OCEANDOME

Abi Walters

-1-

Rhett Rance never actually liked to admit that his son was a genius...with an even higher IQ than himself, in fact, a pure genius. Smart kid, Elliot was...but his son, nonetheless. He was the intellectual scientist, was he not? And even in the circumstances that Rhett found himself in prison for two years for conducting inhumane science experiments, he still didn't like to admit that Elliot had a more advanced mind than himself.

So when he heard Elliot coming downstairs, he grimaced and turned away. Elliot only grinned. "How are ya doing, Dad?" he asked him. Rhett brought himself to give Elliot a believable but wry smile, and nodded his head in reply. Elliot leaned on the desk in front of him, his dark blonde bangs hanging in front of his eyes. "Have you seen my glasses anywhere, Dad? I think I left them down here, for some reason." His voice was thick with a British accent, just like his father's.

No common sense. Not an ounce of it. Rhett sighed. "Those were expensive glasses, kid. If your mother found out you lost them she'd have a fit." He reached in his pocket and pulled out the black-rimmed glasses, handing them to his son. "Don't misplace them again."

"Yes, Dad." Elliot pulled up a chair next to his father's computer. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "So, have we got another one yet?"

"Not yet, but I've been working at it. The damned computer shut down on me twice." He shook his head in disbelief. "It's almost 2200, and you woulda thought the computers would work with me a little more, huh? Especially the price I paid for it. Worthless junk, is what it is. Worthless junk!"

"Dad, I think you might need to talk to Christian. The kid may be smart, but what he needs is a little more of a bribe." Elliot raised his eyebrow. "You don't think he'd spill the beans, do you?"

"Not for the money I pay him he won't!" replied Rhett. "Well...that is, he better not. He's the only person we can truly trust, isn't he?" Elliot nodded in agreement. "Besides, when the government found out about 2197's little human transformation project, they've been keeping an eye on me and everyone associated with me. Including you. And Christian." He rolled his eyes. "But it won't be problem before long. In fact, they'll be thanking me for saving this entire damned planet from the threats of overpopulation."

"Sure they will, Dad," Elliot replied. "You'd better be careful, though. Tell me though...what will happen when we release the victims?"

Rhett grinned. "We don't. They can live in that underwater confinement forever."

"But Dad! Their families will think they're dead, which they already do. We can't just not release them!"

"That was the purpose of the project, was it not?" cried Rhett. Elliot irritated him at times. In fact, he irritated him most of the time...but he had to tolerate it, if he didn't want him to go telling people what Daddy was up to this time. "The purpose, as I was saying, El, was to save people. From overpopulation. They're already living in those house boats anchored to the bottoms of the lakes! And think of the money we'll have, once we release the idea to the public. We'll be loaded, El! We'll have a real house, and you can have your own room and I'll even buy you a speed boat. How does that sound?"

Elliot had to admit to himself that the idea left him pretty hopeful. "A speed boat? You promise?"

"Two speed boats. We'll have enough money to give to charity, for God's sake!" He blew the dark brown bangs off of his forehead, a habit which always annoyed Elliot. "We need one more to make an even fifty." Rhett sort of squinted his eyes, his crow's feet extending to his temples. "We'll have to choose wisely. The median age in the Oceandome is 35. We need a kid. Someone...someone your age, or around there." Elliot had just turned sixteen. "And males outnumber the females 2 to 1, so it'll have to be a girl. Just to even things out." Rhett gritted his teeth in impatience. "It'll have to be soon. I don't want to be stuck in this damned submarine forever." He stomped his foot on the floor. "After our fiftieth victim, we'll leave it up to Christian, and we can go home for a few days, okay?"

Elliot nodded. "So...we won't kill them, right?"

"We may have to eventually. If our resources run out." Rhett laughed at Elliot's nervous face. "Don't worry about it, kiddo. Everyone thinks they're dead anyway. Besides, what have they ever done for us? It's our money we're putting in to keep them alive. They should be thanking us." Elliot yawned, and Rhett patted his arm. "Go to bed, kid, you look real tired."

"I'll do that. See you in the morning." Elliot turned his heel and walked into the small room he had in the submarine. His small bed had been nailed to the floor, as was his dresser and his computer desk. He looked at his computer's glowing screen, and turned on the monitor. He clicked on the paint editor and smiled at him and his dad's picture. His dad was sitting next to Elliot's small, green hover-bike that he had given him for his eleventh birthday, before Rhett's arrest...some times they used to have, and now here he was, a few hundred feet under the surface of the ocean and in a submarine. Some summer job, he thought to himself, and shut off the monitor.

The kids back in Wales used to mock him when he came to school. "Oh look, there's Elliot, the criminal's son! Are you going to try to switch our minds with the alien minds too, Elliot?" they'd laugh. He'd just give them looks and answer, "Maybe I will." That sure scared them off.

That's what Rhett was in trouble for, you see. In about 2197, a small group of extraterrestrials...dead extraterrestrials...were found in some small crater in Nevada. You should have seen the people flocking to see them. Millions of them, all to see the little dead white bodies of those aliens sitting in a science lab. Rhett was the first to have the idea, so without government approval, he stole one from the lab and hired some guy named Miller to try to switch the alien mind to his own. The experiment failed, and Rhett refused to pay him, so Miller went straight to the government with all proof they needed of Rhett's little experiment. He found himself in prison nearly two weeks later.

"Imagine it, living without a father for two years because he's in prison. I'm not sorry for the bastard, it was his own fault...but still." Elliot was talking to himself again. Maybe it was because he couldn't fall asleep, because the submarine was rocking so damned hard. Back and forth. Back and forth. If he wasn't so smart and so full of potential, he probably would have killed himself a long time ago, he decided. He didn't have any friends. His only friend was Christian...who was probably only nice to him because Rhett was his boss.

He heard a knock at his door. He sat up. "Come in."

It was Christian. "El...it's two o'clock in the morning, what are you still doing up?"

"Well, if it's two o'clock in the morning, what are you doing knocking at my damn door?" Elliot insisted.

"Look at this." Christian sat next to him on his bed, and showed him a newspaper article, making sure to flex his right arm muscle, showing off the black tattoo on his arm, representing the Chinese symbol for his name. Elliot rolled his eyes."It's about Jared Kelly. The forty-ninth." Christian cleared his throat and started to read the article. "'Last Wednesday, twenty-four year old Jared Kelly from Florida was on his way by speed boat to visit the house boat of acquaintance Alissa Turner. He hasn't been seen since. After interviewing Miss Turner, she has given an explanation to his disappearance. She tells reporters that Jared was coming toward her on his speed boat when suddenly, an octopus-like monster appeared from the ocean and pulled him under.'" Christian fell on the bed, laughing hysterically. He snorted when he laughed. It really annoyed Elliot. "Some story, huh?" he chuckled. "It's rich, real rich!"

"Yeah, it's great, Chris." Elliot shook his head. "Listen, my dad wants one more. He wants a girl. Like, sixteen or fifteen or something. To help 'even things out'."

"Can do, my friend."

"Good. Well, I'm going to sleep. Have a great night." Elliot threw the newspaper off his bed and rolled over under the covers.

"Aw, come on, what's wrong, El?"

"For one thing, stop calling me that." Elliot rolled his eyes. "I just want to get this whole damned thing over with, that's all. I never wanted to save the world in the first place." He got up and flicked his computer back on, clicking into a program that showed fifty tiny screens all over the monitor. "Look at this, Christian. They're all sound asleep in their little prison. God, they should be home sleeping, you know? They should be with their husbands and wives and kids and siblings. But they're not. They're trapped down there...in that cold, heartless Oceandome."

Christian glared at the bright screen. There was little movement from it. "So, when's Rhett gonna let them all out? I mean, he has to let them out eventually. We've had them in there for about five months now."

"He's not going to let them out, that's the thing." Elliot put on his glasses. "He's gonna keep them down there, the bastard...I mean, we have no other choice. Maybe they'd keep their mouths shut if we bribed them a bit." He made the money sign with his hand, and Christian shook his head.

"That won't work. There's fifty of them. One of them will blab."

"I'll think of a way." Elliot nodded, as if pondering to himself. "But we'll tell them, eventually. Why they're down there and all. Maybe that will make them less angry." He remembered when each of them got there, the ruckus they caused. Kicking the sides of the Dome, trying to dig through the bottom...they were hopeless. "And come to think about it, bribing all those people won't do us a lot of good. Jack and Rachel Earnshaw are our only trustworthy sponsors, I mean, and even they are giving us a low budget." Jack and Rachel Earnshaw were two of the most rich and famous scientists on Earth, their curiosity stopping not even at Rhett Rance's illegal experiments.

"What happens when the Earnshaws decide not to sponsor us anymore?" Christian asked.

"They all die, I suppose. All soon-to-be fifty of them." Elliot shook his head in disbelief. "I still don't understand it all. My dad sure is a real bastard most of the time."

"Well, don't worry about it, bud." Christian slapped him on the back. "You go to sleep, okay? I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"G'night, Chris."

-2-

Catt Ward was rudely awakened by the sound of her school books hitting the floor. She woke up and rubbed her eyes, and then her head hit the pillow again. Another storm, she thought to herself in disdain. I cannot stand these storms anymore. She lit up the watch on her hand. 2:07 a.m. She blinked her eyes to adjust to the darkness, and found her things all over the floor.

"Great," she said out loud. "Now I can't sleep." She tucked her waist-length black hair in a ponytail and kicked the covers off of her bed, which was nailed to the floor. Her clean freak instinct came over, and she turned on the light and started to gather her books and slip them in her school bag. English homework, where is it? she asked herself, and then found her notebook in a corner of the room.

It was the fourth day of spring, only, but where she lived in Florida, near a small coast town called Cantrell, it seemed much warmer than only spring. Her and her family lived in one of those anchored house boats, because they could afford to, and her father was on water patrol. The rest of the world was crammed into apartments and minimal living spaces...well, that is, the rest of the world that didn't have enough money. The richest people lived in enormous house boats that resembled on-land mansions; the Hollywood stars and all. "Floating houses".

Catt walked upstairs, careful that her weight didn't creak on the wood. She saw the light in the upstairs kitchen. Someone was up.

"Ira!" she whispered. "What are you doing awake? We have school in the morning."

"I was hungry. And the storm scared me." The eleven-year old took a bite of his buttered toast and continued to read his sports magazine. "Besides, what gives you the right to be up, anyway? You're only sixteen. You go parading around the house like you're a princess."

Catt pulled a chair next to her brother and took a bite out of his second piece of toast. She turned the radio on very quietly, so her parents wouldn't wake up. "...and there is currently no news on the disappearance of Jared Kelly, who was last seen driving his speed boat to acquaintance Alissa Turner's house boat..."

"Turn it off, that stuff's boring." Ira yawned. "And stop eating my toast. Go make your own."

"It's not boring. I mean, what if I suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth? Then it wouldn't be so boring, would it?"

"No. It'd be entertaining," Ira giggled.

"Thanks a lot." Catt rolled her eyes. "I'm going back to bed, I think. I'll see you in the morning."

"Yeah."

Jared Kelly, huh? Catt thought to herself as she slowly walked back downstairs. That's the forty-ninth person that's disappeared in the past five months. She remembered number forty-seven and forty-eight. A little boy and girl were fishing in a paddleboat about two weeks ago, and suddenly disappeared. The thing that frightened her most was where they were fishing. The Gulf of Mexico, right where her family's house boat sat. And Jared Kelly? Lived right on the shore, only ten miles down from where she lived. It frightened her, in a way, but she didn't worry too much. She considered herself an extremely lucky person.

She crawled into bed, not forgetting to turn off her lights, still thinking about the forty-nine souls lost at sea. It scared her, but she thought no more of it. She had to sleep. Tomorrow was her algebra test...but the sounds of the storm and the hard waves hitting the side of the wood kept her wide awake. Thump thump thump.

Catt woke up the next morning with a headache.

"Did you hear that storm last night, dear?" her mother asked her, pouring them both cups of coffee. Catt liked the smell of coffee, but not the taste as much. Her mother watched disapprovingly as Catt dumped large amounts of sugar in the mug. "Not so much, Catt..."

"Yeah, I heard the storm. I woke up to find the brat child eating toast and reading magazines."

"Ira? You were up last night?"

Ira gave his sister a menacing glance. "As a matter of fact, I was. I couldn't sleep." Ira was always using phrases like "as a matter of fact". It drove Catt berserk. "Where's Dad at?"

"Oh, he had an early shift. You know, the water patrol is needed a whole lot today, after that storm and all." She took a sip of her black coffee. "He's also helping in the search for all those missing people. All forty-nine of them. I hope he's all right."

"He'll be fine, Mom," Catt told her, draping her handbag over her shoulder. "Everyone will be just fine. Dad and the rest of water patrol will find out what happened to them and they'll prevent anyone else being killed. Don't worry so much. Come on, brat, we have to go to school."

"Can I drive the speed boat?"

"You're too young."

"Have a good day at school, you kids," Catt's mother told them. "And be careful. I don't want you both to end up like those poor lost souls. I don't know what I would do with myself." Catt started to lower the small, two-person speed boat into the water below them, so she could drive it to shore.

"Don't worry, Mom, we'll be just fine." Catt lowered the ladder into the water and climbed down as carefully as she could, beckoning Ira to come with her. She stuck the key in the keyhole and turned on the motor, letting it purr for a while. She loved that sound. It was her speed boat; her dad had gotten it for her for her sixteenth birthday to ride to school and to shore with. There was only one catch...she had to drive Ira around.

"Can I turn on the radio, Catt?" he pleaded.

"Go ahead." Big mistake. The million decibel sound of hard rock filled her ears. "Turn it down, will you! You're going to lose your hearing by the time you're my age!" But Ira wasn't paying attention to her, because he had seen something in the water ahead of them. He turned off the radio.

"Oh my God, Catt! It's a person!" he cried.

Sure enough, Catt saw someone's arms flailing around in the sloshing waves. "Dear God," she muttered under her breath, and steered the wheel over in their direction. As they came closer, she saw the face shape of a boy a little older than herself, gasping for air. "Do you want me to go in after him?" Ira asked his sister in excitement. She could see the sparkle in his brown eyes. He wanted to be a hero.

"Not today." She shut off the motor as fast as she could and wasted no time in taking off her shoes and diving underwater after him. "Are you all right?" she cried, over the wind. The water was freezing and numbed her hands. The boy took one look at her and stopped flailing his arms. What the- she thought to herself, looking in his eyes. The boy smiled and grabbed her throat.

"Jesus!" screamed Catt. "Ira! Go get someone! Quick!" She fought for the air and she heard the boy cry, "Don't worry, I won't kill you, for God's sake!"

