Mandatory Medication by Dave Morehouse

With gills fully functioning Lucy slipped into the briny undertow. It feels so good to be home. An interminable six years of university, three years of residency, and five years of medical research weighed heavy on her spirit. Lucy had been landlocked during that time learning to heal the soilbounders. Every homesick minute on land she had ached for the gentle support of salt water, the slow hum of the ocean, purified air to flow across her gills and whistle deep into her dual-stage lungs. A strong swimmer, even among a species of swimmers, this morning she surged sixty feet down to the bottom. Sixty or seventy feet was the maximum depth at which her kind, the coastal-folk, could survive. There she lazed on her back gazing up at the reflected sea surface. For the first time in fourteen years she tasted sweet fresh kelp from the ocean floor. She smiled as a family of four glided into the kelp for lunch.

Her lungs and air bladder had combined to defy gravity her entire life until she was inducted for service and forced to live ashore. Getting the hang of walking had been a long process; building the required musculature and coordination was arduous, but necessary. The soilbounders required servitude of all coastal-folk. In return for a decade of servitude coastal-folk were allowed to return to those shallow shoreline zones where the soilbounders hadn’t built condos – yet. Each year those zones grew smaller as soilbounders encroached ever further along the seashores. That meant the coastal-folk needed to be herded into ever diminishing areas.

Lucy had graduated first in her class at med school far ahead of the salutatorian. A once in a century brain her professors had said. We can’t let this one go back to the sea. With a mind like that she may even be able to cure cancer.  Lucy had agreed to spend the rest of her life on land but had worked to negotiate conditions in the process. The soilbounders felt she was valuable enough to try to keep her happy and conceded to her request to spend one month, with a tracking device, in the coastal waters. When the month was up she would return to land, medical research, and a life of service without any chance of retirement. They promised to provide better than the standard coastal-folk dormitory lodging; they even agreed to pay her a salary. She’ll be the first of her kind to actually cash a paycheck.

Lucy felt the slow tidal current slip over her hide as she laid out in luxury sixty feet below the surface. She dreamed of a free people roaming the coastal waters of every continent. She dreamed of life without servitude. She dreamed of vast kelp beds repopulating the ocean floor.

The crowded lifestyle of the soilbounders guaranteed the virus she had created would take hold and spread rapidly. She knew the airborne virus was deadly, deadlier than anything experienced before. The pandemic would be devastating. It would take gills to survive.

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