by Maria Haskins
The animated tattoos on Jacob’s skin glimmer in the dark water, words and images swarming over his skin, bright and luminous, before they fade away again.
“Don’t you dare die on me.” I’m holding his head above the waves, but his naked body is cold and slick and heavy in my grip. By now, I should be able to see the lights of the ocean platform, but there’s nothing, only darkness above and below, no horizon separating them. I unseal the mask of my thermal-suit so I can talk to him, even though I’m not sure he can even hear me anymore. “You’re one lucky bastard, you know. If the Company had sent us anywhere else in the system and you pulled this kind of stunt, you’d be dead already.”
It’s true. Beneath the icy mantle of Ceres, in the 10 K depths of Enceladus, he’d be dead for sure. In the sub-surface ocean of Ganymede, or in the tidal-flexing waters of Europa, he’d be dead-dead-dead. Dead like Petra. But he’s here, on Earth, with me, and he’s alive.
Stay alive, Jacob. Please.
It was a bad day to be waiting for a shuttle-pod on the ocean platform above Devil’s Hole. Temps were just above freezing, the North Sea was heaving up ten-foot waves all around us, and the rain was coming down like sheets of steel. Even with the frenzied guitars of my favorite tunes blasting in my ears, it was less than ideal.
Of course, no day had felt particularly good since I got the news about Petra, and this day was made worse by Jacob who was flouting Company regulations by not wearing his gloves. I watched his blunt, calloused fingers clench and unclench while the tattoos slipped across his ruddy knuckles, inked creatures darting into his sleeves.
I’d known before I came here that he wouldn’t be in the best place after what happened on Ceres, but we were both Company vets, and not wearing your full kit when going below was such a dumb-ass, rookie thing to do.
I touched my earlobe to turn down the music volume, interrupting the satisfying, jagged blast of “Sloppy Gods and Monsters” that was rattling through my skull, the latest release by Martian Rust out of Chryse Planitia.
“Get your gloves on, man. Last thing I need is you going geriatric on me and getting frostbite.”
Jacob startled, and for a moment he seemed surprised to see me there, as if he’d forgotten where he was. But at least he dug his gloves out of his kit-bag and pulled them on, sealing the click-seams against the cold.
“Sorry,” he said, and looked it.
I shrugged it off, turned up the music again, and thought of Petra. I thought of her a lot lately. Thought of her grinning and cranking up her playlist at the start of a shift, the music ripping through us as we worked. She always had the best tunes, raw and gritty stuff that would make your heart pound and your head spin, the kind of old-school shit hardly anyone played anymore. I thought of her laugh, raspy and warm, big enough to hold the world and everything in it.
“You might have sold your bodies to the Company, and you might let them ship you from sea to sea, but they won’t really take care of you. No one cares about us deepster punks, except other deepster punks. That’s why we have to look out for each other. On every world. On every station. On every shift.”
Petra told us that in training, twenty-five years ago, and it had been my mantra ever since. Any loser could become a diver if they went through training, but becoming a deepster punk meant something more. It meant living on the edge of the precipice where no one else would be stupid enough to go. It meant working the utmost depths for the Company, surviving inside the system, finding fleeting moments of freedom and glory and togetherness in this goddamn profiteer’s paradise of a solar system. It meant stripping your existence down to the bare necessities, traveling through life with nothing but your skin, your playlist, and your kit-bag. Sometimes it was hard living like that, but no matter what bullshit missions the Company had thrown my way, no matter how long the hours or how dangerous the site, no matter who I’d been teamed up with for a job, Petra’s words had been my guiding light.
I used to think those words were Jacob’s guiding light, too, but lately, I wasn’t so sure.
The pod surfaced in the grey water below us–a bright yellow, almost spherical sub-vessel, stamped with the Company’s logo in black. We climbed down the ladder, and as the hatch sealed above us, we descended into the North Sea, trading the lashing wind and waves of the surface for the familiar murky stillness beneath.
Jacob nodded, and beneath the ginger stubble, his face was still the same stiff mask of calm normalcy he’d worn since we met on the mainland.
I probably wore the same mask myself. As if everything was OK. As if Petra wasn’t dead. As if she hadn’t drowned, impossibly and inexplicably, inside that station on Ceres. As if Jacob hadn’t been the only one there with her.
