Lights out in ten minutes,” Dad says, his frame dwarfing the oval door to my room. “You know the drill.” He stoops to prevent his head from scraping the ceiling.
“I know the drill.” I make a big deal of paying attention to my schoolwork open on the virtual pad in my hand. I’m logged into the wireless LAN that connects me to our main Platform router, but I’ve already completed the assignments on power cogeneration, plus the extra credit on kinetic energy. The last day of school is tomorrow, so schoolwork was light. Dad doesn’t know that. I doubt he even knows it’s the last day. “They’ll be shutting down the radio wave generator soon.”
“All right,” Dad says. “Leave the meter box for the cage farm open, would you? They’re checking it tomorrow.”
I nod, eyes still on my screen. “Will do.”
Twenty feet beneath us, there’s a circular cage farm tethered to our home like a big, bus-sized globe. Every house has one. The Planning Commission regularly sends a rep to check the meter on the side of the farm to prevent over harvesting. Honestly, I couldn’t eat more redfish and speckled trout than we’re allotted anyway. Thank the crusty barnacles for our deck garden that provides some food variety.
“Are you sure you’re sixteen? Sometimes I think you’re forty.”
“Sixteen.” I glance up and smile at him.
Dad’s face softens, and he smiles back. “I know. I watched your birth. See you in the morning, Joe.”
“Yes.” Breakfast and sometimes dinner are the only times I ever really see him. His research takes up the day and often the night.
Dad swings my door shut, and I listen for the click that means it’s latched properly. I log off the network by swiping my wrist across the screen, closing the diagram of a nuclear power plant I had pretended to be studying. I wonder for the millionth time what it would be like to really see, touch, and smell what we learn about. From the start of school at age three, practically everything is virtual. I’ll never see a real power plant, so power cogeneration seems silly to study.
“The last day of school,” I whisper. No more boring, useless assignments. I can focus strictly on the hands-on work necessary to make the models of large-scale communication projects connecting Platform to Platform into reality. Local LAN or VPN isn’t good enough, not with families separated by projects on different Platforms.
Like mine. My stomach clenches, but I force myself to think about my final project. Once the models get final approval by the Planning Commission, I’ll have free access to use Platform materials and build them full scale. The possibilities are endless.
The floor rolls to the right when a bigger wave hits, and my stomach lurches. Why Mom and Dad chose to live on one of the ten spar Platforms instead of the main fixed Platform, Nod, is beyond me. Unlike the steel and concrete legs of Nod, the spars are moored loosely to the seabed, so we move with the current and waves. Thick metal tethering lines connect to shackles on sunken ships buried under the seabed over two thousand feet below us. They’re not visible through the muddy water, but moving with the waves is a constant reminder of how unstable we really are.
The main lights will shut off automatically in a few minutes. I want to be in bed when they do, as the secondary lights consist of two rows of dim, round track lights above my bed and one row over the door. They’re just powerful enough to light the way to the exit.
I put my virtual pad carefully in my desk drawer and turn the handle until it clicks shut, then take off my blue school uniform. It’s made from fire-resistant industrial coveralls. Textiles still has almost a hundred of them, as all oil workers were required to wear them on the Platforms pre-virus. I’d cut the sleeves and pant legs off to make it more comfortable—and more my size.
I remove pajamas from the single drawer beneath my bed that holds all my permitted clothing. Looking at my bed as I put on the threadbare, long-sleeved t-shirt and coarse pajama bottoms—more patches than original black-out material—I sigh. I need to redo the stuffing in my mattress. I have an allotment of disposables available from Textiles—I just have to collect it.
“For once, I’d like to sleep in a bed made of straw, or wood, or anything besides metal and unusable scraps,” I say. I know I’m being childish; other materials are impractical for long-term usage. They deteriorate too quickly in our offshore environment. And the coldness of the room is partially my fault—I don’t decorate my room with found objects. I like things simple. But I still hate the sound and feel of metal.
“Feathers. Feathers would be great to sleep on.”
It’s cool this time of year, and I never get warm enough. Being surrounded by metal doesn’t help. I grit my teeth against the cold of the chair rim against my hands as I push it beneath my desk.
I toss my dirty clothes into the metal opening next to the sink that leads to the laundry room, anticipating my shower and clean clothes tomorrow. Like everyone else on the Platforms, I’m only allowed a shower once every two days. We re-use our outer clothes as much as possible, so laundry day is on shower day.
I swipe my wrist against the meter on the mirror above the sink. As I wait for my allotted cupful of water for face washing and teeth brushing, I gingerly hop from one foot to the other to minimize contact with the damp floor. I quickly scrub my face with some of the water, then use the rest to brush my teeth after retrieving my toothbrush from a small drawer to the side. I make a face in the mirror and spit the water toward the back of the small bowl, creating a satisfying splat against the metal sink.
I swipe my wrist again and drink the eight ounces of water I’m issued. I put the cup back in its holder and study myself in the mirror. Wide-set eyes, perky nose, lips a little too full for pretty. No eyelashes to speak of and monolids. Hair the color of the sunset when there’s a storm at sea—not quite red, not quite gold. I look like Mom and Dad, a perfect mix of unknown and Asian.
I turn back to my flat mattress and see the light on my phone blinking from the side table. My phone has seen better days. It’s silver and clunky, half the size of my flattened hand, and some of the letters are hard to make out on the scratched screen. I need to take it to the PC phone repair station for screen restoration but don’t want to explain its quick deterioration.
I jump into bed a second before the primary lights go out and grab my phone. The main radio wave generator is shut down by now, so it must be Drayton on the secret line I set up for us almost a year ago for after hours and non-Planning-Commission-approved messages. The software I wrote breaks several rules, so I feel sneaky using it. My virtual pad hotspot also breaks PC rules, as they can’t track my usage. It’s cool to hide something from the PC.
I unlock my phone with a swipe of my wrist across the screen and read Drayton’s message.
I see them again.
I close my eyes and imagine seeing anything but my room, then answer.
It’s after hours. I hit send and wait.
Drayton is my best friend. He lives two bridge viaducts away, which is why we can communicate on the secret channel. I haven’t been over to his house in months, as our senior course load has been demanding. Plus, the PC has issued earlier curfews since the roads have been failing. The wood on some of the walkways to the main platform is getting sketchy, not to mention the metal bracings are rusting.
The screen lights up.
I know, but I see them again.
