I thought I might share a story I recently submitted to a writer’s contest:
Kinja gazed hungrily at the glinting water. No one came this far, no one crossed the safety barriers. She shed her long-sleeved shirt and long pants and folded them atop her slip-ons that had her socks tucked inside. The mean sun burned her tender skin. Treatments from her last secret dive had taken five weeks of caustic scrubs and she’d had the runs all that time as well. She’d heard sirens would lure sailors into the water and drown them. Silly myth, yet she felt the beat of a siren’s heart within her breast; the water called her home.
The puny overhang couldn’t be called a cliff. Kinja remembered seeing the Acapulco cliff diver arrowing into the sapphire waters once, back on Earth. Even then they’d said the cliff seemed puny compared to the days of lower seas, when a sprawling city surrounded the area. She remembered the sound of applause out there, a mere breeze compared to the gale-force acclaim she’d won at the Toronto Open.
If a bird flew by she’d leap after it. No birds. If a dolphin breached and squeaked, she’d dive in to meet it. No dolphins. Terraforming lagged on most everything. Toes on the crumbling edge, she felt the gray regolith sink beneath her feet. Rather than fall, she’d best dive, dolphin or not.
As she sliced into the warm water, her brain reveled in the flight, in the contact, in the sensation of weightless gliding. Flexing her thin form, she angled to the surface. The algae mats topped the sea as far as she could see, horizon east to west, so no swimming from her lagoon. A soft, swift current thrilled her from her legs up. The lighter gravity made swimming harder; she found simple one arm then the other, kick, kick worked most effectively.
At the sharp rocks at the lagoon mouth, she kicked off a flat surface and raced as fast as her muscles and lungs could manage all the way to the low beach at the diagonal. Climbing out on her knees, black shoes appeared before her happy eyes. Her heart fell and she flipped over onto the hot sand.
“You knew better and did it anyway. I sympathize but you know the hazard from the bio-package we seeded the sea with, and the consequences.” Her father dropped her stack of clothes and shoes beside her. “Get dressed; you know where we’re going.”
The scrub was deemed too risky so soon after the last time. They put her into the Conditioning Chamber. She occasionally perceived faces surrounding the translucent bubble but heard nothing. The chamber had been used once before – the guy had gone crazy and they couldn’t attend to his heart attack in time. The unending tickling, the feeling of millions of fire ants crawling around on her bare skin to remove the tenacious accelerated growth enzymes and seeds did not bother her. She put herself in the 2115 Olympic Trials and re-swam each precious stroke in her mind. The surge in her heart when she realized her hand hit the bar a full second before her rival’s kept her skin peels and regeneration far, far away. The golden trophy weighed less that you’d think. She’d hugged it then and she felt the smooth, cool thing against her breastbone. She got out of the Chamber tender and weak on her eighteenth birthday.
They fitted her out with a collar that would give her a severe shock if she even went near the safety barriers. She bent her mind to making this alien sea her friend.
As the top scientist for oceanic life genesis she finally succeeded with her decade-long project. She savored the congratulations from the entire community. She walked up to her father with a pair of side nippers. He clipped her collar with a grin. She stood before them and gave her many thanks to all those who’d accepted her single-minded attack on the terraforming problems and had assisted her efforts so ably. At 31 she’d earned her right to say, “Sign up for swimming lessons first thing tomorrow. If you want me today, I’ll be in Siren Bay.”