“Hot IPA”

[Estimated reading time: 4 minutes]

[This is a work in progress.]

The whale-song rings in the air, bounces off the bay-side cliffs, and echoes across the water.
The pod has been getting rowdier every day, and today, shortly after noon, they set out on their annual southern pilgrimage.

There is a small crowd gathered to see me off, all of us intimately aware of the whales setting off for ports unknown, and I am overcome with hugs and kisses from friends and family.
My sub is stuffed to the brims with their gifts and well-wishes, from bunches of apples to gallons of milk, a dozen sticks of butter.
And, somehow, an entire ramman, chopped and divvied up into manageable chunks that have been buried in the deepest crevices of the sub.
The whales' pilgrimage is my own, as well.
The first time following a pod, outside of a sim or a virtuality.
My heart is doing laps now.

The whales are getting on, the sub's AI informs me, so I duck belowdecks and activate the auto-pilot.
It seals us off from the adoring world outside and I am thankful.
I love my family, my friends, even my bosses at Marine 7, but sometimes it's all a bit too much.

I watch as the sub sets course a bit behind and to the side of the whale pod.
It's exactly as we've been taught, in Uni, but it still seems so strange.

I look up, through the clear adamantine ceiling, and watch the receding surface turn green as we descend with the whales.
The light becomes greener and the onboard lights come on, automatically.
I shut them off and take in the light of the world around me.
The noon sun shines through a thin layer of green algae and colors the deeps in an eerie glow.

The whale pod is ahead and the sea parts for them, the smaller life-forms move aside as the royalty passes through their domain.

The sub catches up to the pod right as they descend upon a school of fish.
It's lunch time.
I pull the sub back a bit and watch, munch on my own collection of veggies, happy not to take a life for my lunch.
But no offense intended toward the whales, they do what they must, to survive.

I record the feeding frenzy and broadcast the footage, minus the stuff that the on-board AI censors.
Things like direct shots of the sun, because they can pin-point the pod's location.
Or the bigger shit, like the network towers that we use for the broadcast, those are also hidden, obfuscated.

We wouldn't want to lead the poachers straight to this pod, now would we?
Of course not!
So we obfuscate, but still attempt to educate, and the video goes out, and we have a few million watching along as the pod of whales has their lunch.

The whales almost seem to wave to the camera, their long tentacles whipping around in an exaggerated fashion, almost a mechanical dance of some sort.
It's regular fodder for the folks back home, they love this shit.
I keep the recorder going and chomp on an apple.

The alarm breaks me out of reverie, there's a human in distress nearby.
The on-board AI is good at pulling needles out of a haystack, and today it seems to have isolated a drowning human.
A drowning woman.

The sub pulls some high acceleration and we come up to a coral reef and a wrecked catamaran.
There's one person in the water, and she's sinking.
The sub comes up beneath her and pushes her immobile body to the surface.
I am out of the airlock a second after the water recedes from the con tower.

The woman is clad in an air-force suit, a tight ensemble that's supposed to hold in your organs as the aircraft accelerates at insane rates.
A malfunctioning air rig is fizzing at her side, no doubt the reason that she is half-drowned.
I jump at her, clear the skein of jellyfish off her form, push my lips against hers and exhale, pushing air deep into her.
She wakes up with coughs and empties her body all over me.
I jump off the sub into the sea and wash the mess off me.

"Thanks," she wheezes in between gulps of air.
"Thanks for that!"

"Are you OK?" I ask, and almost immediately know that it's a stupid question.
The drowning woman is bleeding profusely all over my damn sub!
She has a stab wound on the right side of her torso - so maybe her heart is still doing OK - and now that the drowning woman is upright and talking, the wound is pumping like crazy.

The drowning woman looks down at her wound, curses, and collapses once again.
She looks to be out of it, completely.
I drag her down into the sub through the AI-operated airlock.

"Get us to land, now!" I shout at the AI and start heading for the cockpit.

"Negative, Captain, we have conflicting orders from Marine 7," the AI replies.

Fuck fuck fuck, what the fuck does that mean, I think and plop down in the captain's chair.
The AI tosses up a holo of some official-looking orders.
I wave those aside and touch the "MEDICI" panel.
The drowning woman's stats, diagnosis, oxygen saturation, and the rest show up as colorful graphs.
The data seems to suggest that our guest is halfway into the grave.

"Plot the shortest way to land, now!" I growl.

"Negative, Captain, I cannot follow that order."
The holo of the official-looking orders comes back and I finally bother to read them.
Marine 7 has detected poachers in the area, and I am being ordered to intercept and "stop" them.
"Stop" is in quotes, as is common.

It takes me a moment to recall the override code that cost me a month's salary.

Here's hoping it's worth it, I think to myself.

Then a loud explosion flips the world upside down and things are not what they were.

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