La Vie En Mer by Ephiny Gale
1.1 SAIL AWAY
As our global future spirals into more danger and chaos, La Vie En Mer, a luxury cruise ship with 500 occupied residential apartments, is still sailing. Fearing our earth is becoming uninhabitable, a team of four scientists (Grace, Cara, Kenji and Jackson) who live onboard create a device that can propel La Vie En Mer into an unlimited number of parallel earths, hoping to find a new perfect world for them to call home. The first parallel earth they visit is one where dinosaurs and megafauna never went extinct.
1.2 THE VOTE
Back on our earth, the population of La Vie En Mer is scandalised that their ship was transported into a parallel universe without their knowledge or consent. The scientists apologise; they explain that they had only intended to run tests and were truly surprised when their work was successful. A vote is held: 72% of the ship votes to continue to travel to more parallel worlds, so long as appropriate safety protocols are devised and followed. Sixteen people choose to permanently disembark at the nearest port; they watch from the shore as La Vie En Mer prepares to deliberately travel to a new parallel world for the first time.
The ship arrives in a world that initially seems abandoned, although there is evidence of recent human civilisation. It soon becomes clear that the human population of this world only emerges on the surface at night, as it’s considered too dangerous to live in the daylight. While some of the ship’s passengers, like Grace and Jackson, are deeply curious to investigate the validity of and reason behind this, many more frightened passengers simply want to move on. Grace and Jackson must race back to the ship so that they’re not left behind at daybreak.
1.4 TURBULENT WATERS
Disconnected from their usual reality, the residents and crew of La Vie En Mer have stopped receiving their regular pay packets, and increasingly urgent questions arise about how money should function in the small-town ecosystem of the ship. Why should the crew continue to work hard when the residents aren’t working at all? As they sail across a world that’s almost entirely underwater, there is plenty of time for everyone to argue, strike, and ultimately, reach a tentative peace with one another. Many of the residents begin to work in some fashion, either by training in certain roles like food preparation or cleaning, or by contributing with their own expertise in other ways. Cara teaches a popular introductory science class; Kenji reluctantly opens up an electronics repair service.
1.5 YOUR FACE
The ship docks somewhere extremely similar to its original world, complete with all the accompanying destruction and mess. Jackson double-checks the coordinates to ensure they haven’t returned home. On land, Grace meets a version of her dead husband who is still alive, but he doesn’t recognise her. She pleads with him to join her aboard the ship, but then slowly realises that this parallel version of him is very different to the man she married.
1.6 TIPPING POINT
Immediately after arriving on a new world, the occupants of La Vie En Mer are alarmed to find their ship resting on sand rather than sea, and the ship starts to tip on its hull for a few seconds before it can be transported back to the previous world. Although the furnishings on board are designed to cope with strong waves, there is still some property and bodily damage, and the medical bay grows full to bursting. Grace mourns her broken violin. Kenji’s 11-year-old daughter has a concussion. The scientists work with the crew to bolster safety protocols, but some passengers won’t be calmed. The ship takes a brief detour to its home world to drop off 20 passengers who are too terrified to continue travelling to new worlds.
The scientists cautiously explore a world where humans have been superseded by androids. Jackson, a widower, flirts with an android with detachable deer antlers, and in return for becoming her live test subject in a few low-risk experiments, she upgrades the ship’s engines so that they run super-efficiently on sun and wind power, essentially providing a lifetime of fuel. Afterwards, Jackson asks her to stay on the ship, and she admits that while she’s tempted by the adventure, their relationship would be far too intellectually unequal. Meanwhile, Kenji considers permanently leaving to live with the androids, but decides against it when his family would be disembarking with little more than the clothes on their backs.
1.8 SEA DAY
Overwhelmed by recent events and bolstered by the new fuel upgrade, La Vie En Mer takes a quiet ‘sea day’ and temporarily postpones travelling to the next world. Cara swims laps in the pool and then slow dances with her husband. Grace struggles to relax and alternates between drinking cocktails and tending the hydroponic garden. Kenji enjoys some family time on the sun deck, watching his twins play table tennis or read to their parents from the play they’re writing. Jackson fishes off his balcony with his daughter, catching otherworldly species of fish they’ve never seen before. After dinner, the four scientists reconvene to play a competitive game of Settlers of Catan.
