Read The next continent Online

Authors: Issui Ogawa

The next continent

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The Next Continent© 2003 Issui OgawaOriginally published in Japan by Hayakawa Publishing, Inc.

English translation © 2010 VIZ Media, LLC

All rights reserved.

No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the copyright holders.

HAIKASORUPublished byVIZ Media, LLC295 Bay StreetSan Francisco, CA

ISBN: 978-1-4215-3955-3Haikasoru eBook edition, August 2010




Chapter 1:Project Site and Initial Planning

Chapter 2:Operational Status of Existing Facilities

Chapter 3:Launch Vehicle Development andLaunch Facility



Chapter 4:Site Investigation and Announcement

Chapter 5:Construction and Exploitation Rights to the Lunar Surface

Chapter 6:Risk Management and Damage Control

Chapter 7:Second Environmental Assessment and New Construction Plan



Chapter 8:Architecture, Operations Management, and Additional Construction

Chapter 9:Permanent Settlement—and Beyond






A SERIES OFdistant booms reverberated through the bridge of the deep submergence shuttleLeviathan. Startled out of a light doze in the rear jump seat, Sohya Aomine opened his eyes. “What's that?”

“It's a school ofanguiras, sir.”

The pilot pointed toward the quartz viewport from his seat at the controls. Countless thousands of bizarre fish the size of a finger were swarming up from the depths.

“Eel fry, sir. In Japan we only see the adults. They say the breeding grounds are in the Mariana Trench. What are they doing way out here? This is amazing.”

The pilot was struck with wonder at the hordes of willow-shaped fingerlings flooding through the cone of light from the ship's halogens and back into the inky darkness. Sohya glanced around the bridge uneasily. “No, that's not what I meant.”

“I'm sorry?”

“Didn't you hear that?” said Sohya.

“They're striking all over the hull. Sounds a bit like rain, doesn't it?”

“No. There was something else.” Sohya listened closely. The sound that had awakened him, almost like the low-frequency pealing of a temple bell, seemed to have vanished. Or maybe it was back, like a distant echo? Switching his attention momentarily to the shower of fish outside had left him disoriented. “I'm going to have a look aft.”

“You shouldn't miss this, sir. We may be the first to witness it.”

“We had to use ultrasound to keep those things away during construction.” Sohya grinned at the astonished pilot and went into the passenger cabin.

Leviathan's forty VIPs seemed to have settled in following the excitement that had prevailed during boarding. Half of them dozed or looked about to nod off. The rest perused magazines or chatted quietly with seatmates. They seemed little different from airline passengers, blithely unaware of the hostile environment just outside the metal walls of the compartment. Everything in the windowless cabin seemed peaceful. With no portholes, there was no view; there would have been nothing to see anyway.Leviathanwas two thousand meters beneath the surface.

Looking good, thought Sohya with a sense of satisfaction. If this nervous group of VIPs could feel so relaxed, the transition to commercial operation should be trouble free. A group of elementary school students would be hard to keep quiet in this environment, but otherwise the experience seemed unlikely to spark anxiety in the average traveler.

Sohya looked toward the rear of the cabin and stopped in surprise. In the last row, at the end of a long line of heads showing above the roomy seats, a small white beret peeked out, almost concealed by the head of the passenger one row forward.A child? What's going on… Then Sohya remembered that children hadn't been banned—just not invited, as far as he knew.She must be with one of the VIPs.A thatch of snow-white hair rose above the next backrest. Yes, someone else must have brought her along. Nothing to worry about.

In point of fact, there should have been nothing to worry about at all, at least not from Sohya's standpoint. His employer was Gotoba Engineering & Construction, the builders of Dragon Palace. Sohya did not answer to the five-nation development consortium that operated the undersea facilities and the shuttle subs. Operational safety was the responsibility of the consortium, which at this precise moment meant the pilot. Safety had been a priority in the shuttles' development and construction long before the first weld. And even had Sohya been prone to worry, he was in no position to fix a mechanical problem under two kilometers of ocean.

