The light rail sped through Hagåtña in view of the crystal blue waters and pristine beaches of central Guam. Amelia admired the city, especially the way it flowed with the landscape. The buildings seemed to rise in tandem with the island. Rows of ivory towers lined one section of the beach. They looked to Amelia like pillars of bone. A railway, set on gleaming metal stilts that pierced the water, snaked between them.
“They’re apartments,” said Dr. Yamamoto. She was sitting across from Amelia in the cabin. It was just the two of them, her and her mentor. They sat facing each other on cushioned benches with pale light streaming through a small window.
“Some of the apartments are underwater. They’re quite nice on the interior. Much better than we’re used to in Sea Lab.”
“I’m not sure I would like it,” said Amelia. “It’s like living in the rib cage of a giant, dead whale.”
The doctor laughed. “You have the most vivid imagination, Amelia. I love it.” Her eyes sharpened. “I hope you apply that vivid imagination to our work here. We could use it.”
Amelia knew quite well what the doctor was talking about. The public was expecting big news from Sea Lab, but so far they’d only delivered rumors to justify their ever-increasing budget.
“I’ll do my best,” she said, trying to hide her nervousness. In truth, she wasn’t sure what she could do to help the situation. Her expertise was geology and physics. The material world. She didn’t know the first thing about public relations.
“All you need to do is show the world the talent and exuberance that come to you so naturally,” Dr. Yamamoto gave her a half-smile. “And tell them the truth: our work is progressing and we are very excited about what’s just around the corner. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Amelia was not happy, but she did her best to hide it. She wore the smile the doctor had praised her for. The show had already begun.
“There will be reporters at the station. The UN building only a few blocks from the station, but I’m afraid there’s no way to avoid the press.”
The city zipped by through the cabin window and it wasn’t long before the overhead light flashed, indicating the light rail would soon stop. Amelia tried to imagine the crowd of reporters and cameras that would be waiting for them at the light rail station.
She’d never been one to seek the spotlight, other than the occasional karaoke song at the Sleepy Jim pub, a favorite of her college friends. It had always taken her a couple of drinks to get the courage to climb on stage. She didn’t have anything to help her now.
When the train came to a stop, the pair climbed to their feet.
“Keep your answers short, if you must say anything at all. Remember the mantra.”
Amelia smiled. “Everything is going well and we’re excited about what’s just around the corner.” Her mentor had had her memorize it during the elevator ride up to the surface.
“Excellent. Let’s go.”
The train station was made of the same bone-white plastic that Amelia had seen in the beach apartments. The terminal was a geodesic dome, roughly 50 meters in length and height. Lines of tourists waited behind digital kiosks.
Immediately after climbing down the stonework platform, Amelia and her mentor were met by a pair of couriers. Amelia noted they were both Chinese, wearing dark suits with the emblem of the United Nations: an olive branch over a globe.
“Doctor Yamamoto, I am ambassador Wang and my colleague is ambassador Zhang. On behalf of the United Nations, we’re honored to receive you and escort you and your guest to the Trident Hotel.”
“Thank you,” the doctor replied. “The honor is ours.” She gestured to Amelia and herself. “We’ll be with you as soon as we retrieve our luggage.”
“No need.” Ambassador Wang waved to his partner. The young man dashed off in the direction of the closest kiosk.
“We have instructions to bend the normal rules of operation. Zhang will retrieve your luggage without delay.”
Amelia searched the room for signs of the press and saw a crowd waiting outside the glass doors of the terminal. The crowd contained several people who looked like they were carrying professional camera equipment.
Zhang returned with the luggage. There hadn’t been much to pack, so Amelia had only brought a small duffle bag, which Zhang held over his shoulder. Sara had packed a travel suitcase. Zhang carried it by the handle. Amelia wondered why the doctor needed such a large suitcase. They were only supposed to be here for two days.
“Do you have a vehicle?” asked Dr. Yamamoto.
“Of course,” replied Wang. He pulled a plastic keycard from his pocket. “We have a hovercraft waiting outside if you are ready.”
“Might as well get it over with. Are you ready, Amelia?”
“Then let’s go.”
Wang led them through the crowded airport. As soon as they stepped through the tinted glass doors, the press swarmed them. Wang met them with friendly smiles, but it did little to stop the shock of the verbal assault.
“Dr. Yamamoto, can you give us a statement on the progress at Sea Lab?” The reporter shoved his phone into her face. She wasn’t phased by his abrasive behavior.
“Is it true that Dr. Hawking has suffered a mental breakdown? Is Sea Lab out of funding?”
“Can you comment on the death of Issac Turgenov?”
