Friday, 6 April 2018

14 Chapter Fourteen: Truth Comes Out


28 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
There was no room for discretion any more. The Colonies had been shut down, their inhabitants recalled. Every billet had doubled up, and tripled up in some cases. Cots and sleeping bags were being lined up along corridors all over the Ark-Hive, below Gold Sector. The Museum long packed away, the Observation Dome was always full of people, just waiting for things to happen.
In the lower levels, the equipment that had been running for hundreds of years was silent, some of it being crated up for shipment to the surface, some of it just left in low-power mode to spare the workers.
Plans had been made, then checked, then redone, then rechecked. Drills ran in preparation for the real thing. The stacked Domes of the Ark-Hive itself would be released from moorings that had held firm for hundreds of years. Work was being done on them constantly, making sure they would work as needed.
Stingray patrolled every level. Not just to keep control, but to maintain order. The population of the Ark-Hive had jumped by thousands over the previous few weeks. Every spare inch was full of storage containers, full of people. They were getting packed in too tight, getting on each other’s nerves. Fights were breaking out as the anticipation grew.
Everyone knew what was coming, what was expected. Though nobody would admit it, everyone knew someone who didn’t want to go back to the surface, either out of Philosophy, or simple fear of the unknown. Everyone knew that someone would try to prevent Landfall at some point, and time was running out.
Whatever was going to happen, it would be soon, and it would decide the fate of the human race.
But when it started, it still took people by surprise.
~~/*\~~
In the Ark-Hive, all roads led to the ocean. Cora was an Aquan, and knew all the ways to the ocean that a human could fit through. The fish had the run of every ocean conduit, and so did the dolphins.
Finding a place where they could get to the Water Conduits was fairly simple. Finding a place where they could do so unobserved was much harder.
Do you have any idea how hard it was to get my wetsuit without anyone asking me where I was taking it?” Nix complained as she came into the chamber.
It couldn’t have been any harder than getting a room without people in it for ten minutes.” Cora shot back. “As it is, we’re going to have to pump up the atmo in this room another few points just to keep the ocean from flooding in.”
Nix sighed and started changing. Cora knelt down to the floor with her multitool and started pulling up the floor panels. “By the way, what cover story did you use?” Nix asked as she started fitting her regulator on.
I told Maintenence that there was a leak in the floor, through one of the Conduit Pipes.” Cora pushed the floor plating aside and started unscrewing a panel in the pipe below. “Was I lying?” She quipped as the seals opened and seawater came bubbling up. “Keep an eye on the air pressure in here.” She directed Nix. “Too high and we’re going to get caught.”
Right. Also our heads will implode.” Nix grated as she fit the facemask shut. “Sealed.” She called to Cora.
Cora heaved the panel up properly, and the ocean came in faster, rushing out through the open section of pipe, but only ankle high. And then the gap in the pipe revealed they were not alone. Delphi chattered out greetings as he stuck his head up. “New room!” He squeaked. “Nix swim?”
That’s right.” Cora started translating her words through her TABB. “Remember when we practised stealth swims? For observing other subs and other fish without getting noticed?”
Hide and swim! Delphi fast and quiet!”
That’s right.” Cora agreed. “I need you to take Nix to the Memorial Sub. It’s too far to swim freehand, at least if you don’t want to get caught, so you’ve got to tow her there fast, and bring her back hidden, understand?”
Delphi swim fast! Nobody see!”
Good boy.” Cora smiled at her friend, and then looked to Nix. “You know what to do?”
Find the Terminal on the Memorial Ship, plug in the Burner TABB, get out of there fast.” Nix recited the plan.
When you get back to the Ark-Hive, join one of the crews out there already. There’s dozens of people looking over the Release Clamps for Landfall. If those clamps don’t open, Landfall doesn’t happen. The crews are being watched, but the thing about keeping your eye on something in front of you?”
Nobody’s looking over their shoulder.” Nix nodded. “As long as nobody sees us on our way to the Memorial Ship, and my transponder stays off, I should get away with it.”
Morgan might know the transmitter is somewhere on the Memorial Ship.” Cora told her. “With Tai caught, he may not be watching anymore, but just in case, keep your mask on and the plate polarized, so nobody can see your face. Like when you’re using the cutting torches.”
Hiding my face might protect me, Cora; but if he’s watching the Memorial Ship from the inside, he’ll know exactly where the transmitter is, or at least the controls. Tai was able to do it by remote. We don’t have that option.”
I know.” Cora nodded. “With any luck, it won’t matter. This is the Pirate Station’s last Broadcast.” She helped Nix down into the pipe, and gave Delphi the signal. There was barely enough room for a human. Nix was still small enough to fit. “I have to make sure I’m seen when that transmission hits. Good hunting.”
Run silent, run deep.” Nix waved, and Delphi pulled her away.
Cora forced the panel back into place, even against the water, and secured it again. She couldn’t get the seals all the way shut with the room ankle deep in water, but she didn’t really have to. “Maintenance!” She barked into her TABB. “That leak is getting worse! You want to get someone up here before it overflows the corridor too?”
~~/*\~~
This is a bad idea.” Alison told Don as soon as he came into the room. “Two meetings in a month? Has that ever happened before?”
Don got right to the point. “It’s taken me a week, but I’ve managed to get a few of the larger transport submarines in the same Dry-Dock all at the same time. With the Colonies shut down, there was just enough transports left over.”
Due respect, Don; but that sub sailed once the Colony was discovered. Our standing orders, upon discovery, are to scatter, vanish and wait for new orders. Our people are already doing that.”
I know.” Don said shortly. “But with the Manta Ships all out getting ready to strike the Colony, it’s the first time in three weeks, and the last time before Landfall that the waters around the Ark-Hive are undefended.”
Alison felt her eyes bug out. “It’s today! The Exodus is today!”
~~/*\~~
Still Waters Run Deep!” The Pirate Station declared on every screen.
People of the Ark-Hive, you have been Deceived.” The modulated voice narrated the images of medical bays, sickbay beds, flashing by so fast it was hard to register what they were.
For almost a month, the Ark-Hive has been simmering; trying to decide if the news about Weir Syndrome is true. It is.” The voice told them flatly. “But what you didn’t know was that there is a Cure for Weir Syndrome.”
Images of Don’s face flashed past the screen. Candid shots, official pictures, surveillance images…
Life Sciences Director Don has had the Cure for two years, and has kept it a secret, even from the Ark-Hive leadership. Because whoever has the Cure, has the power over Life and Death for everyone over the age of twentyfive.
Both Director Bridger, and Department Head Donaldson are willing to sacrifice more than two thirds of the population for their goals.”
The final image lingered until the screen faded to black. A picture of the Director, and of Don, standing side by side on the podium, during one of the Graduation ceremonies, surrounded by people.
~~/*\~~
Is that true?” Alison asked softly. “Don? Is that true?”
Within seconds, Don’s TABB was buzzing.
Don scowled at the screen. “Okay, change of plans.” He said shortly. “In two hours, there will be a massive disruption to the command structure of the Ark-Hive. I would have prefered to take our time with this, but The Director forced our hand the second he started organizing a raid. Two hours. Be ready to escape.”
There’s no way we can get everyone organized in that kind of time.” Alison shook her head. “We’re a Cell network. I don’t know who half the Aquan Groups are. By the time I tell the people I know, and they tell the people they know, and so on…”
Aly, in two hours there’ll be no such thing as ‘organized’.” Don said grimly. “Have all your cell contacts get ready to take control of those submarines, and take them out to the Macallan Trench. On arrival, their orders are to dump their cargo into the trench, and collect the people in our Colony for evac.”
Alison looked awkward. “Don… Cora Bridger sent out a manifest to all Sub Crews, and Commanders this morning. It included a list of equipment that couldn’t be scrapped, no matter what.”
Did she?” Don said grimly.
She did. And, if memory serves, that manifest included the subs currently in dock, and what was on them. Cora’s one of us, and Resource Management is her call. And from what I understand, scrapping that cargo would effectively cripple the Ark-Hive’s ability to manufacture sub parts and equipment for a few years. Dumping it all in the Macallan would likely put lives in danger, once the stores ran out.”
Aly, we’re not killing people. We’re keeping them busy until we can make our escape. The Aquan leadership, plus what we’ve managed to build, all of it has to be protected.”
Is this about protecting our people, or dealing a blow to the Stingray, and the Director?”
It’s the same thing, today.”
Alison was stunned. “You think Cora turned! You think Cora is going to give up your name to the Director, and you want us out of here before that happens. They’ll send everything they’ve got after us.”
Leave that to me.” Don was already moving. “Two hours! You have your orders!”
~~/*\~~
You don’t think this is going to force Don’s hand?” Nix asked. “You’ve backed him into a corner now. He’ll tell your father about you.”
Yes, he will.” Cora nodded, as though that too was part of the plan.
And if we never get to send another Pirate Broadcast, why not the one about Morgan and your mom?” Nix pressed. “Morgan would be finished!”
I know.” Cora wasn’t concerned. “Nix, I have to do it this way. I have to give them both one last chance.”
To do what?”
To be the men I hoped they’d be.” Cora said quietly. “I’m going to offer them both what they want on a plate, but the price will be that they make peace.”
And if they won’t make peace?”
Then there’s only one option left.” Cora sighed. “First Contestant: Don. What will he do first?” Cora took a deep breath. “When my father found out about Weir Syndrome, he tore every plan to shreds and dedicated everything to getting me on the surface before it was too late. When a Colony sounds the evacuation order, it’s always ‘women and children first’. Sudden Death means you only have time for one move, and I’m still holding out hope that Don has something still more important to him than saving his own gills.”
The other Aquans?” Nix guessed.
He has to know that he can’t possibly succeed in an Exodus now.” Cora explained. “With the Colony discovered, there’s no way a fleet of submarines can make an escape. Stingray are surrounding the Trench with their Mantas. Enough firepower to destroy any transport convoy.” She took a breath. “That’s why he put Randall in the Hydra Hawk, and told Tai I was coming out there. So that Randall would discover them and report back. The Exodus happens while all the Stingray are taking their attack subs out to hit the Trench.”
Nix blinked. “But if Tai was telling the truth and there are over a hundred people out there…”
Little fish, compared to the Exodus, to say nothing of the people he would have let die without that Cure.” Cora returned grimly. “Now that we’ve just put Don’s head on the chopping block, our next move is to make sure he can’t escape; with or without the rest of us.”
