Saturday, 14 April 2018

15 Chapter Fifteen: Landfall


25 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
Delphi fetched Cora's suit and brought it to her. It was just after midnight when Cora made it back to the Ark-Hive. Nobody tried to stop them, too stunned by the sudden upheaval, and unwilling to declare either way when Cora led Tai by the hand through Gold Sector. Cora and Tai didn’t talk about it for a full day. They had gone to her quarters and sealed the door. They didn’t come out again for a long time.
Nobody had approached them when they came back to the Ark-Hive. In fact, there was dead silence when they passed. Everyone wanted to know what would happen next, but nobody dared be the one to ask first.
The Stingray Guards became very gentle, very quickly. Everyone knew that Cora was in charge now, and every Stingray in the Ocean had seen their Commander murder the new Director’s Mother, and now her father too.
The truth about what Don had done came out very quickly through word of mouth alone, and the Aquans were stunned, wondering if this was their last chance to escape. Those that knew Cora’s allegiance quietly spread the word to the rest of the Network. A risky move, but they knew how to keep secrets from the wrong people.
The entire human race was holding their breath, waiting to see what Cora Bridger would do next.
~~/*\~~
Cora had woken up sobbing in the middle of the night. Tai hadn’t let go of her for hours, and she loved him for it. She was holding onto him like a life preserver. “Well.” She croaked finally. “You always said that I’d be running the place in a day if I wanted to.”
Tai kissed her face tenderly, and just let her cry it out.
All the things he could have chosen for his last words, Tai. He couldn’t even stop being The Director for his last breath.” Cora sobbed.
I know.” He just held her tighter.
"Morgan had a good plan." Cora admitted. "Have everyone above you take each other out, until you're left in charge. It worked perfectly. Just not for him."
Yeah, but I know you. This wasn’t what you wanted.” Tai remarked.
It was… my backup plan.” Cora sighed. “I told my father, Tai. First time in my life I had the nerve to face him and tell him everything.” She tried to smile for him. “My perfect plan would have been to give him a way. I wanted so badly for him to learn the truth and just… give an inch. If he’d made peace, we could have had it both ways. His Weir Syndrome would be cured, and he could lead the Earthers all the way back to the surface. They would have lived a normal lifespan, and he would have been the one to lead them back. He decided he’d rather throw his daughter in the Quay than compromise, even for me.”
First duty of the Ark-Hive. Only priority for The Director.”
What about for a father?” Cora reached out a hand and cupped his face. His skin was cooler than she remembered it being. “A job that now falls to me, because there’s nobody else left.” She sniffed. “It was my plan, but now that it’s worked, I don’t know if I can keep going.”
Tai gave her a tight hug. “Well, if it matters, I believe you can.”
Cora looked at the door. “Come with me?”
He nodded, and the two of them made their way through her family quarters, out to the elevators. It was the middle of the night, nobody on the move. There were a few people on duty, but they gave the new Director a wide berth.
You know what the worst part is?” Cora asked softly once they were alone again. “Part of me was actually surprised. As much as I wanted his last words to be anything else… Deep down, I always knew he wouldn’t give an inch. Not even for The Cure. Not even for me.”
That’s why I had to take over.
~~/*\~~
Cora came off the elevator, towards her father’s office. Ben was there, at his post, asleep in his chair. The sight made Cora feel warm for a moment. “Ben.” She shook him awake. “Ben, go home.”
Ben saw her and stood up quickly. “Anything you need, ma’am?”
Go home. It’s not good to sleep in a chair.” Cora told him. “Have you been here all night?”
We all saw it. What happened.” Ben said softly. “I wasn’t sure when you’d be here, but I know it’s where I’m meant to be when you are.”
Cora sighed hard. “Okay… well… Good work. Um. There isn’t a Board of Directors any more. Make an announcement over the PA during Morning Chow. Tell them that I’ll make a statement at the Observation Dome at 0930 Hours. Until then, go get some sleep.”
Yes, Director.” Ben nodded, and headed for the elevator, giving Tai a quick nod.
Cora had turned to stone behind him. Once they were alone, Tai reached out and held her hand. “First time anyone’s called you that.” He observed.
Yeah.” Cora said, so soft he barely heard it. She lead the way into her fathers… into her office. She stared at his desk for an endless moment, before stepping around it, and sitting down. Tai came around the desk and sat on it’s edge so that he wouldn’t have to release her hand.
