The Drowned Temple

The chill of the Mediterranean’s depths seeped through Marco’s drysuit. The breathable liquid in his diving helmet tasted like minty toothpaste, and the regulator made a watery seashell-hum in his ears. His sister Luana swam close behind him, followed by a school of her robot-eels. As Marco squeezed his way through the corral-encrusted arch, his helmet’s spotlight illuminated the nave of Sagrada Familia, the Basilica of Lost Barcelona.

The lipreading AI embodied in his helmet translated Marco’s soundless words to speech, transmitting them into his sister’s helmet. “Luana! Luana, we found it! It’s La Sagrada!” “My god, Marco. It’s perfectly preserved.”

Luana tapped her bracer-screen, guiding the robot-eels to scan the insides of the temple. The eels cast shafts of purple light, which caught the stained glass and dappled the chamber and its leviathan colonnades in fogged rainbow colors

Marco adjusted his buoyancy controls and slowly descended to the core of the chamber, a rising chill biting first at his legs then at his whole body. His lungs wobbled as the ventilator adjusted the pressure of liquid air to accommodate the lower depths. When he reached bottom, he kicked his fins, maneuvering through the barnacle-encrusted stone pews. “Look at the pillars, Luana, and the aquatic themes of that fresco! It’s as if Gaudi knew it would one day inhabit the depths. I can’t believe it! If this is a dream, please don’t wake me up.”

Luana trailed behind him, her spotlight igniting the darkness. “The professors and curators who laughed at us are in for a surprise. They won’t be able to deny what’s before their eyes now. We’re almost there, Marco. Our first exhibit for the virtual museum.”

“We will restore the lost culture! Dad’s dream will finally come true.” “Our dream,” she said. “How’s your breathing? Your lungs doing ok?” He sighed, liquid air flowing from his lips. “Can we enjoy the discovery without you worrying about me all the time? We’re making history here.” Luana slid inside a pulpit. “I don’t care about history. I care about you. Tell me if it starts to hurt. Don’t push it like last time.”

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Marco’s gaze drifted to the side of his faceplate. He studied an amber readout, highlighting the relative concentrations of carbon dioxide and oxygen remaining in the liquid air. Too much carbon dioxide would make it unbreathable. For Marco’s scarred lungs, that threshold was even lower. Five years had passed since the incident—their attempt to find Jordan’s Petra. Enthralled by the prospect of discovery back then, he’d gotten careless. Nearly drowned. He was lucky enough to get away with severe scarring on his lung tissues.

He wanted to say Will you ever stop judging me for that one mistake? But he didn’t want to spark an argument. Not on the happiest day of their lives. “I promise to be careful,” he said and left it at that.