Sara Yamamoto brushed off the reporters like so many flies as they crossed the sidewalk and climbed into the black hovercraft that opened at the flash of Wang’s keycard. Amelia climbed in behind her mentor, her mind racing with questions of her own.
How much did the outside world know about Issac? It was clear that the public suspected something. How much? Perhaps his message had made it to the UN after all.
The hovercraft had a spacious interior and, though Amelia and Sara were both in the backseat, they had plenty of space between them. As they sped away, Amelia watched the press snap pictures of the car with their professional-grade cameras, which hovered over their shoulders like guardians.
They merged into traffic in silence. It was early morning and Amelia had anticipated heavy traffic from, but there were very few vehicles in the air. It was apparently a slow day in Hagåtña. Lucky for them.
“How far is it to the hotel?” asked Dr. Yamamoto.
“Not far,” replied Wang from the driver’s seat. “About 2 kilometers.”
“Do you think they’ll follow us?”
“I doubt it. But I can take a few extra turns if you’d like, to shake any would-be spies.”
“Do you really think that’s necessary?” asked Amelia.
The scientist gave her a cold stare but spoke to Wang. “Perhaps we’d better take the long way around, just to be safe.”
“Affirmative,” replied Wang. At the next intersection, he flew the vehicle between two steel and glass skyscrapers shaped like arrowheads.
“The twin arrows of Guam,” said Dr. Yamamoto.
“What are they?” asked Amelia
“They were built over a decade ago to house the internal relations of Guam’s government. The congressional assembly meets here, as does the council of foreign relations and commerce.”
“How do you know so much about Guam?”
“It’s my business to know.”.
Amelia waited for her to continue, but she never did. The arrow heads were twisted, almost like a braid, or the double-helix of a DNA strand.
“Remind me,” said Amelia, “when did Guam gain its independence, Dr. Yamamoto?”
“Call me Sara. We’re not in Sea Lab. And it was just after the birth of the American Commonwealth,” repeated Sara, effortlessly. “It was the late thirties, and Guam had been under the rules of the United States of America since 1898. With the creation of the American Commonwealth, Guam was set free.”
“I should know this,” said Amelia. “I wrote my thesis on the crisis years.”
“Yes, well, you know. With everything that’s going on, it probably slipped your mind. It’s okay to give yourself a break, Amelia, You’re only human.”
Sara wasn’t the kind to bestow sympathy, so Amelia took her words as a sign of their growing friendship. It made her happy to know at least one person at Sea Lab had her back.
The city was completely modernized and well detailed. Amelia could find no trace of the microwave generators that powered the hovercrafts, though she knew they must be somewhere among the city's pristine, grey, blue, and white buildings. Or perhaps under its porcelain streets.
The hotel was located just off the beach on the outskirts of the city. Wang parked the hovercraft on the sidewalk before climbing out. He came around and opened Amelia’s door. She and the doctor climbed out together. Zheng rushed to remove their luggage from the trunk and nearly tripped on the curb. Unlike at the train station, there were no reporters waiting outside the hotel.
Zhang dropped their luggage on the sidewalk unceremoniously.
“I’m scheduled to be your driver tomorrow,” said Wang. “Most likely we’ll meet again then, before the UN council meeting.”
“I look forward to it,” said Sara, shaking Wang’s hand. Afterward, Wang and Zheng climbed back into the hovercraft and sped off, into the sky.
“Come, Amelia. I’d like to check-in as soon as possible. I really don’t feel myself until I get settled into my room, do you know what I mean?”
“I think so,” said Amelia, but she wasn’t sure. She followed the doctor through the glass double doors of the hotel, only then noticing the twin tridents framing the exterior of the building.
The lobby of the Trident Hotel was like entering another world, one stuck about 30 years in the past. Blue carpet met false paneling and glass in a strange hybrid of architecture. Steel support beams were left exposed. It was obviously built during a previous era when the general aesthetic was more eclectic. You wouldn’t find such a strange mixture of materials in today’s buildings. Most buildings used a single material, powerplex, in their construction. It was flexible and strong and had uncountable uses.
Suddenly, Amelia wished she’d paid a little more attention in her liberal arts classes. She struggled to remember the name for the art style of the Trident. It had been popular at the turn of the century and suggested a blending of all styles into a single, international style.
Postmodernism, she recalled. That had been the movement. It had gone out of fashion after the crisis-era and been replaced by today’s metamodern approach, which tended to favor function over form and utilitarianism over the rampant individualism latent in postmodern aesthetics.
Amelia smiled. Maybe she remembered more than she thought she did. Perhaps the doctor was right, and she was being too hard on herself.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Sara addressing the hotel lobby attendant.
