Amelia’s shoes squelched as she made her way back toward her dorm for a shower and a change of clothes.
She shivered and pulled the wool blanket closer around her shoulders, thankful the Captain had let her take it with her. Her clothes were only slightly damp now, but her wet shoes and hair chilled her, especially in the cool air of the hallway.
With each step, the adrenaline that had coursed through her while in the Sea Walker diminished, and she was left feeling tired and heavy.
Thankfully, she wasn’t expected in the lab, so she had time to recuperate.
She had only made it a little more than halfway down the hall to the elevator when she heard Dr. Hawkin’s raised voice nearby. Not eager to run into him again, she paused, trying to ascertain where the voice was coming from.
The angry scientist seemed to be ahead of her, but off the corridor, in a side room. Suddenly, Dr. Yamamoto’s voice cut in. Sharp words biting through his - but too quietly for Amelia to hear distinctly.
She stepped forward, flinching as her shoe squished loudly. She had never heard Dr. Yamamoto angry before, and she was curious what her two superiors had to fight about.
Amelia edged closer to the wall, creeping toward a closed door only a few feet from the elevator’s entrance.
They were definitely inside. As she moved closer, their voices became clearer.
“Where do your loyalties lie, Charles? I’ve always respected you, but I’m beginning to wonder exactly what I’m dealing with here.”
“How dare you suggest-”
“I’m not the first,” Dr. Yamamoto’s voice edged over his. “You know it, and I know it.”
“I do not know it,” Dr. Hawkin’s words tore through hers. “No one is more dedicated to Sea Lab than I am.”
“You do know, Charles, that Sea Lab is more than just scientific research. It’s more than our careers. Our discoveries will have real-world implications that could change the political landscape.”
“Of course I’m aware of that, Dr. Yamamoto. I’ve no need for your lectures.”
“It’s easy to get focused on our immediate situation, Charles.” Dr. Yamamoto paused.
“I just don’t want you to lose sight of what we’re working toward here. It’s about us as individuals. It’s about moving humanity forward… as one.”
“Well, I hate to break it to you, Sara,” he responded. “But this damn squid has put a kink in our great plan.”
“You’re overreacting,” Amelia heard her mentor say, and Dr. Hawkin grumbled loudly but incoherently in response.
“Look,” Dr. Yamamoto said. “I’ll take care of it. Leave the public response to me. And you can take care of getting the issue fixed.”
Amelia jumped back as the door swung open and Dr. Hawkin barrelled out into the corridor. He either didn’t notice her or didn’t bother to register her existence. He took fast, clipped steps to the elevator, walked onto the elevator platform without turning around, and the door slid shut behind him.
A moment later, Dr. Yamamoto came out. She closed the door softly and checked to make sure it was locked before turning toward Amelia. She smiled at her hesitantly.
“Do you need something, Amelia?” she paused to look her up and down. “You look like you had an accident in the Sea Walker.”
“Just slipped in the pool,” Amelia said. “No big deal.”
“You did a nice job finding that squid. The more quickly a problem is located, the faster it can be rectified.”
“Dr. Hawkin didn’t seem too pleased.”
“He’s just upset at the problem.”
“Will it really be that big of an issue?” Amelia asked.
Dr. Yamamoto pursed her lips.
“We’ve had complaints from environmental and animal rights groups before. You know about the devastating effects climate change had on the world before we restructured our societies. Technological advances allowed us to live in closer harmony with the world around us instead of fighting the world around us. When that harmony is disturbed...”
Dr. Yamamoto shook her head, frowning.
“Sea Lab is the next step in those technological advances,” Amelia said, her voice a little giddy. “That’s why I wanted to work here. To help move humanity forward.”
“Well, we’re changing the environment of the ocean floor just by being down here. So even though we’re hoping to make discoveries that will lessen humanity’s impact on the planet… we are impacting the planet in doing our research.”
“I saw the images of the squid in the vent. This type of squid - the Giant Squid - wasn’t found at these depths until recently - and we’ve only seen them near Sea Lab. The other sightings disturbed us. But one actually getting sucked into our vent…”
Dr. Yamamoto shook her head. “This is bad news for us. It means the existence of Sea Lab may be changing animal behavior. We’re changing the ocean even as we learn more about it.”
“Some changes can’t be helped,” Amelia said. “But I understand what you’re saying about the squid.”
“Limiting the changes we make in the environment is what’s important.” Dr. Yamamoto said. “We have to be very careful not to do more harm than good when we interfere in the operations of the planet.”
Dr. Yamamoto walked toward the elevator and Amelia followed.
Amelia’s mentor paused before entering the lift and turned to her again.