"Catt!" screamed Ira, in shock. He, however, wasted no time getting in the driver's seat and cranking the key. "I'll be back, Catt, I'll be back in no time! Just swim!" he screamed.

"What the hell are you doing?" cried Catt, trying to pry his hands off her.

"Waiting for the submarine," he replied, almost calmly. She had given up the fight, he was much stronger than she was. She gritted her teeth in anticipation, still clutching at his wrists. If she had been out of water she would have killed him, in no time flat. She would have killed him.

"Who are you?" she demanded, trying to look into his face. He had brown hair, that's all she could see.

"My name is Christian. And yours?"

"I don't have time for this!" she screamed, once again trying to pry him off of her. A breeze came through and chilled her. She suddenly knew that she'd never feel breeze again. She panted heavily in a nervous impatience, and she felt the sweat cling to her forehead like the water drops were. Her eyes closed and before she knew it, she had completely blacked out.

-3-

"This is a good one, Christian. Fine work, kiddo." Rhett grinned, looking at the completely unconscious girl lying in the glass cage around her. She had extremely long black hair, which was braided, and a dark complexion. "Did you get her identity yet, Elliot?"

"I'm trying. Her fingerprint markings aren't as clear as I'd hoped." Elliot kept clicking away at his mouse until he stopped and squinted at the computer monitor screen. "Got it, Dad. She's Cascatta Jane Ward, born January 9th, 2183. Her parents are Blake and Annette Ward, and her brother is Ira...uh oh."

"What is it?"

Elliot blinked. "Her dad's part of the water patrol. Damn. There's gonna be one helluva search for this one."

"We can pull it off," Rhett reassured his son, sounding almost nervous. "Besides, no one will ever find that Oceandome of ours. That little beauty, sitting in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico." Rhett grinned. "Besides, if anyone ever did find it, we could have nothing to do with it, am I right?"

"Dad..."

"And most of those people under there were knocked unconscious, am I right? They have no idea who the hell I am. I'll be just some random stranger-"

"Dad!"

"What?"

"Would you please stop worrying about it?" Elliot begged. "No one will find the Oceandome. I promise. It's very well concealed and all, and too deep for any scuba divers." He sighed, sounding sort of melancholy. "And as much as I'd like to go home right about now, I think it's our responsibility to help keep these people alive, wouldn't you say? We can't leave Christian here all by himself."

Christian blushed. "Well, it doesn't really matter, Elliot..."

"Dad, listen. You go home for awhile. Go see Mum. I'll stay here with Chris. Come back in a few days and if anyone asks where I am...I'll be at summer camp. All right?"

Rhett nodded. "Well, if that's the way you feel about it-"

"It is. Now let's take the Cascatta girl to the Oceandome, and we'll get some rest, okay?" Elliot suggested, and then turned to Rhett, looking him straight in the eye and raising his trademark eyebrow. "And Dad...this is the last one, isn't it? number Fifty?"

"We're all done. I promise."

"Good." Rhett and Christian both headed to their tiny room spaces in the sub. Elliot just sat in the bolted swivel chair, staring at the girl. The glass confinement she was in had oxygen, but not much else. She was just laying there, unconscious, on the hard floor...when he saw her move. She sat up and blinked her eyes, and saw Elliot and started pounded at the glass with her fists.

"Let me out of here, damn you!" she screamed, her voice muffled.

"I'm afraid I can't do that," Elliot replied, calmly. He put on his glasses and slunk back in the chair, yawning. "It's a shame you woke up before we let you into the Oceandome." It really was a shame. She'd have to stay on that hard, cold floor until morning. Catt crawled into a corner and moped. Elliot felt sorry for her.

"Look, how about I give you a blanket or something?" he yelled, so she could hear him. She only lowered her head on her knees and glared.

"I don't need your damn hospitality," she replied. He couldn't hear her, but he saw her lips move. She was going to murder him. If she had been out of the cage, she would have murdered him. There was one window in the submarine she could see out of, and it was pitch black underwater, so she didn't attempt to even imagine where she was. All she knew was that these people had kidnapped her and took her underwater. She was almost positive that she would soon die. Maybe they'll kill me in this glass cage here, she thought to herself, with poisonous gas. She narrowed her eyes at the blonde-haired boy. "All right, tell me, you British badass...how are you gonna kill me, huh?"

"I have no desire to kill you, and neither does my father or my friend Christian..." Elliot was about to tell her about the Oceandome, but he decided to wait. "Don't worry. You won't die. I promise."

Catt crawled back into her corner. It was no use trying to talk him into or out of anything. She only looked at her surroundings. Next to the British kid there were three different computers, all with their glowing monitors turned on, and scattered soda pop cans all over the floor. She couldn't see what was on the screens, however. There was a control panel in front of the submarine, which she could see clearly. In a glowing green, a screen on the panel read "NEUTRAL". There were soda cans all over there, too.

She heard another one being opened, and looked at the kid in front of her, who took a swig of it. If he couldn't be reasoned with, he could certainly be bribed. "Tell me, what's your name?" she cried.

"Elliot."

"I have a friend named Elliot," she replied. She didn't actually have a friend named Elliot. "So, Elliot, how much money do you want, huh?" She pulled a twenty and three fives out of her back pocket. "Let's see...I have thirty-five dollars here."

"With your help, I will be making millions."

"Is that so?" she replied. "Well then, what if I just killed myself, huh?"

"You can't kill yourself. You're in a glass confinement." Elliot was much too smart to be pulled into this girl's little scams. She glared at him again, and didn't answer. She only dropped her head in her lap, her black hair draped around her shoulders. Elliot felt sorry for her, in a way. He turned off the lights and went to his room.

-4-

Catt woke up to see white walls surrounding her...similar to her own white walls in the house boat. I knew it was a dream. Thank God. She was sorely distressed when she looked closer. She was in a completely different room than her own, and she knew everything that had happened before really did happen.

The room was starch white, with forest green carpet. She got out of her bed to examine it. It wasn't much bigger than her room at home. A large, flat screen was in the middle of the room, and at first Catt thought it was a television. She was sorely disappointed to find out that it wasn't. Her bed had green and white striped covers...which, she had to admit, were very nice. An oak bedstand was at her right side, with a white-shaded lamp sitting on it. In the upper right corner of the room was a door, which led into a small bathroom with white tiled floors, a shower, a toilet, a sink and a mirror. Two toothbrushes still in their containers, tubes of toothpaste, shampoo, and soap lined the edge of the shower, which had a forest green shower curtain.

"Wow," she muttered under her breath. She had often imagined herself being kidnapped...but never being taken to a place like this. In the movies, the kidnapped girl was always taken to an abandoned warehouse where she was tied up and then chopped to bits or something...not a beautiful little room with a bathroom and all.

She heard a knock at her door. "C-come in," she stammered, surprised. The door opened to reveal a short, thin girl with short blonde hair, who looked a little younger than herself. The girl sat at the edge of her bed. Catt's eyes widened. "You're...you're that one girl from the news! The one that was lost at sea about three months ago...I remember your face."

The girl nodded. "Pleased to meet you too. My name is Infinity. Infinity Peterson. But...but everyone just calls me Finny." She extended her hand, and Catt shook it. "You're number Fifty, then, huh?"

"I suppose..."

"I'll have to show you around the Oceandome, then." Finny yawned. "I'm glad you're here, another girl my age, I mean. How old are you, anyway?"

"Sixteen."

"Oh, I'm fourteen. There's two other girls that are fifteen, but God, they can be snobs." Finny rolled her eyes. "You have great hair, did you know that? Would you let me play with it sometime? I mean, like, give you French braids or something?...Oh! By the way, what's your name?"

"Catt Ward." Catt smiled somewhat wryly. "Do you know why we're down here?"

Finny shrugged. "Who knows? Elliot said-"

"You know Elliot?"

"Of course I know Elliot. Anyhow, Elliot said that one day he'd tell us why we were here. He's real nice. A lot nicer than that bastard Rhett. Anyhow, Elliot said that after number Fifty came to the Oceandome, he'd tell us." She tucked her hair behind her ears. "So, you've met him? Elliot, I mean?"

"Yeah, I've met him. Arrogant kid."

"He's super smart though." Finny's eyes widened. "He has an IQ of about 5 billion. Well, not really 5 billion. But you get the point. And he's real cute too. God, he has nice hair. I'd like to run my fingers through it. And that accent! God!" Finny grinned. "Anyhow, would you like me to show you around or something? This place is huge, we may not be able to make it all the way through before dinnertime." Catt nodded, surprised at Finny's endless chatter. She grabbed Catt's hand. "C'mon, let's go. I'll show you."

Catt exited the room to find she was on a long, wooden balcony that seemed to stretch on for miles. She looked down. They were at least fifty feet from the bottom. What Catt then saw was breathtaking, and undescribable. The entire place was the most beautiful she had ever seen. She didn't want to admit it, but it was. Palm trees, just like the ones that lined the shore where she lived, sprung up from all over the place, and the grass made paths on the floor. The light above them was like the purest of daylight, and the temperature was warm, but not scorching.

"Come on, let's go down there, okay?"

The Oceandome, all together, was pretty large. Catt couldn't calculate the square footage in her head, but it was plenty of room for fifty people. Plenty of room for a hundred and fifty people. The arena below the "apartments", as Finny called them, was like a large park...and Catt hadn't even seen most of it yet. Lining the inside of the dome about fifty feet in the air were the apartments, all fifty of them, with three elevators leading to the arena below. A large screen, surrounded by lightbulbs, sat in the middle of the courtyard and looked almost like a movie theater.

"It's stunning," Catt said, awed. For a moment she actually felt lucky to have been imprisoned...then she came to her senses and grimaced. "I mean, it would be stunning...if we weren't prisoners."

"Don't think of it that way," Finny said, optimistically. "It's more like we were chosen. Like, we're here to save the world or something."

"How did I get in here, anyway? I think I fell asleep."

"Oh, you mean, from the glass cage or confinement or whatever?" Finny replied. "Well, I was wide awake, you see. And Rhett, the old guy, used this button to slide the glass open, and it led into the Oceandome. I had no choice but to get in, you see. And you...well, you kind of just fell. On the ground, I mean. And so I had to drag you to your apartment. You wouldn't budge, I'm tellin' ya!" She opened Catt's palm and dropped in a small, silver key. "Your room key. I wouldn't lose it if I were you. Jeremy lost his key, and Rhett got pretty mad, you see...but he gave him another one and all."

"I see," Catt replied, exasperated. Finny's endless talking was exhausting.

"What's your name again?"

"Catt Ward."

"I'm sorry, I'm just terrible with names. Once I even forgot my own brother's name. It took me ages to finally figure it out and when I did, he was so mad at me-"

"All right, Finny." Catt just smiled, and slunk down on a bench sitting between two giant palm trees. "What do we eat here, anyway?"

"Oh, lots of things. Steak. Pork chops. Mashed potatoes. June cooks. For all of us. She's the only one allowed near the food before it's been cooked and all. We usually eat in the dining hall, unless we're tired or something, and then we can eat in our apartments. June's an awful good cook. I think it was awfully good of Christian to pick us out a good cook, don't you?"

"Does Christian fool everyone with his drowning routine?" Catt asked her skeptically.

"Just about." Finny smiled. "I think it's clever. And he's cute too, isn't he? I mean, he's not hot and British like Elliot...but he has some charm to him."

"You're much too optimistic."

"That's what Jeremy says. But Jeremy has his head up his butt most of the time, so I don't know how he came up with a word like that. Optimistic. It sounds like a doctor or something, doesn't it? Like, optimist. Doesn't it sound like optometrist?"

"In a way."

People kept walking past them, some of them giving Catt a strange look, as if she were an outsider. Some even looked sorry for her, since she was new and all. "You can sit with us at dinner," Finny told Catt. "Krin and Somer and Jeremy and I. I mean, if you want to. I don't know why you wouldn't, though. The older people get on my nerves sometimes, with their intellectual discussions and all."

"I'd love to." Catt smiled. I have to get out of this place as fast as I can, she thought to herself.

-5-

"...and our top story today: Cascatta Ward was driving her younger brother to school in a speed boat when she mysteriously disappeared. Ira Ward, Cascatta's brother, tells police that she went to rescue a drowning boy in the middle of the Gulf..."

"Shut the damned thing off." Annette Ward sat at her kitchen counter, her eyes bloodshot and her fists clenched. "Didn't you hear me, Ira? Shut the damned thing off!"

"I am!" Ira pulled the plug to the radio. "I just like to hear my name on the radio, that's all-"

"Is that all you can think about?" cried his mother, her eyes widened. "Your damned name on the radio?" She gritted her teeth and looked at Ira. "You're the only one who knows what happened to her, Ira. Tell me exactly what happened. Tell me!"

"I've told you a thousand times. It was this guy who looked like eighteen or something, and he was flailing his arms around like he was drowning. And he had brown hair, and it was kind of spiky. And when Catt reached him, he grabbed her and told her some stuff, and then she yelled, 'Ira! Go get someone quick!' and then the guy said 'Don't worry, for God's sake, I won't kill you!' Or something like that. I can't exactly remember. And then I turned the speed boat around and came back here."

"Well, at least we know she's not dead." Annette tapped her fingers on the countertop impatiently. "When's the last time your father called?"

"This morning, Mom, for God's sake. I'd tell you if he called again. They'll find her, Mom. They'll find her alive, I swear."

Blake Ward had been on water patrol, searching for his daughter since she disappeared. Even in the exact location Ira pointed out to him and the other policemen, there was no trace of anyone being there...except for one thing. Catt was wearing a cardigan, which she had wrapped around her waist. It was floating on the water when the water patrol arrived at the scene.

"All right, son, are you positive you didn't have an argument with your sister?" one officer had inquired him. Ira hated that, when people called him "son" when in fact, they had no relation to him whatsoever. "And are you positive that she didn't accidentally...slip?"

"Jesus, man, what're you trying to say, that I killed my own sister?" Ira was shocked. "I'm telling you, she went to help that guy in the middle of the fricking gulf, and he tried to strangle her to death, for God's sake! Get your facts straight, man."

"All right, we obviously need to talk to your mother."

"What the hell good's she gonna do?" Ira snapped. "Did she see it? No. I'm the one that saw it. I'm the one that came back for help."

But the police officer had ignored him. Like most adults did. He sent in Annette, and started to inquire her, too. "Mrs. Ward, has Ira had any cases of serious mental illness?" Ira rolled his eyes. "And did he seem to get along with his sister well?"

Annette seemed irritated at the officer's questions. "Are you trying to tell me that my own son killed his sister?"

