Water Beneath the Waves

A science fiction story in Olympus Union by Gary Bloom

Characters: Jones Oden

Working diligently at her office desk, deep within the oceanic city of Poseidos, Dr. Renshi Hamada's hands suddenly froze over her keyboard. The virtuoso in both experimental chemistry and physics, a nearly impossible amalgam to achieve, found herself positively flummoxed. Lecturing often, both under the dome and on dry land across the Olympus Union, Hamada's confidence was boundless. Yet, just now, the woman was unquestionably stunned by the data on her computer screen. She had been reviewing results of her team's latest water synthesis experiments

Dr. Hamada was known for keeping her office quite warm. It was her haven in the otherwise cool city. As she read the results another time, carefully checking them line by line, she felt goose bumps prickling up along the backs of her arms in defiance of the warmth. She couldn't believe the figures on the screen were correct. After all of this time it seemed so unlikely, but why shouldn't it be correct? It was her work, after all!

"I need another set of eyes in here, rig now," she called out into the general lab. Her door, only slightly ajar, blocked most of the request. Sliding off her chair, Renshi swung it all the way open and called out again. "Let's go! I need someone to verify these results, right now!"

Lacedrick Bivins strode into the room with purpose and began dragging another chair over as Hamada resumed her seat and rolled back from the desk.

"So, what am I looking at here?" he asked his mentor.

"These are the latest data from the water synthesis tests that I ran. The trials with that slight tweak in the formula we discussed earlier in the week. Now, don't skim these, read it like you would any of your own experiments. If you end up sharing my conclusions, I want to be absolutely positive that you honestly saw what I did."

The man nodded, his lips pressed tightly, and dropping into the chair, set to work. He meticulously repeated her practice exactly, methodically moving line by line. When he came to the end of the report, he made to double check his own conclusions, just to be safe. The corners of his mouth twitched ever so slightly as he started again, but Bivins said nothing at first, doing his best to contain the enthusiasm; his mentor might have just made a stunning break through if he was reading everything properly. Finally, Bivins looked up and nodded with a broad smile.

"It looks like they held, doctor. You've created stable, drinkable, usable water from raw molecules, and you've done it faster than anyone ever thought possible."

* * * * *

"Minister Garlin, we have word of an urgent breakthrough from the synthetics team! Dr. Hamada is on her way over here right now to explain it to you in person. She said that you should gather anyone else you feel would benefit from such an important discovery."

The Minister of Poseidos was so startled by the news that he didn't bother to reprimand the aid for her intrusion. He dismissed the older woman with a wave and a smile, certain that he would find an opportunity to reinforce the rules at a later time when the two of them were largely alone. At the moment, however, it was more important to appear benevolent. Maintaining his facade, before his current guest, and his forthcoming one, was positively critical.

"I sincerely apologize, Marta," he said to the other person in the office, rising from his seat, "but it appears that something rather pressing has suddenly come about. Having spent so much time in Poseidos, I'm certain that you understand. Would you please excuse me?"

"Yes, of course, I absolutely understand," the Director of Food Production said, her face and voice both crestfallen. "Please feel free to have your assistant reschedule when it's more convenient, Jakub."

She was one of the few who were allowed to address the Minister by his first name. Only directors had that privilege, she knew, although it was one she rarely utilized. Today, however, in this moment, it felt appropriate to do so. It was something to enable Marta a reminder that she was, in fact, important here. She reminded the Minister, as well that she mattered, if not quite so much so as the scientists. It was, after all, the science that drove the city, but there were others who mattered. She slipped out the door and out to the hall, staring wistfully up at the dome, shuffling down the street..

Jakub Garlin moved about his office, straightening the chairs and tidying up his desk. If this discovery were as big as he had hoped, there would be a broadcast to the other Ministers today, or perhaps the Prime Minister instead. He would prefer such a video feed originate from his office. The Minister always enjoyed an opportunity to ensure the surface dwellers that his power was every bit as vast as theirs. It wouldn't do to appear sloppy among one's peers, however. A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts and he finished adjusting the contents of his bookcase.

"Minister," the aid began, "Dr. Hamada is here."

