"Dinner's ready!" Neryssa smiled to herself as she stirred a final sprinkling of chicken flavor booster into her homemade algae pasta. Their quarters looked especially cheery tonight, with the vibrant post-storm sunset lending a rosy blush to the translucent walls. The table was set with the same old dishes, but everything seemed fancier with the festive flickering of the holiday candle in the centre. Shale walked in and hung his jacket by the door, slipping a small package out of the pocket.
"Coral, Surf! Come on already, I'm famished!" he called the older kids, placing the box beside Coral's plate.
Surf bounded in first, sandy hair sticking out all over the place, a huge grin on his face.
"What're we eating?" he asked, grabbing the lid off the pot his mom was carrying to the table. "Oh, pasta? Boring! I hope there's a good surprise for dessert." He flumped down on his chair and pulled a face at baby Isla, who giggled and whacked him on the hand with her spoon.
Coral came in from the sleeping pod, trying to smooth her troublesome wavy hair into a pony tail. Her face brightened as she caught sight of the present.
"Happy 1st Worthday, sweetie" Shale said, giving her a quick hug as she went to sit down. "Your Mom and I are so proud of you."
"Yeah, happy Worthday, Cor!" Surf mumbled, spraying half-chewed pasta all over the place. "Or should I say, happy bad hair day?"
"You can't talk, you look like you just fell out of a tornado!" she retorted, but she was too excited for her special evening to get worked up. She had been dreaming of this day for a long time, no way would her kid brother spoil it for her.
Her first Worthday! Here on Oceanalia people didn't celebrate births, those were a solemn affair as every child born was another mouth to feed, meaning extra pressure on the family to earn more Work Hour Credits. They hadn't seen nearly as much of their Dad since Isla came along; he had to work longer shifts to keep up with the needs of three children. But today he was home early, because today his oldest child had finally become an adult. This last year Coral had earned more WHC than she used. She was finally a fully valued member of society, and she was only 14! And two years younger than her friend Pearl, who worked in the flavor factory with Mom. From now on she would be a full citizen with all the same rights and duties as her parents.
"Are you going to open that, then?" Shale asked, gesturing at the package. Coral picked it up and delicately untied the emerald green ribbon, winding it up slowly and enjoying the impatience on her younger brother's face. She lifted the lid and gasped. Nestled in layers of tissue lay the prettiest necklace she had ever seen. Hanging from a fine silver chain was a delicately branching piece of natural coral!
"I hope you like it. It used to belong to your grandmother." Shale's eyes shimmered with tears of affection as he carefully fastened the clasp around his daughter's neck. "They call it angel skin, because of the peachy-white color… like a cherub blushing."
"Dad, it's perfect!" Coral enthused. "It's so fragile! Like a miniature tree!"
"A skeleton tree, you mean" Surf scoffed, but she could tell he was secretly impressed.
"Well, in a way it is a skeleton," their Dad agreed. "Of course we don't have coral reefs anymore, but back in the past they existed, in fact before tourism they even thrived. They grew in colonies, and these branches were once soft like tentacles, swaying gently in the water and catching tiny sea creatures to eat. They would harden up at the base as they grew, leaving these tree-like structures. Then humans found them, and would cut them to make jewelry like this." He caught his wife's warning glance and quickly added "It's not a sad gift. This necklace is hundreds of years old, it's been in our family since way before the Climate Catastrophe. It's an heirloom. I hope one day you will be able to give it your own daughter, so she knows how beautiful our oceans once were."
Sensing the mood had grown sombre, Neryssa leapt up from the table. "Who's ready for a treat?" She asked, and fetched the surprise she had been struggling to keep secret all day.
"Oranges! "Where did you manage to find them, Neryssa?" Dad marveled. "I haven't seen fresh oranges in years!"
"I asked the Boat Folk to keep an eye out when they headed over to the Floridean Peaks last month… they said the harvest was poor again, but the Governor has an indoor orangery, and I can be very persuasive…" She winked and everyone giggled.
The room seemed suddenly brighter, as though the fruit glowed with concentrated sunshine, the air tangy with its citrussy freshness. They chattered about their work day as they ate. Surf goofed around as usual, pushing a whole segment of rind into his mouth and smiling wide so it looked like his teeth were all orange. Baby Isla played with the soft fruit and banged it on the table, laughing as it squelched juice everywhere, then sucking her fist to make the most of every last sweet lick.
This isn't the whole first chapter, there's about 600 more words, but seemed a good place to stop. I'm struggling to keep going on this project. I am stalling around chapter 5, even though I have a plan of where I want the whole book to go chapter by chapter. It seems tough to balance wanting to tell the reader all about the future world I have come up with and actually just let it fall naturally into the right places. Hopefully I can get my mojo back.