“Are you aware of any side projects Dr. Hawkin may be working on?”
The words froze Amelia’s heart. Did Dr. Yamamoto know about Issac’s notes? Did she know about his discovery?
But that wasn’t really a side project… Even if Dr. Hawkin had stolen Issac’s work, it had only helped him move forward with his main project at Sea Lab.
“I don’t see much of what Dr. Hawkin works on,” Amelia said. “He assigns me projects or data entry assignments, and I do my part. That’s really it.”
“I assumed as much,” Dr. Yamamoto frowned. “But I am becoming concerned that there is some other project or data that has him preoccupied. Over the last few months, he’s become more and more… agitated.”
“Since Issac died?”
Dr. Yamamoto flinched at Issac’s name. She let out a long breath and stepped into the elevator.
“You’re right, of course. He and Issac worked very closely together. His agitation is most likely due to the shock and grief of losing him, and in such a tragic way.”
It wasn’t what Amelia had meant at all, but she nodded.
“Still…” Amelia’s mentor shook her head. “I feel as though something just isn’t right.”
The elevator carried the pair up toward the main floor.
“Would you mind doing some poking around for me, Amelia? I’ve got to figure out what to do about this squid situation. But I’d like a little more information on what Dr. Hawkin is doing in the lab - and outside of it.”
“I’m not sure what I could do.”
“Take a peek at some of his research when he’s not around. Keep your eyes open.” Dr. Yamamoto smiled at her. “You’re new at Sea Lab, so you’re supposed to be watching everything closely and learning all you can anyway. That’s what I’m asking you to do.”
Dr. Yamamoto leaned close to her, slipping a piece of paper in her hand.
“What’s this?” Amelia asked.
“It’s for the encrypted flex paper in the data lab,” Dr. Yamamoto said, her voice low but steady. “Use it if you can.”
Very cloak and dagger, Amelia thought.
She wanted to argue or to ask more about her mentor’s suspicions, but before she could the elevator doors slid open and the older scientist stepped out.
“I’ll see you later, Amelia. Get dried off. And again, good job finding the issue.”
Amelia looked down at the crinkled paper in her hand.
Funny, she thought, smiling to herself. An ink and paper password.
Then she slipped it into her pocket.
* * *
A hot shower and a clean set of clothes had Amelia feeling like a new person physically, but her mind didn’t find the same relaxation in the steamy blast of water as her muscles. Her thoughts raced through the events of the day, lingering over and over again on the conversation with her mentor and what she had asked her to do.
She hadn’t told Dr. Yamamoto the full story. And she didn’t know if she should. If this level of intrigue was normal at Sea Lab, who knew what Dr. Yamamoto would do with the information.
Was there anyone she could trust?
Not until I have more information, Amelia eventually decided. She had no proof that Dr. Hawkin had done anything. All she had was a journal, written by a young man who wasn’t terribly well-liked, and who had died on the job due to his own negligence. At least, according to Sea Lab.
She sat on her bed and considered her options for a full fifteen minutes before deciding to act on her mentor’s wishes. If Dr. Hawkin’s actions put the balance of the peace that had been achieved in the world in danger, Amelia had to do what she could to stop him.
She already knew he’d stolen Issac’s discovery. That didn’t mean he’d done more. But it was possible.
Hawkin always abandoned his work by around 6 p.m. and had dinner at 6:15 p.m. every evening - not in the cafeteria, but delivered to his office. The young researchers often made quips about his strict adherence to his schedule. And Amelia had access to the data lab and other areas of the research facility 24 hours a day. She could do a bit of her own research after hours and Dr. Hawkin would never know.
Amelia grabbed dinner early that afternoon and then kept a low profile until well after she knew Dr. Hawkin had returned to his office.
She glanced at her watch: 7 p.m.
He’d probably be reading by now or going over lab notes at his desk.
She threw on a sweater and shut the door to her dorm room quietly behind her. Acting as nonchalantly as possible, she made her way through the common area - where several tables of Sea Lab residents had gathered to watch a movie - and walked down the hallway toward the lab.
She punched in her door code and the door hushed open, revealing the quiet, empty room.
Her heart pounding, she stepped inside, glancing around to make sure there was really no one there. She even explored the hidden corner, behind a metal cabinet filled with lab supplies, making sure no one was huddled in research at the desk tucked away there.
Finally, when she was sure she was alone, she began her snooping. She knew Dr. Hawkin wouldn’t store anything he was working on in the main lab. It was used too often by the young researchers - like her and Duncan.