"All I'm saying is-"

"Look, sir. I don't have time for this nonsense. I'm going to find my daughter if it's the last thing I do! And if you're going to try to stand in my way, so be it...but I believe every word out of Ira's mouth and if there was one remote hint of a psychiatric problem I would bring it to court, but there's not!" Now she was on a roll. "And how does that explain the other forty-nine missing, tell me that!"

"...Cascatta Ward was driving her younger brother to school in a speed boat when she mysteriously disappeared. Ira Ward, Cascatta's brother, tells police that she went to rescue a drowning boy in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico..."

"Christian! Where are you?"

"Coming, Rhett." Christian slid into Rhett's office to find him smoking a cigarette and listening to the radio.

"There was a boy, was there?"

"Well...I'm afraid so." Christian looked at his feet anxiously. "Really, Rhett, you only said one more...to make an even fifty. And she was what you were looking for, was't she? Sixteen-ish girl?"

Rhett sighed. "You may be smart, but you have no common sense. The kid is an eyewitness! He saw you and could blow our cover!" He slammed his fist on the desk in front of him, making the coffee mug rattle. Christian jumped back, his pulse racing, and Rhett took a deep breath. "Listen, Christian, we can't have that kid helping the police. He remembers you, Chris. There's only one thing we can do, now."

"What's that, boss?"

"We kidnap the kid too."

"We can't do that!" Christian objected. "Our old tricks won't work on him, obviously. How are we supposed to get him down here?"

"Well..." Rhett said thoughtfully, resting his chin in his hand. "We could...kill him."

"Kill him? Boss, now, come on, you can't be serious!"

"I'm dead serious." Rhett narrowed his eyes. "Look, do you want to spend life in prison or do you want to kill the kid?"

Christian folded his arms. "You can do whatever you damned please, Rhett. I am not touching Ira Ward. You heard me, I'm not going to lay a finger on him. I'm too good a person to do that...you're obviously not." Christian glared at Rhett, his temper rising. "Look, the kid doesn't have enough information to find us. The Oceandome is far enough away from the crime scene and much to deep for anyone to go looking for it. Just go back and take a break for a few days, will you?"

Elliot entered the room, rubbing his eyes. "What's going on here? It's too early."

"Christian let the kid go!" fumed Rhett. "There was a boy with Cascatta. A boy in a speedboat...her brother, Ira Ward. He saw Christian. He saw Christian. And he," Rhett pointed to Christian, "let him go!"

"Well, Dad, you said you only wanted fifty, didn't you?"

"This is different. He'll blow our cover! We'll all be thrown in prison for the rest of our lives!"

"Dad, chill out." Elliot ran his fingers through his dark blonde hair and took off his glasses. "Everything is going to be fine! I promise. Now, if you'll excuse me, you both woke me up. I'm going back to bed."

-6-

The movie theater-like screen in the courtyard had lit up, as Catt could see. She was still sitting in front of it, on the bench, with Finny next to her. "Oh, they're probably making an announcement or something," Finny explained. "It's probably something stupid...it's usually something stupid. Except, I like watching Elliot and all. He has a nice face."

Out of the speakers blared Elliot's voice. "All citizens of the Oceandome, please gather in the center court. I repeat, all citizens of the Oceandome, gather in the center court."

They came from everywhere. From the apartments, and from the dining hall, and from the tunnels that Catt had not yet been shown...all fifty of them, coming to gather around the screen. "Probably head count," whispered Finny. Catt nodded.

The lights surrounding the screen flickered, and then lit back up again. Elliot appeared on the screen, sitting in that swivel chair with a soda can in his hand. He grinned, and started to speak somewhat lightly, his English accent highly accentuated. He looked extremely distinguished. "Hello, everybody," he greeted them. "I can see everyone is here. Good. Let me be the first to welcome number Fifty, Cascatta Ward."

Catt blushed, and then turned away.

Elliot continued. "It seems to me that I made a promise to all of you, didn't I? That I'd tell you what you were here for when number Fifty arrived?" Some nodded, others just looked confused. "Well, my dad's away for awhile, he went home for a few days...so I suppose I can tell you. I'm not supposed to, but I will." He took a swig out of his can, and coughed. "You are all here to help save the world from overpopulation."

"You see?" Finny whispered. "I told you we were here to save the world."

"Something you'd like to share with the rest of us, Infinity?" Elliot questioned her, raising his eyebrow.

"Oh, I was just telling Catt how...dashing you are, Mr. Rance."

"Is that so?"

"It is so!" Finny replied, in an equally haughty British accent.

Elliot shook his head. He hated it when people mocked his accent. Nevertheless, he continued. "You are here to save the world from overpopulation. What you are living in now, as you've been told, is the Oceandome, with plenty of oxygen and food and excellent air pressure. My father has been conducting a science experiment to see if people could actually live in these depths under water...just in case the world needed extra space, you know? The government...well, the government refuses to sponsor my dad in anything he does...seeing as, uh, he conducted that unfortunate mishap over in Nevada." There was an uncomfortable rustling in the crowd, but Elliot went on. "Nevertheless, we have been sponsored and you all can be considered as our guinea pigs, no?"

"Why us?" cried one woman from the crowd. "Why us...and when will we get to see our families again?"

Elliot laughed, and took another drink from his soda. He seemed awfully fond of it, as Catt could tell. "You were all chosen at complete random, I assure you. And as for your families..." Elliot looked a little uncomfortable, and rustled in his seat a little. "As for your families...you'll see them soon."

"How soon?" she cried.

"I'm getting to that, Colette!" he replied, somewhat sharply. "I don't know yet. My father will let me know, and I will let you know, of course."

"But...but we will see them again?" Colette cried, wringing her hands.

"Oh, you will. Do not worry about that, you'll see them soon enough," Elliot lied. "Well, it's almost dinner time, is it not? Have a lovely night. You especially, Miss Ward." He smiled sort of wryly, and the lights flickered off and so did the screen, leaving only a buzz of static.

Finny nudged her. "Gee, Catt, I think he might like you or somethin'!"

"What makes you say that?" Catt asked her, blushing.

"Well, duh!"

"Well...I don't trust that guy anyway," Catt replied sharply. "What makes you think we'll ever even get out of this place alive? They might just...they might just turn off the oxygen or something. Who knows?"

Finny grabbed her arm. "Don't worry, Catt. We'll be just fine. We'll see our families soon, Elliot told us so. If there's one person you can trust, it's Elliot. He's the better of the three. Christian and Rhett are awful most of the time." All of a sudden, a short, loud buzzing sound came from the small, white dining hall on the edge of the courtyard. "Come on, it's dinnertime. You can meet Jeremy and the rest of them."

Catt didn't know if she actually wanted to meet Jeremy and the rest of them. Nevertheless, she followed Finny close behind as the other forty-eight rushed to the dining hall, all wanting to be the first inside. There were long, oak tables and three women moving the line along, ladling them each a bowl of something and handing them each two slices of buttered bread.

"Come on, we don't want to be the last in line!" Finny cried, pulling her into the crowd of people. She sniffed the air. "I think they're making vegetable soup. June's vegetable soup is really good. There's barley in it and everything."

"I don't think I'm hungry," Catt replied, half-heartedly.

Finny shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just do me a favor and get a bowl, huh? I might want some later."

"Sure."

It was vegetable soup. And Catt didn't want to admit it, but it looked and smelled delicious. She was famished. She took a bowl and some bread and smiled at the ladies serving it to her. One had brown hair streaked with silver, and an extremely kind face. "So, you're number Fifty? Welcome to our little paradise. I'm June." Catt would have shaken her hand if hers weren't so full. June laughed. "Have a nice time."

Have a nice time? Catt thought to herself. A little strange, but she could deal. These people were a little loopy, but at least they were nice. She followed Finny to a table where there were three kids who looked about their age. Finny grinned. "Catt, I'd like you to meet Jeremy, Krin, and Somer." The boy looked about Catt's age, and the two girls, as Finny had mentioned earlier, looked fifteen. Jeremy had reddish brown hair, and the two girls were brunette and pretty. They looked a little alike.

Catt coughed self-consciously. "So...I've seen you all on the news."

"Really?" Krin said, almost excitedly. "Hey, have you seen my mom? Was she worried about me?"

"I can't remember. But I'm sure she was."

"Oh." Krin tapped her fingers on the table, and took a bite of bread. "Where did you live before they took you down here?"

"On a house boat. In the Gulf."

"Ah. I lived in Indiana. I was vacationing near the Gulf, and I took my jet ski out one morning four and a half months ago. Christian fooled me with his little drowning routine, like he does everyone." Krin rolled her eyes. "And that's how good little Krin Sheppard ended up in the Oceandome. Lucky number Seven."

Jeremy swallowed the contents of his bowl in the time Catt took two bites. He grinned at her, bearing his straight, perfect teeth. "So, Cascatta, you got a boyfriend up there on the Gulf?" Finny kicked him under the table, and he winced.

"No. And call me Catt."

"All right. Well, I had a girlfriend. She had blonde hair, and she was really sweet. You know the type. The quiet type." He cast a meaningful glance at Finny, who just stuck her petite little nose in the air and huffed. Jeremy laughed. "I love pissing her off...Infinity, I mean."

"I can tell." Catt gave him a sort of sideways smile. She liked Jeremy and Krin and Finny so far, and thought they were tolerable enough people to have to live with. Somer just gave her a sort of distrustful look, and kept her eyes on her food. "What's with her?" she mouthed to Jeremy, when Somer wasn't looking.

"Oh, she's just shy. She'll get over it," Jeremy whispered, grinning. He turned to Finny. "So, Finn, have you showed Catt around the whole place yet?"

"Naw, I was gettin' to it though," she replied, and turned to Catt. "There are two places I haven't showed you yet. Tunnel One and Tunnel Two."

"You mean...you haven't showed her the tunnels?"

"Shut up, Jer. Anyhow, there's Tunnel One, and Tunnel Two. Tunnel One is damn extraordinary. It's remarkable, I'm telling you. I never really cared much for Tunnel Two...that's more of Jeremy's field." Finny took a drink of water, and wiped off her face with the back of her sleeve. "You wanna see them? After dinner, I mean?"

"Of course." Catt's interest had been sparked. If there was a place even more remarkable than the courtyard and the apartments she had already seen, then she was completely stoked to see it. She felt her heavy heart lighten a bit and a little more trust was put toward the three scientists in the submarine.

-7-

Tunnel One was, in fact, a tunnel that led from the left of the courtyard. It wasn't the crawl-on-your-hands-and-knees type of tunnel...there was plenty of room to walk. It was lit with iridescent lightbulbs and the cement walls were covered in moss, and the floor was laid with large stones.

"Where does this lead to?" Catt asked her tour guides, Jeremy and Finny. Krin and Somer had gone back up to their apartments, probably to start a "gossip fest", as Jeremy had called it.

He ran his fingers through his reddish crew cut, and stuck his hands in his front jeans pockets. "You'll see. I think you'll like it."

"How do you know I'll like it?"

"Everybody likes it."

Walking through the tunnel was quite a workout, seeing as it was a quarter mile long. Water dripped down the sides of the cement, and flower weeds poked out from the cracks in the stones. When they finally reached the end, Finny wrapped her hands around Catt's eyes so she couldn't see it. "It's a surprise!" she whispered, almost excitedly. Catt felt the light creeping through her eyelids, and when Finny finally removed her hands, Catt saw the most beautiful sight she had ever seen in her entire sixteen years.

In front of her was a waterfall, which she had to walk around to get a clear view of the area around her. The water from the waterfall was pouring into a little pond, which connected to a small stream. Goldfish swam everywhere, and Catt had to be careful not to step on them. There were so many beautiful flowers of all different colors that it looked like the world's largest garden, and enormous monarch butterflies perched themselves on the swaying cattails and daisies. Circling the field was a forest of green trees, and the dome above them was the color of ebony...the color of night, with still enough light to see their surroundings.

"It's beautiful," Catt whispered, in complete awe. "Beautiful doesn't describe it...it's...nameless."

Finny grinned. "We call it the Oasis. But that's not all of it." Finny took her hand and led her through the waist-high flower field, stopping at the edge of the forest. Beyond the trees were almost endless-looking green hills, with emerald grass ankle-deep. An ivory gazebo sat on the edge of the forest, and benches were everywhere. But the most extraordinary thing about it was that when they reached the hills, it became night. An image of a moon peeked out from the top of the dome, and surrounding the sparkling stars was a deep ebony sky.

"H-how'd they do this?" Catt stammered, amazed.

"This part of the Dome changes with whatever time of day it is in the real world," Jeremy explained, leaning on the gazebo. "Rhett calls it the 'Validity Illusion'. God, that guy comes up with some psycho stuff." Jeremy's eyes widened, and he gestured toward the Dome's sky. "You see? There's a camera somewhere above water, and it takes pictures of the Earth sky and sends them down here, creating this massive optical illusion. It's gorgeous, isn't it?"

"Absolutely stunning," Catt replied. "Where do they get the money to do all this? I mean, Rhett and Elliot and everyone."

Jeremy shrugged. "Their sponsors. Rumors are going around that Jack and Rachel Earnshaw sponsored him."

"You mean, the famous scientists?"

"Yeah, that's them. They've got a load of dough, I'm telling you. I'm sure Rhett came up with something pretty convincing for them to give him all this money." He leaned back on the gazebo, grinning his perfect smile again. "I'm not complaining."

"And...and the butterflies and everything. They're all real?"

"Real as they are alive. They brought some down from Earth. You know, for effect. The effects are what keep this place alive. Probably so they won't want us to escape or something." Jeremy laughed. "I wouldn't trade living in the Oceandome for the world, I'm telling you. You're lucky you got chosen, Catt. I'm telling you."

Finny grinned. "We're all lucky. Come on, Jer, let's show her what Tunnel Two leads to."

"All right."

Tunnel Two wasn't half as long the walk as Tunnel One, and was brighter but still even more covered with moss and vines. "How do they get supplies in here and everything?" Catt asked her two guides. "I mean, like the food and all."

"Same way we got in," Jeremy replied. "Through the glass case. It's Zeke's job to deliver it to the food storage compartment or to the people in the Oceandome or whatever. Since you're new and everything, you'll get a few days off from having a job. It's what keeps us from going insane around here." He grinned. "Every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I have to pull the weeds from the courtyard. The rest of the week goes to Somer."

"And I have to mow the hills. In the Oasis, every Saturday," Finny stated. "It takes forever, but someone's got to do it."

"What do you suppose they'll make me do?" asked Catt.

"Oh, I dunno," replied Jeremy, "probably clean the dining hall. They need someone to do that. Don't worry, though, you'll probably only be an assistant, for the time being."