"Good, good," he returned to his arm chair in the central conference region of his office, "show her in!"

Hamada arrived, quite excited, and carrying display equipment. She set down the projector and her tablet on the small table between the four high-backed chairs, looked around the room and frowned. The Minister was the only person present. Despite the momentous occasion, he had invited no one. Not even a live feed to one of the other sub-oceanic cities.

"It's just the two of us?"

"Yes," the Minister said, his beaming bureaucratic smile firmly in place. "After I get a good understanding of what you've got here, then I'll schedule something a little more elaborate. No reason in jumping the gun."

The announcement would hasten the other two scientific cities' move to replicate and confirm the method. Of course, he might be protecting her work from theft; so internal replication might be the best thing to do. Renshi put the thoughts aside. Nodding her understanding, the researcher set off on her explanation, not bothering with the projector. She tilted her tablet just enough for Garlin to see, launching into the scientific breakdown of the entire process in great detail. He tries to follow her for a handful of minutes, and then clears his throat pointedly, at which point the researcher finally looked up.

"With all due respect," the Poseidos Minister said, feigning embarrassment, "I'm an administrator, not a scientist."

He expected her to offer a polite smile, perhaps even some embarrassment of her own, but instead the scientist stared at him blankly for a moment. Not speaking at all, quickly re-thinking how to communicate with such an unabashed layman, she finally let out a frustrated sigh. Speaking much more slowly this time, Hamada began the explanation again, trying to stick only to the basics.

"Minister, I have made a breakthrough in the science of elemental synthesis," she explained, her previous enthusiasm severely dulled. Thinking quickly, she added, "That means that I've taken raw elements and put them together to make something new. In this case, I was attempting to create water. That wasn't the actual initial break through, mind you. I've created water from raw elements before, but this was the starting point. Do you understand me so far?"

Garlin nodded with his false smile firmly in place. He wasn't certain, but he thought she might be adding something of a condescending approach to her presentation. While not appreciated, he would deal with it later once he could exasperatedly prove an understanding that he currently did not have.

"Water synthesis is something that we have had a bit of success with in the past, as a scientific community; however, it was also incredibly costly in energy, and often the water wasn't stable. That means that it could break down quickly. Other times we couldn't make enough to matter. My research was centered around reducing the overall energy requirements for this process which would give us the ability to create much larger volumes of water." She was forcing herself to speak fairly slowly, hoping that he wouldn't interrupt her with his stupidity again. "The breakthrough means that we can produce water from elements using far less energy expenditure, down to 10% less than all previous known methods. There is also a chance that, with a minor modification, we might be able to reduce by another fraction of a percent."

"Well," he laughed, "let's not waste too much time on fractions of a percent, doctor. That isn't something to make a whole lot of difference, right?"

The Minster laughed a little more until he realized that he was alone. Not only did his star scientist not find humor in the statement, she appeared annoyed. Clearly fighting the urge to yell at the leader of her vast city, and the man who controlled her funding, the woman's lower lip was tightly caught between her teeth. He decided to keep his mouth shut for the rest of her discussion, no matter what she said.

"My research has caused a faster breakdown of Carbon Dioxide into its elemental components." She added, with much condescension, "Carbon and Oxygen."

"So," the Minister said, cautiously, when it was clear that she was done, "this new procedure could have startling effects across the system!"

"Yes," she nodded. "Especially if we can improve it by another fraction of a percent."

Slightly abashed, but haughty all the same, the duly appointed leader of Poseidos thanked his scientist and dismissed her. Shutting the door and returning to his desk chair, the man was uncertain if he should be embarrassed or insulted.

* * * * *

Back in his element, speaking political spin instead of scientific structure, the under-sea city's Minister smiled. Jakub Garlin had been in secure communication with Prime Minister Oden for the past ten minutes. Garlin had the pleasant duty of announcing Hamada's news to the leader of the Olympus Union. The Prime Minister offered him hearty congratulations on his good fortune.

"If her work can be replicated," the affable Oden explained, "then she will be honored, with a great deal of fanfare, across our great nation. What are your next steps in the matter?"

