This is the second time Trace has had to pass as an Atlantean captive. The first time, he had his father coaching him, and he was terrified. Now, he feels like a veteran.
The Atlantean security checkpoint is staffed by a Blood officer. “We don’t show any record of your exit,” he says gruffly.
“I was sent on or’azath ooboshu,” Trace replies confidently. “Wild goose chase” is the closest English idiom. “I report to Yog N’ghftnah.”
The security officer grunts again. “Well tell Yog N’ghftnah that there’s proper procedures to follow. Go on through.”
The name is made up. What the officer was looking for was Trace’s conviction in explaining himself. Escapees always show fear, or hesitation. Who wouldn’t? It’s miles to the surface, and nobody really escapes Atlantis without a plan.
Walking through the checkpoint and into the capitol, Trace muses on that. We’re here to help Leo escape Atlantis. So why has our plan suddenly gone wrong? Where the hell is Fuko?
Leo feels his throat tighten with emotion as he says the words. “Doctor Lee, I’m Leonardo. My father is Karl Taitale. I think… I think you might be my biological mother.”
He takes an involuntary step forward, everything focused on her response, whatever it might be.
The first thing he sees is her smile.
Now I know where Pneuma got that from.
Leo moves to her bedside, leaning in. “I’m here. I’m a tissue match. Listen, we’re going to do the procedure. We’ll get prepped–”
Doctor Zap’s monotone voice causes a spasm of irrational anger in him for interrupting. “Doctor Lee’s condition is stable. It is important to maintain your cover for the moment. We will proceed with the treatment in a short while. But first, please come with me.”
Leo wheels and stares the squid straight in the eye. “This is my mother.”
The voice comes again, as strange colors play across Zap’s skin. “I do not share your mammalian instincts related to family. I wish I understood better. I can sense your strong emotion. You empathize with her pain. She has endured this much, and more, for much longer than you have been here. She will be well soon. Thanks to you. But now we must go.”
Leo’s fists tighten, but he complies.
Doctor Zap’s caution is well founded. Not twenty minutes after starting his first assignment, Leo and the squid scientist receive a surprise visit from Senior Commander Saito.
“I returned to hear how our mechanic is working out for you,” Saito announces.
Doctor Zap ‘smiles’ - Leo is starting to recognize the color patterns - and vocalizes. “He has begun to assist me in working with my language computer. As you know, but Leo can only guess, electronic technology is rare here in the capitol. However, it will be a great benefit to helping True Atlanteans communicate more easily.”
Saito grunts and turns to Leo. “Explain the mechanism for me, please.”
Leo knows this for what it is - a test. But he can pass it. He’s been around Doctor Zap only a few minutes, but that was enough. “The translation computer takes pressure and light readings from the tank occupant. It processes these into–”
Saito holds up a hand. “Explain the basics of a computer. And why it is rare here. Explain as you would to a child.”
This too is a test. Zap could have briefed him on the computer’s functions, but he’s a physician, not an electronic engineer. There are things only a real expert could condense into simpler terms.
“Okay. The computer uses electricity, which pours through a circuit. Everything a computer does comes down to counting numbers. This is like… how water flows, like currents. The computer is binary. That means there’s only two ways for the current to be. It’s either strong, or weak, and that’s how it counts. Weak is zero, strong is one. If you can reduce a problem down to counting numbers, you can make a computer work with that problem.”
Saito nods. “Very good. What is the difficulty of using this in our empire?”
“The material that computers are made of is stuff that conducts the electricity. But you don’t want it conducted everywhere, or you can’t count any more. Water is everywhere here. Water also conducts electricity. A computer in water would experience a short circuit. It would harm anyone touching it, and the computer itself would become damaged.”
Saito nods again. “Would you say then that using a computer around, say, a pod filled with water, presents a dangerous hazard to anyone in the pod?”
Leo now understands where else this is going, and glances at Doctor Zap. “That’s a possibility, sir.”
Saito’s expression is arrogant and triumphant. “Your new assistant is very perceptive, Doctor. Perhaps you should listen to him.”
“He is, and I should,” the Doctor answers blandly. “Perhaps next he will make me a computer that replaces my need for security personnel.”
Saito’s arrogance melts into anger, but he turns on his heel and departs rather than give voice to it.
Doctor Zap winks at Leo. “Saito will not return for a time. He will stew in his anger and then devise another way to insult me. We will use that time to good advantage.”
They were supposed to get in, head to the Surface Science Center, do their business, and get out. Then Saito showed up. Fuko controls her thinking, puts herself in the moment, moves with the current, the way she’s been trained to as a ninja. Dominate your emotions with procedure, the old masters told her. Your training is an oar that will steady your course in turbulent waters.
What is procedure right now? Report in. Where does she do that? A Reformist gathering site, one of the old taverns in the Undercapital. She finds a public transit bladder, lets it cycle from air to water, and swims downward.
It’s the green current, then the one with the tangy scent, then down to the roof with the spines in it. She’s never been there, but she’s been instructed in the path. And the instructions turn out to be good.
Fuko swims into the tavern. Rather than the tables and chairs of the surface world, this establishment has regular rails and bars affixed to the walls and ceiling, letting patrons literally cling to the building while drinking. The idea of a “tavern” has been with Atlantis almost a century, long enough for local traditions to develop.
It’s quiet, with what look like a few regulars quietly conversing. Though they don’t drink alcohol here, they eat small fish that have been infused with it by the establishment’s staff. The smell of carefully prepared fish fills the water, and Fuko feels herself getting hungry.
She spots the Reformist contact she’s supposed to look for, and reports in whispered Atlantean. “A donor has been found and delivered to the Surface Science Center. Senior Commander Saito took a personal interest, however. I’m concerned that we may be exposed.”
The old True Atlantean pauses in the act of tearing apart a fish, and answers without looking at her. “Circumstances changed rapidly after you were sent on your mission, child. Rumors say the Emperor is preparing for another invasion of the surface world. Secret military preparations have been observed. There may be nothing to stop this now. Leave the capitol and await instructions.”
Fuko balks. But we just got here…! “What of the donor?”
“They will remain a captive of the Empire, probably. You did well in finding them, and are to be commended.”
“No… No, it can’t be like this.” Fuko looks at the Reformist with renewed determination. “I have to get him out of here. He’s a hero of the surface world. They need him.”
“One more hero will not stop what’s coming, child. Go, and keep yourself safe. We will find our time again. Perhaps in a century.”
Fuko leaves the tavern, her stomach too knotted to consider food.
What do I do now?