Friday, 30 March 2018

12 Chapter Twelve: “What Color Was The Bag?”


How did they get the demolition charge?” The Director demanded.
Morgan handled that one himself. “It’s actually not that difficult anymore. Those charges were under lock and key at their Outposts, for exactly this reason. But we’ve been shuffling many people in and out of here as fast as we can, in preparation for Landfall.”
Cora, I thought you were on top of this.”
I’m on top of the manifest.” Cora coughed, still a little short of breath after the smoke. “But we’ve got people trying madly to keep up with the schedule they’ve been handed. So a crate that missed its proper boat gets loaded into the next sub wherever there’s room? Usually it all shakes out when it arrives, but… Dad, this is going to keep happening until we get a handle on this.”
Morgan rose. “Lieutenant Bridger, if you can get me a list of whoever’s responsible for that, I’ll see to them.”
Morgan, smart money says that whoever was responsible is dead already.” Cora coughed, glowering.
The Director softened, at the sight of his smoke-stained daughter. “I’m told they had to physically restrain you from trying to help. This is the second time you go running into the fire when you don’t have to. Not sure I like this habit you’re forming.”
Must say, I don’t care for it, myself.”
Go home, try to get some rest.” The Director told her with a long-suffering sigh. “The schedule for today is totally sunk. With Gold Sector apparently under siege from the rest of the Ark-Hive-”
That’s not even close to what-”
I know it isn’t, but the Intersection was the main thoroughfare. Stingray isn’t game to let any of the others stay open, so we’re on standby until tomorrow at least. Go, take the day off. I’ll stay in my office. If you’re going to have Tai come by, try and wait until I’m not-”
Cora winced. “He and I haven’t really… spoken, in a few days. Too busy.”
The Director tried not to smile. He really did try. “That’s a shame.”
Cora scowled at him and headed for the elevators again.
~~/*\~~
Cora came back into her quarters and let out a hard sigh. It had been a hard day, and Cora hadn’t even had her breakfast yet. "Ano?" She called.
No answer.
Cora smiled a little. She had long suspected that Ano had a secret romance. Being the Director's Domestic made it harder for her than most people.
Cora went to Ano's room and knocked discreetly. No answer. "Ano? I'm coming in." She called ahead, and peeked around the hatch.
Ano's room was trashed. Cora gasped and pushed the door open fully, looking around. Ano kept her room more neat and tidy than anywhere else in their Quarters, but today it looked like a bomb had hit it. Cora went looking. Ano's things were trashed. Not knocked over, broken. Deliberately. Every drawer, every storage space. The room hadn't been vandalized, it had been searched.
Cora turned to stone. "Stingrays." She breathed, and turned on her heel.
~~/*\~~
"MORGAN!" Cora roared as she came off the elevator. She was marching toward Commander Morgan's office, on the warpath.
This is insane, Cora. Some tiny, reasonable part of her brain shouted a warning. But the rest of her wasn't listening. Ano was family. Her father had retreated completely into his office when her mother died. Ano had been the one to take care of her. For so long, Ano was practically... practically her mother.
And now Ano had been taken. By Morgan. Commander Morgan, who made people disappear on a regular basis. Morgan, who thought himself so untouchable. Morgan, who had personally killed her mother once already.
Cora's blood was boiling. She was ready to march in and murder him with her bare hands, and may even have been the only person on the Ark-Hive who could get away with it. The Director wouldn't have his own daughter executed, or locked in the Quay. He might even thank her for it. Her father...
...was right in the middle of the hallway, putting himself square in the way. "Freeze." He told her firmly.
Cora froze, obediently. The mere sight of her father putting a hand up had derailed her temper. "Dad, get out of the way." She told him. "If I stop to think about this, I might not go through with it, and that man needs to have something stabbed right through the black hole where his heart should be."
He shifted left and right, keeping himself in the way. "No! Listen, Cora. I’ve known Ano longer than you've been alive. If you think this happened behind my back..."
