211 - Thicker Than Water

“Mr. Snow?”

The voice isn’t familiar, but he remembers it anyway.

He opens the Extension’s front door and is surprised to see Ninjess without her usual ninja garb. The face mask definitely covered up the fact that she’s uh, some kind of squid girl. Scientifically he has no idea how a mollusk and a mammal could have kids, but the fact speaks for itself.

Personally and professionally, it’s a bit different. Leo didn’t talk to Ninjess much, even back when the Menagerie trained with the JHHL. Now that the team styles itself as “the Chosen”, he’s had even less to do with them. They’re the up-and-coming replacement for the HHL, rather than the funnel team they used to be, and not the “first among equals” team they could have been in Leo’s ideal world. He’s a little bitter that they went their own way, but–

“It’s just Leo. Come in.”

She pauses, then steps inside, filling the space Leo makes for her. “Ah, er, Leo. Thank you.”

“You here on business?”

“No, no…” The girl pauses, collecting herself. She has something specific to say, and he can tell she’s just building up to it. “It’s ah, well. Family related? Not… not the way you’d describe family, more like… Listen, I need some of your blood.”

This raises Leo’s eyebrows. “You what?”

Ninjess fidgets. “Your blood. Just a little. A compatibility test.”

Oh, like a blood donation? What the hell for? And what’s she so nervous about?

Leo pushes away his feelings about the JHHL, his ephemeral annoyance at being interrupted while at work (but when isn’t he working?), his general brusque attitude around anybody outside his usual circle of friends. He makes an effort. “Okay. You need a sample of my blood, for some reason. You’ve come to me to ask for it. Something’s bothering you about this, and if that something is any of my business, I expect you to tell me. But if it’s not, that’s cool. But the answer is yes, I’ll help you. Okay? It’s cool, I’ll help you.”

The girl nods. She pulls a bundle out of a pocket and unrolls it. It’s what Leo would guess is an aquatic isopod. It’s still damp from what’s clearly sea water, and transparent.

“Roll up your sleeve, please.”

Leo blinks. Why did I assume we’d do this the normal way? But he does as directed.

The actual attachment doesn’t register. “The creature delivers a local anesthetic and also secretes a chemical which encourages clotting,” Ninjess explains. Still, it’s all kinds of awkward to see a living creature attach to your arm, and watch your blood seep into it.

Ninjess detaches the thing once it’s engorged itself, and Leo gets a bandage. By the time he’s done applying it, he can see a distinct greenish glow emanating from spots on the creature’s back. The realization hits him. “It’s… a bio-engineered organism? A living tool? You’re doing the analysis in vivo?”

Ninjess nods. All trace of her former nervousness has vanished. “And it shows that you are compatible. Perfectly in fact.”

Leo smiles. “Cool. So, uh, what now?”

The squid girl beams. “Now we go to Atlantis!”

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Trace is hanging out when Leo arrives at the dock with Ninjess.



Sometimes, two guys fall into a pattern of non-committal and emotionally distant interaction. It’s actually pretty deep, built as it is on a mutual understanding of what it’s like to be masculine under pressure. This is the kind of relationship Leo and Trace currently have.

“How’d she rope you into this?” asks Leo, only half-teasing.

“I got the only mini-sub that can reach the Hadal Zone,” answers Trace. He doesn’t need to mention that his father Nautilus has a larger one. Nobody’s talking about dads here today. “Hope you brought warm clothes.”

Leo hefts the suitcase he carries for demonstration. “Link Suit X-18. The trenches are rated for 0.1 gigapascals of pressure. The graphene in here is rated for 100. It’s insulated too.”

“Hope you don’t need it,” mutters Trace. He gestures to the waiting mini-sub, tied up nearby. “All aboard.”

The mini sub is cramped. There are two command chairs in front, and two passenger chairs in back. Leo and Ninjess are in back. Trace, and only Trace, is allowed up front. There’s nothing to do but watch the sea go by and make conversation. But Leo isn’t the most talkative guy to begin with, and he notices a tension between the two Chosen with him. He decides to try breaking the ice. But what to talk about?

“How’s the Chosen thing been working out for you folks?”

Wrong topic. Leo can see Trace’s hands grip the steering column more tightly. He watches Ninjess look out the porthole on her side. He tries pivoting to something else and turns to his fellow passenger. “I mean, Trace has already got lacrosse figured out. I don’t know much about what you do, aside from ninja’ing.”

“I am not just a ninja,” Ninjess answers. Leo notes the pronunciation. “Neen-ja”, not the more American “ninja”. The second “N” gets a little more emphasis. He’s seen enough subtitled anime to feel like he can recognize a native speaker.

He waits, and the girl reluctantly fills the void. “I am… assigned to America. My family… sends me here. To be this. To be a hero.”

She’s not wearing her mask, down here in the sub where nobody can see. Leo can see the details of her half-human physiology more clearly up close. Is this just her? Or is her family…? He knows it’s rude to ask and so doesn’t. “Hey, I only know you as Ninjess. Is there something else I should call you, y’know, down here where we’re going…?”

The girl’s head swivels away from the porthole quickly enough that Leo’s neck twinges in sympathetic pain. Or maybe that’s just a thing she can do… “Ah. I’m sorry. Shinkai Hafuko. Please call me Fuko.”

