Issue 104 – May 2015

5310 words, short story

For the Love of Sylvia City


Slime criss-crosses AMX-5. I ease a snail from the cable’s sheathing. I doubt something this small is causing the communication anomalies with Sylvia City, but I promised my podsisters I’d examine our outpost’s section of the cable again.

I put one snail after another into the masticator floating at my side. Each gastropod I find on the cable suffers the same fate. Just removing the snails wouldn’t be good enough. The ones I tagged when I first noticed them a few weeks ago found their way back to eat the algae that’s started growing along the cable sheathing. Ending a snail’s life isn’t like killing a whale. Snails don’t sing about their history, but I’d rather not harm something that’s managed to survive in these conditions.

The ocean pushes at me more than usual. I’m only twenty meters below the water line and just five kilometers from where AMX-5 enters the ocean. On scalesuited knees, I sink down to stable ground free of the trash littering most of the continental shelf. My mandatory service posting is closer to the dryland world than I ever wanted to be.

Since my first month at the outpost, I’ve used my free time to bioremediate and disperse the waste in the immediate vicinity of the cable. My podsisters, Daniella and Fatima, have their own tasks and interests. Time in the shallows degrades their health. Removing the trash beside our outpost’s section of the cable was my own special project. With authority and supplies, neither of which I have, I’d set up carbonic acid converters like the ones cleaning the ocean around Sylvia City. Converters would make a real difference. My trashless swath along AMX-5 is nice to look at, but it’s nothing permanent. A few weeks after my service ends, the dryland trash that floats down from above and creeps along the benthos will again cover the cable.

Steel shows on a section of AMX-5 where snail slime has eaten through. Snails still swarm the breach, which is strange. They usually detach before they get too far into the cable’s magnetic field. Turning my greenlamp up to full, I lean in for a closer look. Real Benthans wouldn’t do that, but my dryland eyes never seem to gather enough light.

A scan indicates that water’s only pushed a few millimeters into the sheathing. My instruments detect no electric current. The cable sometimes loses power but never for very long. I check the time. My journey back to the outpost will take half an hour in the Nidaria, my snug submarine vessel. If I’m late, Dannie will worry, but a superficial repair like this one won’t take long. I expand a drycage over the damaged section of AMX-5 and evacuate the water inside. I begin to peel back cable sheathing layers, some living, some inanimate.

This is my 227th repair. At 228, I’ll have mended the cable once for each month since Sylvia City took me in nineteen years ago. I haven’t told anyone about the tally, not even Dannie. She’d say I’m keeping track for the wrong reasons, and she’d insist I don’t owe Sylvia City more than anyone else does. But she doesn’t know what it means to be born on dry land.

I was an infant when my parents fled with me to the ocean floor. Sylvia City had already turned away thousands of Carbon War refugees after the first few hundred tried to spread the dryland conflict to the benthos. But my mild-mannered parents were engineers with the skills to fix Sylvia City’s overburdened environmental systems. My parents were welcomed. I was let in, too. I have no memory of life beyond the ocean floor, but growing up, I was known as the last dryland refugee. Ten thousand cable repairs can’t erase that fact.

I try to focus on my work in the drycage. I’m careful to place tools so they don’t nick my scalesuit. In the shallows where I’m working, the weight of water won’t crush someone in a compromised scalesuit, but carelessness is a bad idea. The ocean holds too many dangers.

Sharks were once the greatest threat on the Blake Plateau. Now, threadfin drones are. They look like fish, but they travel alone, and they’re made of metal. Built by drylanders to spy on one another, threadies explode when they come near people in the water. Only a drylander would blow something up to guard a secret. Shrapnel from an explosion can slice through a scalesuit and the person inside it.

I’m never close enough to a threadie to worry about the blast zone. Marksmanship is the only thing I’ve ever excelled at, so Sylvia City decided my mandatory service would be at the outpost with the most threadie contact. Since the end of the Carbon War, when AMX-5 was still a vital communication link between the wet and the dry land, Sylvia City has kept her promise to maintain the cable. I wouldn’t have tried so hard to impress anyone with my ability to shoot a compressor gun if I’d known the reward would be six months living this close to the shore.

My thoughts drift ahead to the 228th repair. I wonder what it will be. I don’t know if anything will be different after I complete it.

