It was July 2, 2063, and the engines had stopped working. There had been a leak in the inner shell casing for many, many years, and the problem always kept occurring at almost exactly the same time each five years. Without the engines functioning, the drills would not be able to perform their duties: penetrating the ocean floor and keeping the drilling station from losing power. The kinetic energy released from the drills powered seventy-five percent of the facility and, most importantly, kept the pressure on the inside of the outer shell greater than the pressure on the outside, as to avoid a cave-in. When the drills stopped spinning and the engines started flooding, all energy in the emergency cells were diverted to the emergency oxygen supply and the alarm systems. Bright red and yellow lights flashed throughout the station as sirens wailed through the halls to warn all the staff that there was a problem. RRR! RRR! RRR! When Jack woke up due to the sirens, he already knew what the problem was; he had been prepared for it.
Jack knew he had to work fast, even though he had done this task many times before single-handedly. After quickly jumping into his waders, Jack ran down the normally white but now red and yellow hall leading to the engine access hatch. He put on his gloves, chained his workbag to his side-pockets, and gripped the hatch valve. Even though it hadn’t been open for about five years, the valve turned with ease. Immediately after a half-turn, Jack felt the pressure of the water inside hurling itself against the hatch and swiftly stepped back. The hatch swung open and water came rushing out onto the vented walkways. Jack waited until the flow of water became less violent and stepped into the engine room.
It was not as bad as it had been in years past. The water was only about waist high and nowhere near the furnace, which rested near the top of the room. Jack could take his time if he wanted to, and he decided that he would. Wading through the salty water right up to the tear in the inner shell, Jack began to work. Evidence of last time’s repair were still there; rusty hinges and clamps hanging off the metal and lying on the floor were only temporary fixes to the same problem five years ago. Jack sighed to himself and wished that he had better supplies down here to fix the problem, but then immediately thought of the challenge that it presented and the time it took up and took his wish back. Within twenty minutes the hole was sealed again and the water was retreating out the open hatch down into the drainage tunnels. Jack knew that the engines would have to dry before being turned back on, almost a full day, so he went to the control center. After switching off the alarms and making sure he had enough oxygen to last the night, Jack went back to his room and fell back asleep. The station was still for the first time in five years.
“Dad, it really hurts.”
“I know son, I know. We’re almost there.”
Flying down the road at two o’clock AM, Jack’s father handed him a bottle of water from the front seat.
“Are you thirsty?” he said.
Jack took the bottle, looked at it, and then put it down. “No I’m not thirsty, I feel like I’m gonna puke!”
His dad looked into the rear view mirror at his son in the back seat. “I know how you feel Jack. I had appendicitis when I was a kid too. It really hurt for a little while, but then I got all better.”
“How do you know I have appendicitis, Dad?” asked Jack.
“Well I’m not a hundred percent sure, but if you’re having that much pain right next to your belly-button, I’d say that that’s appendicitis. It’s going to be okay, kiddo.”
After a few more minutes of driving, they pulled into the emergency entrance at the hospital. Jack’s dad parked and they both walked inside. Jack had a seat in the waiting room while his father filled out the paperwork.
There was so much pain coming from his stomach that Jack could not sit still. He tried to watch the TV, hoping that would keep his mind off the pain. He watched as the late-night news recapped on a story about a virus developing in Peru. The reporter was at a local hospital in Peru describing the virus, then the report cut to images of the affected people in a waiting room.
Jack’s eyes widened. He looked at the TV, and then anxiously looked in the waiting room around him. He ran to a trashcan and vomited. His father quickly came over.
“We just have to wait a little while, then the doctors will be able to help us,” Jack’s father said.
Jack walked back over to his seat while his father carried the trashcan for him. Jack slouched back in his seat. The pain was worse than before. “Dad, do a lot of people get appendicitis?”
“Nope, it's not that common.”
After a long pause, Jack asked, “Dad, am I going to die?”
Jack’s father chuckled and said reassuringly, “No son you aren’t going to die. I didn’t when I had appendicitis.”
“But how do you know that I won’t die?”
“Because the doctors here are very smart and will fix you up real fast.”
