New Compass Rose Short Story on Patreon

A new story from the world of Compass Rose is now live on Patreon, but if you are not a Patron and still want to read it, I will be including it as a freebie in my newsletter!

Teaser Text:

Ten Thousand Fathoms Deep

A Compass Rose Story

North Atlantic Mining Station 17
Coordinates: 39.955, -67.6279
Date: March 8, 2501
Project Assignment: Anchor Chain Inspection
Team: Kendra Davies and Aisha Wu
Assessment: See attached report

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

—Ancient Proverb

It’s impossible not to think about pressure as the subring descends from the surface station to the mining city below, the pulley chain rattling out the fathoms. Clang, ka-clang, ka-clang. The rhythm is just shy of matching my heartbeat. Something about that dissonance lodges in my throat, and I check off link 4003 with a tick of my stylus. The next link rises into view through the water. 

This is not the central mining shaft. No massive elevators rise and sink on the hour from the surface station to the city below—just our small submersible, circling the northeast anchor chain. The vast links pass beyond the porthole in ragged reds and grays where our lights illuminate them. Algae spreads in a red tide over the metal. 

Algae. A soft ‘A,’ practically an exhale. I time the whispered word to my breath. Easier to say than many of its harder consonant cousins. The odds of stuttering over a word like algae are low, which is a good thing considering how much of the stuff I deal with regularly.

On the opposite side of the subring my partner watches the chain from her porthole, scanning for signs of damage, weakness, and sabotage—just as I am. 

“Anything?” I say into the speaking tube that connects me to Aisha, after timing the word with the right number of heartbeats—three this time. It varies. I know that technically the number of beats doesn’t matter to my stutter, but counting helps, even here with Aisha, who is one of the few people who I can speak with freely. Her even-keeled voice responds immediately.

“Nothing so far. You?”

“No corrosion higher than level three.” Corrosion. A hard consonant, aggressive, and thankfully buried in the middle of the sentence, where the momentum of my words force it out. By itself, the word might have caused a block.

“Not bad. We might get done sooner than I thought.” 

“Somewhere to be?” I ask, because I can’t help it. Sure as the oceans rise, I’m always ready to catch myself on the barbs of my own feelings.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.”

I would, of course, but I can’t say that. Not to Aisha. What she does in her own time is her business and nobody else’s, even if I want her business to be me. If I say anything, however, there’s a good chance it will ruin our working relationship, or worse, that she’ll ask to be reassigned to a different partner. I’d rather have her as a partner than not at all—especially on an assignment like this. Aisha has never once told me to “Just spit it out,” unlike my last work partner. As a result, the words cooperate.

My gut churns along with the particles we’ve disturbed with our descent. I don’t like working this deep. The pressure hovers like a blocked word, trapping me beneath it. 

The subring’s mechanical arm, which extends beyond the hull like one of the arcade games on the station, creaks as I scrape past layers of algae and mineral deposits to determine the viability of the metal. We had to use the solder twice on the last link, and I don’t want to miss any weak spots on this one. The arm judders as I maneuver it. I’ll have to take a look at the joints when we return topside. Nothing I can do for it out here.

I check off 4003 on my sheet. Another solid link stabilizing the mining station above. Stable mines mean stable stations, we say out here, as the floating Archipelago Stations depend on the metals we delve from the volcanic chain on the edge of the plate. The knowledge that our work is important is of little comfort in the abyss.

“How can algae even grow down here?” I say into the tube, though I know the answer. Light still filters through, just not on the spectrum needed for green varieties, like the kind that cycle our air. A good portion of the subring is devoted to algae vats. They’ll hold an O2 charge for the duration of our dive, plus some, before they shut down.

Her voice comes through the speaker. “Same way it grows in your pits, Kenz.”

“Fucking gross.” And mildly offensive, considering the last thing I want Aisha thinking about is my armpits, which are clean, thank you very much. 

“You got any plans when we get topside?” 

“Sleep,” I say. 

“Boring. You should come out with me.”

She doesn’t mean it like that, I remind myself as I fight off a shiver. The arm creaks as I scrape off another chunk of algae. My breath wavers, and I steady it. “Depends on where you’re going.”

“Nautica.” She says the name of the bar casually, as if it isn’t infamous for just about everything a place can be infamous for and still remain legally open. I can’t tell if she’s serious. She would go to a place like Nautica and think nothing of it.

“Uh, sure.” 

Aisha’s laugh is downright evil. I wait for her to say, “I’m messing with you,” but she just pauses, then laughs again, low in her throat, before settling back into silence.

“I c-could handle it.” I’m aware I sound defensive, especially with that stutter. My grip on the joystick slips with sudden perspiration. 

“Sure you could.” 

Her agreement is too easy; she’s definitely nudging my rudder. “Aisha, I swear—”

“How’s that chain?”

“About as solid as the last link,” I say, both grateful and annoyed at the change in subject.

“Remind me not to get on this rotation again until they replace the whole damn thing, yeah?” I can hear the scrape of her mechanical arm in the eerie clanks vibrating against mine through the chain.

“As if that will ever happen.”

“‘Bout as likely as you coming with me to Nautica.”

“I knew that wasn’t a real invitation.”

“Relax, I don’t even go there.” I can hear the smile in her voice. “Much.

“Very funny.” Light barely penetrates this deep, but I glance behind me out of habit to the opposite porthole. Our lights are only focused inward, and out there, the ocean presses close in its darkness. Lights flicker anyway. “Swarm coming in.”

“Oh yeah?” Aisha still sounds amused. 


“Least we’ll have some stars.”

We play this game, sometimes, when we’re stuck working the chains: looking for constellations in swarms of jellyfish. It passes the time. Sometimes I wonder if she knows how much it helps me deal with the dark. 

The pulley chain clinks us lower, a small chain bound in service to the massive links outside the porthole. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s