was an Apprentice. With the Deadline getting closer, and the
disruption finally starting to fade, every Apprentice was doing the
work of several people, just like any of the commissioned officers.
Even so, nobody at her level was summoned to The Director’s office.
Nix stressed. She shook her head quickly. If The Director suspected
her of being subversive, she’d be Bagged, and she’d never see it
coming. There wouldn’t be an invitation to The Director’s office.
was happy to see her again. She fought to keep the nerves off her
face while she made small talk with him. He wanted to know what
everyone wanted to know. “So, which way are you voting?”
wanted to tell him the truth. He was a little more interested in her
than she was comfortable with, but that was no reason to lie to him.
Except that she had to. Don had put the word out to play dumb as long
as possible. “Ohh, I go where my teachers go. Cora will no doubt be
returning to the surface; and you never know, she may want me there,
imagine why she wouldn’t.” Ben said, with just a little too much
candor. Nix was looking for a way to brush that off, when Ben checked
a sudden change on his terminal. “He’ll see you now.”
herself, Nix went into the Director’s Office.
was behind his desk, facing away from her, out the plexi-glass. He
gazed at the ocean for a while as Nix sat down. “Reporting as
ordered, sir.” She offered. She couldn’t think of anything else
The Director sighed. “How are things out there, Apprentice?”
sir.” Nix said truthfully.
it looked like there was going to be a lot more violence than there
actually was. Cora’s idea about the Referendum cooled much of it.”
The Director admitted. “And… Cora? How’s she been keeping?”
tensed and relaxed simultaneously. She suddenly knew what she had been
summoned for, but there was still a dozen ways this conversation
could go badly. “I’m sure you’re better informed than I am,
sir. With Tai… dismissed, Cora’s main focus for the last two
weeks has been on her work here with the Board. Until she gets a new
partner, I’m not really working with her that closely…”
The Director sighed. “Speak plainly, please. I have reports coming
from Cora on a regular basis. In fact, a lot more regular than she’d
ever turned in her reports. When she does work in a department other
than mine, she’s apparently punctual, task-driven, conscientious,
and…” He looked at her. “None of these reports will tell me how
she is. She’s out of our Quarters before I wake up, and she’s in
bed early by the time I get back. I want to know how my daughter is.”
wasn’t sure if he was asking as Director, or a worried father, but
was leaning toward the latter. “She’s… sleepwalking.” Nix
said finally. “I take meals with her as much as I can, and she’s
just gone quiet. Not like she’s broken. More like she’s…
thinking. I don’t know what about, but it’s like all the things
she cared about before are suddenly meaningless.”
Director glowered out the window again.
think she blames herself for Tai. She knows it wasn’t a Black Bag,
because-” Nix dared.
you told her.” The Director didn’t turn. “You may go,
did so, glad for it. A few moments later, The Director sat at his
desk and tapped at his terminal. “Morgan, please respond.”
sir.” The Stingray Commander was prompt.
never once asked you a question I didn’t want the answer to.” The
Director said carefully. “I’ve never once asked you about your
prisoners. You tell me the threat is neutralized, and I accept that.”
Morgan responded. “I take it this is about to change?”
is.” The Director nodded.
hadn’t left her room in almost fourteen hours. She sat with her
back to the Plexiglas wall. She didn’t want to look outside. She
had been letting her work in Resource Management slide in favor of
her work with the Aquans, and needed to catch up on it. She had
questions of her own to answer.
would have brought her food, pulled her from the chair, made her go
outside, or at least interact with people. But Ano was gone. Tai
would have found an excuse to swim up to her Plexiglas, knock
quietly, blow her a kiss. But Tai was gone. It had to stop. And she
had to stop it.
had a plan now, and it was a fragile thing in her head. She knew
better than to write any of it down. She didn’t need to. She could
see everything she needed. The time of trusting her father’s
intentions and Don’s Network was over, and Cora was amazed to
discover that she could put a lot of it together with careful
thought. Her position as Don’s Agent, and The Director’s Daughter
gave her more of the puzzle on both sides than any other member of
the Ark-Hive. She could map out the Aquans, the Earthers, The
Stingray… She could see it all laid out like a tapestry now.
was only a matter of time before someone caught onto what she was
planning. She had everything she needed except time. Because sooner
Her father called through her bedroom door. “Can we speak, please?”
felt a thrill go through her, and checked the clock. Her father was
never home this time of day. If it was business, he only had to call
her, or at least summon her to his office. But he had come home in
the middle of the day to speak to her, so it was personal.
she came out of her room, and found Morgan and Don standing with her
father, her heart sped up dramatically. She kept it off her face.
Cora. Tai could hold his breath for over a hundred meters. You can
stay calm in your own home.
Bridger.” Morgan nodded. “For the record, I was against this.”
father let out a breath and looked at her. “Cora… I’m afraid I
have some bad news.”
is dead.” Cora said flatly. She didn’t have a trace of emotion on
her face. “Let me guess: Killed while trying to escape.” She
looked at Morgan. “Yes?”
Morgan confirmed, though it was clear he took little pleasure in it.
was still a total blank as she nodded. “At least with Tai it’s
halfway plausible. More so than with Ano, anyway.”