1.9 RESCUE PARTY
Shortly after disembarking in a frigid new world, a group of passengers including Kenji and Jackson are kidnapped by the locals and spirited away into the mountains. Following a failed attempt at diplomacy, Grace and Cara must rally, organise, and arm a rescue party; they construct a makeshift flamethrower and a stock of other homemade weapons. While the rescue party is successful, one of the ship’s residents dies and Jackson loses his right foot.
La Vie En Mer finally arrives at a world that seems promising — and it only gets better and better. While it’s less technologically advanced than their home world the environment is healthy, the culture is pleasant, and the locals are hospitable; they even fit Jackson with a prosthetic foot without wanting anything in return. The ship is ready to set down permanent anchor when Grace spots an earth-shattering meteor in the sky.
2.1 FRESH MEAT (PART 1)
The population of La Vie En Mer argues over where to house the dozen refugees they were able to save from the meteor world. Without extended back and forth, it’s agreed that any empty residential suites will be filled by the more senior members of the crew, and that the refugees can then live in the less luxurious ex-crew accommodation. As the refugees struggle to settle in, one night the pool isn’t drained as normal, and the next morning a dead body is found floating there.
2.2 FRESH MEAT (PART 2)
Investigations continue into the dead body, identified as Frank, a 70-ish retired mining manager. His wife says he left their suite about 2:00 am and never came back. Eventually, as the autopsy shows no signs of foul play, there are no witnesses, and no-one seems to have any clear motive for killing Frank, his death is ruled an accident. Attentions then turn to who was responsible for leaving the pool full overnight, and whether this warrants banishment from the ship. Ultimately it is decided that they won’t be banished for this first offence. However, in the course of investigations it was uncovered that another passenger had been beating his wife and child: this, instead, triggers the first banishment.
La Vie En Mer arrives in a world where humanity has diverged into several different species, aided by a mix of genetic engineering and other technologies. At first, the ship’s passengers are entranced by the winged, hollow-boned species; the scaled species with gills and bio-luminescent patterns; the super-tough species that can survive deep in the sea or high in the air or even inside a volcano, where other humans would perish. Later, a sub-set of the ship’s population would still like to set down permanent anchor, but many more consider this a dangerous place for them, and that living here would make them feel weak and useless.
2.4 HUNGER MAKES ME (A LONELY GIRL)
Jackson’s 9-year-old daughter, Nia, confides to Grace that she kept a strange fish they caught on Sea Day in a tank, but it died, and then she cooked it in a microwave and ate it. Ever since then, she’s been experiencing strong urges for human flesh. Despite Grace’s alarm, she calms Nia down and runs some tests, and then fetches her some antibiotics from the medical bay. Grace promises a crying Nia that she won’t tell anyone unless the antibiotics don’t work and things get worse. Nia confesses that she killed Frank by accident: she’d gone for a cookie, but Frank’s ankle was just standing there, looking delicious, and biting it gave him a terrible fright.
2.5 A WORLD OF THEIR OWN
The ship discovers a world where men haven’t existed for 100 years and all remaining humans are female. Although these women are cautiously interested in exchanging technology, food, and other culture with La Vie En Mer’s passengers, most of them will only speak with other women. Cara quickly makes new friends and networks, but then must leave them as staying wouldn’t seem fair to her husband. Jackson experiences a mix of emotions attempting to woo the locals; those who find him interesting view him as a novelty.
Grace’s search for a horticultural tool leads her into the ship’s deep storage, where she discovers an almost-mermaid who has hidden away since they left the world with divergent human species. Much of her small body is scaled, and her legs are attached together with a web of thick skin to aid with swimming. After bringing her supplies for a couple of days, the two bond and Grace smuggles her upstairs to live in the bath in her suite.