Nix was almost afraid to ask. “And then?”
Then Contestant Number Two gets a turn.”
~~/*\~~
The Director sat at the head of the table as the Board of Directors were assembled. Morgan wasn’t in his usual chair, standing by the door instead. Don was the last to arrive, a satchel under his arm.
Is it true?!” Almost half the room roared the question the instant Don became visible.
The Life Sciences Director reeled back at the sudden wrath, steeled himself, and came in. “Since when do any of you people take the Pirate Station at face value? Aren’t you the ones calling it dishonest rebel propoganda?”
Don’t tapdance, Don; IS IT TRUE!?” The Director roared.
Don met their angry gazes head on and stepped up to his usual seat and set the satchel down. “Gentlemen, the claims made by the Pirate Station are blatantly false. I have here, written proof that the cure was never successful. I also have…” Don checked. “I also have samples, which were apparently left in the lab. Give me ten minutes to get them, and I can not only refute these claims, but I believe I’ll be able to narrow down the exact identity of the Pirate Station…” He sent a glance to Morgan. “...since it seems you’ve arrested the wrong person, twice now.”
The Director also sent Morgan a look. Both ‘wrong people’ were very close to his family.
If you’ll pass this around, I’ll go and get the physical evidence.” Don said, holding out a folder full of actual woven papers. “I have samples of every attempt made to cure Weir Syndrome. That file can explain why they don’t work, and once I bring them back, you can even compare the originals to be certain the data wasn’t doctored.” Don headed for the door, and found Morgan getting in his way. “Commander, I’m not trying anything. There has been a charge made against me, and I have the means to refute it, if I can just get it from my laboratory. I’ll be right back. If I was going to run, would I have come to this meeting at all?”
I’m sure, but if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go with you.” The Director said tightly.
And if he goes with you, so do I.” Morgan put in.
Don set his satchel down, beneath the desk, handing the files over to the nearest colleague, who passed the pages around. “As you wish, though I don’t know where you expect me to go. The Colonies are all shut down, the subs all docked and locked. I can hide, but I can’t run.”
~~/*\~~
As they rode the elevators to Blue Level, Morgan’s TABB signalled a message. Without even giving the caller a chance to speak, Morgan switched the device off, not taking his eyes off Don.
They made it halfway to Don’s Laboratory, when The Director’s TABB chimed next. “Dad, please report to the Docking Bay immediately.” Cora called. “And if Morgan is with you, tell him to answer me when I call. I need him too.”
We’re in the middle of a meeting, Cora.” The Director told his daughter sharply.
Make time, this is urgent.” Cora told him, just as hard. “I need both of you down here, right now. The Boardroom isn’t going anywhere. I’m not so sure about what I’m looking at.”
Morgan and The Director traded a glance. Such a statement was out of character for Cora. Something had shaken her up. They both sent Don their most forbidding look.
Don held up both hands. In one hand was a flat plastic box full of microscope slides. “Seriously, gents. Where do you think I’m going to go?”
~~/*\~~
The two most powerful men in the Ark-Hive came into the Docking Bay. The Bay was as busy as it always was, and the Bays were all full. It was the first time in years that the Docking Bay had every berth full. The huge transports were locked in, filled with the equipment needed for the surface, waiting to run out the clock.
The Docking Bay doors were shut. Something that Morgan noticed immediately, even as Cora came hurrying over to meet them.
Why are those doors shut?” Morgan called. “There are still Manta's to launch, and we’re on a tight schedule! That Rebel Colony will be evacuating already!”
I ordered them shut.” Cora told them. “I didn’t want to risk it, and when I tell you why-”
Cora, you have every right to be pissed at us, but now is not the time.” Morgan said with admirable restraint, at least for him. “We’re in the middle of three urgent situations and-”
This isn’t about Tai.” She told them both. “When I saw the Pirate Hack, I admit, I wondered if it meant you’d arrested the wrong man, but then I realized something.”
What?”
If The Pirate Hack is true, it means Don was never on our side. You guys are wondering about the Cure for Weir Syndrome. I started wondering what else he might have lied about… Dad, there was something I didn’t put in my report about the Cousteau.”
The Director was surprised she mentioned it. “The Cousteau? That was pilot error.”
That was the ruling, so I didn’t bother to fight it, but… I saw Don talking to Wayde before he took that School Trip out. At the time, I didn’t think of it, but after this morning, I started to wonder if maybe it was more than just Wayde that made her sink.”
You think Don sabotaged it?”
No idea. The evidence is all hacked up for parts.” Cora blew right past that. “But then I saw all these subs getting ready to make an attack on an Aquan Colony, and I got suspicious.” Cora explained. “Some of the Mantas hadn’t launched yet, so I came down here and checked.”
And then you called us.” Her father finished. “What did you find?”
Sabotage.” Cora told them. “Every Stingray ship still in Dock is rigged.”
What?!” Morgan was stunned. “How?”
A pressure sensitive circuit in the regulators. Once these subs hit a certain depth, they would have flooded.”
What depth?”
The Trench. No doubt about it, dad. The strike force was being sent on a suicide run. The Manta's are gathering half a kilometre from the Trench. The minute they got into strike range, they would have gone down, all of them.”
How did you know?”
I started thinking, after Randall died. He told me that Don was there when it was decided to send me along. I wondered why Don would involve himself in that, and then the Pirate Hack outed the Cure, and I realized that Don would have something to gain… if he’d kept the cure a secret.”
Don is in a closed door meeting with the Board of Directors, right now, answering those charges. He swears they’re untrue.”
Cora spun, with a look of horror on her face. “And Don’s with them now?”
~~/*\~~
The Board of Directors were waiting impatiently. They had all passed out copies of the files Don had given them, but Don was the head of Life Sciences. They only understood about a third of what they were reading. And neither Don, nor The Director, or even Morgan had returned.
Amos broke first, rising to his feet. “It occurs to me, gentlemen, that perhaps we need someone who can read this jargon, without being on Don’s list of trusted employees. I’m going to find Cora Bridger. She could at least help us see if Don’s lying.”
There was a general sense of agreement, and Amos went to the door.
It was locked.
A moment later, Amos became aware of a faint hissing sound, and an odd smell in the room. He noticed others hearing it too. Hissing sounds were usually aerosols, or air-seals leaking. In an underwater community, that was the sort of thing that everyone had to take seriously.
Amos went to the portholes, listening. “It’s not the externals…” He said. “It’s coming from inside the room.”
Everyone went looking for a moment, and found the sound coming from under the table.
It was Don’s bag. Amos ripped it open, and found a large aerosol container inside. It was open, hissing out something that was making Amos cough.
Amos tried to smother the container, seal it back up, while others tried to call for help, or run for the door… But the door wouldn’t open, and the tank wouldn’t seal. Others had given up trying to get the door open, and were beating at it weakly, trying to get someone to answer...
Amos was coughing harder now, vision starting to blur, everyone clutching at their throats...
~~/*\~~
Alison had the first group of Aquans ready, and they went to the Moon Pool in the Life Sciences Department. Most of the people on shift were already part of the Aquans, or they wouldn’t have gotten away with it, but it was the largest tunnel that led to the ocean by the most direct route.
Remember the plan.” She told them hurriedly. “Don will get the Docking Clamps released on the large transport subs. You board them, and take them to the rendezvous point. The Dolphins will collect everyone that we can’t sneak out today. Reports say that Cora’s done her part and called off the Manta’s patrolling the waters, so we have a window to-”
The Moon Pool exploded upward, as Nix and Delphi both broke up through the surface quickly. The twenty or so Aquans preparing to dive all jumped back in shock.
Nix pulled up her facemask. “Abort!” She told them all quickly. “Don’s plan won’t work, they’re already onto him. Cora says to Abort, and make sure your alibi’s hold up. The Exodus is off!”
Off?” Alison was stunned, trying to regroup. “But Don… I mean, less than two hours ago, he said-”
Don has bigger problems right now.” Nix told them.
And with that, the entire group started calling questions, looking over their shoulder, wondering if they should make a break for it, wondering if they should believe Nix...
Finally, Nix let out a loud whistle to get their attention. “Guys, I know that I’ve just derailed a lot of work, but believe me when I tell you that things have changed. I can’t stay to explain everything, because I have to stop eight more groups from making their own dives. Trust me, going outside is a death sentence right now. Cora says to be calm, because this time tomorrow… either Landfall will be cancelled, or Cora will be The Director.”
~~/*\~~
Where is everyone?” Don hissed to himself, running the pre-launch checks again. “There should be a hundred more people in this submarine right now…” He craned his neck, trying to see out the front windows, looking for any of his people. Aquans knew how to stay unnoticed in plain sight, but even if Stingray had caught onto the plan quick enough to stop some of them, at least a few should have made it on schedule.
He checked the time again and decided he couldn’t risk it. He tapped his authorization code into the Ship’s Computer and ordered the Docking Bay doors to open.
They didn’t move.
Concerned, Don entered the codes again, making sure he’d gotten the twenty digit password exactly right. The doors remained sealed. An instant later, he felt the ship’s balance grow solid as the docking clamps slapped shut around the Heavy Transport.
Chancing it, Don contacted the Control Room. “Open the doors.” Don directed them, forcing his voice to be calm. “Release all moorings, right now.”
I’m sorry sir, I can’t.” The answer came. “The Docking Computer has locked me out.”
I’ve sent my override codes to the Docking Computer, why are the doors still shut? This should be automatic!”
Sir, we’re trying to get two more Board Members to input their codes also, but we can’t raise any of them. It takes three of that rank to override the Lockdown.”
Don felt a cold sweat gather on his brow. “What Lockdown?”
The order came in a few minutes ago, using Director Bridger’s Personal Authorization.”
Don switched off the radio before he could articulate his first response to that. Straining his eyes, he could make out people coming closer, some in the water, some along the gantries.
They were Stingray, coming straight at him.
~~/*\~~
Morgan came slowly into the Conference Room. The bodies were all left untouched while the Stingray took careful pictures, collected samples of the poison. The Director himself was in the room, looking at everything with empty eyes.
Morgan came over quietly, aware of how numb and silent the room was. “We won’t be able to keep it a secret, obviously.” He said quietly. “But Cora was right about Don’s next move. We found him trying to override the Docking Bay doors. He’d chosen one of the Heavy Transport Subs. If he’d managed to get away with that, you could kiss Landfall goodbye, all the equipment he would have taken with him.”
