Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 2: The Lost Kingdom of Capitalism
Out in the ocean, there was a city. Not a city in any way that was really recognizable as one-- there were no skyscrapers, or parking-lots, or massive glowing signs. Instead, there were mushrooms: great bulbs of steel on stilts settled down deep on the ocean floor, nestled in the darkness. Graelyn could see them through the thick spotlights being poured on them for her convenience: the massive pieces of architecture that could house far more people than were actually living in them, not that she knew that yet. The bulbs were linked together by tunnels of some transparent thick material that held back the sea, and she was surprised how many windows there were.
“That's Hydrosight.” She could almost hear the words “Trademark” slip out after it, “Its John Aril's invention, a pressure resistant transparent material. Its what they're using on spaceships now-- its really expensive to make, but its as strong as what they make star dreadnaughts out of. Of course the military demands a huge discount, capitalism be damned.” Of course the military did, that was their job as the last real vestige of the United Nations (or any government for that matter) that still existed anymore. Centro Corp tolerated their existence, only in the way one might tolerate any sort of necessary evil. If they could rule the solar system through profit alone, they would. If they could rule the solar system at all they would. Sinking beneath the Atlantic, Graelyn closed her eyes for a moment and felt the rules slipping away. There was no Centro down here, no military, just John Aril's vision.
“Will I get to meet Mr. Aril?”
Dan shook his head, “No, Director Aril is a very busy man.” He emphasized the word Director, and Graelyn knew instantly what kind of man he was.
Director was a very special title, the kind of title everyone on Earth wanted to have, and few would ever get. In a land of equal opportunity, Directors were more equal than anyone else. Once you got the title of Director, you were part of the corporate Oligarchy for life. Some chose to take a direct part of the day to day running of Centro Systems, but most chose to take the title and run with it, using the lack of regulation it provided to essentially do whatever the hell they wanted. And by chance if you were a person who made their underlings correct new underlings about calling you a Director instead of Mister, you were probably an asshole.
“I see.” Said Graelyn. She respected John Aril immensely, he was the kind of person she wanted to be: a free and powerful scientist, no holds barred, doing what they wanted. A fish swam by the viewport, it was blue. She closed her eyes again. Maybe being the kind of person who forced people to call you Director was what she needed to do-- no one would walk on her, no one would push her down... She took a breath, and opened her eyes. The blue fish had swum back, a bit farther away now. “Its amazing you're building a city down here-- do you fish the fishes?” Dan laughed, “You really don't know do you?”
“You don't fish the fishes?”
“This isn't a city. Its a laboratory.” Graelyn blinked, and looked back at the huge steel mushrooms. She'd been anticipating helping to build a sustainable underwater community away from the surface, away from people, away from everything, but she didn't feel betrayed or lied to. Her eyes grew wide. Curiosity grew in her. The cat meowed in its cage on the surface. She turned to Dan, fully invested, not even caring that she really didn't like him at all, “So what are we here for?” He grinned, “I'll show you.”
* * * * *
The bathysphere connected with the station, and Graelyn made her way with Dan through the hallways that alternated between industrial steel with uncovered rivets, to what was nearly aesthetic excess with long corridors of thick transparent material that had works of art molded into its very form so that it was like walking through some sort of witch's ice palace. She supposed the duality fit a man like Aril, she knew very little about him personally, but she knew that he'd modeled his spaceship to have its front shaped the ancient Egyptian God Anubis' head, but was also a keen pragmatist who tolerated little that didn't advance his goal. “A man of art and means.” She muttered, hoping Dan wouldn't comment on it. “Precisely, you see, Aril...” He didn't say anything useful as he droned on for the next few minutes, so I'll spare you. Graelyn didn't have that luxury, and tried to remain polite to the person she'd be in close proximity to for the next... How long would she be down here anyways? Dan put a pass code into a door, placed his hand on a panel that took and tested a sample of his DNA, and stepped aside as the door opened to let Graelyn see exactly what was going on inside.
The door opened to industry: men, women, and people outside the gender binary were hard at work on what looked like a boring steel box the size of a building. Cords were being attached to large ports on the side, and people rushed in and out of a set of doors in the front of it. The area around it was largely paved, with holes for various tubes and cables dotting the artificial landscape. The room was huge and open, which seemed like a big waste of space for the amount of money it would have taken to make underwater, the ceiling had huge transparent sections, so it looked like there was a dark bluish green sky overhead, filled with the occasional wriggling scaly bird. Graelyn stepped into the room, and looked back at Dan, “Okay, I'm interested.”