Drayton has been telling me for a month that he sees lights on Land. With the completion of the super powerful telescope he built over the school year, he can see things the rest of us can’t. He’s convinced there are people on Land trying to contact us—which I remind him is impossible since every scrap of technology on Land was destroyed in the Moralist revolt a hundred years ago.
I type the same thing I’ve always typed. It’s part of the way Drayton and I get along—I remind him of reality, and he reminds me to think outside the box.
I count to five, then look at the phone.
But it’s not impossible. Some people stayed—there must be survivors. They could have rebuilt the entire infrastructure by now.
“Always the optimist,” I say and type, If anyone was left alive after the virus.
I know Drayton will take the bait. His reply comes quickly. We don’t know what happened.
It’s a discussion we’ve had a million times. I pucker my lips and respond.
We’ll talk about it in the morning. Pick me up for school?
School is on the main Nod Platform almost six kilometers around the ring road from my home. Mom took me until 184 days ago, when she was moved to complete research on Neft, a neighboring Platform. Now, Dad does sometimes, but more often than not, I walk or ride my bicycle. I can smell the heaviness of bad weather, and I don’t want to ride—or worse, walk—in the rain. Plus, the lifts are scary when the weather is bad. And it’s the last day of school. I add an extra please.
Please. Come on. I hate rain.
My phone lights up with Drayton’s reply. Yes. Be ready.
I smile and turn the phone off. Drayton is dying of insane curiosity right now about the lights. But all I can think about is my future. I’ve passed all of the PC placement tests for the Technology track. Tomorrow, I finish my school requirements and start the next phase of my life: my senior project. I’ll be considered an eligible adult researcher when the completed project is accepted by the PC. Once it’s completed, I’ll be assigned to an official research project. If I fail, the PC will move me into sorting or recycling, or teaching if I’m lucky.
I put the phone back on the side table and look at the satellite picture I’ve drilled with old fishhooks to the ceiling. “Long-distance communication,” I whisper and turn to lie on my right side. “I have six months to make you work. Then a career to build.”
Our Nod-issued solar generator on the roof above the kitchen powers down. It sounds like mad whispering. When it’s silent, the secondary lights power off.
“Tomorrow, I begin,” I say and put my hand on the wall in front of my face. I know it is there in the pitch black—solid, cold, and smooth. I imagine it rooted to the ground instead of built on top of the sea. I dig around for the bed strap and belt myself in.
I shut my eyes and dream of my mom—out there, floating on Neft.
The ride to school is silent as we cross our spar Platform and the adjoining one. Drayton knows I need time to wake up. Even after my shower, I’m groggy. Every building we pass is an exact replica of the building before it—one-and-a-half stories, drab, no yard, washed-out beige. In front of each structure, racks for drying fish climb like stairs to the sky. These buildings are all homes, but they look like metal boxes compared to the Land homes I’ve seen pictures of.
We reach the ring road closest to the lifts. The seas are choppy today, and Drayton has to concentrate on not driving us into the ocean. The scavenger ships have been out for weeks searching for materials to patch huge sections of roadways that are rotting away. Driving on the metal frame, the ocean visible thirty feet below through the grid, is harrowing. In rain or fog, you can’t see what material you’re driving on, and the exposed metal becomes slick. There are metal guards along the side of the road to catch cars that that lose traction, but they’re rusty in some sections, and I don’t trust them. Drayton is an experienced driver, though, and I’m not overly concerned.
I finally feel human enough to talk. “Excited about your speech?”
“Not really,” Drayton says.
“What’s it about?”
“How the PC sucks.”
“Drayton! You can’t say that. You’ll get expelled from Nod!”
“Okay, so I won’t say that. I’ll talk about how we live on a dying structure. Stuff like, how long can we keep breathing new life into these Platforms? Will ingenuity alone save our homes? What new innovations will help us create new materials? I’ll bring up the idea that the PC should allow island exploration.”
“Innovation. That’s a good topic. Stick with that. Cut the rest.”
“Innovation of what? Roadway materials? I could talk for ten minutes about plastics on Babble. But who wants to listen?”
“Good point. Babble. What a stupid name for a Platform.”
“What’s wrong with Babble? What would you call it?”
“Platform Complex Number Six because that’s what it is.”
“Take it up with the PC. Start a naming revolution.”
“You know they wouldn’t listen.”
“True. But seriously. I have to say what I think, and the PC is so stuck in the past that they—”
Part of the surface near the edge of the road falls into the ocean right in front of us. The railing it was holding up squeals under the weight until it breaks at two rusty points. Drayton slams on the brakes, and I scream. The back of the car fishtails, and Drayton throws the parking brake on. We come to a screeching halt five feet from the break.
“That was close,” Drayton whispers. “Too close.”
“That’s never happened before. To me, I mean.” Two years ago a whole family plunged into the sea because part of the roadway crumbled beneath them. The metal grid under the blacktop and wood had rusted out. Since we’re elevated thirty feet, we aren’t sure if they died on impact or drowned. The PC allotted more metal to road repair that year, but it wasn’t enough to fix everything.
Drayton edges the car to the left of the ring road and turns the engine off. “I’ll mark the breach with the spare. It’s just a rim, but I can prop it up with debris. Then we’ll get across and report it at the lifts.”
He pops the trunk and squeezes out the car door. A car and a truck line up behind us. I grip the seat when a shrill horn blares. I see Drayton talking to Mr. Oron, our main metal worker, in the rear view mirror, then close the trunk and slip into the driver’s seat. “Mr. Oron will mark the hole. He has a big metal sheet in his truck.”
My heart is still pounding. “Maybe we should just all move to the main Platform.”
Drayton shakes his head and guides the car carefully past our almost accident. “Not unless we magically receive materials to redo the upper ten stories of the Empire. There’s no room.”
Drayton pulls up to the lift line. We are four cars back, so we’ve got about a ten-minute wait. Ahead of and above us, Nod’s main building, the Empire, rises in all its metal glory. It’s hard to separate the metal piping exterior into forty floors. Inside, the pipes are different colors that distinguish various levels and purposes. The first ten stories are yellow to indicate maintenance and operations control. The next ten stories have red piping, and that is where we have classes, produce new cloth, and recycle small plastics, glass, and other reusable materials. Stories twenty to thirty are green and serve as housing units for maintenance and school workers. The last ten stories have blue piping, but they are unfinished.
The main Nod platform was originally set up for ease of movement for oil workers. All buildings circle the Empire, which housed offices, communication, food and clothing dispensary, and emergency items. Processing plants for water desalination, power generation, drilling, and refinery are stacked around the Empire. Two-story square buildings radiate from the stacks and originally contained trash recycling, a waste treatment facility, a school, medical and health facilities, and stores for anything else the workers would need for six-month shifts. It looks like a mother with her children around her. A partially-collapsed helicopter pad extends into the ocean like a broken arm.
When we are next in line, Drayton rolls down the window and pulls up to the lift basket. He swipes his wrist across the square scanning meter attached to a four-foot post and pushes the call button on the side. “I need to report a roadway malfunction.”
I get out of the car to swipe my wrist across the meter and feel drawn to the edge of the railing. Thirty feet down is a seething body of dark water. Twenty feet up and a world away is Nod. Through the steel and concrete supports, I can see ships surrounding a ring Platform on the other side of Nod. There are two trawlers and one half-submerged barge ship. From the looks of it, they’re sinking the barge. More infrastructure support.
Drayton honks the horn and I get back into his car. “Just processing.”
Drayton drives the car into the lift basket and puts it in park. “I know. But we don’t want to miss the last day of school. We’re near-death survivors now.”
“Speak for yourself.”
The lift whirs into motion and hoists us up the remaining twenty feet to the main Nod Platform. It doesn’t catch and bounce halfway up—maintenance must have finally fixed the hydraulics. The metal mesh gate opens, and Drayton drives out. Mrs. Pashce, the lift operator today, is waiting to take our statements. She goes to Drayton’s window first and scans his wrist chip with a handheld scanner.
“Time of incident?”
Drayton gives her the details. The Nod walking promenade that skirts the entire main Platform ends at the lift, and the Rodri twins walk past us with their mother. They must be two or three years old by now. Mrs. Rodri worked with my mom. She was always nice to me, and Mom liked her. We didn’t see much of her because she lives on the seventh spar Platform, but when she visited, Mom turned on the charm. So did I.
I hold up my left wrist, and Mrs. Pashce scans it. “How’s your father?”
“He’s good, Mrs. Pashce. Thanks for asking.”
Mrs. Pashce squints at me. “Haven’t seen him at the fish fry lately.”
“Dad’s been working a lot.”
“It’s important to attend,” Mrs. Pashce says. “The Council’s noticed his absence.”
“I’ll tell him.” Dad hates going to their open meetings. Though the Council’s members are elected, they have no real power beyond organizing community building events, requesting supplies, and reporting grievances. The local Planning Commission has the real power.
“Do that. First Friday of every month. And at graduation next week, of course.” She turns back to Drayton. “The information about road conditions has been delivered to the PC office. Once they review it, Maintenance will be out to fix the roadway.
“It’s pretty serious,” I say. “Someone else could not notice it and fall in.”
“It’s already been blocked off. PC Gramble is on duty today, so it’ll get repaired quickly. Now, off to school.”
“Thanks. Have a tidal day.” Drayton’s voice is monotone, so I know he doesn’t really mean it.
We pull away, and I ask, “What do you have against Mrs. Pashce?”
“Nothing. She’s just a minion. Council this, Council that. PC Gramble, PC Fristhe.”
“She didn’t mention PC Fristhe.”
“Because we all know he doesn’t authorize any repairs. He just reports it and asks for more materials.”
“That may be true, but that’s not Mrs. Pashce’s fault. And you really do need to be careful about what you say in your speech today. The PC will be listening.”
Drayton touches his wrist chip. “I’m not worried.”
I am, but I let it drop. We pass the main PC campus, originally security offices for rig workers and contractors that the PC has repurposed for their offices. Drayton slows down so the overhead scanner can read our chips, and the light at the end of the campus turns green. Drayton turns right in front of the medical compound where I was born. Maintenance recently repainted the outside, and it is a bright red.
Drayton takes another right in front of the elevator docks. Ships of all sorts are lifted for repairs—some towering out of sight, some barely ocean worthy.
There are only five other cars in the rectangular parking area across from the Empire’s school entrance where Drayton parks. His car is the nicest—he always manages to find yellow paint to keep it looking new. I call it the Yellow Dream.
He pats the steering wheel. “I’ll need a new wheel soon, and I have no idea how I’m going to find one. Now it would be easy to replace if—”
I roll my eyes and interrupt him. “If they allowed Land trips. Let’s be realistic. We aren’t ready by a long shot. They would have to run lots of tests. Complete soil and water samples, viral samples. We don’t have the research staff to do that and keep the Platform going. Who knows how much time that would take.”
“So better to survive as we are?”
“I like breathing. Don’t you?”
Drayton pinches my arm playfully. “Whatever, Joe. You’ll always argue the opposite. It’s charming, really. See you at assembly? The Drop? Then we can celebrate. Better yet, you can come see the lights.”
The Drop. I had almost forgotten about it. I don’t want to think about it. “Saved up your questions until now?”
“Guess so. All that near death made me forget them for a while. Want me to ask them again?”
I laugh and swing the car door open. The cracks in the parking lot blacktop are like rivers running away from the car. “I heard them. Yes, yes, and maybe. Thanks for the ride. The car’s running great…especially the brakes.”
“Good thing I rebuilt them a few weeks ago.”
Drayton is a whiz with building anything. He’s rebuilt everything on and in his parents’ house to function more efficiently. He doesn’t have to apply for a research project because he tested into Maintenance on the Platform. Which means he could be moved. I try not to think about that, either.
“Yes. Can you work on the roll of the spar Platforms next? Hard to sleep sometimes.”
Drayton points at me. “For you, anything.”
“Get me something solid to live on that isn’t fifty stories high.”
He taps his head. “It’s my next project.”
I smile and get out of the car into the damp air. I’m surrounded by buildings and can’t see the ocean, but I can hear the waves and smell the salt and pervasive fish odor. It smells like every day of my life. I wait for Drayton a few steps away.
“I think you need to see them,” Drayton says. “Change that maybe to a yes.”
Drayton bumps into me. His eyes, the color of the sky after heavy rain, are full of mischief and life. He has eyelashes to spare, beautiful, dark eyelashes. I was jealous of them when we were young. Maybe I still am.
“The lights,” Drayton continues. “I’m going to report it as soon as we graduate. They’re appearing more frequently…stop staring at me.”
“I’m not staring. I’m examining. And I see how your mind is working. Report it after graduation so you can get credit for the find as a Maintenance adult? Smart. Sly even. I’m impressed, Mr. Valedictorian. But how do you know no one else is looking?”
“Good question. Except I have a better answer—no one has the telescope to see them but me. I checked the Commission’s registry with a VPN sweep. Everyone just looks at what they have, not at what’s out there. Don’t leak the intel.”
“Lips are sealed. And now school. So dismal.”
“Are you taking the stairs or the elevator?” he asks.
“Since Juris was stuck in the elevator for eight hours? I’ll take the stairs.”
“Well, at least you’ll get some exercise. It’s a good thing the PC doesn’t put up cameras in the climbing gym. You’d be on probation.”
The climbing gym is in the empty thirty-first floor of the Empire. I go because I have to scan my chip at an exercise area every day, but I don’t climb. Instead, I study the Platforms from the open areas and dream up new ways to connect them all with lightning quick communication infrastructure. I have a clear view in every direction between the pipes.
The sports fields are on the western spar Platforms, the docks, the eastern. The community gardens and social center are on the northern spar Platforms, and the southern ones, where I live, are all research facilities or abandoned oil system structures that can’t easily be repurposed. Houses are interspersed between recycling dumps and processing centers on each Platform. At the thirty-first floor of each spar, raised roads connect the spar Platforms to Nod’s central Platform. From the vantage point of the climbing gym, the whole system looks like an oyster shell with a gigantic, multi-colored pearl inside.
“Good thing they don’t have the resources for cameras everywhere. We’d all be on probation. See you.”
We part ways as Drayton heads to the elevator and I head toward a door labeled “stairs.” The stairwell to school is an outdoor one, but there is a metal cage surrounding it, so I’m not scared. I scan my wrist, and the lock buzzes open. It’s a long climb from floor 1 to 11, but Drayton’s right. Exercise is good for me.
“Hey, wait up.”
I hold the stairwell door open for Drayton. When he passes through an alarm buzzes, but it stops when he holds his wrist against the scanner.
“Line at the elevator’s too long. I’ll race you. Go!”
I pretend to hustle until Drayton is out of sight then slow down and climb at my normal rate of speed. I run my hand along the jagged outside wall. The Empire’s insides are all turned out. The finished rooms in the Empire were oil maintenance and drilling rooms. The rest are open air crisscrossed by a maze of pipes. The PC finished some of them, then stripped the work crane to use as support for one of the spar Platforms. They built the rest of the existing walls and subfloors with parts from cruise ships. I’d have rather just lived on the cruise ship.
“Waiting for you!”
I smile. “I know.”
I finally reach the landing where an eleven is painted on the wall beside the door Drayton is already holding open. He gestures that I should go in first and scan.
Not normal Drayton behavior. “Fancy today.”
“Last day should be the best day,” Drayton says and bows. Now that we are at school, Drayton and I won’t see each other. Since he is moving into Maintenance, he’s on a different track. “See you at the assembly. I’ll keep my speech short. Non-expellable.”
Drayton waves to a group of boys in the hallway. Most are from our grade, so I wave, too. Nod is an outpost research Platform Complex, so there are only sixty-two kids in my school. Everyone knows everyone. Most of them are my age or a year or two younger. All of our parents were assigned to Nod when several new research projects started simultaneously. A few families joined the research teams mid-project—like Mrs. Rodri—so there are a handful of younger kids. Once projects are completed, families tend to move to Platforms with better amenities. Both my parents have continuous research projects, so we’ve never moved. Or Mom did, but Dad and I didn’t.
Empty rooms without solid walls line either side of the hall. Pipes run in convoluted squares and rectangles around me. It’s like living in a red geometry proof with no discernible answer. I turn right into our school corridor.
“Ready for the Drop, Joe?” De’jon laughs and brushes by me. He’s a year younger than me and lives three houses from me on my spar. His sister is from a second marriage and much younger. I babysit her sometimes.
“You know it.” The fact is, I’m not physically ready for the Drop, but I am mentally—except for the water. I hate water.
I take my seat next to Lisette in Acoustical Physics. She’s the only girl in school that I can actually have a conversation with. She doesn’t talk about stuff that doesn’t matter, which is great, because neither of us are good at small talk. I like how she looks right at me when she talks to me, and I like that sometimes her hazel eyes are green, sometimes blue. Today she’s wearing a gold apron that matches her complexion over a full skirt with an embroidered waistband that has seen better days. I recognize it from seventh grade graduation.
“What do you call that again?” I ask. “It’s traditional formal dress, right?”
“Yeah, it’s a dirndl. My great-grandmother’s. They were Bavarian, Mom says—that’s where I get the medium height and solid frame. She made me wear it for last day of school.”
“Cool. It’s festive, I’ll grant you that.” I set up my virtual pad. “And I’d call the last day of school festive. For us, anyway.”
I hear the voice but pretend that I don’t, hoping that its owner will just go away. Lisette pokes me in the ribs, and I sigh loudly.
Harriet, with her beautiful, heart-shaped face, is standing to the right of my desk. She is, to put it simply, my biggest rival. She is into communications as well. Both of her parents are top oceanographers.
“Joe. And what?” I reply smoothly.
“It’s a shame such a pretty name was wasted on you. Josephine was an empress. She ruled a nation.”
“She was also divorced because of her inability to bear an heir,” I counter and offer Harriet a half smile. “If you had paid attention in Land history, you’d know that. So, I prefer Joe.”
Harriet sniffs like I smell worse than shrimp nets hung out to dry after a big catch. “Suit yourself, Joe. What’s your senior project about? I know that mine is going to be a success. The future of inter-Platform communication is safe with me.”
“Let me know how it goes. I’m interested. Really.”
“You can’t compete, you know. There are the haves and the have nots when it comes to smarts. Mediocre never comes out on top.”
Mr. Peterson enters the classroom, and Harriet brushes by me. Lisette rolls her eyes, and I forget the conversation immediately. Next week Harriet will pretend to be my best friend and try to weasel ideas from me. Which will never happen.
Lisette writes “idiot” on her virtual pad. I write “inconsequential” on mine and then pay attention to Mr. Peterson’s lecture.
The rest of class passes quickly. I’m interested in Mr. Peterson’s work. It’s already in use on some of the transport ships for early communication with the docking Platform. He’s one of the few teachers who both teaches and researches, and I’ve heard it’s because he specifically asked the PC if he could teach. He’s influenced my concept of underwater sound wave applications.