The Director said nothing for so long that Morgan wondered if he was even aware of the room. “But you caught him.”
Yeah. Cora was able to block his override with your own codes.” Morgan explained grimly. “Something we’ll have to sort out later. She was still in the Docking Bay, and…” He shook his head. “I had my people turning his lab inside out for clues, Cora spotted him making a run for it before any of us.”
"Don. Don was the leader of the Aquan faction the whole time. I can't believe it." The Director murmured, voice hollow. “Tell your people to be careful in his laboratory. He had a trap waiting for us here; there could be more. Do we know what he used?”
Well, we’d usually get someone from Life Sciences to run the autopsy, but I don’t know which of them we can trust right now.” Morgan commented. “But I think the aerosol was an improvisation. From the smell in the room I would say it was probably fire retardant. Not a difficult thing to get if you happen to have a passkey that will get you into storage. It’s the same stuff we use to smother fires. Heavy CO2 particles, coated in-”
I get it.” The Director sighed. “These people were… well, not exactly friends, but I appointed most of them, Morgan. These were the people who worked closest with me… and with Don. He flat out executed them.”
Yessir.” Morgan nodded. “The Docking Bays all remain on Lockdown. I’ve ordered my Manta-Class ships to return to the Ark-Hive for patrol.”
The Colony in the Macallan?”
Probably scattered to the entire ocean by now.” Morgan conceded. “But it looks like Cora was right about Don’s plan to rig the Stingray attack craft to sink once they reached the Trench. The Colony may even be a feint.”
No, I don’t buy that.” The Director shook his head. “That last Pirate Hack came from somewhere, and we know there are people in the Trench. Your own scout subs saw one of them.” The Director rubbed his eyes. “It’s happening again, Morgan. Another war for control of the Ark-Hive. Four weeks from Landfall, and a huge open world for everyone, and we’re at war.”
A war we would have lost already, if not for Cora.” Morgan sighed. “How did she do it?”
She figured it out before we did.” The Director said with pride. “My girl was able to stop him from escaping. His codes would have overridden every piece of equipment in the Docking Bay. We could have lost half our ships, tonnes of supplies, heavy equipment… To say nothing of Don himself.”
You know she stopped his override codes by using yours.” Morgan pointed out. “She’s not supposed to have those codes at all.”
Morgan, I think we can safely say which side my daughter is on by now.” Her glanced at his Commander. “Don’s allies? He had to have confederates. Everything he was planning to steal, he would have needed people to use it, plenty of pilots to steal the other transports…”
We have a few suspects, but… looks like they scattered too. We have one or two pilots that were also trying to get out on other ships, but...” Morgan shook his head. “This was long planned, Director. We’ve been catching bits and pieces of it for months, but we never knew just how… orchestrated it was. The Docking Bay staff, my Manta pilots outside, everyone who could have raised a flag were all calling one Board Member or another. With them gone, there was just enough confusion that… Don had it timed to the day. Material and resources came flooding into the Ark-Hive in preparation for Landfall, and at the right moment, they all would have just… left.”
Well, we’re three weeks from the surface. They won’t get another chance. Whoever Don’s confederates were, we can get their names out of him.” The Director actually smiled. “And if that Pirate Hack was right about the cure, we can get that too. Landfall is all but a certainty now.”
Morgan was about to answer, when they looked over and saw Cora in the doorway. She was looking around at the bodies like she was going to be sick.
The Director quickly went over and led her out into the corridor. He stared at her for a moment, before wrapping her up in a tight hug. The most genuine display of warmth that he’d offered in quite a while. “Cora, the words ‘thank you’ aren’t enough!” He enthused. “You have any idea… Any clue of how much you’ve saved us all today? The whole Ark-Hive owes everything to you, my amazing daughter!”
Cora hugged him back, still looking through the doorway at the bodies. “It wasn’t meant to be like this.” She said, so soft that even she couldn’t hear the words.
~~/*\~~
26 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
The Stingray kept Don locked away for two straight days, allowing no contact with anyone. This was partially for his interrogation, partially because The Director had a lot of cleanup to do.
Cora had managed to convince her father that the Coup, and Don’s subsequent Escape was obviously the last stage of the plan, and it would take the Aquans a while to regroup. What The Director didn’t know what Cora was so certain because she had helped the plan for so long, and knew all the players involved.
Word about the Board of Directors spread quickly. The Director made the announcement that it was an attempted Coup, and that Cora had almost single-handedly prevented it. He encouraged his daughter to tell the story to as many people as she could, in an effort to reassure people that the worst of it was over.
Cora used the opportunity to talk to as many Aquan Cells as she could. Some of them viewed her as a traitor to the cause, but most of them were stunned at what Don had done. The Aquans were organized as Cell Groups. None of them had the whole plan, Cora included, and were horrified to realize that lives were taken at all. Don had lied to all of them, convincing them that an Exodus could be done clean, but once Cora had shared the manifests, it was clear that hundreds of people would have starved or suffocated if they had been left behind.
Cora had been stunned to realize just how far it would have gone. Even after she had realized Don couldn’t be trusted, she hadn’t had all the pieces, and was only able to be sure after the fact. Don was taking almost all the Life Support equipment on the Ark-Hive with him. Everything that would allow them to start a new Ark-Hive. All the equipment that the human race would need on the surface to maintain a colony safely.
The hunt for Don’s Confederates intensified, but there was almost no new information on hand, though rumors about the Aquans still existing started to grow. Cora and Nix had managed to head off the rest of the team before they could do anything that would get them caught.
Cora was declared a hero again, and it was pretty clear how her career was on the rise, given that almost everyone at the top of the Ark-Hive’s leadership had suddenly died all at once. There had been some talk about appointing a new Board, but with less than a month to go, there was little more for the individual departments to do until they reached the surface.
Cora and Nix spent the time calming down the Aquans, who were all terrified to realize their chance at Exodus had failed. The Director spent the same amount of time trying vainly to identify Don’s associates. His position meant he had to interact with a great many people, some of whom were trusted, some of whom he had already killed. It was clear after a while that there was only one way to get information, and that was to ask their prisoner directly.
Cora went to her father and managed to get one promise out of him. She would get to speak to Don first.
~~/*\~~
When the isolation door opened, and Don saw her, he didn’t even look surprised. Cora looked him over quickly as she came in and sat down. He looked tired, but his eyes were razor sharp in a way they had never been before. He had a few bruises, but it didn’t look like they’d been putting the questions to him roughly. Not yet, anyway.
They tell me you haven’t spoken a word aloud since they put the cuffs on.” Cora said quietly as she sat down across from him. His hands were cuffed behind his back, his feet cuffed to the floor. Cora pulled the Jammer out of her pocket, hiding it from the cameras with her body. "Since you haven’t said anything, they won’t think it strange that we’re not speaking now. This will give us a few moments to talk before they realize it isn't usual static discharge."
Every Aquan knows how to block the listening devices. They probably think their whole system is in worse shape than it really is; all that static coming and going.” Don smirked a little.
Don’t you dare smile, old man.” She warned him. “You killed over a dozen people.”
No other way. And frankly, you should be smart enough to realize that; even if you don’t like it.” Don said pointedly. “A King Hit like that? Enough confusion to get everyone out. I don’t know how you called them all off, but I’m betting if the rest of the network was caught, I’d be Black Bagged by now.” He gestured to his cuffs. "You have a plan?"
"To get you out of here?” Cora said casually. “Now why would I do that? I'm the one that got you caught."
The look on his face was amazing to watch. It ran the whole spectrum from shock, to rage, to horror, then finally numb surrender. An instant later, the glint in his eye was back.
He’s replaying every conversation we’ve ever had. Cora thought to herself. Wondering when he lost me. Wondering how long I’ve been playing him.
"Why in Davy Jones would you do this?!" He hissed finally.
Let’s just say I’ve chosen my side.” Cora told him. “The side that wouldn’t keep the cure a secret.”
"Are you insane?! I told you, I thought that if I kept the cure a secret, your father would cancel Landfall. But to keep his damn dynasty, with you leading them back, he did it anyway. Two thirds of people were an acceptable loss for him."
"And you, Don? What's an acceptable loss for you?"
"I had ten years to rectify the situation, once the Exodus was over."
"That's not what I mean.” Cora moved closer, furious. "Tell me about the Cousteau."
"Old news."
"I found the second receiver you wired into the Sonar Array. You had total control over the nav beacons that Wayde could pick up. You steered the school sub into that particular chamber, trapped it there, and got me to get it out again, making your Synth's into heroes.”
And if you had failed, and those kids died?" Don countered. "Give me some credit. If that was a plan, I would have let you in on it, so it wouldn’t come down so close to the wire. It would have been a horror."
"No. It would have been even better for you." Cora spat. "Because now it's all come out that over twentyfive-year-old's won't last more than ten years on the surface. If those kids didn't make it, none of their parents would have any reason to make the sacrifice. That many families who refused to go back to the surface? That would shift things a fair way against Landfall, wouldn’t it?"
Don rolled his eyes, fed up. "Let's talk about what we're talking about. If I told your father about the cure, Landfall would have happened a year ago. Our team would never had a chance of survival, let alone escape. Keeping it a secret bought us more than time. Because your father has been making all sorts of noises about promoting you. As Director, you could make the Exodus official. You could let us all go. But if your father had known there was a cure for Weir Syndrome, he wouldn’t need you to take over, because his terminal illness goes away. Now he knows. You'll never see Tai again. So you either keep the Aquans prisoner, or you provide The Director with his Dynasty. He won't see us as anything but traitors and targets. You’ve known that for ten years. If he won't, why should I?"
Cora said nothing. She just gave him an unsettling smile.
Don wasn’t sure what that meant, but didn’t like it. “You think you can get your father on side? Perhaps with that video I gave you, of Meyrna’s confrontation with Morgan?”
Cora tapped at the TABB in her pocket, unconcerned. “Ready to go.”
Don glanced at the door. “How long left on the Jammer?”
Oh, that.” Cora rose and headed for the door. “I lied. The Jammer’s been off this whole time.”
Don froze. “What?”