Red light flashes across my scalesuit eye coverings and resolves to a dot that indicates something unknown fifty meters away. I’m about to be delayed. The approaching object would have to be at least as large as a threadie for my proximity alert to detect it. I have no way of knowing how big it is or if it’s anything more than a large piece of trash, but I know it’s coming closer. With the water so churned up today, I can only see twenty meters. I wait for the object to change direction. It doesn’t.

I’d rather be safe than shredded or bitten. I hurry through this repair’s last steps and turn off my greenlamp. Sharks notice bright lights. So do threadies. I reach for my compressor gun, which is already charged to fire. I only need one shot to destroy a threadie. Twenty meters of visibility will give me plenty of time. But if a shark’s approaching, I’ll need multiple re-charges to deter one of those mutated creatures. The compressor takes time to ready after each shot. The crushed snails in the masticator will speed up the process, but I don’t know how much. For a moment, I hope this part of the ecosystem is too compromised to foster apex predators. It’s a shameful thought, one a real Benthan would never have.

Sensing heightened tension, a layer of my scalesuit breather tries to push past my lips and into my throat where it can protect me from drowning. I’ve never needed the device as a throat-breather, though I’ve had to cough it out of my windpipe many times. It’s only a distraction now. I bite down to stop the breather’s intrusion. The device pulls back to sit atop my nose and mouth where it belongs. The thing in the water is forty meters away now.

The Nidaria is closer, but in the other direction. I resist the urge to turn and swim to my vessel. Predators often attack from behind. I swipe my scalesuit to release an olfactory neutralizer to help disguise my location from a shark. The neutralizer won’t affect a threadie if I’m in its path. My compressor gun is primed to fire.

I stare into the wide, watery darkness. My proximity alert shows the object’s approach is slowing. It might be preparing to attack. My knees press into the ocean floor. I’m breathing too hard. I curse my lack of benthic enhancements.

The neutralizer isn’t having an effect. Whatever’s approaching can’t be a threadie because it’s moving from side to side. Threadies travel on a set path that rises and falls through the ocean’s photic layer. The pattern of movement on my proximity alert doesn’t make sense. The distance to the object shrinks to thirty meters. I still can’t see it.

Dread sucks the moisture from my mouth. I realize my mistake. I was looking in the middle of the water column. My gaze rises to the water’s surface. Waves show as gray-black shadows. Just at the limit of my vision, something resolves. I think I recognize it. I should lower my compressor gun, but I hold it steady. Noise disappears. My thoughts race faster than time should allow. What I see is more startling than a threadie or a shark.

A boy falls toward the ocean floor. His mouth is open. He can’t be more than six years old. He still has all his limbs. He might have only just drowned. Tattered clothing made of sea plants marks him as a scavenger child from one of the defunct oil platforms. The nearest is kilometers away.

If the boy only went under a moment ago, I could save him. I could swim up to him before he falls too far. I could break the water’s surface for the first time in my memory. I could revive him with filtered air from my own lungs and the press of my scalesuit-covered hands against his chest. I could breathe the fetid air above. I could push that air into the boy’s body. I could wait for the boy to breathe again. I could fight to keep my own head above the watery embrace that’s held me safe all these years. I could give the boy back his life and let the poisons in the air above steal a little of my own. I could throw away nineteen years of trying to feel like a real Benthan. Or I could let the boy die.

Sound disappears. The water’s roiling slows. My thoughts cavitate.

I know what to do.

Noise like color blazes around me. I swipe my scalesuit for a rapid ascent. I soar. I catch the boy’s sinking form. I increase my scalesuit’s buoyancy. The boy and I shoot toward the ocean’s surface. We burst above the water line. A swell pitches us toward the sky. The light blinds. My scalesuit eye coverings can’t compensate for the glare. I squint against the pain. If I were a real Benthan, my retinas would be ruined. My eyelids squeeze shut. The pain recedes. I blink and can see again.

The ocean’s surface crashes onto itself. Swells break into whitecaps. My scalesuit’s buoyancy helps me keep the boy’s head above water. His body is limp. If his heart beats, I don’t feel it. I want to believe he only just went under. I put his back against my front and begin to compress and release his chest. His clothing pulls apart beneath my motions. A rash—red, raw, and bleeding—covers his head and shoulders. The wounds are almost familiar. The rest of his body shows the blue-gray pallor of hypothermia.