Still, the twenty-five-year-old engineer could not shake a feeling of apprehension. Sea trials had gone smoothly, and the vessel was no longer his responsibility, but he still felt that this was his boat. In any case, he was not heading for Dragon Palace to attend the soft-launch party. The last inspection before handoff would occupy every available minute of his time. Right now he had a glitch to track down.

He refocused his attention and moved slowly down the aisle toward the rear of the cabin. A well-dressed male passenger in the second row—Sohya guessed he was a member of the Philippine delegation—looked up. “When does coffee service begin, please?”

“I'm sorry, the soft drinks distributed before boarding were the only service on this run. Drinking water is available anytime.” Sohya gestured to a small dispenser recessed into the seat back in front of the passenger, whose silent frown suggested he had been expecting more than tap water.

Sohya continued down the aisle at a measured pace, wondering if bringing stewards would have been a good idea, but in a moment his attention returned to the sonic anomaly.

Leviathan's layout was straightforward: bridge forward, passenger compartment in the center, power plant aft. Nearly all of the ship's machinery and control hydraulics were contained inside her twenty-one cylindrical meters of high-tensile steel. Two rudder propellers projecting from the stern provided the only source of propulsion and steering. This seamless, primitive shape was required ifLeviathanwas to withstand the two-hundred-atmosphere overpressures at this depth. Her only means of ascent and descent were the ranks of ballast tanks arranged in three independent arrays—forward, amidships, and aft—along the underside of the vessel. Compressed air injected into the tanks expelled seawater and provided positive buoyancy; drawing water in to expel the air brought the sub lower. Other than the turbopump for compressed air, the sub's buoyancy system used no machinery of any kind.

This streamlined, compact design was not without its drawbacks. Compared to a thruster-equipped submarine, response was slow and pitch control limited at best. The design was adequate for the stable, slow currents of the deep ocean, but three passengers moving forward or aft was enough to affect the sub's trim. Providing drinking water at the seats would hopefully limit movement about the cabin. Sohya's leisurely pace was also intended to ease the pilot's efforts to maintain trim.

Sohya was concerned that the sonic anomaly he heard might signal a design flaw. Gotoba Engineering had acquired the basic design forLeviathanand her sister ships—KrakenandSea Serpent—from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, with modifications and design enhancements implemented during construction. The original plans were meant for shallow-water undersea tourism at one hundred meters or less. For deep submergence, passenger viewports were eliminated, and the hull material was switched to the same dependable high-performance alloy used in the outer shell of the Palace domes. The real challenge was building a compressor capable of forcing air into the ballast tanks at ambient pressures far greater than those near the surface. A solution was finally found by licensing hydrogen-turbine technology developed for rocket engines.

The Mitsubishi engineer assured Sohya that the turbine design had been verified by multiple tests to destruction (in other words, explosion) and was thoroughly reliable. Sohya was not completely convinced. In fact, compressor problems had detainedLeviathanin port for three hours today after her sisters departed.

Still, even if they were actually forced to halt and wait on the sea floor, two identical vessels were available for rescue operations. The passenger compartment was designed as an independent unit; no critical power or control circuits were routed through that section of the boat. A blue whale could rest on the compartment without causing a leak. Whatever the origin of that sound, it was not a matter of life or death—at least in theory. But Sohya could not afford to be complacent. He knew too much.

Only one man-made structure is fail-safe: the structure no one builds. Any existing structure is inevitably subject to failure.Years earlier, Sohya had heard an English automotive engineer drily make this observation, and with these words echoing in his mind, he reached the rear of the passenger compartment and the door to the aft service area.

As he put his hand on the latch, he was stopped by a pure, high voice, like the strings of a harp.

“I saw the sound. Right here.” He glanced down to his right. A pair of sparkling round eyes, like a puppy's, met his.

It was the girl. Her large pupils in the shadow of long lashes were calm, open, and direct. Straight black hair flowed out from under her beret, framing smooth white cheeks and falling almost to her waist. A black sailor jacket with a broad white collar, a white flared skirt, ankle socks, spotless loafers. The overall effect, down to the beret, suggested the uniform of some private academy. She sat with knees aligned, one small, balled fist resting on them. To all appearances, a girl of good family, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old.

