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.
“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.