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Something Deep: Part Three
A Subnautical, Solarpunk Thriller
Amelia stood near the back of the common room, sipping awkwardly from a half-filled glass of ice water.
Behind her, tantalizing smells arose from covered trays on a long buffet. Her stomach growled. She had skipped dinner - enthralled with reading about the project she would be working on with Dr. Hawkin - and had only grabbed a piece of dry toast from the cafeteria for breakfast.
Due to excitement and anxiety, sleep had been difficult the night before. She had tossed and turned for what seemed like hours before falling into a fitful slumber just before dawn. When she finally woke, dressed, and made her way to the cafeteria, the food was being put up and cleaning was taking place before lunch preparations.
“Don’t worry,” the cafeteria worker had said, “you’ll be eating good at the event in a couple of hours. Dr. Hawkin put in a large order for food.”
“What do you mean?”
“You haven’t heard about the announcement today? There’ll be a public update on the progress of the DOR. Everyone’s talking about it.”
“No, I just arrived yesterday. Dr. Hawkin didn’t mention it...:”
She had pulled her new Sea Lab phone out of her pocket. She had barely glanced at it up until that point. There it was. One new text message.
Be in the common room at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow for an announcement on DOR. Until then continue to study…
“You’re in for a treat. He’s got a real feast coming. And you’ll love Sea Lab grub. Top-notch, if you’re here on time.” The cafeteria worker, a tall, thin man in his mid-40s, had smiled at her and wheeled the cart of food away, but not before handing her a piece of cold toast. “That’ll hold you over until the good stuff’s ready. For future reference, breakfast is served from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Most people like to get an early start around here.”
Amelia had thanked the man and returned upstairs, nibbling on the toast.
She had spent some time exploring the Common Area and then had eventually drifted to the Research Lab. The woman with the bun she’d seen the day before emerged and walked past her. She looked determined. Amelia tried to catch a glance at what was going on in the Lab but failed.
Resignedly, she made her way to her room and laid on her bed, flipping through her notes, until about 15 minutes before the announcement. At that time, Amelia glanced at the clock before wandering out into the Common Area, trying to look casual amid the throng of strangers.
After a few minutes of jostling, she found herself standing in front of the prepped buffet, watching Dr. Hawkin flick through his tablet, which was propped before him on a moveable wooden podium.
In front of him, two young men fiddled with an expensive-looking camera while a third moved a bright light around, standing back occasionally to study the effect he was making.
Someone touched Amelia’s elbow and she jumped, nearly spilling her drink.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” A woman with dark, shoulder-length hair stood beside her. She wore a white lab coat, much like Dr. Hawkin’s, but underneath, she dressed much more casually. Sneakers, jeans, and a pale green T-shirt. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Amelia said, smiling at the woman, who she recognized from photographs she’d seen while researching the lab. “You’re Dr. Yamamoto, right?”
“Yes, I’m sorry this is the first time we’re meeting. We were at a sensitive stage with a critical experiment yesterday and I had to be present to oversee the researchers. Otherwise, I would have made sure to greet you when you arrived.”
“I understand. I’m so glad to meet you now.” Amelia set her glass on the red tablecloth of the buffet table and shook Dr. Yamamoto’s hand. “I didn’t realize a progress report was scheduled for today. I thought I’d be getting started in the lab.”
Dr. Yamamoto clasped her hands in front of her and turned her gaze to Dr. Hawkin.
“You’ll have an orientation before that. Dr. Hawkin gives one of these about once a month. However, there is a special excitement around this one. There’s a little bit more to it this time.”
“A breakthrough?” Amelia asked with her eyes on the older woman.
“Yes.” Dr. Yamaoto said, still watching her colleague behind the podium. “I believe you’ll find it most exciting.”
But Dr. Yamamoto seemed concerned. Not excited. Her eyes narrowed as she watched Dr. Hawkin rap on the podium to get everyone’s attention. The full room turned toward him. He glowed under the bright lights, grinning out at the crowd. Glimpsing Dr. Yamamoto, he waved and nodded. She returned the gesture.
