DEAF EARS
by Sean MacKendrick
 
‘WE WANT TO thank you, children of the Earth, and we congratulate you. You are the best we could become.

‘Treat Mother Earth well. She is your gift, and you are hers. Take care of each other.’

The speakers shut off then, and the Complex was silent. Throughout the halls and domes crisscrossing one another along the bottom of the oceans, the audio system waited while a timer silently ticked away the minutes.

One hour later the speakers clicked on again.

‘Greetings, children of the Earth!’ boomed the voice in some sections of the Complex. In other sections it was, ‘Guten Tag, Kinder des Welt!’ or ‘Habari!’ or ‘Merhaba!’

‘This is a very special announcement to all the people, everywhere. Today is a very special day. Today is the day when you, children of the seas, receive a long-awaited gift. That gift is your freedom. Your freedom to leave this place, if you wish. The entire world is yours again, to live wherever you want to live, to run wherever you want to run, to enjoy the sands and sunshine and fresh rains of the world from which you came. This is your inheritance and our gift to you.’

Along the Northwest Pacific Basin a great number of habitation pods dotted the underwater plain, connected by long straight tubes. Most of the tubes and pods along the western edge, abutting the Japan Trench, were buckled and torn by centuries of the slow tectonic movement of the earth underneath them.

‘We hope this message finds you well. There’s simply no way for any of us at the time of this recording to predict what life is like for those of you hearing it. We’ve done our best to model it out, but the truth is that human nature is so much more complex than any computer simulation can accurately extrapolate. It could be that all of you are anxious to leave this underwater shell and once again breathe in the air, the air that is once again clean and clear.’

Of the three major manufacturing centres, one stretching across the South Indian Basin, another running along the equator under the Atlantic Ocean, the third circling the East Pacific Rise, only the South Indian centre still showed any signs of functionality.

Air bubbled out of the cool fusion reaction preprocessing chambers, where water was broken down into component molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen was then photo-fused into helium, creating energy in the process now primarily used only to replace the heat lost to the cold waters and the power used by those few life support systems that still ran. The chambers were designed to siphon off a certain amount of oxygen and helium for the Helox mixture used for breathable air at such a depth, but the oxygen level had remained at a constant maximum for a few hundred years and now the excess simply bubbled away, unused. Plants and fishes thickened the water surrounding the reactors where the warmth and oxygen continuously bled into the ocean.

‘At the same time, the idea of leaving the waters and crawling out on the open surface may be a terrifying or repugnant one. If that’s the case, let us assure no one is forcing you to leave. We encourage a few of you, however, to try it out, if only to see where you came from.’

For a thousand miles in each direction, plant life spread from the cool fusion reactors, wrapped around and in between the connecting tunnels. In many places the tunnels sat in broken lengths where the vines were especially thick and tangled and had managed to choke off the hard metal corridors.

‘We all started from the same place. Every organism on this planet can trace its ancestry back to these oceans. Humans began as a single celled organism in the primordium just like everything else, eventually crawling free and gasping on the shores in the open air. At least take a glimpse to see if you can understand what drove us up on those shores in the first place. It’s a beautiful world, or at least it will be again by the time you get this announcement.’

The oldest area of the Complex, lying between the Clarion and Chipperton Fracture Zones at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, was abandoned. Silt covered the surfaces, building slowly over time so the great cathedral-like halls and storage facilities and inter-pod transport tubes resembled little more than a clump of underwater hills.

‘It’s been a long time, children. A very, very long time. Eight hundred years. We hope you’ve been waiting for this announcement, and that you are still talking about how you came from the surface so many generations ago. Some of human history’s most impressive feats took place there. Wonderful and maddening events. We had wars and starvation and disease, it’s true. We also had literature and art and green valleys and unbelievable sunsets.

‘We built The Complex, too. Your entire world.’

Under the Indian Ocean, up through the Ceylon Plain, sections of the Complex lay in jagged clumps, disconnected. Tube worms, evolving a new but increasing dependence on the metal, were working free more tiny flakes. The worms crawled over the edges where the pods and tubes still connected to the Complex. Groups of worms laboured slowly to work more chunks of food loose from the tunnels and pods.

‘Now is not the time for a history lesson. We hope the details of the first pioneers and scientific progressions and all the details of how life under the sea became a reality have been drilled into you. We hope the teachers are boring students with history just as much as they did when we were students and forced to learn about the history of our world.’

In several places around the ocean floor the tubes were flattened and pierced by what appeared to be an impossibly large set of teeth.

‘And it’s not a very flattering history in the end. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. Not two generations prior to this recording, the Complex was barely a hundred thousand people struggling for a lifestyle no one else really understood in a handful of isolated structures under water. That was the time when we made our biggest mistakes. Within that one generation we were streaming into the oceans to escape.’

A great number of habitation pods along the southern edge of the Aleutian Basin were softened by the heat of the widening fissure in the Aleutian Trench, popping like soap bubbles as the metal weakened. Many of the pods had been consumed by the overlapping tectonic plate under which the Basin was being slowly pushed.