However, she poked through a few of the drawers anyway, just to be sure. A few stray flex notes - unencrypted and uninteresting - littered the bottom of the drawer at the workstation Duncan often used, and Amelia smiled at the memory of her first time in the lab. Duncan had emerged from the back room to find Dr. Hawkin and Amelia in the lab. The look on Duncan’s face, like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, had told Amelia quite a lot about her co-worker’s relationship with Dr. Hawkin.
Rifling through the cabinet of supplies offered no information. Everything was neat and orderly there - nothing an inch out of place. She moved on to a small room toward the back.
When a burst of loud laughter caused her to jump, she feared she’d been caught. But the laughter came from somewhere outside the lab, and it faded after a minute or two.
Just people passing in the hall, Amelia thought.
In the small back room, she found a big task. File cabinets full of encrypted flex paper lined the left wall, each one stuffed nearly to capacity. A counter ran the length of the wall the right, and the drawers below each counter held extra lab supplies and gear.
If there are any side projects Dr. Hawkin is working on, he’d probably file the data away here, she thought, staring at the row of olive-colored filing cabinets.
“He couldn’t keep the project data in his office,” Amelia whispered aloud. “Not if he was doing work in the lab. He’d need his previous data and project information close at hand.”
She tapped her foot, glancing around. The room hummed quietly with electronic noise. She turned and slid the door shut, activating the mechanical deadbolt.
Just in case, she thought.
No one poked into the flex files unless they were looking for something specific. Still, she didn’t want to be interrupted. If someone came by, which was unlikely at this time of night, she could hide out in here until they left. They wouldn’t have a mechanical key.
And now Amelia knew she needed to find the “something specific” that her mentor suspected had Dr. Hawkin so distracted. Breathing in deeply, she surveyed the cabinets, trying to decide where to start. Then she opened the top drawer of the cabinet closest to the door and began pulling out flex folders, plopping them one by one onto the long counter against the other wall.
As each flex folder thumped onto the metal cabinet top, it buzzed to life. The flex paper operated off touch, and the sensory input from her skin activated the touch display on each one.
Flex paper seemed old-fashioned to Amelia, a holdover from the older generations who wanted to stick with something more familiar instead of switching over to the more efficient Ereon cloud storage. Since academia and science facilities still liked to back things up on flex paper, Amelia was fairly used to manipulating it.
Why would anyone use this stuff, though? She frowned, vowing silently to help Sea Lab move into the future with her work going forward instead of clinging to the past. She never wanted to be the type of person to hold on to old traditions like that, regardless of their use.
Amelia opened the first flex folder and removed the flex paper inside. She touched the page, which lit up in response, prompting her for the encryption key. She tapped in the numbers and letters, referencing the piece of paper her mentor had given her.
She had a hard time imagining Dr. Hawkin in this dingy back room, interacting with old flex paper.
Why on earth would he bother? Amelia thought. Unless Dr. Yamamoto was right about his motives and he didn’t want a trail.
Dr. Hawkin had told Amelia to get used to not having privacy in Sea Lab. He knew that each and every transmission and all their data and documents were tracked and watched.
We have to be careful, he had told her. Because the information is so valuable.
Amelia shivered as she set aside flex paper containing a year’s worth of detailed notes on an experiment performed two years before. She thought she was beginning to understand just how valuable. While the research performed at Sea Lab may have seemed unexciting to outsiders, it could have high stakes in the real world. Globe-altering stakes.
Sighing quietly, she dug into her work, determined to finish as quickly as possible. The faster she finished, the faster she could get back to her room.
Several hours later, Amelia yawned, fighting off sleep, and glanced at her tablet to check the time. Nearly midnight.
She’d sifted through every flex file in the first four filing cabinets. Rubbing her hands together, she sighed again, surveying the mess she had made. It’d take another hour, probably, to clean it all up.
She picked up the last flex file from the fifth cabinet. A bland pea-colored flex folder. When she grabbed it, the pea-colored paper glowed softly and a label appeared: Maintenance Tasks and Revisions 1.3.8.
She typed in the encryption key without even thinking about it. She didn’t think she’d ever forget the key now, after entering it so many times. A list of maintenance supplies appeared on the flex paper’s screen. She scrolled through it slowly.
Flex tape. Piping. Metal brackets. New buckets for the cafeteria.
She was about to toss the flex paper aside when the next item on the maintenance list caught her eye. She sucked in her breath. It was Dr. Hawkin’s handwriting. Amelia knew the curvy, easy style. He signed off on every experiment. He left lists of tasks for her to do. And he always maintained the same simple but elegant curves.
She read the first few sentences that followed the list item and shook her head, quickly scanning through the rest of Dr. Hawkin’s digital pages. She saved an image of each page on her tablet before closing out of the flex paper. Then she noted the cabinet the paper was housed in and its drawer number.