Director tried to regain control of the conversation. “Cora, I’m
so sorry for-”
ignored her father completely. “Where is Tai now? The body?”
was dispatched to the Macallan Trench like the others.” Don told
shifted her gaze from Morgan to her father. “I’d like to take the
out there and pay my respects. Shouldn’t take more than a few
hours. Once my duties allow it, of course.” She said politely. “And
later on, I had a few thoughts about the schedule. It’ll save you a
few days on Dismantling the Museum.”
father nodded after a long moment. It was chilling. Here was his
daughter, and for the first time in her life, he had no idea what she
was thinking. Cora had changed in the weeks since Ano and Tai had
been taken. She was a stranger to him now.
thanked them both and left, leaving a stunned Director, and a
Don said sagely. “She’s handling it by throwing herself into
that’s not like her.” The Director shook his head. “I know
Cora. She doesn’t bury herself when something bad happens. This is
this has been circling her for weeks.” Morgan said carefully.
“We’ve systematically taken people she knows off the board. And a
suspicious person would wonder why we haven’t looked at her
directly.” He shrugged, like it was no big deal. “You pay me to
be a suspicious man.”
we’ve talked about this.” Bridger warned.
smart, but she’s too trusting.” Don added. “Someone wants to
take advantage, she’ll let them. Besides, I was the one who tipped
you off about Tai. It wasn’t anyone connected to her family.”
that strike you as a naive little girl who just left the room?”
reaction?” Don put in. “It was you.”
right, Morgan.” The Director added. “Remember the last time you
and I stood in this room and ‘broke the bad news’ to Cora? It was
the night her mother died. You haven’t been in our quarters
personally since that night, and now, here you are again to give more
bad news. That was a flashback.”
let out a breath. “Well, it’s not like I was offended.”
was offended, Morgan. And so was I.” The Director said evenly.
“Don’t use Ano as justification. We both know you guessed wrong
on that one. That’s why you moved on to Tai. Ano was part of my
household before Cora was even born. You sure you want to keep going
with my daughter too?”
sir.” Morgan nodded. “On the assumption that Cora was duped…
Are you sure it’s wise to let her go across the ocean alone? We
don’t let people do that on business. There’s always a partner.”
trying to bury the last one. Does it seem like the right time?”
Bridger said acidly. “That girl is the future of the Ark-Hive,
Morgan. If you can’t keep her safe and show some respect simeltaneously, then let me know, so I can find
someone who can.”
if I may…” Don put in. “Commander Morgan is quite correct. The
Trench is not the place to take chances on safety. And Cora and Tai
have a history with that spot. As you say, that young woman is the
future of the Ark-Hive. I suggest we… keep her safe.”
Days To Landfall
was almost a week before she could get out of the Ark-Hive again. The
ran quieter than any of the submarines on rotation. Cora was glad for
it. She knew her father had seen the change in her, but she didn’t
care. As long as he didn’t know what the change was, she’d be
fine. She just had to keep ahead of them for another few weeks, and
her plan would either be a total success, or she’d be dead. At this
point, she almost didn’t care which.
wasn’t that she didn’t care about Tai’s death. It was that she
had been expecting it since he was taken. In a way, she’d been
preparing herself for the moment since the first time she’d told
him she loved him.
her cold demeanor hadn’t come from that. It was Morgan, back in her
house, the wretched Shark. Come to offer sympathy and give her the
bad news. Her mental revelation about how selfish she had been was
slapped in her face again, because the only promise she had made when
she learned the truth about her mother’s death, was a pledge to
avenge her. And instead of doing anything about it, she had kept
quiet, and now it had happened twice more.
head was pounding with the realization. She was finally getting
closer to fulfilling promises made long ago. And that was why she had
asked to come ‘pay her respects’ at the Trench. She needed one
last conversation with him.
Macallan Trench. Cora
thought as she pulled her submarine to a halt. So
She glanced at her Scope. She could see the Decompression Chamber
where she and Tai had recovered. She had deliberately sabotaged her
mother’s sub, because Don had told her to keep a secret about this
Trench, and she had never asked what it was.
had nearly died, because his own secrets about her had distracted him
at a critical moment. And she had let him. If she’d pressed him
more, he would have confessed his feelings for her a week earlier.
They would have had so much more time to just…
you’d told me then, I might have pointed this sub the other way.”
She said quietly. It was something they had joked about often. Just
take a submarine and drive out across the Trench, never to return.
They wouldn’t have gotten far, but they both would have been
happier for it.
were right, Tai.” Cora sighed to herself.
at silent runnin…”
jumped. The voice had come from her own console. The speaker was set
to passive listening. The ocean conducted sound better than anything
else. Just listening to the water could give you an idea of what was
in the area. Cora had just picked up a stray snippet of
communication. Not a signal, not a transmission. Someone out there
it’s the Macallan Trench. It’s a graveyard. Who could possibly be
speaking out here?
Cora worked the controls and moved the Hawk
slowly towards the trench. She also hooked up the passive sonar to
her headphones. A job that her co-pilot should have, leaving her free
descended into the Trench almost forty meters, and shut down the
engines. A slow, silent drift, while the listened carefully to the
ocean around her.
the Hydr…” She
heard a voice whisper from the dark.
else could it…”
to go out th...”
eyes flew open in disbelief. “Ano?” She hissed. She wasn’t
imagining it. She checked the sensor logs. The soundwave pattern was
right there. It was a real sound, picked up on passive Sonar. Cora
had grown up hearing that voice. Even through the ocean, over the
headphones, she recognized it absolutely.
was out there somewhere, talking. In the Macallan Trench.
