Quiet Year at the Bottom of the Sea

Tonight we played Quiet Year by Avery Alder where we explore the life of the community at Research Station 59 at the bottom of the sea after a nuclear apocalypse ends civilization on the surface. Early after the apocalypse, a typhoon destroys one of the station’s two water intake engines, so engineer W begins and completes repairs in a few weeks. Drs. Sanders and Xu continue, even after the apocalypse, to fight between themselves over their competing theories regarding the purpose of whale song. Research intern Varick spots the elusive sea butterflies migrating, and takes that as a good sign, but then Dr. Sparks confesses that his early sonar research was responsible for the mass death of whale populations years ago. We successfully harvest the algae nodules that grow nearby and bring them inside, but will putting them in our greenhouse contaminate the indoor plants? We discover an unexploded nuclear missile loose on the sea floor, so disarm it and dump it into the nearby sea trench to keep it from drifting too close to the station. Despite all the turmoil, we stick to our morning ritual of sharing coffee and pastries (as long as they last) to keep the group together.

Triplets are born on the station to Quinn, wife of research scientist Donatella. An audit of Dr. Sparks sonar data shows that, whatever he may have done in the past, his current work is reliable science. Whale pods are spotted south of the station and the most beautiful thing nearby is the bioluminescent valley filled with multicolored fish. The sudden encroaching of the algae fields spark panic and conspiracy as people worry that it could overtake and disable the station. Furthering the panic, Dr. Xu disappears when returning from a mission outside the dome to study the whale movements. Not long after that, three survivors from an underwater luxury condo project arrive at the station in a caviar submarine. We discover that a stone with the astrological sign for pisces on it provides people with the ability to see from another’s point-of-view, and Dr. Sparks leaves the community to live in the luxury condos alone. By rotating the station, we’re able to change the light dynamics and halt the advance of the algae, quieting the mass sense of panic.

After working many weeks, construction of a parabolic mirror to gather and redirect sunlight from the surface down to the station is completed, bringing us much needed light for growing plants and for mental and physical health. Our efforts to fish using the algae as bait are successful and a crew of full-time fishers is established. Dr. Sander’s whale study reveals that the sea trench is actually a whale graveyard, and after much discussion, the community eventually begins a project to dismantle the missile and remove it piecemeal until the whale’s sacred land is clear of contamination. Before that project gets underway, Dr. Sparks dies trying to remove the missile on his own. Just as rumors begin to swirl suspecting Sanders of causing Xu’s death, Dr. Xu reappears, having gotten lost in the algae fields while carrying out new studies on the plants.

The triplets begin to cry constantly causing serious consternation in the community until the observation deck is transformed into a nursery where the babies can get more light and see the beauties of the sea. Water temperature readings reveal a new deep sea vent opening, and after Dr. Xu’s studies reveal additional uses for algae when subjected to heat, we move algae containers near the vents. A refugee from the condo settlement arrives begging to join the community and brings a cache of paper as a bribe to be let inside. Then the sea butterflies return, we complete the dismantling of the rocket, and we organize a community event to celebrate our survival for almost a year. The arrival of the Frost Shepherds signals the end of the game.

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