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No Excuses

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The sky overhead cast a sick, yellowish light onto the sandy plain that had once been the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Navigating in a buggy through scattered clusters of dead fish, past forgotten shipwrecks, and along the fibrous Mariana Pipeline offered a surreal, unprecedented look into the vast emptiness of the sea that once was. The only sounds were the mechanical whirring of the Mariana Pipeline, the hum of the buggy engine, and the slosh of damp sand against its wheels.

I kept my eyes on the pipeline as I drove. It was one of ten thousand pipes like it, scattered across the world's oceans. I traced it to the horizon behind me, where it abruptly shot into the sky and disappeared in the smoggy atmosphere. I reflected on the absurdity of it all, and on mankind's future. Somewhere out there in the stars, Mars stood as a distant refuge awaiting our arrival. But first, our oceans had to get there.

Earth's air crisis peaked ten years ago. Brilliant minds across the world came together as a result, coming from diverse scientific backgrounds, with the sole purpose of saving mankind from the resource-depleted, poisoned Earth. Engineers, chemists, astrophysicists, and more collaborated to develop a plan to make Mars habitable for humans. The resulting effort was dubbed the Relocation Plan, which revolved around ten thousand pipelines consuming the world's oceans and transferring them bit by bit to a launch station at a high elevation, which then launched shipments of Earth's water to Mars in innumerable spacecrafts. This was coupled with the Air Initiative, which produced artificial oxygen, nitrogen, and other atmospheric gases and sent them to Mars in obscene quantities.

It was a last-ditch effort to save ourselves, and to compensate for our failure to save our home planet — and all in all, it was a success.

All that remained now was maintenance on the few pipes still sucking up water. I turned my attention to the declining plain before me. The sand grew too steep for my buggy, so here I parked it and climbed out. Far below me, I saw the steep hill that was once the Mariana Trench. Even farther, I saw the shoreline of a belittled Pacific Ocean, still with a massive pipe gouged into its surface. I began my walk down.

The pipeline roared as it swallowed water by the gallons. As the water level fell, the pipeline stretched to relentlessly pursue the escaping ocean. It groaned and creaked as it stretched, but its fibers showed no signs of rupture. By all standards, the Mariana Pipeline was functioning as normal.

For a while, I sat and watched in astonishment as the diminishing ocean steadily shrank. Deep sea fish, squids, and other things formed ripples in the surface, in a frenzy and unused to being so confined. Thermal vents protruded next, spewing hot muck into the air but soon slowing to a sedate ooze. Soon night was falling, and I looked up at the fading sky and was hit by a wave of realization.

Millennia ago, the sky that our ancestors saw was natural and alive. The oceans swam with life, the natural world thrived, and mankind was in sync with nature. I wondered, in a moment of deep reflection, what our ancestors would believe if they could see the world today, drained, dead, and abandoned. Would they refuse to believe that this was their home world? An unexplainable feeling came over me, something like fear and shame rolled into one.

The thoughts never quite left my head, even as I rose to walk after the receding shoreline. I told myself that we, as a species, did all that we could have done, but a nagging thought asked, But did we? Assurance did not come, but a distraction did. A dozen or so feet under the water, a pale light shimmered. I stared in mesmerization. The water continued to fall until the light emerged into the open air, and its powerful glow was revealed. It shined with the intensity of daylight, illuminating me and the wet dune behind me.

I was astonished to spot several more of the glowing things in the distance, some deeper underwater, but others simply farther away. The longer I looked at them, the more they seemed akin to streetlamps, similar down to a stem apparently made of stone. I dared follow the fleeing shoreline until I found a brick path leading between rows of the streetlamps. Outlines of flat-roofed buildings became clear as the water fell, and strange, lumbering forms hurried toward deeper water. The intense light strained my eyes, but I recognized the forms as vaguely humanoid.

Fear struck me, but I couldn't resist following. This was a type curiosity first felt by our ancestors, I realized, again drawing parallels between now and then. Stone and brick facades surrounded me left and right, complete with windows (though without glass), doorways, inscriptions, and statues of fishlike men and women. A civilization unveiled itself to me, its streets rolling ever deeper into the Mariana Trench. At last, one meager pool of water remained at the deepest point of the city, and within it, all of its citizens squirmed in panic.

I stood a handful of feet from the pool, horrified and helpless to assist these intelligent creatures as the water around them steadily disappeared. Once in the open air, the citizens of this dying civilization began to embrace each other and emit pleading noises, wrought with fear and an inability to understand why their serene, untouched world had ended so abruptly. Soon, they ceased motion and laid still atop each other, and everything was silent.

I stood alone in blinding light before a civilization that we had extinguished in order to save ourselves. The raw, fishy odor seemed to cause my unexplainable feeling to blossom into pangs of horror, aiding in my realization that we had destroyed the world that fascinated and stimulated our ancestors and the isolated world that had fascinated and stimulated this subaquatic civilization. No excuses remained.

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