“Hello. We’re here to check-in.”
“Sure!” replied the young woman. She was wearing a blue vest and had her dark hair tied in a ponytail. “Do you have reservations?”
“We do.” Sara pulled her phone from her pocket and flashed the screen toward the scanner. It made a sound like ringing a bell.
“Great! You’re all set. Your room number is 111.” Amelia could see the number floating in the air above the woman’s computer, written in hyperlight. “It’s just down the north hallway, past the elevator.”
“Excellent,” replied Sara. “Thank you so much.”
The two scientists hurried to their room, hauling their luggage down the carpeted hall, which was easier said than done. Sara’s suitcase had wheels, but they wouldn’t roll over the carpet. She had to drag it along but eventually gave up, choosing instead to carry the heavy, polyester case with both arms.
The room was small, but sufficient, with few amenities. They had a wall interface, a shower, and little else. Amelia was thankful to see a couple of fresh towels hanging in the bathroom, and fresh sheets on the beds, but otherwise the room was bare. No little soaps or packets of coffee. They didn’t even have an ice bucket.
When Sara saw her colleague’s face, she must have guessed her thoughts.
“Our budget for this sort of thing is pretty low at the moment.”
“I suppose it will have to.”
“Would you be a dear and fetch us something to drink while I unpack?”
“Of course.” Amelia left Sara by one of the twin beds and went back to the lobby searching for a drink machine or beverage station. What she found was a mural that froze her in her tracks. It was painted in half-mozaic and half graffiti--more of the postmodern art style--and depicted a massive squid chasing a group of divers through a labyrinth of seaweed. She had the feeling the image was from a novel, or movie, but couldn’t place it. Her eyes fell to one of the divers. Its long hair suggested a woman, but the figure’s face was hidden by a diving mask.
The diver held a harpoon, but the squid’s tentacles were wrapped around her mid-section. Amelia felt herself back in the abyss, staring at the squid’s crushed corpse in the vent of the turbine. The image haunted her.
The sound of someone shouting in the hall brought Amelia out of her reverie. She turned to see a bear of a man shouting at a hotel maid. Something about stealing his towels. The lobby attendant who’d checked them in suddenly rushed past her, telling the man to leave the maid alone. It was too much for Amelia, who wandered back to her room empty-handed.
Sara was in the bathroom when Amelia entered the room. When she came out, she looked at the empty desktop and then at Amelia, but she didn’t say anything about what was missing: something to drink. Amelia dropped down in a chair by the hotel window. The faint, afternoon light gave the room a dreamlike quality. Amelia fell to thinking about the mural.
“Have you seen that mural down the hall?”
“Yes,” replied Sara, taking a seat beside her friend, and protege. “It was painted by the artist Juan Emerez and donated to the hotel as a gift after Juan refused to sell it to the original client.”
“Do you know what it’s a painting of?”
“I believe it’s a depiction of a scene from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne.”
“How do you know so much?”
Sara laughed and blushed. “I feel like I barely know anything.”
“Me too,” said Amelia. She sat for a long time thinking about the mural and the diver she saw in the picture. Eventually, she fell asleep in the little chair, drenched in the faded, pale light of the tropic sun filtering through the gem glass window.
She awoke an hour later, to the sound of Sara’s phone ringing. The doctor answered it and then looked at Amelia before going out into the hall. Amelia wondered who it could be. Deciding it was not really her business anyway, she rose from the chair with a stiff back and stretched. Waving her hand at the monitor, Amelia activated the viscreen
Checking her messages, she saw that her sister had sent her a few lines. Emma had written to tell her about a new video game they were playing at school. She begged her big sister to play with her and her friends. Amelia wished she had the time to do it, but it would be a while before she could make time for games with her kid sister.
Sara opened the door and Amelia closed the program.
“Sorry about that. I didn’t want to bother you with my conversation.”
“It’s fine,” said Amelia. “I was just checking my mail. I’m done if you need it.”
“Any good news?”
“Just a line from my kid sister.”
“Ah,” said Sara. She sat down on the bed. She was so thin she barely made an impression on the hard mattress. “I bet you miss her.”
“Yes. Of course.”
“That was my brother on the phone.”
“I didn’t know you had a brother. Is he a scientist, too?”
“Hardly.” Sara crossed her legs and her folded hands fell into her lap. “He’s a musician.”
“What does he play?”
“Jazz piano.” Amelia watched Sara clean her glasses with the edge of her shirt. “There’s a little club in Manhattan where he plays, I think. I haven’t been to see him play in years.”