One of the young men behind the camera said something Amelia couldn’t hear and gave Dr. Hawkin a thumbs up.
The scientist turned his attention to the camera lens.
“Hello.” The word boomed across the room. Amplified by the Sea Lab’s sound system, it spread throughout the three-story building, making the speech audible to anyone inside. “As you all know, the scientists here at Sea Lab have been working tirelessly in order to advance our understanding of deep ocean currents. We spend days and nights in the lab, in our offices, and out in the ocean itself, studying every facet of the mysterious depths we now live in.”
Pausing, he adjusted his small, round glasses. He gave the camera a slight smile, as though he was letting the audience in on a little secret.
“I am thrilled to announce that all those days and nights of work have paid off. We have made a significant discovery.” He paused again.
For effect, Amelia thought, watching him closely.
Dr. Yamamoto shifted next to her, crossing her arms over her chest.
“This discovery has the potential to change life on earth,” Dr. Hawkin said finally, his voice low. “It has the potential to change our lives in real and tangible ways.”
A glass of water stood on the podium and he stopped again to wet his throat.
Amelia looked around, noticing a change in the room’s atmosphere. The crowd of scientists and Sea Lab staff stood stiff and uncertain. Afraid, almost. Had they really accomplished what they’d come down to the ocean floor to do? And if they had, why hadn’t they known until this moment? Shouldn’t they have guessed?
They stared at the head scientist in shock. Not unhappy, but in a state of absolute wonder.
“I’m afraid I can’t reveal more at this time,” Dr. Hawkin informed the audience - both in and out of Sea Lab - seriously, his eyebrows knitted together over his sharp, almost chiselled, nose. “We want to be 100% certain of every piece of information before we release it. To act otherwise would be irresponsible. I’m sure you understand.”
“We will keep you all updated as we progress on this incredible path. As we tread new corners of the earth - our eyes ever on the future - you walk beside us.”
Dr. Hawkin smiled and nodded once more before stepping back from the podium. He stood still for a full three seconds—smiling—until the man behind the camera waved his hand, then he turned back toward the people who were actually present. The men disassembled the camera gear and carried it away.
“I’m sure you all have questions,” he said to the people gathered in the common room. And his voice was less syrupy than it had been a minute before. “So let’s get started.”
A man near the front of the crowd held his hand up. “So we’ve done it? The energy project has been a success?”
“As I stated,” Dr. Hawkin responded, “We have made a significant discovery. Whether the project is a success or not, I cannot say at this point. Not until further tests are run. And we absolutely cannot release any more information to the public until we are 110% sure about it.”
“Can you give us more information on the discovery itself?” A slender woman with a ponytail asked, her hand shooting up. “Was it you, Dr. Hawkin, who made the breakthrough?”
Dr. Hawkin smiled disingenuously, “I am glad to say that it was indeed me who made the discovery. I, personally, have been working on this idea for some time now.”
“Then you can give us more details?” she asked.
The request was echoed throughout the room.
Dr. Hawkin’s eyes glowed as he spoke.
“Of course.” He took a deep breath before launching into the explanation. “My analysis shows that if you consider extraction over a region comprising the Mariana Island system, the average power dissipated ranges between 400-600 thousand gigawatts with a mean around 500 thousand gigawatts.”
He paused to see if his audience was following him. They were. With rapt attention.
“This corresponds to an average of approximately 450 thousand, terawatt-hours per year,” he continued. “However, if the extraction area comprises the entire portion of the Deep Ocean Current within 200 miles of the Mariana Trench, the average power dissipated becomes 18.60 thousand gigawatts or 1630 thousand terawatt-hours per year.”
“The available power per unit area, or power density, is calculated using the equation: ‘p’ equals one-half times ‘p’ times ‘v’ cubed,where ‘p’ is the density of water and ‘v’ is the magnitude of the velocity.”
He templed his fingers in front of him, tapping the tips of his index fingers together as he explained the discovery.
“By my calculations, our planet only needs about 22.3 terawatt-hours of electricity per year. Which means the energy we could harness in the Mariana Trench alone could power the entire world.”
