My first underwater breath nearly killed me.
That doesn’t stop me from stepping into the cramped confines of the conversion chamber anyway. My stomach tightens as I key in my access code, my fingers moving over the black, waterproof panel with ease. The memory of that failed transition is a hot vapor at the back of my throat, but that’s all it is. An echo. A reminder. Right now, I’m more likely to get caught sneaking out.
I shake out my fists and roll the stiffness from my shoulders. Clamps snick closed over my flippers, tubes set into the bottom of the chamber open with a pressurized pop, and water crashes in around my feet. After nearly three years, these preparations, at least, have become automatic.
I close my eyes and drag in a measured breath, hold it, slowly let it out. I do it again and again while the water licks up my calves, my thighs, my hips. Thanks to the skin-like suit covering nearly every inch of my body, the moisture doesn’t register. Water rolls up my stomach, pressing in from all sides. As the weight settles over my chest, I gasp, my eyes popping open. Long combs in my suit along either side of my ribcage spread wide my gill openings, through which lukewarm water seeps into my body.
Red illuminated digits reveal I have ten seconds, and I fight not to hit the emergency override button well within reach. The human body is designed to breathe on its own. Nine. Telling my body to stop doing what it’s designed to do, forcing my breathing to slow though my heart thunders in my chest, is like trying to wrangle an alligator. Eight. A mask covers my mouth and nose, wrapping from ear to ear, and I trigger the one-way valve. With a hiss, it seals tight to my face. Seven. Water sloshes over my chin, and my body instantly rebels, my lungs straining for air, but the mask doesn’t give. Six.
My eyes press shut against the water; another reflex I can’t seem to kick, but the darkness helps me focus. I blow the remaining oxygen from my lungs, force it out the one-way valve beneath my ear. A bolt of fire rips through my chest. It’s that instinct—to breathe when there is no air—that every aquine struggles to break. Most end up passing out if their gills don’t open. Not me. The day I took my first, fully-submerged breath, I forgot to check the seal on my mask, so when instinct demanded oxygen, my lungs took on water instead. It’s a mistake I will never make again.
My mind, unable to draw oxygen through my lungs, instead locks on to the muscles needed to drag water through the complex labyrinth resting around and beneath the constrained organs. It’s a slow, laborious feeling, like trying to breathe through a filter, but the fire in my chest fades to a dull ache. Even my heart patters out a steady rhythm.
I blink a few times over the ridge of my mask. My second lids stay firmly in place, creating transparent shields over my eyeballs. Two. The control panel flashes a Bay Door Release warning as it counts down to one, and then, the reinforced door slides up with a dull whoosh, startling a school of fish beyond. Their pale bellies flash silvery green in the muted moonlight breaking over our shallow lake. The clamps on my flippers click open, and I kick free of the conversion chamber.
A heavy silence presses in on me, and for a moment, the only sensation is the drag of water—cooler now that I’m not in the temperature-controlled chamber—as it works its way through the labyrinth. I glance around. Visibility isn’t great down here at night, but thanks to my second lids, my vision is better than a landie’s in these murky depths. The moon is a pale, blurry beacon overhead, but where light meets the surface, it shivers and bends as if tickled by the soft swell and play of water. Even beneath this delicate dance, the stony lakebed below fades to an all-consuming blackness. Despite not being able to see farther than a dozen feet in any direction, I know the underbelly of Lake Okeechobee like the back of my hand, so I push for shore—or well, the manmade island housing the University for Aquine Development at the center of the lake.
The moment the water breaks for me on the surface, I tug off my mask and fill my lungs to capacity. Water drains from my gill slits as I clamber up the pebble-strewn beach. I pause only long enough to knock each heel against the opposite shin to retract the flippers before setting off again. Moonlight outlines a shadowy silhouette waiting quietly near the docks, and though I know it must be Josh, everything appears muted and foggy behind my second lids. With a blink, they slide back as he cocks his dark head to offer a smile. Leaning against his lowflyer, he languidly drapes an arm over the handlebars, a movement that highlights the strength in his bare shoulders.
“Hey, Ari. I was hoping you’d make it.” His words are smooth, effortless. It’s the way he talks to everyone, but the gleam in his eyes tells me he’s genuinely happy to see me.
“Yeah, me too.” I’ve missed nonchalance by twenty leagues, but I can’t help it. Unlike Josh, I haven’t been authorized to live alone, and sneaking out of my family pod isn’t easy, especially with my dad’s ever-tightening curfew. If there’s anything I like more than hanging out with Josh, it’s going to the bay; and tonight, there’s a beach party.

13 thoughts on “EcoSphere

  1. Bret says:

    Hello, I thought your thorough description, and the use of a countdown made for a fascinating beginning! Also, “sneaking out of the family pod” really caught my interest and had me wondering what is going to take place. I felt the tone changed, however, with the last line about the beach party. It seemed to depart from the great Sci-Fi tone you set from the beginning. Keep up that tone and don’t let it get silly..very enjoyable!

