The Great Drowning
The ocean cracked and told us with a smile, “the world will flood”.
And to prove it was serious, the ocean flooded one particular coastal city. Calling a “flood” is being too generous. It was a drowning. There was no safe ground high enough, no rooftop above it all. There was no time for escape and nowhere to escape to. Everyone, everything, was just gone, completely lost.
There are no words to describe what that was like, to see a city of millions swallowed up by the ocean, disappearing like it never even existed. No words are big enough or surreal enough. None are scary enough.
That snapped us all awake. Cities started organized plans. Politicians made speeches. Religious buildings were swarmed with both devout followers and new believers. Some people “headed for the hills,” literally. Military vehicles seemed to be everywhere all the time: on the roads passing in front of us, in the sky flying above us and in the sea launching from our docks. Where they were coming from or going to was completely unknown. They never stopped. We never asked.
We all knew what was coming, but not when. After some days (it’s all a blur now) the all-consuming, urgent feeling that screamed “we’ve got to do something, anything” began to subside. We were struck by a combination of “seriously, what can we do against a city-sized flood the whole world over” and “I don’t want to think about it, maybe it’s not going to happen” and “this is the fates, I’ll make it or I won’t (probably won’t).” Whatever the motivation, the end result was a lot of us went back to our daily routines. We stopped planning our bug-out bags, stopped tabulating what we wanted to take with us, to wherever we’ll be sent to, by whomever would be coordinating some rescue evacuation... for the whole planet.
It was Halloween. Or there was a comic book convention. (Again, it’s all kind of a blur and these details don’t really matter now.) We were all wearing costumes... of comic book characters. Well, everyone but me. I don’t remember why I wasn’t, but I wasn’t. They were dressed as The Watchmen: The Comedian, Silk Spectre II, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, Nite Owl II and Rorschach.
She was the most excited about it all. Even though the world was going to end in a giant flood and we’d likely all die from it, we were going to dress up as comic book characters and have some fun. She insisted and her insistence was contagious. She was Silk Spectre II, of course. It was a pretty hot day to be in full costume, but no one really cared.
Except Rorschach. It’s like he completely put on Rorschach’s character, not just Rorschach’s costume. He wouldn’t budge. “This is stupid. It’s too hot. I’m wearing a million layers. I’m not doing this.” It was a standoff. They couldn’t be The Watchmen without Rorschach, but he wouldn’t be Rorschach. Not in this heat. “This is stupid.”
Again, I don’t remember why I wasn’t wearing a costume to begin with, but there I was. So, I got enlisted to be Rorschach. The world was going to flood... sometime, but today we were going to dress up as The Watchmen and have some fun. Or so we thought.
I put on the Rorschach costume. Which to his credit, was very hot with all the layers on, but it didn’t matter right then. Things like “these clothes are too hot” weren’t important anymore. The one change I made to the Rorschach costume was that I didn’t want to paint my face, I wanted to wear a mask. We found some muslin in the closet, did a quick cut/sew job and applied the Rorschach Test inkblots with some permanent marker.
“Good enough! Let’s get going before...” I don’t remember what I was going to say. Before what? No idea. It doesn’t matter. Our “normal” lives completely ended right then. For the second time. Really, they had ended with The Great City Drowning. And then again here, in the middle of my sentence about going before something, when I saw a snake fall (jump really) out of a tree.
My first thought was, I didn’t know we had snakes in the city, let alone really, really big snakes. Snakes measuring several feet long. My second thought was to (almost) convince myself that it wasn’t a snake at all, but instead a really big branch that had fallen. But then another snake jumped from the tree. Then a third. A fourth. We all crowded to the window to watch. And what we saw was our world disappearing and every living thing in the world realizing that.
It turned out that the flooding of the world wasn’t a giant crashing wave out of some old Japanese painting. It was more like the draining of a bathtub in reverse. There was water in the streets. It had a current. It was slowly rising. (We couldn’t see any cars anymore.) And it would soon be as high as the stoop at the front of our house.