Leo nods. “Okay. Fuko, and Trace. Been to Atlantis before? I didn’t hear you asking directions, Trace.”

Trace grunts from up front. “I don’t need directions to Australia either.”

That big, huh? Okay.

Leo decides maybe it’s safe to talk about their destination. “So, alright. The myth says Atlantis was a country, thousands of years ago, that sank beneath the waves. But we’ve got intercontinental Internet cabling across the sea floor. Side scan sonar for mapping the sea floor. Why haven’t they been noticed?”

Trace grunts again. “They don’t wanna be found.”

Fuko elaborates. “Atlantis is… not the myth. To explain. You use the word ‘Japan’, that is a corruption of a word used by one of your explorers, ‘Zipang’. To my family, it is Nippon. Or before that, long ago, Yamato. We are an underwater nation. We have a name for ourselves. But to you we are Atlantis, because that is a familiar term.”

Leo smiles. “Thanks. I think I get it.” He sees an opening to a question he’s held back on. “So then, the real Atlanteans aren’t surface-dwelling human beings, but are something else?”

Fuko doesn’t seem interested in explaining this part. She only nods and returns to looking out the porthole.

Fine. Time to stop dancing around this.

“Listen, you two. Nobody seems super thrilled about taking this trip. And I feel this is gonna be a long trip. Is there a problem that I should know about?”

The two hang their heads. Fuko is the first to speak. “I am bringing you here for the good of Atlantis. However, it is not an officially sanctioned mission. In fact…”

“In fact, you’ll be in trouble if it comes out,” finishes Leo. “Yeah, I know all about that kind of business. You’ll be disavowed if anyone learns about this, etc.”

The girl nods. Leo turns his attention to Trace. “Well?”

Trace shrugs. “Well. Uh. My dad has been at war with Atlantis for a really long time.”

Leo sits up in his seat. “Nautilus? What for?”

“Long story. Short version is, I’m driving a sub made from his tech. We’ll see how we do when we get there.”

Leo holds his head in both hands. “So, we’re sneaking into what amounts to enemy territory on a secret mission. Anything else I should know?”

Trace sighs, and points at the viewport. “The ocean itself is trying to kill us too. There’s shit living down here that nobody’s seen before. Some of it pretty big. And then there’s the water pressure.”

Leo takes a long breath.

Trace grins at his passengers in the back seat. “There’s good news. If someone or something pops the sub, we all die instantly.”

A warning sound begins blaring from the controls.

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The mini-sub jerks hard as Trace twists and pulls on the control yoke. Leo and Fuko are thrown about in the back seat, and suddenly and magically discover the existence of seat belts. Fasteners click into place immediately.

Leo wants to act, take charge, demand a status update, formulate a plan. This is not his show. He’s out of his element, figuratively and literally. He imagines Aria putting her hand on his shoulder, gently restraining him from making a fool of himself.

Fuko, on the other hand, is the picture of calm. Leo has heard about philosophical fatalism and associates it with samurai and other icons of Japanese culture as exported to the West. Is this it? Or is she just frightened, and doing her best not to show it?

At the end of it, he discovers that doing nothing isn’t in his nature.

“Can we help?” he asks Trace.

“Use your brain to get this mega-squid off our ass,” Trace replies tightly.

Mega-squid? Leo looks over at Fuko for answers.

“A ahogog uh’enyth,” she answers. The words definitely do not sound like any surface language. “They hunt. At this depth, there is no light, so they use sound and scent.”

Sound and scent… “Can you cut the engines?” Leo asks of Trace.

“Engines?” The boy’s laugh is harsh and mocking. “We’re super-cavitating. We don’t sound like anything else under the water. Besides that thing’s on us already. If we stop moving, it’ll hit us.”

Leo’s eyes scan the console in front of Trace. There - that looks like some kind of tactical display. He can see what he’s talking about.

“Scent. Super-cavitation…” Leo puts the clues together. “We must smell like something.”

“It hunts the smell of blood and life,” Fuko informs him. “I smelled no such thing when we came aboard.”

That’s kind of creepy. Leo thinks a moment. “Maybe we swam through some fresh kill, like where another animal died. Maybe there’s blood in the water, and we picked some of it up?”

Trace shakes his head. “Nah, the engine’s emitting too much gas for it to stick… Unless…”

His pause makes Leo think he’s onto something.

Finally Trace pushes the yoke forward, sharply. The sub dives, and dives. Leo is trained from movies to expect a hull popping noise as pressure builds, but he doesn’t hear any of that. It’s actually kind of creepy how quiet everything is. “What? Whatcha got?”

“An old trick my dad used,” grunts Trace. “Never really understood it. Thermal vents on the ocean floor. Say that we went through an artificial screen of a chemical that’ll attract the megas. Dense enough to stick to anything, even us. Then the megas come hunt us down.”

Leo gets it immediately. “A security perimeter, using local predators to kill intruders.”

“Yeah.” Trace is on a roll. “Anything that passes through zone boundaries like we’re doing is either an apex predator already, or someone like us, who shouldn’t be here.”

The sub shudders from a collision with something very heavy, and very fast-moving. Leo can only imagine. He’s honestly kind of grateful he can’t look out and see whatever’s chasing them.

“So the thermal vents…”

“…will burn off the chemical residue…”

“…and get the creature off our back.”

