“Under Space” is a short science fiction story I wrote a few years ago. (My first attempt at prose after writing several screenplays.) The story takes place hundreds of years from now in an underwater colony. It’s written in the form of a series of journal entries by a young boy who lives on the colony.
by T.Z. Barry
PRIVATE! — Do not read.
1. Hello, World
I’ve heard stories of what earth used to look like: blue sky, white clouds, green grass… I wish I could see those colors for myself. My entire world is gray. Gray floors, gray walls, gray windows—windows that have been shuttered up for decades. I can accept the gloomy grays, but it’s the yellow, red, and orange colors that keep me up at night. Yellow is the color of the sun, or so I’ve heard. I’ve never seen it for myself, but I know that the sun is the reason I’m here. The sun’s the reason we’re all down here…20,000 leagues under the sea.
Actually we’re 6,720 meters below the surface, and counting. I don’t know how much longer we can continue descending. We’ll run out of ocean at some point, no matter how much we hope against it. Once we reach the bottom, it’s only a matter of time before we all melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.
My parents tell me to stop thinking about it. To go to school and play with my friends. Well, I hate school, and I have no friends. What’s there to do but worry about the future of our civilization? Everybody is in denial. They come up with convoluted explanations to lighten the situation, but it’s all bullshit. How can you solve a problem if you refuse to admit there’s a problem?
Watch your language, Fintan! Try writing about more pleasant topics in the future. – Mrs. Tesna
I mean shoot, I forgot my teacher would be reading this. And I hate when people call me Fintan. I’m Fin.
First we’re forced to keep this stupid journal for school, and now you’re telling us what we can and can’t write about? Fine, I’ll write about something perfectly neutral: food. The gourmet delicacies grown through our completely self-sufficient hydroponic system in the greenhouses of level four. An incredible variety. A wide selection of three different meals, two of which are practically inedible. I sure love eating soybeans and spinach every day!
Good work, Fin! I’m glad you like the food. My husband is a chef. – Mrs. Tesna
I don’t know why we call them days anymore. There’s no sun, no moon. The only difference between night and day is the flip of a light switch. Anyway, during the time between my last two sleep sessions, the temperature rose from 95º C to 96. A temperature increase is normal, but not after we descend. I can sense it already. This is the beginning of the end.
I knew we couldn’t descend forever. Eventually we’d reach the point where the heat from the surface and the core would converge. What is it called when a slope stops descending and begins to increase? I never paid attention during math class—I didn’t see the point of school. Education made more sense on the surface, when people could apply their knowledge, create new technology, and make new discoveries. But down here, teachers only use education to preserve a defunct lifestyle and the memory of a world that no longer exists.
It’s called the inflection point, Fintan. We learned that last month. And don’t start a sentence with “and” or “but.” I’m sorry you feel that way about school, but I disagree. We wouldn’t be here today without education. – Mrs. Tesna
4. Bad News, Good News
Atlantic President Ramsey said the plan is to remain at this depth for the time-being. My dad and the other scientists say we’ll be safe here for several years, but what do they know? Our ancestors on the surface tried to plan for this when they started building the colonies two-hundred years ago, but it’s difficult to plan for everything when you have no idea what to expect.
My dad’s been working long hours. I only see him a few minutes each day. I think he’s doing something down on level six. This sphere is big, over 300,000 square meters, but it’s minuscule compared to the vast ocean it floats in. When your world is limited to six levels on a submerged sphere, you can’t escape the feeling of claustrophobia.
There was a bit of good news yesterday amid the mayhem. I have a cousin! My aunt and uncle had a baby boy named Dylan. Mom’s a nurse, and she helped deliver him. That raises the current Atlantic Colony population to 108,713. I can’t wait until Dylan grows up. I’ll finally have a friend.
Congratulations Fin! I look forward to teaching your cousin some day. – Mrs. Tesna
…another one of the pointless subjects they force on us in school. It’s hard to believe animals ever existed. The closest I’ve ever been to an actual animal is the occasional giant squid or sperm whale that collides against one of our metal walls. I wish there were still windows, so I could catch a glimpse of one of the creatures, if for nothing else than to confirm that there is life beyond the walls of this floating sphere.
Mrs. Tesna said people used to keep animals such as dogs and cats as pets—animals that they fed and shared a home with. Naturally, pets couldn’t accompany humans onto the colonies. All available space was needed for the human population, or at least the lucky few of which were selected to board a colony. Are we the lucky ones? Are things really that bad on the surface? I don’t know. No one does. All I know is that from where I stand, here and now, we are closer to hell than heaven.
