By Eric Douglas
Nathan Scott slid into his lightweight dive gear and prepared to explore a new site in the sunken city. His father was a photojournalist and his mother an archeologist, so this work came naturally to him. He had been diving and exploring ancient ruins since he was a boy. Now, he was the archeologist and was leading his own team.
For this dive, Nathan wanted to see how things had changed since the sea had taken over and an earthquake had further dropped the ground below. They used cutting-edge laser mapping gear to map the location.
Simply swimming over the dive site would give them a 3-D model of the entire area.
With a nod from the members of his team, each diver backrolled into the warm saltwater and descended to the bottom. The site was relatively shallow — only 30 feet deep. Just a few miles away, the bottom dropped off quickly, with depths measured in miles, but that was a dead zone.
Swimming nearly unencumbered by his dive gear, Nathan thought back to his dad’s gear and laughed to himself. That stuff was ancient. It all belonged to museums now. Nathan’s dad had died a few years before, but his mom was still alive. At 100-years-old, she loved to tell stories of their adventures together and relive them like it was yesterday.
Nathan caught sight of the building he planned to survey. The architecture was considered “space-age” at the time. That brought another laugh. Now that space travel was common, he realized the science fiction writers and architectural dreamers had it pretty close. The buildings on Mars looked like what he saw in front of him. Minus the corals, of course. The main structure had looked like an ancient satellite with four long legs coming down at angles and crossing at the top in two massive bows. Underneath that structure rose a single pedestal that flared out, connecting to the legs. Storms had knocked the pedestal sideways dropping the main building to the sea floor now.
Approaching the remnants of the building, Nathan could tell a few glass windows had survived the fall,
but other than that it was completely open to the sea. In the shadow of the building, Nathan turned on his underwater light to get a look inside. The water had risen slowly, but inexorably, so the
people who worked in the building had time to remove everything. All that was left was furniture that couldn’t be moved easily and the walls of the building itself. He knew there was nothing of value there, which is probably why it had been left alone all these years.
Sweeping his light to the side, Nathan saw a shadow move. There was something there. But what? There were no sharks left in this part of the ocean. Whatever it was, it was big, though. Bigger than him, big.
Nathan moved inside the building. He needed to see what was there. Whatever it was, the thing kept moving just out of his vision. He kicked further inside. The odd angles of the floor and the walls, with the structure lying on its side, were disorienting.
What was in there? Was it just his imagination? Moving into the cavernous room, Nathan stayed away from the walls. He didn’t want to get backed into a corner. Swinging his light to his right to look around a partition, his heart almost stopped. He had heard stories, but he almost didn’t believe what he saw. The flowing fins and spines radiating from the fish’s body identified it immediately. A lionfish. But this one was as big as a lion. It had to weigh 400 pounds. When Nathan was a kid learning to dive, lionfish weighed a few pounds and the sting caused excruciating pain. Today, he heard their sting was just as painful, but almost certainly deadly.
The fish advanced toward him, stalking him like prey, and Nathan backpedaled quickly. The fish’s spines were as long as he was tall and could deliver enough ichthyotoxic venom to paralyze him on the spot. Lionfish were known to be fearless and aggressive hunters. There wasn’t much left in the ocean that could challenge them these days.
Lionfish hunted by moving close to their prey and then darting forward, lowering their flat lower jaws, and sucking prey into their mouths. If this lionfish got too close, Nathan wasn’t sure there was much he could do. Swimming backward, Nathan crashed into something hard. He managed to run into one of the few remaining glass windows. His reflection in the glass showed him that the huge fish had closed on him.
Nathan raised his light and smashed the window, diving through the falling shards of glass. As he did, he felt a pull against his legs. He grabbed the window frame and pulled himself the rest of the way through the opening just in time. The lionfish’s mouth clamped down on his foot and pulled one of his fins loose.
Fortunately, it was too big to fit through the window opening.
He was safe.
Making his way back to the boat was slow going with only one fin, but that was fine. He needed time to reflect on what he saw. The changes to the world he knew, within the span of his lifetime, were unsettling.
Exploring a landmark he had visited many times before brought the situation home for him.
On the way, he swam over the most famous landmark from the area they were surveying. The A and the X in the famous sign nearly reached the surface, but the L had fallen. All three statues were completely covered in coral growth.
He remembered catching a flight there with his dad as they were headed off on some adventure when he was just a kid.
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About the original publication
Original title: Swimming Over the Future
Life Plus 2 Meters edited by David Zetland — 1st ed.
Summary: “This edited volume — the second in a series — presents 34 visions by 34 authors of how we might (not) adapt to life in a climate changed world where sea levels are 2 meters higher, weather patterns have shifted, storms have grown stronger, food systems are strained, and so on. These visions take place in the future, but they are anchored in our present.”