The pain sliced through me, so sharp and jagged I had to close my eyes. She’d been the best of us. Our mother-goddess, our patron saint of safety first, and now she was gone.
I slid my hand over the front of my thermal-suit, feeling the reassuring presence of the stun-baton hidden in the pocket on my thigh. It was small enough to fit in my hand, yet the charge could knock out a grown man according to the trader I’d bought it from at the bar in Narvik.
“Knock out, as in kill, or as in stun?” I’d asked while she pocketed her credits.
“Does it matter?”
No. What mattered was that it wouldn’t be detected by the Company’s security scanners.
Jacob was peering through the pod’s single porthole. Layers of ocean drifted by, lit by occasional sparks of bioluminescence, gleams of life.
“Did you get to go home at all before you came here?” I asked. “Or did they send you straight from the debrief on Mars?”
He shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. I guess it didn’t, really. “Home” didn’t mean a heck of a lot when you spent your life traveling from sea to sea, working your ass off in the deeps on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system. I’d bought an apartment in the Scandinavian sector a few years ago but it was agony to stay there for more than a couple of days, pretending I was enjoying my shore leave. Pretending I was home.
“Everything down there looks all right so far.” Jacob projected his retina-readout between us – all the stats reaped from the station below us in Devil’s Hole – water pressure, surface conditions, water temperature, ocean currents, station integrity and status.
“Looks that way,” I said, even though nothing felt right. Jacob leaned back in the seat beside me and removed his gloves, working those fingers again like he had up on the platform. “What’s wrong with your hands?”
He looked up.
“Nothing.” He put the gloves on again. “Just a cramp or something. It comes and goes. Been bugging me since Ceres.”
I thought of Jacob and Petra, working together on Ceres.
Every deep-station was much the same once you were there, and none of them were exactly plush, but Ceres was one of the oldest builds in the Company’s network of science outposts and resource extraction hubs. It was cramped, dark, cold, and working there was hard on your body and your psyche. Usually, the Company sent newbies there for short stints to make sure they knew what real deepster punk life was like. The idea was that after Ceres, every other Company facility would look pretty good. Why they’d sent two veterans like Petra and Jacob there together was beyond me.
I studied Jacob in the bleak light of the submersible. His face looked the same as it always had, just a few more wrinkles added to the dimples and cheekbones I’d fallen hard for when we were rookies together. And he still had that mess of short-cropped, reddish curls I’d pulled my fingers through a thousand times in bed and elsewhere. He seemed OK, but you never really knew what moved beneath the surface.
Deepsters snapped, everybody knew that. It wasn’t unusual, really. Only, we were supposed to snap on our own time, with a bottle of home-brewed booze, the psychoactive substance of our choice, or occasionally, with a bullet or a noose. Not on the job.
I thought of Jacob’s hands, opening and closing. Strong. Empty.
How much force would you have to use to kill someone like Petra?
How empty would you have to be to let them drown?
“Do you think it’s sabotage, Becca?” Jacob asked when we stepped through the entry chamber from the shuttle, closing the pod’s hatch behind us before the station-hatch opened and we could enter.
That got my attention. Nothing else he’d said today had really sounded like him at all, but now he gave me a shrewd gaze, looking almost like the Jacob I’d known for so long.
I kept my voice deadpan.
“Sabotage? I thought this was a routine maintenance job?”
Jacob scoffed. “Right. Ten major incidents all over the solar system in two years. Fatal outcomes on Enceladus and Ceres.” He paused, as if he expected me to say something, but I didn’t. “And now it’s suddenly all hands-on deck for routine maintenance from the North Sea to Ganymede. Something’s up.”
“You think all those incidents were sabotage?”
“I think the Company hopes it’s sabotage, because if it’s something they did, some design flaw, they’re in the crapper with governments and shareholders. Sabotage? They’ll just nuke a few of us and be done with it.” The look he gave me sharpened. “Or, they’ll set us on each other and try to clean house that way. Right, Becca?”
I flushed, not so much from anger as from annoyance at my own lack of a convincing poker face.
He nodded as if I’d confirmed his suspicions. “They asked you to watch me, right? Told you I needed babysitting after Ceres. That’s why you’ve been staring at me like I might go off the rails at any moment.”
