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The City Under the Seas

by Sven Klöpping

„Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.“

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

Water.

Burbling, gurgling water.

Prickling in Yakuzo’s ears, binding his body to the liquid underworld he had just dived into, a fiercely quiet ocean surrounded him and fulfilled him with fear. He just wanted to scream. Something wild in the mild nothing at least, but he knew too well that it was impossible and useless, as no one would ever hear him. Hurrying upwards, bubbles — not syllables — escaped from his oxygen mask. If he had put off opening his mouth to scream, the ocean would have swallowed him in less than a second.

Above his head or under it… (he couldn’t make out any „up“ or „down“ in this liquid universe, just like gravitation had left his body as he had stiffened his face and neck to enter the underwater panorama of Himalaya where he would take some soil samples and, so he hoped, discover rich veins of ore)… a fireball was shining. It was a strange, circle-shaped thing that called long-forgotten photographs back into his mind. A morning full of golden light. Hills. Trees. A sunny glance from behind the mountains. Sun. From its centre, countless rays streamed through the sky, to fade in the deep blue waters. Yakuzo knew the real sun would never shine again. Years ago, government had replaced it by AGE („Artificial Greenhouse Effect“), a huge heat-frost-transformator located in the zero-grav. exosphere to supply the whole planet with finest atmo-conditioning. Constructed out of high-end alloys, its topping-out ceremony was held not a month too late, because soon after everything had been flooded by the Great Wave. Since then, mankind lived on what they called the platform. It consisted of a raft about 60 acres square and 40 miles deep, made out of driftwood, plastic and flotsam that could be found everywhere on the ocean. By now, underwater expeditions were the only way to unwater remnants of the former civilization. Actually, there were many different teams sent out to come back with fertile earth, seed, oil, ships, food and so on. Yakuzo would be the first to come back with promising coordinates of ancient ore mines, so that re-industrialization could begin as soon as the new underwater mining technologies had been worked out by the scientists on the platform.

 

„The Himalaya mountains contain thousands of veins filled with the finest ore to re-civilize society.”

 

A memory flash of encouragement, spoken out by one of his chief-administrators, came to Yakuzo’s mind. Once intended to motivate him for his sailing trip, it sounded like a childish dream by now. Here, thousands of miles from the platform, there was nothing that could motivate him any more. „Tons of ore, ready to be pumped out of the sea.“ Yakuzo sneered. How could nowaday-society with its second-hand technologies ever be able to install something that leads 500 feet under the water to „pump out“ these resources simply by the way? There was no way, Yakuzo believed after 90 days sailing on the open sea.

 

„You just have to find, not to mine…“

 

On the platform, the phrases had sounded so beautiful. Had been adrenalin for his inquiring mind, kind of happy-end. But on the save and „unsinkable“ platform, nearly everything sounded like that. So god-damned simple, just the right thing for a simpleton he once had been. As if he just needed to make sail and discover the mountains without lifting a finger — and return as Columbus II, a hero for the not-yet- civilized world. Of all the senseless and useless advice he had been told on the platform, „You just have to find…“ had impressed him the most as it meant that hero-worship wouldn’t require any serious effort. It was a nice thought, as it made future easier to ignore. A realistic point of view would soon have demotivated the exploration teams that pinned hopes on their sailing boats like faith on the new capital with its wooden houses and run-down barracks that couldn’t even stand force 7 wind. They hadn’t needed truth to leave the platform, just promises. And government always has been good at promising. Thinking of the other teams, he asked himself if his brother was still alive. They had sent him out to exploit reservoirs of canned food and beer in supermarkets and ships. If he’d done a good job, he would save nutrition supply on the platform for at least six or seven years.

 

Yakuzo never thought about failing. Too carefully he had prepared the whole mission. Hours and hours spent studying ancient topographic maps, sailing and learning the basics of navigation, were reason enough to have a strong belief in his work. Not to forget the special diving training carried out by real experts in the field. With their help, he soon managed to hunt sharks successfully and to keep his eyes open during an entire dive without feeling the usual burning on his retina caused by salty water. With some of his trainers, he endured up to ten minutes under the water without oxygen. He strongly believed that he was prepared for most of the usual dangers.