“This must be the new intern.” She turned again to see a woman wearing the most stereotypical lab coat imaginable, as well as ornate but functional shoes with a moving pattern of an animated sea beast circling her feet, and unusually, also glasses. “Graelyn Scythes?” Graelyn extended a hand, “The very same. Doctor Kalama?” She nodded, “Hiriwa Kalama. You'll be down here for a while unless we have a sudden breakthrough, so we may as well get on a first name basis.” Graelyn nodded, “Of course. I'm a bit sketchy on what exactly we'll be having a breakthrough on however?” Hiriwa grinned, “Well, be prepared to have your socks knocked off.” Graelyn wasn't wearing socks, but whatever. Hiriwa gestured for her to follow her, and began walking towards the building at the center of the room, and was quickly followed.
The building opened up into a scene right out of a science fiction movie: a series of disks like a gyroscope were located at the room's center, spinning slowly. Pipes and cords lead into it from all over the room, some of which glowed a distinctive light blue. “This is the great experiment, the real reason we're all down here. Can you guess what its for?” Graelyn looked at the slowly rotating device, and furrowed her brow. The design was strange-- there had to be a reason for the twisting gyroscopic motion of the disks, but the gyroscope wasn't stabilizing anything, she could see, and didn't seem to be outputting any data.
“Don't force her to figure this out Hiriwa, I wouldn't be able to guess in her position.” All heads turned, and several people suddenly began to look much more productive. “Mr. Aril, I'm surprised to see you here.” Hiriwa said without a hint of inflection. He waved his hands dismissively.
“So you're the new intern then? I've got to warn you, you'll mostly be carrying coffee.”
“Comes with the job, sir,” She replied curtly.
“Eh, you can cut with that. We all know why we're here. But you seem curious, and that's a trait I want in my employees. So then, I am curious what you were about to guess?”
“I figure that the gyroscopic disks are meant to stabilize something they are also generating. I don't know what though.” He gave the thinnest smirk, which on his face gave the impression of a full faced grin. “Clever girl. Yes, that is what it does. But why I'm trying to do this would baffle most. Now, do you know why we're underwater?” Graelyn could see Hiriwa rolling her eyes as Aril did exactly what he'd said not to do. “No sir, not a clue.”
“The crushing pressure of the ocean is actually used to power the station, along with nuclear reactors naturally, but there is another reason. The underwater location gives us an advantage in the type of research we're doing, as we're trying to tap into some of the fields that underlay the universe itself, to cut through them to the other side.” Graelyn naturally raised an eyebrow.
“You're... You're trying to... Mess with the fabric of space somehow?”
“Not just mess with it. Since I was a little boy I've always known I wasn't alone. I've had this feeling that there was another version of me, trying to find me, trying to reach his hand out far enough to raise me up.” Graelyn looked over at Hiriwa, whose face was stoic.
“I can feel the tug through the space beneath me, I just need to cut through somehow, and there I'll be. Another reality.” Graelyn tried very hard to figure out what facial expression she should be making.
“Oh.” She said. Aril chuckled, “It sounds ludicrous, but its a certainty that other realities besides ours exist. We're trying to touch them.” She walked toward the device, and ran her narrow fingers down the metal. “How did you get Centro's approval for this? They would never-”
“Of course I didn't get Centro's approval. I don't need them to like me. I'm an innovator, and this will be something that will last beyond all of us.” He walked next to Graelyn, and put his hand on top of hers. “We're going to do this. Hiriwa, why don't we show her our progress.” Hiriwa gestured to a man in a labcoat with dreadlocks who began flipping switches. “You might want to step back.” The disks began spinning faster, and the cords glowed blue. In the center of the gyroscope, a single pinprick of light appeared, and then as they grew faster, expanded. They spun faster and faster and then they stopped moving, and the ball of light began to flatten out into something like a pane of light, shimmering like a lake. For a moment, Graelyn thought she saw figures through the disk, but then the light collapsed, and the machine shut down after trying to stabilize it.
“We're so close.”
“I saw something on the other side.” Graelyn said, her eyes like full moons.
“Of course you did. So then, are you in?”
“I'm in.” She said, and she believed, “We're going to get this done. We'll solve this problem. Its just out of our grasp and we'll figure this out!”
“That's a good girl.” Aril crooned, “But first, we need some lattes.” Graelyn had no idea where the coffee maker was, but she walked off to find it with her head held high. With her here, they'd no doubt get to the bottom of this problem in no time!
One year later.