‘It was during those years the Desertification took place. Everything from central Africa to Eastern Asia became little more than a wind-blown expanse of dust and sand. By the time we started trying to change what we were doing to the planet it was far too late. It was during this time period, and later during the Great Plague of Northern America, that the Complex really became our hope for a future. That’s when the countries and citizens of the Northern Octumvirate took the scattering of maripods and connected them, honeycombing further and further into the depths. Creating something magical.’

A network of tunnels stretched towards one another from both sides through the slopes of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. They sat a hundred miles apart, unfinished.

‘There was a time when we thought the moon or perhaps other planets would hold the key, but when the world economy faltered and no one country could cooperate with another, space exploration went bust. All of our available resources, all those that went beyond basic survival, went towards improving and expanding the Complex.’

Inside the corridors spanning the Melanesian Basin from what used to be New Guinea, to nearly one-third of the distance to South America, the walls were lined with holes and rifts that stretched sometimes for a mile or more. The breaches in the triple-enforced hull had been blown outward by some type of internal explosions.

‘The whole surface world became embroiled in a war that was little more than one great territorial dispute for the few remaining habitable areas, a war which lasted for far too long a time. The population of the entire planet, which once spread across six continents, huddled together in the hills and mountains, watching the oceans drown the planet as the ice caps melted.’

In the North Atlantic, miles of the Complex were buried under a slab of ice extending south from Greenland. Other sections bordering Antarctica had burst where the ice in the joints and small fissures in the metal ripped the hull apart.

‘We were the last. At its greatest, humanity was eighteen billion strong, and we lived in cities that soared into the heavens with buildings ten thousand metres tall. In the end, we have no idea how many were left. The official census of the Complex was just under a hundred million people when the last of us finally gave up and dove into the waters to live out our lives.’

Support structures and storage modules lay in dry broken clumps where the water had receded from the slopes of South America and Africa, on the edges of the Brazil and Angola Basins. The structures had collapsed under their own weight in the open air.

‘It was never an easy life under the waves, relearning how to breathe underwater, but it was life, and life was only possible here. We ruined the surface with our wars and political bickering and selfishness and environmental destruction and general mistreatment of our home. But we will prevail. We have prevailed! You are the proof of that.’

Throughout the Mediterranean Sea, the Complex was scorched and torn. Evidence of man-made projectiles and explosions were still visible in the polluted waters where very little lived.

‘We made the official decision eight hundred years ago to wait out the healing process. We did our best, synthesized catalysts to break down the most harmful chemicals in the environment and the artificial structures covering the landscapes, genetically altered plant species to survive on the patches of land remaining above the waters so they could reclaim the lands as the waters subsided. But even our best takes time. Eight centuries is the minimum amount of time we determined the surface needed to heal and restabilize before we could even think about moving back up into the sunshine. Anything less and we’d just be interfering with the healing process. So we set the timer, and that timer has now counted down to zero.’

The Arabian Basin showed little proof that the Complex had ever been there. Ancient pieces of rotting metal dotted the eastern shores where underwater storms uprooted the pods and tossed them up on the land. All that existed on the ocean floor were ragged ends and twisted support structures to the south.

‘It’s not realistic to assume no one has ventured back out before this moment. This announcement may well be nothing but ceremonial, given to a humanity that has been visiting dry land for a hundred years, we simply don’t know. Ceremonial or not, you made it. The planet surface is once again yours.’

Transportation tubes circling the Java Trench were buried under great masses of rock and dirt from multiple landslides. Similar mounds covered the habitation pods on the upper slopes of the Perth Basin.

‘We are not a perfect species. We never will be. But your very existence is proof positive of our determination and inventiveness and perseverance. You are better than we were. You wouldn’t be hearing this announcement if you weren’t.’

Other pods throughout the Complex were cold and dark and lifeless, never reconnected after various causes disconnected them from the energy modules and power cables.

‘It’s simply inconceivable that you would survive this long without the utmost in cooperation and hard work. We all have faith in you, children. We know you’ve overcome the human urge to fight, or you wouldn’t have made it this far. We know you’ve worked together to keep the Complex running and your people fed, and expanding to fit your own children, coming up with better solutions than we did.’

‘You are the future. You are our chance at a new life on this planet. Reclaim the surface. It is yours once again.’

In the oldest section in the Pacific Ocean, in the very oldest pod on the slopes of the East Pacific Rise, something large and soft moved through the waters flooding the dome. Its translucent flesh was grey where the lights still worked. The thing floated down a hall, attracted to the vibrations of one speaker trying to relay the announcement despite being submerged. It wrapped itself briefly around the speaker before losing interest and moving on down the empty corridors of the Complex.

‘We want to thank you, children of the Earth, and we congratulate you. You are the best we could become.’

The creature moved with the current, in no particular hurry. There was nothing to stop its exploration.

‘Treat Mother Earth well this time. She is your gift, and you are hers. Take care of each other.’

The speakers shut down once again. The last words of the announcement echoed into silence wherever the Complex was intact and powered.

Another hour of quiet passed before the speakers powered up for another loop.

‘Greetings, children of the Earth!’

 


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