I looked away. “You know it’s not like that,” I mumbled, but of course it was. Ride with him for one job, and report back, that’s what the suits had said. You’re his friend. We just want to make sure he’s in a good place. Guilt and grief can make people do stupid things.
I’d said yes, because in the end, the Company would always get its way.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you,” Jacob said and kept walking, his voice so flat I couldn’t tell if he meant it.
Usually, a two-person team would be taking turns on shift, but for this job, the Company had specifically requested we work together at all times. It was obviously another way to make sure we snitched on each other.
I stowed my gear in a locker, and when I got into the control-room, Jacob was already there, standing by the view-window. It was dark outside of course, down there at the bottom of the Devil’s Hole trench, except for a faint shimmer in the glass in front of him. A reflection, I thought, or something sliding across the surface outside.
Something about him, his stance, the outline of his body, felt wrong. Like maybe it wasn’t Jacob at all, but someone else, someone I didn’t know. Someone that should not be here. I shuddered. What the hell was going on with me? It was like I was a rookie again, seeing monsters at every turn.
Every deepster saw monsters. They were the imaginary creatures your brain stitched together from stray shadows, random movements, moments of oxygen deprivation, and bits of structural noise. It happened more frequently when you first started out, but no one was immune. And if you weren’t careful, if your brain convinced you to believe in the monsters, you could end up doing harm to yourself and others.
I’d seen my share of monsters beneath the seas on Earth and elsewhere, but this felt different. This felt real. I slipped my fingers into the pocket, felt the smooth, hard surface of the zapper, the small indentation at one end that would activate the current.
Jacob turned, and I saw his face in profile. The way the dim lights hit the angles of his nose and cheeks made me realize how hollow and spent he looked. Not a monster. Just Jacob, my friend, my on-and-off lover, my co-worker, and whatever else he’d been to me through the years. Good old Jacob, Mr. Easy-going, the guy everyone wanted to work with, and not just because he was good in the sack. The guy who brought the beer, no matter what planetary body you were working on, and made sure you drank it cold.
“You all right?” I asked and switched on the exterior lights.
There was nothing unusual outside, only a section of the Devil’s Hole extraction area, much the same as the Company’s setup no matter where you went in the solar system: delivery tubes snaking through the sediment; the bots crawling everywhere, flat and multi-limbed like metallic crabs, helping the larger bots further out extract and transport the ore and minerals that would eventually be ferried to the mainland by the Company’s delivery vessels.
“Yeah. I’m just tired. The debrief after Ceres was… rough.”
I wanted to ask about that, should have asked, but we were on the clock. Instead of talking, I hooked my playlist up to the station’s sound system and cranked up the music while we busied ourselves with the inspection, checking hardware, software, wiring, safety systems. Nothing we found was out of the ordinary, and just working together set my mind at ease. I fell into the routine of it, the easy muscle-memory of companionship, that comfortable ability to work together without talking.
While I worked, I thought about what Jacob had said, about ten incidents in two years. I knew there had been an increase in accident stats, but had it really been that many? I set the intra-net to do a rundown for me on my retina-screen, and he was right. It was all there, incidents strung out all over the system. Always water breaching the station. Usually moderate to severe injuries, but fatalities on Enceladus and Ceres.
A sliver of unease slipped in beneath my skin.
Petra had been the team-lead on Enceladus. Petra had died on Ceres.
No. I shook off the chill. Jacob was right. The Company was probably trying to pin this on sabotage because if it was material fatigue or construction error, their bottom-line would be in trouble.
After a few hours, we took a break for a classic deepster punk dinner, also known as hot tea and cold calorie bars. Jacob still brewed the best tea in the fleet, brought his own stash to make it, so at least that hadn’t changed. And at the end of the meal, we ended up comparing new tats, because it’s not a real deepster punk get-together unless there’s an ink show’n’shine.
I showed him the school of dolphins I got on my back, tails flipping as they jumped over my shoulder into my bra, slipping down between my breasts. Jacob didn’t say anything, but I knew that look, and when I zipped up, it lingered.
He hummed and hawed before stripping, as if he wasn’t dying to show off, and sparring with him almost felt like old-times. Finally, he acquiesced and unzipped the top of his suit, pale skin prickling in the chill station air.
