Back in his quarters, Dr. Marlos Juxi stripped naked and entered the drip mister shower. He pushed the red nodule that closed the splash sheath and then the white one that engaged the misting fronds. From the mossy walls of the shower lush pink fernlike arms unfurled from all angles and pushed against his body, still strong and virile despite his age. Some of the larger branches were warm and emitted a lightly scented secretion that tingled on the skin and left it smooth and fresh. The smaller branches passed over the same areas moments later, wiping clean any residue. Marlos breathed deeply in the oxygen rich compartment, turning slowly as the leaves lapped over him. After a few minutes he sighed and reached through the foliage to press the white button again. The branches curled up and receded back into the wall.
His skin glowed pink for a moment after he stepped out, an aftereffect of the shower. Lab tests had revealed that continued use of the showers strengthened the cellular integrity of the derma, keeping it moist and taut. It was one of the many luxuries the Bioglots had produced in their ever-growing understanding of the plants. He wrapped himself in his seasilk yukata, slid into his thick sponge slippers and then poured himself a beer from the pod tap. The pod – Trident 1 – held 1,000 living quarters, multiple laboratories, one of the three existing pod punchers, energy scaffolding and numerous other facilities, and was tethered to three other pods, one larger and two smaller. They in turn were tethered to two others, the smaller of those the reservoir house for the three strainer pods that filtered elements from the deep current waters.
Trident 1 was the first pod to have been made: the canary in the coalmine. It was tethered by seven massive plasma cables to the bedrock off the eastern coastline of a landmass formerly called North America, but that now had no name. A child of the Subterrestrials, Marlos’ parents had been reluctant Prescribers. It was their idea that their son should study the metaphytic sciences, as the future had no need for any more lawmakers. His childhood had been spent observing the growth and reproduction habits of the plants propagated from the great seed banks of the Terrestrials and he and the other young Bioglots had learned to work with them, to nurture and finally communicate with the flora, creating a language by which the different species could converse.
Marlos sat at his desk and rubbed his temples, taking a long draught off the sweet spiced beer the brewers Jacko and Shin had made. It wasn’t bad, although a touch more konbu wouldn’t hurt, he thought. The alcohol was higher, as it was a brew for the adults. The beer Braxon and the other children consumed, while much the same flavor, wouldn’t have the any of alcohol until after they’d mastered a technical skill, Colony Architecture in Braxon’s case. If he made it that far.
He’d done well today, Marlos mused, but an Architect needs more confidence in his decision-making. Granted, the boy was still young and just beginning to learn the feel of the plasmodesma. He’d known the right ratios for the interior growing compounds well enough, and the order with which to apply them. His first pod had turned out fine – perfectly usable, although he’d have to make many more before it was decided whether or not he continued beyond an apprenticeship. What the colony needed, however, was innovation, not more of the same. The intelligence was there. Just a little more initiative…
Tunxon would no doubt be inquiring about his son’s progress, although there was little the professor could give as an answer. It was still too early. Nine other boys were also in various stages of training. Should any of them misstep along the way, they’d be released from the program to pursue other disciplines, and another child would fill their position. There were several young girls on the roster of applicants this time around. Only one Architect would be retiring – the venerable Granseed Tana – but it was paramount to find the best possible replacement there was. Piper Melfund, a few weeks ahead of Braxon in the program, showed promise with his structural design. Rinny Litchtang too, with his love of multiport tethering experimentation, although he’d shown some confusion with his growth compound mixtures. Marlos wondered if Dr. Trommel, another architect supervising the new trainees, would let him go or keep him yet. According to program protocol he should have been failed and replaced. But protocol had been written with the first pod creation nearly 80 years ago, and needed updating. Besides, Trommel liked his creativity, as did Marlos, and it’d be agreed to let Rinny stay in the program a bit longer in the hopes he’d shake things up with some of the genius he supposedly possessed.
If the colony was to thrive it would need exactly that: genius and ingenuity that moved things forward. The existing pods were all surviving well enough, but to continue as a race a mastery of ocean living was crucial. And they were so very far from that.
Marlos finished his beer and refilled the glass halfway. Tomorrow Braxon would make another pod, this time without the professor’s instruction. More freedom would be given to the interior punch out, for if the young boy really was to be a future Architect, he’d have to develop his own style. Such things hadn’t been required before, long ago when the Dr. himself had punched his first pods. Structural integrity, buoyancy, all-around livability had been the chief factors. He’d made breakthroughs and that is what was asked of the new designers of the colony.
There were several basic problems to solve first. One was the desalinization of ocean water that didn’t require hours or vast quantities of energy. The second was how to take better measurements of the deep channel currents for the addition of three more turbines. And the final one Dr. Marlos Juxi was quite at a loss to even describe succinctly. Given the number of men and women in the colony and the rate of new births to deaths it was calculated the population of Merlutia would dwindle to just a few hundred in the next hundred fifty years or so. People needed to have more sex. How to foster that was the question…and not one for an eight-year-old Architects apprentice.
Marlos sighed again and drained his glass, putting it into the sterilizer with the other dirty dishes. When he closed the latch to its tightest lock setting a bright white light flashed three times. The doctor unloaded the plates and bowls, chopsticks and glasses and put them on the shelves and then lay down on his bed, a large sponge that floated in a rectangular water-filled box. The weight of his body activated the current and the water below the sponge began to flow softly underneath him from head down to feet, recycling through the body of the box in an endless stream.
For a few minutes he lay, looking up at the blue bioluminescence that twinkled in the curve of the ceiling. Try as he might, the power to remain focused on the day receded like a tide into the inky black of his mind, so he let himself fade to unconsciousness.
“And to the currents may I go…” he said, drifting off to sleep.