He looked up and down his body. On the platform, people ate nothing but fish and fish-meal if they didn’t catch sight of a captainless cargo ship or maybe a yacht drifting within reach of their small sailing boats. Due to this unbalanced diet, nowaday-humans looked much more skinny than their ancestors in photographs, but also more wiry and tough. So, Yakuzo’s diving suit was much too big for him. It hung flabby down his arms and legs and hindered him from gliding smoothly through the water. It was one of about fifty platform-owned diving equipment still suitable for a mission like this. Indeed, the oxygen cylinders were rusty and heavy, but they still worked. Cyrillic characters were prominently printed on them, proof of their Russian origin. Suddenly (yes, it was „suddenly“, Mr. MacBride Allen), he found his body drifting not only in water, but also in a glutinous, silvery compound that surrounded him and stretched itself, and contracted, and re-stretched like a lung or unicellular organism, and melted with his skin and his own breathing paused by shock, and the sizzling of his oxygen cylinders fell silent for a while. Turning his head up to the burning ball of artificial heat that proudly manifested itself in a wonderful blue sky (or was it just the sea being blue?), he hoped to wake up from a terrible nightmare. Over him, nothing had changed: heaven was still there, and also the water. Just the liquid silver under him was a strange spot in the idyll.

He was still doubting what he saw under his feet, but the following events soon put him right. The swarm of huge silver-fishes or whatever else it was got closer to him, until finally it was so near that, if it wished, it could have gnawed and sucked his ankle bones. A second or so later, he lost control over his motor functions in feet and calves. Numb and severed from his will, they tumbled within the water, no, within the silver compound, no, within the silver-teethed mouth of an alien, no, it didn’t have a mouth. It couldn’t have a mouth. So he hoped just for short, because soon his instincts awoke in maximum alert, warning him against the danger. Hey, it’s me. Emergency-exit of your mind. What are you hanging around here doing nothing? Kick your feet, wave your arms, struggle around and cut off this mysterious thing, take off your fears, don’t hesitate, do you hear me? What are you still waiting for? Dive up to humanity, peace and all the rest, come on. Together with reason, regular breathing came back, and his pioneer spirit urged him to return onto the ground of silvery facts. Actually, he had to face a challenging secret and, as a scientist, he couldn’t have missed that chance. Plus, his oxygen cylinders would supply him for at least two hours. Long enough to become a hero.

One last time he looked down — the compound was lighted and glowing with a silvery lustre, a reflection of the golden AGE-rays falling from above. With horror he caught sight of his ankle bones which had already been transformed into some kind of silvery art object. His feet were caught in a silvery mass, with bubble-like excrescences on them. Certainly causing admiration and amazed whispers in museums of the 20th century, this „art“ filled Yakuzo with nothing but terror. The strange thing had absorbed his feet — what would come next? Immediately, he tried to tear off, to escape from the doom, but it didn’t work. The harder he tried, the more he got caught in the viscous liquid. It fluctuated and bumped like a heart, streaming up from the depths of the ocean, a vast and dangerous omnivore contrasting with the golden rays falling from above. It merged with AGE light exactly in the middle of the scientist’s body, or a little below, where his knees drifted motionless in the water. Yakuzo hoped the gods wouldn’t permit the silver to cover him, but it moved further up.

In panic, he kicked around like a maniac, tried to free himself from the dreadful enemy like a child in a dream. The liquid’s extremities emerging from its foundation looked somehow metallic. Did they want to deprive him of his sub-cognitive freedom, to imprison his body in a terrific, mechanical meta-revenge for humanity’s long-forgotten crimes of pollution? Was it the soul of nature that wanted to prevent a second period of industrialization by preventing people from discovering its basic material? There seemed to be nothing that would rescue him from this ironclad creature slowly twining itself around his body like a consequently up-moving spiral.

Again, the scientist wanted to scream.

