VILLAGE ON THE WATER

A group of technological pioneers founded Independence, the village on the water, on the dawn of the 2,100th year. A spectacle of progress, it stood alone in a world which praised terra firma. They attracted residential candidates, describing it as "where the ocean meets the sky in a thin line of blue".

To call the village on the water anything except marvelous would be beyond ignorant. The most amazing development was the recycling technology, which reclaimed matter of any sort, rapidly separating objects into their raw materials utilizing nothing but the electric power of sunlight. There were saltwater purifiers operating on solar energy, food and drink synthesizers, and record-breakingly low-power computing systems.

It would be criminal to attribute prowess only to the mechanisms which constituted the physical blueprint of Independence. Its population of thirty-two was selected carefully from a large pool of applicants. None were allowed in who possessed significant physical or mental defects. Nearly all were engineers, teachers, scientists, medics, or artisans by trade. An intensive year-long training program was required for every prospective resident that would prepare them for the unique social situation presented by the village.

Independence was, for all practical considerations, a closed system. It relied only on access to sunlight, open air, and seawater. It could sustain itself comfortably without interacting with any existing societies. It was virtually untouchable by outside disaster.

Independence was only the first of its kind. Or, at least, it would have been, if the project hadn't been interrupted by global catastrophe. It started, of all places, in an aquatic sythesization plant. A controlled reaction became a chain reaction and it was impossible to contain. thirty quadrillion cubic meters of water were produced before the reaction finally stabilized a month later.

The damage was done, and it was irrevocable. The sea level was raised by nearly two thousand meters, and the spectacular speed of the production of water produced typhoons and tides chaotic enough to annihilate all but the most resolute centers of civilization. Those cities which survived quickly spiraled into anarchic disorder due to the collapse of nations, and the sheer psychological distress implanted in the people by their sudden cutting-off from the rest of mankind.

Meanwhile, Independence rode the waves.

Three decades passed.

"Duncan, please begin recording the minutes."

"Yessir."

"Before speaking, for recordkeeping purposes, each member of the committee will state their name. Speaking is Iscar Jameson." Iscar brushed a mote from his eyebrow. "I'd like to call to attention the first item on your schedules, a proposition to cease using fish as a means to increase several chem counts."

Richard Law spoke. "Why would we stop? There's no reason stated on the schedule."

Nancy Cane: "Our actions could be unethical if we don't require the resources."

Phil Weaver: "Of course we require the resources! We've just barely the chems to keep us going as we are. And if our population keeps growing?"

Iscar Jameson: "Mandatory contraception is next on the list."

Veronica Birch: "For review! It's clear we need better options."

Jeff Plate: "Me and Jon are doing the best we can with the chems we've got." Jon Prater nodded.

Nancy Cane: "How about physical contraception devices?"

Veronica Birch: "Those are too prone to error."

Mabelle Orson: "Sterilization?" Almost every member of the committee frowned.

Jerm Lewis, ignoring Mabelle's suggestion: "If it came to it we could recycle the infants once they're born."

Phil Weaver: "Ha! And to think we go to you for psych support."

Iscar Jameson: "Perhaps we could make sure it's open as an option to parents who're willing?" That solicited as many frowns as the idea of sterilization. "Okay. Or not." He cleared his throat, "We're supposed to be discussing fish, anyway."

The meeting went on; marine animals continued to be caught and subject to chem reduction and contraception continued to be unreliable. The committee met once every week but seldom accomplished anything of value. There was too much of a diversity of opinions for a consensus to be reached on any issue that was presented.

At any rate, the son of the committee head, Mickey Vent, envied the influence and the status that being a member carried. The social constitution prevented anyone aged under twenty-five from participating in the committee and Mickey was seventeen.

It was unfortunate that the children could not be selected and refined as the initial residents were. The eleven children, especially the eldest of them, were a rebellious and cynical lot. For all they knew, Independence was the final orderly human settlement on Earth.

Jerm Lewis, psychotherapist, drummed his chin with a pen as he listened to to the musings of Katie Florent, nineteen-year-old daughter of April Florent and Phil Weaver.