~~/*\~~
In a far distant room, Morgan was hearing the whole thing through his headphones, with his jaw hanging open. “I can’t believe it.” He breathed. “I can’t believe she just came out and said it…”
He turned and ran for the elevators. He hit the button that would take him to Gold Level…
The elevator moved for two seconds before it shut down, coming to a sudden halt.
WHAT!?” Morgan yelled in disbelief. He punched the buttons again futilely, before giving up and tapping at his TABB. “Maintenance, this is Morgan, please respond!”
No response.
Morgan swore under his breath and tapped at the emergency comms on the elevator panel. “Anyone there?”
~~/*\~~
Nix let out a breath, feeling her hands shake as she pulled the fuses. “You owe me big time, Cora.” She said under her breath before answering the call, disguising her voice. “This is Maintenence.”
I’m in Tube... 4-Charlie, and it’s stopped.” Morgan reported. “Get me moving again! This is an emergency.”
Copy that, Commander.” Nix said brightly. “Looks like someone boosted the fuses. It’s been happening more often lately. Those fuses fit in a lot of places, so someone will swipe a few components.”
I don’t care, get me moving!” Morgan yelled.
I’ll have you on your way as fast as possible, sir.” Nix said as she pocketed the fuse. “If it’s very urgent, is there someone I should call?”
Yes! Call every Stingray Checkpoint between Gold and Green Sector, and tell them to take Cora Bridger into custody, immediately!”
Nix smirked. “I’ll do that right away, sir.” She lied sweetly.
~~/*\~~
Cora walked straight past Ben on the way to her father, then turned back. “Dismissed.”
Excuse me?” Ben was surprised.
Trust me, Ben. You don’t want to be outside this door for the rest of the night. Does my father have anything further scheduled?”
Several things, with… well…”
With members of the Board?” Cora guessed. “Go get some sleep, Ben.”
Yes, Ma’am.”
She didn’t outrank him exactly, but he wasn’t arguing the point. Cora’s status with the people on the Ark-Hive had never been higher. She felt electrified. She had spent ten years rehearsing this moment in her head, and burying it whenever she was in the room with her father. It’s finally happening. It’s really happening.
Her father had his back to the door when she came in. He was gazing out at the ocean. Cora pointedly closed the door, giving them privacy.
The Director turned to look at her. “You’re back faster than I thought. He wouldn’t talk to you?”
He confessed everything.” Cora sighed. “What about the Aquan Colony?”
We undid the sabotage to two ships, sent them out. It’s empty. We have no idea where they went. If Don’s Miracle Cure meant they could handle the pressure, they could have moved as little as a few hundred feet along the trench. We’d never be able to make a proper hunt for them.” He shook his head. “It’s unbelievable. He was here in this room. All this time, and I never knew.”
Hang onto that feeling, dad.” Cora told him with grim irony. “I’m afraid it’s not over yet.”
I know.” The Director nodded. “And I haven’t forgotten: We’ll sort things out about Tai. If he’s alive, I’ll make it right.”
Did you know about Don’s Experiments?” Cora asked him.
I did not, but I do now.” He admitted. “And… I should have kept an eye on it. But-”
But you trusted Don not to be evil.” Cora finished. “Because it’s a big ocean, and there’s a big job ahead, and you liked that you could trust the people around you to do their part.”
Exactly.” Her father agreed.
Oh, dad. At last we find something we have in common. Cora almost laughed, when it became clear that her father wasn’t finished.
If his ‘merman’ experiments have worked, then… well, I’m sure it’s occurred to you that Don was using his section of the Quay as an ‘escape route’ for his people. Which means there’s a chance Tai might still be alive.” The Director bit his lip. “The Pirate Hack outed the Cure, which means Tai is innocent, but it also means he’s not allied with Don. I don’t know what that means for-”
"I can save you some time there, dad.” Cora interrupted. “Don let Tai live. But he was guilty. That Pirate Station? It was Tai. He was running it. But he didn't start it."
The Director took that information in. "Well, that makes sense. The broadcasts have been going since Tai was a child."
Since before mom died, in fact.” Cora put in. "Dad, she was the one that started the broadcasts." If he’s going to learn the truth about me, he may as well start with the truth about mom.
The Director blinked. “What?”
"Mom knew the Stingray Commander was dirty, and she couldn't prove it as your wife without getting her sources killed. Sources like Tai’s mother. So she did it anonymously.” Cora explained. “The Aquans didn't kill mom. Morgan did."
For the second time in an hour, she watched as one of the most important people in her life tried to process a revelation she dropped on him. Her father finally settled on disbelief. "Is that what Don told you? He'd say anything to get his neck off the block right now-"
"I've got proof.” She said over him. “Mom was the Pirate Station, and Morgan killed her before she could transmit. I have the recording."
Her father was turning red, with white spots appearing at his temples. "I don't believe you. If you had that proof, you would have used it immediately. If your boyfriend was the Pirate Station. You could have done it anonymously."
"The ironic part is, I couldn't do that. I only found out about Tai recently, and he didn’t know it was murder until we compared notes. By the time we both showed our cards, he couldn’t have broadcast it anyway. If you’d seen the tape, you’d have known where the transmitter was… And if I had just handed it to you, you would have wondered where I got it."
The Director was catching up swiftly. "Where did you get it?"
"From Don.” Cora said simply. “It was his 'pledge of good faith'... when he recruited me as an Aquan."
Numb silence.
"...what?" The Director croaked finally, weaving a little.
Cora laid it out, just as she’d rehearsed a thousand times in her head. "I'm Aquan. And I have been for most of my life."
"WHAT?!"
Cora took a long, slow breath; letting him process, before she put the question to him. "Dad, you're in a box right now. You can't shut down the Aquans without ending your own daughter, you can't go to Morgan because now you know what he did to mom, and you can't start again because you don't have the time. You also know that since word's gotten out about our life expectancy up there, more than a few people will live out their lives with a whole wide ocean around them. You also know that your only hope of a dynasty is if I'm on your side... and I'm not.” She let him take a moment to chew on that before she spelled it out. “Your whole plan for recolonizing the surface just went up in smoke."
"Oh... no…” Her father groaned.
Cora made the offer. "But I have another option for you: The Cure works. Don has it right now, but it’ll work for Earthers too. We could give everyone who returns to the surface an extra ten years. Maybe fifteen. It took Don a year to make us borderline amphibious. You have any idea what his guys could do in fifteen years of work?"
"And I'm sure Don would give us the formula, if we... asked him, just right." Her father grated out.
"Dad, you don't have to put the question rough. And who would you trust with the interrogation?” She countered. “Morgan? After what I just told you? I can get the formula myself. The price is that you let the Aquans go. Informed choice for everyone. Stay, or go."
"We don't have the resources.” Her father raged. “There's nothing up there! We can't split our people! You know how tight Resource Management is!"
"I also know what the ocean can give up.” Cora insisted. “Ocean Power can make up the difference. That all powerful Schedule was because of Weir Syndrome. Take the deal, and you won’t have to worry about it. If both sides can work together now... Just for this. Just to get us back..."
"You're now proposing that we give Aquan projects full equality?” The Director had a harder time with this than all the other revelations she’d thrown at him. “You're suggesting that I backflip on five generations of policy and certainty? That I-”
"I'm saying it's the only way to save two thirds of the human race." Cora implored him.
"No. Not an option." He put his foot down.
Cora sighed. "Don said the same thing about you when I suggested making this deal."
"No. I will not negotiate with criminals and traitors."
"And Don won't negotiate with 'the oppressors'.” Cora nodded coolly. “So which category am I in, dad?"
There was a long deathly silence. It had finally been said. It was all laid bare at last. With no time left, no room to maneuver, father and daughter finally stared each other down. Cora barely noticed that she was holding her breath. After a decade of half-truths and careful lies, the future of her family, her loved ones, and her species would depend on what her father said next.
After what felt like a million years, The Director reached for his desk, slow and deliberate, pushing a button. "Commander Morgan, report to my office immediately, please."
Almost before he’d finished getting the instruction out, Morgan came rushing in, breathing hard. He already had his weapon drawn, and he aimed it at Cora the instant he saw her. “Sir, I have proof positive about your daughter’s invol-."
"She has already confessed.” The Director cut him off, eyes glued to his daughter. Another endless silence.
Come on, dad. Cora prayed. Bend, just this once.
Place my daughter under arrest.” The Director said finally.
Cora deflated. Fine. The hard way.
"Cuff her. We are going for a ride."
~~/*\~~
The trio avoided the Main Corridors. Cora was a hero to most people. Having her own father leading her away in chains was not likely to go down well.
Morgan called ahead, had several of the Access Corridors cleared out before they arrived. Taking this roundabout Route, they made their way to one of the Manta Docking Ports that Morgan’s Agents used to come and go.
One such corridor had a Plexiglas window. Neither of the two men realized that they were being observed. Cora caught a familiar shape from the corner of her eye. Delphi was seeing this, and her Dolphin was smart enough to recognize handcuffs when he saw them.
Morgan had a hand on her left shoulder, her father on the right. Neither of them noticed her sign to Delphi. ‘Get Tai’.
~~/*\~~
Morgan dismissed the pilot of the Manta before bringing Cora aboard. Her father settled into the Pilot Seat for the first time in years. Morgan dragged her back to the Brig section, and secured her tightly. A Manta was a combat craft. It only had the Cockpit, the Brig, and a corridor between for the docking ring and escape hatch, so Morgan had to sit in the back with her.
We’re moving slowly.” Cora observed. “Where are we going?”
The Quay.” Morgan checked her cuffs carefully. “But we’re hardly at cruising speed. I get the feeling that The Director wants a few minutes first.”
And won’t that be fun.” Cora sighed.
Why confess?” Morgan asked her. “That whole thing with Don? That was a clear setup. I don’t know how you got my elevator to stop, but you wanted to be five minutes ahead of me. Why?”
Cora said nothing.
Now that I think of it, why any of this?” Morgan kept going. “I’ve been trying to figure out what was off about you for months, but the idea that you were in this deep? It wasn’t just your father protecting you. I honestly didn’t see it. I figured, at most, you were trying to work your way up to your father’s job. Except you were already guaranteed to get it. So why force the confrontation? With Don, or your father? What did you stand to gain either way?”
