Saturday, 26 June 2021

'Last Gasp' by Garrett Calcaterra

Through the topside porthole, McCardell sees daylight for the first time in twenty years. Even obscured by five fathoms of water, he knows it's the sun up there and the hair at the nape of his neck prickles.

“Send up the probe,” McCardell tells Nell.  

An old man beyond his prime and a young woman incapable of bearing children—carrying the hopes of the domed colony beneath the Pacific.

The Geiger counter sputters to life as the probe reaches the surface. Tck-tck-tck-tck-tck. It reminds McCardell of when he was a kid, riding his bicycle with a baseball card wedged between the back forks so it rattled across the spokes. Tck-tck-tck-tck-tck. McCardell jots down the readings.

“Scan the radio frequencies,” McCardell says. 

Twelve years it took Colony engineers to retrofit this sub to return to the surface. Twelve years to tear out the diesel engines that only work above water, where air isn’t running out. Twelve years to engineer the batteries and electric-powered screw. And for what? To discover the world is still uninhabitable?

“Nothing,” Nell says, slouching beside the frequency dials.

McCardell sighs. “Retract the probe. Prepare to surface so we can broadcast our message.”

“You think someone’s out there? Maybe the Mars rockets got away before the war started. Will they come back for us?”

“It's possible,” McCardell says. He doesn’t believe it, but what harm is there in trying? Thirty minutes of radiation exposure is of little concern to them, and Nell deserves to see the surface. If McCardell's coordinates are correct, they’re off the coast of the San Francisco Bay. It’s early morning and they’ll see where the Golden Gate Bridge once stood. They will watch the sun rise over the hills where McCardell once rode his bike as a boy.

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