that Stingray gets itchy if we’re five minutes slow checking in. You promised me that rule number one was that there’d be no violence, and I don’t see any way to do this without making a move that cripples their ability to chase us or stop us. And given how Stingray has been deployed the last three months, I don’t think that’s even possible anymore.” She glared. “And that’s not why you kept it a secret.”
No, it isn’t.” Don fired back. “I kept the secret, because our people had already made their choice. The surface is of no interest to us. Only now, they’ll have to say so publically. What on earth made you think this was a good idea? Our people vote to stay, and your father will know who they all are.”
Don, who are you talking to? He’s my father. If anyone knows the tricks to staying under his sonar, it’s me.” Cora scorned. “Our people must not, under any circumstances, vote to stay. And they don’t have to. We already know who they are. But if there’s anyone out there who wants to stay in the ocean with us… Don, Weir Syndrome is the biggest membership incentive the Aquans have ever had.”
That was your plan? To see if the truth had changed anyone’s mind?” Don thought it through. “That’s actually a good plan.”
Long silence.
We still have to be ready.” Don said firmly. “Even if The Director allows a straight up vote, there’s very little chance that he’ll respect the wishes of the majority if he doesn’t get an answer he likes.”
There was a discreet knock, and Don let four people in. One of them was Nix, playing the part of tour guide for their guests. Cora recognized Adamson, the new head of Cameron Outpost. The other two she didn’t know at all, and they looked quietly stunned to see The Director’s Daughter was one of the Aquans.
Some of you have heard this already, most of you haven’t.” Don addressed his people. “There will be an announcement made in a few days. A forum. The Board of Directors voted against it, but since it requires no resources or effort on their part beyond counting, The Director didn’t actually need their blessing. Everyone over the age of fifteen gets a vote: To stay on the Ark-Hive, or to make Landfall.”
The announcement stunned the people in the room. “Are you serious?” Adamson was stunned. “After months of breakneck hurry, months of stripping our Outposts bare, even letting our people die to keep up the damn pace, he suddenly wants to know what everyone else thinks?”
The Pirate Hack is genuine.” Cora put in. “The Forum is my father’s way of keeping a lid on the explosion in the making; and it’s good for us because we get to find out who wants to stay, other than the Aquans. But in the event Morgan uses the vote to identify sympathizers, we need cover. The Aquans can’t vote to stay.”
There was a rumble of agreement. Don took over the meeting, giving instructions and making sure everyone knew what to do when the vote finally came. The Cell Leaders would relay instructions to their members, who would relay it to other cells. Cora was about to add to it, when Nix tugged on her sleeve. Cora took the hint and followed.
Nix waited until they were alone and spoke quietly. “My dad… he wanted to know if it was true, what the Pirate Station was saying. I told him it was.”
Cora nodded.
He still wants to go to the Surface.”
Really?”
Even with the five to ten year limit… Cora, that’s more than a lot of people have down at Grey Sector. It’s not just his eyes going bad. He’s been crammed into that box his entire adult life, barely getting any light, only getting to move about when it’s his rotation once a week at the gym. Every day we have to deal with schedule conflicts and how many breathers or subs there are to go around. My father is never on rotation. Green Sector at least gets to work in different places. Blue Sector at least gets to be in well lit corridors. Gold Sector and pilots have the run of the ocean… Cora, my dad’s bones are worn out, so are his lungs, so’s his heart. If we gave him permission to leave the Ark-Hive and explore the whole ocean, he wouldn’t be able to swim more than a few minutes before he wore out. The surface… clean air, plenty of it, and miles of open space… Your dad has a point when he says we weren't designed to live underwater.”
Cora had no answer to that.
I still wanna stay.” Nix promised her. “I love the ocean. I love the whales. I want… I want no more walls around me. Not ever again, but the ocean is a death sentence for so many people. It’s not as simple as go and die, or stay and live. Most of us aren’t living down here.” She pulled Cora close and spoke right in her ear. “If everyone voted legit, the Aquans might just lose. And what will you do then? Will you respect the wishes of the majority?”