Maybe it wasn’t me I was trying to win for.” Cora said finally. “Maybe after ten years of trying to make both of them happy, only to find out they would both rather write off half the human race than sit down and make peace… maybe I was giving them both one last chance to…”
To what? Be your hero?” Morgan actually laughed at her. “Are you so desperate for a dad you can look up to that you’ll sacrifice your life, and play games with thousands of others, on the off-chance one of them decides to be the bigger man?” He shook his head. “Figure it out, little girl. There are no heroes in this story. Even you, the Ark-Hive’s savior incarnate, were lying through your teeth the whole time.”
Cora said nothing to that. It was true enough. "Now, a small matter that's been bugging me. You assigned Ben as my apprentice. Why?"

"The Director asked me to." Morgan shrugged. "He needed you to have an Apprentice that would make you a good assistant, once you were on the surface; as Director. Stingray had access to personality profiles for everyone in the Ark-Hive." He paused. "Though they aren't worth spit, apparently."
One last thing I don’t get, Morgan.” Cora said lightly. “Now that we’re being honest? Why didn’t you take apart the Pirate Transmitter years ago? You alone knew my mom was the Pirate Station. But it kept going long after you killed her.”
Morgan gave her a long look, then pulled Cora’s uniform jacket out of the evidence locker. It took him a few moments to find the hidden pocket, but eventually, he found the Jammer, and switched it on. “It’d be pretty stupid of me to fall for the same trick you used on Don.” He told her. “Now, first things first.” Morgan sat down across from her, and drew her TABB from the jacket. She said nothing as he searched through it and found the hidden partition. “That video of me and your mother? We’ll just make sure that’s gone...” He deleted it. “Now then, to answer your question: I knew where the transmitter was, but I had no idea it could be accessed remotely. That part was Tai?”
My mother’s apprentice at the time.” Cora nodded.
I had people watching the Memorial around the clock for a year when the Pirate Station started back up. Nobody was at the Memorial Ship, using the equipment, so I figured there must have been another transmitter somewhere.” He actually shivered. “It was like she was reaching back from the grave.”
Cora looked him in the eye. “You want to know what Don promised me? I wanted to stay in the ocean as much as any Aquan, but when I was little, Don showed me that video and promised me one thing: That one day, I’d get to dance on your grave. A promise I intend to keep, even without Don’s help.” She gave him a toothy grin. “I spent ten years smiling at the man who killed my mom, Morgan. You have no idea how glad I am to be able to tell you this at last.”
Despite himself, Morgan shivered. “You’ve confessed, you’re in cuffs, and your own father is driving us to the Quay. I don’t know why you’re still smiling.”
The door opened, and The Director came in. “I can’t hear what you two are talking about, and I assume it’s because one of you is blocking this conversation somehow.” He glared at Morgan. “Commander, out. I want to talk to my daughter.”
The Commander left to take the controls, and The Director sat down. He was apparently over his shock.
Ten years.” He said flatly. “Ten YEARS!”
I know.” Cora said quietly. “I wanted to tell you. But you were the one person I couldn’t tell.”
Ten years, lying to my face the whole time.” He scorned. “Living in my quarters, calling me ‘dad’. Dammit, Cora; realizing that Don was a traitor was bad enough, but you? Of all people?”
Not lies, dad. Secrets.” Cora sighed. “You know all about that. You were keeping a few doozy’s yourself.”
Oh, don’t even begin to compare this. My secrets were about things that couldn’t be helped, in the service of completing the entire mission after four hundred years. Yours were… What? For all I know, the Coup was your plan!”
Give me some credit, Dad. If I was in on it, would I have stopped Don from escaping? Or confessed, come to that?”
Why did you confess?” He asked, and she could tell it was the main thing on his mind. “After ten years, why pick now to lay all that on me?”
Cora had tears rolling slowly down her cheeks. “I’ve rehearsed this so many times. What I would say, what I thought you would say, what I planned to say in response… Dad, when you declared Landfall, and showed us those videos… For a moment, I was actually tempted. But the surface is still in ruins, isn’t it?”
The Director sighed. “Less than you think. Plant life, atmo is good...”
Don tells me that the phytoplankton we use to speed-produce oxygen? It floats up at surface level. Back before the Ark-Hive, the ocean had turned so warm and acidic that it couldn’t survive. It took our people almost two hundred years to get the oceans full of life again. The Ocean made the surface livable again. Dad, this is where life begins. It’s where my life began. It’s my home. I don’t want to… leave…” She felt her jaw drop. “You’re here.” She said suddenly. “You’ve left the Ark-Hive! With your Weir Syndrome, you said you couldn’t!”
I said it was a risk.” Her father told her. “My Life Sciences Director confirmed it. But now that Don’s colors are shown, I’m wondering about everything he’s told me. And if your little revelation about the Cure is true…”
Cora bit her lip, daring to hope.
Her father glared at her. “Don’t give me those eyes right now. I am so mad at you I can barely breathe. It’s not like I can take you at your word either, daughter. After all, if you had proof your mother was murdered, I’d like to think you would have forced the issue at some point in ten years.”
If I had half a brain, I would have.” Cora admitted. “But I believed Don. He told me it wasn’t time yet, and I believed him. I told myself I didn’t need to know everything, because that’s how it is in a secret group. I trusted him too much, and that made me complicit in all the compromises he made, all the deaths that happened in his name.” Her look hardened. “But you can say the same about Morgan.”
Meaning?”
Don worked on the Cure at your order. That was sanctioned. But Don was smuggling his people out of the Quay under guise of killing them in human trials. You think Morgan didn’t know? Did you even ask what his price was? You saw Mom’s Broadcasts, then Tai’s. All those stories about Stingray abusing and stealing and Bagging whoever happened to interest them? You gave Morgan total power over all of us, and never asked what he was doing with it. And why? Because of mom. You trusted too blindly, just as I did.”
I still don’t believe you.” The Director spat. “If you had anything like proof, you would have had it on hand to show me before Morgan walked in. You had the time.”
Cora smiled.
Her father blinked. “Wait. That’s true, isn’t it? So what’s happening right now?”
My original plan was to get arrested, and have Morgan get me out of the Ark-Hive. I could have showed you the video right now, but Morgan deleted it from my TABB just a moment ago. So I guess I need to trust my Plan B.” Cora said softly. “What time is it?”
The Director checked his TABB. “Six minutes past the hour.”
~~/*\~~
The Light Water around the Ark-Hive was arranged so that it was bordered by the Ark-Hive, the Quay, the Memorial Ship, and the farms. Absolutely nobody noticed when a lone Dolphin came powering along the dark side of the Memorial Ship, towing a single passenger.
Tai did not come in the main docking bay. There were other hatches, for deep water probes and for releasing ballast. Too small for a diver to fit through, they were left unguarded.
But Tai wasn’t carrying a bulky rebreather, or heavy wetsuit and oxygen tank. He was able to sneak his way into the Memorial Ship without anyone aboard knowing about it. He found the hidden disk that Cora had given him, and made his way to the Terminal, one eye on the door, the other on the clock.
Alright, Shells.” He said under his breath. “The Pirate Station makes its last Broadcast.”
~~/*\~~
Cora leaned back, shifted her cuffed wrists a bit. “Dad, I always wanted to tell you. I know why you want to go back to the Surface. It’s what your fathers expected of you. But there’s a great big amazing universe out there in the ocean. We have everything we could ever need, and everything we could ever want. Why leave, and spend another two hundred years with our fingers crossed?”
The Director just looked at her. “Because we’re not an Aquatic species, Cora. We don’t have gills, or flippers. Our presence here is long term, even sustainable, but not natural. If we stay in the ocean, our presence will always be artificial.”
So will our presence up there. For the first few generations at least.” She countered. “But speaking for myself… I have never felt more natural than when I’m out in the water.”
Speaking for yourself. There are others who feel the opposite, and without that equipment, Don would have left them marooned. It would have been a death sentence.”
I know. That’s why I stopped him.” She said simply.
He didn’t have an answer to that.
We can have both, dad.” She flat out implored him. “I ran the numbers. If the Ocean supported the surface, and the surface agreed to leave some people behind, we could actually do both. The Cure makes it so much easier.”
First of all, I didn’t know about the Cure. Secondly, Weir Syndrome was why we all had to go at once, but even if it didn’t matter, we’re all going. We have to. The whole point of the Ark-Hive is for the human race to return to the surface. Four hundred years of purpose does not change, just because people like you don’t want the things you like to change. And third: What does that tell our children?” Her father looked at her gravely. “Your glorious underwater civilization will start with the understanding that if you disagree with whoever’s in charge, you can get your way by killing them all.”
You telling me that if I stopped Don before the Coup, you would have negotiated? With me? With Don? You’ve told Morgan to have anyone like me Bagged on sight. Exactly what was our other option?” Before he could answer, she gestured. “Time?”
The Director looked at his TABB again, just as the picture blacked out.
It was another Pirate Hack, but this one was different. It came with no effects, no slogans, no icons. This was a straight video clip, broadcast everywhere.
The Director was about to throw his TABB across the room out of sheer frustration, when he recognized the face on the screen, looking into the camera. It was his late wife.
~~/*\~~
Meyrna was looking into the camera, adjusting the angle slightly, in a room that was clearly identifiable as being part of the Memorial Ship. "Alright." She was muttering to herself. “Now, first we-”
"Step away, please." A voice said.
Meyrna spun. In the background of the image, Morgan stepped into the room, one hand resting on his weapon. “Morgan...” She hissed, suddenly worried. She glanced back towards the camera, as if calculating something. The camera could see her TABB as she tapped at it.
Behind her, Morgan could not see her type, but he couldn't see her hands, and he snap-drew his weapon. "Hands where I can see them!"
"What are you going to do? Shoot me twice?" Meyrna quipped, though she turned to face him head on. The camera responded to her typed commands and refocused to take in both of them clearly. "If you're here, you know I'm the one that's onto you. And what you're doing to prisoners in the Quay."
"Oh, does that really matter to anyone?" Morgan asked, and it sounded like a serious question. "Once that Bag goes over their heads, does anyone really put up a fight to get them back? Resources are the lifeblood of the Ark-Hive. Are you really that offended that we don't spend too many of them on criminals? Three squares a day with no work, as long as you commit a violent crime? So they do without, work a little harder..."
"Have all their possessions seized." Meyrna finished.
"Again, resources are tight. Who's to say where seized property goes?"
"What did Seamen Enty do, other than be rewarded with a priceless relic from the caches?" Meyrna dared. "The Aquans are right about that much, you know. About Ocean Solutions. The Oceans can provide a whole lot more in the way of Resources, as long as we treat them right." Meyrna said. "I had hoped that once things settled down, my husband would see that."