Cora froze, gaping up at him. "You gave the order!"
"Morgan was quite convincing." The Director said tightly, looking ancient. "And I took a lot of convincing, I assure you. But it’s clear by now that there’s an organized resistance to Landfall, and the Pirate Station is getting access from somewhere. The longer this goes on, the more convinced Morgan becomes that it was someone highly placed. Someone close to our family."
Cora almost swallowed her tongue. The highly placed Aquan spy was herself.
"I know how it burns, kid." The Director said. "I loved Ano too. But Morgan's evidence was nearly impossible to explain away. Most of it, Ano had no alibi for."
Cora was dying inside. She couldn't prove Ano innocent. Not without getting herself caught. And with her, Tai, and Don, and everyone else connected to all of them, which was most of the Aquan movement at this point. "What color was the bag?!” She demanded finally.
"She’s alive." The Director told her. "For questioning." He tried to offer her comfort. "She may be innocent, you know."
~~/*\~~
"He actually tried to reassure me." Cora confessed to Tai a few hours later on the Memorial Ship, under her mother’s protective wingspan. "He actually tried to convince me that it might be okay, and maybe Ano's not a criminal mastermind like me."
Tai looked sick. “I should have realized what would happen. This is my fault. I’m sorry, Shells.”
No.” Cora said firmly. “You were right. And I’m sorry I was so rough on you about it. You were right to give them all the warning time you could.”
Tai’s head tilted. “What brought that on?”
Nix’s father. He still wants to go to the surface. Hundreds of people probably do, because however we’re used to the ocean floor, this place is a death sentence for anyone below Green Sector. If I’d spent any time below decks, I would know that.” She looked at Tai. “You’ve spent plenty of time in Grey Sector. I’m Aquan because I love Delphi, and I love the water. You’re Aquan because you’re trying madly to give others like you a future.”
Tai bit his lip. “I shouldn’t have given you grief. You’re Gold Sector, and the Director’s Daughter. That wasn’t your choice. Nobody should be blamed for where they were born. You have more skin in the game than most, including me, and I shouldn’t have made you feel guilty about it.”
Cora looked out the Memorial Ship Windows. Circular Quay was visible. “I hate to think what they might be doing to her in there. Brown Bags mean questioning. But we’ve never gotten anyone back from the Quay.” She hesitated. “Sooner or later, they’ll grill her enough to know that she isn’t one of us. When they figure that out, they’ll start hunting again. Commander Morgan has narrowed it down to my family. It won’t be long until they figure it out.” She lead the way over to the statue of her mother. “When they figure out it’s me; I need you to promise me something. If I can’t get out in time… I need you to have this.” She felt around the side of the statue, until she felt the latch, and a hidden compartment fell away. Inside, was a disk. “Take it. It’s the only visual record of what happened on board this ship before it sank. My mother lived long enough to record proof it was Morgan who killed her. There are only two copies. That one, and the one on my TABB.”
Tai bit his lip. “Cora, if they figure out it was you, your father will look for an alternative. He’ll have to, to save your life and keep his plans intact. There is one person who’s had access to your quarters recently. Access that nobody’s ever had before.”
You.”
Me. And… well, he’ll be right.” Tai confirmed. “So if they come for me, I need you to have something too.” He lead her through the submarine. “There’s one terminal where the Pirate Hacks can be transmitted from. It was the one your mother used. I have a patch on the feed from this Terminal. Took me weeks to code it in such a way that it couldn’t be traced. But if they come for me, I’ll wipe my TABB, eliminate all evidence… and this will be the last place anyone can cast a Pirate Broadcast to the world.”
Cora looked around the small room. “This is… this is the room where my mother died.”
Tai nodded. “That video you’re holding? She was in this room, trying to make her broadcast. Morgan got to her before she could transmit.”