"Will's a lazy slob and Mickey's the most impatient boy I'd ever know and Simon is just too young for me. I don't know who to love, you know?" Katie twisted a curl of her dirty blonde hair.

Jerm nodded.

She squinted her eyes in deep thought. "Maybe if I wait awhile the age of Simon won't be so big a deal. Five years? That isn't so bad. Isn't it? He seems sweet enough." She shifted her weight in the chair and questioned, "Why wait, though? It's just, you know, societal norms and all that."

Jerm said, "How else have you felt affected by our societal norms?"

"I don't know." Katie sighed. "It's tough being the oldest! The oldest kid. You know. I have to set an example for the rest of them. Don't I? There's so much pressure."

"Tell me about things that you do to relax and relieve some of that pressure."

She pondered. "Talking to Simon makes me happy, I guess. And helping Mom with her music. I love to do that. And sometimes I like to watch Dad make stuff." She giggled, "And pranking some of the grown-ups with Mickey is great fun."

Jerm forced a smile. He remembered the last time he'd been a victim of one of their practical jokes. It took a week to get the purple dye out of his hair, and it was still tinged with the hue.

"Jerm?" Katie sobered.

"Yes, Katie?"

"Do you think we'll ever see anyplace other than this little village? Anyone but ourselves?"

"I don't know." He didn't expect so. "What do you think?"

"I think we will. I think one day we'll find land. An island somewhere, maybe. And we'll start to live there instead. And I bet there'll be others there, too. I just know it."

"Tag! You're it!" Marcy Law fled from 'it', Lyle Orson. Charlie Birch watched them from the swingset.

"Oi!" Lyle bellowed as he gave chase, "You'll not get away so easy!"

They made a circuit around the primary school playground before Lyle collapsed on the ground. He moaned, "Why're you so fast!"

Marcy strutted toward him and boasted, "You'll never catch me!"

Just then, Lyle's small hand shot out and touched Marcy on the shoe. "You're it!" He laughed and sprinted away.

"You!" Marcy seethed.

Nancy Cane glanced out the window. She said, "Are you kids behaving yourselves?"

Lyle answered, "No!"

"Good." Nancy laughed at their play and remembered when Simon and Helen, her own two children, were their age. What a difference a few years could make!

She called them inside. "Recess is over, kids!" She was met with the usual complaints and protests before she could resume their lessons. Marcy, Lyle, and Charlie had a litany of subjects to be introduced to prepare them to be useful contributors to Independence. The initial thirty-two wouldn't live forever; it'd be up to their offspring to keep themselves alive.

Nancy sighed. How long could they keep it going, though? How many generations? There wasn't enough space and not enough chems to support a population of more than fifty, and even that would be pushing it. Nearly everyone had to have at least two specializations. And what of genetic diversity? Independence was meant to receive a constant stream of fully-trained individuals to replace them as they died off. The engineers of this place, despite all their cleverness, couldn't come up with a way to power genetic labs on solar power alone by their deadline. And if they'd managed it before the catastrophe they'd never given it to Independence. And the children who would be born here were intended by the village's designers to perform nonprofessional functions as artists and handymen, there were no resources here for specialized training; that the residents here might want children was considered by Independence's designers as an afterthought.

Just like every day, when the lessons were over the kids would return to their homes. Nancy thought she might put some variety in her own schedule and spend a few hours wallowing in miserable self-pity after they left. She looked over Lyle, inspecting, while he penciled in answers on a worksheet. He had his father's messy brown hair. She reminded herself that Lyle had no part in his progenation and kept herself from directing toward him her resentment at the father. Allen Grossman, Lyle's father, was also the father of her two children, and once her committed lover. How brief that commitment was! Worst of all, Allen seemed to care to spend no time with Lyle, just like with her children. It was such a shame, she thought, that the three of them should grow up not truly knowing a father.

Wallace Ling picked Charlie Birch up from school. He held her by the hand while they walked home. He asked, "How was it?"

