by Mercy Morbid
The ruins rose out of the water, a line of steel and concrete skeletons piercing the horizon. I sat on the front deck, listening to the whir of the hovercraft engine, my goggles around my neck. The wind stirred my hair into a frenzy and sprayed me with drops of ocean water. As they slid down my gray skin and hit my gills, I felt a rush of excitement. I wanted to swim, needed to swim. I was made for it, a shark chimera with a body designed for hydrodynamics.
Patience, I told myself. You’ll get in the water very soon.
As the ruins grew closer, my patience wore down little by little. The anticipation that comes before swimming is a drive I can’t really explain to terrestrials. Although I can live on land as easily as in the water, walking doesn’t feel as natural to me. It’s like I’m using my limbs for something they weren’t designed for, and while it isn’t at all painful, the urge to swim remains in my body like a dull ache.
Soon the hovercraft had entered the sunken ruins, the remnants of an old Terran metropolis called Boston. It slowed to a halt just above the target area. I had gone salvage diving in this area once before, and I felt certain there was still more to find under the waves. Sera, my dive assistant, came out from the back of the craft. The purple-haired squirrel held a tablet and a stylus. She had just finished checking off the pre-dive requirements.
“Ready for another run?” she asked.
I grinned, showing off my sharp teeth. “You have no idea,” I said.
“Are you sure you wanna do this dive unarmed?” she asked. “There could still be some pre-collapse security measures we don’t know about.”
“This was a tourist district,” I retorted.
“Marina,” Sera admonished.
I sighed. “Fine,” I grumbled, relenting. “Hand me that harpoon pistol.” She did, and I clipped it to my dive belt. “I still think you’re mothering me too much – ah!” I gasped as she gave my snout a gentle stroke.
“I just want you to be safe, babe,” she cooed.
I put my hand on top of hers. “I know,” I said, “And I will be.”
“Promise.” She smiled, and I smiled back, releasing her hand and letting it fall.
“Good luck down there,” said Sera.
I grinned. “Luck? Pfft,” I said, putting my goggles on. “I was born to do this.” And with that, I turned around and did a running dive off the side of the hovercraft. The cool saltwater enveloped me like the arms of an old lover. I took a couple of warmup strokes as my gills opened up and my eyes adjusted to the low light of the depths. I was home. Time to get to work.
I swam to the building I had marked as my target at the briefing. Recon had identified it as an old hotel. There was an open window on the fifth floor that looked like a possible entry point. I swam down to it and surveyed the area. No external security devices present. Sticking my head in the window, I looked back and forth around the floor. Moldy carpets, warped wooden doors and barnacle-encrusted walls filled my field of vision, but again I found no signs of any security countermeasures. The coast, for lack of a better term, was clear.
I swam into the hallway and began to try the various doors to see which ones opened. As it turned out, the locks on a good number of them had rusted shut, but one door had been left slightly ajar. I swam up to it and peered through the tiny opening. There was a red light inside the room, pointed directly at the door. Without warning, it blinked.
“Is someone there?” asked a waterlogged, hissing, electronic voice.
My mind instantly went to my training, facing down submersible drones in target practice, and to Sera’s face as she begged me to be careful before my dive. I drew my harpoon pistol from its holster and waited, my finger on the trigger. When the light blinked again, I kicked open the door, took aim, and fired the harpoon straight into the eye of a moldy, animatronic teddy bear.
The poor toy that I ruthlessly murdered whirred as its motors ground to a halt before turning off for good. Bubbles escaped my mouth as I sighed in relief, mentally admonishing myself for being so trigger-happy and glad that the teddy bear was neither a security drone nor another diver. With the imaginary threat neutralized, I swam into the room and took a look around.
The furniture was waterlogged and encrusted with barnacles, much like the rest of the building. The television was rusted, the screen warped and clouded by its long submergence in the briny depths. The drawers of the dresser were open and empty, and one had even fallen out of its enclosure. It appeared as though whomever had last stayed in this room had left in a hurry.
As I scanned the orphaned dresser drawers, a metallic glint caught my eye. Swimming over, I saw a rusted, heart-shaped locket tucked in a corner of one drawer. I picked it up, and was astonished to find that the latch seemed to be in good condition. I opened it and gasped at the contents. Inside was a picture of three humans. Two of them, both adults, were hugging a young child. The child held a teddy bear, which appeared to be waving at the camera. The photo must have been waterproofed quite well, as it was neither warped nor faded.
I floated there with the locket in hand, staring at the photo in shock. Humans had only ever been theoretical to me, a snapshot of the history that predated the collapse of the Terran ecosystem. My own DNA was descended from theirs, the result of a centuries old bioengineering project that produced the chimeras. We had inherited the works of our human ancestors, but no one yet lived who had seen a human outside of history class.
I wondered what had become of the family. What were their lives like? Did they come here on vacation? Did they escape the collapse? Did they die screaming in a climate catastrophe? Possible answers swirled in my mind as I stared at the locket.
I surfaced sometime later with a pack full of old tech, which I handed off to Sera before climbing aboard the hovercraft. Sera took a brief look inside the bag.
“Why do you have a teddy bear in here?” she asked.
“It’s animatronic and still functions. I bet it has a fusion battery inside. Might still be good for a few centuries.”
“Why does it have a harpoon in its eye?”
“It snuck up on me.”
“Uh huh.” Sera shot me a quizzical look. “What have you got on your neck?”
I touched the locket gingerly with a free hand. “A memento,” I said.
Sera opened her mouth to say something, then closed it, and simply shrugged.
Sera went back into the cabin, placing the salvage on a table inside. I followed behind her. Sera took the pilot seat and began prepping for the ride back to the salvage platform. Soon we were on our way, and there was nothing left for me to do but catalog the salvage and see what, if anything, was usable. That is our job, and the reason I dive. We have lost so much to the waves of time and history. We must salvage what little remains if we want to build a future.
* * *
About the Author
Mercy Morbid is a pixel artist, speculative fiction writer, and Vtuber from Northeast Ohio. She enjoys tabletop roleplaying games, books with queer characters, and the blood of the living. When she is not writing, she is often found posting her thoughts and ideas on Twitter (@MercyMorbid). She would be very happy if you read them.