Catt kept wondering who exactly they was, but kept her mouth shut, for the end of the tunnel was approaching. Finny took her hand and led her in. Catt, once again, was fascinated at her surroundings. There was a pond in front of her. A pond so large it could have been a lake, and it was crawling with lilypads and even bullfrogs, that sat on the pads and belched their unsweet melody. Sitting on the shore filled with cattails sat three rowboats and two canoes and at least fifteen fishing poles, almost covered by the weeping willows that surrounded the pond. Jeremy grinned. "We call this Rance's Pond. Well...Rhett calls it Rance's Pond."

"You mean...can you go fishing here?" Catt asked him.

"Of course you can. There's lots of fish in here...trout, bass, sunfish...all of them. Sometimes I pitch one of the tents and go camping. It's fun, it really is." Jeremy waved his arm at the Dome sky, which was also dark as night, with visions of the stars and the moon. "This is also 'Validity Illusion'...except, the cool thing about this is that it changes temperature with the actual temperature up in the real world, you see. So...some days are good to go fishing, other days aren't so swell."

"And that's not all of it," Finny stated, rubbing her hands together. Catt could tell she was enthusiastic to show people around the Oceandome. "See past that waterfall up there? If you go around the waterfall by boat, there's a river! It's not a very big river, and it doesn't have many fish, but it sure is fun to take those paddle boats on."

"Yeah, we call it Zeke's River," Jeremy continued, "because he was the first one to take a boat on it. It leads right to the center courtyard, and then turns around and goes back to Rance's Pond."

"It's lovely," Catt stated. "It's stunning. I love this place. I really do. I just wish I could tell my family and my friends that I'm all right, you know?"

Finny hung her head. "We all want to, but that's the bad thing about it. We can't. Come on, Catt, you can room up with me tonight. It'll be fun, like a slumber party or something."

Catt smiled. "Sure, Finny."

"Well, you girls have fun," Jeremy said. "I'm going back to my room to get some matches and stuff, and I'm going to camp out here for the night. Maybe Zeke would want to come."

"Who's Zeke?"

"My friend. He's seventeen. He didn't eat dinner with us tonight because he caught some fish this morning or something and cooked them himself." Jeremy shook his head and laughed. "That Zeke. He's nuts." He smiled at Catt, and his eyes brightened. "Say, how would you girls like me to take you to the Courtyard in a canoe, huh?"

"Marvelous, darling, absolutely splendid!" Finny replied in the most fake British accent Catt ever heard in her life. For the first time in two days, she started to laugh. Finny giggled. "Elliot gets so pissed at me when I do that."

"I bet."

Jeremy pushed a canoe into the water and retrieved two oars from underneath it. "I lost an oar once. Rhett got real mad at me. He said I was a nuisance." Jeremy grinned.

"When do they talk to you? The scientists, I mean?" Catt asked.

"All the time. You know that screen in your room?" Jeremy replied. "They get on that and complain and yap and all. It's a television, too."

"I didn't think it was. There are no buttons or anything."

"Well...Infinity will show you. It's black and white, and the stations don't come in too well, but it's a television all the same. Guess the Earnshaws couldn't afford to get us a better antennae." Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Oh well, I'm not complaining. Get in the boat, girls. I'll take you home."

-8-

"Thank God he's gone," Elliot stated, slumping in his swivel chair. "I don't think I could stand another day with him hovering over me. He's a madman, I tell you, a real madman."

Christian took a drink of coffee. "You know, Elliot, I think he's a little nervous to be around you."

"What?"

"You're smarter than he is, you know," Christian replied, smiling, and taking another sip out of his mug. "Your IQ is higher. He's nervous, I'm telling you."

"Well, he's not exactly about to win Father of the Year award, but I can deal with him." Elliot turned the chair around to face Christian. "I need some caffeine. Give me a drink of that, would you?...but, yeah, I think you and I could manage the Oceandome by ourselves. I thought up most of the blueprints for it, anyway, and Dad's going to get all the credit."

"And we take care of the citizens," Christian stated. "I mean, I've never once seen Rhett go grocery shopping for them or anything. All he does is yell. Yell, yell, yell. You'd think he'd show a little more sympathy for those people." Christian laughed at what he just said. "Sympathy...yeah right. I'd give my right arm to live in the Oceandome."

"Not with what he's going to do to them," replied Elliot. "He'll kill them. I know he will. He'll turn off the oxygen or something. God, he can be a real bastard."

"I wouldn't worry about the people right now," Christian said, somewhat slyly. He waved a check in front of Elliot's face. "From the Earnshaws. I sent them another tape, they gave us another check." He laughed. "I think they like to see how they're doing down there. No one's dead yet." He grinned, and shoved the check back in his pocket. "And no one's old enough to die, either. The oldest person there is like, 52. And he's in excellent shape. God, we are gonna be rich."

"Yeah." Elliot nodded, but was concentrated on the computer screen. He had the cameras zoomed in to Rance's Pond, where Jeremy, Catt, and Finny were. "Well, looks like number Fifty is off to a good start."

Christian grinned. "Mmhmm. I'm going to help steer the submarine, it looks a little off course."

"Have fun." Elliot leaned back in the chair, watching the three kids push one of the canoes into the pond. He clicked the Zoom In button three times, making them extremely visible. Catt turned around, and he saw her laughing. Her ebony hair kind of swayed back and forth a few times, and she started to talk to Finny. Elliot couldn't hear what she was saying...he had the computer on Mute. There Catt was again, getting in the boat. He was so entranced that he didn't hear Christian.

"El...hey, El! Would you come over here and help me a little?"

Elliot didn't answer for a while, and then shook himself out of his trance. "What...what were you saying, Christian?"

"I was asking if you'd help me. Earth to Elliot."

"Oh yeah, of course, sure."

"Well, ma'am, there doesn't seem to be any trace of her," the water patrol officer stated over the phone. "Only the sweater, and that doesn't give us a very good lead."

"Well? How's Ira doing?" Annette cried, her hands shaking. They had been shaking for the past three days. She could barely dial the phone.

"Ira's just fine, ma'am. He's given us a good description of what the man looked like. You can come down and see it, if you'd like."

"I'm on my way."

Ira had been enjoying the attention he was getting from the water patrol officers...that is, after he had been inquisited a few dozen times. "He's was skinny...but not too skinny," he explained. "He had a little bit of muscle in his arms...and he had dark brown hair, which was kind of spiky. And a crooked nose. He definitely had a crooked nose."

"What about his eyes?"

"His eyes? I can't really remember. They were blue, I think. And kind of close together."

"All right." The sketch artist was sitting in front of Ira, quickly making as many drawings of the supposed suspect as possible. "Did you get a clear view of him?"

"Not really."

"Do you think you could identify him from a picture?"

"I dunno."

"Some help you are." The artist shook his head. "Kids."

Suddenly, Ira stood up, almost knocking the chair over. "Wait a minute...wait a minute, I remember something!" he cried, extremely enthusiastically. The artist looked bewildered, and Ira continued stammering. "Th-there was something on his arm. His right arm." Ira shut his eyes, trying to remember the flailing arms of the boy he had seen in the waves. "A tattoo. It was a black tattoo!"

"Well, now we're getting somewhere!" the artist said, almost gratefully. "What did it look like? Was it any specific shape?"

"I can't remember. I really can't." Ira slunk down in the chair again. "I just remember it was black. Sort of squiggly. Like some Chinese or Japanese word or something. At least...that's what it looked like. And it was no color other than black, I know that for sure."

"Do you think you could recognize him if you saw him?"

"Oh, definitely. I sure could." Ira was extremely excited now. Nothing made him happier than a good police chase, especially when he was involved. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Just bring on the suspects and I'll point him out, I swear. Catt has to come back home. She just has to!"

-9-

"...and in other news today, Ira Ward, the younger brother of missing person Cascatta Ward, describes to the police that he indeed, got a clear view of the suspect and of the suspect's black tattoo on his right arm, one that looked like a Japanese or Chinese font of some sort. If you know of anything about this case, please contact..."

"Goddamnit!" cried Christian, kicking the side of the submarine. "He remembers my tattoo, Elliot! He remembers my tattoo!"

"It's a good thing Dad's away. He'd be pretty pissed if he heard about it." Elliot was nonchalantly leaning back in his swivel chair and sipping away at a soda can.

"The problem is, he probably has heard about it. Damn damn damn." Christian shook his head. "You know what we gotta do now, El. We gotta get the kid, before he gives away too much information. Kids have great memories, I'm telling you. He'd be able to spot me in public before I'd be able to blink."

"Well, then, just don't go out in public," Elliot replied, unperturbed.

"God, you can be a real smart-ass, El." Christian rubbed his eyes. Suddenly, his cell phone rang. "It's probably Rhett!" He tossed the phone to Elliot. "Back me up, man. Tell him...tell him I'm on shore, shopping or something. Tell him the citizens need more supplies, okay? Do it for me, please?"

Elliot sighed. "Fine." He tapped the side of the phone, turning it on. "Hello?"

"Elliot? Where the hell is Christian?" It was Rhett, all right. Even Christian, who was standing ten feet away, could hear his shouts through the speaker.

"He's on shore. He went shopping."

"No, he didn't. Get him on the phone. Now!"

"Dad, I'm telling you, he's on sh-"

"Now, Elliot!"

"Here you go, Chris." Elliot handed him the phone. "Dad wants to talk to you."

Christian clenched his fists and glared at Elliot before retrieving the phone. "H-hello?"

"What's this I hear on the news, Chris? The damn kid identified you! They know you're with me, Christian! They know you're associated with me. They know you are, you were helping me with the project in Nevada, for God's sake." There was an uncomfortable pause. "There's only one thing you can do now. What we discussed before."

"Rhett, I can't-"

"Not another word, Christian! Kill the kid. If you don't kill him, I'll kill you!" The phone clicked, and then buzzed. Christian dropped it.

"He won't really kill you, don't worry," Elliot said, a lackadaisical look on his face. "But I'm telling you, you better do as he says." Elliot grinned. "Say...this is number Fifty's brother, is it?" Christian nodded. "Cascatta Ward, hm. I've got a better idea. Bring him to the Oceandome."

"But...but...what will the Earnshaws say? They agreed to sponsor fifty people, not fifty-one!" Christian was frantic, absolutely frenzied.

"Don't worry about Jack and Rachel Earnshaw. They've got enough things to worry about. Besides, we have enough dough to support another one. We'll just keep him out of the tapes we send the Earnshaws. How hard could it be? He can room with his sister, and everything will be just fine." Elliot grinned again, and leaned back in the swivel chair, finishing off his soda. "Besides, I think Cascatta will appreciate it when I give her her own brother, wouldn't you say so?"

Christian felt like an undercover spy in the get-up that Elliot made him wear...mostly black. Black pants, a black tee-shirt long enough to conceal his tattoo...and sunglasses. He thought it made him look a little suspicious, but he didn't complain. He couldn't. What other choice did he have?

"All right, I have a phone book here." Elliot had opened the book to W's, and spread it over his lap. "All we need to do is look up the Ward's house boat number, and you call and ask for Ira. Tell him to meet you in someplace abandoned..."

"I have the perfect place." Christian grinned. "Go on, El."

"Don't call me that. Anyhow, tell him to meet you at this abandoned place and tell him to not bring any police or anything. Tell him to come alone, and then tell him that you have his sister and won't hand her over unless he is alone. Got that?" Christian nodded. "Now for the tricky part. Finding their phone number. God, there must be a million Wards in here. What is their parent's name?"

"I forgot their mother's...their father's was Blaine, or something. Blake, maybe."

"Found it. 222-5967. Got that?" Christian nodded again. "Good. Well, now that you've got it, it's your time to perform." Elliot took the cell phone, and pressed "PRIVATE" and then "VOICE CHANGE - YOUNG MALE". "Do your job, my friend."

Christian cleared his throat and held the phone up to his ear. A surprisingly high-pitched, prepubescent boy voice came out through the speakers. "Hello? Is Ira there?"

"Yes, he is, may I ask who's calling?" It was the mother. Christian was sure of it.

"It's...it's Mike."

"All right, Mike, I'll get him for you. Ira!"

"Everybody knows a Mike," Christian explained to Elliot, his hand covering the speaker. Elliot grinned.

"Hello?" came Ira's voice.

"Ira...listen...it's me. I have your sister, Ira. Meet me at two o'clock in the junkyard, and don't bring anybody. I'll give her back, if there's no one with you. Deal?"

"That sounds a little suspicious to me." Ira's tone was a little wary. "How do I know you're not gonna take me too? Huh?"

"Well...your sister, she's...she's no use to me anymore. I'll give her back to you if you meet me at the city junkyard, got it?"

"Two o'clock, then," Ira replied. "I'll be there." There was a click, and then the phone buzzed. Christian slipped it back in his pocket and gave Elliot a sly, I told you I could do it look. "He's got an hour," Christian said, looking at his watch. "If he's not there, I'll just have to hire a hitman or something." He laughed, somewhat insanely. "You take care of the citizens, all right? And the oxygen and air pressure and all...I'll bring him back here. Just keep the submarine where I put it, all right?"

Elliot nodded. "Good luck."

"I'll be needing it." Christian slipped the sunglasses back on over his eyes, and smoothed out his hair. "So? How do I look?"

Elliot chuckled. "Like a psychopath."

"Thought so."

-10-

"See? This is how you work the TV set." Finny sat on her bed and stared directly at the screen. "On," she stated, clearly and loudly, and then, "Four." The television automatically switched to channel four, which was black and white but extremely clear. Finny grinned. "Good. No static today. Must be clear outside."

Catt sat on Finny's bed and looked around her room. It was white, like hers, but accented in yellow, unlike hers. Much more cheery. "What am I supposed to sleep in?"

"Oh. You probably got some nightclothes...Zeke probably sent them up to your room, that is. We'll go check. Do you have your key?" Catt flashed the silver key, which she had crammed in her pocket. "All right," continued Finny, "we'll go check. And if there are none, we'll go complain to Elliot. He's up at all hours of the night, anyway."

It turned out that Zeke had left a pair of cotton pants and a tee shirt on Catt's bed...black ones. "You'll need the pants. It gets chilly in the rooms, especially at night." Finny draped the clothes over her arm and grinned at Catt. "So? How do you like the Oceandome?"

"It's spectacular, but I'm not sure if I actually want to live here or not."

"Well, want to or not, you don't have a choice." They reached Finny's apartment again, which was halfway down the balcony to Catt's, and went in. "What do you want to do tomorrow?" Finny asked her. "Breakfast is served at nine a.m., but I usually skip it so I can sleep in."

"Are we allowed to go to the dining hall in our pajamas?"