"It was okay," Charlie answered. She sneezed and rubbed at her nose with her sleeve. "How's work?"

Wallace taught secondary school in Independence. It was a daunting responsibility to conquer alone, he would admit, but he had help from the other residents when it came time to touch upon subjects beyond his familiarity. It lightened his load, though, that it was a labor he loved to do. He answered Charlie, "It went well. I taught Helen algebra today."

Helen was one of Nancy's daughters, Charlie knew. She asked, "Algebra? What's that?"

"Well, it's a kind of math. Like adding, except more complicated."

"Oh." Charlie sniffled.

At home they found Wallace's lover and Charlie's mother, Veronica Birch. She welcomed them both with strangling hugs and informed them that dinner would be ready soon.

Cuisine in Independence was the stuff of constant innovation. With the limitation of chems and the need to synthesize just about anything, soups and tofu-like cakes were the staples of their diet. But there were several chefs and several chemical engineers and when they worked together they could produce some genuinely delicious concoctions. But with almost invariable textures, monotony began to set in quickly except if new and pleasing tastes could be frequently introduced.

Wallace and Charlie sat at a table and Veronica served them food, a red-brown liquid with chunks of orange and olive green. It smelled like beef and carrots. "Thanks, mom," Charlie said. It saddened Veronica to think that she had never known better.

They saturated their meal with chatting and Wallace helped Veronica clean the eatingware when they'd finished. It was late, so Charlie was tucked into bed.

Wallace and Veronica laid together.

Veronica said, "Did you like dinner?"

Wallace nodded and kissed her.

She asked, "Did work go well today?"

Wallace nodded again.

"You're not very talkative tonight."

Wallace grinned mischievously.

"Oh!" They melted under the covers.

"Dad!" Mickey Vent said, "I want to be on the committee!"

"Damn it, Mickey, just give it a few years, won't you?" Iscar Jameson rubbed at his temples and clenched his teeth. "How many times do I have to tell you. No!"

"I don't give a shit about the constitution!"

"You won't use that language with me!"

"Fuck you!"

Mickey stormed out of the house and Iscar watched him go. He shook his head. Why did he decide to have that kid? And damn the mother for being so transient. Iscar wondered who else she was fucking.

Mickey found someplace secluded to sit and fume. His rage turned to tears and he berated himself, "Don't cry! You fucking wimp!" He slammed his fist against his head. "Damn you! Damn you!"

Katie Florent heard and came to see the source of the commotion. She said, "Mickey? Are you all right?" She saw his long brown hair and deeply-set green eyes, the slight pucker of his lips.

He took deep breaths to calm himself. "I'm okay."

"What's wrong?" She knelt beside him.

"I... it's just not fair that you and I can't be on the committee." He demanded, "Aren't we old enough to have a say?"

"I guess, but we don't understand as well as they do, you know? Hey, it's only a few years until we do. It isn't a big deal."

"What? You're okay with not having a voice?"

"Well, no, but I know it's only a little while before I do." She frowned at him. "Can't you be more patient?"

Mickey seethed. He said, "I'll make it so they have to let me on. I will!"

"Do whatever you want," resigned Katie. She didn't know what to tell him. She said, "Just don't do anything too stupid." She slinked away.

Mickey watched the sun set through Independence's transparent dome. He lifted himself up and leaned against a wall. "I'll show them," he resolved. "They won't have any choice."

Iscar Jameson was jostled in his bed. "Wake up! Iscar!"

"Huh?" He sat up and looked at April through glassy eyes. "Wha... what're you doing in here?"

"Iscar, it's your son! You've got to come right away."

"What is it?" He questioned while he submitted. He shoved his feet into a pair of light slippers and shrugged on a t-shirt. April grabbed his hand and dragged him to the waterlock.

The waterlock was an essential piece of Independence. It was where new chems could be taken in from the ocean and unwanted chems could be dropped out. It was at this moment that Mickey held a sack of carbon and a sack of iron over the open waterlock and threatened to drop them in unless his demands were met. "Reduce the committee age to sixteen!" He shouted, "Listen to us!" Will and Katie stood at a distance, sputtering vehemently that they were not associated with this.

