Solar Seal by Ryan Stong Home

Chapter 2

The boat was built out of a thick shell of reconstructed plastic molded around an intricate frame of various metal alloys. The outside of the boat was coated in some kind of colorless, hydrophobic material, so you could see the marbled plastic beneath with no fewer than 5 colors swirled together. The decks inside the boat were covered with a gritty sand material that helped prevent slipping while covering the plastic below so it appeared that you were walking on a perfectly straight beach. Two large barges carrying ancient iron shipping containers were trailing behind the boat, connected by strong polymer cables.

Every surface that was not meant to be walked on was covered by smooth, glassy solar panels that fueled several giant batteries that powered everything on the boat. The plastic the boat was constructed of, while thick, still let some light through, so the halls of the lower decks that ran around the radius of the ship did not need manual lighting during the day. The rooms ringed by the halls, however, used LEDs amplified by mirrors and lenses lit the halls to use as little power as possible. In the very lowest deck, the largest battery powered a super-efficient motor that made the propellers and rudders move.

Isaac climbed the stairs down to the third deck, past the dining deck where people were cooking the night's meal, down to the recreation deck. The seats were all colored with a marbled pattern similar to the walls of the ship, but the marbling was smaller, as a different tactic was used to produce the soft plastic they were constructed of. Ping-pong, foosball, and billiard tables were arranged beyond the seating, and almost all of them were occupied. The boat did not have any electronic entertainment to prevent unnecessary battery drain, but these old games were still enjoyable enough to the workers. Isaac found Emma reclining on a loveseat reading something on her e-reader, the glossy solar panels on the back reflecting light and clearly showing fingerprint smudges. He sat in the seat next to her and released a long sigh.

Emma noticed Isaac and put her book down.

"So what did you think of your first outing?" she asked, sitting up in her seat.

"Well, it's not what I'm used to, that's for sure. Much more used to just wandering and grabbing what looks interesting instead of just grabbing everything I can find."

"Yeah, it's pretty exhausting work, but the compound needs as much material as they can get, especially as we continue to grow!" Emma's eyes lit up. Isaac hadn't had much experience with the compound yet, but she clearly loved everything about it. "You can only reconstruct things so much."

"I suppose that's true," Isaac said, less enthusiastically as he sought to change the subject. It's not that he didn't care about how the compound did things—it was simply that he had just arrived there with nothing in mind but a stable meal schedule. "So what are you reading there?"

Emma glanced down and picked up the book, showing him the screen. "It's this old book about medicine and, like, healing and stuff. Stuff like re-setting bones, what to put on cuts, how to help a stomach ache... Stuff like that," she said, self-consciously glancing down, "I know I always carry my med lab around with me, but I like knowing how to handle things just in case I didn't have it around."

"No, definitely! You always gotta think like that, cuz what if your med lab breaks right when you need it or something? I think that's super great." Isaac loved this line of thought. "You gotta send me that book. I woulda loved having that to help me out when I was out in the wilds. Like one time, when I was trying to pull out a few gears from a car I found, a spring shot out and sliced me real good." He lifted his shirt, revealing a bright scar on the right side of his stomach. "I would have loved to know what the fuck to do beyond just putting pressure on it."

Emma examined the scar and said, "Wow, yeah. I mean, with something like that, applying pressure is one of the best ways to go. The idea is that you want to close the wound so your body's able to knit the skin back together... But it looks like you weren't able to apply the pressure very evenly. Or for very long." She looked back up at him and asked, "So your time in the wilds—what was that all about? Why didn't you stay in a settlement or something?"

Isaac sighed again and leaned back in his seat. "That's kind of a long story. But the gist of it is that every settlement or town I found had something pretty fucked up about it. The leader was power hungry or abusive or fat while the people were miserable. I couldn't stand that, so I always ended up leaving. I'm hoping the compound is as good as its reputation. It'd be nice to stay put somewhere for a while."

Emma was nodding along as Isaac spoke, and when he finished, she grew thoughtful and said, "I'm glad I was lucky enough to grow up there. I don't know what people outside say about it, but it's really great." She trailed off for a moment before fixing her gaze back on Isaac, excitedly asking, "Did you hear about when the compound separated from the city?"

"About how the city cut off the power but the compound stayed lit?"

Emma leaned in, her hands gesturing wildly, "It's more than that! Ok so, the leader at the time—my great, great grandfather, Emmet Persy—was getting all kinds of warnings like 'You'd better tear down that eyesore or we're gonna cut you off!' and 'We're blocking the road so you can't get supplies!' for like a year. The city didn't even notice that the compound wasn't getting a single shipment of food or using any power. Then the day comes, Emmet is standing at the entrance to the compound looking out toward the city surrounded by the maybe 50 people who lived there with him, and 'POOM' the power goes off for like half of the city. Then another 'POOM' and the rest of the city gets shut down. And Emmet's just standing there with the biggest grin, giggling to himself as everyone around him laughs and cheers for a while before going back to their work in the well-lit compound. The city's lights didn't turn back on for days! The compound got like 100 more members after that."

At some point Isaac had leaned forward again, drawn into Emma's story, and when she finished, he shot backward with a loud bark of a laugh. "So the fuckers just shut themselves down while you all lived on like nothing happened! That's awesome! Well I'm looking forward to learning more about this place."

Just then, the meal call bell rang and everyone headed up to the dining deck.

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