In the grand counsel chamber of Las Tierra, the venerable seat of power in Johns 6, nine men and seven women sat quiet-like, waiting for their prime minister, Ezekial Rove, to speak. It was mighty uncomfortable, for their master’s prone to terrible migraines — aches in his head — a condition aggrieved by any light or sound. The twin rules of the chamber were as simple as simple gets: no lights and certainly no loud sounds. In the beginning of his ministership, many had thought the policies were dramatic, but over time they had come round — unless they hadn’t. In any case, there wasn’t a warm body left beholden to such opinions, openly anyway.
In that tense, false night, for the true sun of Johns hung itself, a golden star to guide the day, in the middle of the sky outside. After some silence and the flicker of a lighter, the signal for commencement came; it was the reddening of a cigar’s end, a hell-glow that cast minister Ezekial Rove’s face into a devilish hue.
He spoke without taking the fine tobacco from his lips, hanging there and jostling around with his words, “Good afternoon, my friends. Some of you may know why this emergency meeting was called, some of you not. Quickly, may I have a show of hands to see who is unfamiliar with the, shall we say, predicament?” It was a little parlor trick of his, a nasty way to show that he was always watching, could always see. In the pitch black, there was a rag-tag of scuffles as arms rose. “Ah, mister Brode, doctor Rengar, and miss Teal.” The butt of the cigar shifted from one end of his mouth to the other as he creaked back in his chair. “Would you mind giving us a brief, General Shaltz.” The cigar bobbed and muddled the prime minister’s words.
Shaltz replied in a hoarse whisper, “Of course, mister prime minister.” He was one for commanding loudly, but here even he was afeared not to check his natural resonance. “Two hours ago the first,” he snickered, “underwater vessel was pulled into Ziemi’s east wall by forceful and unexpected anchors. We’ve had our battleships roaming the area in regular patrols, but haven’t sighted a sign the thing. All communications went dead the moment the vessel was submerged.”
“And just for clarification,” pandered Rove, “Did our navy have anything to do with this?”
“No, sir,” he replied.
“Thoughts anyone?” Rove’s invisible eyes traced the darkness. The woman he called miss Teal shifted in her seat. It wasn’t much of a movement, but it was enough. “Ah, yes, miss Teal, you have the floor.”
“Two possibilities,” her voice was soft but cracked like a finely used whip. “First, unlikely: There are natives to this planet.” Some muffled chuckles encircled the room. Miss Teal waited for the sound, which was less than a pin dropping, to cease. “Second possibility: somehow, someway, this is the Ziemi resistance. They must have achieved submersible technology that could pass the shield wall before us.”
“Brilliantly deduced, miss Teal,” Rove said in a puff of smoke. “But next time, you’ll try to speak a little more quietly won’t you? You’re hurting my head.” Miss Teal shuddered to herslef in the dark and felt like she was spinning adrift.
A History of Johns
Were it not for the eight pillars and shields they generate to hold the water back, no land would exist, merely ocean. When the walls were activated, the average height of the water on Johns rose from a small 4,521 meters to 7,211 meters. The walls were thought mostly impermeable; however, thanks to the work of Lillian Revarova and other scientists from the Institute of Ziemi, progress was brought to a head and a way of permeating the vital shields of these walls made possible. Still, what no one could have known at the time of the experiment was…
“I was riding my bicycle through the streets of upper-west Ziemi — if you can abide such mixtures of dirt and pavement being called streets — when I thought up the idea that would put me on the map.
It happened as I glared out across the great walls of water, miles high, that are a border for the land on this planet. All that threatening onslaught is held back by the Pillars, everyone who knows anything knows that, but what if they could be passed through and the resources of the ocean floors harvested? What if you could go through the pillars one way or out the other without disrupting the shielding that holds the cavalcade of Johns’ oceans back from drowning us all in a torrent of planetary, surface restoration?
Suddenly, I knew what I would be writing my doctorate on, and, strange as could be, I knew exactly how to do it.”
She put her notes down upon the lectern and faced her fellows, those that would be assisting her in todays events. Gazing into their faces made her swell with pride and happiness, the benefits of mattering. She looked up from her notes and went on.
“How fortunate and incredible it is, how unbelievable and wonderful beyond belief, that we should be here today to not only consider the theory but rather engage in the practice of what we preach.” She gestured magnanimously at the submersible.
