“There was no WWIII. There was no EMP blast. There was just the Rhain, the Fludd, and the Drayn.”
Have you ever dove to the depths of the great blue? Have you ever walked to ocean’s floor?
Well I get to walk it every day. To feel the damp undertone against my skin, twenty-six thousand feet below sea level. To see the vast array of life clinging to the rugged rocks, the vivid colors of the phytoplankton, the soaring kelp, the ever-evolving corals and deep-sea-algae.
Every day, I endure illuminescent glow of life once hidden and elusive to the world above, now exposed to the vast grey, filled with flashing light and raging winds.
No more an ocean. No more a sea.
An emptying basin of an oceanic abyss.
It has been at least twenty years since anyone has dared to climb the Outer Ridge to the surface—to the land that once was. There are still distant rumors of trees once lush and plentiful.
I never had held a leaf. Never been able to watch one drift eloquently from its branch to the soft grass beneath.
The Pacifica Basin was home to me since birth, these past fourteen years. Just like me, somehow the life down here still clung to existence amidst the streams of bitter cold crevicing their way to towards the Abyssal Holes. Everything seemed to flow to them–the devouring mouths that swallowed up the ocean’s waters. It was in fleeing the acidic rains above that we scoured the ocean’s floor for any remnants of abandoned governmental bunkers.
I always wondered as to what came of the governmental agencies and their influence. No one taught me of their fall or decline. No one had answers. All that was ever talked about was the great Drayn after the Rhain and Fludd.
The sun rarely made it down this far, if only in pockets of distorted red. But the terrain was visible enough amidst the miraculous glow of coral and algae–of the flashes and hues of light still coursing the grey, ominous clouds far, far above.
And while I still discovered something new every day from the evolving plant life to the prowling crawlers, I was always on the lookout for bunkers. Being this low to gravity and pressure brought a whole new spectrum of needs and musts for survival. The sting of acidic moist irritated my skin as it found its way through the worn grooves and cuts in my wear. I was in desperate need of a new suit. Everyone had an A.L.K.O. suit, or at least remnants of one. A.L.K.O. was probably the most valuable find in the basin.
All the more reason to find an abandoned bunker. They say that during the great Fludd, A.L.K.O. was the organization responsible for locating the Abyssal Holes and finding a means of explanation.
That is why they developed these suits–capable of handling the pressures and terrain. Practically every aspect of the suit was adaptive to the terrain. The boots had soles that would expand or retract, stretch and grip, in accordance to the strain of the wearer, so long as you moved at the right pace. Even now I could feel them adjusting their grip to account for my weight for maintain a constant grip.
Grip from the malicious drafts ravaging the vast Abyssal Canyons.
I made sure to look at the count of the band about my wrist. It read 12:42.
Good, I still have at least a good fifteen left.
It wasn’t always assured, but about every thirty to forty clicks, a soaring draft would work its way across the rocks, capable of knocking people off their feet–which was the last thing you wanted since being surrounded by jagged rocks and crevices. And while the coral reefs were colorfully stunning, they would snap a bone in a heartbeat.
Just wish I still had the gloves.
Climbing was so much easier with them. Everything was so much easier with them. You could grip better, jab harder, and even damper a fall by letting them stretch. A true survival tool.
I had to be more careful on time, however, as my vision was being damped more than usual. The last A.L.K.O. I’d come across was not the best condition–a victim of the drafts.
While cracked, it still kept out the pressure and acids.
I reached back into my small sash about my waist, feeling for the scope lens. The ridge I was perched on should have been descent enough to get a glimpse of the bunker I was after.
They said that if I brought back some suits, I could join their cluster. The Pelican Cluster, that is.
My birth clan had been raided when I was eight, but it was the crawlers that came after that killed them all.
I hated crawlers—the scaly electric eels that could melt the flesh of anything in one touch.
As one had to my father.
The scope lens did no good to my damaged helmet. Most people who’d lived here since birth and made it to twenty were adapted enough to the pressure to do without helmets, but that was few and far between. I was definitely not there yet. I barely had made it five minutes without one a few months back when a drift had knocked me off my feet. Had I not found the one I was in now, my chances would have ended long ago.
I wasn’t a fighter. I wasn’t a wrestler.
But I knew how to plan. I had to know. Down here, if you more out of time and step, the drafts would take you. Especially any fourteen-year-old.
That was my one feat: I knew how to analyze my surroundings and plan accordingly.
But that alone would get me accepted by another clan.
My boots sank heavy to the toppled kelp–their spikes digging in to brace me as it slid to the perks base. I knew the bunker to be about two miles northwest of the Pelican Cluster, or so they had told me. For now, I had to rely more on wit and gut to reach it.
I sure hope there’s gloves. And a new mask.
I glanced back down at the wrist band. 12:46.
My stomach was growling at me, but I could not sympathize. It had been two days since I’d had a good meal. The Pelicans had given me enough to stand my weight, but were desperate for more themselves.
If this bunker was still untouched, it may be just what I need to get fit back it.
If it hadn’t already been raided, that is. Whenever a bunker was, indeed, unlocked, it was plundered and nested until found out by the crawlers.
Those flesh-melting, bone-devouring crawlers.
The path grew narrow about the jutting rocks. Between that and the twisting corals, I thought I’d never reach the next ridge, but finally emerged. My hands were bruised and bleeding from exposure. My shins still throbbed from the last draft.
My ankles were shaking. Wait, already?
I looked back at my wrist band. At 12:51?
It was early but it was coming. I could feel the draft picking up. Thankfully, I could see the bunker not much farther before me. Crouching low, I pushed past the reefs and seaweed that sought to wrap my sore limbs. If I had gloves, I could make easy of this nuisance.
I was more than relieved to reach the bunker door. It was barricaded into the face of a massive-rising ridge. Where its walls bent back into the rock, I could faintly see the many failed attempts to drill. Odd, considering most bunkers were tucked way beneath an overhang to provide more shelter from the drafts.
I knew my way about their keypads and quickly dislodged the cover with yet another tool from my sash. I torc-wrench–the most versatile tool I had ever learned to utilize.
The keypad itself was a bypass. Most bunkers were designed for quick entry in case of a draft, as thus, a simple code.
“9943H7” was etched across the back. I reached back into the sash to pull out a well-invested pad. It was slippery in my hands, but awakened to my touch as I inserted the code. The screen flashed through countless menus and databases until three numbers popped up.
I fit the keypad back into place and proceeded thus.
3. 3. 4. Then enter.
My knees buckled to the under-draft against my back–and the quaking ground as the massive bunker door unlocked. Just in time.
Though I hadn’t expected the draft to hit this early.
My eyes adjusted quickly to the stuttering light of the entrance chamber. Good, still power. I looked behind to the door as it croaked under its own weight and the current ravaging the surface of the out-facing cliff.
I knew to look for the overlay first. It was easy to get lost in these if they were half-invested into. Most kept an overlay in the welcoming chamber, though I wasn’t having much luck finding this one’s.
I remembered to glance back down at my wrist band. 12:59. I would need to be back at the front in thirty if I were to time my exit right. Though with the drafts getting inconsistent now….
The corridor turned sharp and down. This place felt more ominous than I remembered the others being.
I couldn’t help the bit of excitement coursing my veins. Did I just land a jackpot?