29 June 2063, Huang Marine Research, Marcelli Rise
Pietro stepped into the coolness of the visitor centre before opening hours, wandering into the aquarium area to check out the display of marine species the hatchery produced. Because he lived within the mariculture region of the Township, he had privileged access to this area designed to promote new species for farming.
So, twenty minutes to kill while Dad chooses this season’s seedstock. Pietro had spent the last few weeks convincing his father to set up experimental scallop rafts within the family seastead. He said this year I’ll be in charge of them!
Pietro had just received his conditional acceptance letter to study bivalve genetics at the Auckland Marine Institute of Science and Technology, which maintained a satellite campus here at Marcelli Rise. If I ace the exams this year, it’ll be a shoo-in.
Pietro crossed the transparent passageway leading into an oval observation room surrounded by floating platforms. His eyes adjusted to the brightness filtering down to the observation deck from the sea’s surface, casting ever-dancing patterns of sunlight on the floor. The sea-farming platforms he could see on all sides had been created from calcified seacrete, like most of the buildings in Marcelli Rise. They were anchored to the seafloor at twenty meters below the ocean surface. He amused himself as he approached the dome of windows, quietly naming the species he recognized: those forests are seaweed…Eucheuma, Kelp…that rope has scallops, that one has oysters. Schools of anchovies and bass swirled around the platforms, having grown from juveniles released into this protected environment by the hatchery.
Pietro was startled from his observations. Someone is already here. She stood, one hand resting on the glass and watching a passing whale shark. Her profile glowed in the sealight. Maybe 15 or 16? She’s beautiful.
He heard her sniffle. Oh, is she crying? His shoes squeaked on the floor as he tried to stop his approach. She turned and glared, “Go away!”
Pietro frowned and continued towards her. “I think,” he said with a quiet voice, “that this is a public gallery.” She stiffened and turned away from him.
Why’d I say that? Pietro kicked himself mentally. “Sorry, that was rude. I didn’t expect anyone to be here, you surprised me. I will leave if you want me to.” He hoped she didn’t.
The girl turned back and studied him, then softened. “Well, I think I was rude first. I’m sorry too. You don’t have to go.”
Pietro stood for a moment, awkward, but determined. “My name’s Pietro Marcelli. My family farms in quadrant 23 of the Rise.”
The young girl smiled, “Marcelli? Isn’t that the name of this place?”
“Yeah, my grandfather founded this Township, over thirty years ago. Are you new here?”
She hesitated, then a shy smile slipped across her lips. “Yes, I am new. My name’s Oliana Rogers.”
“Oliana? An unusual name,” he said impulsively. Then he recovered and added, “I’m sorry I startled you, Oliana. Welcome to the Rise.”
“We just arrived. My father has taken a teaching position and wants…” her voice trembled. Pietro was afraid she would cry again, but she pulled herself together, “… to stay longer, but,” she couldn’t hold it back, “I hate this place!”
Shocked, Pietro was silent. After a moment he simply asked, “Why?”
Oliana searched his face, then it seemed she decided to trust him. “Because I love the home we have in Auckland! My friends are there, my school, my family. Why do we need to move into the middle of the ocean? I don’t even know about this place. It is so unfair…”
She gazed out into the seascape before them, “Don’t you hate it here? So far from… anywhere?”
Another awkward silence. Pietro cleared his throat, “Ah, well, actually, I love living here. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Oliana stared at him in disbelief.
“You like it here?!” The beautiful girl asked Pietro.
“Yes.” She is the one being unfair, he thought angrily. “And, we are not in the middle of nowhere. We’re part of a group of sea mount communities, cities and nomadic groups. On the western edge of the Southern Pacific Pelagic Territory.”
“Pelagic Territory, what is that?”
Pietro was surprised by the reaction and realised he had some explaining to do. “Electra, can we have a display interface please?”
“Yes, Pietro,” came a soft Italian lilt from the air. A holographic display environment appeared before them, floating above the floor.
“Show us the Southern Pacific Ocean with Pelagia.” The southern portion of the earth’s globe appeared. The Pacific Ocean spread before them, a light blue expanse speckled with continents and islands rimmed in a darker blue.
Pietro pointed and looked at Oliana. “These dark blue bands around the continents and islands outline the Economic Exclusion Zones – we call it E.E.Z. – of terrestrial nations. The EEZ are waters over which those nations have sovereignty, rights over fishing and other resources. The light blue area beyond those zones are open ocean that anyone can inhabit. We call those the Pelagic Territories.”
“I see New Zealand’s EEZ.” She traced it with her finger, stopping off the coast of Auckland. “So, these Pelagic Territories are not part of any country?”
“No, we are independent settlers on the open sea. We are developing civil systems, to enable us to work together. These systems help us cooperate as a Territory. We hope eventually that the Pelagic Territories will be recognised as sovereign countries.”
“Hmm. Just ocean. No lands. No names. Still looks like a lot of nowhere. Why do you like it here?” Oliana met his gaze.
[To be continued…]