Authors: Annie Oldham
Tags: #apocalyptic, #corrupt government, #dystopian, #teen romance, #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #little mermaid, #Adventure, #Seattle, #ocean colony
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Copyright © 2011 Annie Oldham
Cover design by Renee Barratt
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For Maggie—my own Jessa—thank you for everything
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The world as we knew it ended in a bang. That was a
hundred years ago when the first rumblings of World War III started
up, and a rumble was all it took. All the countries that said they
never had or had already powered down their nuclear weapons let
loose in one fell swoop and
! There goes the
Luckily, I guess, I am a marine biologist’s
great-granddaughter. After the crisis in Iraq was winding down and
things looked like they might actually be relatively peaceful for a
while, a group of scientists from all over the world got
mechanical engineers, civil engineers, doctors, you name it—and
started coming up with a plan. The basic gist was this: if anything
like a global catastrophe were to occur, is there anywhere safe on
Earth? And all they came up with was the ocean floor.
So they started building. They got funding with
grants detailing studies into the life cycles of the weird
creatures that deep, how the oceanic plates moved, and finding
alternative energy sources. No one flat-out said they were looking
to colonize, and nobody asked. They were selfish about it (not all
of them, but those who were more altruistic were quickly shushed),
being careful who they told and what investors and builders they
used, because the last thing they wanted it to look like was a
replay of the Titanic—they were obviously first-class passengers
and everyone else on the planet was steerage.
They built their first colony in the Pacific Ocean
next to the Mariana Trench. Five hundred people went to live
there—mostly the scientists and their families, including my
great-grandfather (the marine biologist) and my grandmother, who
was twenty at the time. They just fed their friends and family some
bogus moving story and gave them phony addresses.
Then five years after that, another colony was built
in the Atlantic Ocean next to the Puerto Rico Trench. And soon
every couple years another colony or two would pop up somewhere
else. By the time of the Event (when all the bombs went off), there
were fourteen colonies scattered throughout the earth’s oceans.
I was born sixteen years ago to a marine biologist
dad and a nutritionist mom. Everyone is an
down here. I
think it makes them feel that they deserve to be down here instead
of up there. My dad also happens to be the speaker for the Mariana
Colony. My grandma was before him, and now my dad is. It’s like
being governor. Sure it sounds important, but when you live down
here, everyone sounds important. There are just a lot of jobs to
I hate it.
Especially on days like today when I don’t have
school, I don’t have my scheduled “introspection” time, I don’t
have my field studies. I don’t have
to keep my mind
occupied. I just have my job. Everyone gets a job when they’re
twelve—selected “with all your aptitudes and interests in mind”—and
most of them stick with it. I’m on my fifth job since then—I
changed every year. Well, I guess I should admit I changed twice in
one year, too.
I’ve tried structural design, but I fell asleep about
five times before they decided to switch me. I tried medicine, but
no one liked my bedside manner. After old Earl Kather finally
marched to my dad’s office with his gown hanging open in the back
and complained, they
gave me another job. I tried
culinary arts, but after I burned some hot chocolate, the sous chef
rolled his eyes and shooed me away for the last time. I’ve tried
marine biology like my dad, but I hate going down the Trench. There
are beacon lights every fifty feet for the first quarter mile, and
after that it’s nothing but blackness. There’s too much of that
living down here. I didn’t want any more.
My current vocation is agriculture. Yes, dress me up
in overalls and give me a straw hat. Well, not quite. (Though
that’s not how it was when the bombs went off—or so Rint Klein, my
history teacher, tells me.) I wear a solar radiation suit. The
lights we have over our artificial fields simulate real sunlight,
so if I were in there for too long, I’d get a sunburn just like if
I was on a beach. I guess up on the Burn (that’s what we call the
land) they had something called sunscreen, but then some
dermatologist down here designed the solar radiation suits and said
they were much more effective protection. Sometimes I want to smack
Today is my work day, and I go to the pod that opens
onto Field #3. The fields are huge domes that sit half in the
colony and half under the crushing ocean. If you were to look down
on us from above, you’d see five fields all bubbling out on the
west side of the colony. The field is covered in a big dome of
UVA/UVB filtering borosilicate, so you can peek in at what’s
growing, but the solar radiation can’t escape and toast everyone
walking by. There are temperature regulators, solar lamps, and air
regulators all hanging from the top of the dome. You go through the
door of the pod, and then there’s a door on the opposite side that
leads to the field. The pod is a small room about ten feet square
with lockers on one side for the workers for this field, a bench
down the middle of the room, and showers on the opposite side.
I run a hand through my short, black hair and stuff
the helmet on my head. I talk my claustrophobia into submission. My
therapist (which we are all required to see at least monthly) said
the claustrophobia would ease up as I got used to the suit. I’m
thinking I might be in for another vocation. That’ll be three in
one year. I will never live it down.
My sister, Jessa, and my friend Brant walk in through
the sliding door, grab their suits from their lockers, and suit up.
Jessa looks just like me—black hair (but hers is long—luxurious,
some girls call it), green eyes, short but strong—but where my skin
is fair bordering on translucent, hers is coppery. She got that
from my mom.