“But what happens if they mess up, or what happens if I don’t have what you had, or what happens if…”
Jack’s father looked at his son and smiled. “Jack you're not going to die. I know it hurts, but...”
“But how do you know I won't die!?” Jack desperately asked his father.
Jack’s father stopped smiling. He looked into his son’s frightened eyes and realized that while he had a guess, he had no idea what was really wrong with his son. He thought he should be straightforward with him. Kneeling down in front of his son he said, “I can’t predict the future son. So I don't know whether or not you'll die.”
Jack’s eyes started to well up with tears and his lips started to quiver. Jack’s father reached out, took Jack’s hand, and said, “Jack, everyone dies at one point in their life, whether they like it or not. Dying isn't a bad thing either. It may look like a bad thing or something painful to experience, and sometimes it is, but you can’t be afraid of it. Jack, if you live your whole life fearing death, you’ll be too afraid to live. Only when you accept that one day you’ll die can you let go and make the best out of life, you understand?”
Jack looked at his father and nodded. “I think so.”
Then a nurse came into the waiting room. “Jack Blaise?!”
Jack and his father followed the nurse back into a patient’s room. After a thumb prick and an examination, the doctor ordered a CT scan. Jack looked at his father and asked, “Dad do those hurt?”
“No son, they don’t hurt one bit,” his father replied, smiling.
Jack was brought into the CT scan room and lay down on the machine. His father was there with him. “Son, I’m going to be just in the other room, okay? I’ll be watching you through the glass. Don’t be nervous, kiddo. You're gonna be fine,” he said. Jack nodded, his father smiled, then left.
Inside the machine, Jack closed his eyes and thought, Don’t be scared, don’t be scared. Don’t be scared….
The machine turned on. RRRR! RRRRRRR! RRRR…..
Don’t be scared, Don’t be scared….
RRR! RRR! RRR!
Jack’s eyes shot open.
He didn’t know why the alarms were going off again, but they were. The only conceivable problem he could think of was that the hole in the inner shell had become unlatched and broken open again, and that water would be streaming into the engine room again. Frantic and in a daze, Jack jumped into his waders and grabbed his workbag. Running down the hall to the engine room, Jack’s mind was racing.
It’s impossible, he thought, I’ve been fixing that hole for almost twenty years now. Nothing has changed except for the increase in pressure as the station descents. I don’t know how it could have broken open again, I made sure yesterday that the latches would hold. Jack started running faster. If the hole had broken open after just being fixed the day before, something definitely had to be wrong somewhere else in the station. He made a mental note to remind himself to check the pressure measurements later.
When Jack reached the hatch, he slipped his gloves on and grasped the hatch valve. He turned the valve a half-turn and braced himself for the water flow. But he felt no pressure. Great! he thought, Maybe there’s barely any water on the floor, and the hole just now broke open! I’ll have this problem fixed in no time. He opened the hatch and ran to the back of the engine room.
The hole was completely sealed. The engines were dry, there was no water on the floor, and the hole was closed tight. Jack felt a brief moment of relief, but then tensed as he still heard the alarms going. Quickly he looked around the engine room and saw nothing wrong or broken. Then he realized that there was another problem in the station, one that he might not be able to fix in time. Jack bolted out of the engine room.
Jack’s mind was racing even faster now. Great, it really had to happen didn’t it? I thought I could get by without having to face anything I didn’t know how to do. This is what so many years of peace and quiet will do to you. I get all comfortable and suddenly the station is caving in and I don’t know how to fix it. If only I had had more training…. It has to be the pressure; I haven’t checked it in a while. Maybe we don’t have as much reserved power in the energy cells as I thought. Please God, let something like that be the problem; something I can fix…
The closest compartment was the one that housed the energy cells. When Jack reached it, he slipped on the radiation vest and stepped inside to examine the cells. Jack unlocked the tray and slid it out… The energy cells were almost full, barely depleted. The station could run on this energy for at least a month before losing power. Jack slammed the tray back in, threw off the vest, ran back up the stairs.