The question floored Cora for a moment. She had never expected the ‘wishes of the majority’ to matter. The Plan had always been to prepare and execute an Exodus. To take everyone who wanted to leave and escape without anyone knowing they were planning to go.
Cora suddenly realized why Don looked sick to his stomach.
~~/*\~~
58 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
Morgan was at his desk, tapping away. Hardcopy was difficult to make in the Ark-Hive, and resources were tight enough that he relied on his secure TABB instead of taking notes. Randall was nearby, just waiting. Randall’s job was not a pleasant one, and he wasn’t usually burdened with writing reports and doing paperwork.
But his job meant he was skilled at keeping his mouth shut, and that made him indispensable to Morgan. The Stingray Commander was thinking out loud. “Cui Bono.” He declared to Randall. “Who benefits?”
Sir?”
There have been four things that shook the Ark-Hive in quick succession. First, the Landfall announcement. The School-Sub. The Food Shortages. Now this Pirate Hack.”
And you think they’re connected?”
Some of them, yes. But connected how? Cui Bono. A very old way of asking a question that every lawman needs to have tattooed on the inside of their eyelids: Who benefits?”
Randall had nothing.
The Cousteau goes down, and forty kids are in danger. There’s no profit in that for anybody, and it’s clearly incompetence, more than malice. So the driver is removed, and life goes on. But there’s one detail that doesn’t make sense. Do you remember? I mentioned it at the time.”
The apprentice.” Randall reported promptly. “Nix, I think her name was. She got off the Submarine first. You thought that was strange.”
Yes, because her suit and Breather were still on the Hydra Hawk. It was her training craft, so it’s an easy oversight to make, especially as the Hydra’s a private Yacht, owned by Cora Bridger. The Director’s Daughter runs resource management. You think she’d just ‘misplace’ a suit?”
If she signed her equipment back in, there’d be a manifest.” Randall offered.
Morgan was already calling up the records. “Yes, and… there it is. Four suits, signed back into the Drydock, adult and Apprentice sizes. So how did the suit get back on board the Hydra Hawk?”
Do we bring in Bridger and ask her?”
You want to haul in The Director’s Daughter for questioning?” Morgan dared him. “Especially given likely... succession probabilities?”
Nosir.”
Anyway, the Cousteau was ruled an accident. I can’t make an arrest without changing that. But then the Pirate Hack happens, and suddenly there’s a profit. The Director’s position is weakened.”
Bridger Junior’s a sub driver. Works with dolphin partners and Whale Synths all the time. You think she was looking for a ‘win’?” Randall theorized. “Something that could make her a hero to the Ark-Hive, for when she takes over?”
Good thought, but that would mean Cora’s connected to the Pirate Station, and we’ve been able to eliminate Cora Bridger from the lists of suspects where that is concerned. Half the broadcasts she has an alibi for, and I can’t believe anyone smart enough to evade our firewalls would leave that sort of thing on a timer for too long. If you had equipment that could flash a message to every screen in the ocean, you wouldn’t let it out of your sight.”
Randall nodded. His opinion wasn’t being sought. The boss just wanted to talk with someone smart enough to keep it confidential forever.
But then this latest Broadcast. It reveals information listed as Board Level Only. Something that most of the Board of Director’s doesn’t even know, at least not until then…” Morgan was silent for a long moment. “So, who do we know that wants a win for Cora Bridger, and can get to information that tightly controlled?”
Only the Director.”
Morgan looked at Randall, jaw dropping. “You better laugh when you say that. No, this is something else… Whoever found out about the Weir Syndrome isn’t working an agenda, because starting a riot helps nobody. This is personal… someone who wasn’t in on the secret, and was angry when they found out… So, how did they find out?”
The Pirate Station hacks our Comms. Maybe they can hack more than that?”
Ordinarily, I might think about that, but not this time. The report about the Surface Syndrome was hardcopy only; for exactly this reason. There’s no digital file to hack. There are less than five copies of the information in the world…”
So… who? Who could have seen it without being briefed personally?”