Even at 40 plus, Jacob was still cut enough to make me ache, and animated tats writhed on every inch of his exposed skin – jellies, squids, sharks, narwhals, other real and imaginary sea-creatures I hardly even recognized undulating across his arms and torso. Every image was aglow with bioluminescent ink– blue, green, red, shimmering black. A large Pacific octopus, rendered in hyper-realistic detail, swam around his midriff, and when I touched it, the creature twitched away, tentacles sliding around his waist.
My hand lingered in its wake, the music throbbing through me like a second pulse and I knew he felt it too. After all, how many times had we listened to this track together, “Blood Feud” by The Rowdies pumping through us, whether we were clothed or naked, fucking or not. In this life, there were some days, some nights, when the music and another body were the only things that kept you alive, that reminded you of why you kept going at all.
“What did that octopus cost you? It’s gorgeous.”
“Three months wages and a bit. All hand-worked by a lady on Mars, no ink-bots.” He waved away my frown at his extravagance. “What else do we spend our money on? We’ve got no homes, no kids, no pets. The Company owns everything we are and everything we think is ours. All we have are these damn bodies. Might as well blow our credits on that.”
“Hell no. Wouldn’t choose any other life even if I could. You know that.”
“Not even now?”
My hand still lingered on his hip and he didn’t move away.
“Not a chance.”
Every station had at least two bunk-rooms, always a relief on longer missions with people you didn’t know or didn’t like, but Jacob and I had shared rooms and beds since we were in training. I’d thought about using the second room this time, but I didn’t.
At shift’s end, in our shared bunk-room with the music playing between us, all rib-rattling guitars and drums, I watched Jacob undress. Then, he watched me.
The mutual titillation of that game between us was different now when we were getting close to 50 than it had been when we were in our twenties, but I still liked the way he looked at me, the way his gaze moved slowly over that aging body of mine. It was still a good body, strong and tall and pain-resistant, though whatever firm curves it had once held had been blunted by the years.
“Looking good, Becca.”
“Not half bad yourself.”
“I missed you,” he said, tattoos slipping ever faster across his skin.
I knew he wanted to pull me down on the floor or on that narrow bunk with him. Part of me wanted it too. Badly. But instead, I sat down on my bunk, turned off the music, wrapped the sleeping bag around me and made sure the thermal-suit was folded up nearby, the zapper within easy reach if I needed it.
“Jacob. Tell me what really happened on Ceres.”
He winced. I watched his face, but most of all I watched his hands. He had moved them to his sides, fingers clenching, unclenching.
“I talked about it enough with the shrinks.”
“I don’t care what you told them. You’re my friend. Petra was my friend.”
Friend. How small and incomplete that word felt to describe Petra or Jacob.
“What do you want to know?”
The tattoos swirled over his skin, not as fast as before, but still animated, even though his face looked calm.
“Did you kill her?”
I almost thought he’d hit me for that.
“Is that what you think?”
“Or did you just let her die? Because there is no way Petra would have just drowned inside a station like that.”
“It’s more likely I killed her? Is that it? Is that why you brought that zapper?” He leaned over, grabbed my suit and threw it on the floor. “You think I didn’t notice? Why don’t you just take it out and fry me right now.”
All the grief and anger I’d tucked away inside reared up at him.
“I brought it because I have no idea what the hell is going on. You didn’t contact me after Petra died. I had to get it all from the Company. And now, you’re talking about sabotage. Maybe there are people in this Company that want to sink it and don’t give a shit how they do it. Maybe you’re one of them. I don’t know. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I brought the zapper. That’s why I agreed to babysit you.”
Jacob closed his eyes. His hands had stopped moving, and all the tattoos had gone still, glowing but slowly fading. In the low light of the bunk-room, I imagined I saw movement on his skin anyway, as if a shadow passed beneath the ink as it faded.
When he started talking, his voice had a hollow ring to it.
“They did it to me, too, Becca. That’s why I was on Ceres with Petra. They told me to watch her. Told me to report back, let them know how she was doing. Told me they were worried about her after that installation on Enceladus went to shit. Babysit her on this one job, they said. We don’t know if she’s in a good place or not. You’re her friend. Look out for her.” He opened his eyes. Blue. Clear. Full of tears. “The joke is, I was going to tell them she was fine.”