Sohya took three of the five seconds of silence that ensued to observe and draw conclusions. The other two seconds went into analyzing the girl's statement, but he still had no idea what she might mean.

“What's this all about?” he answered at length. The girl pointed to the water dispenser with a graceful flick of the finger.

“I saw the sound right there.”

“What sound?” Without thinking, “What sound?” Without thinking, Sohya had raised his voice. He glanced quickly around. None of the passengers seemed to have noticed. He leaned forward and said quietly, “What kind of sound did you hear?”

“Booming sounds. Like someone kicking an empty oil drum.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Oh…didn't you leave the cockpit because you saw it too? You came back here right after it happened.” She looked down at the floor, contrite, but Sohya nodded. The timing matched. She must have heard the same sounds. He hadn't imagined them.

“Look, thanks for letting me know. Do me a favor, okay? Let's not tell anyone.” He started to enter the service compartment but was stopped again, this time by the old man.

“Just a minute, my friend. I don't think my granddaughter is finished yet.”

Sohya winced. “I'm sorry, I'm really in a hurry.” The old gentleman had a neatly trimmed white beard to match his thick hair and was dressed in a white three-piece suit accented by a red bow tie. He reminded Sohya of the life-size mannequins found outside a certain chain of fast food restaurants in Japan. As if to complete the effect, the old man was wearing the right sort of heavy, blackframed glasses. Despite his somewhat loud attire, he had an air of refinement similar to the girl's.

Sohya hadn't changed his tan Gotoba work jumpsuit in three days and was starting to feel a bit out of place. But this was no time to defer to wealth. “I'll come back when I'm done and you can tell me all about it.”

“Now look here, young man. This little girl's ears are quite sharp. Or shall we say, her sense of pitch. Either way, it will pay to hear what she has to say. You have my personal guarantee.”

“I'm not sure who I'm speaking to here, but—”

The man cut him off. “Go on, Tae. You heard something that worried you, isn't that right?” He gave her hand a squeeze. Sohya felt himself sliding toward a confrontation when the girl spoke up.

“Grandfather, don't be so insistent. I think this man has important business to take care of.” She lowered her eyes timidly again. Now Sohya was trapped. He sighed and squatted next to her seat. “Okay, I'm listening.”

“Very good, young man. A true gentleman always bends to the requests of women.”

“Don't preach, Grandfather,” said the girl. Then to Sohya: “Thank you. I know you must be very busy.”

He bowed slightly, caught up in the formality. Then something the girl had said struck him. “You said you saw the sound, not heard it. What did you mean?”

“Of course I heard it. But I saw the little faucet shake too.”

Sohya stared at the push-button water dispenser in front of her. Below the faucet was a simple cup tray. The faucet operated only with a cup in the tray, but water would continue flowing as long as the button was depressed. The system was not protected by an antivibration compensator. But why would it be? And why would the faucet move enough to be visible to the naked eye?

“Do you see it shaking now? The ship's drive makes things vibrate a little too, you know,” said Sohya.

“No. That's different. When I heard the sound, the faucet shook ever so slightly.”

“Are you sure?”

“I'm sure. I know what I saw.” Tae peered at him intently. For a few moments, Sohya searched his mind for an answer. The pipes feeding the water dispensers extended under the compartment floor into the rear service area. From there they junctioned to a pipe that rose to the ceiling, where the water tank was installed. There was no pump, no control valves—the whole system was gravity fed. To simplify sanitation maintenance, the pipes were separate from the electrical conduits and climate-control systems. If some sort of impulse were traveling down those pipes, it meant the tank was involved.

Sohya turned this over in his mind.The water tank…how did we implement that, anyway?

Mitsubishi's original shallow-depth plans had storage for a communications buoy where the water tank was now located. When the boat was submerged, the buoy would float topside on a cable tether, giving the pilot a communications link to the sub tender. This was not an option forLeviathan, which had to be capable of dives exceeding two thousand meters. Instead, a compact, ultra-low-frequency transmitter was installed on the hull, making communication possible even in the depths of the ocean.