That explains a few things.” Cora thought aloud. “She was looking right into the camera when the video starts. I never knew what she was doing.” She bit her lip. “What you said, about how the one safe person in the world was me? I’m not so sure that’s true any more.” She shivered. “Six months ago, I could see how this would all play out. Six months ago, I thought it was all working. Now, I can’t see it anymore. There are seven different ways this can go, and for some reason, none of them are particularly happy endings.”
Cora, I’ll say this again…” Tai said gently. “You could do so much. You could be the point where the entire human race will turn. But you haven’t gotten into the game yet. Not completely. You run errands for Don, and for your father; but they both know you could be running the place inside a month if you wanted to.”
I don’t want to.” Cora insisted. “I never wanted to be in charge. I just wanted to make my way. My father doesn’t just want to leave the ocean, he wants the last word. He wants to say he beat the ocean, and got everyone out. He doesn’t understand that you can’t beat the tides. Don, he’s head of the Aquans, and he hasn’t quite realized yet that it’s not the same as commanding the Deeps.”
And then there’s you, Heir to Either Throne, who understands that very well.” Tai reminded her. “My first assignment as an Aquan? To hide coral samples, and set them to grow. It was years ago, but those samples will take decades longer than I’ll live. But when they’re ready, they’ll be easy to cut and align into living spaces for us. No power tools, almost no maintenance needed. It’ll outlive steel. To be Aquan means to plan for a hundred years ahead. I look at you, Shells; and I see a hundred years in a dozen different directions.”
Cora smiled a bit. “I don’t know what that means, really. But I appreciate the thought.” She sighed. “But after Ano, and the attack on the Intersection, my father will respond the only way he knows how.”
~~/*\~~
Cora was quickly proven right. That same night, The Director made an announcement that the Ark-Hive was to be locked down, with control over the movements of its inhabitants being put under careful watch of the Stingray Squads. Any citizen who had to travel on assignment had to provide proof of clearance to do so. Leisure time was curtailed, under pain of imprisonment and hard labor.
The order kept the corridors and public areas empty and calm, but behind closed doors, people were sealed in together, some of them crowded in ways they hadn’t been since the aborted Recall. The Ark-Hive kept simmering, with no way to boil over.
A day later, the orders expanded, recalling all leadership from the Outposts and Colonies, putting everywhere else in the Ocean under the direct command of Commander Morgan’s Troops. Cora was secretly glad. Some of those Outpost Leaders were Aquans, trying to keep a lid on things.
Cameron Outpost declared publically that they would not recognize the authority of the Stingray. Cameron outpost stopped transmitting a few minutes later. After that, there was no more wrath looking for an exit, only numb fear. Morgan had gone further than most scared, unfocused people were willing to go.
Work resumed the next day. After being under Lockdown for the better part of a week, crammed in their tiny cells, most people were ready to return to a ridiculous work schedule, just to move about again.
Cora had spent the time in her Room, working up schedules and resources. Ano’s absence was like a gaping hole in the world, right where her family should have been. Her father had spent most of his time in his office. Delphi hovered outside her window. The Dolphin was intuitive enough to know something bad was happening to his friends, but not how or why.
Essential Work included training and maintenance, so Tai and Nix were able to get back out into the ocean regularly. They always swept up past Gold Sector, just to see her. Then the Stingray craft started paying attention to them as they drifted away from their allowed work route, and Cora quickly had no more visitors.
Cora felt guilty for feeling trapped. Nix’s family was crammed into a space the size of her room, and she had one to herself, with most of the walls transparent enough to feel like she was surrounded by ocean. Cora was practically on vacation by Grey Sector standards.
She dealt with the guilt by working obsessively on her tasks in Resource Management. She had to admit she’d been letting some of them slide. Don had managed to sneak one message to her, giving her a quick list of what the Aquans had need of for their own plans, and Cora had spent four days trying to trick the figures into saying what they needed to say.
Then she was summoned to meet with her father.
~~/*\~~
54 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
I’ve spent four days doing paperwork, and my eyes want to fall out of my head.” Cora began as she came into The Director’s office.