He reached the end of the aisle, where half-crumbled stairs led up a stage hosting rusted church organs. He circled the stage, inspecting the algae-plastered stonework, when his gaze fell on what appeared to be the remains of tilted glass panels on the floor. Through them, he could see a basement, curtained by kelp and hosting a smaller nave. Following the window panels he came to a door. The wood was soft to his touch, the handle crusted with verdigris. “Luana, this isn’t reported in the ancient text. It must be the Baptistery. How about—” “Ah! Blast it all to hell!” Marco whirled to see Luana spinning as she swam out of the pulpit. A ribbon of red blossomed from her elbow. “What happened?” Marco asked. He swam toward her, and tapped on his bracer-screen, calling a robot-eel for medical assistance. The eel swam toward them, then spat out a cylinder containing rapid aquaseal. She extended her arm. Marco squeezed out a waxy thread of aquaseal and began sealing the tear. “Piece of iron jutted out the pulpit,” she said. “Damned thing sliced through the suit.” “Are you alright? Do we need to turn back?” “No, don’t worry about it. Water seeped in, so I’m a bit cold, but I’ll manage.” Marco released air from his buoyancy control device and sank to the floor. Luana followed suit. He worked the aquaseal on her tear as they kneeled face to face, his eerie spotlight reflecting on the liquid encased in her helmet, giving her a ghoulish glow. “If only Dad was here, huh?” Marco said. “Yeah,” she said as she flexed her injured arm, testing the seal. “I like to think he is, in a way.” Marco fell silent. Yes. Dad was here. Robot-eels were their father’s invention. Marco had perfected them, fine-tuned their algorithms, but the idea and development had all been their father. Marco reflected on his last words: “The carnage the Water Wars brought upon the world can be overturned, son. But people need hope. They need to be shown what we have once accomplished. See this mission to its end. I know you can do it. You and your sister can bring light to the world. ” Marco’s eyes smarted against the liquid air. Good thing about liquid air: it allowed Marco to shed tears without his sister figuring out. “I never expected the temple would be so beautiful,” he said. “Will this be enough? Could it spark people’s imagination? Bring them a glimmer of hope?” “It will,” she said. “It has to.” “If only the ancients had handled things better. We wouldn’t have to scrape for lost pieces of our civilization.” “Easy to judge them, bro. But what could they have done?” “Replace fossil fuels with solar faster. The damn science was there. They knew this would happen. Gods, they literally saw the ice caps melting.” “You know it’s not that simple.” He did know. What’s the point of cutting down energy sources if a country’s population is not willing to change its consumption habits? Some governments just played feel-good politics, shutting down the occasional production line while still supplying their citizens with energy to run their cars. Whatever they cut from their own production, they imported from other countries. Corrupt governments got empowered. Demand continued to grow, more CO2, and we reached the point of no return. Marco looked up at the rusted church organs, tried to imagine people playing them back in the fabled ancient times, accompanied by the song of a children’s choir. “World always seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, doesn’t it? Energy Mania followed by deluge followed by an AI arms race and the Water Wars between the floating cities. And here we are now—picking the scraps our forefathers left behind.” “Now, who’s not enjoying the discovery?” She laughed. “Look, you cannot predict the future. You can only do your best to steer it in the right direction. If only an inch. Father believed—” The ceiling gave a whale-like groan. It reverberated down the temple’s length. Marco spun, scrutinizing his surroundings to trace the source of the sound. Algae strands hanging from the ceiling wavered idly. A scabbardfish entered through a window and escaped from another. “Was it an earthquake?” Luana asked. “Didn’t sound like one.” The groan came again, louder. Debris fell as a creature the size of a submersible pushed through a ruined arch at the west wall and rushed down. Teeth bare. A shiny metal lump on its scalp. Eyes red as furnaces. Marco recognized it. A shark. A great white. He pushed Luana. “Go! Go!” He tapped on his bracer-screen, directing the robot-eels to form a spiraling cluster between them and the creature, hoping to distract it. But the shark speared through, its wake scattering the eels like a school of mackerels. Marco led Luana toward the door of the Baptistery. As he yanked it open, half of it fell apart. They squeezed inside, crawled through the kelp fronds. As they descended down the long stairsteps, helmet spotlights stabbing the darkness, the creature banged against the