The boys both grin, exultant in their mutual brilliance.

“Not if it has a rider,” Fuko points out.

“A what?” Leo asks.

Leo has located the pressure gauge on the console. It’s showing a distressingly high number.

“Almost there,” reports Trace.

The sub’s dive evens out, and Trace puts on more speed. The mega-kraken behind them has been battering it here and there, and Leo has sometimes spotted tentacles outside the portholes. If Otto were here… but it’s too late for that.

“Switching to thermal screens. Deactivating super-cav.” Trace reports the steps he’s taking, and Leo hears in his voice an echo of how he must have learned this - traveling with his father, reporting to the ultimate authority in a boy’s life.

Leo can see the vents outside, see the wash of bubbles, watch as the mini-sub is immersed in the black smoke of the hydrothermal vents. Temperatures from such vents can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and Leo knows from chemistry that water itself can become a supercritical fluid. Conditions that normally occur on planets like Venus or Jupiter are happening all around him, right here, and Leo feels a thrill of excitement and fear at being a mortal human being in the midst of it.

The sub drifts out of the black smoke, and Leo wants to pretend that all the red indicators on Trace’s board are harmless. But there’s no further battering of tentacles, and no sign that the mega-kraken has any guiding intelligence directing its wrath at the little vehicle.

“Yeah, we’re clear,” reports Trace after a few minutes.


Only Fuko seems unmoved by their successful survival. “There will be other defenses,” she says.

“Wanna tip us off?” asks Trace.

“If I knew specifics, I would tell you,” she retorts, and Leo notes the flash of emotion, absent earlier. Maybe he could have chalked up her moods to the nature of her mission, but maybe there’s something else going on?

Leo shrugs it off. “I told Aria I was just going for a blood draw,” he tells his two fellows. “If I get killed by a mega-kraken, y’all gonna have to tell her about it, and I don’t wish that on anyone.”

The two Chosen heroes smile a little, which is something. And the sub resumes its journey.

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The sub has been traveling for three hours. Leo’s had to visit the head twice, and both times Trace has given him some kind of special protein shake on coming out. “Down this deep, we have to run the air thicker, with a different mixture and some added chemicals,” he explains. “Does funny things to your metabolism. This stuff’ll keep you balanced.” Privately, Leo isn’t sure if it’s helping or hurting, but he’s used to grudgingly doing what’s good for him.

Finally, the sub comes to a stop. “We’re about halfway between Bermuda and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge,” announces Trace. Leo won’t say it, but he’s pretty impressed. He’d estimate the sub has been traveling at least 200 mph to make that kind of time, comparable to a Japanese bullet train.

“I picked up the outer edge of the Atlantean security screen. So this is the point where Fuko gets to tell us about her super secret route in, because I’m not going any further without guidance.” Trace beckons her forward with a couple of fingers.

The ninja girl unbuckles her safety belt and slips forward, into the co-pilot’s chair. “Very well. I will mark the places where the security screen can reach us, and we will find a safe path.”

Trace rolls his eyes. “What, you can’t just have a whale eat us and carry us through or something? Can you at least talk to fish?”

Fuko’s sigh is heavy with pained patience. “Only if they speak English, Spanish, Nihongo, or Atlantean.”

Leo knows this is going to be the longest part of the trip.

“Alright. This valley right here.”

“This is going to take us a week!”

“Ninety minutes, if your submarine can keep up with an elderly anglerfish.”

“Fine, fine. Turning on lights–”

“No! No lights. You will disturb and disrupt the sea life here.”

“Well how am I supposed to navigate with no lights and no active sonar?”

“Perhaps by trusting my directions!”


“If it is fine, why are you yelling at me?!”

“I’m not yelling! I’m echolocating because I can’t use anything else to see down here!”

Leo deeply regrets not having brought a book. He leans forward in his seat, and claps heavy hands on the shoulders of both pilot and co-pilot. “Listen,” he says in his best intimidating tone. “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I’m going, or what I’ll be doing when I get there. So I am not in a very charitable mood. If this continues, I will tell the Irregulators, all of them, about this conversation, and they will all laugh at you and your team. All of them. For. Ever.”

This is probably the most effective threat Leo could have issued to members of the Chosen. Trace and Fuko resume their conversation, but in an altogether new tone.

“I’ll double check your navigation waypoints, Trace.”

“Thank you, Fuko. Let me know if you need anything else.”

Leo is surprised to see light shining through the viewport, at long last. He can see the gentle slope of a dome, a clearly artificial structure amidst the rocky sea floor.

wgah’nagl llll uh’e Y’ kadishtu,” says Fuko. “It means–”

“Davy Jones’ Anus,” interjects Trace.

Fuko blinks, and giggles for a second before restraining herself. “Ah, no. It is… Well. There are less complimentary names for this area. It is what you would call a monitoring or science station. Assignments here are not to be desired. But its proper name in English would be um… Gyrating… Fluidic… uh, Terminal…Lonely…”

“Whitewater Outpost,” suggests Leo.

Fuko takes a moment to process this, then nods. “Yes. It is similar enough, I think. Whitewater Outpost. Very well.”

Trace nods. “So what’s our next move?”

The squid ninja thinks. “Well. I think we should dock your submarine in the main hangar, then wait for my cousin to notice us and drain it, so that you two can walk in air.”