The Schedule is back on. The unpleasantness at Cameron Outpost has cooled the situation here dramatically.” The Director observed.
That, and a body count in the triple digits.” Cora said dryly. “You want me to take over. Is there going to be anything left for me to Direct?”
Not funny.” The Director said tightly. “And anyway, that’s not what I called you here to talk about. It’s about Ano.”
Cora felt her heart stop, and then speed up triple time. “What about her?”
The Director just looked at her. His face was drawn and his eyes dark.
...no.” Cora groaned.
I’m sorry, Cora.”
What did they call it? KTE? Killed Trying to Escape?” Cora scorned, hot tears rolling slowly down her cheek. “She was what? About five foot nothin’, arthritis in her joints? Ooh, yeah. Dangerous killer, there. Better shoot to kill while she runs away.”
Ano wasn’t listed as KTE.” The Director said patiently. “She suffered heart failure during questioning.” He gave her a hard look. “Cora, I know what you’re thinking, but I loved Ano too. I was keeping a close eye on the way they treated her. But she wasn’t a young woman, and she was about as scared as a person can be.”
And all this, because someone found out your secrets.” Cora scorned. “Tell me they don’t still think it was her.” She shut her mouth as soon as she said it, too late to call the words back.
The Director looked at her funny. “You’re so sure she wasn’t the one? Cora, as much as I trusted Ano, Morgan came in with a list of people who could have gotten access to the report about Weir Syndrome. It’s a very short list, and most everyone on it has an alibi. There were only three copies. One for my office, one for the safe in my quarters, and one for Don. That and a few other prerequisites mean that almost nobody even knew about the report.”
So you figure it was Ano.” Cora said, madly trying to think of a way to come back from the edge. “Because there was nobody else that could do it. Nobody else ever had the opportunity.”
But even knowing that, you’re still so certain that it wasn’t Ano.” The Director said carefully. “And for the record, there are… one or two other people who have become guests in our home recently.”
Cora stared holes into him, searching for the answer. “Dad…” She said hoarsely. “Why call me to your office for this? You could have told me tonight. You could have come home and… Why call me down here do this?”
The Director just looked at his daughter sadly. “I really am sorry, Cora. But you aren’t the first one to be lied to by the one they love most… And yes. Ano has been cleared of suspicion, albeit posthumously.”
Cora was already running.
~~/*\~~
Randall was waiting when she got off the elevator in Green Sector. “Miss Bridger. I’m sure you have your security pass to be-”
Cora threw him against the wall and got right in his face. “Where is he!?” Distantly, she could hear other Stingray’s running up attack her. Touching a Stingray Lieutenant at all was punishable by thirty lashes. Cora turned and looked at them, letting the other guards see who she was.
It would have been comical if she wasn’t so scared. Three Stingray guards, recognizing The Director’s Daughter and falling over themselves to pretend they hadn’t actually noticed her.
Cora turned back to Randall. “Where is he, Randall?”
It wasn’t me.” Randall said, soft and sincere enough that Cora even believed him. “Contrary to popular opinion, I’m able to do more than the dirty work.”
Cora scowled and ran to Tai’s quarters. His room was shared between two single men. Tai’s roommate was having an affair with one of the matched pairs from the last Graduation Ceremony, and was thus rarely home. Cora hadn’t even met him, but there was no sign of him either. There was no sign of anyone.
Tai’s room had been tossed. The drawers were all pulled out, his clothes scattered, what few possessions he had had been broken open as people searched for things within. Cora noticed one thing. Neptune. Her stuffed toy from so long ago. Tai had teased her about that, when they were sealed in a decompression chamber together, months before. She had given it to him. Sentimental value was rare, and she had given it to him because she loved him so much… It had been cut open, the stuffing pulled out; just in case he’d hidden any contraband.