"Well. With you there, he might have." Morgan said honestly. "In fact, he might have seen a lot of things." He smirked. "It's inevitable, really. We live in a closed system. We purged hundreds of Aquans to make sure the system never opened up. Sooner or later, the best things go to the people in charge. They always do. There's a reason why Gold Sector Quarters are so much nicer than most. Privilege is the only thing that flows uphill."
The camera had an angle on Meyrna's left hand as she tapped at her TABB again. "And what do you call the only man with a gun in a room full of unarmed people?" She said rhetorically.
"The man in charge." Morgan nodded, and his weapon barked. The shock-shot paralyzed Meyrna instantly, and she dropped, unable to scream. Morgan came over. "I know this won't offer you any comfort, Meyrna." He said evenly. "But I am sorry. You're a good person. I'm sorry the weapon is non-lethal. I would have preferred to make this quick." He fired again, and again, execution style. Mercifully, the video ended.
~~/*\~~
The Director’s eyes were cold and dead, just like a shark. He had turned into a killer shark, right before her gaze. He gripped his TABB so tightly that it actually bent under his fingers.
Interesting question for you.” Cora said to her father as it finished. “Do you think Morgan switched off my Micro-Jammer when he left the room? Because if not, he’s the only one in the Ocean who didn’t see that.” She lifted her cuffed wrists. “Either way, he’s the only one on board who’s armed.”
~~/*\~~
The Director moved forward slowly, checking blindspots and corners. The forward hatch to the cockpit was sealed shut, and opened outward, towards him. He turned the wheel on the hatch slowly and began to open it, as quietly as possible-
Sparks flew as the shock-shot came through it instantly. Ready for it, The Director ducked away, and slammed the door shut again. “So, I guess you saw the video.” He called through the door.
Yeah, you could say that.” Morgan called back.
What’s the plan, Morgan? The whole Ocean saw that.” The Director reminded him. “It’s not like you can run.”
I know.” Morgan called back. “But I’m in the pilot’s seat. Quite literally. I’ve got people at every level of the Ark-Hive, and it won’t be hard to drive this thing to the Memorial Ship. I could transmit a message myself, have my people take over. With you, Cora, and the Board all having been removed, there isn’t really anyone to challenge me. If I can come up with a good excuse, I doubt anyone will care about the video. So I took someone out ten years ago. I do it every day. Nobody will care.”
The Director saw red. “She was my wife!”
~~/*\~~
In the Cockpit, Morgan had his back against the side of the room, weapon drawn, giving him clear shots toward the hatch. “Your wife is dead!” He barked through the hatch. “And your daughter is on board, remember that! I’m still at the controls, and the one with a weapon.”
Your position isn’t as strong as you think, Morgan!” The Director called. “You’ve got nowhere to go.”
Morgan thought for a minute. “Alright, look. I can drop you off at the Memorial Ship. You can call for a pick-up from there. I take this sub, and your daughter. The Colonies are all empty right now. We’ll go to one. She’s Aquan. I’m betting she knows how to live off the Ocean. Hell, if I can find the Aquans, I might even be a hero again. I imagine she’s not too popular with them right now!”
There was no answer.
You better think hard, because Landfall depends on your choice!” Morgan called.
No answer.
Is he still there? Morgan wondered. Or is he trying to draw me out?
Tap-tap-tap.
Morgan spun. Cora was at the front window, in full dive gear.
You let her out!?” Morgan raged at the silent door.
Cora waved cheerfully, and held up a wrench. The kind that was part of the Manta’s repair kit. With a cold smile, she made a throat-slashing gesture at him, and pushed off. She vanished instantly.
Morgan went to the controls and tried to turn the submarine. It wouldn’t turn, and he realized what Cora had done with the wrench. He tested the pilot's controls, and then the co-pilot’s. He couldn’t turn the boat, and the ocean floor wasn’t flat for long. It was only a matter of time before he hit something.
He could still control the speed, and he was debating whether or not to pull it to a stop, when the hatch behind him flew open, and The Director lunged.
Murderer! Murderer!” The Director yelled, going berserk. “You goddam liar!”
The fight was ugly and confined. The Director had Morgan from behind and was slamming him as hard as possible against the useless controls. Morgan was the better fighter, but the Director was letting loose ten years of rage.
Morgan gave up trying to push back and kicked out instead, stamping down on the Director’s leg. It was enough to throw the other man off balance, and Morgan twisted his gun arm to aim back. He pulled the trigger blind, missed, but the weight eased instantly, and what was an attack became a wrestling match over the gun. Non-Lethal or not, it would end the fight with one shot.
Morgan was able to throw the Director against the co-pilot’s seat; aiming to put him down. The Director didn’t even try to get up, kicking out at the throttle. The Sub suddenly lurched into high speed, and both men went sprawling.
The Director got up first, and started slamming a fist down on the most feared killer in the Ark-Hive, over and over. “You! Killed! Her! You! Lied! You! Monster! Hate! You!”
Morgan had both hands up, covering his face as best he could. But then the punches became weaker and weaker. Morgan dared a glance up and saw The Director’s face. The man was turning grey, his eyes were bloodshot, blood was leaking from his nose, though Morgan hadn’t hit him anywhere near there.
The Commander realized it before The Director did. “Feeling it, aren’t you?” He grated, forcing the other man off him. “Weir Syndrome must be getting worse, outside the Ark-Hive. All that exertion can’t be good for you.”
The Director was struggling to catch a breath, when he looked forward and his eyes got real big. Morgan looked ahead and swore. An instant later, both men were rushing for the hatch.
~~/*\~~
Cora was trying to keep pace with the Manta. They were some of the fastest ships in the fleet, but unable to turn, Delphi was able to keep it in sight. When the distance grew vast enough that they couldn’t see it, his echolocation still kept them locked on target.
Delphi suddenly whistled urgently, and put on more speed, though Cora could tell he was wearing out. She didn’t dare bend to look at her TABB, keeping herself as streamlined as possible, but a few moments later, she didn’t need the translation.
The Manta had crashed into the side of Circular Quay.
Delphi towed her straight to the point of impact. They hadn’t breached the walls, but the forward Plexiglas had imploded. Under that much water pressure, it would have had all the speed of a bullet.
But as Cora swam closer, she realized that there were no bodies in the cockpit, and the hatch had been sealed. Cora pushed up, getting some altitude, trying to see in the inky black water. Circular Quay had always been on the edge of the Light Water area, and this section of it was away from the running lights that covered every inch of the Ark-Hive’s surrounding environment. It was almost as pitch as the Dark Water out on the Ranges. “Delphi, what can you see?”
Her partner clicked and whistled. His echolocation had no problem with darkness, and she read the translation on her TABB. “Dolphins coming! Still too far! Two humans swim to light!”
The light?” Cora thought aloud. “Ah! The Main Entrance! Where the Quay’s Docking Bay is!” She reached out and her partner zipped up alongside her, putting his harness at her hand. “Let’s go!”
~~/*\~~
The Quay was not the most crowded complex on the Ocean. Nobody wanted to be there under any circumstances. When Morgan reached the Docking Bay, there was nobody there. Docking in the Quay was a much smaller affair than in the Ark-Hive itself. There were only two or three ships. Two Manta’s for combat/escort duty, and one thick, clunky Gulag ship for transporting prisoners.
Morgan hauled himself out of the Moon Pool and clambered over to the hatch. One thing that Circular Quay had was no shortage of heavy prison doors. “Le-t-t-t m-me in!” He shouted up to the surveillance cameras, the ocean cold making his voice shake. He pulled off his emergency breather, letting them see his face. “That’s an-n order!”
There was a loud silence from within the prison. “Commander.” A voice said smoothly over the PA. “We’ve been trying to reach the Director for clarification on… well…”
I said, let me in!”
B-Belay that!” Another voice coughed.
Morgan turned. The Director was also climbing up out of the Moon Pool, though more slowly. His face was drawn, and his lips blue from the cold. He didn’t look well at all. Morgan drew his weapon and pulled the trigger for a warning shot.
Nothing. The seawater had wrecked it. Morgan turned back to the cameras. “Who is that? Glass? I know you’re on duty, Glass! And you don’t work for him, you work for me! Get your guys out here right now!”
Captain Glass, g-g-et your men out here, and place Morgan-n under arrest!” The Director called, also glaring up at the camera. “C-commander Morgan is under arrest for t-treason!”
Endless beat.
We’re… having trouble getting the doors open.” The voice over the PA said finally. “It’s probably just a technical hitch after the sub collision, but if you give us some time, I’m sure we can straighten all this out…”
Glass, you damned coward!” Morgan yelled, and turned to face the Director. It was clear he was ready to kill the older man with his bare hands, when the Moon Pool erupted. Another figure came hurtling out of the water, propelled by her dolphin partner so fast she landed on her feet, wrench still in hand.
Cora didn’t even bother to take her mask off, taking in both of them with a swift glance. “Been waiting ten years for this, Morgan.” She snarled like a feral animal. She strode towards the Commander, who did the math in his head and turned to run instead. He couldn’t get into the Quay, so he had to get out of it; and he ran for one of the Manta’s. Cora chased after him, but he got there in time to seal the hatch.
Close the doors!” The Director shouted to the camera, and as desperate as they were not to pick a side, whoever was within the complex obeyed. The doors started to close.
Undeterred, even as the Manta started lowering on its clamps into the water, Cora sprinted over the hull to the front windows, and started hammering on it with her Wrench. The Plexiglas was sturdy stuff, but if she could make even a small crack, the water pressure at the ocean floor would end him.
She could see Morgan inside, working the controls. The Manta she stood on lurched, and she suddenly fought to keep her balance, pinwheeling her arms as the Manta turned… and faced the other submarines in dock.
Dad, look out!” Cora yelled.
Morgan pulled the trigger, and a torpedo dropped off his sub, flew thirty feet across the bay, and exploded the other submarine. The blast shredded the walls, the Pool, the bay doors, and sent the Director flying.
Cora gave a roar of frustration, and started clambering over the hull. If she could find a weak spot, an exposed bolt, anything she could loosen or weaken, the ocean would crush Morgan for her.
