Every week, cool website io9 posts a piece of intriguing concept art, and encourages readers to come up with a short story that relates to it. Here’s this week’s post, and the artwork by Vitaliy Shushko, and my story that was inspired by it, are below.
Undersea Is Where It’s At
By Kris Bather
“This isn’t funny anymore.”
“Was this ever funny to you?” Rufus cocked his head; every expression underwater had to be exaggerated. A raised eyebrow wasn’t enough to show his disgust.
Weary, Thom depressed the radio-comm switch inside his rubberized glove, so he could offer his hasty explanation. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that…well, this has gone from some sort of twisted novelty to…to a bad dream, I guess.”
“Yeah. I think I know what you mean,” sighed Rufus, lifting his glove to scratch his grey moustache before realizing the futility of his gesture as he merely managed to caress his glass helmet. “I remember when we used to put names on the crosses, and then it just went to dates. Now, we don’t even bother carving them properly. They don’t mean anything anymore. I made six of them last night. It’s pretty defeatist isn’t it?”
Alique stood silently between the two middle-aged men; the only African, the only female, the slender thirty year old was constantly reminded that she was the reluctant Eve trying to remake Eden with two despondent Adams almost twice her age. In their tight orange and grey pressure suits and oval masks, everyone resembled the same dull mannequin, but she had come to know these two men far too well in the seven years they’d been given the greatest responsibility known to mankind– to save it.
The silence atop the small hill became annoying. Their home/research station/bunker known as Beta Base contained a litany of sounds that brought memories of life above in the form of random audio tracks, such as young students playing, gentle wind blowing leaves and cars hitting puddles, but the three survivors quickly grew bored with these novelties. Psychiatrists had initiated the notion, to retain some semblance of normality, but hearing the laughter of non-existent children echo through a metallic cavern in the depths of the ocean only served to bring unease.
“I’ve had enough of this. You guys are depressing me more than usual.” Alique turned away, kicking up a smoky mixture of sand and seaweed in her angry pivot. Rufus and Thom barely glanced at their departing colleague, as she made her trudging and silent way back to base.
Beta Base existed as a monstrosity comfortably nestled in the bowels of the Atlantic Ocean. It resembled a hulking octopus and over the years grew to the size of a self-contained suburb, with all the necessary pursuits and amenities from a medical care to schooling each given a mammoth tentacle to call its own. Originally it housed seventy two scientists, radicals and free thinkers, keeping them safe from the dangers of their own mad, dwindling species as well as the largely unknown beastly invaders that had made Earth its own. That was two generations ago upon discovering that the new angry alien overlords could go nowhere near seawater. Suicide, disease and ageing had taken its claim on wise minds and unforgiving bodies. Now it was only down to three. Alique, being the only woman was unable, and unwilling to bear children, and nixed the suggestion as soon as it became obvious that humanity would come down to three people hiding at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
The men looked down upon their “silent soldiers,” as they called them. It had taken multiple agonizing attempts to clone anything resembling a humanoid, and as their collection of untainted tissue samples dwindled, so did their success rate. The initial seven all looked alike; hairless and androgynous, they shared a mild telepathic link with each other, which was their primary means of communication.
This first successful attempt at reviving humanity they dubbed “A.” A stood before a waiting hole, which he had dug personally, as he always had. This time he purposefully left the shovel back in the massive storage area back at base, and used the cross to dig. His strength, and the soft seabed meant he was done in a matter of seconds. He also showed lack of confidence in his trio of “masters” by bringing a collection of crosses, which lay atop each other behind him, ready to be used for the next few burials.
B to G held today’s failure upon their sinewy shoulders, a task they had fulfilled often, and with no emotional attachment. The crew had to venture further across the ocean floor with each burial as graves had taken almost every available space within short walking distance of the base. Today’s small valley would soon be filled with death.
Rufus and Thom briefly looked as the metal coffin was thrown in the hole, sinking like a sigh to its place of rest amongst the few fish. The clones made several unusual body contortions, and began kicking in sand to cover it, as A knelt and used his hands to finish the task, cupping his hands like a crude bulldozer. When the coffin was covered, he stood up, lifting the horizontal arms of the cross/shovel upon his shoulders and jabbed it deep in to the ocean’s belly, like a knight felling a wounded enemy. The pair of scientists noticed that with each new burial, the clones’ rituals were becoming more ornate, but they had neither the inclination or strength to discuss it further. They turned in unison, nodded and made the meandering return to base, expecting to find Alique in her usual place looking through the remote telescope, reminding herself what sunlight and cities looked like.
A looked at his “parents,” as they trudged home. B to G stepped closer to the coffin and looked in unison at the remaining crosses laying in a pile behind him. A glanced at the unused grave markers with great intensity. All the clones remained unmoved.
The curtain of sunlight danced upon their sleek suits; the only movement in an area that was once crowned with a life of abundance and variety. There was now a void of living creatures, a void that was echoed above the blue expanse, and a void that longed to be replenished.