Cora was the contraband. A secret romance with the Director’s Daughter, which everyone knew about. A few passcodes for a secret terminal, that he had whispered to her, just in case…
There was blood on the floor. Not enough to be fatal. Enough to know that he hadn’t been taken gently. Cora turned away from the blood and ran outside to the hallway. There was no such thing as free room. Even the people who didn’t want to be there had to squeeze past to get to the elevators, the stairwells...
What happened?!” Cora shouted to them all. “Someone tell me! What color was the bag?! When did they take him?! Someone answer me!”
Nobody would meet her eyes. Nobody even looked back. Cora cast about, trying to figure out which one to run after first, pleading over and over, trying to run in three directions at once, growing hysterical. “What happened to Tai!? Is he alive?! PLEASE?!”
But the hallway was already empty. Just her, and the shattered debris of the man she loved.
Cora didn’t know how long she sat there. She became aware that a few Stingray guards passed her, pointedly not noticing her breakdown. They took up position at opposite ends of the hallway. She realized what that meant, just as her father rested a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not like with Ano. We know Tai’s guilty.” He said softly. “They found the software on his TABB in a hidden partition. We have no idea where his actual antennae was, but… He was the Pirate Station.”
Cora said nothing.
You were so certain it wasn’t Ano. I didn’t tell Morgan that part, or he’d think you knew and kept it secret.” The Director sighed. “I can keep you out of it. As far as Morgan knows, Tai used your love for him to get into my office and rifle my desk. It’s not a lie, and it’ll keep you from being hauled away as his accomplice.”
Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.” Cora said acidly. “Aren’t we all one conversation away from Circular Quay?”
The Director looked ancient. “I know I lost your respect when you found out about the Weir Syndrome, Cora. Maybe even before that. But I still choose to believe that you would have told me the truth. I can’t protect you from heartache, or betrayal. But I can protect you from Morgan. He has doubts about you. I don’t, if only because of what happened to your mother.” He sighed. “Take the day off. Come out swinging tomorrow.”
Believe me, I will. Cora thought to herself, seething. “Dad?” She called suddenly. “Look in his room.”
The Director blinked, and did so; going no further than the hatch. “Is that Neptune? I haven’t seen that since your mother died.”
Cora took one of his hands and pulled it to the left. She did the opposite with his other hand. He was reaching from one end of the room to the other, palms flat on opposite walls. The whole space was smaller than his reach.
Tai was born in this room.” Cora said quietly. “His whole life, in a space this size. Dad, there isn’t even a Porthole here. We never knew the Surface was an option until five months ago. In Grey Sector, the rooms are actually smaller. Whole generations, living in cells.”
I know.” The Director said quietly. “I lived down here myself through my apprenticeship training. My father summoned me back when it was time for me to get started on my own Ascension. Three years, I lived in a room like this.”
Cora blinked. “I didn’t know that.”
The Director nodded. “I swore that I’d do whatever it took to get all these people up into the air, where the daylight meets the ocean. And I won’t. But you will.”
The same old promise. Cora thought. The same old slogan. My father is stuck in a feedback loop. Just like Don. Just like Morgan.
Just like me.
~~/*\~~
There was nobody she could talk to. Don? Way too dangerous. Any of the other Aquans she knew would go to Don eventually. If Tai was alive, his only hope was keeping his secret job hidden.
If Tai was alive. Just thinking the words made Cora want to tear her hair out.
And who else could she turn to? Her father? Morgan?
There was only one person left.
~~/*\~~
Cora was bouncing off the walls of The Hermit Shell as she somehow got the whole story out to the one person who might talk to her without telling anyone else. “Nobody will even tell me what happened!”
Nix reached out and grabbed Cora by her lapels. “There’s a reason for that, Cora. You’re a hero around here just now, but so’s Tai. If he’s not above being Bagged, you think there’s anyone who’s going to admit to The Director’s Daughter that they were in Tai’s general vicinity at any point in their lives?”
Cora hissed, feeling like someone was squeezing her lungs in a vice. Nix was right, and she knew it. “Could… Could you ask around, then?”