Jessa is my only sibling. I should have four more
sisters, but things happened. There’s a law down here—each couple
can only have two kids. Something about sustainable populations and
all that. But when my mom and dad got pregnant and went to their
first prenatal appointment, the doctor told them they were having
sextuplets. My mom was so happy she started crying. She’d always
wanted a big family, and knew it wasn’t possible. Maybe this was
how it needed to happen. But my dad, Mr. Speaker of the Mariana
Colony, just worried about what it would do to his reputation—the
speaker who broke laws.
He pulled the doctor aside and asked what could be
done. The doctor just stared at him. When my dad explained his
concern, the doctor said that surely this would be an acceptable
breach of protocol. A couple in another colony five years ago had
triplets, and that was allowed. People treated it almost like a
fulfillment of prophecy or something. My dad asked if aborting four
of the fetuses was possible. The doctor said no one in his right
mind would condescend to that kind of murder. So he talked my dad
down. When my mom went into labor six months later, four of the
babies were stillborn, and my sister and I were the only ones who
made it. My dad held us like a miracle—like we had something to do
with upholding the laws—and he fawned over my mother who gave us to
him. To hear my grandma tell it, he was a doting husband and loving
father, and my mother couldn’t ask for anything more. But then my
mom found out about what happened with the doctor. With four of my
sisters being stillborn and only two surviving, my mom grew
depressed and then suspicious. She moved out of our quarters. When
that wasn’t far enough, she left the colony. Said she was going to
the Puerto Rico Trench colony, half way around the world. But my
dad never heard from her again. No one really knows where she ended
It tore my dad up, and he threw himself into his
work. My grandma moved in to help out. And now I have to live with
two speakers of the colony. Sure one’s retired, but it feels like
they’re both on active duty.
My dad never told me this dark chapter of his past. I
know about it through the colony’s archives. Everything down here
is recorded and kept for posterity, if you know how to access it.
You really can’t have a moment’s peace.
“Terra, what’s wrong?” Jessa asks. She shakes me
right out of that reverie. I flip down my visor and it clicks into
place. She carefully ties her long hair into a knot and puts on her
helmet. Jessa knows me so well. She can’t even see my face through
the visor, and she already knows something is bugging me.
“Nothing.” My voice crackles through the microphone
and into her ear piece under her helmet. “Just wanting to get this
over with. Again.”
“Liar. And if you actually tried to like it, it might
not be that bad, you know.” She reaches out a gloved hand and
almost touches me.
I can just imagine her motherly look under that
helmet, the look she’s given me her whole life. But strangely, I
don’t mind it. Most other people try to be protective (my Dad’s a
pro at being protective), and I shut off. Not with Jessa. I don’t
feel like she is condescending. I just feel like she cares.
“I don’t care if you like it or not,” Brant says,
grabbing an aerator. “Let’s just get this done fast so we can hit
the Juice Deck if we have time.”
Jessa raises her visor and kisses him. She grabs a
pair of pruners and a bucket and turns to me. Her eyes are bright
after the kiss. She snaps her visor back in place.
“You up for irrigation monitoring today?”
I sigh. “Again?”
“It beats fertilizer testing.”
That is true. All the colony’s fields are fertilized
with pelagic sediment. At least that’s what the marine biologists
call it. We call it “the ooze.” Or “the crud.” Or the “gross stuff
on the ocean floor.” The ocean floor at this depth has this layer
of shells, animal skeletons, and decaying plants and stuff. It’s
yellowish, and well, oozy. There are people whose job it is to go
out and actually harvest the stuff. Blech. At least that hasn’t
been one of my many vocations.
When it’s my day to do fertilizer testing, I just
stand around vats of the stuff with big rubber gloves up to my
shoulders and poke around in it and take samples to test to make
sure it’ll help our veggies be good for us. Then I usually start
thinking about how eating one our tomatoes is just like slurping a
big glass of the ooze. Gross. Best not to think of it. Better yet,
best not to even be on the fertilizer testing schedule. I might
need a vocation change sooner than I thought.
But I suck it up and go into Field #3 with Jessa and
Brant. The field is full of corn. Brant walks around with the
aerator, poking holes in the soil around each plant, being
meticulous not to damage roots. Brant definitely has what it takes
to be a good agriculturist, and I admire him for it. He knows what
he wants and goes for it. He never founders.
Jessa takes her pruners and cuts off any dead or
sad-looking plant parts and puts them in the bucket. They’ll go to
fertilizer processing to be added to the composter. Jessa is pretty
good at farming, too. Not like Brant—he definitely has the touch.
Her speciality is fertilizers and stuff like that, how to feed the
plants to make them the most nutritionally dense. Jessa actually
being on fertilizer testing. She has my mom’s knack
I make sure that all the plants are equally watered
and then adjust the irrigation system controls. Even though I could
give her a hard time about it, I appreciate Jessa giving me this
job. It requires the least amount of finesse.
As I examine the soil around a plant with browning
leaves, Jessa sidles up next to me, absently trimming at the same
plant with her pruners.
“For real, Terra, what was bugging you back
I sigh. The temperature control in my suit whirs to
life as the thermometer reaches 75 degrees. Except during
exercises, I don’t think I have ever sweat a day in my whole life.
Everything around here is micromanaged.
“Do you ever feel trapped down here? Like there’s
nowhere to go except where everyone else wants you to?”
“It hasn’t gotten any better, has it?”