I peel off a layer of my breather and set it across the back of my scalesuit-covered hand. The bud needs a moment to grow. I suck as much filtered air into my lungs as they will hold. I stroke the breather parent protecting my own airways. I roll it to the side. Cold water sprays the skin of my exposed nose and mouth. I pinch the boy’s nostrils closed. My mouth seals over his. I blow clean air into his clogged lungs. I pump his chest again. I gulp at the dryland air. It tastes of acid. I force this polluted air into the boy. The inside of my nose burns.

I will the boy to live. In his slack features, I imagine a benthic future for him, one that knows the rhythms of the deep ocean.

I feel movement in his chest. The water pitches us around. The boy convulses. I hold onto him. Together, we rise on a wave. He gurgles and begins to cough. He vomits. I turn from his bilious spray.

The shore five kilometers away comes into view. I’ve seen images of what that landscape should look like. AMX-5’s power station should be visible on a peninsula. Just beyond that, buildings should rise from streets clogged with traffic. A latticework of rail lines should weave between the middle stories of skyscrapers and across the tops of shorter buildings. Transportation vehicles should zip around. Aerial crafts should dot the sky.

The shore looks nothing like that. Reality wobbles. The child shuddering in my arms begins to slip away.

AMX-5’s power station seems intact, but the shore beyond is a calamity. Black smoke streams from a dozen buildings and gathers above the city. Flames spark orange and yellow in too many places to count. Rail cars wait motionless in the middle of elevated lines or lay crashed atop automobiles glinting below. No evacuation sirens sound. No instructions to shelter blare. Not a single rescue craft circles a flaming building. The greater distance holds more smoke.

The world has seen this before. I have, too, in documentaries about the Carbon War. The boy’s rash suddenly makes sense. He’s been exposed to carbon weapons fire, though he was outside the weapon’s immediate range. His head and shoulders must have been above the water line when a pulse deployed, but he was far enough away not to be turned to ash. The ocean protected the submerged portion of the boy’s body the same way it protected Sylvia City when I was an infant. Air conducts carbon weapon pulses. Water doesn’t. People die, but infrastructure remains in place.

New worry seizes me. A haven that persists from one apocalypse to another might look even more to refugees like a promised land. Just as before, anyone who can follow AMX-5 from the shore into the water will soon set upon Sylvia City. This time, the drylanders might be more forceful about bringing weapons and conflicts. The whale song halls might not survive.

I hold tighter to the boy. His terrified gaze darts around. My lips begin to burn. I press them together. I’ve read about what a secondary carbon rash feels like, but this is the first time I remember experiencing one. I’m lucky only my lips touched the boy’s flesh. Salves can mitigate the pain of my secondary rash, but in a few days, my scalesuit will die from having touched the boy in so many places. With his primary rash, the boy’s medical need will be so great that only doctors in Sylvia City will be able to save him.

An airplane appears just above the swells. The craft flies in halting, predatory bursts parallel to the shore.

Flecks of ash like graphite tears smear the boy’s face. My exposed skin must look the same. Ash from dead drylanders and burning buildings is in the air. Millions might have died already. Their remains will rest momentarily on the ocean’s surface before precipitating through the pelagic to fall—inedible and useless—to the benthos.

The ocean will suffer greater injustice than ashes though. Carbon weapons release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. So do survivors willing to burn anything they can find for warmth and cooking fuel. Like the last time, the ocean will attempt to absorb it all. The water’s acidity will shoot up. Great colonies of plants and animals will die. New, sickly species will add to the ranks of mutated sharks, thin-shelled snails and algae that grows where algae shouldn’t be able to grow.

Sylvia City has ways to prepare herself and her environment. She can mitigate some initial carbonic acid effects, but she needs to deploy her defenses while the danger is still in the ocean’s upper layers. Panic squeezes the breath from my chest. I hope Sylvia City knows what’s happened.

The airplane turns toward the ocean and drops low to hover a few kilometers away near an oil platform. People must have been detected. I can’t look away from what’s about to happen, but the boy has seen enough. Despite his coughing, he buries his face in my neck.

A blast shoots out from under the airplane’s wings. The area in front of the craft undulates with the pulse, which makes contact with the platform. Anyone who was alive is ash now.

I’ve been above the water line too long. I check that the breather bud on my hand is ready. I lean back so I can see the boy’s face. In my scalesuit, I must seem strange to him, but my differences are nothing compared to what people from Sylvia City look like.