    • Ash says:

      Thanks for reading, Bret! I really appreciate your feedback regarding tone. If you have a story posted here, please let me know so I can return the favor!

  2. Sofie says:

    I like the tone and the story fascinates me. I wondered where she was and why she had to take underwater breaths.

    The descriptions work really well and set the tone/mood for the story. I wonder where this is going. Keep writing and good luck 🙂

  3. Josen Llave says:

    Vivid descriptions and visualization. However, for YA SF, it may be too descriptive and slows pacing. Maybe the first person thoughts could focus more on what’s about the happen and why Ari embarked on her journey. This would help the reader be more invested on the “why” this person is swimming than the “how”, especially for YA. But nonetheless, great detail through Ari’s eyes.

    Maybe remove ‘anyway’ to make the 2nd sentence more powerful. “After nearly three years, these preparations, at least, have become automatic.” We see this through her actions. Maybe have separate paragraphs for the countdown? Not sure what copyediting would say to that. There’s reference to the past traumatic experience further in, which may not be needed.

    With more focus on Ari’s internal goal, a reader would be more invested to continue and see what happens. Keep up the good work!

    • Ash says:

      Thanks for reading, Josen! Descriptions are so tricky in sci-fi. Argh! Thanks for your suggestions on trimming to help with pacing. I see you’re also writing sci-fi. I’ll be sure to pop over to your page too!

  4. Ash says:

    Thanks Sophie! I’m so glad you enjoyed the descriptions! I see you already have a lot of really good feedback on your submission, but I’d like to be able to return the favor. I can add to the lot. Or you can shoot me a revision later?

  5. Blake says:

    The tone is very interesting and it kept my interest! I would suggest perhaps a bit of physical description for the protagonist. Also, the goal of attending a beach party sort of pulled me out of the science fiction tone you had implemented so well. Hope this helps!

  6. Hailey says:

    I wasn’t completely sold on the first sentence because it feels a bit like sensationalism, but once I read further, I was really drawn in. The tone felt definitely like YA, and the sci-fi aspect is obvious but not overwhelming.
    It might give a clearer idea of the scene to open with the fact Ari is sneaking out, instead of the past incident of inhaling water. That can be snuck in easily, but I’d want to know why she’s risking it first.
    I like Ari, but I’m a bit cynical about Josh. My guess is he’s a love interest, and I’m not hooked by that since there is always a forbidden love interest in YA sci-fi.
    Aside from my personal pet peeve against couples, I was confused here by exactly how Ari is breathing water. One guess is she’s got some kind of special suit, another guess is she’s been surgically altered to have legitimate gills, and the third guess is she’s not completely human in the first place. I’m leaning mostly toward a mix of one and two, but I’m not sure.
    Overall, I found this quite engaging. Wish you luck. 🙂

    • Ash says:

      Hailey, thanks for the stellar feedback! You saw right through that first line. I worried it was going to come across like that. *sigh* I think you’re right about starting with her reason for sneaking out. I’ll have to play with that idea a bit.

      Thanks for including predictions based on what you’ve read so far! I completely understand your qualms about Josh. He’s not Ari’s love interest, though. I’m not sure if I should try to correct for that or feel reassured that I’ll keep readers guessing. As far as the breathing underwater…I didn’t want to get super technical right out of the gate, but the logistics are explained in more detail fairly early on. You’re prediction is leaning in the right direction, though, and I think that’s probably good enough for now.

      Again, thank you sooo much for taking the time to read and comment. I haven’t the foggiest which opening is yours, but if you leave me a reply with the title, I’ll be sure to swing by and return the favor! 🙂

  7. Bjorn Schievers says:

    I suggest opening like this:

    ‘Sneaking out of my family pod isn’t easy and my first underwater breath nearly killed me.’

    It both gives us a hook, we want to know why she’s sneaking out, and the science-fiction thrill of a person breathing underwater. You still don’t want to give us the reason for sneaking out, you want to create the suspense, but it will also feel right when we find out she’s meeting some dude on the island. It will make sense. Right now I felt a little cheated that we’re going through all this trouble to breathe underwater, only to leave the water five minutes later. I had expected some cool underwater sci-fi.

    I love Science-Fiction. Stepping through the CC is a great way to begin the story, especially with that countdown. It’s like the first Stargate book would begin with stepping through the puddle or the first Star Trek story making a big deal of the captain getting his atoms shattered, beamed through another ship and reassembled.

    I remember long ago seeing a movie in which they had to breathe underwater. Maybe it was The Abyss? You hooked me very easily with that first line flowing into the countdown in the CC.

    I was about to suggest separating paragraphs for the countdown when I saw Josen said the exact same thing! I do agree the pace is a bit slow at the moment. But I definitely like the flow and mood of things. You have me hooked if you fix the pacing a bit and add the sneaking out to the opening line. 😉

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