Nix was already moving. “I will. Stay here and cool down. If there’s anything to be done for Tai, you need to be calm as the ocean.”
~~/*\~~
52 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
Trying to sleep in the Hermit Shell was a mistake. Tai was the first one she had invited there. Everything about it reminded her that he was in terrible danger. Her room was no better. Her father was there, and while he wouldn’t be cruel, she didn’t need any more reminders of what divided her from her family. Usually, Ano was the one that ran interference between the Bridger family when they were at odds, but now she was gone too.
That left only one option.
~~/*\~~
Delphi was thrilled when Cora slipped into the Moon Pool. “Cora! Missed Cora! Swim now! Ride the Deeps!”
Cora wiped her eyes and pulled on her facemask. She rested her forehead against Delphi’s rubbery skin for a moment, grateful to be with the one friend without an agenda or a secret. “I missed you, too.” She said. “Let’s go for a swim.”
~~/*\~~
Dolphins were smart. They were also intuitive. She didn’t need to tell Delphi she was sad, or that she was scared, or that something was wrong. The Dolphin knew it. He knew her too, and took her on a tour. In and out of the Wildlife, scattering the clouds of fish. In and out of the plantlife, close enough for her to reach out and touch.
The Ocean had a calming influence on her, usually. But Cora didn’t want to be calm yet. The Dolphins were all speed freaks, and that was what she needed right now.
Faster!” She told Delphi, and gripped the harness tighter. The Dolphin chattered happily and swam faster, tail slamming up and down, firing them across the hull of the Ark-Hive like living torpedoes.
Cora hadn’t made a trip like this in a while, and she embraced it. Her brain was still spinning with everything that had happened, and the adrenaline in her made her hyper-aware. She felt like she could feel every drop of water in the ocean. It had been a few months, and the area outside had changed. The Stingray Craft were closer. Far more luminous fish gathered around the electrical towers, shining a light that moved and waved in glorious patterns. The wreck of the Cousteau was still fairly close, looking more and more like a skeleton as it was stripped for parts…
And beyond the illusion of a huge ship rotting away to bones, sat an ugly square complex. Circular Quay. Put there so that every citizen of the Ark-Hive, everyone leaving the Docking Bays, would see it any time they looked out their windows. It was inevitable; a symbol of the world they lived in, where the point of no return was never out of reach.
The pressure that had been building in Cora’s heart since Ano was taken evaporated instantly. She was cool, she was calm, patient as the ocean around her. She could see it all so clearly. All the things she had never noticed, all the subtle power plays, all the secrets and lies. She could suddenly see it like a great woven tapestry that had been wrapped around her shoulders since she was a little girl.
Aquan, Earther… Both sides of the Great Debate were suddenly so obviously the same thing. We all have the exact same dream. To get out of a damn cell and have a great big beautiful world to explore. And we’re killing each other over which big beautiful world we want.
The thought made her want to laugh. Father, you’re so blind! As blind as Don is! As blind as I have always been. This is exactly what drove us all to the bottom of the ocean in the first place! The ultimate flaw with the Aquan Dream is that humans aren’t meant to be Aquatic. But the point of the Aquan Dream is that nobody wants to live in a cage, and the ocean is better than that.
She had clung to Don this whole time because her father had seemed so cold, but she finally saw that Don was the same. He saw Cora as a piece in his game, exactly as her father did.
And are they wrong?” She asked Delphi, knowing he had no clue what she was talking about. “I’ve been a piece in their game, trying to keep both my father figures from knowing I was conflicted. And the only person who told me that I could be more was Tai. And as much as I loved him, I didn’t believe him.”
Tai left.” Delphi clicked.
Cora nodded. “I know. I’m sorry.”
Tai come back.”
No, I don’t believe he will.” Cora sighed. She expected to cry, but she didn’t. She was beyond that now. Settled on her perch above her own room, she gazed at the Quay, laughing at her own foolishness. “A hundred years in every direction.” She said to herself. “That’s what Tai saw in me. I didn’t understand it at first, but I do now… A pivot that the entire world will turn on. And I didn’t even try.”
