“And that?” He craned his neck to peer out the porthole at the structure I’d gestured to. “OTEC. Thermal energy converter. There’s enough of a temperature difference between the top layer of the ocean and the layers just below the thermocline to generate a substantial amount of electricity. Enough for the average stead, anyways.”
He then pointed out a large spherical cage mounted to the lowest point of the column. “Because it emits warm water from the surface at the bottom, we can cultivate lobster and crab down there. Once a month, a buddy of mine dives down there to harvest the critters. It’s a hell of a feast for everybody on the stead that can still eat.”
I realized the sub no longer jostled to any discernible degree. This far down, I could feel no influence whatsoever from the storm raging above us. It began to make sense to me why someone already accustomed to subsea life might come to associate it with comfort and safety, compared to the unpredictable violence of surface weather.
“You know, I got into an argument with this meatloaf in port once. He made some snide little wisecrack about offshore farmers. I says to him, “where do you think your food comes from?” People like that just want somebody to look down on so they can feel sophisticated.”
Another one of his stories. I reflexively began making myself comfortable before remembering I no longer needed to. “Why is it always farmers they pick on? Even when I was a boy, farming was one of the hottest areas in automation. Everybody was in an arms race trying to develop agricultural robots to further automate farms, which were already heavily automated by that point.”
The two hombres opposite us were pretending not to listen, but occasional smirks revealed otherwise. Dad paid them no mind. “Farming was the basis of civilization. It still is, damnit! People got to eat. Most of ’em, anyways. Where does anybody get off looking down on something that fundamental, wholesome and important? That’s what I’d like to know.”
He folded his arms for dramatic effect, as if he’d been giving a speech to a crowd of reporters. One of the strangers stuck out his lower lip and nodded slowly, having seemingly heard something he liked in that meandering mess of a lecture.
Through the window, I could now make out a mass of lights below. Fuzzy at first, like the light pollution of a small town seen from space. But as we descended closer and closer to it, the sources of that light resolved as banks of exterior arc lamps.
Beyond that, there was light coming through the windows inset in the ends of the few cylindrical modules that weren’t mated to another more than one side. Through those windows, I could just barely make out silhouettes passing back and forth inside.
The sub once again lurched, but more violently. My grip on the arm rest tightened. “Relax. There’s a mechanism that grips the sub, then docks it. No propulsion, remember?” I did, but hadn’t thought about how we’d actually get from the sub to the interior of the habitat.
A dull whine and series of long, low groans signified the slow process by which the sub’s docking collar was aligned with that of the habitat, and pressed tightly against it. I expect the motor whine would’ve been deafening if not for the muffling qualities of seawater.
At last it slowed, then stopped. I heard a series of loud clangs as a series of unseen clamps secured the two vessels firmly to one another. Then a whooshing sound from the other side of the hatch I’d entered the sub through back at the moon pool.
“Purging the water trapped between the two collars, with compressed air” Dad explained. “Only takes a minute”. Once the noise stopped, I heard the motorized locks disengage, and the hatch swung open. I winced, not sure why. I suppose some primal part of me expected to be blasted with a deluge of seawater.
Instead, it was smoke. Wafting in from the hazy interior of the habitat, catching in the most entrancing way the colored light from various nearby neon signs. It immediately reminded me of every dive bar I’ve ever been to, but crammed into a bunch of metal tubes.
The smoke was of course not a problem for either Dad or myself, but to my surprise the crusty looking toughs that we rode down here with also breathed that shit right in. Not the smallest cough from either, they must come down here a lot.
I held Dad back and waited for them to exit the sub, not wanting them behind us. Then we followed, immersing ourselves in the filthy, neon drenched interior of the entry lock. “These are actual neon signs” I muttered. Dad asked why that’s of any interest. “It’s just…who even makes these anymore?”
He answered that the economy of offshore communities finds a use for everything. “There’s no sense in throwing anything away when you live out here. You need all the materials you can get your hands on. Anything that could be a replacement part, anything you can sell.”
The decor bore this out. Tattered posters of bands which haven’t been relevant since before my conviction. Some of them ads for local businesses as well, a few of which we passed on our way to the body shop.
Warm tungsten light poured out of a modest prosthetic shop with a dingy yellow awning over the storefront, as if there was any need to shelter customers from the rain down here. Just for kicks I rummaged through the owner’s wares, laid out in wooden bins on a pair of folding tables, and feigned interest.
“You need scrubber? Still have lungs? I have scrubber. Remove all methane! Remove hydrogen Sulfide! Breathe fine during gas storm, no problem.” He thrusted an implantable methane scrubber at me, the rubber hoses dangling from the soft, squishy mass jiggling about in the process.
“Fullmetal” I replied, pointing to the air intake on my chest. “Already got scrubber.” That was all I needed to say, took the wind right out of his sails. “You waste my time!” he snapped, cigarette dangling from his lips on the verge of escape. “Keep moving! Make room more customer!” I obliged, taking one last nostalgic look over my shoulder. I wonder what Dinesh is up to now.
We then passed a brothel, red light accentuating the bodies of two exhausted looking whores slowly gyrating behind the front windows. Just inside, a cylindrical transparent acrylic aquarium housed a slender, voluptuous mermaid with a convincing prosthetic tail.
A familiar looking O2 refill port in her sternum, peeking out from between her clamshells, made sense of how she wasn’t drowning. She made eye contact with me and slowly beckoned, her luxurious blue-green curls floating weightlessly about her head.
I inched towards the brothel entrance. Dad seized my arm and hurried me away. “No time for grabass, kiddo. I made an appointment ahead of your arrival, and Alejandro hates to be kept waiting.” Alejandro? What a coincidence that the cybersurgeon here is named that. Unless…
“No fucking way” I stammered, frozen in the doorway of the body shop. It was him alright. He appeared no less shocked. “How you find me!” He peered over my shoulder into the corridor, visibly panicked, as if expecting armed goons.
Dad, for his part, was flabbergasted that we knew each other. “How the hell do you know Alejandro? He’s been down here full time for the past five years.” I filled him in as Alejandro made some hasty calls and reviewed what looked to be CCTV footage from the seastead above us.
“You tell me how you found me!” he demanded. “If it was so easy for you, then others…” I asked who he owed money to. He stared at me for a moment, then slumped back in his seat, dejected. “If only it was that simple. You really not expect me here?”
I swore up and down that I had no idea he was the resident cybersurgeon. He then scolded my Dad. “You still use my real name! How many time I tell you, call me Mako now. Mako!” He threw a rolled up magazine at Dad, who deftly dodged the projectile as if it were any danger to him.
After he finished huffing, puffing and searching topside security footage to make sure nobody from the mainland had followed us to the stead, he asked what I wanted with his services. “You want more domestic robot parts in you? Or no? Nobody find out about that, right?”
Stay Tuned for Part 4!