“Cousin, huh?” Trace nods. “Cool. You know for sure he’s there?”

Fuko shakes her head. “Not for sure. It is possible he was reassigned, for example. In that case there will be someone else to see a human vehicle in our hangar. Then we will all die.”

Leo just throws his hands up. “Jesus fucking Christ, I’m just here to give some blood! I did not sign up for this nonsense!”

Fuko frowns, and looks down. “I am sorry, Mr. Snow. I did not explain all the difficulties of this mission.”

Leo immediately feels guilty. He catches her downcast gaze and smiles at her, eye to eye. “Hey, you’re a hero. You wouldn’t ask for something like this if it wasn’t worth it. Come on, let’s go find your cousin.”

She smiles gratefully, and nods. What’s confusing to Leo is why Trace is now scowling.

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The hangar doesn’t look like anything Leo was expecting. The dome outside made him think that maybe regular geometry would prevail inside as well. Instead, Whitewater Outpost seems to be built the way anything in nature grows: organically, irregularly, with its own weird symmetry. This chamber feels more like a giant nautilus shell than a space for vehicles.

The water finishes draining from the room, and Trace checks his board. “Looks like surface-level air pressure. Sure hope their mixture is good. I don’t want to go out there sounding like a chipmunk, if they’re using helium or something.”

“Don’t worry, you sound ridiculous already,” counters Fuko, on her way to the airlock. Trace scowls, but follows. Leo takes up the rear, suitcase in hand.

There’s some kind of basket, supported by a haphazard knot of cables coming from all directions, for the trio to step into once they exit the sub. The alternative is a forty-foot drop to the bottom of the shell, from where the sub itself is precariously moored by an outcropping of… whatever this stuff is.

Some hidden mechanism begins, and the basket jerks into motion. It arrives at a platform, near what Leo can at least recognize as a rectangular door. Thank god for small mercies.

The door opens, to reveal what to Leo is the most laid-back squid man on the planet. He looks similar to Fuko - a family resemblance? Only where her eyes are wide, alert, constantly searching, the way Alycia Chin’s are, this guy’s are lidded and unfocused. He has a goofy smile, and tentacles where his hair would be.

He and Fuko begin conversing in Atlantean. Only after that interaction completes does he seem to acknowledge the others.

“Hey brah. 'Sup. Welcome to uh…” He glances back at Fuko, who prompts him: “Whitewater Outpost.”

“Yeah. Whitewater Outpost. English, huh? Fuckin’ A, man.”

Leo is morally certain that Trace is just as surprised as he is.

The squid dude goes on, oblivious to either young man’s consternation. “So which of you dudes is Leo Snow?” The way he says the name reveals his natural accent, and Leo winces at the weirdness he imparts to the name.

“That’s me.”

“Dude! Alright. So you must be… Stingray?”

Trace nods, and Leo can see the tension in his face and hands.

“Dude. Your dad, brah. Far out. Anyway! I be Gn’thor. My human name is Gunther. Call me Gun, brahs.”

“Nice to meet you, Gun.” Leo is unsure of protocol around handshakes, so settles for a brief bow.

“Yeah.” Trace doesn’t seem much for conversation with his father’s mortal enemies. Leo supposes he can understand that.

“Alright! Let’s go scope out the station!” Gun leads the way through the door.

Leo was right about the interior. The ‘hallway’ is more like a winding tube that snakes throughout the station. It’s semi-transparent, allowing travelers to inspect their surroundings. The chambers are less like rooms and more like hollowed-out shells. He can see the outlines of people working, a mixture of the squid-human hybrids and stranger creatures.

“Why do you have breathable air down here?” he asks.

Gun laughs. “Brah! Whitewater has all kinds. True Atlanteans, the Blood, plus the nyth’drn, the uh’enah, some dolphin brahs, and of course, human captives. All workin’ together, doin’ the Empire’s work. Some breathe air, some breathe water, some both.”

At the word “captives”, Leo flicks a glance at Trace. The other boy nods with a look of disgust on his face. Leo begins to understand what Nautilus may be doing, waging a lonely war against an undersea empire most people don’t even know exist. He himself is none too happy about it either. But for now, he’s not going to make waves until he knows more. “So what’s your deal?”

“Deal?” Gun confers with Fuko again. “Oh, I getcha. See, dudes like me, and dudettes like Fuko, we just Barney through what the Empire tells us, y’know? Like, I gotta be Kookaburra Nottingham so the big dudes keep sendin’ me to places like this. That’s where we get our real riding done, brah. No matter how gnarly the Empire gets, there’s dudes and dudettes who are gonna just get in that curl.”

Fuko cuts in. “What my cousin is trying to say is that some of us disagree with the Empire’s policies, and are trying to do what is right. Atlantis needs heroes to fight for its people. We do so from the shadows and the sidelines, so that the New Imperial regime does not destroy us.”

Gun throws up the Shaka sign. “Righteous, cuz.”

Leo wonders whether it would have been clearer if he’d just spoken Atlantean.

The three Halcyon heroes are finally in a room of their own. There aren’t chairs, but there are soft lumps of something greenish-pink that are somewhere between a bean bag chair and a memory foam mattress that serve a similar function. Gun has gone off to do whatever it is that he does at the Outpost. Leo takes a breath, exhales, takes another one, breathes.