So the tank was installed where the buoy was originally going to be stowed. Was that the problem?

As he considered the possibilities, Sohya froze. There would be some space between the buoy and the compartment walls—enough to accommodate a tiny amount of compression when submerged. At two hundred atmospheres of overpressure, even the ultra-highstrength steel hull would shrink by a few percent. All interior compartments and fittings were designed to take such shrinkage into account.

The tank was attached to the pressure hull. That meant hull shrinkage would directly affect the tank, and the system did not incorporate control valves. There was no overflow outlet. So the tank design did not allow for significant pressure shrinkage; but that was not a flaw. With a bit of free air space in the tank, the pressure would be neutralized.

Still, there was no operating protocol in place for limiting the amount of water in the tank. And if the tank were filled completely…

His thoughts were cut off by a shout coming from a few rows forward. “What the hell?!”

The next moments passed in slow motion. Sohya sprang to his feet and ran. The problem was no longer theoretical. He could hear water gushing under high pressure before he reached the seat of the well-dressed man who had asked for coffee. Perhaps the passenger had decided water would be better than nothing at all; in any case, the moment he pushed the dispenser button, the cork was out of the bottle. Sohya yelled back, “Don't take your thumb off the button! Keep pressing!” At the same time, he reached out for the nearest water dispenser. But he was too late.

“Damn!” The passenger took his thumb off the button. A sharp bang immediately reverberated through the compartment—exactly what Sohya had tried to prevent by opening another escape route for the pressure.Water hammer!

Bringing the surging water to a sudden stop created a highpressure shock wave that propagated throughout the plumbing system in seconds. That transient spike was far outside the design limit of the dispensers. In the next instant, forty faucets in forty seat backs blew out of their sockets, spewing like fire hoses. The compartment was instantly plunged into pandemonium. Some of the passengers tried to escape by climbing up on their seats. A few were literally blown into the aisles as they tried to stand up. Sohya shouted, “Keep calm! We're not flooding!”

No one paid attention. The screaming, praying, and terror continued unabated. He rushed back aft. The girl was holding on to her beret with one hand and trying to divert the water with the other. He reached out to her. “You okay?”

“Yes. My clothes are soaked, but I guess this is one way to do the laundry.” She tugged at the hem of her dress and forced a smile. Her unflappable demeanor in the midst of this confusion was contagious. Sohya grinned.

“You're cooler than you look. You think this is the way to do laundry?”

“Not with seawater. But it's fresh…”

Sohya was thunderstruck. A bizarre inspiration flashed through his mind. He turned to the compartment and bellowed:

“Drink it!”

Instant silence. Some of the VIPs stared at Sohya as if he were crazy. He seized the opening.

“Go ahead! It's not salty. It's drinking water. We're not flooding!” A few of the passengers unfroze and began hesitatingly scooping water into their hands.

“He's right!”

“Itisfresh water!”

“So what's going on? Did someone light up?”

“No sprinklers on board,” said Sohya. “Just a plumbing problem. Naturally, smoking is still prohibited.”

With this attempt at humor, Sohya managed to gain everyone's attention. He explained that the water tank had overflowed. With only fifty liters in the tank, the water would soon stop. Since the weight of the water was merely shifting from one place to another, buoyancy would be unaffected.

Sure enough, as he was speaking, the flow of water slowed and stopped. The passengers began to calm down. They were distinguished representatives from companies and countries around the world, and no one made a fuss once it was clear there was no danger—other than the one complaint Sohya was expecting.

“I went all the way to Savile Row for this suit. Will I have to ruin a four-thousand-euro suit whenever I use this shuttle?” Again, the coffee service guy. Sohya was appropriately apologetic and promised to ensure that compensation would be made.

Once the passengers had calmed down, Sohya went to the service compartment. A shock strong enough to blow off the faucets would not have affected the pressure hull, but the tank had to be checked. As he passed the last row, Tae's grandfather spoke up.

“Mind if we take a look?”

