An actual submarine this time—not a shark, which had caused the last shadow. Maya knew when anything approached her bunker by the shadows cast through the windows, and right now something darkened half her downstairs. The spotlights outside stretched silhouettes into unrecognizable shapes, but there could only be one thing this large and this close.
She threw a chemical-soaked towel in the laundry machine and then ran to the kitchen to get a better look. By the time her cheek was pressed to the cold window, the entry chamber had already groaned open and began glutting itself with sea water. Crap. That meant she had about five minutes to get ready.
She ran up the white fiberglass stairs to her room, threw a dress-coat over her clothes, slipped into some nicer shoes, and then ran back downstairs, still pulling a brush through her thick black hair. Air had finished pumping into the entry chamber by the time she was seated at the piano—legs crossed, hands folded, brush concealed, chin up.
Stepmother would expect Maya to have learned a new song in the two weeks since her last visit. It pleased Stepmother and the other researchers even more when she composed her own songs; they said it showed she was handling Dad's death well. She never told them she was just improvising. She hated practicing.
The entry chamber's inner door rolled open. Maya noted a new submarine beached on the chamber's landing dock, freshly painted with the familiar insignia of her parents' research team. The hatch on top was already open, and Stepmother was descending the ladder. A second person—a man—came out, and Maya's chest buoyed with hope. Of course it wasn't him. Her heart sank; she shouldn't have been so gullible. This man, like the submarine, was new.
The paper bags in Stepmother's hands rustled as she walked into the kitchen. "Maya, dear, I'm going to put these supplies on the counter for you. Won't you play me a song?"
She called back, "Yes Mother," turned to the piano, and described her day to the keys: a drifting motif for the jellyfish that came by earlier, a slide-bobbing one for the squid, and a joyful-yet-hectic tune for the little explosion that went on earlier in the kitchen that she never quite finished cleaning up.
She hoped Stepmother would believe it was a cooking accident. She'd hidden Dad's old chemistry textbook under the sink when that not-quite-submarine-sized shark swam by. Experiments were her way of recreating the world where she could reach it. Music was her diary.
"That's lovely," the man said.
Maya disliked him already. To most people, piano music was always "lovely" or "relaxing"—or, if by some miracle it wasn't either of those things, they'd request a different song and look at you like you were a little off. It was different if they actually listened.
She hadn't even heard the man come into the living room. The carpet was plush here—probably enough to absorb anybody's footsteps. He was seated on the couch now, watching her with an intensity that made her uncomfortable.
She brought the melody to melancholy: the infinite darkness beyond the light of her home. When Dad died, she'd spent a whole day just gazing into those shades of navy and black. She imagined getting lost deep in the ocean was like drifting into space. Some nights she'd thought it would swallow her whole: soundless, unable to scream.
For the sake of her own sanity, she'd learned to focus on what she could see. There were still days when she felt the darkness at the edges of her mind like it was outside—waiting. She let the music fade to an end. She silently dared the man to call that lovely.
Stepmother applauded as she entered the room. "Thank you, dear. That's just what I needed to relax." Maya gritted her teeth and hid her cringe. "What do you call that one?"
She was supposed to say something cheerful. Name it after the jellyfish, perhaps. Lacy living water. Nothing offensive about them. Except when they stung people. She'd read that some of them could even kill you. She would call it Jellies, then. That would sugarcoat it nicely. Maya smiled.
"Depths," she said.
"Depths." Stepmother smiled back. Her lips were a strange shade of orangy-red. Lipstick. "How... deep. You're a true artist, darling, just like your mother." After a beat, she continued, "Maya, I'd like you to meet Mister Tapia."
He came over to the piano to shake her hand. His grip was too strong. "I know who you are, of course," he said. "Flora and the others speak of you constantly." He laughed and released her hand. She decided she would call him Tilapia.
Stepmother cleared her throat.
Maya tried to smile brightly. "Pleased to meet you."
Tilapia gave Stepmother a knowing look, and Maya wondered if her smile had seemed more like a snarl. The man bent towards her and said, "Don't worry about me; I'll be gone before you know it. Thank you for welcoming me into your home."
She had done no such thing.
"You know how much we adore you," Stepmother said. "In fact, that's why Mister Tapia is here. There have been tsunami warnings in the area—nothing too close, don't worry—and we thought it would be a good time to make sure everything's holding up as it should. Mister Tapia is our new structural engineer."
Maya didn't think a tsunami threat was that big of a deal—she'd spent her entire life submerged in water, so what was wrong with more water?—but Stepmother and the research team were obviously worried. She had to admit, she had noticed a shift in the ocean lately.
More creatures had wandered up by her windows this week than in the past few months, some of which she'd studied but had never seen in person. When she looked them up, they seemed much bigger than Dad's books said they were supposed to be. She guessed that was because of something called "deep-sea gigantism" that he used to talk about. It seemed logical enough: some combination of increased pressure, colder temperature, and delayed maturity.
For a vertebrate like Maya, that meant she was shorter than average, and unlikely to grow much more. It also meant that down here, life was scarce, and the creatures outside her bunker grew larger, lonelier, and hungrier.