A few people in the crowd oohed in delight. A few others gasped. Others had gone pale.
Dr. Yamamoto was unmoved. Obviously, she had been privy to some of the details of this announcement.
“I call it,” Dr. Hawkin said. “Hawkin’s Theory of Perpetual Deep Energy.”
Dr. Yamatoto shook her head and muttered something Amelia didn’t catch.
“Now, there will be more data shared with you as we go along. What this discovery really means is that we will be working harder than ever. We don’t have much time to glory in it.” He gestured toward the food at the back of the room. “I think it’s time we all celebrate. Eat up. You’ll need the energy to fuel your work.”
The scientists and staff broke into applause then meandered toward the banquet table.
Amelia, realizing she stood at the front of the food line, picked up her water glass and a plate. She loaded the plate with creamy mashed potatoes and well-seasoned steamed vegetables then split a fluffy roll in half, readying it for sandwich layers. She piled on thin slices of Delio interspersed with sliced white cheddar cheese and crunchy, dark green lettuce. She topped the mix with a tomato that oozed juice.
“Everything looks so fresh,” she remarked to Dr. Yamamoto, who was loading a plate with salad and vegetables behind her. “I thought the food here would be more of the instant variety.”
“Many of the vegetables are grown in our own food labs.” Dr. Yomamoto replied, adding a thick hunk of fresh bread - an alternative to the rolls - to the side of her plate. “On the bottom floor, just below the cafeteria, we have food labs for vegetables, meat, and bread.”
The scientist pointed to Amelia’s plate. “That’s where that Delio came from. And it’s quite good.”
An elderly woman who was adding mashed potatoes to her plate shook her head.
“I can’t believe people eat that stuff and say it’s good,” she said. “Only way you can say that is if you’ve never had a good, thick hamburger before.”
“I, for one, am glad that I’ve never had a good, thick hamburger,” Dr. Yamototo said, but she smiled at the older woman. “Delio doesn’t require that any live animal be slaughtered. Biomeat is much more humane.”
“Labs are for research. They’re not for making cheeseburgers,” the old woman said, and she laughed. “But I know you’re one of those soft-hearted types, Dr. Yamamoto.”
“I have been accused of being against the murder of innocents once or twice, Dr. Moore,” Dr. Yamamoto replied. “Just as you’ve been accused of being old-fashioned.”
The old woman shrugged. “Suit yourself. People these days just don’t know what they’re missing out on.”
Amelia’s mentor nudged her. “Have you ever had a hamburger, Amelia? A hamburger made with real beef and not lab-grown biomeat?”
Amelia frowned, her stomach turning at the thought. “No, never. I’m not sure I could bring myself to eat an animal’s…”
She let the sentence trail away and shook her head. “No. I would never. I can’t believe anyone ever did that.”
“You see, Dr. Moore.” Dr. Yamamoto replied. “Times have changed.”
Dr. Moore sighed. “You’re right, my dear. You are right. I see Dr. Hawkin hasn’t changed a bit, though.”
Amelia’s ears perked up. She added a small dark chocolate brownie to the side of her plate and picked up a napkin.
“Dr. Hawkin is a very dedicated man,” Dr. Yamamoto responded. “Just as dedicated to his personal ways as he is to his work.”
“He didn’t even mention the young man who helped for months on that research. I don’t remember his name.”
“Issac,” Dr. Yamatoto said quickly. “I thought of him too. He was so excited to be a part of the Sea Lab. An eager scientist with amazing potential.”
“What happened to him?” Amelia asked.
Dr. Yamamoto inhaled deeply through her thin nose and the older scientist made a tut-tutting sound with the tongue.
“He died, Amelia. In an accident here at Sea Lab.” She paused. “He was working with Dr. Hawkin.”
Dr. Moore leaned in front of Dr. Yamamoto and nodded at Amelia. “You’re the new one, then? You’re Issac’s replacement.”
“Yes,” Dr. Yamamoto inserted quietly. “You’re Issac’s replacement, Amelia. He died only a couple of a months ago, you see. That’s why it’s strange that Dr. Hawkin didn’t mention him.”