Trench. Where Don needed me to keep a secret. Where Don has something
hidden. I thought it was a supply cache. I thought it was a hiding
place… and it is. But not for supplies!
drown us.” A voice said behind her.
let out a shriek that would have been audible back in the Ark-Hive.
She flew out of her chair so fast that the headphones nearly snapped
He said, holding up both hands. “Didn’t mean to startle!”
did you get on board!?” Cora snapped, an inch away from attacking
was always on board.” Randall explained. “Your father was worried
about you, being out here alone. Regulations say you have to have a
partner in the Dark Water.” He gestured out the window. “And by
the way, I can see what he was worried about. Why are you driving
your submarine into
the Macallan Trench?!”
suddenly caught herself and went back to the controls. She quietly
turned the feed from the Passive Sonar down to nothing, and stowed
her headphones. “I was… this is where Tai and I became more than
friends. It started here.” She sent him a glare. “If this is
where he’s buried… I was hoping to have a little privacy for
less than you expected, huh?” Randall said coolly.
Cora played innocent.
heard someone on the Passive-”
I get that all the time.” Cora waved it off. “On a clear day, you
can pick up snips of conversations from the East Range.”
I don’t believe that’s true.” Randall came over and sat in the
Co-Pilots Chair. Tai’s
noted distantly. He put his feet up on the console. “This is a
pretty sweet view you’ve got here. When I travel, I always end up
in the cargo hold, hanging onto the wall.”
chuckled. “Yeah, it’s a better view from the pilot’s seat.”
She worked the controls and prayed he couldn’t hear her heart
pounding. “You’re right, I should head back to the Light Water. I
just wanted to… say goodbye.”
someone said it back?” Randall chuckled, though she noticed he was
resting one hand on his weapon. “Let me bring up the passive sonar.
I might be able to hear whoever it-”
Cora blurted, unplanned, unprepared…
too late. Randall had already turned up the feed; listening to the
ocean again, piping it over the speakers. The sound was immediately
Are you there? I know it’s you.”
moved fast, grabbing for the controls with one hand, and his
shock-gun with the other. “Lieutenant Bridger, you are under
lunged. Both her hands clapped around the weapon. It wouldn’t
pierce the hull, but it would put her down and out. If Tai was alive,
he wouldn’t be for long if Randall could report back. Tai
is alive! Sweet Poseidon, how is this possible?
swung on her. He was past the point of discretion now. If he reported
this, even the Director couldn’t save her, and they both knew it.
Cora had seen the swing coming, and ducked back just enough that the
punch clipped her chin. Cora hissed as the pain clouded everything
for a moment.
had already caught her wrists and was trying to cuff her, weapon
aimed. Cora knew she couldn’t take him hand to hand. She’d
already taken the first punch, and sheer luck meant she wasn’t
concussed right now. So she kicked out, not for him, but for the
co-pilot’s controls. She hit the stick and the Hawk
lurched like someone had given it an uppercut.
was thrown off balance, just long enough for her to get into her seat
properly and send the Hawk
into a steep climb, nose up. The Submarine wasn’t designed to move
like a dolphin, but Cora had been driving her for years, and made it
was strapped into her seat, and Randall was not. As the room went
vertical, Randall went spinning, tumbling against the walls and
doorways. It gave her just enough time to scan the walls of the
Trench. Somewhere in here, someone was hiding, and she didn’t have
time to look. She had to get Randall away from here.
the engines to maximum, she had only a few seconds to set the
autopilot, before Randall recovered and-
weapon barked and Cora felt her hair straighten out as electrical
sparks ran across her console.The craft lurched, and Cora gasped as
her fingers burned. The Stingray weapon was designed for exactly this
sort of fight, and the discharge sent her gasping. She reached beside
her chair and came up with the small fire extinguisher, required to
be in reach at all times on every submarine. She raised it, ready to
swing, and found Randall just out of reach, aiming his Stinger.
one was a warning shot!” Randall shouted behind her. “Don’t
think I won’t do it.”
forced herself to touch the metal console again and slammed the
extinguisher down on the console. It shattered instantly. “No
radio!” She told him firmly. “Which means no radio guidance. No
auto. Can you even drive this thing?”
pulled the trigger and hit her full force. Cora gasped as the pain
lanced through her. Her limbs didn’t want to work suddenly,
twitching uncontrollably, every muscle seizing, eyes rolling in
different directions. She was able to gasp in a tiny bit of air
before her chest and throat seized too, and she was suddenly unable
nothing could stop Randall from coming up and hauling her from the
pilot’s seat. He dropped her unceremoniously onto the floor, and
sat down in her place. He didn’t even bother to cuff her. She
couldn’t lift her head, or focus her eyes, but she could still hear
him at the radio. “Stingray Checkpoint, this is Randall, are you
Cora told herself, even as her lungs thrashed for air that wouldn’t
trained how to handle near drownings. You can get air. There is
enough. Those Stingers aren’t lethal, that’s the whole point.
radio console sparked again as Randall tried to repair it. “Repeat,
Stingray Checkpoint 21-Baker, are you receiving me?”
was finally starting to see straight. She reached one hand out,
moving slower than she’d ever moved. She was able to grip the base
of the co-pilots chair, pull herself six inches over towards the
no thank you!” Randall caught her arm and hauled her aside, tying
the cuffs behind her back. “You’re not going anywhere.”
groaned. Her throat was starting to relax, and the air was coming
back. Every limb burned.
never had a chance you know.” He said, not unkindly. “You’ve
got guts, and you’ve got conviction. But none of that can help you.