“I’m going underwater,” I tell the boy. His eyes are bloodshot. “To Sylvia City. I can give you something to let you breathe in the water. You’ll be able to get to the shore, but you’ll need treatment for what the carbon weapon did to you. Sylvia City can help. If you come with me, you’ll have a home for the rest of your life, but you’ll be different from everyone else. Always. Or you can go back to the dry land.”

The plane finds a boat and prepares to unleash another blast.

“Do you want to come with me?” I say.

The boy’s chin trembles.

“I don’t want to die again,” he says.

I smile. Pain needles my lips.

“Hold still,” I say. I peel the breather bud from the back of my hand. The boy’s eyes widen. I set the breather over his nose and mouth. The breather’s edges pulse along his flesh to find the shape of his face. His eyelids pinch together with the sensation. I hold tight to him. The airplane flies toward us. A low hum grows in the air and threatens to roar.

“Bite down,” I say. The boy misses his opportunity. The breather dives into his throat. I stop the boy from clawing at his neck. The waves toss us around. The airplane nears. I stroke my breather so it will sit over my mouth and nose. I shift the boy to my back. He clings to me like I might let him go. The plane slows to hover. The boy’s fingers dig into my scalesuit. The benthos calls to me. With the boy, I dive.

Water gasps and echoes around us. Light dims. Alive, we sink toward the benthos.

My scalesuit protects me from the ever-colder water layers, but the boy has nothing to keep him warm until I can get him into my emergency scalesuit back in the Nidaria. More pain lies in his future. His new-grown breather pulls oxygen from the water and stops his lungs from compressing, but his eyes and ears have no such protection. Barotrauma is inevitable.

We reach the ocean floor. I turn on my greenlamp and squint into the depths. A field of trash shows, but not AMX-5. Surface waves must have pushed me away from the cable. I swipe my scalesuit to search for AMX-5’s magnetic field. It should be detectable within three kilometers. Nothing shows on the display. I can’t have moved so far in such a short amount of time.

Something about the snails on the cable earlier nags at me. I’ve never seen them gorge so deeply, like they’d been eating algae and sheathing for hours.

Finally, I understand. The cable’s power isn’t intermittent. It’s completely gone. The power station must have been damaged on the inside. Despair bubbles through my thoughts. My podsisters at the outpost don’t know what’s happened on the dry land, and neither does Sylvia City. Preparations haven’t started.

The boy’s hold at my neck loosens. The rash, the cold, and the water pressure are taking their toll on him. I have to find the cable and the Nidaria beside it. I need to warn Sylvia City about the new war.

I bite back my breather and try to think. The murky water torments me. Somewhere, the cable is waiting.

One direction seems to hold a little less trash. I swim that way. With an arm on the boy at my back, my progress through the water is slow. My greenlamp eats the darkness and extrudes it in my wake. The density of trash lessens. I’m drawn toward the swath of ocean floor I cleaned.

AMX-5 comes into view. Something hits me from behind. I’m knocked forward. I lose hold of the boy. I reach for my compressor gun. It’s still primed to fire. A reef shark circles. The mutated creature is over three meters long. It turns toward the boy, who drifts like he’s unconscious or already dead.

I point my compressor gun at the shark and fire. The blast hits the shark in the gills. The stunned creature swims away. I slot the gun into my masticator, bulging with snail sludge.

I swim toward the boy. He’s not moving. The shark returns. The compressor gun is charged. I hope Sylvia City will understand what I have to do. I fire.

I blow the shark apart. Blood clouds the water. Fish chunks spin past. I cup a few large pieces and press them into the masticator. I start the energy transfer to the compressor gun again. The blood scent will attract other predators, but I’ll be ready if anything else emerges from the depths.

The boy and I have to get out of the water. I need to find the Nidaria. The boy’s eyes are slits. He doesn’t react to my touch. I tuck him under an arm and swim back to AMX-5. I take a chance and swim downslope.

At last, the depths give up the Nidaria. She’s just as I left her, except now she’s the boy’s lifeline. And Sylvia City’s.

I open the Nidaria’s hatch and pull out my emergency scalesuit. I slide the boy into it. Burst capillaries dot his face. I set another breather over his mouth and nose. Edges seal. The scalesuit expels water and shrinks to fit the boy’s shape. If not for the boy’s stunted limbs, he could be any Benthan child behind wide scalesuit eyes.

The boy and I only just fit into the Nidaria, which is designed for one Benthan. Luckily, they’re taller than drylanders and bigger-boned. The hatch sucks closed behind us.