2.7 RUN AGROUND
The ship materialises in a universe where Earth doesn’t exist and where its deck is suspended in the unforgiving cold of outer space. Kenji and Jackson frantically propel La Vie En Mer into a second parallel universe; it only takes a few seconds, but afterwards, they are out of commission in the medical bay. The other passengers soon discover that the air of this new world is poisonous, but they can’t easily escape again as the device that allows them to travel to parallel worlds has broken. As the residents seal the indoors of the ship with towels and duct tape, Cara and Grace must work together to bring the broken device back to life.
The health of Cara’s husband, Daniel, is obviously deteriorating, and the ship’s medical team suspect he has a rare form of cancer. Cara implores Grace, Kenji and Jackson to take La Vie En Mer back to the world of androids, believing they can fix him. While her friends are sympathetic, they say they can’t steer the ship based on the needs of just one or two people. Eventually, they agree to take a brief detour to the android world, just long enough for Cara and Daniel to jump into a lifeboat. Once on land, Cara negotiates for Daniel to be fixed in return for surrendering several of their human organs.
2.9 THE ONES WHO SAIL AWAY…
La Vie En Mer arrives at another world that seems almost too perfect. It comes at a price: at the heart of each city lives one child who is intentionally horribly neglected, starving and alone in a tower cell. Grace and Jackson reluctantly go to view one of these children and immediately realise that the child is a hologram. They are riddled with indecision; if they say something and break the spell of the citizens’ belief, will that somehow ruin the utopia? At the same time, the other passengers of La Vie En Mer don’t know about the hologram, and many of them can’t morally reconcile living there. Eventually, the ship simply sails away.
The ship takes a brief detour to pick up Cara and Daniel, who now have several new synthetic replacement body parts between them. La Vie En Mer then docks at a world where they are immediately greeted as gods. The locals are delighted by the passengers’ advanced technology and knowledge, and they shower their guests with feasts, festivities, and attention. However, relationships quickly sour when the locals make demands that the passengers can’t fulfil, and when they try to bottle pieces of the passengers that won’t magically regrow. The almost-mermaid liberates Grace when she’s held underwater to harvest her breath, and Cara is saved by her new metal heart that can’t be easily pierced.
Grace introduces the scientists to the almost-mermaid, Ostari, who has been living in her suite. They are dating now. The ship sails across a world where almost all the life appears to have died out. In the remains of his hometown, Kenji discovers green-tinted versions of his twins who survived the apocalypse. Before he died, their version of Kenji gave them the ability to consume most of their energy via photosynthesis. As these twins seem strange but inherently good-hearted, he brings them back to the ship to meet his other children, and their family expands to six.
3.2 HOME INVASION
In the next world, La Vie En Mer is immediately boarded by pirates. The passengers panic as they can’t escape by shifting worlds; the pirates come with them. Everyone must band together to fight back, either by killing the pirates or throwing them overboard. The lower decks are locked down as much as possible, and most elevators stopped. Cara unearths the makeshift flamethrower. Jackson uses the bars’ bottles as bludgeoning weapons and projectiles. Grace stalks the pirates who have made it to the residential hallways, injecting them with incapacitating drugs. Kenji and his wife engineer some spears and commandeer a motorised luggage cart. At the end of the day, all two dozen pirates are dead, plus thirty-three passengers, including Daniel.
La Vie En Mer is in mourning. After two weeks of funerals, repairs, medical care and recovery post-pirate-attack, the restless population votes that it’s time to keep moving on. The ship arrives at a bustling market where everyone wears masks. Cara, deeply grieving her husband, drifts off the ship, puts on a fox mask and disappears into the crowd. Her friends’ concern increases exponentially when they see the locals sleeping in their masks, showering in their masks, carrying babies that wear masks. They hurry to find Cara and pry the mask from her bloody skin, where it’s already partially merged with her face.
The ship docks in a world where each of the locals consult an AI several times a day. Whenever anyone needs to make a decision on anything more significant than dinner, they touch a shimmering silver surface and the AI gives them the answer. The locals explain that before anyone dies, their intelligence and memories are added into the AI, so that the wisdom of their collective ancestry is always at their fingerprints. Grace, Jackson and Kenji hurry back to the ship before the AI can tell anyone they’re a threat — or that their brains would be useful to add to the trove. Cara has stayed on board, and when the other scientists return, she says she’s done looking for new worlds: everyone should vote on a world for the ship to return to permanently, and if anyone’s unhappy with the result they can be dropped off beforehand at another world of their choice.