I’d like to speak to your mother, Fintan. A boy your age shouldn’t be having such evil thoughts. – Mrs. Tesna
6. AC Day
It’s hard to believe that Atlantic Colony’s been underwater for 152 years. We’re reminded every day to be thankful that we were chosen to board a colony, and to pray that those who were left behind are safe on the land up above. AC lost contact with the surface about fifty years after submersion. The colony descended too far into the hadal trench to retrieve any kind of radio signal.
Atlantic was the second colony built, after Indian. There were technical difficulties at first, but they eventually got the colony under water. Pacific was the third colony, still under construction when Atlantic left, and scheduled to leave twenty-five years after us. There were plans to build a fourth colony, but no one here knows if it was ever completed. We lost contact with our fellow colonies before we lost contact with the surface.
You really know your history, Fin. It’s nice to know that you’re paying attention in at least one of my classes. – Mrs. Tesna
7. Math = Boring
Mom is mad at me because I failed my math test. I don’t know what the big deal is—technically my answers were correct.
Question 1: What is 6,720 divided by 96?
Answer: Not 14.
I wasn’t wrong, but apparently, mom and Mrs. Tesna didn’t find my answer funny. Mrs. T lectured, “You’ll never become a scientist like your father if you don’t learn mathematics.”
Maybe I don’t want to be a scientist. Just because every other Larso had a “Dr.” preceding their name, it doesn’t mean I have to as well. I know my dad is doing important work for the colony, and I respect him for that, but math and science are boring to me. The entire Atlantic Colony is boring, as a matter of fact. I don’t want to live my whole life stuck inside a laboratory. I wish I could escape these gray walls and explore the world up above…if there even is still a world up there to explore.
You’re a bright student, Fintan. You just need to apply yourself. – Mrs. Tesna
8. 97º C
President Ramsey and my dad were wrong. The temperature rose to 97-degrees. Dad tries to remain calm in front of me, but when he thinks he’s alone, I can see the panic and fear on his face. I know what he knows but refuses to admit—that we can’t stay here much longer.
Dad and the scientists claim to know what they’re doing, but none of them have ever set foot on earth. All they know is what’s inside these gray dome walls of our colony. What if they’re just like the scientists who told Christopher Columbus the earth was flat? Maybe the conditions on the surface got better. They can’t know for sure.
Atlantic Colony is a sphere, not a dome. And there’s no need to panic, Fintan. Leave the worrying to the adults. – Mrs. Tesna
9. Sun Wars
Today in history class we learned about the ancient Egyptians. Mrs. Tesna said that they used to worship Ra, the god of the sun. If there really is a sun-god, what did we do to deserve this cruel punishment?
I started reading this awesome book called Star Wars. Why can’t we read books like this in school? The Death Star reminds me of Atlantic Colony. They’re both gigantic gray domes—or spheres—floating around the universe. Or maybe the Death Star is more like the sun. Both can destroy an entire planet with beams of light. There’s no evil villain like Darth Vader on Atlantic Colony, however; unless you consider the sun itself a Sith Lord.
Dad told me Star Wars was originally a movie. I’d give anything to see it, but that will never happen—movies have been outlawed. We can’t waste power on video projections. The only entertainment we have now are books. Luckily, Star Wars was transcribed to print form. If only there were more books like this.
I’m glad to hear that you’re reading, Fin! There are lots of great science fiction books available in the library. I’ll give you a list. – Mrs. Tesna
10. Level Seven?
Level six, the bottom floor, is the only level on Atlantic Colony where access is restricted. It’s allegedly the sewage drainage center. I didn’t know what my dad could possibly be doing down there at a time like this, so I secretly followed him yesterday.
The horrid smell struck me instantly, and I assumed that was the reason entry was forbidden. Dad walked down the hallway past several rows of sewers, and I was about to turn around and go home, when he stopped by a large door at the end of the hall labeled “L-7.” There was a security guard standing in front of the door, and my Dad said something to him, then he unlocked it to let him inside.
I only saw a glimpse of the other side before the door swung closed, but it looked like a staircase—a staircase that went down, not up. Is there a seventh level below? Why would they keep it secret? What’s down there?
You shouldn’t be snooping around in restricted areas, Fintan. I’ll have to talk to your parents. – Mrs. Tesna.
Continue reading Under Space: