Chapter 4: 100 FaTHOMS UNDER
Introduction: The Starmen are visiting Aquapolis, a huge undersea city ten miles off the coast of Florida. Two scientists from Starlight Enterprise's plant in Aquapolis have met them and are transporting them to the undersea city.
“One quarter mile short of Aquapolis,” said Erica. “Twenty minutes to descent, then relinquish control,” she added. The Molly began to move. Erica turned so she could address the Starmen. “The shuttle is automatic, of course. It plots its bearing to avoid other seacraft and arrive at its destination at the time we set. We usually make the trip in ten minutes, but I thought you’d enjoy a more leisurely jaunt, so I’ve made it twenty. Then I’ll take manual control and give you a tour of the outside of the city before we enter the airlock.”
“Thank you, Erica,” said Zip, speaking for all the Starmen. “I’m sure we’d enjoy that.”
The Molly’s propulsion system was quiet but efficient. The small craft wove its way through the other boats in the harbor, then went through the breakwater into the open sea. Picking up speed, it oriented due south and began the ten-mile journey to the place of descent.
Mark looked out the window closest to him and smiled when he saw that three sea gulls were keeping pace with the travelers. Before long, they dropped behind. Zip looked to his left and saw two or three other shuttles ahead of them.
Almost before they knew it, the Molly slowed and then came to a stop. It moved gently in the swell.
“Aquapolis below and slightly ahead of us,” announced Scott. “Here we go! Prepare for a fantastic sight!”
Erica said, “Descend.” The ship took seawater into its reservoirs to reduce its buoyancy and began to sink. The water sloshed over the window until the sea closed over the top of the canopy. Erica gripped the wheel and pressed it forward; the nose of the yellow seacraft pointed downward and began to move. Each of the Starmen felt a thrill of anticipation.
Almost imperceptibly the water around them changed color, turning from bright turquoise to a rich azure, then to heavy moss green and finally to dark violet. Occasionally shafts of sunlight struck the surface waves just right, and a pale beam of light appeared momentarily, shifting with the pattern of the billows above. In such radiance the water danced with uncountable numbers of tiny flecks and drifting seaweed. Once or twice a fish shot through the pillar of light.
No one spoke. The number of fish began to increase, showing an enormous variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
“Aquapolis is built near a coral reef, which supports a lot of fish” Scott informed the Starmen. “The amount of fish we’re seeing now shows that we are getting close to the city. Look ahead, and see what you can see.”
The Starmen, who had been occupied with looking sideways at the fish that swam by, turned forward. Mark gasped, Joe whooped, and Zip smiled widely. Before them appeared a great number of lights as of a city at night, all enclosed in a dome-shaped mist of pallid light, like fog with illumination behind it. Rectangular and pyramidal silhouettes loomed through the mist.
“Aquapolis,” said Erica. “This is the northwestern extremity, where the building began fifty years ago. I’ll take you down to where you can get the best view.” The bio-engineer brought the Molly down to the sea floor and into a channel that led directly toward the illuminated dome. The yellow sea-shuttle cruised slowly along the channel, with shallow banks rising on both sides. The glow from the dome ahead provided otherworldly illumination to the undersea formations around them.
All at once, the channel came to an end as it intersected a broad canyon with a floor made entirely of sand. A range of low hills formed the opposite side to the canyon, beyond which the dome was located.
“This is amazing!” Mark managed to say. “We’ve all seen photographs and movies of the city, but there’s no way any reproduction could prepare someone for a first view like this!”
“To be frank,” smiled Scott, “that’s why Erica and I decided to offer you a ride here. We knew it would be like this, and we wanted to share the experience of you first-timers.” The Starmen laughed.
“We’re glad you did!” said Zip. “We’re very glad you did!”
“There’s more to come,” said Erica, and brought the Molly across the canyon, then lifted the sea-shuttle up and over the dome. Even Zip gasped at the view that opened up before them. Hundreds of illuminated domes, some of great size, spread out into the distance as far as they could see. There were glass towers and connecting tubes, through which many vehicles were passing. The coral reef extended to right and left, and many thousands of fish swam around the reef and among the watery interstices of the undersea city.
To the right, several enormous clear commuter tubes came into the largest dome. The tubes had been built on the ocean floor and extended back out of sight, obviously connected to Aquapolis Port on the mainland. Dozens of small submarine craft like the Molly moved around the domes, heading toward or out of many airlocks.
“There’s a whole aqua culture here!” breathed Mark. “Look at the garden!”
“Where?” said Joe, leaning to the right where Mark was pointing.
Just below and to the right were many acres of cultivated plants, waving in the gentle rhythm of the sea. A number of people in watersuits moved among the crops, tending to the plants. Tiny streams of bubbles rose from packs on their backs. Shifting pillars of light moved through the violet waters, illuminating the fields.
“That farm is run by a department of medical research,” said Scott. “Those plant produce some of the newest medicines. There are plenty of farms for food crops, too.”
“Well, I’m impressed!” said Joe, sitting back.
“Ready to see Starlight Enterprise-Aquapolis?” asked Erica.
“The sooner, the better!” responded Zip.
“Starlight Enterprise port,” said Erica to the sea-shuttle’s voice-activated navigation system. Molly’s automatic pilot took over, and the seacraft picked up speed, cruising over the tops of the domes. When it reached the third dome after the first, the ship dropped down almost to ground level and entered an airlock.
As soon as the Molly docked, the outer portal was sealed by a rotating set of plates that moved like the iris on a camera lens. The water was quickly drained to a depth of a few feet. The yellow sea-shuttle floated peacefully in its dock.
“Open canopy,” said Scott. The glass unsealed and slid back. “Welcome to Aquapolis!” said the man, turning to the Starmen.