It’s like Morgan always says: In a room full of people, what do you
call the only man with a gun?”
summoned all her might and was able to let out a wet cough, make her
shoulders roll a little. Enough to get her on her side, so she could
gaze blearily up at him… and then she saw past him and thought she
turned back to the console, and his gaze slowly lifted to look out
the front windows, and see a face staring back at him. It was Tai. No
regulator, just a breath mask. Barely a wetsuit. He was staring in from the ocean, and looked as horrified as Randall.
Stingray Enforcer let out a series of muffled curses and tried the
radio again. When that failed, he moved to the controls. “You’re
right about one thing, Miss Bridger.” Randall commented. “We’re
a long way from Light Water, and this piece of Aquan Pride doesn’t
drive anything like a proper submarine, but basics are still basics.”
was swept off the port instantly, and Cora could feel the deckplate
shiver as Randall sped up. They would be out of the Trench in a few
enough for Cora to haul her whole body up to her knees. The rising
boat was tilted as it ascended, which was just enough to help her get
one foot flat on the floor. “You wanna s-see conv-v-iction?” Cora
snarled. “Watch this!”
grabbed for his gun and zapped her again, but Cora wasn’t trying to
attack him. With her hands tied behind her back, and no chance of
taking him, she made the only move she could.
threw her body against the co-pilots controls.
suddenly went into a steep dive. Randall swore again and grabbed for
the controls in front of him, but Cora had been Stung again, and was
nothing but dead weight, holding the control stick forward.
facedown against the console, couldn’t breathe, in or out, and her
eyes wouldn’t focus, but she caught a momentary reflection off the
panel in front of her. For a split second, she could see what was
had driven them into the walls of the Macallan Trench.
Randall cried out in numb horror, throwing his arms across his face
in a futile crash position.
was a crash that seemed to shake the universe apart, and Cora felt
her body get thrown against the Plexiglas, then the floor, then the
wall. There was the sound of water, and Cora waited to die. At that
depth, any tiny break in the porthole would be instantly fatal… But
the leak wasn’t in the viewport, it was…
didn’t know. She couldn’t move, but she could feel the icy water
collecting under her, as she lay facedown, paralyzed. The water was
deep enough to submerge her face and nose.
almost wanted to laugh. The second shot from Randall’s weapon had
seized her every muscle. Including her lungs. She wasn’t taking in
breath. She couldn’t if she tried. Randall had kept her from
drowning already. But the icy water was rising.
felt Randall brush against her. He wasn’t moving either. Little by
little, her limbs started moving again. She could feel the water
lifting her as it grew deeper, and she used all her strength to turn
herself over, floating faceup instead of facedown.
was enough in her movements to take in a tiny breath. She could taste
smoke. The cockpit went pitch-black. The electrics were out.
Did I dream you?
water was cold and icy and dark and Cora could feel her breath coming
back just as her limbs started going numb and dead.
was a brushing against her feet and Cora realized it was the ceiling.
cockpit had filled up enough that she was bumping against the
ceiling. One breath left. Two at most.
there was nowhere to go. The record was 124 meters, and she was still
in the Trench.
felt a warm hand grab her by the shoulders and pull her under. She
would have reacted, but she still couldn’t move… but then a mask
went over her nose and mouth, and she tasted airmix. Randall?
There was light now, from some source that Cora couldn’t identify…
But she saw her hero clearly. It was Tai.
I still dreaming? Or is this what death by drowning is like?
breath was coming back, though the cold made it hard to move her
limbs again. As the air filled her lungs slowly, she started getting
her brain clear. Tai was indeed there, alive, and pulling her through
towards the hatch.
was too stunned to put up a fight, and she moved with him as best she
could. They made it all the way to the Dive Hatch, including the
wetsuits. Tai found hers and pulled off the support unit, including
the heating pack.
not wearing a suit. Cora
thought, full of wonder.
He’s breathing from an emergency pack. How is he alive?
both swam out into the trench, and Cora suddenly saw the lights for
what they were. It was a cloud of Don’s phosphorescent fish.
looked back at Tai, and found he was having no trouble at all. The
wetsuit he was wearing was something she had never seen before. It
wasn’t loaded with equipment, no readouts, no bulky helmet, or
facemask that could fog up. No fins to give him traction against the
water, no regulators to help him with changes in pressure.
was so cold she was starting to be warm again, and Tai looked like he
was taking a quick dive in a heated training pool. As Cora’s brain
started to go fuzzy, she suddenly realized how right he looked just
now. It was like he had emerged from the ocean himself, one of those
famous mythical water nymphs or mermaids that her mom had told her
about when she was a girl. With a cloud of glowing ocean life keeping
perfect pace with them, there wasn’t even darkness. The two of them
flew like a cloud, floating together, like they were the only two
people in the universe.
is what I wanted, forever...
Cora felt the cold finally seep into her brain, and she gratefully
came back to herself, feeling deliciously warm, wrapped in softness.
