This is one of those post-apocalyptic dreams. The sea level had risen substantially, flooding many modern day cities. I was the pilot of a tiny, cramped one-person submersible whose job it was to hunt down and salvage technological relics from before this happened.
The sub was so small it barely fit my body. I was straddling a motorcycle style seat inside, laying almost prone, with my head sticking into a bubble shaped viewing dome at the front. My hands could reach a set of controls with which to operate a pair of robotic arms mounted to the sub exterior.
I had music playing in the sub to pass the time, a can of orange juice in a cup holder with a straw within reach of my mouth, and for whatever reason I’d brought my cat with me. She was asleep on a folded up blanket inside the viewing dome. There was enough space for her to be there without blocking my view, but only just.
It felt very cozy, cruising slowly between the husks of skyscrapers, the surface of the ocean rippling gently about a hundred feet above me. I received a mission to find “the pieces of a technological puzzle that promises to re-freeze enough of the ocean at the poles that the sea level will return to normal.”
Because my subconscious was apparently feeling lazy and uncreative that night, they were literal technological puzzle pieces. Made of metal, with rivets and blinking LEDs on them, but shaped like puzzle pieces nevertheless. I’d just found one when something unusual caught my eye.
There was the entrance to a sewer tunnel perhaps thirty feet away. I could see inside that there was a substantial amount of trapped air, because the underside of an air-water interface was visible. I figured I might be able to surface inside of it, if the dry space is large enough, like some underwater caves.
The dry space turned out to consist of the entire sewer system. It was flooded only partway, the water about ten feet deep, with another ten feet of dry space above that. I surfaced enough that I could see above the water line, and scooted through the tunnels like a little boat.
This is when my hydrophone picked up raspy breathing. Could there be people still alive down here? It seemed impossible. How could they keep the air breathable without life support machinery? I’ve seen that story about the ship’s cook who was trapped in an air pocket within his sunken ship for three days and survived because the surface of the water in that room was large enough to act like a lung, dissolving CO2 out of the air into the water, and O2 in the other direction.
It didn’t turn out to be anything like that. I found the source of the breathing alright, but it wasn’t people and it wasn’t alive. Not strictly speaking. A cluster of twelve or so human upper bodies, their lower bodies replaced by long, snake-like trunks trailing back behind them into the shadows.
They were corpses. Or looked like it, their skin rotted, their features gaunt and ghostly pale. Their snake-like lower bodies trailed back into the darkness, presumably connecting to some much larger creature they were only the heads of. A creature which I never got a glimpse of, and can only begin to imagine. Here’s my attempt to draw it.
“Come with us” they whispered. I asked what they are. “We are the new existence. Unity in death, a way to continue on in a world that rebukes human life. We embrace death, but it does not destroy us. We instead become part of something larger, which sustains us in a new form. Become one with us and know peace.”
Repulsed, I refused their offer. They did not attack, just hissed and laughed at my apparent foolishness. “You will sooner or later. Death comes for everyone, and this is the only way to persist after it reaches you. We are the new flesh, the new existence, the only path left which life can take in a world which rejects it.”
I got the fuck out of there, but logged the location of the sewer tunnel entrance. I couldn’t say why at the time. I didn’t feel as if I would ever seriously consider taking them up on it. But then I took the job as a subsea salvager to one day afford to live on the ever-diminishing amount of overpopulated land.
The Earth no longer had room for us. People were dying every day from heat stroke on the surface, or living in cramped, leaky underwater habitats to escape the harsh surface conditions, where they never so much as see the sun except filtered through sea water.
They had a point. Humans no longer could survive here. But if there was a way to die, but continue existing, the new conditions would no longer be a problem. I returned to the salvage habitat, surfacing in its moon pool and unloading the puzzle pieces from my cargo hold for appraisal.
I didn’t report the existence of the sewer tunnels to anybody, though. They wouldn’t believe me unless I took them there and showed them, and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know how to feel about what I discovered, and spent that night plagued by thoughts of one day taking my place as the newest permanent appendage of that unfathomable creature.
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