First question: Who benefits? First Rule?”
There are no coincidences.” Randall said promptly.
Four major events in four months. The Landfall announcement was made by the Director. Nobody but him knew it was coming. The School Sub? Cora Bridger’s crew were the heroes there, but she couldn’t have known it was coming, since it was pilot error. The Food Shortages? Also the result of an accident. Equipment failure, and all the backups removed for Landfall. But Cora’s the hero there too. Now the Pirate Hack? The Director’s Daughter could have known the information, if she went through her father’s desk.”
You think all of this has been a series of deliberate sabotages?”
Why sabotage the food supply? No benefit to anyone. If Cora’s a subversive, she wouldn’t give us food, she’d keep the supply a secret for her own people. Same with the Cousteau.” Morgan shook his head. “Cora’s duties are varied, but not that much. She can’t be behind these disasters; they’re simply happening at too many levels.”
Could be easier than that.” Randall offered. “Maybe the Director is getting his daughter to present the solutions when he could do it himself.”
Earn her a little goodwill for when she takes over?” Morgan considered that carefully. “But that’s the thing. The Director might want to elevate Cora, but not by lowering himself. Who else would want to see Cora as a hero, and have the access needed for something like this?”
Randall was about to answer, when there was a sharp, heavy shudder that rolled through the deck beneath their feet.
~~/*\~~
The rumble woke Cora. For a moment, she was back in Varuna Outpost, feeling the foundations shift. There was a shimmer outside her bedroom window, and she went to the Plexi-glass to look. There was no great bursts of flame or air bubbles that she could see… So the hull hasn’t been breached, at least not on this side of the Ark-Hive…
There was another shudder, barely audible, but enough that she could feel the vibration in her bare feet, if not hear it. Somewhere below her deck, something was being destroyed.
It’s started.” Cora said grimly, and grabbed her uniform.
~~/*\~~
The fire spread by the time she reached it. Someone had attacked the Intersection between Gold and Green Sector. The Checkpoint that the Stingray had set up less than a day before was now in flames.
The Stingray were there, as well as the light blue uniforms of Station Maintenance.
Cora searched for a breather and felt a hand go around her waist, shoving her back into the elevator. “Miss Bridger, get out of here!” Randall yelled at her. “This place isn’t secure.”
I can help!” Cora shouted back over the roaring crackle of fire.
You can, but you won’t. My orders are to get everyone from Gold Sector clear!”
Cora looked at him finally. “You think this is an attack? On me, I mean?”
I think it’s an attack on anyone in Gold Sector! Now get outta here!” Randall shouted, just as the fire suddenly spread. The lights overhead suddenly crackled, and sheets of sparks and flame came falling from the ceiling. Cora grabbed Randal instinctively and hauled him back into the tube she had just left. The doors closed behind them both, and the elevator shook, dropping several feet before going dark.
Cora tapped the buttons instinctively. Sparks jumped off the panel, and she reared back.
Fire got in the electrics.” Randall groaned. “The fuses would have blown to prevent a shutdown across the whole Sector. Seems I owe you my life.”
We all have off days. Cora thought it immediately, but didn’t say it out loud. “What happened up there?” She asked.
It was a kamikaze run.” Randall grunted, tending so some of his own injuries. “Someone came wandering up to the Checkpoint at the Intersection. The guards told him to stop and be recognized, and he charged. They hit him with the shock-shots, and suddenly the guy went up like a flare. He had a detonator of some kind under his shirt. Took out three of my guards and half the Checkpoint. Fire alarm went off, but there was nobody left on hand to fight the fire with the entire intersection locked down.” He shook his head, frustrated. “There’ll be an official report, of course. We’ll have to bring in the assailant’s family, and any friends worth questioning…”
Then you identified the guy?”
We haven’t decided yet.”
Cora paused. “You mean, you haven’t ‘verified’ yet, right?”