Graelyn spun around in her desk chair, over and over again, she tried to keep her head twisting like a ballerina in order to avoid being dizzy, but she very much failed at that task and found herself getting very woozy. Kicking off one of the desks to send the chair into another rotation, missed the blip on the radar. She kept spinning, and then pushed off the console with her legs, and spun the chair faster around the center of the room. Ten minutes passed like this, then Graelyn got up, and put the coffee grounds in the machine. She was very careful about the process, if halfhearted, and made sure the measurements were precise. Then she spun around the room some more, and let out a droning “ugh.” Finally, the coffee was ready, and she poured several tall cups, fixed them to the drinker's specifications by memory, and grabbed her wireless earbuds. Popping them in, she pulled out her tablet and selected a song, “Miracle Goodnight” by David Bowie, the usual choice. She let the first few beats sink into her system, and balancing a tray of cups on each hand, slipped out of the monitoring room. Alone in the slick glass and steel hallways, Graelyn began to bob, her feet getting into the rhythm of the music.
“Heart tell me, turn it around. Head tell me, make it alright, nobody dancing--
She broke out into a dance, passing the statue of Artemis, and then instantly stopped as she entered Dan's office. She set his coffee on his desk silently as he examined a chart of something, and slipped back out, breaking back into her groove as soon as she was out of sight. She repeated this process, looping the song again since she was into it, as she dropped off the other cups of coffee. Yossara's, Jerry's, Layla's, Hiriwa's, Director Aril's... She caught glimpses of documents on desks; space/time fabric theories, something about a '2227 incident', none of it lingered on as she floated. Through the glass hallways, she danced to the melody, free of the coffee she slid around corners, and began to do some more complex moves, jamming all the way back to her office. The fishes got quite a show for certain. It was like a reverse aquarium.
“Ragged limbed and hungry mama, miracle no more.”
She sat back down, and began to spin in the chair again. Day in day out. She almost missed the radar again, but as she turned she caught the movement out of the corner of her eye. Still spinning. she stopped herself, and tried to focus on what was on the radar screen as the world shifted slowly back into focus. Lots of things showed up on the radar, but nothing like that. For one thing, it was descending way too rapidly, and wasn't waggling around like a big fish. Something must have fallen from the sky and plopped right down through the depths of the ocean to say hello in an uncontrolled and deadly plummet. She first pressed the wrong button on the console, and cursed, but then hit the comm button, “Hey Jerry, anything scheduled to be dropped from the surface for some reason around here?” Jerry was silent for a moment, and she heard the sound of crunching popcorn. “Uh, no. I don't think we've ever had something like that scheduled ever?”
“That's what I thought, thanks.” She flipped the switch off. Alright then, not a normal occurrence. She'd been down here a year with nothing to show for it. She was seventeen now, and her time separated from the rest of the world was beginning to show on her. She thought a lot about her cat, and how Mr. Sprinkles was doing, she thought about hypothetical people she could have been friends with, inventing them whole cloth. There was Tannis, a dark skinned pre-med student who she could talk about biology with, but also classical Opera, something she'd had a bit of trouble with, and he could sweep her off and show her how to appreciate it, or Angela, a light skinned woman her own age with too many freckles in a band over her nose who loved to exercise and scale mountains. She imagined these friends, and their adventures together, but in reality she was mostly in this room watching the monitoring equipment, spinning in her chair, occasionally leaving to make coffee.
“Jerry, I'm going to take one of the mini-subs.”
“Uh, don't you need clearance for-”
“Oh come on, seriously? When was the last time anyone cared about clearance.”
“Aren't you underage to drive it?”
“I've driven them plenty of times when you weren't giving me grief, and I'm going to now once you shut up. I was just letting you know.” She turned the comm off, and started walking to the sub bay while Jerry ran his fingers through his hair in worried confusion. It was easy enough to do anything on the base if you just acted like you were allowed to do it. She stripped her clothes off and put on a wetsuit, then hopped into one of the docked minisubs. It was a strange looking little thing, with a big viewport, floodlights, maneuvering jets, and two mechanical arms she could control from the inside. She could tell that it was bought from an old scrapyard, or maybe a navy sale, but it worked. She closed the hatch, checked the pressure, and shot off into the murky beyond. The darkness enveloped her, and as she realized what the plummeting object was, she couldn't have been more surprised. The floodlights took it fully into view, and she made out arms and legs.
Check back here next Thursday, July 23rd, to find out what Graelyn found at the bottom of the ocean! (And don't be afraid to talk about this chapter in the comments!)
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