Morgan’s blast had damaged one of the bay doors, but the other continued to close slowly. Morgan had lined up a shot on the slower Gulag-Class Prison Transport, but decided to escape instead, rotating to the doors and speeding up. Cora tried to hold on, but was swept off by the acceleration.
Delphi was there almost instantly, and the two quickly gave chase, but a Manta at full speed was more than a dolphin could catch up to.
Come on!” Cora raged at the retreating ship. So close! I was so close!
Delphi clicked and whistled. “Big boat comes.”
Cora blinked, and then heard it herself. The Gulag ship was coming up behind her, her father at the controls. Cora pushed off from Delphi and grabbed on as the Prison Transport passed her, chasing Morgan.
The Gulag-Class was meant to carry a load of prisoners. No weapons, slow moving, but built to be unstoppable. Cora found an access hatch and climbed in.
~~/*\~~
Welcome aboard.” Her father called from the pilot’s seat.
Where does Morgan think he’s going to go?” Cora asked, peering over her father’s shoulder.
The Memorial Ship. He knows the transmitter is there. He saw the video of your mother. He can figure out which room, which terminal.”
But why? What can he do if he sends a message?”
A message everyone can see? He could tell all his people to come help him, or take over the Ark-Hive. Even if only one in ten Stingray’s are willing to side with him after the revelation about Meyrna, that’s still a lot of people with weapons.” Her father told her. “Or if he can get word to your people that you flipped on Don, you can kiss your shot at a happy ending goodbye.”
~~/*\~~
Tai, can you read me?!”
Tai grabbed for the radio. “Cora! I’m here!”
Morgan’s on his way to you! We’re trying to catch him, but his ship has weapons and ours… doesn’t. Get out of there! Kill the transmitter if you can.”
Tai bit his lip. “That’s one idea. I have a better one. I’m hooking this feed into the transmitter. Give me ten seconds!”
~~/*\~~
Do you think any of his people will-LOOKOUT!” Cora suddenly shouted, as the radar changed.
Morgan wasn’t running. He was attacking. They saw him circling to meet them head-on a split second before the Manta launched a torpedo at them. Her father yanked the controls and they both felt the torpedo go past, close enough that the wake shook them. The Director had turned them toward the same path Morgan’s Manta was taking, and the two ships barely avoided colliding.
He didn’t have guidance lock! We’re in too close!” Cora grunted, trying to hold on. “He’s stuck with Line Of Sight, if he can’t get any distance on us!”
What’s our range?”
Two hundred meters. He’s trying to circle. Stay starboard, or we’re dead.”
No, we have to go to port.” The Director grunted, working the controls. “We go hard to starboard, and he takes a shot? Even if he misses us, the Torpedo will go straight through the Observation Dome.”
Not to sound uncaring, because I’m not, but what about the torpedo that goes straight through us?”
Working on it, sweetie.” The Director’s knuckles were white on the controls. “It’s not like we have any offensive options here.” He peered into the murky water ahead. “I can’t see him. Does this thing have a sonic overlay?”
Cora hit the controls, and the sonar was displayed across the Plexiglas, giving them a view of the world outside the submarine, regardless of the dark. “There he is. He’s heading for the Memorial Ship.”
The Director nodded grimly. “He’s going for distance, so he can lock on, and he’s keeping the fight in the Light Water, in case he has to eyeball a shot…” He paused, looking ahead as a strange cloud of fast moving objects came towards them. “What the hell makes a sonar signature like that?” He asked quizzically.
Dolphins.” Cora said grimly. “Delphi called for reinforcements.”
~~/*\~~
Back in the lights cast by the Ark-Hive area, Morgan put his Manta into a tight turn. His Sonar said that the Gulag Ship was closing on him, and he got a lock before they got too close. The Radar tone told him he had a lock for less than half a second before he fired.
At the same moment he squeezed the trigger, his screen was filled with rapid movement, erupting right in his face. They were moving too fast for him to even register that they were dolphins. The dolphins barely made it out of the way before another was right in his face. It was an insane dance of break-neck speed and near-miss turns. Morgan honestly wasn’t sure if the Dolphins were doing it for fun, or if they were actually taking him on.
But he’d already twitched at the controls, and already pulled the trigger…
~~/*\~~
He’s got a guidance lock!” Cora warned.
I know!” Her father hissed, trying madly to evade. “We don’t have countermeasures on this thing!”
The torpedo came roaring towards them, the high pitched whine of the turbine was piercing in the cockpit, and Cora threw her arms uselessly across her face, bracing for it… Tai, I love you!
BOOM! The sub lurched, reeled like it had taken a punch, and it took Cora a moment to realize she wasn’t dead. “What happened? Did he miss?”
The Dolphins.” Her father gasped, pale as a ghost. “One of them took the hit for us.”
Cora covered her mouth with one hand. “Not Delphi. Oh, Hades; please! Not Delphi too!”
I don’t know, but we’ll make him pay for it!”
~~/*\~~
Morgan raged as his enemy came in far too close to shoot. The damned fish-freaks had thrown off his perfect shot and-
WHAM! The two submarines collided. Morgan let out a shout as sparks flew from every panel, and the controls jumped in his hands. His Manta was less than half the size of the Gulag Ship, and in a straight collision, he would quickly come off second best.
As the two ships scraped across each other, Morgan fought for speed. If he was going to take another shot, he needed some space.
~~/*\~~
The sub-fight was happening in the Light Water, in full view of the Ark-Hive. Packed in tightly, the Observation Dome was crowded with people, watching the whole thing with worry. A stray shot would kill them all, to say nothing of the fact that there hadn’t been a straight up battle since The Purges.
The other Manta’s surrounded the Ark-Hive, weapons bristling outward.
And then, from every speaker, from every screen, came a voice over the radio, relayed from Tai to the whole Ark-Hive. “This is Cora Bridger to the Ark-Hive! I’m on the Gulag ship!” She called urgently. “The battle taking place in the Light Water right now is between Commander Morgan, and The Director himself. Repeat, Commander Morgan is committing high treason, right now, attempting to kill myself and my father! The Stingray Commander is attempting a coup in the wake of the murder of the entire Board of Directors! Any Stingray attempting to assist Commander Morgan is now guilty of treason! All Stingray personnel in the sound of my voice can prove their innocence of his crime by turning their weapons over to anyone else, right now! Manta Crews are to stand down! Repeat, break off, all of you! Return to Base!”
Her words set off a roar. There were Stingray guards in the Observation Dome, watching as eagerly as everyone else, and suddenly each and every one of them was surrounded. Hundreds of people, spooked again, packed in tight enough that they could feel the tension rising in each other, glaring balefully at their own guards.
Nobody knew who broke first, but one at a time, the Stingray Guards handed over their weapons to whoever was closest. Starting a fight in the Ark-Hive was far less interesting to them than the show going on outside.
~~/*\~~
You could ask the Manta’s for help, you know.” The Director grit out. “At least one of them on our side wouldn’t hurt.”
Yeah, and one of them on Morgan’s side would be a death sentence.” Cora grit out, hanging on for dear life. “We don’t know which way they’ll go, and if there’s more than one combat sub out here choosing sides, we’ll have a shooting war!”
Well, we’re way too close to Base for that to be a good plan!” The Director agreed. “But this thing steers like a dead whale, and the second he got behind us he had-”
There was another high-pitched whine, the sound of a torpedo closing in, and they couldn’t tell from which direction. An instant later, the universe seemed to fly apart. Cora felt her head snap back and forth, flopping like a ragdoll, as the impact ripped apart their submarine. She tried to hold onto her harness, just to stop her limbs from flopping around as the world spun…
...she had half a second to see the ocean floor jumping up at their screens, and then the world tumbled again as they crashed.
The lights were out instantly, but they were in the Light Water, so there was still a glow from the front windows. The Plexiglas spiderwebbed, but Cora could tell it was the outer-layer, so they weren’t dead yet. Every console was blank, every screen was dead.
Sitting duck… The phrase floated up into her punch-drunk mind. She wasn’t sure where she had learned it. She had never seen a duck before…
Trying to think clearly, Cora reached a shaking hand and released her harness. She dropped instantly, and she suddenly realized they were upside down.
Go.” The Director was moaning. “Get clear, Cora. While you still can, save yourself.”
I’m not leaving you… here…” Her voice trailed off when she turned to look at him again. Beaten up, half-drowned, shocked and battle-weary, her father's injuries were beyond bad. She could see the symptoms of Weir Syndrome gathering strength from his injuries. Blood was dripping from his ears and mouth.
Cora bit her lip, torn, looking outside for help. Morgan’s Manta was heading for the Memorial Ship. “He’s breaking off.” Cora coughed. “Why doesn’t he finish us?”
Because he heard your radio call to the Ark-Hive.” The Director moaned. “He has to convince his people before they surrender to anyone who’s listening.”
She finally found the First Aid Kit, and did her best to staunch the bleeding from her father’s injuries. At least, the external ones.
Cora, just go.” Her father hissed weakly. “...get him. Remember: A Manta is an attack craft. He’ll have armed himself with something waterproof this time.”
Cora bared her teeth and found her Breather. “Well, if he’s heading for the Memorial Ship, he’ll have a surprise.”
~~/*\~~
Morgan reached the Memorial Ship and docked. There was no other sub there, and not likely to be many people on board. He hadn’t stopped to confirm the kill, and was in a hurry. If he could contact all his people, he could turn the tide of this. If she was alive, Cora still had a wetsuit, and would be giving chase. Morgan took a moment to make sure his submarine wouldn’t move again, no matter what.
Meyrna’s statue was still there, unchanging as always. Morgan threw ‘her’ a dirty look as he ran. In a way, this was all her fault. He’d seen the video, and knew where she accessed the transmitter from. Aside from the large Memorial Chamber, there were only a few small rooms, left over from when the Tulley had been a working submarine. Morgan headed straight to the one he needed.
The second he saw the Terminal, he knew he wasn’t alone. The entire console had been torn up, destroyed beyond repair. So had the lights, the storage lockers, or anything else in the room that he could use. His weapon was in his hand before even he thought of who it could be. “Tai!” He sing-songed, with a shark grin. “I know it has to be you. Come out, come out!”
You can’t call for help, Morgan.” Tai called, and Morgan followed his voice into the dark corridor. “It’s over.”
Y’know, I think I’d almost rather kill you than get away.” Morgan called back. “I never knew who it was, making those Broadcasts after Meyrna. You were making me crazy! I’m not someone who likes leaving loose ends, Merman.”