Comfortable chair.” She declared finally.
He almost smirked. "So. Director Bridger. What do you plan to do now?"
"The only thing I ever wanted to do." Cora said quietly. "A future for the Aquans... and nobody gets hurt." She looked at Tai, almost pleading. "That's not so much to ask, is it? For people to just... have what they want, and not hate people who want something else?"
"Cora..." Tai whispered. “You could let someone else do it.”
"Who? The Vote was 90% in favor of Landfall. The actual number is about 70%. The Aquans have Cell Leaders. The Earthers... They don't have anyone left. My father, the Board... even Commander Morgan. They're all gone. Casualties of the old men’s stubbornness." Cora said with bitterness. “And I made it happen.”
You nearly killed yourself giving them both a dozen chances to make peace.” Tai hugged her tighter still. “I’m really proud of you. You’re going to get them all to where they want to be. The entire human race, on the same side at last.”
"I know. Which makes this... so hard." Cora sighed hard. "I love you, Stripes."
"Love you, Shells."
~~/*\~~
The Ark-Hive was assembled. Everyone who wasn’t crammed into the Observation Dome was watching on screens. There was an incredible feeling of something about to erupt. Cora could have called for another Purge. She could have called for war. And they would give it to her.
The loud silence intensified when Cora came into the room. Everyone expected her to go to the podium where her father had called for Landfall. But she didn’t. She stayed in the Audience. The Observation Dome had multiple levels, and the Screens showed her, no matter where in the Dome she stood, so everyone had a clear view.
This has gotta stop.” Cora said simply.
Every human alive heard her say it. They kept holding their breath. It could be taken either way.
First of all, here’s what’s happening.” Cora told them. “There is no secret Aquan Conspiracy. Yes, Don wanted Ocean Solutions for some of our problems. So do I. But my father refused to compromise after the Aquan Rebellion, no matter that it was over years ago. Recently, Don lead a revolt. It failed. He knew that Weir Syndrome would affect everyone, and planned a takeover. But when he discovered a cure, he had a whole other plan in mind. It was a small group that has already been identified. No grand cell network, just a few key people. We have not confirmed that Morgan and Don had a deal, to peddle the cure; but it’s clear Don was using the Quay for human experimentation, with Morgan’s full consent.”
The story fit the few facts that everyone had seen broadcast, and her words set off a murmur. The Aquans in the audience relaxed. There was some fear that Cora had switched sides, but she had just saved them all by declaring the Aquans to be non-existent.
Don tried to take over, and when he failed to kill my father, he tried to escape. He failed.” Cora said simply. “But my father, rest his soul, was not innocent. He didn’t know about the Cure. But he knew that going back to the surface was going to be fatal to most of us. That’s why the race to Landfall has been such a breakneck priority for the last six months.” Cora turned to look at each of them, her voice growing hard. “This Has Got To Stop!”
There was a rumble of agreement at that.
This war has been going for far too long. When the Ark-Hive Project began, none of us were born, but we were the last hope of our entire species. The one fact of life in the Ark-Hive that has not changed in three hundred years: We are all that’s left. We are all we’ve got. And we’re killing each other. Our forefathers poured all their hopes of everything into this place, and we very nearly put a torpedo through it two days ago. This Has Got To Stop!”
It was a simple, evocative phrase, and she grew more passionate every time she said it. It was working. The crowd was nodding, being swayed.
I’ve lost my whole family to the question of who should be in charge, of who’s opinion matters more, and I am sick of it. I’m the Director, and here’s my first command. The War is Over. A war that very few were fighting, but everyone was suffering for. A war that put the innocent in prison, and the heartless in charge. If my father had his way, more than half of us wouldn’t have made it more than ten years. If Don had his way, the other half could say the same. This Has Got To Stop!”
A rumble of agreement.
We’re all we’ve got down here!” Cora said again. “The Surface is liveable. Outside that Dome, above and below the water, there’s a great, big world that needs a little love and attention from all of us. Our ancestors spent centuries making the ocean full of life and hope and vitality. Then we spent a generation or two going to war over it. This Has Got To Stop!”
A louder rumble of agreement. Applause started breaking out.
