Well, Bee King Chuck Wendig created another writing prompt, and since I'm in a bit of a writing slump, I thought, what the hell, I 'll give this one a go too. So here's my piece inspired by Snow Crash and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I'm calling it "20k" — a short glimpse of life as a drug smuggler in a world where everyone lives Bioshock style under the sea. Enjoy!
Vannah was drowning, which was swell since we weren’t even underwater yet. A swirl of rainbows shimmered across her face—like oil curling in a puddle of water—and her curvy form began twitching and writhing as fish scales pushed up through her dark skin. I stared because how could I not stare, it was so beautiful—
“Fuck get the fuck out of your head! She’s fucking dying!”
Loto punched my arm, and I almost dropped my syringe.
“Shit man, watch it!” I said. If the 20k was kicking in that quick, it was legit, top-notch stuff. We could probably coast for months off the profits. I placed the syringe on a shelf and glared at him, all 6-foot-5, 300-pounds, tattoo-saturated of him. We’d picked him up at port just for this run, because he said he had an in with the Samoans, and you don’t fuck with the Samoans. I still didn’t trust him, but whatever, Vannah vouched for him. Vannah, who was flopping around the deck, her bluing hand smacking the hull with a hollow, metallic bang. BOOM BOOM BOOM. The sub trembled and groaned.
Loto glared right back, “Just help me shove her in the water before half the Sea Guard hears us.”
Vannah quit slapping the hull as we approached. We hoisted her into the air and dropped her unceremoniously down the sub’s hatch and into the black sea. She appeared thirty seconds later at one of the portside windows, trying to flip us off and failing because her fingers had webbed together. Loto and I had a good laugh at that.
“You’re next,” I said. Loto nodded, picked up his syringe, and jammed the needle into his arm. “Ah,” he said, half-closing his eyes in ecstasy. He stumbled over to the hatch, picked up his and Vannah’s smuggler packs, his spear gun, and dove into the deep with barely a splash just as the fins started popping up on his back.
“Here we go,” I said. I double-checked the sub’s systems, switched them to torpor, and then stared at myself in the circular mirror I’d bolted over my bunk. Maybe a hundred pounds wet, my neon pink bikini sagging like wash on the line, fish-belly pale skin topped by a shock of short, Einstein white hair, two hydrolic pistols strapped to my thighs. “Qaz Lippan, you are fucking sexy,” I said. I picked up the syringe and flicked it once, twice, watching the quicksilver liquid inside shimmer and fold over itself.
Then I aimed the needle at one of the tracks perforating my arm, shoved the tip into my skin, and jammed my thumb on the plunger. 20k—premium drug of the apocalypse—flooded my veins, and the submarine’s interior seemed to warp as the fisheye kicked in.
I scooped up my smuggler pack, strapped it to my back, and cannonballed down the hatch.
The world ended. So we said, fuck the world, let’s go back to our roots.
The communities were built before the first nuke nosed into the sky, before the war that ended life on dirt as we knew it. Deep sea communities, where people could ride out the radiation, the apocalypse, the wars for however long they needed to. You could farm algae, rodeo the shit out of some sharks, or become a halibut rancher. It was sold as something bucolic, peaceful; a limitless tranquility marked by the streaking light of passing anglers.
Fast forward a hundred years, and the topside was still a radiated fuckland, and the deep sea was still home.
And people were bored.
So, obviously, entertainment industries thrived. Porn stars made serious bank, bards too, spouting out stories because paper was almost impossible to come by and most of what was ended up beside toilets. But, above all else, drugs became the world’s serious shebang. Illegal shebang, but whatever.
And no drugs were more sought after than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—20k for short. Half opiate and half mutagenic, 20k was an avalanche of euphoria with a side-effect of merman. People could get high and, even better, escape their port walls and go outside.
And it was our job to get it to them.
We’d anchored in a little hollow in Terper’s Reef, about a mile outside the mid-sized port town of Cool Water. Its luminescent domes clung barnacle-like to the seafloor, Sea Guard subs circling over it like sharks scenting a kill. Vannah took the lead, burrowing through the reef so the subs wouldn’t see our approach, cutting through coral with her sawknife where necessary. Clownfish flittered and darted out of our way, eels slithered sulkily off into the darkness. A low cloud of silt rose to meet us, limiting our vision to a few yards.
We broke free after about ten minutes of swimming. The chills were settling in—our 20k was wearing off. We had probably five minutes before our necks would realize—oh shit, we’re not supposed to have gills! What the fuck! And close up. We needed to slip into port stat.