Lights were on. Artificial ones, but they were warm and friendly and
Cora let herself breathe deeply.
deeply was a mistake, and she started coughing almost immediately,
lungs on fire.
was there instantly, tucking the blankets around her tightly. As
awareness grew, Cora realized she was covered in emergency heat
packs. The idyllic faded into reality, and Cora felt her lungs
burning. “Hi.” She coughed.
smiled at her, put a gentle kiss on her forehead. “This is the
third time in a year I’ve had to tow you to safety before you
drowned. I’m starting to wonder why you want to stay in the ocean.”
smiled for him, and raised a trembling hand. “Randall?”
Tai reported. “Knocked cold by the crash, facedown like you.
Drowned in ten inches of seawater.”
he hadn’t zapped me twice, my lungs would have worked enough that I
could say the same.” Cora coughed. “Where are we?”
Decompression Chamber.” Tai said, and even under present
circumstances, he couldn’t hide the smile.
smiled back. “Recreating our first date. How sweet.”
our first date.” Tai scoffed. “If memory serves, you spent half
the time waiting for me to shiv you, before you found out we were on
the same side all along.”
coughed again. “Oh, one more thing?”
THE HELL ARE YOU ALIV-” Cora broke off coughing like she was never
going to breathe again.
was there instantly, helping her sit up and clear her lungs. When she
settled back, Tai told his story. “So, I go back to my room, and a
bag goes over my head. I can’t tell what color it is, but I know
it’s bad, so I’m making my peace. I wake up in Circular Quay.”
was it like?” She asked reflexively. Even in the middle of this
story, Tai was the first person she knew who had gone into the Quay
and lived to tell about it.
lot better lit than we thought. Smaller on the inside. They don’t…
keep many prisoners long term. There are places for prisoners to
work.” He shook his head. “A lot of people who never knew us,
Cora. I thought I’d recognize more of them.”
let out a breath, coughing a little.
the prisoners have their assignments. Mine was… testing.” Tai
sighed. “Then Don comes in.”
Cora was stunned. “Don knows you’re alive? When was this?”
I have no idea. No clock, no shift announcements, the lights stay the
same round the clock. I was drifting in and out fairly often…”
Tai shook his head. “I lost track of what month it was, let alone
what day.” He squeezed her hand. “Anyway, Don sits down next to
me, tells me there’s a way to get me out, but the catch is, I can’t
tell anyone until after Landfall. I ask him if I can get word to you,
and he says no. You’re the one person who absolutely can’t know.”
sighed. “He wasn’t wrong. I went a little crazy when you were
taken. Stingray was all over me. Morgan even put his prize Bagman in
my boat without me knowing it.”
nodded. “Don had me strapped to a table for two days. Started with
an injection. I don’t know what was in it, but I was sweating and
twitching like I had the Pox. I wake up on day three, and Don dumps
me facedown in a seawater tank, still strapped down. I don’t know
what I did, but I know he’s not letting me up.” He smiled a bit.
“So, I’m freakin’ out. I figure that’s it, whatever Don was
planning to do to get me out of there, it wasn’t going to happen. I
kick at the straps, but they’re on tight, and I’m going down for
the third time, when I realize something: I’m having no trouble at
all holding my breath.”
stared. “I wasn’t hallucinating, was I? You really were free
swimming in the Trench.”
I had the record for one breath. 124 meters. I can triple that now.”
Tai pronounced grandly. “I have no idea what was in that injection,
but I know that it did something to me. I can cover almost three
hundred vertical feet without having to equalize. I can stay under
almost six minutes, before I need to breathe. I swear, for a while
there, I thought I had gills.”
in that tank, still wondering why I haven’t drowned yet, when Don
signals me. He makes the signal for ‘deadman’s float’. You
know, like when you don’t know down from up so you play dead and
let the water buoy you?”
nodded, caught up in the story.
I play dead, and Don drains the water, takes the whole table out of
the tank, and slides me into… well, a coffin. When he seals the
coffin, I realize there’s an emergency air bladder in there. One of
the ten minute supply jobs. Small enough that nobody would notice
it, even in a box. He closes the coffin lid, and I feel it pressure
wasn’t a coffin, it was a lifepod…” Cora was awed. “Hades,
all those coffins dumped in the Macallan Trench, and…”
was my first question too.” Tai nodded. “But no. Not all of them.
But more than you think. Almost a hundred by now. I’m told they’ll
all be like me in a few weeks. I’m not the first ‘successful
test’. We’ve got lots of lost friends there, Cora. All our
people.” His eyes was shining as he beamed at her. “Ano is there,
Cora felt her hands go to her mouth in wonder. “Ano’s alive?!”
is. She misses you.” He leaned in and kissed her soundly. “Almost
as much as I do, love.”
was stunned, trying to find the first question. “Where?”
are caves in the Macallan. At that depth, nobody comes close enough to find them.
