Elizabeth Wilsmore '20
Serial Story Columnist
Click clack click clack. The rapid beat of Susie’s heels on concrete echoed through the halls as she led Anya back up from the basement and into a room just below the building lobby. It was a pristine space and the overhead light caught in the polished surface of the wooden table in its center. The table was filled with files and boxes of varying sizes, all labeled with unfinished project names and plans. Susie gestured for Anya to walk in, her black curls glinting like burnished charcoal in the artificial light.
Tentatively, Anya stepped across the threshold, slowing scanning around the room, before closing her eyes and taking in a deep breath. The air smelt musty like an old-growth forest. The array of boxes and paper suggested the presence of plans and abandoned ideas older than either Anya’s or Susie’s lifetimes.
“What is this place?” Anya asked, turning to face Susie.
“This is where you will begin your work,” the latter replied, Her heels clicked as Susie shut the door and deftly crossed the room to a large safe obscured by stacks of yellowing papers. Squatting, she reached out and twirled a small dial on the side of the safe, her fingers flying in nimble, controlled sequences until finally there was a click! and the box sprung open, the hinges creaking as the door hit the ground with a resounding thud.
Anya looked on as Susie reached into the safe and pulled out a series of files - each one shiny, black, and sleek, with a label in the upper right-hand corner - and carried them to the large wooden table, where she set them down in a large pile.
“This,” Susie began, “is everything we’ve compiled over the last hundred years about this project.”
Beckoning Anya over, Susie lined the files up next to each other in chronological order, the dust layering on each getting thicker with the turning of the years. Softly, Anya reached out and ran a finger down the cover of the nearest one, mesmerized by the shiny spiral her index finger left on its cover. Blinking, Anya looked up at Susie, who had her brown eyes fixed intently on Anya’s face, her curiosity burning brighter than the heat of a kerosene lamp.
“It’s all here,” Susie began, turning and clicking her way down the row of files. “We have ocean level records dating back almost one hundred years, preliminary plans for an interlocking system of submarines, rough sketches of ocean floor bases that were never finished, we have it all.”
Anya felt the blood rush to her cheeks as she glanced over the familiar array of designs, unfinished blueprints half hurried drawings of semi-formed ideas, and was suddenly filled with A burning desire to create, to build, to forge so many new ideas the world of her imagination was unrecognizable upon their completions, an emotion she hadn’t experienced since the accident.
“This is breathtaking” Anya whispered, brushing a coppery curl out of her eyes as she bent down to decipher the label of a particularly old file.
“I haven’t shown you the best part yet,” Susie replied, the corner of her mouth twitching into a smile.
From beneath the files and folders of the last century, Susie uncovered a battered leather-bound notebook, its pages crinkled and worn at the edges like a raggedy moth’s wing. Anya shifted over to see it, craning her neck around the glare from the polished wooden table so she could decipher the name written on the cover.
Charlie Cooper, it read in the small unmistakable handwriting of Anya’s Gramps.
Anya’s hands trembled as she reached over to trace the outline of Gramps’ name, her fingertips grazing the ink marks in trepidation. Gently, she lifted the book from Susie’s hands, breathing in the musty scent of aging leather as she turned the pages, each one filled with the careful, tiny script of Gramps’ hand, accompanied by page after page of drawings and designs.
“How did you get this?” Anya whispered, her voice catching on the last word as she thumbed through Gramps’ meticulous work.
“Your grandfather worked for us, many years ago,” Susie began, her solid timbre ringing starkly through the silence. “During the Climate War, he designed shelters for us, ones that could withstand all manner of wind, rain, and ocean water. He worked in our emergency department as a troubleshooter and was the one we called if all else had failed.”
Susie paused and looked at Anya, who still stood bewildered with the leather journal in her hands. Leaning forward, Susie locked her intense brown eyes on Anya,
“His work was kept secret for years,” she continued, her voice softening slightly. “By that point, we knew the rising oceans were unstoppable, that there was no reversing this change. The levels would continue to rise, the politicians would continue to deny and blame each other, and meanwhile half the world’s coasts were rapidly disappearing into the sea.”
Susie reached over to flip the pages of Gramps’ book, stopping at a particularly dense cluster of writing and sketches.
“Charlie designed these small pods so that populations near the flooding coasts would have a place to live until they could be resettled. They’re rudimentary really, just a small closet for a kitchen, a waste pump, and a section with beds, but they bought us time while we found new places for those families to settle.”
Anya’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “But, I thought the first climate refugees didn’t appear until about twenty years ago?”
Grimly, Susie shook her head. “Official reports will tell you that, but our numbers – the ones politicians still refuse to acknowledge are the real ones – indicate climate refugees first arrived about sixty years ago, after the first wave of natural disasters hit.”
“But I still don’t understand,” Anya began, brow furrowed, her lips pursed in perplexity. “If the situation is as dire as you say it is, it’s far too late for these pods Gramps designed. The only possible way to keep people safe without overcrowding on land would be some sort of underwater base, and that’s highly un-” Anya’s voice trailed off as she watched a subtle grin begin to unfold across Susie’s face, alighting on each cheekbone until even her dark eyes seemed to glow with excitement.
“No, Anya,” she responded, her voice calm and even as a new piece of silk. “I think you do understand. Charlie built pods, he bought us time. And now,” Susie reached out and gently laid a hand on Anya’s shoulder, which had begun to rise and fall with the quickening pace of her breath. “Now, Anya, we need you, the best engineer we could find, to build us an underwater base, the Noah’s Arc of climate change. We need you to build a new home for the human race, so, once the ocean levels overwhelm the Earth – which they will, eventually – we can still survive.”