“Jazz is pretty old-fashioned,” said Amelia.
“Yes, he always was a fan of the classics. Apparently, my mother is begging him to beg me to come visit her, but I just don’t have time.” Sara looked out the window, away from Amelia, and sighed heavily. The soft light of the gem glass made her look ten years younger than she was. For a moment, Amelia caught a glimpse of the girl Sara had been, beautiful and fierce, with a nomad’s curiosity. “The project is at a critical stage,” continued Sara. “We don't have time to waste.”
“I wouldn’t call visiting family a waste of time,” said Amelia.
Sara snorted. “I would. This isn’t just any old job we’re doing here. How often do you think people have the chance to change the world.”
Amelia didn’t know what to say to that. And after all, hadn’t she made the same choice? Amelia would love to be back home with Emma and their parents, away from all the stress of Sea Lab. No more walking on the bottom of the sea. No Dr. Hawkin and his prying eyes.
But then she would never get to make a name for herself. She’d never get to contribute to humanity in the way she could down there at the bottom of the ocean, using her knowledge and talent to push back the veil of the deep dark.
“We have a big day tomorrow, Amelia. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to get some rest and prepare for our meeting with the UN.”
“Feel free to watch something on the monitor. I won’t be using it.” Sara moved to the desk and took a tablet from her bag, immediately setting to work on some document. Amelia decided she would take the doctor up on her offer and watch something.
Waving at the monitor, she found a list of new shows to watch. One was about space exploration. Based on the cover, she thought it would be something Emma might like. It showed a cosmonaut floating in space against a background of asteroids. The series was called Lightning and had excellent reviews. She put it on and quickly got lost in the show.
Halfway through the program, she was interrupted by Sara.
“Oh,” said her mentor, pointing to the monitor. “I didn’t realize you were a fan of Lightning.”
“I just started watching it.”
“It’s one of my favorites.”
Sara sat on the edge of the bed and, together, they finished the first episode of the hit sci-fi series.
The young woman on the cover turned out to be a hot-shot pilot who discovered the ruins of an alien civilization. When the episode was over, Amelia wanted to watch more, but she knew she shouldn’t. It was already getting late.
They ordered a couple of Delio burgers and discussed the events of the show. Sara promised her that it only got more exciting. Amelia hoped she could find the time to watch the rest, but with everything going on it would probably be awhile before she learned more about the aliens in Lightning.
After their meal, the two scientists turned in for the night. Amelia had difficulty falling asleep. She tossed and turned for hours, her mind focused on Issac and the unanswered questions surrounding his death.
* * *
“Wake up,” said Sara. She opened the curtain and let the bright morning light into the room, causing Amelia to squint.
Sara was drying her head with a fluffy white towel. She had another wrapped around her otherwise bare torso. “I let you sleep in while I showered, but it’s time to get up. I also ordered some room service. Hurry up and get dressed and then we can eat.”
Still half asleep, Amelia dragged herself into the shower and undressed. The hot water was an instant relief. By the time she had finished the shower and put on a fresh change of clothes, her mind was alert and already thinking about the events of the day. The meeting with the UN could be her chance to learn something about Issac. It had been all she could think about the night before. Now she realized that her problem was a lack of evidence.
Like a cutting-edge physics experiment, today’s meeting could provide her with a fresh perspective.
Amelia chose a simple outfit consisting of a black dress, stockings, and a pair of slip-ons. She dressed in silence while Sara worked on her tablet. A few minutes later, their room service arrived. The waiter, a young man wearing a white apron, gave Sara a tablet to read her thumbprint.
Sara had ordered dry toast and oatmeal with a side of scrambled eggs. It was about as plain as you could get, but Amelia didn’t complain. Before they had finished their meal, there was another knock on the door of their room..
“They don’t give you very much time to eat, do they?” said Sara, rising to open the door. But it wasn’t the waiter she found, it was Wang.
“Good morning, Doctor. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.” The young man was cordial, with an infectious smile across his handsome face.
“Not at all. We simply weren’t expecting you.”
The governor sent us over right away, in case there was anything you needed. He likes to make sure guests to our island are taken care of.”
Sara nodded and turned to Amelia. “There’s no use wasting time. Are you almost ready?”
Amelia wanted to protest but could think of no good reason. It would be nice to stay in the hotel room a little longer, but there was no use in trying to postpone the inevitable. She shoved a couple of hurried bites into her mouth.
“Now, I’m ready.”
“Good.” Sara turned to face Wang. “We’ll meet in the hovercraft in five minutes.”
“Very good, Doctor Yamamoto.”
Co-written by Harold J. Petty