The fire inside me guttered out.
“Why would they think Petra was a problem?”
“Because she was the one running the show on Enceladus. They handpicked her for that brand new installation, a new world, all that glory, and in the end, her whole team almost died.” He was quiet for a bit. “After Ceres, I looked at the accident statistics, like I told you. Managed to wrangle some docs from the Company data-pit. In every incident the last two years, at least one of the people present had been at the accident on Enceladus.”
My limbs felt numb.
“What does that mean? What happened there?”
“Petra doesn’t… didn’t know. She couldn’t tell me everything because a lot is covered by the Company’s non-disclosure, but the last thing she remembered clearly was drilling down into the sediments. Next thing she knew, she woke up in the medivac drone. But something was off on that mission. There was a new guy on it, fresh out of training. He was the one who died. Petra said he freaked out when they did a dive near the initial drill site. He said he saw a monster, thought his suit had ripped, and he almost took down two others before they could sedate him. They checked him over, suit and all, and of course everything was fine, but after that, things got hairy. You know how Petra was. She made you think she was invincible, but Enceladus…that place got under her skin. Talking about it with me, she seemed rattled. Told me she saw monsters everywhere. That everyone did. Even on Ceres she…”
His voice faded.
“She saw them on Ceres, too?”
“Once. I think she was spooked and shattered by that rookie dying on her watch. You know how she was. Take care of each other, you know, her gospel. She felt she failed.”
A thought skittered by in my head, out of sight. Something I couldn’t grab hold of.
“Ok. Enceladus went to hell. Next, they send her to Ceres with you. What happened there?”
“Like I said, I thought she was pretty much fine.” His voice changed, became clipped and serious, the way he’d probably laid it out for the Company psychs, over and over and over again in the debrief. “She was on shift. I was on sleep cycle. Logs show she went into the shuttle-pod chamber without her suit and somehow managed to cripple or disengage the pod, causing a leak. She was in the transit-chamber between the station and the pod when the water rushed in. The station hatch was sealed, and I couldn’t open it until I had sealed the exterior hatch and pumped out the water. It took too long. By the time I got to her, she told me to take her home, and then she died.”
That unsettled skittering of something I ought to understand got worse.
“She talked to you? How long had she been in the water?”
He laughed, a sharp sound.
“You sound like the psychs, Becca. They told me she couldn’t have said anything. That I imagined it. It’s true I blacked out at some point. I can’t even remember most of what happened before the evac-bots extracted us. The debrief team told me she must have been dead when I got to her, that she couldn’t have said anything. But she did. “Take me home.” That’s what she said. And then she was gone.”
The sea heaves around us, too cold, too deep, too vast. My suit is keeping us afloat, but Jacob is fading. Maybe he’s already dead. The abyss is pressed up against me, heavy and cold.
We have nothing but our bodies, Jacob told me, but here, at the end, he doesn’t even have that. Even that has been taken away from him.
Teeth chattering, I call his name, and then I sing him snippets of every song from my playlist I can think of, hoping the sound of my voice will keep him here, that it will remind him of who he is, who we are, and why he has to stay with me.
I think of Petra, our glorious deepster punk mama, telling us to take care of each other.
I tried, Petra, just like you tried. But it wasn’t enough.
That’s when I see the light. The platform. And taking flight from it, three rescue bots, roaming across the waves toward us.
When I woke up in my bunk, Jacob was gone, his sleeping bag tangled as if he’d fought his way out of it. His thermal-suit still on the hanger. I knocked on the door of the hygiene stall, hoping.
I knew it, then. Knew what it was, the feeling that had skittered around my mind since we got here. I knew with absolute certainty, that something or someone was on the station with us. But was it just a monster, stitched together from my grief and anger, or was it real?
Heart pounding against my ribs, I put on my suit and followed the narrow hallway toward the shuttle-pod hatch, checking the small rooms as I went past. Part of me already knew where he was, but I kept hoping I’d find him on the way.
Again and again I called his name, but all I could hear was the hum of the station, and eventually, a muted alarm.
