Summary of Chapter 26
Rio and Bay joyfully embrace. Bay has been hardened by life in the Above; she explains that the people there treat anyone from the Below very harshly, paying them low wages for doing the most backbreaking work. The two sisters and True are joined by Fen Cardiff and Ciro, the kind but weary minister of the Above. Bay, Fen, and Ciro are stunned when Rio tells them about the slaughter of the sirens.
Bay explains that Ciro cares about Atlantia because of the shells – shells that have come up from the sea containing people’s voices, telling the stories of people who live Below. Because of these shells, many people in the Above are sympathetic to the people of Atlantia, and do not agree with the current policy to abandon or destroy the underwater city. Rio realizes that Maire must have been sending up these shells to cultivate sympathy among the people of the Above; Maire is able to capture people’s voices and seal them in shells without the people themselves knowing it, which is why Bay was singing in her shell.
Fen suffers from a terrible cough; Bay explains that no doctors in the Above will deign to treat someone from the Below. The people from the Below who work in labor camps are given only a few hours of free time every day, and Bay has spent hers in the temple, where she has met many people from the Above who are sympathetic to those Below. Rio suddenly comprehends that Bay must have told Fen that she was leaving (which is why he also came to the Above), but she didn’t tell her own sister because by leaving she was attempting to protect Rio. Rio feels momentary anger to all of the players who have placed her in her current predicament: her mother, sister, the corrupt politicians of the Below, the long-ago people who destroyed the environment and instituted the Divide. Bay is angry too, and tearfully comments that Maire wasn’t supposed to die, she was supposed to protect Rio. Rio realizes how much Maire has sacrificed to teach her niece to use her own voice.
Summary of Chapter 27
Ciro tells the group that he has received news that all the sirens are dead. Although 27 bodies were found on the beach, there were 29 people in the transport (including Rio and True). Rio wonders why no one has noticed that two bodies were missing, but then it dawns on her that this was Maire’s last act – she used every ounce of her power to convince the people in the boats that there were 27 people in the transport rather than 29. Ciro also explains that Nevio and other siren-immune members of the Council slaughtered the sirens from the boats. Rio marvels at her aunt’s power and courage, sacrificing her life to protect Rio and True, and extending all her power to sway people who were supposed to be siren-immune.
Ciro goes on to explain that his own Council had no part in the plan – they are quite divided on the issue of what to do about the people of Atlantia. A faction from the Above Council plans to stage a public exhibition of the siren bodies in the temple of the Above tonight, hoping to stir up public support for the death of Atlantia. Nevio has also been invited to give a speech. Rio wonders how Nevio can survive in the Above – Rio already feels her life force diminishing. The Council is debating about the number of refugees they will allow from Atlantia. Only people who have already had a siren in their bloodline and who have no relative with water-lung will be allowed to come Above. As Fen points out, there are very few people who fall into either of these categories, meaning most people in Atlantia will die.
Bay says that someone must go down and tell the truth – about the sirens, about the Above and Below, and about Nevio – to the people of Atlantia. Rio also wonders if there are other sirens like her, sirens who have kept themselves hidden. Bay decides that she will do this, and Ciro arranges a transport to the Below for her. True will go with her. Slowly, Rio realizes that she must be the one to speak to the people of the Below during the meeting in the temple tonight. She must use her pure siren voice to attempt to save the people of Atlantia.
Not knowing if they will see each other again, Fen and Rio say goodbye to Bay and True.
Summary of Chapter 28
After Bay and True depart, Rio faints on the beach; the Above is sucking away her life force – she needs to be in Atlantia to survive. Fen hides her in a storage closet, and they hear Nevio’s voice along with some plaintive noises nearby. They realize that Nevio has brought up a number of the blue bats from the temple of the Below, and Rio wonders why he has done this. Nevio’s voice thanks the other speaker for allowing him to store the bats here. Rio sneaks in the room to visit the bats after Nevio leaves; the bats chatter happily when they see her because she used to repair the trees in the temple where they lived. Rio and Fen discuss the declining condition of Atlantia and debate what they must do to save it. Fen correctly guesses that Rio is a siren.
Suddenly, they hear Nevio at the door of the bat room again. He and someone else dump something inside the closet. A closer inspection reveals that it is the body of Minister Ciro.
Rio is hysterical, but Fen points out that Bay and True must have gotten away alive. Rio realizes that she must head to the temple and accomplish the impossible task of convincing the people of the Above to help the people Below. First, though, she asks Fen to release the bats from their cages, which he does.