"I'm going to have her present everything to the rest of the teams here in Poseidos," Garlin answered. "First we'll have a team replicate the experiment, and hopefully the results, locally. Once that happens, I'll reach out to Gnisia and Troy to have them do the same."

The Minister was certain that the other two sub-oceanic cities would have no problem with the task if it could be done again inside his city. Poseidos often lead the way in scientific research, but the other two cities were premier enclaves of exploration in their own rights.

"You know," Oden mused, "this could have a rather startling affect across the solar system. We already have such a large-scale operation on Venus dedicated to Carbon Dioxide acquisition. If this Doctor Hamada's methods are truly able to reduce the energy required to break down the CO2 as well as building up water, Venus could become a vast production center. New processing plants would take some time to build and bring online, but we could legitimately begin large scale processing and shipping of pure O2 off-world within two years! It would be quite an amazing feat. Hydrogen mining in the outer planets, alone, would enable us to create water anywhere that we needed it."

"Well," Jakub said, his best smile in place, "Dr. Hamada did mention that she might be able to decrease energy needs by another fraction of a percent."

"Are you serious?" On Minster Garlin's video screen, the Prime Minister sat bolt upright. "She could actually crop off another fraction of a percent? Do you have any idea what this means?"

The Minister, of course, had absolutely zero concept of what this meant. The concept had gotten him in enough trouble with his politically meaningless scientist, so he wasn't about to admit anything to the leader of all mankind. He merely grinned conspiratorially, arching an eyebrow, and shrugged devilishly. It landed with the desired effect.

"Alright," Oden chuckled, settling back down, "I won't spoil your surprise for the world, Jakub. We'll hold that news back until we have confirmation. Still, the idea of being able to make such large-scale improvements in even less time... it really is mind boggling. I'm going to have to reach out beyond the asteroid belt today for a discussion. Hydrogen extraction from the Jovian atmosphere will need to step up their efforts. Of course," he added absently, "it will be even more important to reign in the Jovian system now. We can make that work, though. I have no doubt of that."

"Reign in the Jovian System sir? Have there been problems?" Garlin felt a bit at a loss with respect to his off-world brethren. "We get so little surface news down here, I'm afraid the happenings far out in the colonies don't even register on our radar."

"No, no, put it from you mind," Oden said with a flourish, "it will be taken care of. Focus on the project and getting those confirmed results. When the time comes to present this to the rest of the Olympus Union, I will make it a point to bring both you and this scientist of yours here to San Fransisco. You will have your moment in the sun, Minister Garlin, and perhaps find yourself in a wonderful position that such great prestige will deserve."

The two men exchanged platitudes and pleasantries for a few more minutes before Oden cited another appointment that was drawing close. Garlin nodded and smiled, knowing that he was being politely dismissed. The Minister closed the connection and leaned back in his chair. If this all panned out, big things might be in store for him one day soon. Politics was a wonderful thing when others did the work for you.

* * * * *

Two weeks after the initial announcement, Jakub Garlin sat triumphantly in his office. He was on secure line with other sub-oceanic Ministers for their monthly virtual conference. It would have been better to do this in person, but the triannual face-to-face meeting was not for another six weeks, and he couldn't wait. Besides, they would be on Troy for that, and he preferred the comfort of his own office to make this announcement.

When he had announced the discovery by Dr. Hamada, the other two Ministers were quite quite astonished. To his dismay, however, they did not flood him with congratulations and adulation. While Jakub was far more skilled at the game of politics, his counterparts had actual scientific understanding. Political skill fueled his meteoric rise to his post, and would push him further up the Olympus Union's ladder, but at the moment they did him no good. Instantly, the Minister regretted the decision to quash Hamada's request to make the presentation herself. He would simply have to hope that the questions were not horribly detail oriented.

"The experiments will obviously need to be conducted by more than just Dr. Hamada," Adrienne Baltimore asked. The Minister of Gnisia came from a long and powerful family line, and always put on airs. "Have the results been replicated by any others, or are you simply jumping at layman's foolhardy excitement?"