So, here it is. I’m declaring a General Amnesty. We could spend the next ten years figuring out which Stingray was taking bribes, and which Board Member was pulling strings, and which prisoner was innocent, and on and on and on. But that doesn’t change anything.” Cora declared. “Don spent two years sneaking people out of Circular Quay. I’m calling them all home. No charges, no cuffs, no questions asked. It’s time to bring our lost ones back. And just to show you all I mean it…” Cora walked through the crowd, to the side of the Dome. “Shut It Down!”
Clearly visible to everyone in the Observation Dome, the lights of Circular Quay suddenly shut down. The sight set off a roar of pleasure from the crowd. The Quay had been an axe swinging over everyone for generations.
I’m releasing every prisoner. No more Circular Quay. No more Black Bags. No more Fear.” She pointed towards the Memorial Ship, the wreckage still in front of it. “I’m going back to the surface, and I’m taking my father’s ashes with me.” She declared. “We have to bury our dead, and get on with the job that we always had to do: To make life happen in dead places. We’ve done it before.” She turned to face them. “I know this is a loaded statement to make. We all have more than a few grudges we want to see avenged. But I’m not just speaking to you as your Director. I’m telling you this… as an Orphan. If I can put it behind me, so can you. This Has Got To Stop!” She put her back to the Ocean, looking them all over. “If you agree, let me know it!”
The crowd roared, loud enough to make Cora’s ears ring.
~~/*\~~
It was a good speech.” Tai said to her later. “Reminded people who was in charge, condemned both sides, forgave both sides. Made them all feel sorry for you, and admire you at the same time.”
You pulled it off, boss.” Nix put in.
The three of them had met in Cora’s Quarters. Usually, they would have had this conversation in The Hermit Shell. As Director, she had made sure that her space was one of the few unmonitored places in the Ark-Hive. It was only a matter of time until the monitors were gone completely.
What about our people?” Cora asked, rubbing her neck.
The Aquan Colony called to make sure you were on the level about a General Amnesty. Telling people the Aquan Conspiracy was a myth did a lot to convince them you were going to protect us all.” Tai nodded.
They’ll be back, probably around the same time they empty out the Quay.” Nix put in.
In fact, I should probably go see to that.” Tai put in. “The Colonists that escaped the Quay will need to know how to answer questions. The story we’re going with is that Don was leveraging them. Their lives, in exchange for his experiments. We’ve equated Circular Quay with certain death for so long that’ll stick. As long as nobody says the word ‘mermaid’ we should get away with playing them as Don’s victims instead of Aquan Agents.”
~~/*\~~
22 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
Cora?” Nix called softly. She had a tray of food with her. “You missed chow. Twice.”
Dozing at her father’s desk, Cora blinked slowly and sat up. “Oh. Right.”
Nix put a tray in front of her, pushed the drinking glass into her hand. “You haven’t been taking care of yourself, boss.” She had spoken softly, because Cora looked ten years older. In the few days it had taken to reabsorb the Quay Prisoners, and summon back the Aquans at the Colony, the work towards Landfall hadn’t stopped. Cora had taken almost all of it on herself, with nobody left that could be trusted by both sides. She had drawn up the lists of who would return to the Surface first, and how the Ocean would support them. But Cora’s Agenda lasted for ten years, and she wouldn’t be in the Deep for more than three weeks.
Cora let out a slow breath and answered her Apprentice. “Today we release the results of the Referendum. The vote will be more than 90% in favor of Landfall. The Aquans all reported to Don that they would play along, so that last ten to fifteen percent that voted to stay? Those are people that weren’t recruited, but still wanted the things we want…”
And what about the people who actually voted to go back to the surface?” Nix asked, more curious than worried.
Cora rolled her head back, trying to work the kinks out of her neck as she told her friend the history of things to come. “In a week, we’ll begin Landfall. Pretty much the only part left to plan was to pick who went up first. Now that I’ve revised the schedule and ordered the Cure to be Mass Produced, we can take care of everyone’s problem at at the same time.”
Nix nodded. “How?”
We’ll go to the Surface in Stages.” Cora explained. “Those that stay below for now will support the surface colony, sending food, water, material… Long before our forefathers moved down here, some surface dwellers lived almost entirely off the oceans. It’ll take ten years to make the surface a thriving colony that can support everyone. But we’ll have time.”
Nix bit her lip. “And the Aquans?”