Summary of Chapter 29
Guards line the halls of the temple, but Rio uses her siren voice to tell them not to see her. Nevio has begun to speak, and the corpses of the sirens are prominently displayed in the temple. As she walks forward, Rio sees Maire’s body towards the front of the temple and notices how peaceful her face is. At the front of the temple, Rio announces her name and begins to speak. With every ounce of her pure siren voice, she tells the people to listen. After doing this, however, she uses only her ordinary voice – she does not want to coerce the people into doing what she says, she wants them to hear what she has to say.
Rio explains that the difference between the people of the Above and Below does not have to mean death. The people of the Above are also heirs to the wonderful city of Atlantia, and they deserve to visit it and even live in it if they so desire. Nevio tries to use his siren voice to tell the people of the Above that this girl is a siren, mutated and unnatural, and that the people of the Below deserve to be punished for their past crimes.
Just as Rio thinks she will lose because of his power, she notices the bats hanging from the ceiling of the temple. She realizes that Nevio draws his power to survive in the Above from draining the life force of the bats. Energized by their presence, Rio tells the people of the Above about the glory of Atlantia, and logically persuades them that the right thing to do is to save it. She also explains that people like True have developed abilities in response to the sirens, and can tell when they lie. Suddenly, the bats surround Rio like a protective cloud and perch on her arms and shoulders. The people of the Above are awed by this miracle.
Without the bats' strength, Rio faints.
Summary of Chapter 30
Rio hears Maire’s voice, telling her that only she could have done all this. Only Rio had a pure siren voice, as well as the physical strength to swim away from the shore where the sirens were slaughtered, the bravery to speak in the temple, and the courage to only use her siren voice when necessary.
When Rio wakes up, she is in a transport to the Below with Fen and members of the Council of the Above. Her plan worked - the people of the Above will help repair Atlantia, and the Divide will end. People can now pass freely between the two worlds. Some of the bats have decided to return to Atlantia as well.
Rio realizes she has no longer has her siren voice, and understands that she must have sacrificed it to save the Above. She does not regret its loss, because she has gained the ability to have faith in herself and truly speak her own thoughts. As the transport doors open, she sees her sister.
Summary of Epilogue
Bay lives above with Fen, whose lungs are being treated by Above doctors. Rio and True live below, where they help repair Atlantia with their welding skills and go swimming in the lanes together. Rio cannot live for long in the Above, but she often goes to the island where the sirens where killed to meet with her sister; despite its violent history, this island is a beautiful place.
Rio's siren voice is slowly coming back. She has discovered a number of hidden sirens like herself, and works to train them to use their abilities for good. She also tells them the true history of the sirens.
Rio and Bay muse how they have become like Maire and Oceana, two sisters who must live apart but love each other very deeply.
When Rio finds her sister in the temple of the Above, she is still reeling from the trauma of seeing all of the sirens die. Embracing her sister, she compares herself to a mermaid. This vivid metaphor references Andersen's fairy tale The Little Mermaid, and also encompasses Rio's feelings of being out of place but also having achieved her greatest aim - to see the Above and to find her sister again.
Rio's speech in the temple of the Above marks the climax of the novel. The fate of Atlantia - and her sister and True - depends on her ability to successfully convince the people of the Above to offer support to the Below. If Rio is not able to ensure their support, an entire civilization will be wiped out. Additionally, this scene marks the climax of Rio's personal journey. Rio's lifelong concealment of her siren voice actually works in her favor because she is used to using reason and discussion rather than her siren voice to convince people of her aims. The people of the Above have dealt with coercion by sirens for a very long time, and they would not trust her if she used her powers on them in this way. Rio shows the people of the Above that they can trust sirens, and that they should save Atlantia because it is their heritage as well. She only uses her voice to tell them to listen, but then uses her ordinary voice to say the rest of her speech.
The bats appear during the climax to offer their life force to sustain Rio in the Above (as a siren, she cannot survive here long, especially if she is using her powers) and also to emphasize her unique state in the eyes of the people in the temple. Nevio's antagonist status is also emphasized by the way he drains the life force of the bats to maintain his own; the bats are symbols of miracles and the power of the Below, which Nevio is willing to exploit for his own gain.
This section also draws on the complex symbolism of the seashells. We know from earlier in the novel that these objects are symbols of the unity of the Above and Below, but now we learn that they have literally been used to carry messages from Atlantia to the surface. The voices that Maire has infused into the shells have reached the people of the Above, and have convinced them that perhaps people from the Below are human after all. This creates fertile opportunity for Rio to sway the people of the Above in favor of preserving Atlantia.
In the end, Bay and Rio must live separate just as Oceana and Maire did. Bay lives Above and Rio lives Below; each sister lives where the other would rather be. This creates a vivid case of parallelism, but the two sisters view it as an honor to be like their mother and aunt.