The unconscious boy’s body presses against my legs. I set his scalesuit to parent controls and hydration. His body twitches under the prick of tiny needles filled with water, antibiotics, and nutrition. His scalesuit will warm him and serve as a barrier to stop his primary rash from spreading. The rash my scalesuit and I are carrying won’t spread because they’re secondary. I instruct the boy’s scalesuit to sedate him. I don’t want the boy to wake frightened and in pain. I want the next day of his conscious life to begin healthy in Sylvia City.

I set the Nidaria to follow AMX-5 down the continental shelf to the outpost.

We glide through the water a few feet above the ocean floor. The Nidaria’s pace is slow. Her gills are designed to keep herself and one person, not two, oxygenated. I tune the Nidaria’s hydrophone to the strongest signal it can find. The saddest whale song I’ve ever heard pulses into my ears. The auto-translator picks out the notes that whales use to refer to Sylvia City and sanctuary.

Darkness armors the benthos. Ahead, a thin school of fish comes into greenlamp view. The Nidaria swims through the school, which takes refuge in her wake.

I scan the field of trash. Soon, new carbon ash will coat it all. Not yet though. On the sea floor beside a twisted metal frame, a threadie lays immobile. I’ve never before seen one motionless. I swipe off the Nidaria’s anterior light and reach for my compressor gun.

Reason prevails. Instead of shooting through the Nidaria’s window, I back the vessel up. I turn the greenlamp on again and swing the Nidaria in an arc wider than a threadie blast zone.

Farther along AMX-5, another unmoving threadie comes into view. I keep the Nidaria clear of it. A third threadie appears and a fourth. By the time the darkened outpost resolves, I’ve counted a dozen newly-fallen drones.

A crater’s been blasted from the ground beside the outpost. The building’s exterior is damaged. I try to breathe and see what’s there and not what I’m afraid of, but it’s hard. My podsisters could be floating dead inside, their scalesuits only partially on when the water and the pressure came. I coax the Nidaria into a circuit around the outpost. I search for breaches where water’s flooded in.

I find none. Instead, a light inside the building turns on. Fatima is standing on the viewing deck and staring at the Nidaria. Her raised hand shields her eyes, cast in the same blue-white as those of the abyssal fish. She and Dannie don’t need greenlamps to see in the deep ocean. Fatima turns on an exterior light. The bottom of the threadie-made crater still isn’t visible.

“A threadie landed on the roof,” Fatima says.

Her hydrophoned voice inside the Nidaria is a relief.

“Are you hurt?” I say. “Or Dannie?”

“No,” Fatima says, “the threadie didn’t explode when it landed, but I thought the core might leak radiation, so I used the grapple to send the toxic thing sailing. It exploded when it hit the benthos. Did you see any other threadies on your way back?”

In my thoughts, something phosphoresces. It’s a grain of sand, then a rock, then a ledge rising up from the ocean floor. The thought shimmers like a beacon from Sylvia City. I understand what I need to do. I still have one more repair. My scalesuit will be good for a few days.

“Yes,” I say. “I saw some threadies. I’ll be in soon.”

I bring the Nidaria close to the outpost’s waterlock. Instead of docking the vessel inside, I rest her on the benthos near where the outpost’s communication line connects to AMX-5.

I extract myself from the Nidaria and step onto the ocean floor. AMX-5 has never before looked so vulnerable. In one swift motion, I slice all the way through the cable. The primary carbon rash that must be spreading along AMX-5’s new algae can’t have arrived at the outpost before the Nidaria even if she was slow. Now, the rash will never reach Sylvia City. I cauterize each end of the cable and set the stumps back on the ocean floor. This is only the beginning.

I crowd into the Nidaria again and dock her inside the outpost. Dannie’s waiting for me on the other side of the waterlock door. Her big-boned face, colored like the gray sand around Sylvia City, is visible through the porthole between the waterlock and the outpost’s interior. Worry tightens Dannie’s expression.

The waterlock drains. So does the Nidaria. I make a mental list of what I’ll need: nano-nets, the heavy grappler, another compressor gun, and as much bioremediant and dispersant as I can strap to the Nidaria’s exterior.

I peel off my breather and push the top of my scalesuit back so it rests at my neck. I squeeze out of the Nidaria. Dannie swishes open the door connecting the dock and the outpost’s living spaces. The same whale song the Nidaria found fills the outpost and pours into the waterlock.