“Be my guest,” Sohya answered stiffly. He was not used to looking after passengers but was too tired to object. He opened the door to the service compartment and walked past the circuit boxes and CO2scrubbers toward the back of the small room. He stared up at the tank. It was a simple sheet metal box, but the sides had ballooned outward, as if something had detonated inside it. Tae stood next to him, gazing up and nodding. “So that noise was the sound of this box expanding. I'm sorry,” she said.

“For what?”

“I should have told you sooner. Then no one would've gotten wet.”

“You don't have to apologize. I should've at least tried to make sureyoudidn't get wet.”

“No need to take it so hard,” said the old man. “You're not one of the crew, are you?”

“No. I'm with Gotoba Engineering. We built Dragon Palace and the three shuttles.”

“Then this isn't your problem. Well, no—I guess it is. But it's not important. You handled the situation perfectly. ‘Drink!' That was a stroke of genius. ‘Drink!'” The old man laughed briefly. “And your name?”

“Sohya Aomine. I work for Gotoba's Engineering Task Force.”

“I'll remember that. Let's be going, Tae.”

“Yes, Grandfather.”

The old man took the girl's hand, and they headed for their seats. Sohya called after them, “I'm sorry, but who are you?”

“Oh, you'll see us again soon enough. Who we are isn't important right now. Perhaps you'd better get your passengers some towels?”

This obvious measure had escaped Sohya completely. He hurriedly returned to the passengers to explain how to access the blankets under their seats. Back on the bridge, he met a barrage of questions from the pilot, who had had to stay at the controls throughout the entire incident.

By the time Sohya finished his explanations,Leviathan's navigation lights had pierced the darkness to reveal a number of gigantic egg-shaped domes laid out in a geometric pattern on the ocean floor. It was Dragon Palace, the multipurpose undersea city of the Spratly Islands.


TWO THOUSAND KILOMETERSsouth of Japan, in the South China Sea between the Philippines and Vietnam, an archipelago of more than 650 reefs, atolls, and islands lay like pebbles scattered across the ocean surface. Since the end of World War II, the Spratly Islands had been the focus of a struggle for territorial rights between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

The prize at stake was not the insignificant bits of land peeking out above the sea. It was the vast, deep-ocean oil fields in the surrounding waters. The islands had been used as an anchorage since the time of Ming dynasty Fleet Admiral Zheng He, and China's territorial claims were the most insistent. The Chinese had surveyed the area and estimated that it held as much as two hundred billion barrels of oil, nearly as much as Saudi Arabia's known reserves. In fact, since the end of the twentieth century, Malaysia had been producing millions of cubic feet of natural gas every day from offshore platforms. That enormous treasure lay beneath these waters was a certainty.

During the first two decades of the twenty-first century, oil had become increasingly precious, and friction between the five nations surrounding the Spratlys had intensified. They began competing to build structures on the islands, and occasional exchanges of gunfire erupted between rival patrol boats. In 2018, after eighty-five crewmen died when a Chinese frigate exchanged fire with a Philippine missile cruiser, the five nations decided the situation had become too dangerous.

By this point, the overall international political climate had turned toward reconciliation and cooperation. The wars between the United States and the Islamic world during the first decade of the century had subsided after an undignified American retreat forced on the president by public opinion. Since then, use of military force in pursuit of national aims had fallen out of sync with the international political climate. No matter how great the value of the Spratlys' oil, the idea of going to war over it was unacceptable. The five nations agreed to set aside long-held grudges and find a path to peaceful cooperation. They formed a joint consortium to develop the Spratlys, and after casting about for a way forward, they agreed to start with a joint construction project that had no connection with resource exploitation. The project would serve as a symbol of their commitment to avoid armed conflict.

The consortium issued a call for competitive submissions from urban planners and civil engineers around the world. Proposals ranged from amusement parks and resorts to a peace memorial, a network of enormous spans to link the islands, and even an eight-hundred-meter observation tower looking out over mostly empty ocean. The winning proposal was Dragon Palace, Gotoba Engineering's vision of a multipurpose undersea city.

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