"If you'd like. Most of them do." Finny smiled. "You might want to meet all of the people here. They're actually all pretty tolerable, once you get to know them...go ahead, watch TV or something, I'm going to go take a shower." She shut the door to her bathroom, and Catt found she could flip through the channels just by saying the number. She had come across a good sitcom she used to watch when the television went blank.

"Hey...what's the big idea?" she said to no one in particular, glaring. She had no idea that someone would actually answer her.

"Hello, Cascatta." The voice was British. Elliot, she thought to herself, inwardly groaning.

"What do you want from me?" she demanded. The picture cleared and turned color, revealing Elliot, who was sitting in his trademark swivel chair drinking his trademark soda and raising his trademark eyebrow. "You know, drinking all that soda could give you cancer," she told him.

Elliot grinned. "How have you been enjoying yourself, Miss Ward?"

"Don't call me that. Call me Catt. Not Cascatta, not Miss Ward...call me Catt." She rested her chin in her hands, staring at the screen. "I've been enjoying myself just fine. How about yourself?"

"Come now, Catt, can't we be friends?" Elliot said, smiling sort of wryly. Catt couldn't stand when people like him tried to act macho, with their little half-smiles and their coy little quirks.

"Do you like to bug everyone, or just me?"

"Just you." Elliot smiled again, but this time it was full. "How has your brother been, Catt?"

"What are you talking about my brother for? You don't even know my brother." Catt glared. "And I swear to God, if you lay a finger on Ira, I'll-"

"You'll what? Kill me?" Elliot laughed. "You're a quaint little girl. I enjoy your company."

"I don't enjoy yours. Leave me alone."

"If you say so." Elliot raised an eyebrow, and sort of leaned back in his chair a little more, and started humming some song. Catt crawled onto the opposite end of the bed and put a pillow over her face. "What's wrong, dear? Am I bothering you?"

"Go away, Elliot!"

"Fine." The television shut off, and Finny emerged from the bathroom, two towels enclosed around her like wraps. "Who were you talking to?" she asked, her eyes brimming with curiosity. "No wait! Let me guess. It was Elliot. And...and he asked you out on a date. For some 'tea and crumpets'." She finished the sentence with her most haughty British accent, and then fell on the bed and started giggling so hard that it came out as endless snorts.

"Yes, it was Elliot. And no, he didn't ask me out on a date." Catt rolled her eyes. "He just bothered me. That's all."

"Why did he talk to you through my screen, then?" Finny asked her, biting her lip to keep from another outburst of laughter again.

"I don't know." Catt was confused. "Hey, how did he know I was in your room, anyhow?"

"Who knows."

"The whole thing is really suspicious to me." Catt scratched her head, and then yawned. "Do you mind if I sleep in your room? I feel kind of lonely."

"Of course you can sleep in my room."

"Thanks." Catt got under the covers and huddled with her arms wrapped around her knees. She narrowed her eyes, as if trying to figure out something. "He called me a 'quaint little girl'." She laughed. "Isn't that odd? Then he said he enjoyed my company...when, in fact, I've rarely ever spoken to him. Doesn't that seem a little suspicious to you?"

"I can't wait till I tell Krin," giggled Finny. "She'll be jealous as hell."

"Why?"

"Because she's obsessed with Elliot. Extremely obsessed."

"How can she be obsessed with him? She's his prisoner, for God's sake." Catt rolled over and closed her eyes. "I mean, I can't even tolerate to think about him. He kidnapped us, Finny! He kidnapped us and took us to this glorious place and we all know we'll never see the light of day again. Even though the Oceandome is beautiful, it still isn't...it isn't home."

"It's been home for me for the past three months," Finny told her. "You're number Fifty. It'll be less of a wait for you."

"A wait for what?"

"To see your family. To see your friends. You know. Elliot told us we were gonna see them real soon, didn't he? I trust Elliot, he's the only good one out of the three of them. Rhett and Christian are both idiots." Finny yawned, and stretched her arms. "I'm going to go to sleep, okay? Jeremy wants me to go fishing with him and Zeke before breakfast...not my idea of bliss, but you know. Hey, do you want to come?"

"I think I'd rather sleep," Catt replied.

"All right. Well, good night, Catt."

The junkyard. Ira saw it only feet away from him. It was surrounded by broken barbed wire fences and trash scattered on the cement around it. A rush of adrenaline went through him. He could really be the hero this time. He would get Catt back, and everyone would praise him for days and days, and treat him to all the cake and ice cream and chocolate bars he could eat for months.

He stepped through one of the holes in the fence. He and his friends often went to the junkyard to get away from the rest of the world, or to play games. There was a run-down basketball hoop sitting next to the hood of an old Chevy, and he used to jump up and down on the hood and throw random pieces of junk at the hoop. He sat near the pole of the hoop, and that's where he waited. Waited for Catt to come back. He looked at his wristwatch, and found it was only 1:53. He had seven more minutes until he was the hero. He could barely wait.

Suddenly, he heard a creaking of old tires and turned around, staring face to face with...Daniel. His dumb, klutz friend Daniel. "Danny!" cried Ira, shouting but whispering. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, I thought we could play a little Shoot the Crap in the Basket, Ira," Daniel laughed.

"You can't be here, you really can't," Ira explained, trying to get him away. "I've got seven minutes. I have to meet someone real important. There's a...um...an ice cream sale over at the ice cream store, Danny! And it only lasts until two o'clock! You've got seven minutes, boy, run!"

"An ice cream sale?" Daniel's eyes widened. "On sale for how much?"

"Free! Free ice cream!" Ira told him.

"Whoa! Are you serious, man?" Ira nodded enthusiastically, still shooing him away with his hands. "I'm off! I'll catch ya later, Ira!"

After Ira's close encounter with certain non-existant heroism, he slumped next to the pole and waited. The minutes ticked by so slowly, they seemed like hours. He sat there and just thought for a while. He told his mother he and Danny and Jake were going to play basketball at Danny's house. It was a pure lie, but she would be thanking him once he had Catt back. He sure hoped that his mother didn't run into Danny downtown.

Suddenly, he heard a creaking sound behind him. He turned around, his heart racing. "H-hello?" he stammered.

Christian appeared from behind a stack of old tires and smiled at Ira, taking off his sunglasses and shoving them in his pocket. "Hi, Ira."

"Hey, you're the guy from before!" Ira stated.

"Sh, not so loud." Christian stood before him, looking ten times taller and ten times stronger than him. "You want your sister, huh?"

"Yeah, when can I have her back?"

"Right about now." Christian put his hand over Ira's mouth and hauled him from behind. His sunglasses fell from his pocket, but he had to get the boy first. He abandoned his glasses and held Ira in a tight grip. Ira kicked and wailed and screamed and found himself shoved into the back of a red van. Christian shut and barred the doors, got in the driver's seat, and turned on the ignition. He looked behind him and yelled through the netting, "You're too trusting, Ira Ward!"

"What do you want from me?" Ira screamed.

"Your silence, kid, your silence!" Christian backed up onto the abandoned, weed overgrown beach that he had parked the submarine at. Elliot had opened the top, and the glass cage, and was waiting patiently for Christian to haul Ira into the sub. Christian flung open the back doors and Ira jumped on him.

"Help! Help me, Elliot, damn you!" Christian screamed. Elliot crawled over the edge of the sub and twisted Ira's arms behind him, and then threw him in the submarine. Ira landed with a hard thump and Elliot and Christian both crawled back in, examining him. "Is he dead?" Christian asked, wide-eyed.

"Of course he's not dead," Elliot replied. "He's just unconscious." He wiped the sweat off his forehead and raised an eyebrow. "Wild kid, that one. Put him in the cage."

"Can do."

-11-

Finny was still gone the next morning, out with Jeremy and Zeke, and Catt was famished, so she went down to the dining hall in her normal clothes which she had washed with soap the night before. Only Krin and Somer were sitting at their usual table, and Krin smiled at her. "You're sitting with us, right?" she cried, and Catt nodded. Breakfast, as she soon found out, was eggs and bacon and toast. It looked wonderful.

Catt set her tray down across from Krin and Somer. "How are you?" she asked, trying to be polite. She had to admit, it was a little uncomfortable sitting there with the two girls without Finny and her loud mouth.

"As well as ever," Krin replied. "Elliot talked to me again last night. Again, can you believe it, Somer?"

Somer gasped. "No way."

"Yes, way. I so think he likes me. He told me that he enjoyed my company."

"What?" Catt screamed, and then relaxed again, looking around. "Sorry...that was a little loud, wasn't it...?"

"Are you all right?" Krin raised an eyebrow and looked at her strangely. She turned back to Somer. "He asked me how I was, and then told me he enjoyed my company. Isn't that sweet? In his little British accent and all. I found it simply adorable."

Catt grimaced. "I think I've lost my appetite." She stood up from the table and shoved her dish in their direction. It was nauseating. It reminded her all too well of the little school cliques she knew so very well that made her want to puke...and here she was, taken captive by a group of scientists and these girls were still gossiping their little hearts out. She turned around and walked out the door.

"What do you think is wrong with her?" Somer asked Krin, concerned.

"Oh, she's just jealous, that's all." Krin giggled.

Elliot was enjoying their breakfast spat. He sat in his swivel chair and looked at the computer screen, turning it off mute and laughing the entire time. Little Ira Ward was still sleeping on the floor of the glass confinement, curled into a little ball. "How cute," Elliot stated, a grin on his face.

He turned around to make sure Christian was in his room, and leaned in toward the monitor of his computer, clicking the "Zoom In" button a few times, and then switched cameras, getting a close-up of Catt's face. She shook her head a few times, and got up and left the table, leaving her tray with Krin and Somer. Elliot kept switching cameras and followed Catt. She was going to her apartment.

"Perfect," Elliot whispered to himself, and switched the camera to A50...Apartment Number Fifty.

Catt took her hair out of its long, ebony braid and curled up in her bed, her clothes still on and her face discouraged. Elliot tapped his microphone a few times to make sure it worked, cleared his throat, and pressed S50, which would show his image in her bedroom screen. He ran his fingers through his hair and took off his glasses.

"Cascatta," he said, sort of quietly. "Can you hear me?"

Catt blinked her eyes and sat up in her bed, looking directly at the screen. "Elliot? What do you want now?"

Elliot propped his feet on the table in front of him. "I believe I'm here to invite you somewhere. Will you meet me at the waterfall in the Oasis at 1 a.m?"

"Why should I?" Catt glared at him, and Elliot only grinned and twisted his camera toward the glass confinement, revealing Ira in a deep sleep. Catt gasped. "What have you done to him?" she cried. "Oh my God...take him back to the surface!"

"I believe your brother's life rests in my hands," Elliot stated simply, tugging gently on the oxygen tank plug in front of him. "So...will you meet me in the Oasis, my dear?"

Catt narrowed her eyes. "Fine."

"Good. I'll see you then."

Christian appeared from the small bathroom, rubbing his head with a towel. "I think I tasted salt in that shower water," he said, spitting. "Say El, who were you talking to?"

"Cascatta. I told her I had Ira."

Christian narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Say, Elliot, don't go getting a crush on this girl...Rhett wouldn't be real happy with that."

Elliot smiled. "Too late."

"What's that supposed to mean? Too late?"

"Chris, don't trouble yourself over me. Go have some lunch or something." There was suddenly movement from the glass enclosure, and Ira sat up, rubbing his eyes. He took one look at Elliot and Christian and dove into a small corner, huddled up with his knees up to his chin.

"You-you stay away from me, you hear?" he shouted, his voice muffled through the glass. Then, all of a sudden, Ira stood up and started kicking at the glass. Elliot rolled his eyes. "You can't break through, Ira," he said, somewhat casually. Ira soon gave up and glared at the two boys in front of him.

"Where's my sister?" he cried.

"You'll see her soon," Elliot replied. "I promise."

"How am I supposed to trust anything you say?" Ira insisted, pounding his fists on the glass.

Elliot yawned, and twisted around in his chair. "Because," he replied nonchalantly, "you have no other choice."

Catt checked her wristwatch. It was almost one. She had walked to the Oasis and sat on the rocks surrounding the waterfall, watching the goldfish...as angry as ever at Elliot. He had her brother...what could he possibly want with Ira? The thought of Elliot angered Catt so much that she could barely contain her screaming profanities at the top of her lungs. No one was around, anyway...

"Calm down, my dear."

There he was. Standing behind that waterfall, concealed in a black sleeveless shirt and jeans. His hair looked too long for his face and masked his eyes, which were concealed by black-rimmed glasses. Catt's heart leapt in her throat in fear. "What do you want from me?" she cried.

Elliot sat next to her and wrung his hands, looking down at the goldfish. He smiled to himself, and sighed. "I bet right now that you wish I were dead, don't you? Well, here's your chance. Kill me, Cascatta. There's a pond right here, isn't there? I'm sure you could manage to drown me."

Catt was confused. "What are you talking about, Elliot?"

Elliot shrugged. "You know, if I wasn't so damn smart I would have killed myself a long time ago. But I had such potential, you see...and now all of that has gone down the drain. Where I should be." He shook his head, disheartened. "Down the drain, that is. My father pulled me into this mess and he sure as hell won't be there to pull me out of it."

"Is this some kind of trick or something?"

"Cascatta, really, please. You need to be a little more trusting in people." He turned away. "My father wanted Christian and I to kill Ira. But I wouldn't. While he has a heart of stone...I still have a little bit of it left." He smiled, sort of wryly. Catt hated that. "You don't need to worry about him. I brought him in with me, and sent him to your apartment. The kid sleeps like a log."

"You mean...you mean, you didn't kill him?" Catt said, her eyes widened. "You didn't even attempt to?...and you went against your dad, even..." She shook her head in awe, and then looked him straight in the eyes. "You know, I think you do have a heart, Elliot Rance." She leaned forward and hugged him, and then drew back. "If...if you already took care of Ira, why'd you come down here?"

"It was worth it just to hear you speak, Cascatta." Elliot grinned, and stood up. "Good night."

-12-

Catt laid in bed a long time after that...after, of course, waking Ira and discussing the outer world for at least an hour. He slept on the other side of her bed, and didn't budge for the rest of the night. She looked up at the ceiling fan, not tired in the least bit.

Elliot did the same. He was lying in that little bunk of his in the submarine, staring at the wooden walls. He had found his dad's cigarettes and managed to smoke one of them without choking. He considered it an accomplishment. He turned to his computer and, with his toe, turned on the monitor and then clicked into the camera program, showing all now fifty-one people asleep in their beds. "Voice activation," he said, loudly enough so that the computer could hear him. It blinked. "Zoom in N50. 2. 3. Disable voice activation." There she was, not yet asleep, staring up at the ceiling, with her hair all around her like a waterfall...