The woman was so blunt and had nearly no political savvy, Garlin realized. How she had risen to this position seemed almost a loss for him. Perhaps her long blond hair, and equally long and shapely legs had something to do with it. Was she sleeping with someone in the hierarchy? Perhaps special favors done for the Prime Minister? Surely it couldn't be her staggering intelligence. No one advanced so far, politically, on intellect.

"One of our teams just completed the first replication experiment. Results are all positive and they'll put out an official report tomorrow. Before you ask," he held up a hand, "I've got a third team on this too. They're going to triple check the results. We should be fine, but I've got enough scientific acumen to know better."

In reality, he had only heard the phrase "scientific acumen" earlier that day. It had come out of the mouth of Renshi Hamada, with a tone of absolute exasperation. He couldn't remember her exact words, but something about anyone with a shred of scientific acumen being unwilling to boast of success without diligent follow up. That was when she had explained that he absolutely must have a third team verify the results. There was no need for the others to know that he needed prompting on the matter. The other ministers especially needn't find out that he had his next words written for him by the doctor herself.

"What I'm looking for at this stage is to garner independent verification," he said. The statement was completely memorized, the words flowing masterfully from his lips, but still felt awkward in his mouth. "I'm calling upon you and your own scientific communities to join me in furthering this remarkable breakthrough. Are you with me?"

Impressed with his fellow Minister's sudden eloquence, Minister Ralph Lane of Troy agrees to assist almost immediately. He would be, he claimed, more than happy to assist in this noble pursuit. Predictably, Baltimore seconded the notion rather quickly, although with far less diplomacy. She really was horribly blunt, but the two men paid it no mind. Garlin promised to provide a full set of instructions within a day's time, just as Hamada had instructed.

The sub-oceanic Ministers spent another thirty minutes discussing business. Lane's people had made strides in updating an ages old method developed by the Israelis. They could now farm with slightly more success using salt water. Troy's produce had developed an exceptionally high quality taste as a result. The method was expected to be demonstrated to the surface world in the next month, with expectations for significant results.

Baltimore proudly announced that her teams had developed both a chemical compound to strengthen their domes and a grass that would grow exceptionally well in the nutrient deficient Martian soil. The first item was one of relative importance to all three of them, and she promised to start sending teams out for retrofitting the other two cities' domes by the end of the year. The second would be equally important out on the Red Planet. So much had been done to import nutrient rich soil from Earth, especially from the ocean floor, to spread in thin layers across Martian farms, and limited plant life had also been developed to grow in nutrient suffused natural soil. Unfortunately, much of their food was still produced through hydroponic methods, or imported from Earth in the case of certain other produce. Gnisia's new grass would provide the ability to cultivate Martian soil into a more naturally nutrient rich environment, and more importantly, was a stepping stone to converting other plant life to thrive within the natural Martian soil. These were incredibly important and game changing discoveries.

Jakub Garlin didn't care one bit. In fact, he was scarcely listening to what they were saying, merely nodding and smiling to bide his time. Neither of his fellow Ministers had much in the way of political ambition. Baltimore was proud of her lineage, tracing all the way back to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore. Presiding over Gnisia and putting a stamp upon it which ensured scientists and laborers could co-exist in a climate of mutual respect was her personal triumph, and one that she was happy to mark as her political apex. The woman was much more interested in the scientific accolades of her city than ascension into Olympus Union royalty.

Lane, likewise, was content to lord over Troy and make strides beneath the ocean's surface. His ultimate goal, if rumors were to be believed, was to successfully have a fourth sub-oceanic city commissioned. It would be the first built during the days of the Olympus Union, and he hoped to be its founding Minister, to then serve until retirement. Both Adrienne and Ralph were happy to get their hands dirty and live beneath the waves for all of their days.

Minister Garlin had far bigger plans. He would rule above the water's camouflaging surface, not be hidden from the world. One day, Jakub would even leave the confines of this limiting ball of mud and take to the stars. Oh yes, he had great plans, and they would come to fruition on the back of Renshi Hamada's work. She would make it possible to colonize every heavenly body in this solar system, and he would be out on the forefront when Saturn was taken. After all, Saturn Minister Garlin had such a wonderful ring to it.