“Fuko, it’s time. What the fuck am I here for?”

The girl nods. “I am sure this has been a lot to take in. When I went to America for the first time, it was… disorienting, in many ways. I am sorry.”

Leo drums his fingers on his knees, and she gets the hint. “Anyway. My family was very traditional. I was raised to respect the old ways, to love Atlantis. Unfortunately, the Empire is not what it was. In the last century, the population split into factions. Those who wish to continue the new ways, and perhaps invade the surface, are opposed by the isolationists, and the reformists. Gun, and myself, and many others, have joined with the reformist cause. We wish to pursue healthier relationships with the surface world.”

Trace jumps in. “Hey, what was up with Gun anyway? Like, that dude was… something else.”

Fuko sighs. “Oh, yes, I’m sorry. He does have a tendency to stare at surface dwellers.”

Trace gets a look of total disbelief on his face, and draws a sharp breath, but rather than speak he just throws up his hands and looks away. Leo is briefly sympathetic, but not enough to derail what he really wants to ask next.

“Captives. What’s the story there?”

Fuko nods. “It is not exactly what you think. Atlantean raiding parties are a thing of the past. The early 20th century, at the very latest. Since that time, we have cultivated secret relations with the surface. Elements of the Japanese, Australian, and Filipino governments are working with us, for example. No, the people Gun called captives are more like people who were going to drown, or who were on sinking ships. Rescued, but not allowed to leave Atlantis for state security reasons. There are exceptions. Those who swear loyalty to the Empire may become agents on the surface. Some choose this path. Others do not.”

Leo nods. “Okay, so you don’t go out of your way to drag people down here, but you still don’t let them leave. Still not cool at all.”

“I know! I know!” Fuko sounds pained. “This is something the New Imperial regime believes is necessary to safeguard the Empire’s security. The reformists wish to end this practice, but don’t have the influence necessary to do so. This is where you come in.”

“You mean my blood.”

Fuko nods. “A favorite of the Emperor, a captive from the surface, has a blood disease. Doctors do not know surface medicine well enough to treat it. A transfusion will work, but the experts fear a risk of rejection. I was sent by the reformists to find a donor on the surface.”

Leo tries to process this. “Wait. You have a bunch of humans down here now. There’s gotta be some Type O negatives among them.”

Fuko winces. “Well, yes, but…” She presses on, sounding either more confident or more desperate. “The doctors weren’t sure. There was some other factor, something I don’t know about. They think maybe there is something more specific involved. And, to be honest, members of the reformists don’t want an Atlantean captive involved in this. They want someone like you, an outsider, someone who can demonstrate to the Empire the value of cooperating with the surface.”

Leo deflates with a sigh. “So I’m your political plan A, and you have a thousand Plan Bs hanging around in case you didn’t find anyone.”

A thought comes to him. “How many people did you test, anyway? Why did you come to me?”

Fuko pauses. “Because you look the same…?”

“Oh. Like, there might be something like Polycythemia Vera, where a marrow transplant and transfusion can get the system going again? So a phenotypical donor match is indicated? That kind of thing?”

Fuko looks baffled. “I… suppose?”

Leo nods. This is at least something. “Okay cool. So we meet up with this person, who’s probably chilling in the heart of Atlantis, an Empire that’s hostile to people like me, and I just lay down on a table and give them half my blood, and trust everything’s gonna work out perfectly?”

Fuko claps her hands together delightedly. “Yes! That is the mission.”

Leo sighs, and rests his head in his hands.

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Leo’s eyes open.

He’s not sure what time it is. There are miles of thickly compressed water between him and the Sun. He powers his phone back on for a moment to check, but he doesn’t really feel connected to the number on the screen.

He’s eaten and rested. Gun and his reformist friends are making arrangements to get him into the Imperial capital, disguised as yet another surface captive. His earlier scientific curiosity has given way to more primal concerns. How do I get free if I’m cornered? How do I escape a hostile world like this?

“What about handcuffs, restraints, whatever?” he’d asked Gun. The squid-dude had laughed and explained (in his unique way) that captives weren’t confined down here. After all, if they ran, where would they go? The hangars and ship ports and such are well guarded, as are any of the important structures. The most secure areas are simply kept underwater, where a human would drown in a lightless hell before reaching anything of consequence.

Fuko, Gun, and Leo are standing near a mass transit system, built into Whitewater Outpost. Leo’s pretty sure that it’s just Splash Mountain from Disney World, but in a straight line instead of climbing and diving everywhere.

“What about Trace?” he asks.

“Trace will be there too,” explains Fuko. “He will be making the approach to the capital by stealth. I have provided him details on security thanks to Gun’s reformist contacts.”

Leo’s got his suitcase, and the Link Suit inside. He feels confident that he can fight his way out, if it comes to it. Still, he’s had friends to rely on for so long. This feels pretty lonely.

“Alright,” he says at last. “Let’s do this.”

The next capsule comes, and Fuko and Leo climb into it.

The transit capsule looks like - and just might be - a translucent material like the inside of an oyster shell. It rides in a tube, propelled by water pressure supplied by the ocean. Leo recognizes the loops of a Tesla valve in the tunnel, which serve to regulate the pace of the water.