One minute later, Jack reached the pressure gauges. Wiping the sweat off his face to get a better look, Jack read the measurements. Nothing. No irregularities, no spikes, no increases, no decreases. Everything was perfectly normal.
“What is going on!?” Jack yelled, demanding an answer from the station.
In his frustration, he remembered the AI. He hadn’t used it in so long he had forgotten about it. Surely it would tell him what the problem is. But it would need to boot up from the station’s memory, and that would take some time.
Fifteen minutes later, Jack was in a panic. He was pacing around the control room sweating and breathing hard. He coughed violently. I’m too old for stuff like this to happen. That’s when the AI came on.
“Hello Jack,” it said calmly, “how may I assist-”
“What is wrong with the station?!” Jack demanded, cutting the AI short.
“There is nothing currently inoperative in the station, although I do sense a tear in the inner shell in the engine room. But by reading the pressure in the room and outside it, I believe that the hole has already been sealed.”
Jack was dumbfounded. No problems? Still confused, he asked, “Then why are the alarms going off?”
“There is a visitor.”
Jack stopped functioning for a few seconds. For a while he was the only thing in the station that wasn’t working right. His mind was already half fried from the last half-hour of pressure and guessing, but this was something he could not wrap he mind around. In the earlier years of research, the people on the surface would send down supplies, consumables, and notes, but there had never been someone who had come to see them. Jack started to think again. Who would take the journey fifteen miles below sea level just to come see how the research team was doing? Besides, there hasn’t been any news from the surface in decades. Why would anyone come to us now?
After a few minutes, Jack regained his senses and asked, “Where is the visitor?”
The AI coolly replied, “The visitor is outside the airlock door B, sir.”
The visitor was in the water, waiting for Jack to let him in.
“Turn the alarms off, AI.”
“The alarms have been turned off.”
“Now go to sleep.”
The light in the computer started to fade. “As you wish, Jack.” The room was dark now. No alarms were flashing and the AI was off again.
Slowly walking up to the top floor, Jack noticed how quiet and dark it had become, now that the alarms were off. It gave the whole station an eerie atmosphere, like the station itself was trying to hide from the visitor. Jack was not scared, merely surprised. He did not know what to expect when he would open that door. Maybe it’s only one person, he thought, or maybe there’s several. After years of silence, all the sudden they want to know how much the project is progressing? They’re going to be disappointed. But what if they already know the situation here? What if they’ve come to take me back home? Maybe everything is better now on the surface.
He was at the airlock now. Because the station was underwater, the first airlock door was located on the ceiling inside a chamber, which would fill up with water when the door opened. This allowed packages and supplies to just fall into the station. Then the first door would close, the chamber would drain the water away, and the second door would open, allowing access to the station. The second door was made from reinforced glass, so the people inside the station could see what was inside the chamber. There had also been installed a microphone system for people to talk to each other from both sides of the glass. It had never been used though.
Jack’s hand rested on the button that opened the first door. He paused for one moment, thinking about what to say first. Then he pressed the button.
The alarms in the room immediately started buzzing as the door slowly slid out of the way in the ceiling of the chamber. Jack’s eyes were glued to the blackness of the ocean right outside as the salt water quickly filled the chamber. After only a few seconds, the chamber was full or water and the door had completely opened. Jack waited for something to happen.
A white orb slowly sank into the chamber from the darkness. It was perfectly round, and had no holes or indents on its outside. The only unusual thing about it was a dark circular hole in the orb that slowly turned while it descended. It came to a stop in the center of the room, the black hole facing the glass.
No one could possibly fit in something that small, Jack thought. Why, it’s about the size of an exercise ball. Unless there’s a child or something in there. That thought disturbed him.
Before Jack could think of anything else, a red light came on inside the black hole in the front of the orb.
“Hello, identify yourself please,” said a robotic female voice.
Jack glanced at the microphone box. It’s a robot, he thought.
Jack reached for the button and pressed it. “My name is Jack Blaise.”
“Please state your team number,” the orb responded.
“My team number is seventeen.”
“Wait please.” The orb remained silent and still for a few seconds then said, “It’s good to see you Jack. Please allow me to enter the station.”
“Why are you here?”