Delphi turned to look at her. He didn’t say anything.
I didn’t try.” Cora said, as though trying it out. She bit her lip and grabbed the harness again. “The Memorial.”
~~/*\~~
The star attraction of the Memorial Ship was her mother’s statue. At the opposite side of the room, there was another such ‘altar’ with the inscription: “For Those We Committed To The Deep.” The names of all drowned crews were written there. But not Tai. Tai, who had seawater in his veins, was denied his name on the wall, because of me…
Cora went to her mother. “I didn’t even try.” She said quietly. “You know, mom… You always protected me from that part of Dad’s world. I wonder sometimes what you wanted for me. I know you liked Tai.” She shook her head. “Tai loved you too. I know you never wanted me to be Director. But I also know you’d be ashamed of me for being lead around by the nose for so long.”
Her mother’s face gave her nothing, carved from coral and marble. Her face would never change.
Cora glanced back at the plexi-glass wall, and the Quay, equally visible from here. “I could have saved Tai and Ano. With my connections to my father, to Don… With me already named as the next Director, I could have made Ano safe and Tai bulletproof. But I let my dad make those choices. I told myself it was because I didn’t want my father’s job, but… It was because I didn’t want to get my hands dirty. With my ties to my dad, I could have taken over the Aquans by now. The Exodus? What a stupid idea. Five more months and I could cancel anyone’s ticket to Landfall at will. But I didn’t even try, because I counted on Don to do it clean, and I never asked how.”
Delphi swam slowly past the Memorial, visible through the ornate windows. It wasn’t like a Dolphin had an easy to read expression, but she could tell Delphi was worried about her.
I was selfish, mom.” Cora admitted. “I could have gotten into this a hundred different ways, and what did I do? I called for a vote.” She almost laughed. “The Strawpolls I’m hearing says it’s a fairly even split. The Exodus would split me and dad, Nix and her father… And why? Because Dad wants everyone to go, and Don wants everyone to stay, and I only asked to hear what everyone else wanted. I had Tai, and I had the ocean, and that was all I cared about. Some Director I would make, huh?”
She scrubbed her face with her hands and checked her TABB. The jammers would only keep her out of earshot for another few minutes.
Tai told me, mom.” Cora said quietly. “He told me that you were the first Pirate Hacker. You couldn’t sit around and do nothing. You wouldn’t let someone else make the decision for you. And Davy Jones forgive me, that was my entire strategy. I always planned to… do so much, once it was all over. Now that I think about it, I think Don was right. Maybe I just didn’t have teeth enough to make a move that dad would disagree with. Not when I, or the people I loved would have to deal with the fallout.” She shook her head. “It didn’t work. They paid the price anyway.”
The revelation was exploding in her head like a volcano. All the effort she had put into going unnoticed by scary people hadn’t protected her, or Tai, or Ano. She had lost them all, and she would spend her life wondering if she could have saved them if she’d just been brave enough to do anything, instead of letting Don make his own plans for her to follow blindly.
I wonder if the reason I’m even thinking about this now is because I don’t have anyone left to lose…” She thought, looking at her mother’s face. “Okay, that’s a lie.” She admitted. “I still have Delphi, I still have Nix, and Alison, and… Hades, even Don and Dad. I still can’t write them both off. They’re such a big part of my life… But I can’t stay on the sidelines any more. Because it’s clear that Dad’s agenda is a price I’m not willing to pay, and it’s equally clear that Don was just telling me what I wanted to hear. If I’m going to save either of them… I have to do it myself.” She looked up at the Memorial. “Mom, I hope you’d agree with me. I hope the woman who started shining a light in dark places for all the ocean to see would understand. And if you wouldn’t agree… I hope you’d at least forgive me. Because I can’t let Don, or my father decide the future. And that means I have to.”
Promise made, Cora went back to the Ark-Hive. She had work to do.


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


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.