"Man, I smell cigarettes in here." Christian opened the door and Elliot frantically shut off the monitor. Christian gave him a strange look. "What have you been doing, smoking, El?"

"Yeah, you want one?" Elliot tossed the almost-empty package of cigarettes at Christian, who gave him another odd look.

"Say, what have you been doing on that computer this time of night?"

"Oh, nothing...goddamnit, get out of my room, Christian, you're too damn nosy."

Christian laughed and turned on the monitor. Number 50 had been zoomed in, showing Cascatta Ward and her brother. "Oh my God," Christian stated, simply, shaking his head. "Elliot, you are one hell of a messed up kid, did you know that? Rhett's not gonna like you stalking-"

"I'm not stalking anyone!" Elliot cried. "Get out of my room, okay? How would you like me to barge in your room at three in the morning?"

"All right, fine. Thanks for the cigarettes." Christian turned his heel and shut the door behind him. Elliot slunk back in his bed, his heart racing. He looked at his computer monitor one last time, and then shut it off. Why her, Christian? Why'd you have to kidnap her? He clenched his fists and squinted his eyes shut, and felt the tears coming. He quickly wiped them away. The only person he ever truly wanted was the one he wasn't allowed to fall in love with.

"God, I am a jackass!" he cried, throwing his pillow at the wall. The tears were streaming down his cheeks like rain now, and he couldn't help it. He kept seeing her in his mind...her hazel eyes, her nearly-black hair...it wasn't supposed to happen...he wasn't supposed to let her into his dreams, into his thoughts, and into his heart. He swallowed the lump in his throat and fell back on the pillow, staring at the ceiling.

"If there's any sort of higher power up there," he whispered, "could you please help me out of this mess? Please...just don't let her haunt me anymore. Please."

It was too late. She had left an imprint on his heart forever, and he knew it. It ached and his pulse throbbed, and as much as he wanted to think about something, amything, else, it failed. His mind had completely failed, that genius mind of his...and he could think of no one or anything else than Cascatta Ward, who was imprisoned in that heartless Oceandome that he had helped invent.

Elliot was in love with Catt. Head over heels, insanely, madly, in love.

And he didn't know why.

"Finny. I need to know right now that you won't open your big mouth to anyone and that I can confide in you." Catt gripped her friend's hands, and stared straight into her eyes.

"All right. I won't. I promise."

Finny and Catt had taken a paddle boat in Rance's Pond. Finny had promised Catt that she'd teach her how to hook the fish in the pond. "It's the only recreational activity we have in this place," she had explained earlier. Ira was sleeping, still, in Catt's apartment...even at four in the afternoon.

"Elliot...well, Elliot told me to meet him last night, at one. In the morning." Catt gritted her teeth, unsure of what she could tell Finny without revealing too much to even herself. "He brought me Ira, as I already told you...but...but when I asked him why he asked me to meet him, he told me that it was worth it just to hear me speak."

"Did he really?" Finny cried.

"Keep your voice down!" Catt shushed her. "The thing is...well, I don't know. I find that a little bit odd. Don't you?"

"Not at all," Finny reassured her. "Not at all."

"Well? Why don't you find it odd?"

Finny only smiled. "You may be older than me by a couple of years, Catt, but I think I'm a little bit more of a knowledgeable observer in this field." She grinned, and patted Catt on the back. "I give it a definite...crush. He's got a definite crush on you."

"Well, what the hell am I supposed to say about that?" Catt asked her, almost frantically. "I'm supposed to hate him. I really am. And I do...I really do hate him." She folded her arms, betraying her fishing pole in the paddle boat. "Except...except, he did save my brother's life. I think he has some heart in him. Yes, I'm almost sure he has some heart in him."

"And I think some of that heart belongs to you, Catt."

"What?"

Finny shrugged, and cast her pole. "The question here is...do you have enough of a heart to accept his?"

There was a long, awkward silence. Catt coughed, and shook her head. "You know what, Finny? I don't need this right now. I really don't. I do not need to think about Elliot Rance right now...who, as you seem to have forgotten, pulled us away from our families and brought us to this underwater hell!"

Finny shook her head, and looked at Catt straight in the face. "He may have taken me away from my family, as he did with the other forty-eight people who inhabit this 'underwater hell', as you call it. But let's not forget who's sleeping in your room as we speak, brought directly to you and no one else?"

-13-

Annette Ward was frantic with worry. Both of her children were gone. Both of them. She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when Catt disappeared...and now it was Ira, too.

"He-he told me he was going to Danny's," she told the police, shaking with fear. "He said he was going to play basketball, and I let him out and told him to be back before dinner...I let him take the row boat to shore, and it's still up there, on the dock, where he parked it and tied it up. Oh God, someone knew that he revealed too much. Someone knew."

The officers had tried to get her to calm down. "Who is this Danny?" one asked her politely, trying to get her to maintain her senses.

"Danny...Daniel Whittaker. He lives on Cherconey Lane, in the house 231," Annette explained, trying to keep her hands from shaking. They'd been shaking a lot, lately. Her whole body had turned white with fear, and her eyes were bloodshot. She refused to sleep until her children had been found.

Danny Whittaker was called to the police station. His mother brought him. "Oh dear, if Danny's in any kind of trouble, my lawyer-"

"Don't sweat it, ma'am," the officer stated simply. "We just need to ask Daniel a few questions about the disappearance of Ira Ward."

Mrs. Whittaker turned her son around and looked him straight in the face. "Now listen, Danny, don't make up anything. Not anything, you hear? You tell the officers the plain truth about Ira."

"All right, Mom." Danny looked up at the officer, who bent down to look at him. "You see, at about two o'clock, Ira was in the junkyard. He was just sittin' there, waiting for someone. I asked him if he wanted to play some Shoot the Crap in the Basket, you see. Because that's our game. We always play that. Anyhow, he said no, and that he had to meet someone real important."

"Did he describe the person he had to meet?" the officer asked him.

"No. He said he had seven minutes, though. And then he told me there was an ice cream sale. So I rushed over to town to see if there was any ice cream sale, and there wasn't. He fooled me good, sir." Daniel looked down at his feet. "You know, I went back to see if Ira was still there, and he wasn't. I figured he musta gone home or something."

"Thank you, Daniel. Is that all?"

"No, sir. That's all. That's the last I saw of him."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm dead positive. I mean, he made me run all the way to town for some fake ice cream sale. I mean, that was pretty cruel, and he wouldn't lie to me unless it was real important that I wasn't watching him, because he's not a lying sort of kid, sir." Daniel scrunched up his nose. "Can I go home, now, please?"

"Yes, you can, Daniel."

"Thanks a whole lot."

The entire perimeter of the junkyard had been blocked off by police tape as they searched for any clues as to where Ira was. The detectives found a young boy's footprints near the old basketball hoop, and then tire tracks in the dirt...followed by larger footsteps, that of a full grown male's.

"Well, the prediction here is that Ira was waiting for this man, and when the man arrived, he kidnapped Ira and took him to his van," one of the detectives told Annette. She could barely stand to hear it, and almost covered her ears. But she took it. She had to know everything. She felt a silent tear slip down her cheek.

The detective continued. "The tire tracks lead to the end of the junkyard. Whoever was driving the automobile took the back roads, and we don't have any more evidence as to where he could have gone."

Annette took in a deep breath. "The Gulf," she replied simply. "They took him to the Gulf."

"What makes you say that, ma'am?"

"That's where Catt was taken. And that's where Ira was taken, too, quite obviously," she replied. "I want you to search it. I want you to search the whole damned thing."

"Ma'am...we can't search the entire Gulf of Mexico. It's impos-"

Annette had grabbed his collar. "Sir...I will do anything in my power to find my children...even if it means a lifetime in searching the Gulf. And I will find them, whether I live or whether I die trying!" she cried, and then loosened her grip. "And make sure to watch out for Danny Whittaker. He's obviously in danger, now, also."

"Y-yes, ma'am," the detective stammered. "We'll send a scuba-diving search team out to look for any trace of them, all right?"

"That's fine," Annette answered. "But until then, I'm going to spend every waking moment in that police station until someone, anyone, tells me where my children are." She turned her heel and started to walk out of the junkyard, when something stopped her. A pair of sunglasses. She picked them up and turned around to face the detective. "These...these sunglasses. They're brand new."

"Drop those!" cried the detective. She did as she was told, quickly. He put on a pair of gloves and shoved them in a plastic baggie that he had in his sling bag. "Evidence," he explained, and nodded. "Ma'am, do you know what type of people come to the junkyard, or have been here in the past twenty-nine hours, since Ira disappeared?"

"I can tell you this," she explained, hope rising in her voice. "Ira, Daniel, and their friend Jake had been playing in the junkyard, like they usually do, just a day before Ira disappeared. I came to pick them up and take them all home...and I can assure you, those sunglasses were definitely not there. I am completely positive. There must have been a struggle, and the kidnapper must have dropped them while he was trying to take Ira..."

"It's a good theory, ma'am, but we'll have to wait and see, all right?'

"Fine. But let me be the first to tell you, I am not a patient person."

-14-

"Ha! See look. I caught a bluegill." Finny shoved the squirming fish in Catt's face, which made her scrunch up her nose in disgust. "Oh well, it's no use. Not even to Jeremy. Hell, that kid will eat anything." She unhooked the fish and threw it back in the calm water.

Catt looked a little dreamy. "When we get out of this place...and we will, I promise you...you can come over to my house boat and spend the night, all right? It will be fun, really. Have you ever been on a house boat, Fin?"

"Nope." Finny smiled. "Even though everyone seems to have them these days. When I get out of here, I'm going to go home and tell my mom I'm all right, of course. And then I'm going to take Jeremy and we're going to fly to Paris and spend a few weeks there." Finny grinned at Catt's bewildered face. "I'm joking."

"I could tell." Catt smiled, dreamily again. "I'm going to call Darrien."

"Who's that?"

"Someone I used to go out with. I'm telling you, he really knew how to treat a girl, Finny. He used to send me daisies...and he knew my favorite color was blue, so he used to dye them by hand...a pale, sky blue." She clasped her hands together, and then shook her head. "Aw, who am I kidding. Thinking about Darrien again. God, I haven't talked to him in weeks. What makes me think of him now, I wonder?"

Finny smiled. "It could be those." She gestured toward a small field of wild daisies on the shore.

Catt sighed. "It probably was. Daisies are my favorite flower. Most girls prefer roses, you know, but not me. I went to prom with Darrien, and he made me a corsage by hand, and it was all tinted blue daisies. I don't know why I'm telling you this...you probably don't even want to hear it..."

"No, of course I do!" insisted Finny. "It's a lovely story. You must have had a great life, Catt."

"I did." Catt smiled. "I really did. Tell me, Fin, what's the deal with Jeremy? I mean, come on, you've got to tell me. You're my best friend here and all."

Finny blushed. "Well...I don't know. I think I like him. He's really nice and all, and he's not bad looking, either. I'm just wondering-"

Suddenly, the fishing pole flew out of her hands, slipping from the water. She leaned over to retrieve it, and ended up falling in the pond, head first. Catt burst out laughing, and Finny grabbed the pole, holding it above her head. "I've got it! Ha! I got it!" she cried, and hoisted her soaking self back on the paddle boat, giggling the entire time. "Well, that's one way to wash your clothes around here!" she cried, suffering from fits of laughter.

I think I can tolerate this place for the time being, Catt thought to herself, grinning at Finny. Thank God for Finny. Everything is fine. It's just fine.

Later that day, in the high of the afternoon, Zeke and Jeremy were in the center Courtyard, examining the supplies that Zeke had retrieved from the glass case leading to the Oceandome. Catt liked Zeke right away when she first met him...he was about seventeen, and was tall and somewhat fat, with a full head of blonde hair and a pair of green-tinted sunglasses that he never parted with. She had never even seen his eyes.

"Hi, Catt!" cried Jeremy and Zeke unanimously, sitting on the bench and sorting through the stuff in front of them. Catt had dragged Ira along with her, to get him to meet some of her friends. Ira, being only eleven and the youngest person in the Oceandome, wasn't much too interested, but went along anyway.

"You must be Ira," Jeremy stated, and stood up, extending his arm. "My name is Jeremy, and my friend here is Ezekiel...but everyone just calls him Zeke."

Ira shook his hand. "Yeah. Say, what kind of food do they serve here? Is it any good?"

Jeremy laughed. "Hell yeah, it's good. June cooks it. She's great."

"Well, that's all I needed to know." Ira yawned. "Excuse me, I'm off to bed. Someone tell me when supper is ready."

Catt rolled her eyes. She had given up on Ira trying to be social, and gave him the room key. "Fine, Ira, be antisocial the entire time you're here. I really don't care." He grinned at her, took the key, and headed straight back up to the apartment. Catt shook her head. "Kids."

"Say, Catt, have you seen Infinity anywhere?" Jeremy asked her. "I mean...I mean Finny."

"Well, she and I went fishing earlier," explained Catt. "She told me she was tired. I think she's back up in her apartment, somewhere. Or something. I dunno."

Zeke grinned. "Say, Catt, I've got something for ya."

"Yeah? What is it? Did you get my damn shampoo?"

"That...and these." Zeke handed her a boquet of flowers. And they weren't just any flowers. They were daisies. And they had been tinted blue. Catt's eyes widened in shock and her heart raced. She swallowed the lump in her throat and took the flowers with shaking hands, reading the small card in the middle of them. For Cascatta. Meet me tonight, in the Oasis by the waterfall. Same time as last time. Yours, E.

"Jesus Christ!" she cried, dropping the flowers. The petals scattered at her feet. "Jesus...now I know he's stalking me."

"Who? Who's stalking you?" Jeremy cried, obviously extremely interested. Zeke laughed and replied for him. "E. They're from E. You know who E is, don't you."

"Elliot Rance." Jeremy burst out laughing. "Oh my God. You've got Elliot stalking you now, Catt." He fell on the ground, laughing hysterically. "Oh my God!" Zeke joined in, slapping the side of the bench they had been sitting on. Jeremy continued his hysterics, and wiped his eyes. "That's rich, that's real rich!"

"Shut up, Jeremy!" cried Catt, irritated. She picked up the daisies and looked at them again. There was only one person who could have possibly known about her obsession with blue-tinted daisies. She turned her heel and sprinted up towards the apartments. She practically threw herself at Finny's door, knocking at it with rage.

Finny opened it meekly. "Hi, Catt..."

"What's the meaning of these?" Catt shoved the flowers in her face. "Who did you tell, Finny? Come on, confess! Elliot bought me goddamn blue-tinted daisies!" Catt narrowed her eyes. "I thought I could trust you. I was obviously wrong!"