“I have come to bring news to the geological team of this station.”
Jack hesitated. “The team is gone. I’m the only one left.”
The orb paused for a second. “You are the only worker in this station?”
“Correct,” answered Jack.
“What happened to the rest of the geological team?”
“They’re all dead. Most from a virus, some by…mistakes. I was the only one who survived.”
“And you have been taking care of the whole facility by yourself?”
“How have you lived this long?”
“I’ve been careful, and all the food rations that would have gone to them went to me instead. I have plenty of food.”
“Where are their bodies?”
Jack was alarmed. Why would it want to know that? “Down in the cargo hold, in metal coffins.” There was a pause. “What is it you want?”
“I have already stated that I have news for the geological team, but since you’re the only one here, you are the only person I can give the message to,” the orb answered.
“How did you find the station?”
“We have known about your location for some time, but I have only now been able to reach you because you have stopped your engines.”
“Well what is it you wanted to tell us?”
“I am here to tell you that the purpose of this expedition is no longer important, as the problem it was seeking to solve back on the surface has been resolved.”
Jack’s heart leapt. “You mean someone has found another source of iron?”
“No, that problem has been eradicated completely. We no longer need iron.”
What? thought Jack. No longer need iron? People will always need iron. Iron is what people needed to fight the virus. People needed it to rebuild cities and nations. There’s no way that they found a way around that problem.
“Why don’t they need iron?”
“Because the surface as you know it has changed dramatically.”
“When you left the surface for this expedition many years ago, there was war, famine, drought, plague, and many other problems. There was chaos nearly everywhere.”
“Yes. But now the world has changed. There is no longer any chaos. No famine or plague. All wars have been resolved. People of all different kinds live alongside one another in peace. There are no more nations, no more territories. No leaders and no followers. Everyone does what pleases themselves and others. For the first time in human history, there is global peace. We have begun to cure the ailments that have affected humankind for millennia. There is no more sickness, no more tears or unhappy memories of times past. We have even succeeded in making death itself an impossibility. People now will live in complete harmony for all eternity.”
Before Jack’s mind could process all the information he heard, he managed to ask one more question. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?!”
“That is the way the world is now. I have come to take you home.”
All the preconceived notions of humanity that he was born with came crashing down in his mind. His head became clouded with memories of violence, sickness, and death. His father and mother, their kindness and wisdom kept flowing back into his head, especially his father’s teachings. Pain exists for a reason; it makes us strong. If you live your whole life fearing death, you’ll be too afraid to live. Jack had been raised in a society that was plagued with death and sickness. To think about a world without death, sickness, and pain was to think about a different world altogether.
Jack didn’t know how long he had been thinking, but he spoke loudly and frighteningly when he asked, “How?”
“How what?” the orb responded.
“How did the world change so quickly?! In one lifetime?! What brought about this change in human nature?”
“It doesn’t matter what steps we took to accomplish what we did, all that matters is what the world is now.”
Jack became more frustrated. “No! You can’t just make changes like that without sacrificing something! What did you do? Nuke all the disease camps? Wipe out industries and governments? Genocide? Who paid the price for all the sins that were committed?!”
The orb did not respond for a minute, and then asked politely, “Why are you frustrated?”
“Because you can’t just move from chaos to harmony without paying for it somehow. Without death and pain, lessons will never be learned, and sacrifice itself will become meaningless! That’s part of what makes us human! Death and pain mean something, even though they hurt!”
“They mean nothing now because they do not exist,” replied the orb.
Jack fell on his knees. He felt his eyes watering up. “You want to know what happened to my parents?” he asked the orb.
“I see on the file report of this expedition that your mother was a member of the team. She is deceased then?”
Head hanging, Jack replied as if he had not heard the orb. “My father died of cancer when I was ten. My mother died here, on board the station when I was nineteen.”