tight entry behind them. Marco prayed no more would break loose. # They’d spent one hour in the basement. The Baptistery’s nave was even more dilapidated. The pews were made of wood, honeycombed with boring bivalves. Kelp fronds formed curtains along its aisle, and corals lined the edges on the ceiling like wasp nests. Marco was eyeing the camera views on his faceplate—the surviving robot-eels still tracking the shark in the temple above. It didn’t fit the depictions on the old archives of aquatic wildlife. Those bloodred eyes, the shiny bump on its scalp. Was this some new evolutionary trait? Also, sharks were supposed to be extinct, but here was a survivor of the climate change disaster and the Water Wars. How did it survive? It seemed intelligent. Marco had expected it to bang against the arch, trying to force its way through. Then, exhausted at its pointless efforts, it would go away looking for other food. But it didn’t. Instead it circled the colonnades patiently. Brooding, waiting. It seemed aware that Marco and his sister would need to get out eventually. Marco tried to focus on finding a solution, but it was hard to ignore the red message glowing on the edge of his faceplate. He didn’t have much time. The concentration balance was near the threshold. Soon, the exhaled carbon dioxide would congest the liquid air and render it unbreathable. His heart drummed. How could this be happening again? He flashed back to the last time, when they were searching for Jordan’s Petra—a city carved on the surface of sandstone mountains. His sister guided the eels, inspecting the submerged mountaintops. Marco’s spotlight caught an anomaly: regular formations on the rock—round edges, straight lines. This had to be it. The coordinates aligned with their original calculations. He had descended in his excitement, leaving his sister as he traced the rock face. Rising chill seeped through his suit, the regular formations vanished, replaced by a jagged canyon. No bedrock in sight. Clinging to hope, he kept descending, convinced the city was within reach. Until it dawned on him that he’d crossed into a fissure formed long after the deluge. Crossed too deep. Panic overcame him. He fumbled for his controls, but the switch to inflate the bladder of his buoyancy control device failed. He called out in distress to Luana, but his lungs were burning by the time she reached him. Craving delicious oxygen, he inhaled, sucking more liquid that stung with carbon dioxide overflow. And he wouldn’t stop inhaling. He couldn’t stop. “Why don’t you give it a name while you’re at it?” His sister’s voice shook him from the memory. “What?” Marco said. “The shark. I said, why don’t you—are you okay, bro?” “Uh, yeah. Yes. Name the shark? Sure. Might help minimize our fear.” He chuckled. “How about Buck?” “After the president?” “It’s appropriate.” Luana laughed. Marco laughed. When the laughter bubbled away, Luana said, “You don’t have any other ideas, do you?” “No. Buck is smart—too smart. Replicating fish behavior with robot-eels can’t fool him. He can distinguish organic from synthetic. He’s waiting—” “Sprinkle fandrum,” Luana mumbled, giggling. “—for us to get out. Your blood attracted him, so perhaps—what did you say?” “Fematter … organic robot …” Luana slouched forward, each incoherent word coming out slower, interspersed by abrupt sucking sounds and gurgling. Marco fumbled for her external emergency display—a touch screen on the side of her helmet. The carbon concentration was through the roof. He twisted her around, his own breath coming out faster in bubbling bursts. The tear was open where she’d cut herself, and there was something there. A mechanical appendage. Parasitic AI. Marco saw them then. Beside the kelp sliding through the corroded grit on the floor. From the boreholes on the pews. From the wasp-nest-coral formations on the ceiling. Silvery worm-like arthropods. Gods above! Could this be real? It was like they had stepped into a minefield. No. They had swam into a minefield. A minefield remnant from the freakish experiments of the Water Wars. Bioengineering and AI combined to attack the floating cities of opposing nations. That explained its odd look, the metal scalp. A shark housing artificial intelligence, and a micro army to back it. Buck was not just waiting. He had sent them company. He had corrupted Luana’s regulator. Marco yanked the appendage out of her elbow and crushed it. He disconnected the coupling from his regulator. Connecting his regulator to hers would improve her state of liquid air, but it would drastically corrupt his own. It would push his weak lungs to their limit. No time. No choice. He connected it. His mind went into overdrive. They had to get out now, or they’d both suffocate. Marco fingered his bracer-screen, splitting it into ten panels—ten robot-eel camera eyes. He guided the eels, leaving only one to keep watch on the shark as the rest searched for any organic life. Nothing