The Aquans will stay below, but nobody will know the real reason why. Tai can handle that.” Cora explained. “Officially, we’ll use the Referendum as a way to call for Volunteers to keep the equipment and the farms and catchment areas running Down Below while we still need them. Unofficially, we know who wants to go, and who wants to stay. Every few months, we’ll transport a new load of people up to the surface. Rigging that schedule will be easy enough.” She smiled. “In five years, nobody on the Surface will realize it, but the only people left in the Ark-Hive will be the Aquans.”
Except for Don.” Nix pointed out.
Don did a lot of evil to get us to this point, but we still need him.” Cora explained. “His sentence for pulling that coup will be to spend the next ten years making the surface liveable. At the end of ten years, it’s possible I’ll have moved on enough to forgive him and let him go back to the ocean.”
Assuming he’ll want to.” Nix pointed out. “When your father announced Landfall, he did it by showing a lot of… well, very beautiful surface things. If Don has a hand in restoring the surface to that, he may want to stay.”
Very possible.” Cora agreed. “In ten years, Tai will announce that the last people on the Ark-Hive will not want to leave.” Cora smiled impishly. “Or, we may declare that there was a catastrophe, and the people below aren’t coming. The majority of people will be on the Surface by then, and they’ll congratulate themselves for getting out of the ocean just in time.”
Who knows, maybe by then it’ll be okay to admit you want to stay in the Deep.” Nix quipped.
Maybe. I hope so. I’d like to think that we could have partnership between the Earthers and the Aquans at some point. But either way, by then the surface Colony will be stable, self-sufficient, and expanding. Population laws will be repealed within five years. By then, there’ll be enough food to go around, and a whole world to stretch our legs in, both above and below the water.”
Nix bit her lip. “Was that always the plan? The Referendum was your idea. You were gearing up to take over before you knew Tai was alive. Were you always planning this?”
In a way.” Cora sighed. “I was in charge of Resource Management at the time. I had hoped that if my Father gave me the Director’s chair, then I could order Landfall to be done in stages anyway. If I could, then I’d quietly move some names around, make sure that nobody knew what was happening until all the Aquans were safely out of reach. An Exodus would have been much easier if the Surface Colony was already running.”
Nix came over and gave her a sideways look. “What about you, boss? Where do you fit into this?”
Cora shrugged like it was no big deal. “There’s nobody else left. My father made no secret of the fact that I was his successor. Outside a few Cell Leaders who know the plan already, nobody knew I was Aquan. As far as the general population cares, a Rogue Board Member failed to pull off a coup, and Landfall will go ahead unchallenged, at a far more sensible pace, now that The Cure is available to everyone.”
With you to lead them. You’ve been a hero to these people since the Cousteau, the Food Riots… And then that scrap between Morgan and your father lets you play Daughter in Mourning, Noble Peacemaker, and War Hero all at the same time. All the Goodwill you’ll need.” Nix smiled. “Your father got his wish. His daughter leading the human race back to the surface. His Dynasty, remembered as the heroes of the future.”
That’s right.” Cora sighed. “Once things are set up there, the Ark-Hive won’t be needed, and the Aquans can have it. All the production, all the equipment… everything they’ll need to expand and colonize the whole Ocean Floor. Nobody will wonder why they stayed ten years longer than the rest of us, because after all… They volunteered to stay.”
Then Don’s Plan B worked too. An Aquan as Director.” Nix said quietly. “Think he expected to spend the next ten years in chains for it?”
I do not.” Cora agreed.
Nix chuckled. “If Don works hard enough, he may actually love it up there. Anywhere you live is home.”
Cora raised her glass. “I’ll drink to that.”
But you didn’t answer my question before. What about you?”
I told Tai it would take at least ten years.” Cora admitted. “He was as sick about it as I was. But with Don coming to the surface in chains, Tai’s needed here. The entire Ark-Hive saw him and me together when my father died. They all know what side he’s on. Every Aquan knows it too. I can’t send anyone else to the surface, and Tai can’t have anyone else wrangle the Cell Groups without starting another fight. Don wiped out every other candidate for Director. But I’m under twenty-five, so I won’t need the Cure… Unless I come back to the Deep in a few years; after the job’s done.” She looked down, a little melancholy. “Ten years, and Tai and I will see each other again.” She gave Nix a crooked smile. “Think he’ll wait for me?”
Nix bit her lip. “Us.” She declared finally. “I’m going with you.”
You don’t have to-”
I know, but… If I go back to the Surface, I can at least take care of my father. I’m still years from the twenty-five mark. Dad may not have that many years left.” Nix held up a hand. “Besides, with Tai staying down here, and Don in a prison uniform the whole time; you’ll need someone.”
She’ll have it.”
Cora and Nix turned, and found Ano in the doorway, having heard most of that. “She will have me.” Ano said seriously. “I promised Meyrna that no matter what, I would keep her baby safe and loved. I failed to keep that promise for a while, but now I have a chance to make that right.” She glanced at Nix. “Besides, I’ve spent my life playing mother to a Director in Training. You’ve spent your life training for life in the Deeps. You tell me, which one makes the most sense to go, or to stay?”
Nix bit her lip, and glanced at Cora.
Cora smiled a little. “Tai’s going to need someone on his side too. There’ll be an awful lot of work to do on this side of the deal. The Ocean will be feeding the Earthers for some time yet.”
~~/*\~~
14 Days To Landfall
~~/*\~~
You understand, right?” Cora said quietly.
Delphi clicked and whistled. A dolphin’s beak was always smiling, but it was clear he wasn’t happy. “Cora leave. Delphi stay with Tai.”
That’s right.” Tai said. “Cora will come back one day.”
After Delphi.” The Dolphin clicked.
Cora said nothing to that. Some dolphins could live up to sixty years. She had told Tai it would take a decade to be sure the Surface Colony would last without her. In reality, she had no idea what would happen.
She and Tai had been swimming with Delphi all morning, saying goodbye to the ocean. They had powered their way in and out of the structure, under the guise of an inspection. The Ark-Hive was in levels, stacked on top of each other. The Domes all floated, geared to make the transition back to the surface easier. She would be taking one section back. Gold Sector, which included the Observation Dome, would become Home Base once it reached the surface.
The Stingray’s Headquarters had originally been the Control Room for the Ark-Hive. Cora had ordered the surveillance shut down, and restored the original purpose. For two weeks, her people had been preparing for launch.
Delphi was the last one to learn that Cora would be leading Landfall after all. Cora felt he took it pretty well. Now, after hours charging around the ocean at breakneck speed, the three of them were sitting on the edge of The Ark-Hive, right at the top of the structure. Cora and Tai were sitting. Delphi was floating between them, more or less at shoulder height.
The Light Water was active again. The new schedule meant that there was still a lot of work to do at the Ocean Floor. There were submarines moving back and forth, divers constantly at work. It was almost like it was six months ago, the last time the three of them went for a swim together.
But Tai wasn’t wearing a full Dive Suit. Circular Quay was being dismantled. The Memorial Ship now included the wreck of her father’s last ride. Whatever happened next, their home and their lives had been changed by the journey. In a few days it would change again.
Cora and Tai didn’t say much. There wasn’t really anything left to say.
But finally, it was time for one of them to go back inside.
You could come with us. At least, for a bit.” Cora offered. “It’ll take two weeks to return to the surface without decompression making our blood fizz. The Domes are all set up to let us decompress on the way. I’m amazed we can raise a whole Sector that precisely, but…” She looked down. “You could come with us, at least for a while. Head back after we cover some distance.”
I could.” Tai agreed, not looking at her. “You could stay a little longer. It’d be fairly easy for you to catch up with the Dome if you stayed a few more days.”
They could both say it, but neither of them had to. They’d said their goodbyes and planned their futures. There was no point dragging it out further. “I’ll come back?” Cora said finally. “No judgements if you can’t wait that long.”
Ten years.” Tai agreed. “No judgements if you end up staying.”
Cora pushed off and swam out a few feet, turning to look back at him. “Love you, Stripes.”
Love you, Shells.”
~~/*\~~
The first group to go back to the Surface was chosen carefully. They were all Earthers, with good health and needed skills. Cora went to the Control Room in full dress uniform, to give the final instructions. Hatches were sealed, elevator tubes were sealed, everything was closed up water-tight. Power feeds were redirected, all of it internalized, and everyone was on standby for falls or breakages.
Then she went to the Observation Dome, where most of the First Wave were assembled. Outside, the ocean was crowded. Dozens of whales, dozens of dolphins, and a huge proportion of divers. This was going to be the most recorded event since the Ark-Hive was founded.
The clock chimed the hour, and every eye swivelled to Cora.
Launch!” Cora commanded.
~~/*\~~
Outside, Tai watched the whole thing, a single tear merging with the ocean. Beside him, in full Dive Gear, Nix was wringing her hands nervously, hoping she’d made the right choice. Then, all at once, there was a crunch that shook the water and made all the dolphins swim in a loop for a moment. But then, with surprisingly gentle movement, the top layer of the Ark-Hive lifted off.
Tai could hear hundreds of people squawking about it around him. Gold Sector was suddenly a submarine the size of their largest Deep Range Outpost. After four hundred years of being as solid as the ocean floor, The Ark-Hive was suddenly in two pieces.
The crowd watched it as it started to move. The initial movement was so gradual that it almost seemed to be drifting. Some of the largest transport submarines, including the ones that Don had tried to steal, were keeping the pace, connected by tethers. They all had supplies for the surface.
It boggled the mind, watching something that huge just… float away.
Another few months, and Green Sector will follow. Tai thought. The room I was born and grew up in will be on the surface.
The whales sang, and began giving chase. So did the dolphins. They were hundreds of miles from where the ocean floor rose to the surface. Home Base would make the trip slowly, decompressing the crew gently. Hundreds of miles laterally, hundreds of meters vertically, on a two week cruise. The animals would escort them for a while, riding in the wake.
The remaining sections of the Ark-Hive still held air production, food processors, and power generation for the Light Water. If all went to plan, the last section, Grey Sector, would never actually leave; but by then nobody would care. Tai considered the new shape of the structure and waved for the rest of those watching. “Alright, back to work!” He called.
~~/*\~~
1 Day To Landfall
~~/*\~~
Don looked up as the door opened, and Cora stepped in. She put a plate of food in front of him. “Are we speaking, yet?”
Don snorted. “I still say the choice of jail cell for me was a little distasteful. The Boardroom? Really?”
What, you didn’t plan to ever return to the scene of the crime?” Cora jabbed.
Cora, this may be hard for you to believe, but I’m not even angry.”
You’re right. It’s hard to believe.”
Ohh, I’m hurt; no question. Obviously, this is not what I wanted for myself. You can say the same.” Don conceded. “But you knew this was my Plan B. You as Director? The minute I heard you declare that I acted almost alone, and that the Aquans were long dead, I knew the whole plan.”
Cora pushed the plate over. “Eat. We surface in about three hours. We’ll have ‘landed’ a half hour after that. That’s when your work really begins.” She tossed a TABB to the table. “There are the most up-to-date probe scans we have.”
Don took it graciously. “One question: When the colony is established, do you plan to go back? You’re under twenty-five. You don’t need ‘The Cure’. You could still take it when you return to The Ocean.”
And, if so, do I plan to take you along?” Cora guessed.
You can’t be surprised by the question.”
Cora looked at him. “I haven’t decided yet.”
Don shook his head, as though amused. “Cora, we’re still on the same side. Two people with an amazing secret, and thousands of lives to save. You know you can’t do it without me.”
I do.” Cora acknowledged. “And you may think there will be statues of you being built down there at some point, but you know you’ll never go back without my approval.”
I do.” He agreed. “But I can wait. I’ve waited my whole life for a chance to live the Aquan Dream. I can wait a few decades more.” He smirked. “Thanks to me, so can everyone else.”
Cora shook her head. “You really are indomitable, aren’t you? How can you possibly declare victory after all this?”
Because you did it, Cora.” He said simply as she walked away. “After years of violence, hiding, half-truths, secret cell groups, and Black Bags; you personally did it. You made sure all our people would be free. You led The Earthers to the surface and you gave The Aquans the Oceans. You achieved The Cause. This is a victory for both of us.”
Cora paused, halfway out the door. Very deliberately, she turned back to him. “You could have done it too, you know.” She said seriously. “If you and dad could have sat down and had one conversation… A straight up swap. The Cure for the Exodus. It would have been so simple.”
Simple. Not easy.” Don countered. “If I had told your father, would he have let us go? You need me on the surface, gene-hacking plants and insects and livestock. Your father wouldn’t have let me leave. He’d be alive, but I’d still be in chains; and you know it.” He gave her a hard look. “Look me in the eyes and tell me there was room for compromise on his part.”
My father’s last words were him begging me to keep going with Landfall, even knowing what I was.” Cora said flatly, genuinely curious now. “But if he had been willing to act in good faith and let us all go; would you have done the same? If he was willing to bend, would you?”
Don considered that. “Probably not.” He admitted.