“If you had told me three years ago that I would captain the first group to ever go beyond the Pillars, the boundaries that have held us back for three generations now, I would have died of shock.” The crowd laughed. “Just imagine how it felt two years ago when I heard that very thing.” The crowd roared, and she waited for everyone to quiet down.
“In these oceans we may find anything from the cure to cancer to the elixir of life! There is nothing,” cheering started up again, “that humanity cannot achieve. We have conquered the worlds, now let us conquer the challenges of those worlds. I will see each and every one of you from the other side!” She put her helmet on, fastening it tightly, hearing the barometric inhibitors began humming to life, though not activate, which was fine because if they had, she would have exploded in her suit.
“I would like to thank everyone: The council of Las Tierra, my parents, the institute,” she said into her helmet’s microphone, which broadcast out to the listeners earpieces. It doubled both as a thrilling effect and an equipment test and was quite the success. Her nerves eased as she hoped the rest of the equipment worked just as well. Through the sound of the crowd cheering, she dismounted the stage and stepped inside, leading her crew with her into the first known barrier breaker submersible.
She stepped forward and clanked through the cramped walkways into the helm, claiming her seat at the head of the vessel bearing her name, the Lilian Renarova. She was the first captain of the first submersible vessel ever constructed on Johns, and this grew excitement to new levels. The countdown had began.
“Seal hatches,” she said.
“Hatches and air seals are active,” said Luke, internal affairs officer.
“Activate shield passers,” came her second command. These were the devices that would allow her, like a soap bubble rising in a bath tub, to slip the Renarova through the great pillar walls.
“Done,” said the other crewman, Yates. Lillian actually knew very little about him, other than that he had experience with piloting of some sort. He had been the selection of the Government, and she didn’t much care for his ambling, crass nature outside of his work.
The Renarova shook and loud sounds came from outside.
“Dammit, Yates, what the hell?” Lillian shouted, “I didn’t give you the order to begin—
Her ship had shaken again and started moving.
“It’s not me!” cried Yates, falling over. She barely had time to process the words when a voice from external control crackled over the receiving end.
“Something’s snagged you, hold on, we’re trying to get the hooks off the front.” Sounds crackled in the background.
“Is that gunfire?” Lillian shouted over the com.
“Something,” crackle, “Something’s pulling you into the wall.”
“What?” Her eyes darted around. Luke was pounding the controls to no avail, and Yates was pulling himself back up off the ground.
“Something’s,” there was a loud sound, and all she could hear over external’s com was fine, white noise. Then, she lost the link as the Renarova was pulled, inch by inch, through the pillar walls into the great Johnsian Ocean, where nothing was supposed to have been before her.
The Largest Space
When a child grows up, she’ll grind, strain about at the chains her parents make for her. First, she leaves the indignity of the womb. Later, she’ll leave her home, find one of her own.
“We’re all children of the earth,” they used to say — used to be right, too.
Until the cities began the Great Launch, until the Big Sleep ended, and until my beloved Ziemi, place of my birth and home since, had herself some bad luck. See, we woke second; Las Tierra, opposite side of the world, woke first.
We came out of the night like heroes from a desert, the two of us, Las Tierra and Ziemi both alike in interest, locked cities from earth, and habitation forging our bond.
We headed for a planet called Johns 6, named after some astronomer from back in the day. We call it Johns for short.
Temperature was right, air was breathable; but there was a problem, as there always seems to be, unless you were born in Las Tierra. All of Johns is freshwater ocean.
Not even a droplet of natural land to speak of, except under the water, and that would never do for the living. No gills. So humans built, designed, and separated the land from the deep into two great rectangles by the power of eight pillars, which, as far as I can understand, push the water back, holds it off.
Two identically sized rectangles of land sit on opposite sides of Johns, and walls of water rise up miles into the air around each. I like to think they’re waiting up there to crush us some odd day, when one of the pillars fails, and set us all free of mortal coils.
That’d be the crux though, wouldn’t it. Each city was supposed to be responsible for four of the pillars. Things were supposed to be fair.
I love that phrase: supposed to be.
Sadly, Las Tierra woke up first, and as it turned out, in a world of two there’s always got to be one ruler.