“Guess you folks are the world’s oldest plumbers,” he muses to Fuko.

“Eh?” The girl startles out of her reverie.

Leo’s instinct to listen kicks in. “Y’know, you’ve asked a lot of me already, I’d say you have to trust me by now or we wouldn’t be doing all this. So trust me. What’s on your mind?”

Fuko looks out the window of the capsule, but doesn’t answer.

Leo leans back against the spongey seat. “Okay. I’ll guess, and you can throw a ninja star or some shit at me if you don’t like what I say.”

He thinks about the situation, what he knows about the Chosen, what little he knows about Atlantis, and starts to speak.

“You’re loyal to the family that raised you, and by extension the culture you’re from. But you’re not comfortable here. You’re going through your cousin to get things done, not friends and acquaintances you have. In fact, you spend most of your time in a culture that this one took a shot at conquering.”

“That means you’re conflicted. You want this place to be cool, to be nice, to be the good guys, 'cause you were told they were. But as one of the Chosen, you spend every day helping folks who are nothing like them. Every time you see a captive down here, you see someone who in Halcyon you’d have jumped in to rescue in a heartbeat.”

“Plus, there’s Trace. He’s doing the thing your Halcyon hero’s heart tells you to do, but he’s also attacking your family, basically. This whole situation is putting pressure on your trust in him, and you don’t like that. You want this to be over, to go back to the surface, but you’re here because this needs doing, this’ll help your cause, it’ll take the pressure off. So you’re worrying about it, because it’s super personal to you.”

Fuko looks away, and keeps doing so as he talks. Finally, she speaks up. “I don’t have any ninja stars.”

Leo guesses he hit the mark. But it feels like there’s something else, something nobody wants to talk about. Something Nautilus did? He tries another tack.

“Trace was pretty willing to come down here. He complained a lot, but you didn’t waste any time arranging this trip after the blood test, and he didn’t have to take any time to think about it. You probably have a million ways to get a human being underwater. You didn’t need Trace to persuade me to come along - I’d already agreed.”

Fuko turns around. She looks distressed, and Leo feels guilty immediately. “Do you always just… talk about peoples’ feelings to them? It’s really weird.”

Leo hangs his head. “Sorry. Yeah, feelings matter to me a lot. I can be pretty forceful about stuff too. I apologize.”

The capsule is quiet for a full fifteen minutes before Fuko speaks again. “You were right. About all of it.”

Leo looks up. He wants to speak, but holding off feels right just at the moment.

Fuko doesn’t meet his eyes. She’s staring out the window, as the undersea lands of her native country go by. “We’re taught not to express our feelings. To wear masks.”

Leo nods. “Honne and tatemae. If you’re talking about Japan. Or is Atlantis like that too?”

Fuko shrugs uncertainly. “I don’t know what it’s called. Like… hahaha, like a fish in water, I lived it without knowing its name. But um, the other part of me, like the True Atlanteans? We’ll show startling or sudden behavior in response to aggression. ‘No sudden moves’, like bank robbers say. So we have, you know, protocol, ways of doing things, to keep everything calm.”

Deimatic behavior,” Leo prompts. “Startle display. It’s a thing in biology.”

“Deimatic behavior.” Fuko turns the word over in her mouth, getting used to it. “Yes. So for this reason, we do not ‘rock the boat’. Hahaha, so funny, Fuko, all these underwater jokes.”

Leo grins. “I think they’re clever. So basically, you have this ingrained biological reaction to puff up when challenged, but as a social species you’ve also got this de-escalation instinct.”

A memory comes to him. “Trace is like that too. When I talked to him awhile back, he got pretty defensive pretty fast, but he also deflated real quick.”

Fuko smiles strangely. Leo’s not sure how to read it. “Yes. He is like that, isn’t he.”

“Must be nice to have someone like you, in the middle of America,” muses Leo. “We’re some of the loudest, most outlandish motherfuckers on the planet.”

Fuko actually laughs at that. “Yes, that is true. But that is what makes you all so interesting.”

“That’s something else your Reformists will have to figure out, if they want peaceful coexistence.”

“Yes. That is very true. Peace will not be easy. But, Mr. Snow, we heroes must do whatever we can for its sake, mustn’t we.”

Leo grins. “Yeah. And that makes you a hero in two worlds.”

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Fuko guides Leo out of the capsule and into a truly busy station. It reminds him of a starfish with a hundred arms, all branching out from a central hub. Here, he can clearly see the degree to which Atlantean biotechnology has advanced. The building materials are quite different, and they use chemical rather than electrical power, but the six machines - plane, lever, wedge, wheel, pulley, and screw - are all here.

How do they get their power? On the surface, the Sun powers the hydrologic cycle, which was a key component of the industrial revolution. Down here, it seems like everything relies on turning water pressure into mechanical motion, and harvesting power from deep sea vents via chemosynthesis. The big smokers were more and more common as the capsule rode toward the capitol.

The result is something that doesn’t look anything like a train station, but feels like it. There are living beings going in every direction, trying to catch their ride. There are boards displaying what look like schedules. There are stations where people are being processed.

“People” covers a lot of ground here. The “True Atlanteans” seem to be the squid-like beings, lacking any definable humanoid traits. Leo guesses they belong somewhere in Coleoidea in terms of classification. They move about in wheeled baths, logical since this part of the complex is full of air rather than water. Leo remembers the names of other classes - “the Blood”, “nyth’drn”, and “uh’enah”. Castes? Biological classifications? Perhaps those are the same thing here.