The bell rings, and Lisette and I go to our next class together. Although Lisette’s emphasis is terra farming, we have a similar schedule this semester because she tested into the Technology track, too.
“I like your hair like that,” Lisette says.
Lisette always says something randomly nice before something that I won’t like. I narrow my eyes at her. “It’s normal. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, I thought it was…different. Any news from your mom? The mail ship was in port yesterday.”
“No,” I say flatly and walk into our next class.
“Sorry,” Lisette says softly.
Mom hasn’t contacted us since she left for Neft. It’s like she forgot about me and Dad. “I’m sure she’s busy. She probably has stacks of letters she hasn’t sent. Once we can connect immediately to other Platforms, she’ll write more frequently.”
We sit in adjoining desks for Land art history. The PC mandates that we take this non-technological class as seniors to ensure we are well-rounded graduates. Most of us are completely uninterested, but Miss Maldres valiantly tries to keep our attention. She really loves teaching and believes in the PC’s requirements.
“Since it is our last class, and I will miss you, I would like for us to have a free art period today,” Miss Maldres says. “Draw whatever you want, and remember, the beauty of creativity is as important as our technology. It’s all about balance.”
“Ugh,” I murmur, but take out my light pen to draw on my desktop’s built-in light board. I try to imagine holding a paintbrush and using real paint for art instead of a computer input device, but I can’t. We need all the remaining paint in storage for building maintenance. I sigh and start my drawing by writing my initials at the bottom.
“Never good to start at the ending,” Miss Maldres says from behind me. “Think about something you find to be beautiful. Create first, then claim, Joe.”
I wait until she moves away, then mimic, “Create first, then claim” under my breath as I erase my initials. Lisette smiles at me encouragingly.
I hate art, I mouth at Lisette, then look back at my empty board. I think about what I like, what I find to be artistic.
Definitely not the ocean. And I can’t draw my mom.
I draw the only thing I have ever been able to draw besides stick figures: a flower. Class drags on, and I add different layers to the flower like never-ending fish scales. Eventually, the lights blink, indicating time is up, and I sign the bottom of my flower in relief.
I peek at Lisette’s work. It’s a series of circles in a mound shape. “Is that dirt? Like for terra farming?”
“Or bubbles? I don’t know. Maybe it’s silly, but I think dirt is artistic. I wish we had more of it. I think it’s…”
“Beautiful,” I say at the same time she does.
Lisette gives me an awkward thumbs-up.
The bell rings. Miss Maldres claps her hands. “All right. Time for the annual graduation address. Report to the twelfth floor, main square. Assembly formation. Congratulations, students!”
We file out with the rest of the students. A buzz of chatter follows us, and Maritza from the northern spar bumps into me.
“Ready for the Drop?”
She has the quietest voice of anyone I know. “Yes. Of course.”
“I knew you would be. I’ll have to come over after graduation. I want to see how your mom set up her fish drying rack. Is that okay?”
I cringe but get over the reference to Mom. Mom’s fish drying rack is made from recycled tarpon bones. It’s scary to look at but highly functional. “Sure. It’s pretty cool.”
Maritza hugs me quickly, and we continue up the stairs to the twelfth floor. I whisper to Lisette, “Why is everyone asking me about the Drop?”
“Harriet has a betting pool going that you won’t do it,” Lisette says. “You don’t even climb; why would you do the Drop? She put up an entire bolt of cloth and one metered meal on it. Drayton took her up on it and bet you would—two rebuilt, functioning motors. No one else bet.”
“She would do that,” I mutter. “Well, she’s going to lose. I’m going to do it.”
Lisette puts her arm around my shoulder. “I don’t doubt it for a minute. Neither does Drayton. Let’s get a seat.”
The main square on floor 12 is filled with old oil barrels that have been cut in half to make seats. The barrel lids serve as rollable legs. Lisette goes to the area designated for Resource Technology, and I share a barrel with Juris in the Communications Technology area. Maintenance and Teaching specialties make up the other two seating positions. All told, there are eighteen of us graduating today. There is a raised platform in the center made from two barrels with a long, flat piece of metal laid across them. Everyone settles and our school principal, Mr. Deneri, climbs on top of the platform.
“Soon to be graduates, congratulations. You are the 103rd class to complete your coursework and placement tests at Nod.”
We all clap politely.
“And now, a word from the administration.” Mr. Deneri opens his virtual pad and begins reading the PC’s address to us. “Congratulations, seniors. As you embark on new journeys in your research and careers, let us take this moment to remember our forefathers and their achievements. The original twenty-four founders, visionaries from Hermeneutics Labs, brought almost two hundred researchers and technologists to our network of Platforms during the Moralist revolt. On Land, children were exterminated because of genetic abnormalities. The Bones virus gripped the population. The zealot Moralists made the call to arms, and the Day of Salvation was planned. All technology was to be eradicated.
“Our twenty-four founders saw the need for an alternate path. They salvaged technology and key people to create a new life for us here on the Platforms. These founders made up the first Planning Commission, our council of twenty-four that provide us with a logical means of sustaining our families and Platforms in the greenest, most equal way possible.”
Mr. Deneri coughs uncomfortably. We are all silent, but I swear I can hear Drayton seething from across the room.
“We are strong together, in the use of our resources and the technology of our minds. We know that you will use the knowledge you have gained here to create the next generation of technology. And now, a word from your valedictorian.”
Drayton rises and approaches the Platform. I don’t know what he is going to say, but I have a bad feeling about it.
Drayton shakes Mr. Deneri’s hand and climbs on top of the makeshift podium. “Classmates. It is an honor to speak before you. But perhaps I should scan my chip first.”
Several of the teachers chuckle, and all the students laugh. I laugh but hope that Drayton doesn’t say anything treasonous.
“I would like to read the open letter that I am sending via the next mail ship to the head Planning Commission, our PC, as is the custom of all valedictorians.”
A few students clap. I snap and smile when Drayton looks at me. I raise my eyebrows and mouth, Don’t do it.
Drayton opens his virtual pad. “Planning Commission members. First of all, thank you for continuing to be our founders and for handing your positions down within your own families. But I wonder—have any of you ever been to Nod? I would like to suggest an election so that your outlying Platforms can be responsibly represented. We also appreciate the standards of conservation you have instituted to maintain us—water, cage farm, exercise, schoolwork. We have become more equal with the metered chipping system and abolition of currency. And yes, we appreciate you sending us supply ships and trash barges, even more so when you inflict embargoes on us because we have not complied with your standards.”
Everyone starts to whisper. We all know he is referencing our friend Bryce’s father, Mr. Leery, who was removed from the Platform for not taking care of the family’s cage farm. Mr. Leery was wrapped up in his research and forgot to repair one of the outer ribs of the cage farm. Sharks got in, and his stock was eaten or released. He claimed exhaustion and requested a trial. The Council sided with him because the PC had instituted overly rigorous deadlines for his project. The PC ruled he needed to repair his cage farm and perform thirty hours of community work. When he refused and the Council supported him, the PC enacted a supply embargo until the Council changed their minds. Bryce’s father was removed to the Hades Platform. The embargo went on for two weeks. Bryce and his mother stayed on Nod and were given a new cage farm.
Drayton raises his hand for silence. “But perhaps these standards need to include colonization? Our Platforms are disintegrating.”
“Thank you, Drayton,” Mr. Deneri says and almost pushes Drayton off the makeshift podium. Some of the students start to hiss, but Mr. Deneri dismisses us. “Visionary statements, indeed. Lunch.”
General pandemonium ensues as lunch is first come, first served. We get to leave the dreary inside of the building and collect our PC-issued lunch from Duritz’s Place. The whole class pushes down the stairway and spills into the common area on the ground floor. The elevators are inoperative because the PC wants us to exercise on our lunch break.
I find Lisette in the crowd.
She is flushed and worried. “Drayton is going to get himself removed. I didn’t see the PC reps, but they could’ve been listening remotely. They’ll be at the fish fry after the graduation ceremony next week for sure. Doesn’t he have any fear?”
“Did he read that to you before today?”
“No.” A group of kids rush by us, and I slow down. “I don’t want to wait in line for lunch. Or talk about this. It’s depressing.”
“We can take the long way,” Lisette says. “And no problem, because I have news. Guess what? The project I applied for—they’ve accepted me! I found out at assembly!”
Lisette and I walk the three blocks to Duritz’s Place. Duritz provides PC-approved meals for our school lunch, and also food for any visitors from other Platforms that don’t have access to a cage farm or garden. His cage farm is quadruple the size of our personal ones…and where the Drop ends. The walkway there isn’t in shambles because it is strictly for pedestrians.
“—and the new soil is reclaimed from one of the outlying barrier islands, uninhabited, so it isn’t just sand we will be trying to enrich. It’s the real deal. The message came through on my pad during assembly.”
“Of course they accepted you. You’re awesome!” I say. “Even though pads are supposed to be off during assembly.”
“I didn’t open the message. I just saw the word ‘acceptance.’ I read the rest on the way down the stairwell.”
“I’m teasing you.” We pass a break in the pipe walls that creates an overlook. Mom and I would come here when I was a child to count ships. I still count them. “I count six trawlers, two barges, and some serious rain clouds.”
“And a couple of cruisers, look there!”
I do, and Lisette is right. “I missed them.”
“They’re smaller. You have to be looking for them. Think what they would look like from the barrier islands. They would be eye level—specs on the horizon.” Lisette continues talking about barrier island soil reclamation until we stop in front of Duritz’s Place. Racks of non-gutted catfish are drying in the front of the restaurant. They smell terrible.
“—I get to start in a month,” Lisette finishes. “They’re making plans for possible habitation barges. Nod is shallow, so it’s not unthinkable that one could be tied to our Platform. Land, like you’ve always wanted.”
“That’s great, Lisette. But don’t you want to travel farther away from Nod? Join Drayton on his colonization crusade?”
“No. This is home.”
Lisette throws her arm around me and squeezes. “It is. Just look around.”
“I know. It just never feels permanent. I guess in my mind, home shouldn’t float. You know how Mom always talked about the family farm.” Mom passed on stories from her grandmother about the family citrus farm in Florida. Those stories mean everything to me. They connect me to the past, the present…
Where Mom is too busy to write.
I shake Lisette’s arm off and look at the pink plaster building in front of us. It is the brightest building in Nod. Sometimes I wonder if Duritz got lost and really meant to end up somewhere else, like the Abkutun Platform across the ocean in the Caspian Sea, instead of here in the Gulf, next to the brown water of the American peninsula.
We walk through a small maze of makeshift tables and the legs of other students to get to the door of Duritz’s. I jerk to a stop when Harliss, one of our fellow graduates, jumps in front of us and holds a plate of seaweed under Lisette’s nose.
“You’re late, so I saved you some.” Harliss has had a crush on Lisette since second grade. His hair is like a spiky sea urchin on top of his head, which matches his personality—awkward. “End of the pan seaweed is soggy.”
Lisette chuckles. “Thanks, but I don’t mind soggy.”
Harliss shrugs his shoulders and withdraws his arm. “Suit yourself. See you at the Drop, Joe.”
“Yeah, see you,” I say and wish there was no such thing as a Drop or betting or a Harriet. I plow toward the door of Duritz’s, hungry now.
Glancing back, I catch Harliss gives Lisette a shy smile before the door swings shut behind us.
“Are you ever going to give him a chance, Lisette?”
“Nope. Not my type.”
“He tries so hard.”
“So did the Moralists, and look where that got us.”
I chuckle. “Word.” The inside of Duritz’s Place is almost deserted. Most of our classmates are eating outside, legs pushed through the walkway slats. “Inside?”
“Sure,” Lisette says and picks a corner table. I follow her. There are no menus, and the plastic surface of the white table is sticky. Duritz makes his way over to us. He favors his right knee, and I’ve never seen him hurry. He places our standard issue eight-ounce cups of water on the table. His face looks like it was flattened with a shovel at birth. The sun has bleached his hair almost white, and it’s matted into long dreads. He scans our wrists, then stores the scanner in a patch sewn onto his pants to make a large pocket on his right thigh.
“Late start?” I ask at the same time. Duritz is still in his fishing gear and stinks like he’s been swimming with several different species of deep-water fish.
Duritz winks at us. “Slept a little late. Adults can do that on school days.”
Lisette giggles, and I roll my eyes at her. “Right. How about the seaweed? I heard it was at the bottom.”
“I’ve got some fresh coming out,” Duritz replies. “And there’s some eel left, sponge. Not as fresh.”
I make a face. “I hate farmed sponge. It’s still a sponge no matter what you do with it. I’ll have seaweed, straight up.”
“Eels for me!” Lisette giggles again. “The PC is going all out today.”
“They order the healthy, sustainable lunch,” Duritz says. “I merely stock and serve it. Coming right up.”
“We can go through the line,” I suggest.
Duritz holds his hand up. “Let me get it. You’re my last mouths to feed for the day. Plus, I already have the eels on ice.”
“Eels,” I say and shiver. Duritz disappears behind the counter, and I turn to face Lisette. “Why the weird giggling?”
Lisette leans over the table. “I’m giggling because Duritz is cute. In an off-limits, way-too-grown-up sort of way.”
“Ew, Lisette. Just ew. He’s my dad’s age.”
Lisette takes a sip of water. “He cooks. And his jokes are corny.”
“His face is…unique.”
“I know, I know.” Lisette sits back in her chair and crosses her arms. “Fine. I want to know more details about this project of yours. What gives?”
“I’m trying to keep it under water. The Clinical Board finally gave me permission to pursue my long-range communication project before I join a team.”
“By yourself? That’s heavy.”
“I’m ready for heavy. To be honest, the heavy part is having advisors. And the PC to report to.”
“It’s a lot of work on your own. What about your dad?”
“Dad is not on my Clinical Board. It never even came up as a possible conflict of interest.”
“Have you talked to him?”
I am saved from answering by Duritz. He puts two plates on the table. “I’ll have it out in no time. Fresh is best.”
Lisette thanks him. I look more closely at my plate. The paint has been scrubbed off, but I know the shape. “Is he seriously using old signs as plates now?”
Lisette picks hers up and holds it in front of her like a shield. “Fresh is best.”
“Stop. No, really. What has salvaging come to? We’re eating on Yield signs.”
“Well, how many real plates do you have left?”
My great-grandmother hadn’t thought to bring plates, just scientific equipment. So my father had grown up eating out of whatever his mother could find that was serviceable—shells, Styrofoam cones, or with his hands from the cooking vessel. But my mother had brought almost twenty plates to their marriage. She didn’t take any of them with her, so there are eighteen left. Most of them are patched, but two are in pristine condition.
Lisette is still waiting for an answer. I don’t want to bring my mom back into the conversation, so I say, “Enough.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry. I forgot about how your mom left. I mean, I didn’t, but sometimes I forget the circumstances. It’s hard not to talk about her.” She stumbles over her words.
It’s not her fault. Everyone knows everything about everyone on the Platforms. Every building is connected to the next by the same steel and wood walk or roadway, every home is connected to the same wave-powered generators, every family works in the same research or resource facilities. We are so inextricably intertwined that it makes my head spin.
“It’s okay,” I say and redirect the conversation. “So, your seeds. What seeds do your mom and dad have to distribute in the PC program this year? I’m wondering what I’m going to be eating for the next year since I sure didn’t keep any.”
Lisette starts talking about her parents’ seed inventory immediately, and I pretend to listen, but I think about Mom. One week after she left, PC Fristhe had come to the house and explained that her research on Neft had been extended indefinitely. Stunned, I had asked why she hadn’t told us her research trip would be long term. PC Fristhe had replied, “official business.” Dad didn’t ask any further questions. I did, but PC Fristhe kept giving me the same response. He never blinked when he answered and kept his arms stiff by his sides, like he was jumping off a tall Platform.
Lisette nudges my arm, and I jerk in my seat. Duritz scoops an interesting seaweed salad onto my plate. The seaweed has been sun baked in a light yellow sauce. I don’t even look at Lisette’s plate. I’m not fond of eels.
“Bon appetite,” Duritz says happily and backs away from the table.
I don’t mind the taste of seaweed, so I take a big bite. The yellow sauce is tangy, but I can’t place the flavor. Whatever it is, it’s much better than the plain sea grass that I had for dinner last night.
“Not bad,” I say between mouthfuls. “Yours?”
Lisette makes a face. “Should have gone with the farmed sponge. Going to have to force this down.”
We don’t waste any resources on the platform, including food. We save bones, recycle waste water, and use every scrap of material that we have until it goes in the permanent scrap pile. Even then we keep it to stuff beds.
Lisette gags and gulps down her water.
I push my glass toward her. “Have some of mine. At least it isn’t octopus. That would be a real mess before our last classes. Indigestion on a plate.”
Lisette manages to finish the eel, and we chatter about graduation until I remember that I need new stuffing for my mattress. “Want to stop by floor 14? I need to visit Textiles.”
“Sure. I need some thread, anyway.”
We return to school the short way, so we pass the LAN processing center with its huge spiky tower and the original rig post office, which now serves as a personal technology repair center. Our friend Aaron who graduated two years ago works there, and we wave to him through the window.
We scan our wrists at the school stairway, then trudge up to floor 14. Piles of recycled cloth, ready-made clothes, shoes, string, fishing nets, hammered plastic bottles and cans, and other items stretch across one half of the room. The other half is packed floor to ceiling with equipment for stripping fiber, reweaving natural fibers, and general fabric recycling.
“Can I assist?”
Lisette and I turn around quickly. Mr. Thres has beady eyes like a crab. His shirt is made of shaped fish bone and dried shark skin. He is a genius at converting everyday items into clothing.
“Mr. Thres. I need filler for my mattress.”
“We have plenty right now, so you came at a good time.” Mr. Thres scans my wrist. His fingers are long, every fingernail filed to a point. “You can take two bags—no, wait. You are in Overuse.”
I look at my wrist. There must be something wrong with my chip. “I can’t be. I haven’t received any textiles in months.”
Mr. Thres motions for me to follow him. He reaches behind the counter, and the bones on his shirt rattle. “I’ve been having problems with that scanner. Let’s try this one.”
He scans my wrist with the second scanner and smiles. “You’re right. Take your pick, Bin 342. Lisette?”
“I’m just looking for thread,” she replies. “Any color. How are your tomato plants doing?”
“Fine, fine,” Mr. Thres says. He scans Lisette’s wrist, and I drift away to check out Bin 342. Bin 340 has some really nice fishing net shoes with thin rubber soles, and I’m tempted to try them on, but pass it up and hit Bin 342. I find two bags of decent filler and bring them back to Mr. Thres. “Can I have these as distribution?”
Mr. Thres scans the barcodes on both bundles, then my wrist again. He puts the bundles into a frayed fishing net and hands them to me. “Done. Anything else, young ladies?”