The elderly woman’s gleeful smile alarmed Amelia.
“He even put you in his room,” Dr. Moore said. “You’re sleeping in that same bed Issac did.”
The words hit Amelia in the chest with an almost physical force. She took a step back. She had reached the end of the long line of chafers so she separated from the two women and found a seat at a nearby table. Someone had provided extra seating throughout the room to accommodate everyone.
When Dr. Yamamoto had finished filling her plate, she sat down beside Amelia. The older woman found a seat at a table nearby and shared it with a gentleman who had to have been at least 80 years old. He wore a bowtie with his white-and-blue checkered shirt. Amelia watched as they greeted each other warmly, and she wondered how long Dr. Moore had been down at Sea Lab.
“Ignore Martha,” Dr. Yamamoto said, noticing Amelia’s eyes on her. “She likes to start arguments with people. It’s all in good fun. But it can get distracting.”
“Why does she do that?”
“Boredom, I’d guess.” Amelia’s mentor took a bite of salad and chewed silently for a moment. She swallowed and wiped her mouth a folded white napkin.
“This is a rigorous job. And we’re working in an unusual atmosphere. Isolated.” She stirred the salad with her fork. “Unable to see our family and friends in person except for when we go on leave. It’s stressful and people deal with it in different ways.”
Amelia almost asked how Dr. Yamamoto handled the stress, but she stopped the words before they could come out. It seemed too personal a question for someone she had just met.
“I get it,” Amelia said instead. “I’ll try not to take offence if she says anything… disagreeable.”
The older scientist pursed her lips, barely holding back a smile. “Thank you. But do one more thing for me, okay?”
“What, Dr. Yamamoto?”
“Don’t let the Sea Lab environment get to you. It can feel strange down here at first. You’ll adapt. Like all of us do.”
“Didn’t what?” Dr. Yamamoto’s eyes flashed to Amelia’s face.
“He didn’t commit suicide, did he?” Amelia said quietly.
Dr. Yamamoto’s gaze returned to her plate, to the stirring of the lettuce to mix it with the dressing.
“No, he didn’t. It was - as I said - an unfortunate accident. You’d be best to forget it and focus on your work.” The scientist frowned. “And follow the rules and regulations of Sea Lab. They are there for a reason. If anything, Issac’s death should serve as a reminder of that.”
“This seat free?”
A craggy-faced man with sandy hair and a loud voice set an overbrimming plate in front of the empty chair to Amelia’s right.
“Yes, of course,” Dr. Yamamoto said pleasantly, gesturing at her younger charge. “Ian. This is Amelia.”
After lunch, Dr. Yamamoto spent some time showing Amelia around the data lab. She instructed her on how to operate the computer software she’d be using to record and analyze data and showed her where the extra tablets were stored - in the back room where Duncan had been retrieving his file when she’d walked into the data lab with Dr. Hawkin.
The small, surprisingly dark room, could only be reached through the data laboratory and was mainly used for storage, Dr. Yamamoto told her, handing her a tablet.
“This will be yours now. You’ll be using it for research and work purposes only. Your phone, however, can be used for personal reasons. If you’re using ECCO, you can use the screen in the common room or the small screen in your assigned room. it’s built into the wall over your desk. It can connect to your phone.”
ECCO stood for eye contact communication, meaning the call would include imagery. ECCO calls used an eye scan to confirm either side of the call, so it was a secure way to make a connection. It had been explained to Amelia that she would only be allowed to use ECCO for her communications with the outside world, just to make sure there were no security breaches.
Amelia’s mentor walked her through safety procedures in the lab: what to do in case of exposure to hazardous materials, protocols for emergencies like a fire, a water breach in the building, or an earthquake.
We live and work in a precarious spot,” Dr. Yamamoto explained. “We have to be prepared for anything that could go wrong.”
Amelia nodded. She’d been briefed on the dangers before accepting the position.
“There’s always some risk involved in exploration,” Amelia agreed. “I’m always careful to follow protocols.”
“That’s good,” her mentor said. “Unfortunately, some people are drawn to positions like these specifically due to the risks. The thrills, you know. And that can be dangerous for everyone.”
