It always begins with water dripping, the steady, dull green, drip of seawater. Falling relentlessly, as regular as clockwork. Except water, even sea water, isn't meant to be quite so green. It’s refraction and angle and something else, that he can't quite remember, that gives it its colour. It shouldn't be quite so dark or dull or something else that he can't really find an appropriate word for. Water can only look like this under the sea, at the bottom of the ocean. Not that he’s sure why he knows that for certain. It’s hardly as if he’s tested the variables. He can’t, not here at any rate. Trapped on the ocean floor, unable to leave, unable to stay. He can't stay here, in this place. This realisation of all his nightmares. Not that it was meant to be. It was meant to be something else entirely, something greater, grander, than life on the surface of the planet could offer. A city where the scientist wasn't restricted by ethics, where the industrialist wouldn't be confined by human endurance. This was to be a city of dreams, of possibilities, of infinite growth and progress. Unfortunately, advancement is always curtailed by human failings.
It doesn’t surprise him that he can address the matter with such certainty. Somehow it seems apt that he can reason the entire chain of logic out. It is all commonplace in the extreme and no real challenge to his intellect. Yet, as soon as he thinks it, as soon as he can form the thought, there’s a startling sensation of dissonance. Suddenly it all seems ridiculous, if only because he shouldn’t really be here. In this place beneath the ocean. A place where he never existed. It’s almost as if there are two senses of awareness battling. One tells him that he has always been here, since his fateful decision on the surface, and that he will never go home. That sense of himself strikes him as tremendously sad and lost. A version of himself who had everything but insisted on throwing it all away. The other version tells him that this is all foolish, that he would never have been chosen for the city beneath the waves. That version of events is one where he isn’t nearly clever enough, or rich enough, or beautiful enough, to achieve that sunken dream.
This city beneath the sea has become nothing more than an elaborate tomb. A sarcophagus for man's vanity. It even leaks and rots like coffins are want to do. The steady drip of water, dull, green, seawater, is a countdown to the end. The underwater city is falling apart, right along with its citizens. And they can't go back, not to the mainland, not to the surface, because the surface world would never want them now. They are deformed and broken and failed. So is he. He is, was, among the greatest of his age, chosen to undertake this journey. Selected from millions. Invited to join a civilization without limits. A civilization that hid itself away beneath the sea, under the punishing waves, in the hollow silence that weighed them all down. Like a fool he'd gone, had been delighted to go, angry at those he left behind. How foolish he had been, and what was the use of realising that now? Now that there was no way back. The city of the infinite, this city of broken dreams would never let him go, any more than the surface world would take him back.
Sometimes, in moments of drug-indulged whimsy, he wonders what it would be like to go back. If he could escape, would they welcome his return? Would he go back to gentle smiles and warm arms? Or would they turn aside in disgust at the person he has, now, shown himself to truthfully be? They have probably all moved on. They wouldn’t wait for him forever. Even now, he’s not even sure how much time has passed. It feels like he has been beneath the sea for an aeon. So long that his memories of the surface have faded and he recalls only fragmented images from above. The sound of seagulls filling the air, the rocking of a small boat, the warm hand grasping his, to help him step onto wet stone steps. He remembers blond hair lit by the sunlight, a large, steadying, hand on his arm, boisterous laughter at his side. But he cannot remember, quite so distinctly, any of their faces. He can’t even recollect the colour of his own brother’s eyes.
It's always the same dream, or at least the same location. That horrible, claustrophobic, underwater catacomb. Everything is tinted an eerie green. And the lights are never quite bright enough to drive that tint away. Everything is closed in, sealed, vacuum locked like a ship or, probably more accurately, a submarine. Sound carries oddly, in spooky echoes, and the view from every single window is of the sea melting into the darkness. Which is why the sound of dripping water is more frightening than it ought to be. It means that this tomb is leaking, that somewhere the water is slowly seeping in and that eventually they'll all drown down here, in this pointless, metal, prison.
He wakes up gasping for air, frantic to catch a glimpse of the light, anything that will tell him that he's on the surface, that he's safe. That the walls are not closing in, that the sea is beneath him somewhere, that he's not trapped by it. It's a horrible dream really, a nightmare that leaves him shaken for days. Normally he can push the memory aside but then, inevitably, something always reminds him. It's always something so innocuous too, something simple and commonplace. Something that makes him want to scream. It can be the colour of a light, the sound of liquid spilling on tile, even the sound of an emergency siren. It makes him freeze on instinct, before his mind catches up with the nightmare and he can stop himself thinking, over and over again: “We're all going to die down here.”
He will die down here of course. It is inevitable. Whenever one has eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, will be the truth. He has narrowed down his options easily enough. There will be no escape, because there was never meant to be. He chose this route, he embraced it, in all its delusion, and now he will pay the price. He will never see the surface again, never see... anyone he loves again. There is nobody he cares for down here. He was a fool to come, a fool to argue with those he left behind. They'd known, they must still know, that this place, with all its illusions, will be his grave. He wonders sometimes if they'll even bother with a memorial for him, above, or if they'll just forget. Maybe they have washed their hands of him entirely. He doesn't know. Better you forget and be happy. He understands the sentiment but there's an ache there, something that he’s never experienced before he came to this place, the sad wound of separation. He would have called it pathetic once upon a time, but now he yearns to be remembered.