"Slow down there, Catt. I did not tell anyone about the daisies, I swear to God."

"Then how did Elliot find out? Huh? Explain me that!"

"I honestly have no idea...I really don't..." Finny looked bewildered. "I swear, I didn't say a peep to anyone. Not a single, solitary soul!" Her eyes widened. "Come on, Catt, you know you can trust me with your life! Maybe...maybe he just figured you liked blue-tinted daisies?"

"I'm going to get to the bottom of this. I swear to God I will." Catt slammed the door behind her, storming to her apartment and pounding on the door. "Ira! Open up! Open the door, Ira!"

"What do you want?"

"Did you tell Elliot that I liked blue daisies? Did you?" she cried, shoving the daisies at Ira.

"No, I've never even talked to him, I swear."

"There's something really strange going on around here." Catt glared. "I'm going to find out what it is." She leaned over the balcony. "I'm going to find out what it is, Elliot, I swear to God I will!" She threw the flowers on the ground and watched as the petals fell from the stems.

This time, Elliot was there first. He had his back to the waterfall, and was wearing a navy blue sleeveless shirt, and his black-rimmed glasses. He removed them as he turned around and smiled as Catt approached.

"Tell me what's going on, Elliot," she insisted. "How did you know about the daisies? I want the truth, all right?"

Elliot sat on one of the rocks by the waterfall, his smart-aleck expression faded. He stared at the water circling his feet, and sighed. "I'm forbidden to tell you this," he said. "Absolutely forbidden. But I will tell you." He bit his lip. "The entire place is bugged, Cascatta. This whole Dome has camera systems and listening devices...except for just right around here, we didn't have enough money for this part of the Oasis. That's why I wanted to meet you here, you know."

Catt sat next to him, and shook her head. "I know."

"What? How can you possibly know?"

Catt smiled. "Because. I saw one on my ceiling fan. The camera lens, I mean. I didn't tell anyone, I knew it'd create a big stir, you know. I just thought...well, I thought Finny told you about the daisies because...well, because I didn't think you'd be listening to me when I said it. Wouldn't you have something more important to do, I mean?"

Elliot smiled. "So...really? You knew about everything?"

"Yes, I did. And you swear to God that's how you knew about the daisies?" Elliot nodded. Catt looked confused. "Well...well then, why did you take the trouble to get them for me? And my brother, you returned him to me, completely safe...and, and I want to know the meaning of it."

"Not everything has meaning," Elliot replied, avoiding the subject.

"But...but it has to have meaning. Why was I the one picked to come down here in the first place? There's millions of people near the Gulf...why was it me?" She looked toward the Dome ceiling, and Elliot saw tears starting at her eyes. "Everything has meaning, Elliot. Some higher power wanted me down here. Fate, or something. Fate wanted me down here."

"Wh-what makes you say that?"

"I don't know. I'm talking crazy, like I usually do." Catt shook her head. "And I know you could never release me or anything. I'm not asking you to. If...if fate wants me out of here, I'll get out."

"You really believe in that stuff, don't you?"

"Of course I do." Catt looked at him, bewildered by his question. "And I just want you to know that you're forgiven. For everything. And...and I wanted to thank you."

"For what?"

"The daisies. Ira. Everything." Catt smiled, somewhat weakly, and tucked her dark hair behind her ears. A tear fell from her eye and slowly trickled down her cheek. Elliot gulped, trying to hold back his own guilty tears. Everything she had just said brought an ashamed feeling in the pit of his stomach...ashamed of his father, ashamed of this science experiment, ashamed of himself.

"Listen, Cascatta, if there's anything I can do for..."

"Elliot. Listen to me." She grabbed his shoulders and stared straight into his charcoal-black eyes. His heart leapt into his throat. "Elliot. Don't worry about me, really. Just...just go back up to your submarine and forget about me."

"I couldn't do that..."

"Yes, you could," Catt told him, and touched his cheek, and then brushed the long strands of blonde hair from his forehead. She leaned forward and closed her eyes, but then stopped herself. "See you later, Elliot."

Elliot nearly choked. "Yeah...uh, yeah, see you."

Long after Elliot had left, Jeremy and Zeke emerged from the waist-high field of flowers in front of the waterfall, and Jeremy grinned. "Catt...good work," he whispered, as quietly as possible as not to have the bugging systems catch anything he said. Zeke gave her a quick thumbs-up sign.

"Oh, come on, you guys, you can speak up, you heard him, there aren't any kind of weird devices around here," Catt reassured them, and tried to stifle a giggle. "God, I should be an actress."

"Yeah, you really should!" Zeke replied. "How long until he turns himself in?"

Catt grinned and folded her arms. "Two days. I give it two days. Maybe three."

"We couldn't have done it without you, babe."

"I know."

-15-

"Annette...they came up with something at the police station." Blake Ward sat down at the kitchen table and propped his feet on one of the chairs.

"Well?"

"It seems the sunglasses had last been handled by a Christian Vanlinder of Wales." Blake took a gulp of the coffee that Annette had set before him. Unlike his wife, however, he was relatively calm. "The police tried to contact Christian, but he's not been responding to our calls."

"Well? Have they flown over to England yet? To...to try to find him?"

"Yes, but no luck. His former apartment was sold to a family almost six months ago." Blake shook his head. "We can't find him anywhere. Not anywhere. However, we did look in Christian's police files, and he has been in prison before."

"He has?" Annette asked frantically.

"Yes...he was imprisoned for assisting the famous scientist Rhett Rance in that huge case over in Nevada. You know, you read the tabloids...where an alien was stolen from a science lab and attempted to switch its mind with a human mind?" Blake shook his head. "Crazy. Both Rhett and Christian. They're both lunatics. They were let out of prison about a year ago."

"So...Christian Vanlinder couldn't have been in his apartment in Wales for very long?" Annette asked, trying to sort everything out in her mind. "If he sold the apartment six months ago, I mean. Have you attempted to contact Rhett Rance?"

"No one can find him either." Blake shut his eyes, trying to assess the situation. "No one's seen him for six months, his wife, or his kid, Elliot. They must have moved and given themselves different identities...maybe it's to give them some privacy from the press about the Nevada case, but I'm not sure." He gripped the side of his coffee mug. "Doesn't it seem strange to you that people started missing only about five months ago?...and only in this area? This has definitely got to do with Rhett Rance. And I'll get to the bottom of it, I swear it."

"You don't suppose Rhett Rance could be heading up another science experiment?" Annette pondered, fear in her voice. "And maybe that Ira and Catt are a part of it?"

"I don't know. But here's what sets everything apart from the rest." Blake removed a small tape recorder from his jacket, and pressed the play button. What Annette heard brought tears to her eyes.

"Wait a minute...wait a minute, I remember something! Th-there was something on his arm. His right arm." "A tattoo. It was a black tattoo!"

Blake shut off the tape recorder, trying to hold back his own tears. "We checked all of the local tattoo parlors, and gave them Ira's description of the man who had kidnapped Catt. There was one parlor where the artist told us that he remembered him clearly, and that was the description." A shiver went down Annette's spine as Blake finished his story. "He told us that the man who'd wanted a tattoo wanted Chinese wording. On his right arm."

"What...what did it mean?"

Blake shook his head, trying to reflect. "'Christian'. The tattoo meant 'Christian'."

"Jesus!"

"It was Christian Vanlinder, Annette. He took Catt...and he probably took Ira too." Blake looked almost hopeful for a moment, and then his eyes clouded over. "We'll find him. And we'll find Rhett too. We'll get our kids back, Anne, I promise."

She almost kissed me. She almost kissed me.

The words went over and over in Elliot's mind, captivating his thoughts to Catt and only Catt. Now he had declared himself officially obsessed. He knew he couldn't watch her anymore…she knew about the cameras. God, how pissed Rhett would be if he heard about that!

Maybe if I let Cascatta out…and just Cascatta…

No. No, that wouldn't work. If he wanted to let Catt out, he'd have to let everyone out…or they'd all rebel. And if he let everyone out, they'd all turn him and Christian and Rhett in…so that wouldn't work. He let the idea slip from his mind.

Christian entered the room Elliot was in, a cigarette in his mouth. "Guess what."

"What?"

"They figured me out." Christian took a long draw of his cigarette. Elliot knew he only smoked when he was upset. "They figured me out. You know those damn sunglasses I had on the day I captured Ira? They found them. Someone must have squealed on Ira's being in the junkyard that day…God. They found my fingerprints. And now I'm on like, America's Most Wanted or something." Christian laughed, somewhat nervously. "It's a good thing we don't go out in public too much anymore, huh?"

"You mean…you didn't wear gloves when you kidnapped Ira?"

Christian shrugged. "Nah. Didn't figure they'd do me any good. I guess I was wrong, huh?"

"What you need is some common sense." Elliot shook his head in disbelief. "You know what Dad's gonna want now."

"What?"

"He's gonna want to destroy the Oceandome," Elliot told him, disheartened. "You know, so there's not a scrap of evidence left behind…this is bad. This is real bad. All we have to do now is deny everything, and tell the courts that we changed our identities to protect us from the public…with the Nevada case only a few years back, and all."

"You figure out everything, don't you?"

"Of course I do." Elliot propped his feet up on the table. "Well. Looks like I'll be the only person going on shore now, won't I?"

"Yeah, and Rhett better damn well hide when he tries to get back to the submarine." Christian choked on the cigarette, and then threw it to the ground, smashing it with his foot. "Say…where is he again, anyway?"

"With my mum. In Wales, in new house. You know…the hidden one."

"Oh. When will he be back?"

"Tomorrow."

-16-

Catt had terrible insomnia that night. The guilt had taken over her entire mind…and she didn't know why. He was the one who brought them all there, wasn't he? She shouldn't feel guilty about tricking him a little…but she had known about the cameras. There was one on her right now, looking straight down on her from her ceiling fan. She had gotten under the blankets to make sure no one knew she was awake…especially Elliot.

The blue-dyed daisies sat limply on her bedstand. Elliot must have ordered them when he went shopping for the rest of the Oceandome citizens. She knew his gesture was completely harmless and, although she didn't want to admit it, completely charming. It only made her feel more neurotic about her manipulation on Elliot…but she had to get out of there, somehow. She had to. Along with her brother and Finny and Jeremy and everyone.

How long will we last? she thought to herself. How long will it be until Rhett decides to give up on us? The thought terrified her, and her teeth chattered in fear. The only way out was through the glass door on the side of the Dome near the Courtyard, but only the scientists had the key. Besides, she couldn't open it anyhow. The water would rush in too fast for everyone to escape safely…and the enormous depth of the Oceandome was too deep for her to even fathom swimming out of there. Her only hope was Elliot.

Still…it was completely flattering that he had been listening to her that entire time, and watching her every move. Under other circumstances, Catt would have thought it somewhat creepy…but Elliot was different. Far different.

She sat up in bed, and flicked on the television. "The Fitches" was on, an old sitcom from the 2180's. She remembered staying up late and watching it with her mother when she couldn't sleep. A tear came to her eye and slowly trickled down her cheek.

Catt woke up the next day with Finny pounding on her door. "Catt! Catt, hurry!"

"What?" Catt rubbed her eyes and noticed Ira was already out of the room. She opened the door to find Finny in complete frantic. She held out a blue daisy.

"This is only the first one," she said, and then gestured down the balcony hall. They were scattered in an endless line…blue daisies. Catt was in complete shock. She followed the almost endless row of daisies, picking them up one by one. Finny helped.

"Wh-what's going on?" Catt stammered, following the line. Finny shrugged. Some of the daisies had been kicked to the side by people coming out of their rooms. The row followed down the elevator, and through the Courtyard. Many people who had gotten up for breakfast just stared. There must have been one hundred of those flowers, all in a scattered row. They ended at the center Courtyard bench, where a simple envelope sat, and with extremely beautiful cursive lettering, read Cascatta Ward.

Catt blushed and looked at the fellow Oceandome citizens surrounding her. There must have been twenty of them, all looking as curious as kittens. Catt thrust the huge boquet she had collected at Finny, and opened the envelope.

Cascatta,

I'm sorry.

I cannot meet you anymore. My father is back. I cannot tell you what I am sorry about, for it causes me great pain to describe it in a letter.

If you really want to know, go back to your room and call my name.

Love,

Elliot

"Well? What's it say?" cried Finny.

Catt gulped. "N-nothing. I…I'll tell you later." She turned her heel and rushed back upstairs, abandoning her friend with the massive daisy boquet.

She slammed the door behind her, and made sure Ira wasn't in the room. "Elliot!" she screamed. "Elliot Rance!"

The screen in front of her flickered, and Elliot appeared, looking completely forlorn. "I suppose you want to know."

"Yes, I do."

Elliot shook his head, disheartened. "I don't know if I can tell you. Tell me, Cascatta, are you positive that you want to know what I'm about to tell you?"

Catt nodded. "Of course."

"My father, Rhett, just came back today. Last night, actually, very late. The police had discovered it was Christian who kidnapped you and your brother, and they're after him as we speak…but he's safe, in the submarine, of course. Dad was concerned that the police would know that Christian was assisting him, but he wasn't too worried." Elliot bit his lip. "Then, he received a call from Jack and Rachel Earnshaw. They…they refuse to sponsor us anymore."

The blood drained from Catt's face. "Wait…wait, what do you mean they refuse to sponsor you anymore?" She felt short of breath.

"The last check we received from them is the last. The very last. We…we can't afford to…" Elliot's voice began to waver, and tears sprang to his eyes. He took off his glasses and sniffed. "We can't afford to run the Oceandome anymore."

"No." Catt sank to the ground, her fists clawing the carpet. "No…that can't be."

"Oh, Cascatta, you don't know how sorry I am…"

"Get me out of here, Elliot," she said, her teeth clenched. "Get me out of here! I swear…I swear, Elliot, let me and my brother out and we…we won't tell the police. I swear. On my life, I swear!" Elliot stared at her blankly, his eyes filled with hurt. Tears rushed down Catt's face. "How much time do we have left?"

"Two weeks," Elliot said, extremely quietly. "Two weeks."

"Elliot…tell me one thing."

"What?"

"What am I worth to you?" Catt asked him.

"Not much, anymore," Elliot replied, turning slightly away. Catt's heart dropped. "I make up things too, Catt. There may not be cameras near that waterfall in the Oasis, but there are listening devices. I made sure to record the small and humble conversation you had with Ezekiel and Jeremy."

"No." Catt shook her head. "No…Elliot, I'm so sorry."

"So am I."

The screen flickered and shut off, leaving Catt kicking at it and screaming at the top of her lungs.