Jacob was in the transit chamber, between the station and the shuttle pod. Lights were flashing everywhere, wiring hung loose from a panel on the wall, as if he’d tried to disengage the shuttle-pod to let the water in. He hadn’t succeeded, yet, but I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get back to the surface in the pod anymore.
He stood there, naked, just like Petra had been, just like the guy they’d found dead on Enceladus, and none of his tattoos moved or even glowed. All his ink was dull and dead.
I pulled the inner hatch open and the sound from the alarm went from mute to an ear-shattering mayhem.
His hand trembled on the panel beside the shuttle pod. If he dislodged the seal now, with the inner hatch open, the station would flood, the pod would flood, and we’d be dead.
I stepped inside and sealed the hatch behind me.
He turned slowly, like he was surfacing from some place deep and mute, and in my head all the pieces were fitting together into a new kind of monster. The string of accidents after Enceladus. Always someone from Enceladus present. Except here. Here, it was just me and Jacob. Jacob, who had been on Ceres with Petra. Jacob, who was the only one with her when she died.
The accidents had been moving through the system. Something had been moving through the system, from one deepster station to another. Enceladus to Europa, Europa to Ganymede, and so on. Eventually to Ceres. Eventually here. Moving through us. Inside us. Inside other crew members. Inside Petra. Inside Jacob.
Jacob looked at me, but something else was staring out through his eyes.
“Take me home.”
The voice was Jacob’s, but I knew it wasn’t him speaking. Just like it hadn’t been Petra speaking to him on Ceres, because she’d already been dead.
Home. There was a yawning pit of despair and loneliness lurking beneath that word. The deep, dark waters of the North Sea were so very far from the depths of Enceladus–the abyss of outer space separating them. Separating whatever creature had entered a human body there, stowing away through us, through space, trying to find its way back to the ocean where it belonged.
“We’ll find another way.” I reached out for Jacob, hoping he was still there. “Whatever you want. Whatever you need.”
In an instant, Jacob’s tattoos flared to life, all of them glowing brighter than I’d ever seen before. At the same time, Jacob rushed me and knocked me down on the hard metal floor of the chamber. I scrambled to get up, but he was already at the broken panel, trying to activate the switch to blow the shuttle-pod, to let the darkness in. Or maybe, to let it out.
There was no time for finesse or subterfuge. I got to my feet, grabbed the stun-zapper in my pocket, trying to find the button, trying to turn it the right way around so I wouldn’t knock myself out.
I yanked on Jacob’s shoulder with one hand to pull him away from the panel, and with the other, I jammed the stun-zapper into the small of his back. He fell. Spasms. Screaming. The tattoos on fire, blazing, burning, until he passed out on the floor beside me. Looking down at him I saw a shadow moving underneath his skin, rippling past, diving deeper into muscle and bone to hide itself again.
Shaking, I opened the hatch to the shuttle-pod, and dragged Jacob’s heavy, limp body inside. After I’d made sure that the pod was sealed, I hit the emergency evac button.
I can still see the busted shuttle pod drifting in the swell, rolling over heavily, half-full of sea-water. At least it got us to the surface safely. At least we won’t get the bends. At least the hatch didn’t fail until we were up here. At least I got Jacob out before it started filling with water.
I keep my eyes fixed on the lights on the platform, on the rescue bots closing in, hoping they will get to us in time, but Jacob is so heavy. Even with the built-in floatation in my suit, I have a hard time keeping him above the waves, and I don’t know how much water he swallowed since we left the pod. I keep singing, wishing I could blast the music into the night: staccato drums to make his heart beat, ragged guitars and vocals to make him breathe.
His body spasms again, just like it did below, and, the tattoos come alive–writhing, luminescent. There it is again. Beneath the ink, the shadow moves as if it’s trying to break out of his skin from the inside. I see it move over his chest and throat and then– a shadow, a mist, a ghost of a shape–twitches loose from his flesh and bursts out of his wide-open mouth. For a moment, I almost see it clearly–undulating, shifting– then Jacob shudders and the shadow dives below us and is gone.
The whirring rescue bots are right above us, and I hold on to Jacob, shouting out his name above the noise, shouting that I love him, that he can’t die on me.