I had tried to imagine this moment so many times. How would I feel? What would I do? In none of those scenarios did I imagine this. Somehow, right then, we were all fine with it. We felt no panic, no urgency. Anything that resembled “a plan” was instantly forgotten. We didn’t grab our bags that we had packed and re-packed. We didn’t run in circles and scream about. We were calm and accepting. This was it.
Still in costume as The Watchmen, we all left the apartment and made our way down the long series of hallways that led to the front door. For whatever reason (and I still can’t understand or explain this now), I was carrying my Roomba. Not food, not a dry sack of clothes or drinkable water or a medical kit, not even an inner tube. Just my Roomba.
Here was the weirdest thing (in a world recently full of impossibly weird things): the hallway was littered with other Roombas. Did they all go rogue and try to escape, until their batteries died? Did their owners, like me, start to bring them, before realizing that the water would destroy their electronics? I don’t know. But there they were, laid out in front of us: a graveyard of Roombas.
“It’s strange. I never had a Roomba and I still kind of want one,” said my roommate, who was dressed (painted) as Dr. Manhattan. (He was chosen to be Dr. Manhattan because he was the tallest. The costume was a tiny swimsuit brief and lots of blue body paint.)
“Take one”, I said. “There’re plenty just sitting there.”
“OK,” he said as he picked one up off the floor by its handle.
“Not that one. That’s an older one. It’s too heavy.” I explained, as if the weight somehow mattered.
“That’s pretty good, but a bit big. Oh! That other one there. It’s a newer one. It’s small and light,” I said, again as if the size or weight of a robotic vacuum cleaner mattered when the Earth was flooding. I still don’t know why he wanted one and why I cared which one he took. It’s a blur, like everything Pre-Flood.
So, there we were: two grown men dressed as Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach, carrying Roombas, walking to the end of the world.
By the time we made it to the front door and stepped outside, only the top step of the stoop was still visible. The water’s current was constant, but not frighteningly fast. No whitewater rapids whipping through the Grand Canyon on a family adventure, it was instead a summer river float, missing only the floating cooler of drinks. We stepped into the current and began the gentle but sure process of being swept away from our old lives.
The water was tepid and salty. There was no point in swimming, only floating. The current did all the work. I’m sure that someone got hurt from unseen underwater obstacles, like cars and fences and trees, but I never saw it happen. There was something different about this water: everyone floated. I had never gone to the Dead Sea (and now, I guess I never will), but I imagine it was like something like this. Maybe it was the salt density, maybe it was something else. There’s still so much that is unknown about what happened.
All I do know is that everyone floated. It wasn’t just humans floating away to the end of the world. There were the snakes that jumped from the tree, and there were monkeys in there too. Monkeys! I don’t even know why there were monkeys in the city. There were also, of course, cats and dogs. Other small animals: squirrels, mice, rats. Everyone.
Somehow, the strangest part wasn’t the menagerie of non-human animals in the water with us. It was everyone’s total calm. There was absolutely no fighting, either with each other or against the water. We all just floated together. I even bumped into a snake with my foot at one point and it simply slither-swam a bit farther away from me. We had all accepted that this was the fates at work.
And then, my memories fade away. Just black.
It’s frustrating; there’s so much I don’t recall: I don’t remember where we floated to or how we got there. I don’t remember when or how the water went away. I don’t remember waking up or if I was ever not awake in the first place. My first fuzzy memories Post-Flood were walking through some streets, somewhere in the city. We were still together as a group, still damp, and still dressed as The Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan’s body paint had mostly washed off. I don’t remember why or when I stopped carrying that Roomba around, but I don’t have it anymore.
The water was mostly gone. Minor puddles here and there were caught in bird baths, car roofs, potholes. The evidence of flooding was everywhere. Water lines visible several stories high on the sides of buildings. Overturned newspaper boxes. Cars swept away and collected around a street pole. Debris everywhere. Everything that you’d expect from a giant flood. Everything except the water.