-17-

"So. Do they know yet?" Rhett asked his son, who was sitting in his swivel chair, looking extremely forlorn. Christian was slumped in a corner, smoking another pack of cigarettes. The second pack that day. He was exceedingly agitated.

Elliot nodded. "I told Cascatta. The rest will find out."

"Good. I think it's only fair that they know their time left on this Earth is limited…El, are you crying?"

Elliot wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. "No…no, of course not."

"Damn those Earnshaws." Rhett removed one of the cigarettes from Christian's pack and lit it. "Damn those Earnshaws!…do you want one, Elliot?"

"Dad…if you haven't forgotten, I'm your sixteen year-old son…"

"That's right." Rhett looked thoughtful. "Tell me…Elliot…why did you tell this Cascatta Ward girl and no one else?"

Christian laughed. "Well, that's a simple one, Rhett. He stalks that girl day and night." He choked, and then laughed again. "You should see him…up all night with the A50 camera on Zoom In. It's hysterical, actually. Ain't it, El?"

"Yeah, very funny." Elliot rolled his eyes.

"Well, we better treat the Oceandome citizens as well as possible in their last few." Rhett smiled, and brought out eight grocery bags. Elliot peered in them. They contained cakes and doughnuts and soda and beer and cigars, and an endless amount of rich junk food and drinks. "I know what you're thinking…where did good ol' Rhett get the money to buy this?…help me out here and take a bag or two, you guys…well, that answer is pretty simple…"

Rhett didn't finish his sentence. He opened the glass case and positioned the submarine against the glass door on the outside of the Dome, and then unlocked the inside door of the case. "I got it from the generous amounts of money that were supplied to us by Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw." Elliot and Christian looked at each other strangely as they hauled the last of the grocery bags into the glass confinement. Without warning, Rhett shut the door and locked it, laughing almost banefully.

"Oh my God!" screamed Elliot, pounding at the door. "Dad, Dad…you can't do this to us! You can't!"

Rhett laughed, and pulled the lever to open the Oceandome's glass door. "Welcome to your new home, boys."

Christian glared. "I am not moving!"

"Suit yourself," Rhett laughed. He raised his finger to a button above the lever. Elliot's eyes widened. The sleeping gas method. Elliot glared at Rhett and slid out of the glass cage, taking Christian along with him. "You'll be sorry, you bastard!" Elliot screamed. "You'll be sorry!"

"I am sorry, Elliot!" Rhett cried. "But I can't have that risk of you and your soft little heart and Christian with his goddamn fingerprints all over the state of Florida!" He shut the sliding door and removed the submarine from the Dome. Elliot's face turned bright red with anger.

"Elliot! Christian!" cried Finny, rushing over to them. "What…what are you doing here?"

"My own father betrayed me," Elliot said, lowering his eyes to the ground. "My own father, for Christ's sake."

Christian ran to the side of the Dome and kicked it, his face beet red from anger as he shouted profanities at the top of his lungs. June stood calmly at his side. "You know how it feels now, don't you, Christian? To know you'll never see the light of real day again?"

"Shut up, June!"

"Just a taste of your own medicine." June shrugged. "Dinner will be ready in an hour."

"Shut up, all of you!" Christian screamed, and buried his head in his knees. Elliot rushed around, trying desperately to find Catt. "Where is Catt?" he kept asking everyone, who only shook their heads. "Does anyone know where she is? Anybody?"

"Here I am." Catt appeared before him, her eyes narrowed. "So, Rhett misled you both, huh?" She laughed, and shook her head. "Serves you right. Serves you damn right, Elliot Rance. Maybe if you had just let us out of here in the first place, we all would be safe, on land!"

"Maybe I would have if you hadn't tricked me!" Elliot screamed back, his teeth chattering in anger. By then many people in the Courtyard had stopped to watch the argument.

"What was I supposed to do, Elliot?" Catt cried. "Was I supposed to ask you nicely if you'd free us from the underwater prison? God, you don't know how it feels, to know you'll never see the light of day again!" She stopped herself, and lowered her voice. "Well, now you do. Now you do, and you can just die with the rest of us!"

"Good! I was planning on killing myself anyway, for God's sake!"

"You were what?"

"I was! I was going to let you all out…and then stab myself. Or poison myself or something, I swear to God."

"Wh-why would you do that?" Catt asked him, shaking her head in sheer disbelief.

Elliot hung his head. "Because…well, in the first place, I realized I had no reason for living. And then there was you…and I thought you liked me and all, but I suppose I was wrong after turning on the listening devices on my computer and hearing you and Zeke and Jeremy…" Krin, who was standing in the crowd, gasped and walked away, stomping on the ground.

"Oh Elliot. Oh Elliot…I'm-" Catt looked around at the nearly thirty faces watching them, including her brother. She grabbed Elliot's hand and led him to Tunnel One, and walked until they were out of sight of the rest of the Oceandome citizens. She stood Elliot against a moss overgrown wall and faced him. "Listen, Elliot, I'm positive you would have done the same thing if you were in my position. Everything is so different here…and you're different from me. You're adorable, and you're smart, and…and…you are every quality I've ever looked for, you know? But it's different in the Oceandome. Everything is just opposite."

"What are you saying?" Elliot asked her, his expression softening.

"I haven't finished yet." Catt sighed, and brushed the dark hair off of her shoulders. She gave him a wry smile and lowered her eyes. "Every single waking moment I have spent in this Oceandome I have spent thinking about no one but you…contrary to our differences, and contrary to the fact that you were my captor. Something tells me that it was fate or something of the sort that brought me here, and…and I'm a strong believer in fate, you know. If we were meant to be together, then everything will turn out right."

"Are you saying…are you saying we were meant to be together?" Elliot asked her, his heart pounding in his chest. He knew it wasn't another trick…no, it couldn't be, he was just as helpless and alone as she.

"God…I hope fate is right this time," Catt said, and Elliot leaned forward and kissed her. Catt felt her heart twist in her chest as she kissed him back…something she wanted to do the first time.

But…he's the enemy…he's my kidnapper, my captor, my abductor…

But all of her thoughts had just let go. At that moment, she was alive as she had ever been, with no threat of death and no walls surrounding her. Just Elliot. There was just Elliot.

-18-

The enormous screen in the Courtyard flickered, and created a static noise so loud that everyone stopped what they were doing to watch it. Christian stood his guard, his jaw clenched and his fists gripped, waiting to scream at Rhett. Elliot and Catt emerged from the tunnel and stood with Finny and Ira, who were watching in anticipation.

The screen flickered again, and Rhett appeared in his swivel chair, smoking a cigar. "You bastard! Let me out of here, you-"

"Christian, Christian, Christian," Rhett said, almost mockingly. "There's no need to make a fuss. Ladies and gentlemen of the Oceandome," Rhett continued, flicking his cigar. "I have taken the good will to buy you all some cigars and beer and other rich food that you can all enjoy in your last few hours on this Earth…which were brought in by my two new prisoners, Christian Vanlinder and my dear son, Elliot Rance."

"What the hell do you mean, next few hours?" Elliot cried. There was a murmur in the crowd.

Rhett smirked and motioned toward the panel in front of him, twisting the camera to give the people a clear look at it it. "Do you see this control panel?" he started. "This control panel controls everything in the Oceandome, thanks to the generous donations of Jack and Rachel Earnshaw. It controls the air pressure, and heat and the lighting…but most importantly, it controls the oxygen."

"Oh my God," Elliot muttered, his heart pounding.

"Yes, Elliot, oh my God is right," Rhett said. He opened the small glass case surrounding the "oxygen" knob, and twisted it all the way to his left. "This amount of oxygen that I have just given the Oceandome is enough to supply fifty-three people with enough oxygen to last for almost four hours."

"You bastard!" cried one woman from the crowd, and the rest followed, cursing.

Rhett laughed. "You're quite right about that. I am quite a bastard, in my own respect. Good bye, ladies and gentlemen." The screen and lights surrounding it flickered again, and the screen shut off. There was an enormous frantic rustle in the crowd, some screaming at the top of their lungs and others on their hands and knees, sobbing.

"Isn't there anything we can do?" Catt asked Elliot, tugging frantically at his sleeve.

Elliot shook his head forlornly. "No. No…there's nothing."

Christian sat in a corner of the Courtyard and started sobbing…choking, gasping sobs. "I need a cigarette!" he cried.

"Shut up, Christian!" Elliot yelled. "I need to think about how we can get out of here in four hours…"

"Don't you have the keys?" Catt asked him.

Elliot grimaced. "Dad took them from me a few hours before he trapped us in here. Goddamnit…but even if we did have the keys, it wouldn't be of much help. We're far too deep."

Christian sniffed, and walked up to Elliot and Catt. "You know what?" he said, still wheezing. "I really need to call my mother. If any of you want to use the phone after me…it's right here." He removed a cell phone from his jacket and started dialing. Elliot snatched it out of his hands, his eyes glowing. "Say, what's the big idea?" cried Christian.

"You dumb ass!" cried Elliot, ecstatic. "This phone…we can call the police! We're saved!" He rushed up to the front of the crowd, who were all in hysterics, and screamed out loud, "Ladies and gentlemen of the Oceandome, we have here a cell phone!"

There was an excited murmur through the people as Elliot started dialing the operator. "Get me the police," he stated.

"Cantrell Police Station," a bored woman's voice said over the other line. The connection was somewhat static-y, but Elliot could hear her clearly enough.

"Hello, this is Elliot Rance. I believe there are fifty-one missing people who would like to go home now."

"Jesus!" cried the woman, and stammered, "Mr. R-rance, let me put you on hold."

An officer picked up the phone. "Where are they, Elliot?" he practically screamed through the speaker. "Where are they?"

"Calm down," Elliot replied, almost chuckling. "We're all here, all fifty-three of us, including Christian Vanlinder and I, in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, at 36 degrees latitude and 48 degrees longitude. Hurry, we have to be out of here in four hours."

"We're sending the water patrol as we speak, Mr. Rance."

"Good. And while you're at it, send someone to find and arrest Rhett Rance...who will have an identification of Peter Dawson on his submarine license. He's somewhere around here in a Model Depaco Submarine…an orange one, year 2196. He's the one who kidnapped us, sir. And we have four hours, don't forget."

Elliot hung up the phone, and threw it at Christian. The entire Oceandome roared with laughter and joy, and everyone started embracing each other. "We're getting out of here!" they all cried. "We're going home!"

"What do you suppose will happen to you?" Catt asked Elliot.

Elliot shrugged. "I'll get arrested. I'm a minor, so they'll probably ship me off to Juvenile Detention Center for about a hundred years." He laughed at Catt's worried face. "Or I'll just go to prison."

Catt's heart had dropped to her stomach. "You mean…you mean…you'll get locked up?"

"Don't worry, sweetheart. I'll be back."

Catt took in a deep breath, and knew that soon she'd be smelling the fresh air of Earth…but somehow it wasn't enough. Somehow, she felt she had to protect Elliot. Her heart wrenched in her chest, and she wrapped her arms around him. "Don't leave me, Elliot," she sobbed. "I couldn't handle it…"

"You'll be fine without me," Elliot whispered. "I know you. You're a strong one, Cascatta. Go back to your mum and dad and they'll be overwhelmed to see you again, I'm sure. And Ira, too."

"I know they will, but it's not the same…"

"It's all right. You'll be fine."

-19-

FIFTY-ONE MISSING PERSONS FOUND ALIVE AND WELL

September 5, 2199

The fifty-one missing people who had mysteriously disappeared in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico were found yesterday, after the Cantrell police received a call from Elliot Rance, 16, scientist Rhett Rance's son. Rance had created a spectacular underwater prison in the Gulf which he called the "Oceandome". (Details of the "Oceandome" explained on page A13.)

Rance's assistants had been his own son, Elliot, and his friend, Christian Vanlinder, of whom he soon betrayed and locked into the Oceandome as well. All three have been arrested and will be taken to court next Monday, along with their sponsors, the famous scientists Jack and Rachel Earnshaw of Liverpool, England, who illegally donated money toward Rance and his cause.

"There was a part of me that wishes I wouldn't have left," says victim Cascatta Ward, 16, of Cantrell. "It was beginning to become my home. But then another part of me is completely happy to be back on dry land, with my friends and my family."

The victims are all alive and all in excellent health. The government has decided to use the blueprints of the Oceandome to create, in the future, a living environment to help ease the threat of overpopulation. The government will pay Rance handsomely for his blueprints, if he is ever released from prison, which will be decided on Monday.

When asked if she'd ever return to the Oceandome, Colette Holden replies, "If I could destroy it, I would."

TURN TO OCEANDOME, A13

"Well, you've been home for two days now, and all of our relatives are in town," Annette Ward told her children enthusiastically. "We're all going out to dinner. To celebrate your return."

"You can order anything you like," Blake added, smiling.

"All right!" Ira cried, and raced around the house boat. He'd had to explain to his parents over and over again that he hadn't been starved and beaten, but they wouldn't believe it. Annette had been so overjoyed to hear from the police that she let the receiver hang while she sat in the nearest chair, on the verge of fainting, she was sobbing so hysterically.

Catt sat in her room, most of the time, just staring out the window. She didn't want to be back home, as much as she thought she had wanted to be. Everything was too perfect. There was no fear, no apprehension, and no dread. It was boring…and she also missed Elliot. She missed him with a pain too deep for words. Ira didn't understand it, and she never bothered explaining it to the press or to her parents or her friends, even. She just sat there, and sometimes wrote letters to her friends Infinity and Jeremy, and then crumpled them up and knew that the chances were slim that she'd ever see them again.

Then her mind switched back to Elliot…his face, his voice, everything. Just thinking about him made her exceedingly depressed. She wanted to wish herself back to those days in the Oceandome, the days where she and Finny and Jeremy would walk through the tunnels and fish in Rance's Pond and have their "sleep overs" in each other's apartments. A tear silently slipped down her cheek as she laid in bed and thought of it. And now, Elliot was in prison, and she didn't know if she'd ever see him again.

"If we were meant to be together, then everything will turn out right," she told herself, repeating what she had spoken to Elliot days earlier. We were meant to be together. I just couldn't realize it soon enough.

"Catt! We're going to meet your grandparents and cousins over on shore!" her mother called down to her.

"I'll be right up, Mum."

"What'd you just call me?"

"Mom…I mean, Mom." Catt sat up in bed and threw the covers off of her legs. She stood up and walked toward her closet, trying to find something nice she could wear. When she came near her port hole window, her legs gave way and she fell on the ground, so unbelievably in shock she could barely breathe.

On the outside of her window, its color glinted by the dusk sun, laid a tinted blue daisy.