Patrick Blanc scuttled over and whispered to Iscar, "Carbon and iron! The carbon I'd hate to see go but we can recover it quick enough. But the iron! The entire sackful?" Iscar, still fighting for clarity against drowsiness, nodded and waved him away; the necessity was nothing wasn't aware of already.

Mickey spotted his father. "Give me what I want!" He shouted, almost pleading.

Iscar spat, "Are you a complete fucking idiot?" He took a step toward Mickey. "You'll dump all those chems just because we won't put you on the committee? Do you have any conception of what a child you're being?"

Mickey shook with anxiety. He looked away.

He stared down his son. He yelled, his voice more commanding and bitter than he'd ever dared to exercise, "Mickey! Get the fuck over here. Give me the sacks." Veins bulged from his throat and his eyes burned with intensity. "Now!"

"No," Micky said. Louder: "No!" He raised his chin and demanded, "Put us on the committee!"

Iscar commanded, "No."

Micky opened his mouth as if to talk, then without a word dropped the sacks and closed the waterlock. He began walking away from his father and the gathered crowd parted to let him through. His father's voice echoed behind him as though it came from a dream. "Get the fuck back here, Mickey!"

Patrick held Iscar by the arm. "He's just a kid, Iscar. Kids do dumb shit."

"He's my son." Iscar broke out of his grip and pursued Mickey.

Mickey turned his head and saw his father striding behind him. Anger shook the ground beneath his feet. "Dad-" Iscar seized Mickey by his hair and forced him to follow. "Let go of me!"

Iscar led him to a chem reducer. "Dad?" A chem reducer was the utility which broke down a substance into its molecular components. "What are you doing?" The crowd had hasted to follow and watched silently. Mickey rasped, "Dad!"

Iscar found leverage and heaved Mickey into the reduction feed. He held his son down while he fumbled for the ignition. He stated with eerie calm, "You'll pay us back for the chems you wasted."

The first stage of reduction was separation into manageable chunks by laser cutter. Mickey's legs went first. Then his abdomen, his torso, and the screaming finally quieted with his head. Chems streamed into several capsules and blood dripped and pooled on the ground. The crowd gaped.

"What are all of you looking at?" Iscar said weakly. He looked for his feet, found them, and went for his bed, tracking crimson as he went.

The committee met while Iscar hid in his bedroom.

Mosea Vent: "I don't know that he's stable enough to be maintained."

Mitchell Webb: "Well, what do you suggest? That we reduce him, too?"

Leo Powers: "We could sedate him."

Veronica Birch: "It wouldn't be a solution. It'd just delay our having to deal with it."

Mosea Vent: "Reduce him!"

Nancy Cane: "Mosea, quiet! We understand it's your son but we need to treat this like civilized beings."

Phil Weaver laughed. "You call this civilization?" There were murmurs of agreement.

Allen Grossman: "How do we know he'll act out again?"

Jerm Lewis: "It's feasible that he won't, but... improbable. He's just murdered his son."

Jason Strong: "If we're this concerned about a repetition of it, I think the best course would indeed be to, well, reduce him."

Nancy Cane: "How can you justify that? Since when is preemptive action ethical?"

Leo Powers: "What if we leave him be, meet again every night, and evaluate whether the threat of another accident is worth, er, removing him."

Mosea Vent: "This should be dealt with now!"

Phil Weaver: "What? Are you going to reduce him yourself if we decide not to?" Mosea's cheeks flushed and she tried to hide it by looking down.

Nancy Cane: "Even if we decided to remove Iscar how would we go about it? I suggest we leave the situation be for now and only act if he does something so extreme again."

Jason Strong: "Or if the risk appears high." Nancy nodded, submitting.

Paul French: "All in favor?" "Ayes" resounded through the room. "Opposed?" None spoke out. He cleared his throat. "Okay. Meeting adjourned."

Written by Sophie Kirschner