Fuko leads him to what must be a side office, and inside. “We’re to wait here. Answer any questions they give you,” she tells him. The two have of course rehearsed a cover story, but being told this now is also part of the cover.

Two humanoid-squid hybrids, both armed with tridents - security staff, Leo infers - enter, and converse with Fuko in Atlantean. One of them switches to Japanese midway through, and Leo regrets not knowing the language past the barest fragments any anime fan would pick up. He does catch the word for ‘commander’ - taichou.

That individual enters the office, and the two hybrids snap to attention. Leo can immediately sense the charisma of command emanating from this guy. He feels himself tense up, ready for a confrontation, and exhales to release it.

“Shinkai Hafuko. One of our surface agents. Your name on the transfer caught my eye.” He’s speaking English, presumably for Leo’s benefit. The accent is like Fuko’s, the not-quite-Japanese-English-speaker.

“Yes sir. This individual was located by outriders. He has significant skill with machines and mechanics, so he was referred here for placement.”

The commander appraises Leo with those strange squids’ eyes. Leo looks back, unflinching.

“What’s in the suitcase?” the man asks.

Leo knows he’s not supposed to answer any questions, until directly addressed. Fuko speaks up. “A high-tech suit, sir. It has no weapons.”

“Open it, boy,” the commander says, directly to Leo.

He does so. The Link Suit X-18 is folded up inside. The security chief pulls part of it out, examining the components for long minutes. Fuko’s face is like a stone wall. Leo hopes he’s containing his own emotions just as adequately.

“You won’t need this here,” he says at last. “I’ll escort you to processing. Shinkai-san, you’re relieved and may return to your assignment.”

This wasn’t in Fuko’s plan, and her eyes say as much to Leo even if he hadn’t been briefed.

The commander closes the suitcase. Fuko speaks up. “Sir, I can take that to–”

“There’s no need. I will hand it over to security storage myself. Come, human.”

Leo watches Fuko hesitate, then leave. The commander beckons, then leaves the office with the suitcase in one hand.

“I am Cthaiobhalb,” the commander says. “Your surface languages have ill prepared you for our words and names. You may use an alias for me. Address me as Senior Commander Saito. Your name?”

“Leo Snow,” says Leo. Fuko was confident that the particulars of Halcyon’s superhero culture are unknown down here, any more than a typical American could name the current police chief of Paris.

Saito nods as he walks. “Very well. Do you understand what is to happen?”

“I’m to be delivered to someone who can put my talents to use here.”

“That is correct. And during that time, you will be watched. Comply with authority and you will be treated well. Disobey and you will be punished.” Saito holds his head high. “In return your needs will be met and your wants will be honored to a reasonable extent. We are not unfair. Even an emperor who fails our society will face retribution.”

And of course men like you decide when that is, Leo thinks bitterly.

Saito reaches another office, hands over the briefcase to a waiting squid, and is given a receipt. Leo watches his only weapon be placed on a shelf in the booth. Then he and Saito enter another transport capsule.

The ride is short. Saito asks nothing, and Leo volunteers nothing. But he can feel the tension. This man is what Leo expects from any kind of authoritarian regime - a member of the state police. He exists to take and hold control over the population, by any means necessary. Dissidents, lawbreakers, foreign agents - none of them are the real problem. Hope is the true enemy of any man such as this.

This capsule’s next destination is a much smaller building. Saito and Leo disembark, and are met by a True Atlantean - a squid in a wheeled tank. The two Atlanteans converse briefly. Then the tank speaks, via a synthesized voice. Computers? Here? Leo feels surprised. But perhaps this is something else they’ve taken from the surface world. “Hello, Leo Snow. I am Doctor Z P A R–”

The voice stops. “Ah. I am still adjusting to this device. Please call me Doctor Zap. I am a medical expert. You were referred to us as a mechanic. Yes?”


“Excellent.” The voice doesn’t have inflection, but the way the Atlantean’s flesh changes color - the chameleonic ability of the squid - has the same effect. He seems excited. “Do you perhaps have any knowledge of human biology and medicine as well?”

Leo thinks a moment, then holds up his hand, pointing out bones with a finger. “Distal phalange - middle phalange - proximal phalange - metacarpal - trapezoid.”

“Excellent. Excellent.” The voice is deadpan, but the coloration is giddy. “Senior Commander, I will take charge of this individual now.”

Saito nods. “Very well.” He walks away, but Leo knows he’s being watched, even now.

Leo learns that he’s in a complex known as the Surface Science Center. Like other Atlantean buildings he’s visited, it’s a maze of tubes and chambers, some filled with air, others with water. Airlocks and pools provide access between the two regimes. Rooms are labeled with signs in English, Japanese, and other languages, as well as a script Leo infers to be Atlantean.

Doctor Zap leads him through the labyrinth for some time, long enough for Leo to suspect they aren’t going anywhere in particular so much as getting some distance from Saito. Zap finally confirms it.

“I am a member of the Reformist group,” he explains. “I am here to help you. Or rather you are here to help us. However, the Senior Commander has taken a special interest in you. We will have to be careful. I will need you to do legitimate work for us, in addition to your major duty.”