He caught a glimpse of movement and fired. Sparks skittered across the metal walls, and Morgan crept forward, watching every corner.
Another patter of footsteps. Something darted across the hallway into an opposite room. Morgan fired again, too slow to track the target properly. He made his way to the doorway, waited for half a breath, threw the door open, and started shooting.
But the room was empty. Seawater splashed over his feet as he charged in, and Morgan saw the same small pipe that Tai had used to enter the Memorial Ship. Too small for Morgan to even think about chasing, even if he had a wetsuit.
Wetsuit! Morgan realized. If he gets to the Docking Bay before I do, he can flank me. Unless I get there first.
Morgan turned and ran through the ship. He was in such a rush that he didn’t stop to check the room first. He got to the Bay, weapon drawn, waiting for Tai to emerge from the water…
And howled as a wrench came slamming down on his wrist. He felt something break, the gun went flying. He had half a second to recognize Cora, in full dive suit, before she swung the wrench back up at his face. He reared back enough that the wrench clipped only a piece of his ear, but she had lost the element of surprise. They both darted back, and started circling, looking for an opening.
You know why you and Don never had a chance?” Morgan hissed at her, spitting blood. “It’s because you never got the point. You had to make the big, noble moves; for a big, noble dream! You wanted Utopia, and all you had to build it with was people like me!”
No.” Cora spat back. “I had better.” She lunged again, swinging the wrench. He darted back, and she tried to stay close enough to hit him, far enough that he couldn’t hit back. It made it harder to hit him, but she started working him back toward the corridor, where he’d have no room to evade.
Her next swing would have caved in his ribs, but he was close enough to the corridor that he was able to duck back, and let the hatch take the blow. Cora’s swing stopped dead, and she wasn’t able to pull back fast enough. He caught her wrists in one hand, the wrench in the other, wrestling for it. She rammed her head forward. Her wetsuit helmet met his exposed nose and Morgan reeled, seeing six of her.
Cora tried to pull free of his grip as he stumbled, but he had the chance to plant his boot in her ribs and send her rolling back into the Main Chamber, beneath the steel wings of her mother’s statue.
Cora rolled to her feet, and Morgan lunged, her wrench in his hand. He struck once, twice, three times, and the faceplate of her mask shattered. Cora yelped and shut her eyes, trying to keep the shards out. Time enough for him to swing again. She ducked behind her mother’s statue and the wrench glanced off the steel. Cora dove for the corridor, looking for some breathing room.
I’ll give you credit for one thing, girl. You knew when to cut your losses!” He almost cackled as he strode after her, adrenaline making him wild. “Your father never got the point. He didn’t want to leave the Ocean, he wanted to beat it! He wanted to conquer a force of nature that he never so much as tried to look at. That’s why he lost!”
What about you?” Tai asked casually.
Morgan spun. Tai had apparently made his way back inside, dripping seawater, but ready to join the fight.
Morgan grinned. He could take them both at once. “Me? I’m a realist. I don’t care who wins, just who’s left…”
He heard quick footsteps behind him and spun as Cora lunged, turning her attack into a throw that sent her rolling. Tai used the opening to tackle Morgan back into the corridor.
Cora got her feet under her, ready to join the battle again, when he suddenly noticed Morgan’s gun laying on the deck. She’d taken it out of his hand with the wrench, and neither of them had made a grab for it again. She picked it up, feeling her blood boil. She had him. At last.
Morgan and Tai were wrestling with each other in the corridor. They were both trying to force each other headfirst into the walls, when there was the sound of a shot, and sparks flew off the wall beside them. They both stopped, turning to face Cora, aiming the Stingray Weapon at them.
Tai immediately dropped to the floor, being as small as possible. Cora had a clear shot.
In a fight between three people, Morgan?” Cora said, cold as death. “What do you call the only one holding a gun?”
Morgan dove aside, not even looking where he was going. When he looked up and saw the shattered Console that Tai had sabotaged, he realised it was the Transmission Room. The Pirate Station that had been exposing his secrets for ten years. Morgan wasted no time on the realization, trying to swing the hatch shut, but it wouldn’t move.
Tai and Cora both stepped into the doorway, in no particular hurry. “When I tore apart everything useful in the room, did you think I would forget the hatch?” Tai remarked.
Morgan did the math. His back was to the wall, he was outnumbered, and Cora was aiming his own gun straight at his throat.
Okay, lieutenant.” He said to Cora easily. “I surrender.” He held out his hands, wrists-first; as though waiting to be handcuffed.
Cora regarded him a moment, as though watching from far away. “Hey. You know something, Morgan?” She observed. “This is the same room where you killed my mom.”
Morgan had half a second to realize what she meant before Cora squeezed the trigger, and Morgan fell. Fire raced through his every limb, seizing up. Morgan had Shock-Shot dozens of people, but it was his first time taking such a hit. His brain was reeling from the overload, but he fought to tell himself that a hit was non-lethal, unless…
Cora strode over, and zapped him again. Again. Again, until he stopped kicking. She fired, the same way Morgan had done to her mother, in almost the same spot. She bent and checked his pulse, just to make sure.
Are you okay?” Tai asked softly.
Cora rubbed her eyes. “I admit, I enjoyed it more than I should have. But what’s the other option? We take him back for trial? We tell all his secrets, he tells all our secrets…”
I know.” Tai admitted. “I didn’t have a better option, it’s just… It’s what he would have done.”
Cora had no answer to that. She threw the gun away, not liking the feel of it in her hand any longer. The two of them suddenly realized it was over, and they were together, and alive. They threw their arms around each other, like they’d never let go.
What do we do now?” Tai asked. “We can take Morgan’s Manta…”
No. I checked it when I came aboard.” Cora shook her head. “If you hadn’t been here, I would have just taken his Manta and blown up the entire Memorial and he knew it. That Manta won’t move without some serious repairs.” Cora took off her useless helmet and held up her broken faceplate. “No wetsuits in the Memorial Ship, because nobody’s assigned here permanently. You’re the only one that can leave at all.”
Tai bit his lip. “I have no idea who will get here first, but whoever it is will shoot one of us, and rescue the other.”
You could go.” Cora said softly. “You don’t need a wetsuit. That emergency tank would probably get you clear before they catch you, or...”
Or.” Tai agreed, before leaning in to kiss her soundly. “Love you, Shells.”
Love you, Stripes.”
~~/*\~~
The Director was dying, and he knew it. He was in a wrecked submarine, and his daughter had gone after a dangerous man. He would die without ever knowing what happened to his daughter.
He could barely move his limbs, but he didn’t mind, because there was nowhere to go. He tried to reach his TABB, to record a message for Cora, but it was too badly damaged.
Just like me. He thought distantly, feeling his body shut down.
He felt a rush of coldness covering his legs, then his hips. Something touched his face, and suddenly the breathing came easier. He opened his eyes as the icy coldness kept climbing. It took several seconds for his eyes to focus, but eventually he saw.
Tai had put an oxygen mask over his face, and was fitting the heating elements from Cora’s Wetsuit around his torso. The water had come pouring in from the next chamber. Cora hadn’t been able to leave without flooding the rear of the upside-down Sub, but Bridger had a mask over his face and was breathing fine.
It took him several seconds to realize that he was breathing Tai’s oxygen. Tai was just holding his breath.
Am I dead? We weren’t sure if Tai was alive. Is he a ghost, carrying me away?
~~/*\~~
The Observation Dome was dead silent. Hundreds of people had watched the sub fight end. Hundreds of people had watched as the Dolphins took sides in a battle, even taken casualties. At that distance, it was possible to tell that one of the divers was Cora. It was equally obvious that the young man who returned to the wreck was not wearing a dive suit, though nobody could make out his face.
Almost two Dozen Dolphins were still surrounding the wreck, as the merman emerged, carrying what looked an awful lot like a body.
One of the Manta’s came creeping forward, shining a searchlight on them.
We want to see!” Someone in the Observation Dome shouted. “The Manta has a gun camera! Let us see it! Let us see!”
This proved to be a popular opinion, and very quickly the crowd was repeating the cry. “LET! US! SEE! LET US! SEE!”
One of the Stingray Guards had the good sense to keep the people calm and made a quick call to the Quay. A few moments later, the Manta’s gun camera was being transmitted to the Observation Dome, and everyone got a good look.
They recognized Tai. He was Cora’s co-pilot, and a hero to everyone on the Ark-Hive. There was shock when they recognized his face, as he was meant to be dead. When they saw he wasn’t even masked, everyone gasped. The Director was in his arms as the dolphin team pushed them back to the Memorial Ship.
The Ark-Hive was able to see through the Plexiglas docks around the Memorial Ship as the Ocean gave their Leader his final Escort. Not well enough to hear them, but well enough to see Cora, alive and waiting by the water, wringing her hands.
Some of the people started to cry. The Director was a controversial figure, but he’d been in charge for longer than most of them had been alive. If they wouldn’t shed a tear for him, they would for his daughter.
~~/*\~~
Cora came running when Tai did his best to lift her father gently. The look on Tai’s face was clear. The Director didn’t have long. The two of them carried him away from the water, into the Memorial Ship.
Dad.” Cora said softly in his ear. “Look up.”
Bridger did so. His blurry, weakened eyes took in the face of Meyrna, smiling down at him, as Cora laid him gently beneath her outstretched steel wings. The older man was soaked through, but it was clear he was shedding tears. “Meyrna…” He rasped. “...’s been so long…”
Too long.” Cora agreed. “We got him, dad. You and me and Tai. We avenged Mom. We made it right.”
Cora!” Her father rasped, desperate. “You have to do it now. You have to lead them back to the surface.”
Dad, please.” Cora was weeping too. “We don’t… Not right now!”
Promise me!” The Director insisted. “I’ll forgive you if you do it. Please, you have to finish it...”
Dad, please.” Cora insisted. “I love you, and…”
...three hundred years, Cora…” Her father rasped, his breath rattling… and finally stopping.
~~/*\~~
In the Observation Dome, one eye watching the screens, the other watching out the Dome. They all saw Cora lay her father alongside his wife’s memorial… and then weep on Tai’s shoulder.
Nix was in the Observation Dome, with Ben standing on her left, and Alison on her right. The Earther with a crush on her, and the Aquan who owed her life to her.
Nix looked to them both. “I think Cora’s in charge now.”


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


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.