You and I almost stumbled onto one, the last time we got put in
here.” Tai grinned. “Don told us not to let anyone look, and we
nearly killed ourselves keeping each other away from a place that we
both live in now.”
a colony?” Cora breathed. “Wait, what do you mean ‘we both’?”
went down.” Tai told her. “How else do we explain you getting
here? We can’t. So, as far as your father is concerned…”
dead?” Cora guessed. “No. Won’t work. Randall was in the Hawk
with me. I’ll bet you a week’s ration that Stingray’s already
on the way.” She sat up and tossed the blankets aside. “How long
was I out?”
enough.” Tai was moving too. “I went back for your divesuit once
I was sure you were going to live. It’s in the Docking Bay. Lucky
we didn’t go deep enough that you had to spend another three weeks
then there’s you, who’ll never need to decompress again.” Cora
said quietly, and took his face in her hands. “Love you, Stripes.”
you, Shells.” He said with a smile. “The Hydra
can’t be salvaged, at least not by Ark-Hive subs. I’m sorry. But
we can make it to the Colony and run silent until they’re convinced
you went down.”
I can’t do that.” Cora said uncertainly.
know it sounds like a risky plan, but trust me: They’ve been hiding
out there for almost a year, and nobody had any idea. You only knew
because we recognised the boat and tried to reach you.”
Tai.” She made him look at her. “I can’t. I have to go back.”
blinked. “Cora… this was everything we ever wanted. An Exodus.
Just us, for now, but… The whole ocean is open to us once they stop
looking. We can do it now, for real. It’s not a daydream! I need a
tenth of the oxygen, I don’t need a regulator… The cold is the
only thing left that can bother me, and you know we always talked
about heading south, where the water is warm...”
know.” Cora whispered. “And I still want that more than anything.
But I can’t just yet.” She kissed him soundly. “I thought you
were dead.” She admitted. “Tai… I… made some choices. When
you and Ano ‘died’ I did some hard thinking.” She took a deep
breath. “And I think you were right all along. I should have gotten
a lot more serious about this years ago.”
winced. “I did say that, didn’t I?” He didn’t sound happy.
“Cora, all the people we love are in the Colony, waiting for you
to leave the Ark-Hive.”
know. But I have to go back and finish what I started. I can’t ride
the wake anymore.” Cora said quietly. “You know why? Because now
I’m asking the question you would have asked if you weren’t so
busy being thrilled to be alive.”
long has Don had this miracle Aquan Formula?”
shook his head. “Don’t know. Judging by the people in the
Macallan, at least a year or two.”
nodded. “One year and maybe eight months, I’m betting.”
that with me.” She said quietly. “Tai…” She just stared at
him for a long time, thrilling in the fact that he was alive. “Tai,
I wish I could explain to you what it was like, when I found out you
had been Bagged. It was like I could see through the world suddenly.
It was like the whole ocean was suddenly put together so completely
and I could see the whole of it, in such… perfect clarity.” She
kissed him again. “And now it’s happening again. I feel like I
can see the future, it’s so blazingly obvious now. I know exactly
what to do. I don’t need an order, I don’t need a teacher, a Cell
Leader, a secret anything… I feel like I can read the whole
universe now that I know about the Colony…” She held him tightly.
“It was you, Tai. You were the missing piece that made the whole
universe make such perfect sense. I know exactly how I’m going to
what?” Tai asked, a little freaked out by her intensity.
going to end the battle between the Aquans and the Earthers. I’m
going to take out Morgan. I’m going to become Director. I’m going
to shut down the Quay, I’m going to pull off the Exodus without
anyone even knowing it’s happening, and I’m going to give every
Earther exactly what they need.” Cora listed the goals off on her
fingers like she was reading a checklist. “I can do it now. I can
see it all, and it’s so obvious that I almost hate Don and my
father for not doing it themselves a year ago.”
me more.” Tai breathed.
came a single loud tone ringing through the chamber.
ping sonar.” Cora didn’t even blink. “Right on time. That’s
Stingray, looking for me.” Cora took a breath, and wiped a single
tear away. “I love you, Stripes.”
you, Shells.” He said automatically, unnerved.
important that you know that. Because we may not be able to walk away
from this with a happy ending.” She was already pulling on her
what are you planning?” Tai asked, worried now.
not what I’m planning, Tai. It’s what Don is planning, what
Morgan is planning… and what I’m going to do about it.” She
told him. “And I need you to trust me right now… because they
have to see you.”
Tai blurted. “You have any idea what happens if Stingray finds out
about the Colony?”
the Colony can’t stay hidden anymore.” She told him. “But I
have to be the one to tell my father, and the only way I can do that
without getting Bagged myself is with your help.” She gave him a
hard look. “Tai, it’s time. Before I’m done I’m going to set
fire to the freakin’ ocean. I promise: We’ll see each other
again. But right now, I need you to put it all on the line, and you
have only your trust in me to decide.” She pulled the mask on.
“Because I don’t have time to talk you through why.”
studied her a moment. “Cora, if you need me to trust you without
understanding why, then of course, I will.”
came out of the Pressure Chamber and swam back towards the Trench.
Somewhere down there was a community of people, hidden by rock, and
depth and darkness. People like her. People who wanted what she
she had just turned down the invitation to join them. The idea almost
made her laugh.
could just barely make out the faint glow of the HydraHawk’s
Emergency lighting. Through almost five hundred feet of water. Cora
had no idea where in the Trench the hiding place was, but she knew
how undersea caves worked. It could be the size of Cameron Outpost
easily, if the people there were equipped.
Cora safe! Found you!” Cora’s TABB relayed a translation, almost
before she heard the dolphin’s clicks and whistles.