But there was still hope. He considered himself a good diver, so he concentrated on what he had learned in all the years while exploring the fascinating underwater realms around the platform. Surely, the faultiest thing he could do now was to be horrified. In fact, regular breathing and careful movements were necessary to prevent hyperventilation with the consequence of a totally cramped body unable to fight any danger. So he kept breathing regularly in order to survive, even as the silver was creeping over his legs which were struggling helplessly. While Yakuzo was forced to stay cool, his body wanted to fight.

A stark pain flashed through his feet. He turned around in a jerk and tried to discover the source of what had happened to them, but he couldn’t make them out. He looked around — no feet there. He concluded that they must have been absorbed, so that he could not tell them apart from the silver foundation. The claws of his enemy moved steadily upwards. Within a second, they ruffled around his shanks which caused a terrible hurt in every one of his limbs for the first few moments. His desperate efforts to move them out of the silvery mud were quite ineffective and just initiated an even faster transforming and buckling of what had once been a regular part of his body. Soon the whole torso was covered with the alien material that transformed it into a bulky lump that didn’t seem to belong to Yakuzo. Step by step, the ocean devoured him. As he strengthened his muscles one last time, the glutinous compound sounded like a single wave slapping at a sandy coast. Panic befell Yakuzo, and everything around him was downgraded to black due to hyperventilation. Then he forgot to breathe, cramped and fell unconscious.

As he woke up, a red stain covered his face. He soon recognized it wasn’t a real stain, just a light-effect on his closed eyelids. Carefully, he opened his eyes to a slit. He looked right into AGE, the bright fireball that made his eyelids close at once. Finally, someone must have rescued him from sure death. Maybe Buck, his companion who had stayed on the boat. Intending to face his rescuer, Yakuzo moved his head away from the light and blinked into the real world. Here, he discovered a stranger sitting opposite him on a plank. He held two wooden paddles and was about 50 years old. His face was rough and strong, formed by the ocean winds. Wrinkles covered every inch of his pale cheeks, and the light fell onto his dark blue, wavy hair which didn’t differ very much from the colours of the ocean. Yakuzo asked himself if this man had come from another platform than his one, as he couldn’t believe that the stranger had spent his whole life in oversea-hermitage, sitting in his raw-boat, paddling and fighting against the waves of loneliness.

In the background, Yakuzo made out shapes of gigantic buildings. They looked like skyscrapers he had seen on photographs, but these stood right in the middle of the sea. No rocks, no visible ground. Dozens of towers and skyscrapers, shrouded by glowing light much more intense than the AGE-rays Yakuzo knew from the platform. Full of pride and majesty, they rose hundreds of feet high, covering the horizon. In front of them, he saw a glittering harbour containing ships over ships (not meant as a metaphor). In fact, some of them hovered over the others like whale-sized water birds which seemed to be full of awe-inspiring grandeur and majesty to Yakuzo, who had never seen flying sailing boats.

The other man looked with concern on the scientist’s maltreated body, evidently surprised. Yakuzo took the opportunity to face the strong eyes of his rescuer who stared at him like a lunatic. There was at least something in these eyes. He couldn’t say what it was or why he thought it was there, but as he finally looked down, he realized why his opposite behaved in such a mysterious way. This „discovery“ struck him for a moment and his heart stopped bumping by fear. Having read enough books found in library flotsam, Yakuzo considered the stranger no longer a rescuer, but rather a ferryman, the well-known Charon, paddling him down Styx river to the post-life realm of Hades that, unfortunately, never had been flooded by the Great Wave. Looking down at his own legs, he saw a terrible wound gaping at his ankles, where his feet once were fastened. Streaming out of the wound, many silver trickles were glancing in the sunlight, and they streamed down his feet like oil, until they disappeared somewhere beneath the planks.

The stranger faced his guest again, slowly shaking his head, then raising his husky voice as if talking meant an unbearable strain for him.

„I saw your picture in the business section of our newspaper archive,“ he began, and cleared his throat. „You commented, with only enough resources human society would soon be re-civilized.“

With a jerk, his hands left the paddles, rising high above his head.