Cora sighed. “I’m not even surprised.” She rose from the table. “Sad, but for a lot of years, I clung to you as the one who would do the right thing.”
Young blood, Cora. I wonder sometimes if the reason we don’t live forever is because the future needs fresh eyes and fresh ideas every generation.”
I hope so.” Cora observed. “Enough generations of the human race made the same mistakes. Enough that we had to go to the bottom of the ocean for a chance to survive.”
Don looked at the TABB she had left him. “Those Probes have a limited range, you know.” He commented with a wry grin. “They may be a whole city full of humans beyond those mountains, blissfully unaware that the Ark-Hive was ever built.”
Drown the thought.” Cora laughed sickly. “Looked outside lately? The ocean is changing colors.”
Don nodded. “Yeah. We’re coming out of the Euphotic Zone. Natural light can actually reach this deep. I wonder how different our UV lights are from actual sunlight. I may yet be curing more than Weir Syndrome.”
~~/*\~~
Cora came to the Observation Dome. There were always people there now. Most people preferred the Dome to their Quarters when their shift ended. Cora wandered up to Ano, who was bouncing on her toes like a little kid. “Blue!” She told Cora excitedly. “The ocean is blue! Not black!”
Mm.” Cora agreed. “Ben tells me people are collecting samples of shallow-water-fish. They’re smaller than we’re used to, but good eating.” She made a face at Ano. “The human race returns. There goes the neighborhood.”
Ano chuckled. “How long until the Dome breaches the surface?”
Another hour or two. We expect it to be dark, actually. We’ve spent so long in a place beyond sunlight, the clock doesn’t really… I mean, we’ve been on a twenty six hour clock for three hundred years, but never a day/night cycle. It’ll take a while to adjust.”
Twenty four hours.” Ben said, suddenly appearing at Cora’s elbow. “According to the surface probes, twelve hours light, twelve hours dark up here.”
Cora shrugged. “Okay. Longer to get used to the time difference than I thought.” She turned away from the Dome. “What do you need, Ben?”
Our scouts and Sonar Probes have picked up the coastline. We’re trying to pick an appropriate spot for Landing.” Ben reported. “The Pilot’s Guild has a few thoughts, some of the Life Sciences Teams are going over the surface probes… Oh, and your instruction to make the probe scans and pre-Ark-Hive Database available to Public Access is proving popular.”
It remains to be seen if it was also good judgement.” Cora said grimly. “A lot of what was up there… just isn’t anymore. Not until we get to work.”
Yeah.” Ben chewed his lip. “Is it true? Whole freshwater rivers, just… pouring into the ocean? I mean, I’ve heard stories about ‘rain’, and frankly, I don’t know if I believe it. Drinking water just... falling on people outta nowhere?”
Not nowhere.” Cora told him. “From the sky.”
Ben rolled his eyes, like she’d just told him a joke. “The sky. Right. What do you think ‘sky’ is like?”
Don’t know.” Cora admitted. “We’ll find out soon enough.”
~~/*\~~
Landfall
~~/*\~~
Ano had spent almost half an hour trying to find Cora, and finally found her in one of the Science bays. It had been a Blue Sector industry, but it was needed immediately on the surface, so the lab had been packed up, and promoted two sectors. Almost everyone was in the Dome, eyes glued to the highest part of the Dome.
So when Ano came to fetch The Director, she was alone, staring at a large plastic tub. “Cora? I’ve got your UV-Screen paste.”
Cora waved her over. “Look at this. They’re called ‘earthworms’. Don tells me they were borderline extinct three hundred years ago, but when we get busy planting surface crops, we’ll be ready. Hard to believe, all life above the surface depended on worms.”
Life below depended on microscopic organisms. Insects are a promotion.” Ano offered as she rubbed the protective salve into Cora’s exposed skin. “It’s time. You should be there.”
Cora sighed. “How long do you think it’ll take everyone to realize that I’m just faking confidence?”
Ano chuckled. “Your mother asked the same thing once. So did your father, back when he was open about things.” She gave Cora a look. “Besides, you were able to keep ‘faking’ for a good long while. Even to me.”
Cora flushed. “I never apologised, did I? For lying to you?”
Ano gave her a hug. “I decided a long time ago to be the one part of your life that wasn’t wrapped in your ‘destiny’. That hasn’t changed.”
Cora gave Ano a kiss on the cheek, and made her way out. “I don’t deserve you, Ano. But I’m really glad you’re here.”