inside. He moved them out of the temple. There! A school of scabbardfish, their silver scales glittering as the eels’ lights struck them. He activated hunting mode. Spearguns fired, piercing the fish. Blood plumed out in sanguine ribbons that expanded in the current. Marco knew the physiology of great whites, just as he had studied the muscular mechanics of eels. A shark’s olfactory system was hundreds of times more sensitive than that of a human’s. It could smell blood a quarter of a mile away. This had to work. He watched the camera view trained on the shark. Yes! Buck turned and swam up and out the opening. Marco clasped an arm around Luana and rose from the basement, then adjusted his buoyancy to ascend. His liquid-air regulator stimulated his lungs: the syrupy liquid bubbling as it adjusted for emergency ascent, shooting out of his nostrils like carbonated water. It hurt, and it burned his sinuses. He rose up, up, up the colonnades, out the windows, and up above the temple’s crest where four corroded towers loomed. His body warmed as if enveloped by a hearth’s fire. His mind screamed, you’re suffocating. His lungs burned with carbon dioxide. The towers seemed to bend. Pain intensified. A tunnel formed around his vision, but in its end he could see their submersible, green spotlights shining in the tips of a hexagon. Luana wiggled in his arms, regained her senses, and clutched his shoulder. Marco kicked his fins, heading for those lights, but they stretched further and further away down an everclosing tunnel. Until they vanished in darkness. # In the middle of a dark cavernous chamber, there was a white fire. It warmed Marco’s chest. It cooled his feet. Slowly, it enveloped the world, forming shapes of white gigantic colonnades and walls of stained glass. And voices. “... a massive change. He will remember with the right stimuli. Look! He’s regaining his senses!” Marco tasted imitation strawberry on the inside of his cheeks, the kind that reminded him of medicine. He was sitting in a wheelchair. His sister was beside him and some people he didn’t know. Someone wore expensive cologne. “What…” “Marco,” Luana crouched and placed her hand upon his. Soft. Warm. “We’re out of the sunken temple. We’re safe.” He noticed it then. The absence of feeling below his waist. His free hand rushed to rub his knees to make sure. But Luana grabbed both his hands, cupped them in her own, and looked him in the eye. She smiled, her eyes bright. But Marco knew better. He could see she was holding back tears. “The feeling will return,” she said. “You were oxygen deprived for a long time before we reached the submersible. It’s a temporary side-effect.” His mind floated in fog. “How did I get here?” “This is the seventh time we’ve had this talk. Your brain is lapsing. The neurologist said it would help your memory if you could fixate on your last location before you went into oxygen deprivation. I told him I had just the thing.” “But. But the temple. We’re in La Sagrada. I…” He trailed off. He looked around him, the stained glass on the east wall was green and blue, the opposite side was orange and ochre. Gaudi’s philosophy. Morning light should be cold, dusk light should be warm. Now the sun streamed from the east, filling the chamber in cool indigo light. Although the sun—like everything, Marco now realized—was part of a simulation. He gasped. “We did it, didn’t we? This is the virtual museum.” Luana smiled, squeezing his hands. “Yes. And that’s not the only thing. People are waking up to the reality of our lost civilization. We received funding to create another submersible. Applicants are flocking to join the Atlantis Project.” Marco blinked. “Am I dreaming?” “No, you’re not. We did it, bro. We brought hope to the world.” He nodded. “We did it. Our first exhibit of the world that was.” Tears smarted his eyes. “Ah, it will be grand. The system will host all the wonders of the lost world—we just have to find them. The Parthenon, the Leaning Tower, the Colosseum!” He looked around him. The colonnades were white tree trunks, creating a forest of prayer. The simulated sunlight moved slowly along the windows, casting a shifting kaleidoscope of colors. The bright light seemed to overwhelm the numbness of his feet, the fog in his brain. He spread out his arms as if to embrace the entire world. “When they see the reality of what we once accomplished, people will realize we can do it again.” He took a deep breath, thankful it was real air flowing through his lungs. “The Restoration has begun!”

Climate change contribution

Country Metric tons of carbon dioxide
United States5007
The Global North as a group is collectively responsible for not less than 92 percent of global emissions while, the Global South is responsible for only 8 percent of excess emissions

CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)

Country metric tons per capita
European Union6.1
United Kingdom5.2
Sub-sahara Africa0.7