Yujo Sippe Palms opened her eyes and saw the two suns of planet Mem filtered by the green of the sea.
Even at the age of eighteen, she was never quite able to contain her childlike amazement at the sight she saw every time she dove into the sea.
Area G, one of twenty-six such areas that made up the encirclement, had been picked clean by divers long before Yujo had gotten her license three years ago.
However, that didn’t mean that it was left a barren waste.
Even if Area G had little in the way of monetary value left. The dazzling sights, the sight of the two suns, the coral formations and the fish who made it their home, would always be fascinating to her.
The shrill beep in Yujo’s diving mask’s headphones dragged Yujo back to reality and made her focus on the two suns. Between them, a long stick sat between them and flashed a light back at her.
‘Alright, Alright…’ she muttered at the stick, the boat from which she had just dived into the sea.
She turned herself around and started looking for a surface where she could safely anchor herself to both the world of the ocean and the boat that sat above her.
Clutching the umbilical rope that held her diving harness fast to the boat waiting for her on the surface she took a deep breath, safe in the knowledge that she could begin her dive proper, and began to swim to the surface of Area G.
Her methodical method of swimming, a sequence of kicks and strokes that she had drilled to her during her diving training, caught the attention of a school of tiny fry-fish and tempted them to investigate the oddly shaped black and blue blob that had fallen into their world.
As Yujo reached the flat planes she pulled out a planting hook from one of the pockets of her diving harness and planted it into the ground.
She then pulled out a length of rope that rolled out from her harness and clamped it onto the hook, tying her down to the surface and offering her a place to return to once the hour had ended.
Satisfied that her perpetration was done Yujo swam to the edge of the plane, pulled on the rope and pressed the button on her harness.
A second later the rope jumped twice, and a beep rang in her ears. This was her starting gun. The go ahead from the Boat Hand above, to kick off the side into the deeper reaches of the sea below.
As the light green hue of the sea started to dull into darker tones, thoughts of Yujo’s home, St. Aldrin’s Orphanage for the Children of the Stars began to play in her head.
It was the one place she had lived in for most of her life and the home of the only family she ever knew.
It was also fighting a losing battle to keep itself running.
The funding that it had used to keep itself operational and pay for the rent on the antiquated church grounds was to end at the end of the month.
The Territory Wars was one with a lot of casualties on both sides.
The last year of the war was by far the worst of the troubles. The death of the opposition’s monarch caused a splintering of their army leading to the creation of terrorist cells that indiscriminately attacked the Republic and left the its defence force, the militia, unable to defend itself.
The loss of life in that year alone overshadowed the death toll of the rest of the conflict.
The War Orphanage system, the cornerstone of the Republic Government’s relief efforts, was their means of ensuring the closest thing to a normal childhood could be guaranteed to the countless children left without any family to look after them.
That system went into effect when Yujo was five and help paid the orphanage’s way for just over twelve years.
There was nothing the director, Sister Rosemary Mackenzie could do.
No amount of funding drives could ever amount to the immense amount of money needed to keep the orphanage running as an independent organisation free from oversight and over-reaching targets that would turn it from a place for children to grow up and find a family to a soulless factory, taking orphans and doing nothing but preparing them for their national service in the militia the moment they came of age.
The life that Yujo had envisioned for herself; becoming a nun of the Order, following in Rosemary’s footsteps and helping those who found themselves in the position she was all those years ago, was withering away.
Those thoughts, heavy as they were, were pushed aside as a small school of colourful fish glided past her.
Marine life of all shapes and sizes fluttered around in the green sea without a care in the world.
Yujo gasped in wonder at the amazing sight.
Even though she was able to name off every single kind of fish she could see off by heart, their brilliance, lit up by whatever little sunlight got through to this level of the sea, never failed to amaze her and make her feel just that little bit younger.
She wasted no time in pulling out a small black box, marked with scratches and decorated with stickers of comic mascots that had long since faded, from one of the many pockets of her harness and tapped it.
With a spurt, a holographic circle popped into existence on the top of the surface.
A grumble rumbled out of her mouth as she turned the box around and saw an image of the school in front of her as it continued to swim blissfully ignorant of her.
Being careful not to disturb the fish, she took a few more photos each one capturing the school as it swam in front of her like a beautiful model posing naturally.
As she took photo after photo, Yujo found herself caught up in the flow of her work.
Just as she took the last photo, the school acknowledged her existence and scattered like a brilliant explosion of confetti in every direction, leaving her to check the photos she had just taken.
She tapped the box again and made a sweeping motion with her right hand.
The photographs were projected out from the box and fanned out in front of her.
A small smile crossed her face.
It wasn’t much but that small sense of control was something she desperately needed.
With each successive swipe, she made the decision to keep or delete each photo with a professional level of efficiency.
Rosemary had told her that her father, someone she had absolutely no recollection of, was something of a famous war journalist and that some of that skill had rubbed off onto her.
She didn’t know one way or another.
The man and the woman in the photographs Rosemary showed her, the people she was told were her parents, didn’t even illicit the smallest spark of recognition.
They died when she was four. She should have been able to remember them and yet she couldn’t.
She got to the final photograph and sighed. The photograph was a smeared mess, an utter failure of her camera to capture the fish speeding away in every direction.
Reaching to delete the photo, Yujo came to a stop when she noticed a peculiar speck in the far background of the photo.
Unable to simply let it go she pressed on the speck twice to make the picture zoom in on it.
As the photo cleared the speck became the clear image of a large striped sea mammal, a tiger dolphin, surrounded by what looked like five divers covered in black fur with flesh coloured spots from the chest up and tapered off into a fin at the bottom.
A feeling of dread washed over Yujo’s body and her back began to tense up at the sight of the bizarre divers. ‘What are selk doing here?’ she thought to herself as she looked for cover and found it in a large rock nearby.
Her mind a mess of thoughts she scrambled to turn her terminal back on to her camera.
She pinched the surface out on top to zoom in on the scene and try to find the divers and figgure out just what was going on.
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- Craig A. McLeod
Bio: Craig A. McLeod lives in beautiful, calm and wet, Glasgow slap bang in the middle of Scotland. When he's not bashing out stories on his keyboard, he is designing website for clients all over the world. (Art by https://lunaofwater.deviantart.com/)