~~/*\~~
Cora reached the Observation Dome, and walked into a party. Everyone who wasn’t actively on duty was crammed in, watching as the water level slowly rolled down the sides of the Observation Dome like someone rolling back a curtain.
Look!” Someone screeched. “Sky!”
Cora fought to keep her expression even, though she had to admit to being somewhat shattered by it herself. It was immense, and it was everywhere. Cora had never once, in her life, looked up and seen anything but straight darkness. The sky was just an area of water you didn’t bother to swim through since there was nothing there.
But now it was something else entirely.
Ben tugged on her sleeve. “Gold Sector was meant as a Home Base for Landfall. The Gold Sector Quarters are actually terraces. They had covers put on, but they were removed for-”
We can go outside?” Cora breathed and turned to Ano. “All right. Let’s go. Come on, Ben; you too.”
Thank you, ma’am!”
~~/*\~~
Cora had moved her things into her father’s room. Her old bedroom had the Plexiglas walls removed, turning it into a balcony, as it was designed four hundred years before.
Cora had the overwhelming urge to go suit up anyway, but she tapped in her code to unseal the doors, and gasped when they opened. For the first time in her life, for the first time in generations, a human felt the wind on her face. It was so unexpected, she flinched, and so did Ano and Ben, hovering behind her.
Cora rushed out, head craned back. “Davy Jones preserve us all.” She whispered. “Are those… stars?”
I… I think so.” Ano nodded.
They’re beautiful.” Ben breathed. “I never expect-” He clutched at his throat. “What’s wrong with my voice?!” It had dropped a full octave since he’d started talking.
Get used to that, kid.” Cora smiled, wincing a bit as her own voice did the same. “Down at high pressure, we breathe a different ratio of gases in our Air-Mix; because the oxygen content is corrosive. Up here, there’s a much lower helium content in the air. We’ll be sounding like this the rest of our lives.”
Oh, that’s freaky.” Ben moaned a little.
Cora was gazing back at the sky. “Y’know, now that I look at it, it’s not… it’s not really black. It’s more like a really dark blue.” She looked back at them. “It’s amazing.”
Cora and Ano were looking up. Ben was looking down. “Look!”
Cora looked. The water was slapping against the dome, crashing in small, frothy curls. The blue ocean turning white for an instant. “Smaller ships will be tossed around by that. I think it’s called ‘waves’. They’re like getting caught in something’s wake.” She looked forward. “Look at it. The ocean just… Stops. The ocean actually stops, and the sky begins!”
The Horizon.” Ben nodded. “Don told me once that’s where we get the name for the ‘horizon’ instruments on the submarines. This was the first Horizon a sub-driver saw, centuries ago.”
They just stood, and stared at the stars for a while. And then they started to fade.
AGH!” Ben pointed, naked fear on his face.
The Horizon was starting to burn. It was a glow, then a light, then a blaze of color; an explosion of red and pink and yellow and a thousand other colors that Cora hadn’t seen on the Reefs, let alone anywhere else. The sky, a deep nurturing blue, was suddenly exploding into bright fiery white.
Cora stared at it, affected in a deeply primal way. Fire was a death sentence in the Ark-Hive. And now… It stretched from one end of the world to the other.
You should get downstairs.” Ano said in her ear. “Having ‘sky’ burst into flame might be freaking some people out.”
~~/*\~~
Cora came off the elevator, expecting people on the verge of panic, but they weren’t. In fact, they were all silent. Not in a scared of numb way, just… enraptured, captured by the moment. Cora came slowly into the rest of the crowd, and saw they all had more or less the same pose. Standing upright, eyes closed, facing the sun, arms out a bit, palms facing the dome as the light fell on them.
Then Cora felt it herself. Dawn was giving way to day, and she felt it on her skin suddenly. She had never felt warmth from a light source before. It was… nurturing. It felt right. It felt good. Cora let out a breath and closed her eyes, leaning into it like everyone else.
The sky was everywhere. So much of it that she wondered if it might fall and land on them. She could see the clouds, up above. They were moving. The sky was a living, changing thing. It would never be exactly the same again.
The soft, friendly spell lasted for almost an hour, and Cora watched as the ‘sky-fire’ started to fade, until the whole sky had changed into a gentle light blue.
Okay.” Cora admitted aloud. “Maybe this won’t be so bad.”

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


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, or in paperback.