It’s impossible to escape the inevitable. He will die here, be it by his own hand or somebody else’s. There are plasmids aplenty that he could use to accomplish his suicide. Electricity across a pool, fire to consume flesh and clothes alike, even a swarm of bees. The last option always makes him laugh. Bees. In this underwater city of darkness. And knowing his luck he’d survive for long enough for amusement to bleed into boredom, at a slow, absurd, death. Not bees then. Despite the almost appropriate ridiculousness of the notion. In the end, he supposes, it would be best to opt for the mundane rather than the dramatic. Hanging won’t do, or a gun, so he’ll have to settle for the most pedestrian of methodologies and do himself in with barbiturates. They’ll do the job efficiently, causing him the barest amount of distress as he sinks down into oblivion. It will be an unremarkable end for a man who had thought himself most remarkable, once upon a time. Which will be, in the end, most appropriate.
The suicide dreams are perhaps even worse than the claustrophobia. Always terrible in their detail. In those dreams he spends hours plotting out the different possibilities that would lead to his demise. It’s simple of course. He knows what all his alternatives are and he can visualise each stage, each painful detail, with an alarming clarity. He walks through his last day in his mind, making sure that he has anticipated every possibility, and has allowed enough tolerance for minor corrections to be made to his plan. It’s like compensating for headwinds or flight delays really, so perhaps the worst part is that he can manage it with ease. He always feels that he’s smarter in those dreams anyway, more confident and competent in whatever it is that he does. Not that he can tell what sort of a professional he must be. Perhaps it’s something horrible anyway, which is why he always fixates on making it end.
Of course he will obtain the barbiturates easily, even though the volume is clearly enough to end his life. Nobody questions. Nobody cares. He will tuck the little bottle into his pocket and slow his pace as he walks back to his apartment. He’s loathed to call it home. He will take in his surroundings, carefully, seeing the twisted lines of steel and rivets, the glazed eyes of the people who pass. He can see their thoughts and reasons written clearly across their faces, he could pinpoint all their hopes and fears, but there’s no use in it now. He is lost. Perhaps this is the inevitable conclusion of all his endeavours anyway. What use genius when it has no reason to be applied? What use beauty if everything is synthetic? In this place where only destructive human desires flourish. It is entirely fitting that he should die here, a mechanical thing, a brain without a heart, reaching forever towards the light.
Time hardly matters in this place but he chooses an afternoon anyway. Even if all he can see is darkness from his window, he knows that somewhere, above, there is sunlight and warmth. His final plans have come to fruition and his future is secure. This then is a type of immortality. In this city of mortal dreams, where the impossible is not just possible, but probable as well, it makes sense to forge his final legacy. A truly scientific, clinical, marvel. A perfect copy. A clone that will succeed where he has failed. Except this copy isn’t designed to reproduce the original. It has been tailored to supersede him. A tiny cell that will be secretly taken to the surface, where it will flourish. It will be his penance in the end, that this better, kinder, stronger, version of himself will live while he perishes. A version of himself that has been perfected, that will never return to the sea.
He could look up the precise details but mostly he has been content to let the geneticists do their work. They have told him that this copy will be different, that it will only superficially resemble him. It will not feel the urgency of self-defeating genius, nor the extremes of his intemperate nature. They tell him that it will have red hair by virtue of some linked locus that he has, several times, demanded altered. That its hands will be long-fingered, fingers longer and more slender than his own. It will of course lack the ability to survive long underwater. This has been his most stringent stipulation, and, in addition to the physical alteration required, it will also yearn for the skies. The scientists say ‘it’ but it is a ‘him’. And it fills him with a bittersweet joy to know that this copy, this altered and superior version of himself, will see the sun again.
He wakes up crying. Mourning some terrible and forgotten loss. Aching at some tragedy that he was never even a part of. It takes a strong pair of arms to ground him, soothing words to quieten his sobs. He doesn’t even know why he’s crying, can’t even articulate it. It just hurts, a dull ache, like a phantom limb. He feels like he’s mourning, but, oddly, for himself. For something that he simply can’t recall. It takes a good half hour for him to steady himself and when he’s finally certain that he has voice enough to talk about his fears, he can’t seem to remember them in the slightest. Even the memory of that deep and abiding loss seems to be fading. As if a wound has somehow been purged of all its poison, and now can finally begin to heal.
The sun seems to shine all the brighter as they cross the Atlantic that day. The clouds part to reveal the sunlight striking the sea in shimmering waves, catching, for a moment, on what looks like the ruined outpost of some lost civilization.
“Is that... a lighthouse?”
He laughs, never even looking. “Don’t be ridiculous, Douglas. Who’d put a lighthouse so far out to sea?”