„You’re a credulous liar!“ he shouted, putting his arms down again to steer his boat on to the harbour. „We’ll never get civilized by ore.“

Yakuzo was puzzled. As he couldn’t think of any reply, he forced his eyes back down as if to convince himself he wasn’t hallucinating. But the elder man’s feet were still there, and also the skin of silver around them. The longer he looked at them, he saw veins and arteries still pulsing in regular intervals under the metallic layer like mortal remains of the elder man’s human body. As a scientist, Yakuzo was curious, and didn’t avert his gaze from the feet, trying to discover anything that would deliver an explanation. As if reading in his guest’s mind, the fisher, shaman or whoever he was, reacted promptly.

„As to the silver… uhm … You have to know that it feeds me. Indeed, I’m sure that it also feeds itself from my body.“

Then, his liquid feet transformed themselves one after the other into little horses, swords, wheels, sailing boats, trains, light-bulbs and finally into model skyscrapers shaking around like wobbly jelly. Recognizing Yakuzo’s startled eyes, the elder man continued.

„No, my dear guest — ore will never civilize anyone. Neither ore, nor any other of them god-damned alloys. They’re evil stuff, you know. An invention of Satan himself, promising freedom and joy, but just bringing war and death in the form of swords, guns and tanks through the centuries. Decade after decade — and it never changes. If you want to stabilize the world with ore, forget it. It seems to stabilize the world, but indeed, it is destroying and eating it up every acre with the help of a never-ending system of supply and demand. You know, it’s always the same thing: few people have everything, the others nothing. And in the end, there will be no feelings, no joy and no emotions left. Just hate, jealousy and false pride. Have a look at your photographs and you’ll see it. Nothing will be different in future.

„Don’t argue, boy. You don’t have the right to argue with me right now, as I’m telling the truth and nothing but the truth.“

„How can you be that sure?“

„I fled from the neo-platform before it could eat me up.“ He pointed in the direction of the skyscrapers. „By now it makes no more sense to escape. That’s why I’m paddling back. It has got me, you know.“

„Yes. The system of consumption-based civilization.“

Yakuzo saw a glider making its way over the sea, obviously coming up to the boat. The fisher turned his head and hurried to speak before the approaching roar of the glider made any talking impossible.

„Remember: this will be the platform of your own descendants. A platform of pride and seduction, filled with overestimation of human existence. It’s your decision, and the decision of your contemporaries, if you want freedom or to end like me.“ Waving his arms around, a wind came up caused by the glider that hovered now directly over their heads. A speakers‘ voice — not human at all — came to their ears and flooded them with volume.

„SimCitizen! Return to NeoPlatform, or I’ll have to arrest you.“

The fisher had no time to answer. His body was soon shrouded in a column of silver light and slowly disappeared, like the complete scenario, in a silver-shaped, burbling and gurgling wave that grew brighter and brighter until it suddenly switched into pitch black and Yakuzo fell unconscious one more time.

He was diving again. The gods lead him through a silvery mud, full of this pulling, plucking liquid he was glad to escape from. Again he kicked, but this time he didn’t hyperventilate and was able to come up over the water by his own power. Relieved, he stuck his head out of the sea, enjoying the fresh and salty air in deep breaths.

On the sailing boat, Butch was waiting.

„You been successful?“ he shouted.

Yakuzo shook his head, wanted to reply something, but was interrupted by his companion who heaved him onto the ship.

„Doesn’t matter, Yak. We can anchor here for a while. Tomorrow, I’ll find that vein for sure.“

Copyright © 2011 by Sven Klöpping

Sven Klöpping was born in Herdecke/Westfalen in 1979. He has published stories at the borderline of inner space sf and contemporary mainstream fiction in anthologies and magazines, Nova among them. Several of his works have been translated for sf websites such as Fantastic Metropolis and the Romainian Lumi Virtuale. His fiction has received several awards. His website is at www.svenkloepping.de. His most recent project is a poetry site to be found at www.lyrikonline.eu.

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