“No, thank you,” Lisette and I chime together.
“Unless you want to throw in some hammered plastic…” Lisette trails off.
Mr. Thres raises his right eyebrow, which makes him look pretty scary, so we hustle out of Textiles and head back to school to attend our last two classes of the day. Ocean Dynamics isn’t difficult, and Language Arts is a sleeper class. We only have one bilingual speaker on Nod, and he wants to teach us Japanese about as much as we want to learn it.
Most foreign languages were phased out on the Platforms after the first generation. English was the language of choice, but a few continued their native tongue in their family units. Now, the PC is trying to revive multi-lingualism, but I’m not interested in participating in their programs, and so far, they haven’t required chip-scan attendance.
“On Neft, there are three different foreign language speakers.” The final bell is still echoing, and I had really hoped to get through my last class without hearing Neldres talk. He sits in front of me and Lisette, and his face reminds me of a puffer fish about to burst. His body and ego, too. “It’ll be like I’m living in a different universe. A cultured one, instead of this floating trash rig. Real linguists instead of virtual, dead voices.”
I gather my light pen and storage device. Did Mom feel like that about Nod?
Neldres continues to brag. “In two weeks I’ll be studying languages in paradise.”
“Seems superfluous,” Lisette says. “I mean, English is the primary Platform language.”
Neldres laughs snidely and looks Lisette up and down. “Some of us have a taste for finer things.”
Lisette’s cheeks turn red, and I give Neldres a hard look. “May you sail in smooth waters, Neldres. Very smooth.”
I grab Lisette’s arm and pull her behind me. When we are out in the hall, she takes several deep breaths.
“Don’t worry about him. He’s a fool,” I whisper. “Like he’ll ever be able to say hello or goodbye to anyone, much less in another language. They’ll have him translating old books for our pads.”
Lisette still looks upset, so I don’t press her to talk. We ditch our bags at the base of the stairs and climb side by side to floor 31.
We scan our wrists and enter the climbing area, panting a little after the twenty floors. There’s an obstacle course made of unusable tires and old fishing nets, a wall of pipes to boulder across, and patched up sails to climb. Some kids use the next level up as a parkour course. Everything smells damp and moldy since there are no real walls, and the wind is stronger this high up. Sometimes, we find feathers stuck in the pipes, and we turn them in to recycling. I’ve always wanted to keep one—for the feather mattress of my dreams.
All the students in my year have exercise period now, and I see them broken into small groups. The anxiety and excitement in the room is like an electric current. They’re all clustered around the Drop in the center of the room. It’s an enclosed chute that snakes down thirty stories and dumps into Duritz’s cage farm. The good news is you won’t get eaten by sharks or barracuda. The bad news is it’s a long, convoluted thirty stories down in the dark.
The PC has forbidden the Drop, but floor 31 has no cameras, the Council doesn’t seem to mind, and Duritz built a ladder from his cage farm back up to the Platform. It’s become a senior tradition—or obligation, depending on how you look at it. Every senior doesn’t jump, but those who do get a little extra respect, and not just from other seniors. Word gets around.
The bell rings, indicating that we are supposed to be exercising. Instead, Andrew, one of the biggest kids in the class, steps up to the Drop.
“Well, are you or aren’t you?” Neldres yells, his puffer fish face turning red.
Andrew steps into the chute and plunges into the darkness.
Several of the boys high-five each other and jump through the chute screaming. A few girls jump through. Maritza, our soft-spoken classmate, backs away. So does Lisette.
“Not for me. I’m fine living my whole life without doing that.”
Harriet is with Kay and Darby, who always follow her like shadows, and I feel them watching me. Sweat pools beneath my armpits. Part of me wants to back out—respect is not something that motivates me—but the other part of me says do it—don’t let Harriet win. Plus, I’d planned for this chute drop. With Mom gone, it’s like any other year. I want to mark this senior year, this final year of school, by doing something I would never normally do. But on my own terms. Hitting the deep, dark water with that much speed would give me a heart attack. So, I had come up with an alternate plan. I’d done a dry run of it while everyone else was climbing a month ago. It hadn’t been pretty, but it had worked.
Three other kids from class jump. Drayton joins us. “So, I was wondering…”
“Don’t,” I say confidently and move calmly to the chute drop. Lisette gasps behind me. Bile is rising in my throat, but I ignore it. I put both hands on the opening. My fingers are stiff and splotchy, and my wrists shake, but I jump through.
The first floor isn’t a straight shot down, and since I carefully studied the rig diagrams, I know that the chute intersects a second pipeline on floor 29. It’s my only chance for escape, and I’d made it out on the dry run. That’s the only reason I don’t throw up. I create serious friction by star fishing my arms and legs, and when the pipe takes a hard right turn, I thrust my feet to the left and force my body to make a U-turn. My head hits the wall, but I grab for the pressure wheel and hang on. I right myself, then crawl another two hundred feet and kick out the exit panel on the twenty-ninth floor.
“And done,” I mutter. I scoot out of the pipe carefully on my hands and knees. I consider kissing the floor, but I’m in the middle of the glass recycling area. Most of the glass is amber and green, but there are a few shards of blue. I hear several pieces crush beneath my weight as I gingerly move across the pile.
Lila, who is three years older than me, is standing in front of the pile of glass. She handles the glass sorting on Nod, though I know she tried to test into the Technology Resources track. She lives on the northwest spar Platform and is constantly smiling.
“Careful. Those are small pieces of glass. Where’d you come from?”
I look around but can’t think up a plausible route to explain my presence. I tell the truth. “I crawled out of the Drop. It intersects on 29 with this horizontal pipe.”
“Yeah, graduation.” I step off the glass pile.
“Okay,” Lila says. She pauses. “I’m not sure I understand how exactly you got here, but okay. I should scan your chip for all these broken pieces.”
I gulp. That would tip my family’s glass allotment way into Overuse. “I’m not asking for distribution.”
“No, but they’re much smaller pieces now.”
We look at each other. Lila’s eyes are a beautiful deep green. I had never noticed before.
“I didn’t jump,” Lila finally says.
“Glad you did.” Lila walks back to the glass controller’s booth. Since she doesn’t say anything else, I tiptoe out of the glass recycling area and walk purposefully to the stairwell. I have twenty-nine flights of stairs to run down and an ocean to jump into.
Or climb out of, as the case may be.
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