The only problem?
We were staring at the ass end of a Sea Guard sub.
A beard of bubbles surged up out of its engine and zipped topside as it slowly trolled in front of our port entrance. Vannah turned around and tapped her wrist. Loto glanced at me and shrugged. I scowled—it’s not like I wasn’t ready for this—and pulled a Pacfish out of my backpack. The things were expensive as all hell, but useful against Sea Guard ships and their bubbly engines. It was a robotic, yellow ball—all mouth and teeth—programmed to chomp bubbles and slowly swell as it consumed more air until—POP—it exploded. Usually by then it was already in a Sea Guard sub’s engine, rendering the ship dead in the water.
The Pacfish zipped out of my hands and flung itself into the orgy of sub engine bubbles. Vannah tapped her wrist more vigorously, and pointed ahead. I gave her a thumbs up, and the three of us swam forward, diving beneath the Sea Guard submarine. Just as we were passing under it we heard a low BOOM, and I looked up in time to see the submarine shudder and its engines go dark.
We cut through a field of kelp and slipped through a low gap in the dome. The webs on my hands were receding, the fins on my arms falling off and crumbling. Only a few more seconds to go and—
SPLASH. We broke free of the surface, and found ourselves in a small fishing room. Three walls formed a U that faced the dome and stared out into the black depths of the sea. A trunk-sized gas-powered pressure engine kept it at bay, while allowing smaller fish to slip under where we came through—there was nothing like deep-sea fishing while at deep sea. I worked my jaw to make my ears pop, adjusting to the room's pressure.
“That was fucking close,” Vannah said, swiping her palm across her face. “Fucking Sea Guards—they’re some of our best customers, you’d think they’d let us bring a shipment in the normal way!”
“Yeah well,” Loto said. He tossed his backpack out of the water, and hoisted himself up onto the metal peer. The pressure engine rattled loudly across the way, emitting a trickle of smoke that smeared across the ceiling. Across the room we could hear the faint footfalls of passersby through the fishing room’s iron door. “Better safe and smuggling.” He reached down and pulled both Vannah and I up in one quick movement.
“Yeah, whatever,” I said. I was already stripping out of my swim gear and putting on some jean shorts and a t-shirt. Dry clothes—didn’t want any dome patrols asking why we were sopping. Vannah was doing the same, wriggling distractedly into a pair of short olive cargo shorts and a cropped, blue tank top. Loto had the grace and courtesy to not ogle us as he pulled a pair of board shorts out of an airtight bag in his smuggler pack and yanked them on over his speedo. In a minute we looked like townies, our suits stuffed back into the water tight bags we'd used to stow our street clothes. "Let's just get this done with ASAP. I'm dying for some octopus tacos and a nice, cold—"
That’s when I noticed the hand.
It seemingly unfurled from behind the pressure engine, frozen in a gesture of beckoning. I trotted wordlessly over to it, then unleashed a string of curses when I realized it was, in fact, a dead person. Vannah and Loto jogged over to me.
“Shit,” Loto said.
“That’s our contact Das,” Vannah said.
“We are so fucked,” I said.
Das—hands scarred from years of shark wrestling, fishing, being a mechanic, whatever—was lying on his back, staring up at one of the flickering work lights dangling from the ceiling, his mouth open, eyes wide, his white beard now pink with blood. A pool of it spread out from under him, darker around the cause of death: a spear jammed right into his belly.
“That’s a terrible way to go,” Loto said.
I bent down and closed his eyes—a light sea green, contrasting his dark skin. He wasn’t even cold yet.
“He was supposed to take us to our buyer,” I said. “I wondered what happ—”
Across the way, the door burst open, and a dozen guards spilled into the room, cocking beanbag shotguns and aiming them right at us.
“FREEZE! HANDS UP HANDS UP!”
Vannah and I glanced at each other, then dropped our bags and threw our hands in the air. Loto made a show of putting his spear gun on the ground, and then did the same.
“I think there’s been some misunderstand—” I began.
“QAZ LIPPAN AND VANNAH BLACK, YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR SMUGGLING 20K INTO COOL WATER, AND FOR THE MURDER OF DAS HELMAN! ON YOUR KNEES! ON YOUR KNEES!”
Loto looked askance at us, then took a large sidestep away.
“Officers, I don’t know them,” he said.
“Prick,” I muttered.
The guards came charging at us, guns steady, unwaivering.