Jacob said we don’t have a home. But we do. Petra knew it. That’s what she tried to tell us. She understood it long before I did. Space is cold as hell, and the oceans are deep and dark and full of monsters, real and imaginary. But we have a home. Home is right here. Home is you and me, together. Home is us, two old deepster punks, clinging to each other in the darkness and the cold, keeping each other alive. That’s all the home I’ve ever had. That’s all the home I’ll ever want. All the home I’ll ever need.
When the bots lift us out of the water with their retractable limbs, Jacob’s tattoos shimmer to life, bioluminescent ink lighting up his body and his face. I curl up beside him in the rescue cradle, listening to the simple rhythm of his life-signs pinging through the CPR-bot, his chest shuddering with breath again. Looking down into the water, I see something in the waves, below the surface, or maybe skimming the waves– a gleaming shape of light, wrapped in darkness. For a moment it’s there, then it’s gone, and I can’t tell whether it dives into the darkness below, or whether it takes flight into the darkness above us, headed for home.
by Tina Connolly
This is such a great exploration of found family and home, in a really fun setting. As mentioned, it appeared in a volume called A Punk Rock Future, and you can feel that in the atmospheric setting of the world, with the thermal diving suits, the luminous animated tattoos, and the shuttles to take you to the depths of Enceladus, and Ganymede and Europa. But also in the our people here, our found family that was three and now two, our life-hardened Company vets who know that here are those they can really count on. Not regular jobs and conventional family lives, but knowing that the bonds you’ve made with each other are the ones to count on, the ones that last.
I think that works really well when Becca tries to figure out what has happened to Jacob, and what to do. The creature may have killed Petra and taken over Jacob, but the creature also just wants home, just wants to live the life it needs. And the deepster punks have the flexibility to understand something that is out of the ordinary, but something, like all of them, that just wants the thing that feels like home.
Now you’ve heard us say this before, but we are very close to reaching our associate editor pay goal on Patreon! And that is our final step to being able to pay *everyone* involved with our shows, which has been our goal for a long long time. Now you also personally get bonuses like being able to join the Escape Artists Discord server, which you can access for just one single solitary buck a month. That Patreon, as always is at patreon.com/EAPodcasts.
And one final thing if you haven’t heard about it! The Escape Pod anthology is now out. I have one right here in my hot little hands and it says “Celebrating 15 years of the Hugo Award-Nominated podcast.” I personally am really delighted to have a story in this anthology and I can’t wait to read it because, um, there’s not just me, there’s a huge list of fabulous names on the back of this cover. Ken Liu has a story in it. T. Kingfisher has a story in it. N. K. Jemisin has a story in it. So, as the back jacket cover clearly says: “Please proceed in an orderly fashion into the publishing phenomenon that is Escape Pod”, and check this fantastic looking anthology out for yourself. It is now available in both the UK and America and I cannot wait to start reading the entire thing.
Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc, and is brought to you with a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. Don’t change it. Don’t sell it. Please, go forth and share it.
How do you share it, you ask? Well! In addition to your social media of choice, consider rating and/or reviewing us on podcast listening sites, such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify. More reviews makes for more discoverability makes for more Escape Pod for you.
Escape Pod relies on the generous donations of listeners exactly like you. So! If you enjoyed our story this week then consider going to escapepod.org or patreon.com/EAPodcasts and casting your vote for more stories that dive into the darkness below.
Our opening and closing music is by daikaiju at daikaiju.org.
And our closing quotation this week is from Franz Kafka, who said: “The truth is always an abyss. One must–as in a swimming pool–dare to dive from the quivering springboard of trivial everyday experience and sink into the depths, in order to later rise again. . . .”
Thanks for listening! And have fun.
About the Author
Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She writes speculative fiction and poetry, and currently lives just outside Vancouver with a husband, two kids, and a very large black dog. Her work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flash Fiction Online, Shimmer, Cast of Wonders, and elsewhere.
About the Narrator
S. Kay Nash is a writer, editor, and occasional narrator. Raised by a cabal of university professors, anthropologists, and irritated librarians, she holds two degrees as magical wards to protect her from being hauled back into the ivory tower. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies including Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas writers, volume 2.
She lives in Texas with a Mad Scientist and a peaceful contingent of cats and dogs. You can find her on Twitter @Gnashchick.