“I see. Now if you could please let me enter-“
“My mother was the head electrician on this excursion,” said Jack, cutting the orb off mid-sentence. “All she basically had to do was make sure that no wires were cut, and when the power went out all she had to do was flip a switch, not much was required from her. You could say that the only really important thing she did was take care of the main power box, the one that held all the major power outages that fed energy to the whole station. But that wasn’t hard either. One day, the room that housed the main power box sprung a leak, even though it was designed to be the strongest room in the facility, and the main power box was submerged in water. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but some water got inside the box and fried it, which shut the whole station down. Running on about an hour of extra oxygen, everyone was wondering what had happened, but only a few people knew it was the main power box and went straight there to fix the problem. When they got there, they knew how to fix the problem; all they had to do was empty the power box of all its water and rewire some of the components. The problem was that broken electrical circuits in the walls had broken out due to the leak and were floating in the water. If the power box was turned on with all the power cords loose, the water would electrify and kill the person who was working on it. All the electricians started arguing among themselves who would be the one to fix it, and others were trying to find another way. Instead of wasting the minutes of oxygen she had left arguing, my mother stepped into the diver’s suit with her tools and stepped into the airlock. By the time everyone had noticed her she was already at the power box, creating an air pocket around it. Some just watched her work, while others pounded on the glass outside the room and cried. My mother emptied the box and flipped the switch, giving power to the station, but also electrifying herself in the process. The water continued to be electrified until the remaining electricians diverted power away from that room to fix the leak and recover her body.”
Jack was crying. He knew his mother died willingly, to save everyone on the station. For years he was tormented by what his father had said to him about death. His father always said that Jack could make the best out of his life if he would just accept death; his mother believed that too. Jack figured out years later that his mother faced death and died for Jack, who she loved more than anything. Everyone else on the station was dead. Jack was the only one left who knew the importance of his mother’s sacrifice, and the impact it had on himself.
And now there was a robot telling him that the reasons he was alive, sacrifice and death, did not exist anymore.
“I will not be able to withstand the pressure of the water much longer. I must come in soon and recharge,” the orb said politely.
Jack stared at the orb for a minute or so, and then he unzipped his workbag. “Okay, you can come in,” he said.
“Thank you,” the orb said in its robotic female voice.
Jack pressed the button to drain the chamber and open the second door. While the water drained, the orb stayed suspended in the air. The door opened and the orb proceeded into the station, floating towards Jack.
“I will require use of your control panel to give the station instructions for our ascent…”
Jack took the hammer out of his workbag.
“However, the first thing we must do before is go to the cargo hold and—“
With red, tearful eyes, Jack swung the hammer straight down on top of the orb. The orb immediately hit the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Jack leapt on top of the orb and pinned it to the ground with his left arm while swinging with his right. Every blow to the orb made a dent bigger than the last, until the metal started tearing and a hole opened up to the inside wiring. The orb’s light was flashing red and it was setting off it’s own alarm system, but Jack held it pinned to the ground. He threw away his hammer and reached into his workbag for his electric fuse tool, which he turned on and plunged into the inner workings of the orb. The whole orb convulsed, and its red eye started blinking furiously. After a few seconds, Jack released the orbs and stood up. The orb sparked and rolled around for a few seconds before coming to a stop, and the red light faded from the center hole.
Jack stared at the broken machine for a few minutes. He fell back against the wall and slid down until he was sitting again. Then he started to cry.
Jack figured out how the people on the surface were able to do what they did. In order to have all the death and pain removed from the world, the people of earth had to loose their humanity. Jack always believed that death served a purpose beyond just scaring people and making people mournful; death was one of the things that made humans, humans. Humanity itself was lost when only a piece of it was extinguished, even though that one piece was the scariest and hardest to face up to.
After a little while, Jack understood why the orb was so desperate to get to the cargo hold and why it asked about the dead bodies. The bodies were a threat to life on the surface, a reminder of the humanity that the world lost. So Jack, as the last member of the human race, decided to send them a message. A few days after the event with the orb, Jack went down to the cargo hold and took his mother’s coffin to the airlock chamber. After attaching the inflatables to it, Jack stepped outside the chamber and closed the second door. He opened the first and water poured into the chamber, submerging the water-proof coffin. The metallic coffin floated upwards and was swallowed by the blackness of the ocean. It was Jack’s message in a bottle; a reminder to the ignorant population of the new world fifteen miles above him.