“You’re never late coming back,” Dannie says from the doorway. Her voice trembles. “We didn’t know what happened to you.”

As gently as I can, I pull the scalesuit-covered boy out of the Nidaria. He’s slippery as a fish. I turn toward Dannie. She draws in a quick breath. Her gaze rises from the child.

“Is he alive?” she says.


“What happened to your lips?”

Fatima slides past Dannie and into the waterlock.

“It looks like secondary carbon rash,” Fatima says, “which probably has something to do with why the cable’s been down for hours.”

I hand the boy’s sedated form to Dannie and tell her and Fatima what happened. Before I’m done, tears are running down Dannie’s cheeks, and Fatima’s gaze is turned inward, probably with thoughts about how quickly the outpost will need to be evacuated. For the journey back to Sylvia City, my podsisters and the boy will be safe in the Fulton, the outpost’s other, more traditional vessel.

I won’t be going with them.

Dannie steps inside the outpost’s living spaces and lays the boy down on a cushion. I begin to gather up all the nano-nets in the waterlock.

“We won’t need those for the journey back to Sylvia City,” Fatima says.

“I know,” I say. “They’re for me. I’m taking the Nidaria. I’m going to blow up the dryland power station. With each threadie capable of making a crater the size of the one outside, I’ll only need a few. After that, I’ll dissolve the cable all the way from the shore to the outpost. Farther, I hope.”

Fatima’s blue-white eyes widen.

I set the nano-nets beside the Nidaria.

“That’s crazy,” Fatima says. “Have you seen your scalesuit? The rash it’s carrying will kill it in a few days. If you get a primary rash, your scalesuit will die in a few hours. You’ll drown inside the Nidaria or on the benthos, or carbon weapons fire will kill you.”

She’s right, but that won’t stop me.

“With the power station gone,” I say, “and the trash drifting back over signs of the cable’s path, it’ll be years before the drylanders can find Sylvia City again. Maybe they never will.”

“Yes, but . . . ” Fatima’s lips twist around like they’re searching for the words to stop me. None exist. She sighs. It’s a plea. She says, “Take the Fulton instead. The bridge has a waterlock and can be drained. You won’t need a scalesuit.”

“The boy needs the Fulton,” I say. “It’s the only ship big enough to get all three of you back to Sylvia City before the boy dies. He goes with The Fulton.

Dannie pulls up alongside Fatima.

“No,” Dannie says. Her voice is only just louder than the whale song. “You can’t do this. It’s too much for one person.”

“It’s not for one person,” I say. “It’s for Sylvia City. It’s my last repair.”

“You don’t have to do it alone,” Dannie says. “I’ll come with you. We can both fit in the Nidaria, can’t we?”

I shake my head.

Fatima says, “A few hours in the shallows will blind you permanently, Dannie. You’re no good for this task. Neither am I.”

“I don’t care!” Dannie says. “I can—”

Fatima lays a hand on Dannie’s shoulder. Dannie knocks it away.

“She’s going to die,” Dannie says. “We can’t let her go.”

“Someone should get rid of the power station and the cable,” Fatima says. “It’s the right thing to do. The drylanders could already be planning their descent. We can’t go into the shallows to stop them, but there are other ways to help.”

Fatima shrugs off her scalesuit. It falls to the floor. In dark brown underclothes, Fatima stands next to Dannie. I’ve never seen Fatima’s bare gray arms before. She steps out of her scalesuit’s foot coverings and picks up the protective layer that’s traveled with her most of her life. She holds her scalesuit out to me.

“You’ll need this,” Fatima says, “and my emergency scalesuit, too.”

My voice catches like a breather’s stuck in my throat. At last, I say, “But if something goes wrong on your way back to—”

“It won’t,” Fatima says. “We’ll be fine on the Fulton’s bridge.”

Dannie’s just as fast removing her own scalesuit. She holds it out to me.

“Wear this one when it’s time to come home,” Dannie says, “to Sylvia City.”

Tears sting my eyes. I reach for my podsisters’ scalesuits. A tightness in my chest releases. I thought it would never go away.

Author profile

By day, Andrea M. Pawley and her unpoppable bubble of enthusiasm careen through Washington D.C. in defiance of Pierre L’Enfant’s plans, potholes and the small gods of sensibility. By night, Andrea writes stories, and the bubble shouts encouragement.

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