Her hurried clean-up had her out of the lab and back in bed by 1 a.m. But she didn’t fall asleep for another two hours. The knowledge of what she had found weighed on her. Like the black ocean above her, it seemed to press down, overwhelming her.
At 7 a.m., she crawled out of her bed and went in search of her mentor.
She needed to make her report.
* * *
Dr. Yamamoto sipped lightly sweetened coffee as she read through the notes on Amelia’s tablet.
Amelia watched nervously, tapping her foot on the tile floor of the cafeteria. She didn’t like having this exchange so publicly. But Dr. Yamamoto had been in the middle of breakfast when she’d found her.
“Sit down, Amelia,” she’d said. “Join me for coffee before we start our day.”
And so Amelia had sat, and she had handed her mentor her tablet, asking Dr. Yamamoto’s for help understanding the complexities of a data set.
Dr. Yamamoto’s eyebrows raised slightly as she read, moving through the documents with a touch of her finger.
She took another long sip of coffee and set the cup on the table, reaching for a piece of dry toast.
As she chewed and read, she nodded.
Then she looked up at Amelia and handed the tablet back to her.
“You’re right to be confused. Can you send me those data sets so I can look them over in my office? And we can talk more about it there.”
“Of course,” Amelia said, relieved. She stood up, preparing to go to Dr. Yamamoto’s office immediately.
Her mentor gestured for her to sit back down.
“Have breakfast first, Amelia,” she said. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you know.”
Amelia hesitated before sitting back down. Her mentor handed her an apple off a napkin beside her plate.
As Amelia bit into its sweet flesh, Dr. Yamamoto drained her coffee cup and poured more steaming brew from a carafe on the table.
“Tell me how things are going,” Dr. Yamamoto said, ripping open a sugar packet. “Tell me about testing the Sea Walker. And your work. How’s it progressing?”
The two sat quietly, discussing Sea Lab projects, for 15 minutes or so before heading toward Dr. Yamamoto’s office.
At that point, Amelia was near bursting.
“You know what it looks like he’s doing, don’t you, Dr. Yamamoto?” Amelia asked excitedly when the door to Dr. Yamamoto’s office finally slid closed behind them. “It looks like he’s working for the American Commonwealth. It looks like he’s doing weapons research.”
Dr. Yamamoto stood beside the desk, the fingers on her right hand resting lightly on its smooth surface. Amelia collapsed into the visitor’s chair across from her.
“It does appear that way, Amelia,” she replied with a short nod. “And I appreciate you looking into the matter for me.”
Amelia waited, but her mentor didn’t continue.
“So that’s it?” Amelia asked. “You’re not going to do anything about it?”
“I will certainly look into it.” Yamamoto smiled slightly. “Dr. Hawkin and I have been co-workers for a long time. I will discuss it with him - tactfully - and get to the bottom of it.”
“This is what you were talking about, isn’t it? This could affect the peace we’ve found in the world. There could be war…”
Amelia trailed off, disturbed at the thought.
“I must ask you not to say anything to anyone else about this, Amelia. Those documents are between us.”
“Of course,” Amelia agreed.
“Now, there’s something else I need to talk to you about. That squid you found…”
Amelia shifted in her chair. She couldn’t believe Dr. Yamamoto’s nonchalance. Why had she asked her to look into the matter of Dr. Hawkin’s side project if she was going to be so casual about it?
“What about it?” Amelia asked.
“I told Dr. Hawkin I would take care of it.” Dr. Yamamoto paused and leaned her hip against the desk. “Taking care of it will require a trip to Guam. A meeting with UN officials.”
Amelia wasn’t sure what Dr. Yamamoto was suggesting.
“That sounds important,” she said.
“It is. And I’d like you to come along. You could learn a lot.” Dr. Yamamoto gestured at the dark window behind her - the ocean outside. “And I think it would be good for you to be aboveground for a while.”
“You want me to travel to Guam with you?”
Dr. Yamamoto’s tablet made a jinglin1g sound, like a phone ringing, and she picked it up.
“Yes,” she replied, distracted by whatever was on the screen. “We’ll leave tomorrow. Bring something nice to wear for the UN meeting.”
“I’ll be at the meeting?” Amelia asked, but Dr. Yamamoto had already turned her back on Amelia and was speaking into her tablet, replying to the message she’d received.
Amelia took the hint.
As she walked back toward her dorm, a thrill of excitement coursed through her at the thought of seeing the sky again. The brilliant blue sky. And feeling the warmth of the sun.
Closing her eyes, she leaned against the wall in the cold hallway.
She hadn’t realized how much she missed “aboveground.”
Co-written with Harold J. Petty