THE OBSERVATORY

CECILIA YANG

A lone figure stared out a window to ceaseless rolling waves.


Water.

Lin was so, so sick of seeing water. How could she appreciate it when she was surrounded by it
every day? Each morning, she was awakened by the sound of the chirping seabirds, and every
night she was lulled to sleep by the crashing waves.

Lin let out a quiet sigh. Her parents had passed down their desire to see the grand forests of the
past to her; it was even in her name, “lin” being the old Chinese word for “forest.” She rarely
saw her parents though. Their job dragged them out to explore the deep oceans for the rest of
humanity, to scout the sapphire waters for resources from the drowned biomes. Because of their
responsibilities, they could visit her only once every other month to give her credits to buy
supplies from the Observatory. She would dock her boat close to it at the beginning of every
other month, anticipating the arrival of her parents.

She was lucky, she knew. Others saw their parents even less frequently, some not at all. As a
mere sixteen-year-old who had no talents or abilities that would benefit the rest of humanity, she
was fortunate that she had not been left alone to fend for herself. She lived in a small boat that
floated just by the Observatory. It had only enough space for her, a cabin, and a cockpit.


The Observatory was a glass dome nestled in the middle of the Himalayas, one of the last strips
of habitable land remaining on Earth, due to the rising sea level. The mountain range where the
Observatory rested was populated by others like her. Whether they lived in boats or small houses
in the mountains, they were all expelled from the Observatory because they lacked the ability to
contribute. It was her home. It was their home.


Lin’s gaze shifted to the Observatory, the sunlight reflecting off the crystalline surface of the
glass dome, making the building seem like a glowing sanctuary.

 

Sometimes she wished she could live inside the Observatory. Being surrounded by the plants
offered not only a reprieve from the constant scent of saltwater, but it was also a breathtaking
experience. Unfortunately, anyone who was not a scientist or engineer was forced to leave the
Observatory by the age of thirteen. If they can’t give, they can’t receive.

Lin desired to be an artist, a useless skill to the Observatory. She remembered how her eyes
widened and her heart fluttered when she first saw the rusted but marvelous metal forest nymph
sculpture that her parents brought back from one of their deep-water expeditions. Ever since
then, Lin knew that art was her chosen path, and she refused to be persuaded otherwise. She
listened, torn, as her parents fought over her choice, blaming themselves for bringing back the
sculpture. Lin dreaded the Observatory selection interview and failed it. Thus, she was deemed
to have no potential as a contributor and was pushed out when she turned thirteen.

Adrift in the ocean, Lin had left all her friends, including her best friend, Hana. Her only
consolation was being able to see Hana, who wanted to be a botanist and was considered one of
the Observatory’s brightest minds. Every time Lin came to the Observatory for supplies, Hana
was at the door, making sure Lin never forgot that Hana missed her with every cell of her being.
Lost in her memories, Lin stared out at the horizon. A silence settled, thick as wool. She tilted
her head in confusion; the sea was never silent. Concern drew lines between her brows. Living
here, surrounded by the ocean, there would always be some noise, whether it was the sea life or
the water itself. She whipped around and looked through the window facing the open sea, still
baffled by the silence … until she saw it.


In the distance was an enormous wave, at least eighty meters tall, slowly nearing her small boat.
Panic coursed through her veins as she tugged at her collar. She wore only an olive-green hooded
sweater and black leggings, hardly enough to protect her from what she knew was an unexpected
tsunami. The scientists in the Observatory had predicted it would be another five years before the
next one hit.

3

Lin had no access to the Observatory’s insulating bodysuits. Right now, she had no way to
survive. Her mind spun through all the possibilities, but only the Observatory could save her.
Resigned, she looked back at the glass building, biting her lip.


Could she gain entry to the Observatory? Uncertainty filled her heart as she raced toward the
cockpit. Opening the navigation panel, she pushed down on the button that would propel her boat
to the Observatory, then she peered out the cockpit window to estimate how much time she had
left. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a photo of her parents and her, propped
against the cockpit windshield, but she quickly turned her attention back toward the tsunami.
If Lin looked closely to gauge its movement, she could see the tsunami ominously approaching
her. Finally, she managed to calm down and control her breathing, allowing her to think clearly.
Looking back at the Observatory, she knew that she had to be able to offer something to them to
gain entry and assistance.


Her boat sped closer to land as her mind spun faster – she had to come up with an idea, and
quickly. She looked back. The tsunami was inching even closer to her. The Observatory could
protect her, if she could enter. While the glass walls of the Observatory seemed fragile, they
were reinforced with a material strong enough to protect the building from any wave, no matter
how large.


As the boat drew closer to the Observatory, Lin quickly grabbed a pair of binoculars. Without
looking behind her, she instinctively knew the tsunami was picking up speed. She had to enter
the Observatory soon. Narrowing her eyes, she squinted at the Observatory’s cold, silver doors.
She would be saved only if the elevator doors opened. As she mentally begged them to do so, to
her shock, they did.


The elevator doors opened slowly, and a figure appeared behind the doors. Eyes wide, Lin lifted
her binoculars to see who had opened the elevator. Blinking fast, she recognized Hana standing,
shadowed, in the threshold of the elevator. Hana looked toward Lin and then froze, her face
filled with panic and despair. Lin snapped around, mimicking Hana’s movements.

Her binoculars slipped from her hand as she slowly turned back to face the front of the cockpit,
her body going rigid with shock. The last thing she saw was the photo of her and her parents,
smiling joyfully, before the wave swallowed her.


And the world went silent.

author's corner

CECILIA YANG

is a high school sophomore from San Jose, California. She passes the time with her nose buried in a book. When she is not reading or writing, she can be found drawing or dancing to the city’s sounds. She has had her critical essay honored by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards with a Silver Key Award. Her work has appeared in the Blue Marble Review, the Start Literary Journal, the Trouvaille Review, and the Flare Journal.

 Published in the Start Literary Journal