We wandered. Everyone wandered. Completely dumbfounded. Eventually, we found a small crowd that seemed to have some purpose. (I’ve never understood why humans instinctually group to each in times of uncertainty or danger. There’s probably some evolutionary reason.) We gravitated to and then into this group.
Amazingly, there was still no hysteria, just an eerie calm of “we went through this thing and all survived somehow”. People shared what little they had: food, water, clothes. The one thing not in short supply, shared liberally from person to person, was information: rumors, facts, personal stories, theories. And the information spread fast.
We heard all the religious explanations of the flood and our survival. It was The Rapture, The Great Flood, Noah. Those were just the Christian stories. Eventually, we heard all of it. So when people spoke of Arks, we didn’t think much of it. When we heard stories of bubbles, orbital cities and space tunnels, we didn’t think much of it. There were a million pet theories flying about on what happened, why, how.
But this sci-fi story was the one that stuck around the most. It went something like this:
Somehow they (and who they are was never clear) knew for a long time that something like this was going to happen and had been planning an escape route. They built massive retractable spheres underneath a few dozen cities and “important areas.” The top half of the sphere remained retracted underground. They got ready after the ocean told us that the world would flood. But they wanted to be sure it was really real before revealing their giant secret operation.
Once the coastal cities started flooding, they initiated the sequence. It took a long time for each sphere to spin up and cover the whole city. In that time, massive flooding overtook the cities and those of us inside began to float. When the sphere had fully enclosed the city, it detached itself from the earth and launched out into lower orbit with its inhabitants floating inside.
After the city spheres reached their new homes in space, they tethered to one another, forming space tunnels, a kind of subway through the black. The flood waters from each city sphere were drained into smaller spheres that now comprise the only source of water for us, the living colony of orbital spheres in space.
It still sounds insane to say it out loud. But it was just one of the many crazy rumors about what had happened to our lives and our world. Regardless of how many times we heard it, we still didn’t really believe the story.
When the military and the politicians came around and confirmed this story, we didn’t believe it. When somehow the power came back on for a little while and the news people on TV told us this story, we didn’t believe it. It was too unbelievable of a story to possibly be true.
It wasn’t until we made it out to the edge of the city, a place we now call The Coast, that we started to truly believe. Even then, it took some time, time to re-wire our brains, brains that had only known of millions of years of human terrestrial evolution.
We stood there at the edge of our city that had become a world, and we stared back at Earth. Earth. It seems like such a lie to call it that anymore. The Blue Marble. It really was The Blue Marble now, with no land or cities or lights to taint its watery hue.
We stared at Earth, massive in front of us, and at the other city spheres, connected to us via massive tunnels through space. We stared and tried to believe in our brains what our eyes were showing us. That these city spheres were now our world. Somehow, “world” and “earth” were no longer the same.
There’s still so much we don’t know. I mean, we normal people. We survivors. We don’t know what caused this, or who knew it was coming. We don’t know how long they knew or even who “they” are. We don’t know their long-term plan. We don’t know if anyone survived back on Earth, in submarines, on boats, in the mountains.
Are we ever going back to Earth? Will the water ever recede? Was there a coordinated global effort to plan and execute this escape plan? On a more practical note, once our food supplies run out, how will food production and resource consumption be handled? Will population control be necessary? How freely will be able to travel between city spheres? Will there be a “global” government now?
How did they do all of this undetected? How are they able manipulate gravity in our city spheres to emulate Earth’s gravity? What was the extent of the extinction of species planet-wide? How many billions of humans and non-humans died while a few million survived?
And underneath it all: what will our lives be like now? What will our world be like? Incredibly, improbably, we have somehow immigrated out into black space, avoiding annihilation. How much farther will we explore outward?
So much that we don’t know. So many questions. It’s all still too overwhelming. I think that for all of us that survived, it will always be too unreal to fathom clearly. It’ll take a generation or two born into this life to really accept it. That is, if we continue to live this life.
Based on a dream I woke up from on the morning of 2013-08-01.
(Edited by Abby Phoenix)