Right.” Randall smirked. “I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, Cora. There’s been this kind of unfocused, panic pushback ever since the Pirate Hack outed the Weir Syndrome Problem. There were two sealable compartments and plenty of doors he couldn’t get through without a passcard before he got anywhere near the Board, you, or your father.”
Either that, or Stingray was the target.” Cora pointed out. “How many people have been beat down hard by your guys this week? To quell the violence?”
Randall looked over in the dark red light. “I know you don’t like me, Cora. And I know your boyfriend is Green Sector. People there really don’t like Stingrays. But when it looks like there’s an Uprising coming, it’s people like me that put the fires out before they reach people like you. Or at least, it should be.”
Can’t argue with that. But it’s got nothing to do with your uniform. People in Green Sector don’t like being Bagged.” Cora ground out. “And it’s no secret that you’re Morgan’s top shark.” She looked over. “What’s your score up to now? Eighty nine Brown Bags? Twenty three Black Bags?”
Randall shrugged, like it was something to be proud off. “I hold the record.” He looked up at the emergency lights. “What’s your best guess?”
Half an hour to get the fire out and the electrics sorted.” Cora reasoned. “Another ten minutes to reset the fuses, maybe a little faster if they take a roll call and find out we’re missing.”
Not that long.” Randall shook his head. “Stingray are already in Gold Sector. Top Four levels, in particular.”
Cora froze. “Why?”
Randall wouldn’t look at her. “Look, I owe you my life now, and I don’t like owing people.” Randall said carefully. “But be glad you’re here in a sealed box for the next forty minutes.”
Cora felt her heart give a hard double thump. “What’s going on?”
Randall sighed. “You didn’t get this from me.” He warned. “The Pirate Hack has spooked the Commander something fierce. There are only three or four people in the world that knew the Big Secret. And somehow it got splashed to every screen in the Ocean. Morgan’s on a Crusade. His people are searching every TABB, every desk, every notepad in Gold Sector.”
“‘Or at least, it should be’.” Cora repeated Randall’s words from a moment ago. “What did you mean by that? When you said it should be you guys putting the fires out when something goes wrong?”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that you’ve managed to save the day a few times in the last few months.” Randall told her quietly. “The Cousteau, the Food Riots… Morgan’s wondering who’s ‘running’ you, if anyone.”
Oh, for the love of-”
Randall held his hands up. “I know, I don’t buy it either. But Equipment failure isn’t something Stingray can fight. So The Commander is looking for something he can kill and declare victory.” Randall shook his head. “There. We’re even now. I can’t say more.”
Long silence.
Three or four people knew The Big Secret.” Cora leaned back against the side of the elevator, trying to be casual. “Were you one of them?”
He shook his head slowly.
Just between us? What do you want to do?” She asked curiously.
He hesitated so long she wondered what he was afraid to say. “I go where my Commander sends me.” He settled on finally. “My life has never exactly been decided by my own whims. When you can do something that needs doing, you do it. That’s a fact of the Ark-Hive.” He gestured at her. “But look who I’m telling.”
Yes.” Cora agreed. Sell it, Cora! “But you realize, we get back to the Surface, and all that changes. Assignments, Ration cards, Lights Out, Marriage Contracts and reproduction waivers… We get back to the surface and have miles of open air, they won’t be able to hold us to that ever again.” Or if we pull off the Exodus, and have miles of ocean.
Randall actually smiled. “It sounds nice.” He said wistfully.
Cora hesitated. “It does, doesn’t it?” She admitted. And then the elevator shook, the lights came on, and they started to rise again, as the elevator panel sparked one more time. “Well, they got that working a lot faster than I thought.”
I would have been fine giving them a little longer.” Randall had already pulled his TABB out. “I have to figure out what to tell The Commander.”
I have to figure out what to tell my dad.” Cora agreed. “Which question do you suppose he’ll want answered first?”

~~/*\~~~/*\~~~~/*\~~~/*\~~


Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying The Ark-Hive, in its serialised format. if you'd rather not wait until the next chapter is published, you can head over to Amazon, and buy the whole book; in a complete ebook format.

Available now on Amazon: The Ark-Hive