With that, Dr. Yamamoto concluded her initial training session.
“We know it takes a couple of days to get used to everything, so we try to take it slow. Except Dr. Hawkin. He likes to throw people right into the mix.”
“He seems very driven,” Amelia said. “I’m excited to be working with such an esteemed scientist. Especially at such an exciting time…”
Dr. Yamamoto’s device dinged and she pulled it out of her pocket. Her fingers flew over the touchscreen, typing out a quick response to whatever message she’d received.
“Ok, Amelia. I have to go. Please try to get some rest and relax. You’re scheduled for a Sea Walker orientation tomorrow. That means you’ll actually be going out into the water.”
Amelia nodded, feeling a fluttering of excitement, and thanked Dr.Yamamoto before making her way back to her room.
Once inside, she pulled out her phone and searched the settings.
“Ah. There you are.”
She tapped the name on her phone and a small square appeared on the wall over her desk. It glowed a soft white.
“ECCO Emma,” she said, and the ECCO connected almost immediately. The device had been preprogrammed with all her close contacts, so she simply needed to call out to them to connect.
Her sister’s face replaced the soft white glow and Amelia hurried over to stand in front of the screen. Behind her sister, green leaves swayed and danced in a sustained breeze.
“Hello?” Emma said, slightly out of breath
“Are you out jogging?” Amelia asked. “I can call you back.”
“Amelia!” Emma grinned. She brushed sweaty, chestnut-colored hair away from her face. “No, we can talk. I needed a break anyway. I wasn’t expecting you to call so soon.”
The image on the screen bounced as Emma walked.
“There’s a grassy area right over here,” Emma explained. “I’m just going to sit down.”
Amelia stared eagerly at the bright greens, blues, and whites of the world above the ocean. The colors bounced by - snippets of trees and bushes, sky and clouds - as her sister climbed up a small knoll.
“You know,” Amelia said when Emma had settled in and re-focused the camera on her face. “I don’t think I’ve really appreciated how beautiful it is up there.”
“It’s beautiful down there, too, I’m sure,” Emma said.
“It is,” Amelia said. “Beautiful, and a little bit scary. The ocean is so vast. It’s so… pressing. I don’t know how to explain it. But it makes me feel small and out of place.”
“You’re in your place, Amelia. You’re meant to be a scientist.”
“Just like you,” Amelia replied, smiling at her younger sibling.
“We’ll see.” Emma rolled her eyes. “Tell me all about it. What’s it like down there?”
“It’s… nice. The food is pretty good. My room is comfortable.” She gestured around, knowing Emma could see behind her as well. “I have a great view of the ocean. But it’s pitch black.”
“Wow! That’s crazy. What about the project? Have you started work yet?”
“Not really. Just learning the ropes still. I have another orientation tomorrow.”
“You can’t give specifics can you?” Emma asked.
“No…” Amelia made a face. “It’s all top secret. You know. There was a public announcement today, though. Did you see that?’
“No,” Emma said. “Message me a link?”
“Sure! As soon as we get off the call.”
“How are things topside?” Amelia asked, shifting in her chair. She’d just had the uncomfortable thought that Issac had probably sat in this very chair, talking to his own friends and family on this screen.
“Same as usual,” Emma replied. “You’re not missing much.”
“They have our favorite board game in the common room. Ants & Logs.”
“Oh, man!” Emma laughed, doubling over. “We used to love that game! I haven’t played in a while, though.”
“Whenever I come back on leave, we’ll have to break it out again.”
Amelia’s stomach lurched suddenly as a realization hit her: it could be months before she saw her sister in person again.
Emma started to say something else but her face cracked on the screen and the audio broke into incomprehensible chunks.
“Emma?” Amelia said.
She glanced at her phone. Low signal.
Emma’s image froze entirely and the audio ceased altogether. Then her sister disappeared.
Amelia stared into the empty white square above the desk.
It’s not that different from the empty black outside the window, she thought. Unreal, empty space. But that will change tomorrow.
When I venture out into the black water, that will change...
Co-written with Harold J. Petty