Cora turned to find Delphi charging towards her. The dolphin bent
double to pull himself into a sudden stop, inches from her.
safe! Tai safe! Tai alive! Cora go to Tai. Cora safe.” Delphi
clicked again, and Cora softened, realizing.
if I scared you, partner. I’m sorry, I should have brought you with
me when I came.” Cora embraced Delphi gently, glad to see him. But
then the spotlight fell over them, and she realized how her friend
had gotten there so fast. Two Stingray craft, small and fast, were
hovering over the wreck of the HydraHawk.
The spotlights played back and forth, and one of them settled on the
body of Randall.
was only a matter of seconds before they found her too. She sent a
glance back to Tai, who was already swimming away. He turned back
just in time to make a few hand signals. ‘Be
rolled her eyes, and swam out with Delphi towards her escort craft.
takes too long to get from the Ark-Hive to the Trench for them to
come from the distress call. Cora
had me followed, even after putting Randall in my boat.
spotlights found her quickly. One of the Stringray craft circled to
pick her up. Delphi pushed her up to the hatch.
happened?” Was the first question when the airlock had cycled.
had no answer for him. She had no time to prepare any kind of a
story. “I’m not sure.” She groaned out. It wasn’t hard to act
like she had sprained ribs and trouble breathing. She just prayed the
bruises on her throat didn’t look too much like Randall’s
A voice squawked over the radio. “Ninety degrees below! Looks like
a… man. No suit, no transponder, but he’s definitely swimming!
Tiger Two, are you seeing this? He’s swimming into the trench! Do
this is a recovery mission, and we’ve found her.”
let out a wet cough. Tai hadn’t escaped unnoticed.
me in touch with my father as soon as we get back to Light Water!”
She commanded. “We’ve found the enemy stronghold!”
Days To Landfall
was just after midnight when Cora received her first visitor in
Medbay. She wasn’t surprised to see it was Don. He tapped at his
TABB. “The Stingray guards on Duty aren’t paying much attention
to the inside
of this room, given the time of night, and the fact that you're here
alone. But we should still keep it short.”
is gutsy.” Cora observed. “With Randall dead in the Trench, you
know I’m a suspect. So you make sure to speak to me alone first?
You don’t think Morgan will get ideas from that?”
sure he will, but we’re getting close to the end of this road,
wherever it’s leading.” Don said, looking old. “Your father is
looking for reasons why you were descending into the Trench, and
hoping that it’s not a sign you were suicidal. The official word is
that you were in the Trench to mourn loved ones, and stumbled onto an
Aquan cache, which happened to be inhabited; and you were lucky to
make it to the Pressure Chamber in time to survive and wait for
of which is true.” Cora nodded, glaring balefully at him. “All
this time, I thought the reason nobody made it out of the Quay was
because of Morgan. Turns out it was you.”
overestimate the time I have spare, Cora.” Don snorted. “I’m a
very small part of what happens over there.”
still more than I knew about before.” She reminded him.
tried to tell you.” Don admitted. “When Ano was taken, the one
thing she asked me to do was send word to you. Didn’t know you were
Aquan, but she still wanted to tell you she was okay. She loves you
so much.” He saw her glare. “When Tai was bagged, I tried to get
word to you immediately, but Morgan was all over you by then. He’d
tracked the flow of information close enough that he moved on Ano,
then Tai… I didn’t dare send a message the usual way.” His head
tilted. “You look at me so angrily, Cora. You know I don’t tell
told Tai that he wasn’t the first successful test.” Cora grated.
“What happened to all the ‘unsuccessful’ ones?”
there’s the reason why.” Don sighed. “You’re a good person,
Cora. In the face of your own father ordering the arrest, and likely
execution of your surrogate mom, your lover, and anyone else who
cares as much as you do about the things you care about, you get mad
at me. When I tell you that it worked, that the Aquan Dream has been
kicked up to the next level, and that your dear, beloved Tai has not
only been returned to you from the brink of death, but has achieved
what we always thought was too good to be true and become a borderline amphibious human… the only thing you ask about is
the ones I couldn’t save. You’ve got an enormous heart, but you
waste it on your enemies, Cora. You’d be running the Ark-Hive if
you could just pick a side.”
have picked a side.”
you? You can’t let the Earthers go. Our whole hope hangs on the
ability of the Aquans to leave, but you put us all in danger to save
the Earthers. Your whole plan in life is to never look your father in
the eye and tell him you’re his enemy.”
not his-” Cora caught herself, and insisted. “I’ve made my
choice. As have you, it seems.”
I found out that the whole Ark-Hive had Weir Syndrome, I confronted
my father about it. He told me that he's had his best people working
on a cure; and they came back with nothing. His exact words were:
‘They expected to have something in three months, but it’s two
years later, and they can’t crack it’." She gave him a hard
look. "His best people. He meant you,
right? You're the best Gene-Hacker alive, Don.” She glared at him.