Leo nods. “Fine. So let’s get this over with so I can get outta here.” He pauses. “I mean, not that I don’t like you guys, but y’all don’t seem to like me much.”

“Yes. That is the dilemma facing our society.” Doctor Zap opens a hatch. Leo reads the room name: “Infirmary”.

Inside are several humans, all resting in what look to be the Atlantean equivalent of a hospital bed. Same spongey material to lay on, but they’re surrounded by indicators and biotech, with plenty of room for medical experts to move. Indeed, there are hybrid humanoids checking on some of them.

“Your patient is this way,” Doctor Zap explains. “She is very important to us, for many reasons. She has made crucial breakthroughs in bio-science. She is also a personal favorite of the Emperor, for both that reason and perhaps personal ones. Now we use what she has taught us in an attempt to save her life.”

The pair leave the first part of the infirmary for a set of private suites. There is a Korean woman, anemic and on ventilation, in the bed of the third suite.

“Leo Snow, meet Doctor Ji-a Lee. Doctor Lee, this is the donor.”

The woman’s eyes flutter open. In Leo, a flash of recognition connects what he sees with an all-important memory.

“Ji-a Lee? Of KIOST?”

A flicker of recognition shows in her eyes. She faintly nods her head.

“Doctor Lee, I’m Leonardo. My father is Karl Taitale. I think… I think you might be my biological mother.”


This is the first part of the Atlantis story! The next parts will talk about what happened here - and what it’ll take for Leo to save his mother and escape Atlantis.

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Been enjoying the story so far. Always assumed that the intended recipient was Leo’s mom, so now that it’s been confirmed it will be interesting to see how those characters interact.

Societal-wise, Atlantis is definitely an interesting take on an age-old idea. Saito seems like he could be an interesting antagonist later in the story, but for now he is a good face for the fascist regime in place: seemingly cordial but with an air of threat always looming around him.

Gun and Doctor Zap have been fun, sympathetic characters associated with a very dark setting. Looking forward to any possible scenes involving either of them. Also Fuko and Trace, but I’m much more confident that they’ll continue to be important to the story.

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Trace and Fuko already know what Leo had to learn as our audience surrogate, so they are now free to act a lot more yeah :grinning:

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So … why is Leo so quick to offer his blood up for sampling. I can think of a dozen SF reasons why that would be a bad thing, and, as noted, he has no real reason to trust Ninjess.

Or, put another way, if a co-worker at the office, even one that I’d done some project work with, came up to me and said, “I need to take a sample of your blood,” I, one of the most trusting people in the world, would probably have a few hard questions first. Let alone if they said, “Hey, okay, get in the company van here, you’re a perfect match, so we have a work assignment …”

Yeah, pretty much

I was confused as to why Leo didn’t wear his armor in the sub, or change into it ASAP at the Whitewater Station. I mean, as the plot progresses, it’s clear he’d have had to take it off, but bringing the armor but not being in it doesn’t make much sense.

Also, I would normally (except the text is telling me otherwise) Disbelieve that the full armor suit is the only weapon he has, even for relatively conventional definitions of weapons.

“Leo decided not to tell them that his knowledge of the bones was not related to medical care and treatment, but how best to translate physiological motion into amplified exosuit force.”

Why is the room name in English? (Leo should be asking that question, if not the reader.)

Leo’s Mom! Hit those minor chords!

It feels just a little too perfect, but Leo’s got enough conflicted stuff in his past that I suspect the reunion will be, after the first blush, not quite as idyllic as might be imagined.

Overall, enjoying. It’s good to see Leo separate from the rest of the Newmen, even if he’s … fairly passive (?) through all of this.

We’re seeing Leo in the middle of his attempt to be a scientist, inventor, and generally peacetime dude rather than an active superhero. Not wearing armor, taking the trip underwater, and all that stuff is him doing his best to be civilian. We’ll hear more about this in a conversation you haven’t read yet (partially because I haven’t written it yet, but I know the gist already).

The Surface Science Center is staffed not only by True Atlanteans (the squids) and the Blood (the squid-human hybrids), but also by human captives - who speak English, and other languages. I had hoped that was clear from earlier.

This part of the story is a series of revelations for him, yeah. The next part has more action.

Fair enough. Though he still takes the armor. It just feels a little weird.

I did get that there were humans there who spoke English (Australians, at least, were mentioned). It’s just odd that’s the lingua franca there for the human captive population.

Also, as I think about it, weird that the mysterious underwater city in the Atlantic has such a strong Japanese influence. Unless I missed something there.

Fuko mentions a secret alliance with certain island nations, including Japan and Australia. This has gone back generations, and a lot of humans from such places can be found in Atlantis.

He doesn’t want to need the armor. He wants to need the armor. We’ll get there. :smiley:

I didn’t think it was that weird. Leo’s spent quite a while (at least the first half of the Menagerie game) solving unusual situations with judicious use of tech and a power suit. Leo’s not been in those situations for a while and has been able to set aside the armor for a time, but now that he finds himself getting into unusual situations again (travelling to Atlantis) the armor is the proven problem-solver. It might not be what he wants to do, but “punch the things that need punching” has worked too often to not have the option at the ready in a charged situation.

Ah, found it. There are signs in English, but not just English