La Vie En Mer explores a world of immortal humans and their equally immortal pets. Everyone is thriving on a beautiful earth, with one catch: in order to prevent overpopulation, having any new children is forbidden. This sparks a furious debate aboard La Vie En Mer, including between our scientists: Grace and Cara are happy to exchange the unlikely possibility of future children for immortality. Jackson and Kenji both want their kids to have kids of their own, and Jackson wants more children himself if he can find the right woman. The numbers are close. When the ship sails on, it’s with Grace and Cara openly campaigning for a vote to choose a previous world to permanently return to.
3.6 ALL THE FLAVOURS
The ship materialises in a world that humans share, mostly harmoniously, with multiple alien races. As La Vie En Mer’s passengers wander around in awe, one of the aliens takes a swift liking to Jackson. Despite her being half his size with purple skin, four catlike eyes and a winglike membrane like a sugar glider, he quickly likes her, too. Despite their connection, she refuses to leave her home for his ship. Knowing that the ship is likely to choose a permanent home soon, he promises to come back to her. He is now all-in on the vote to choose a permanent residence from the worlds they’ve visited previously.
3.7 EXTRA LARGE PINK RETRIEVERS
La Vie En Mer discovers a world where fantastic, genetically engineered pets (and humans) are a worldwide craze. Kenji’s children fall in love with the animals there, particularly a giant, pink-coloured golden retriever that they can ride. As there is nothing significantly wrong with this world, Kenji is keen to stay there for his family. Under any other circumstances the ship’s passengers would’ve probably voted to stay there, but now they’re aware that they can vote for somewhere they’d personally like better. The date for that final vote is set for three days away, to give the population time to decide and to submit options for the preferential voting card.
3.8 THE LAST VOTE
The ship’s passengers fill in their ballots, and although none of the worlds they’ve visited receive more than 50% of the primary vote, the recent world with genetically engineered pets is considered to be the least collectively offensive. Passengers must then decide whether they will stay with the ship as it makes its permanent home there, or whether they would like to disembark elsewhere and start from scratch — no guaranteed roof over their heads, few possessions, limited or no networks, no money. Kenji’s family are content to stay with the ship, but the other scientists are more conflicted. Jackson feels tempted to return to his alien paramour, but would that be best for Nia? Grace and Cara each have other worlds they prefer, but can they bear leaving the ship for good?
La Vie En Mer is slowly losing passengers, dropping them off at familiar worlds with everything they can carry. With Nia’s blessing, Jackson decides to pursue his romance with the purple-skinned alien, and after many hugs and well-wishes the two of them disembark into a cosmopolitan city of alien races. After his departure, Cara surprises both Grace and Kenji by revealing she’ll be exiting at the all-women world, as it was simply where she felt most at home, and that she believes the previous networks she made will support her. She disembarks cradling Daniel’s ashes in a pot.
3.10 LA VIE SUR TERRE
La Vie En Mer continues to lose its passengers to previous worlds. Grace and Ostari have decided to try their luck on the immortal world, although there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to establish themselves there, and they’re both visibly anxious about it. Anything they can’t take with them has been gifted to Kenji’s family, who are now very wealthy by La Vie En Mer’s standards. Grace pushes a cart of possessions off the ship as Ostari guides herself down in a wheelchair, into the unknown. Finally, Kenji is the only one of the four scientists still onboard the ship, along with more than half of its original population. They arrive at their ultimate destination and the ship celebrates with a boisterous party. His children have the biggest smiles on their faces. They are home.
Originally published in the June 2023 issue of Utopia Science Fiction Magazine.
Ephiny Gale was born in Victoria, Australia, and is still there, alongside her lovely wife and a small legion of bookcases. She is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes that have appeared in publications including “PseudoPod”, “Constellary Tales”, and “Beneath Ceaseless Skies”. Her fiction has been awarded the Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net award and has been a finalist for multiple Aurealis Awards. More at ephinygale.com