“So, here's what I think. I think my father told you to find a cure
for all the people who would find the surface to be fatal. I think
you found one in three months as advertised, but what my father
doesn't know is that you're the leader of the Aquan Movement for this
generation, and you suddenly realize that what you've found is
something far more useful to you than a safe Landfall. The Cure is
also a treatment that can make humans borderline amphibious. The
Aquan Dream, finally realized.”
was silent for a long moment. “Clever girl.” He admitted. “How’d
you work that out?”
was so blazingly obvious once I found out about Tai's...
transformation.” She started listing on her fingers. “Immunity to
pressure changes. Better breathing control, oxygen saturation,
metabolizing nitrogen molecules... Those are fixes for the symptoms
of Weir Syndrome. So you find the cure, and make a quick judgement
call. You keep it a secret."
nodded. "I thought that if I kept the cure a secret, your father
would cancel Landfall. But when he realized you might get sick too,
he kicked it into gear anyway.”
kept it a secret.” Cora pressed. “My father’s been burning up
the ocean trying to keep the damn schedule, because he’s desperate
to get me up there and in charge before I hit the saturation point
and get Weir Syndrome myself. You tell him there’s a cure…”
what? Will he suddenly relax? Make a deal? Treat us as Equals?” Don
challenged. “Can you see any scenario where your father will sit
down and make peace?”
I look to you
for that.” Cora coughed a little. “You kept the cure a secret,
because as long as nobody knows about it, either the Ark-Hive falls
apart from the rush to get to the surface, or Landfall succeeds, and
I get installed as Director. No matter what happens, you win.”
does it occur to you that having you as Director was inevitable?”
He pushed her. “You’re his only child. You’re an Aquan. Why
hasn’t it ever dawned on you that you could save the entire Aquan
dream without having to pull off an Exodus?”
should have.” Cora admitted. “It dawned on Tai immediately; and
no doubt you as well.” She shook her head. “But I was barely a
teenager, too hung up on not wanting the job, and too eager to have
you as my dad when the father I had turned cold.”
wasn’t cold, Cora. He was heartbroken.”
know. So was I.” Cora admitted. “Which is why it never occurred
to me that you swept right in and recruited me instantly. With mom
gone, it was clear who my father would make the next Director. You
recruited me, while Morgan went straight for my dad and promised him
revenge on ‘those murdering Aquans’. So Morgan had total power
over all of us, and you had a hidden ace for more than ten years.”
She shook her head. “It was perfect. Even knowing the truth about
how my mom died, I never pegged the implications.” She looked up at
him. “But you did, didn’t you? That’s where the Exodus began.
An escape that meant you’d never have to actually face Morgan
Exodus was a plan that I never really thought would work.” Don
admitted. “Just too many things to keep floating at once.”
you got a Plan B ready.” Cora finished. “Me. Keep me on your
side, work on your projects, quietly have your people listed as
‘deceased’ and shipped out to the Macallan, and wait until it was
time for me to take my father’s chair.”
had hoped the Exodus might work, and I had expected your ascension to
take another twenty years.” Don nodded. “One thing you know about
me, Cora: I’m patient.”
then my dad realized he already had Weir Syndrome and everything
became about getting me up there young enough to establish a dynasty
that would last forever.” Cora scowled. And
I let it play out, because I was so used to following instructions.
“One more thing. You turned Tai in, didn’t you?”
insisted that nobody knew he was the Pirate Broadcast.” Cora ticked
off on her fingers. “But Morgan was able to narrow it down by
whoever had access to the truth about Weir Syndrome. If Morgan
honestly thought I’d given it to him, I’d be dead right now, no
matter what my father said. The only way they’d take Tai and spare
me, is if Tai was arrested for a whole other reason.”
sighed. “Once I worked out it was Tai, I knew your days were
numbered. I still had a chance to save Tai, and keep you right where
you were, on the edge of becoming Director. But I couldn’t have
both, unless I turned Tai in.” Don held up a hand. “And it
worked. Tai’s alive, you’re not a suspect, and-”
the Colony is an inch away from being discovered.” Cora warned.
were smart, not to play dumb.” Don praised her. “By reporting it
immediately, you put yourself above suspicion. Even if they find the
colony before we can get everyone out, you’re clean…”
an Aquan as Director? Worth more than a hundred Aquan operatives, or
even your secret colony.” Cora nodded, feeling her childhood
affection for the man cool a little further. “And Randall? Because
you were there when I told them I was going out to the Trench. Why
didn’t you warn me I had a stowaway?”
makes you think I knew?” Don challenged.
could leverage the cure, Don.” Cora said quietly. “We could
actually call a truce and have genuine peace. They go back to the
Surface, we stay here. The cure means we can have both.”
could have had both at any point in a hundred years, kid.” Don
said seriously. “But just having this conversation would get both
of us killed. That’s not because of me.”
know.” Cora sighed. “Time?”
checked the jammer. “Close enough that we should wrap this up. Get
the Colony doesn’t have long. There aren’t a lot of craft with
weapons that can handle that depth. But that won’t keep my father
or Morgan away for long. They’ll send everything they’ve got.
What’s your next move?”
worry, I’ve got it sorted.” Don promised, leaving the room.
“You’ve done your part, Cora. Just look after yourself for now.”
month ago she would have taken that as enough. A month ago she would
have trusted him implicitly, and never wondered for more.
not any more.
get all that?” Cora asked quietly.
pushed the blanket aside and emerged from under her cot, looking
quietly stunned. “He knew. He knew Randall was in your sub, he knew
about… I had no idea.”
neither, until recently.” Cora sighed. “Nix, I need someone who
still trusts me. Are you in?”
are we going to do?”
going to take over the world.” Cora said, matter of factly.
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.