Marko Sverichek sat at the prow of the motorboat as it sped down Wall Street Canal. At nearly seven feet, his gaunt figure towered over the boat’s captain and the two armed bodyguards who rode with him. A gentle breeze blew against his black suit and neatly trimmed dark hair. His nostrils filled with the scent of salt and seaweed. Just beneath that, the ever-present stink of sewage made him clench his teeth.
To his right and left were the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Most had been built over a hundred years ago. In that time, the sea had risen up to cover their first two floors. The gentle ebb and flow of the tides rested three feet below the high water line, halfway up the second floor windows. Circling each skyscraper were makeshift plastic walkways where a ship could dock and one could enter the new ‘first’ floors.
Plastic bags, tin cans, and a thousand other knickknacks floated in the water. There was a bump against the boat as it hit something large. Marko had learned to ignore those, but a metallic clank made him peer down into the water, where he spotted a tin lunchbox. The cover’s faded paint depicted a man firing lasers from his eyes at a robot as the box bobbed and sank into the water amidst so much other debris.
As the sun began to set, lights rose up inside the skyscrapers all the way to their tops. It was only the first few levels that remained unlit, leaving the canals in darkness. Marko looked down. The water was murky and filled with trash, but he thought he saw a street sign labeled ‘Avenue of the Americas’ in the water. He grimaced. There was always the chance that a boat’s underside might accidentally scratch a lamppost, street sign, or statue and start to sink. Marko hoped that their captain was expert enough to dodge the old signposts that threatened to scrape the bottom of the boat; he didn’t want to swim in the cold Atlantic Ocean all the way to his destination.
“Beautiful night,” the captain remarked. He had been a local hire, Marko’s own, not a company man like the bodyguards. He hadn’t learned to be solemn and silent. For the past few years, Marko had been in and out of meetings with the richest New York City had to offer and normally would have leapt at the opportunity to banter with someone who didn’t look down their nose at him. But he didn’t feel like talking, not now, not tonight. Marko just wanted it to happen.
Marko turned, smiling at the man. He had a thick beard, callused hands and leathery skin, but his eyes looked younger than Marko’s. “Couldn’t have asked for a better night. There aren’t any storms, barely even a wind. The weather report says there aren’t any clouds,” Marko concurred while looking up. Nearly every window above him was shining with light and the sky between the buildings was a thin black abyss.
“You think it’ll work?” the captain asked innocently.
Marko gave him an irritated look, which the captain appeared to have missed. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
“I sure hope so,” the captain continued, entirely missing his tone. “If it has to happen, I hope it works. Of course, I might be out of business if it does.”
“No, you won’t,” Marko stated, unsure but sounding as if he wasn’t. “Things will be better than ever before.”
The man scoffed and looked past Marko. Marko turned, trying not to show his angry grimace. He preferred his workers to speak their minds to him in theory, but the people of New York City had an incurable strain of pessimism. Must be because they have to live in claustrophobic conditions within the skyscrapers. It drives them insane. There have been tests from decades ago where rats were put in the same cramped conditions as New Yorkers. They ate each other. And I’m pretty sure the rats weren’t surrounded by water.
Marko only had a few seconds to fume at the tactless captain of the most pathetic boat in the lagoon that was New York City when they finally arrived at their destination: the Empire State Building. While the other skyscrapers looked like lifeless blocks being swallowed by the sea, Marko thought that this tower barked defiance. Even as the first two floors had fallen beneath the waves, the monolith reached toward the sky, its segmented form growing thinner until its point seemed to reach up into the cosmos itself. Even the waves crashing against its eastern side looked majestic. It looked like the only skyscraper that could weather the storm, as if this spire was more eternal than the roaring seas themselves.
The captain drew them up beside the makeshift dock. The guards were the first to leap out. With the exception of the few wealthy people who hadn’t abandoned New York to the waves, every New Yorker had to have some knowledge of ship-bearing. It was as if when the sea levels rose and the lights ran out, Gotham had turned into medieval Venice or Amsterdam. Or at least, that was one of the ways Marko described New York City as his mind tried to make sense of the improbability.
“Sir.” A deep voice pulled Marko from his thoughts. Marko took the offered hand and stepped out of the boat. The crew paced around the building until they reached a window that had been expanded and fitted with a glass door. The single door was hardly as glamorous as the massive gilded rotating doors below, but those were filled with dogfish and eels.
There were two guards with assault rifles standing on either side of the door. Marko paused and turned on his internal computer. The neural interface came up in front of his eyes and a notification appeared, asking if another user could wirelessly link into him. Marko turned his right hand palm up and, with his left index finger, pressed on his right palm like a touchpad and pressed ‘Grant Access.’ The guard jumped into the digital part of his brain and scanned his ID.
When it had finished, the guard said, “Can you please step to the side?” The two bodyguards who had been accompanying Marko waited and did the same. Marko caught a flicker in their eyes as if they all knew each other, but protocol was protocol. When the men were scanned, the other security guard opened the door for them.
Marko turned and gave one last look at the doubting captain, who had returned to his boat. “Sail out past the edge of Manhattan. It will be safest there.”
“You sounded so confident earlier.” After a pause, the captain added, “I’ll be sure to do that.”
Marko glared daggers at the captain. He had only meant… but the man had pulled back the line tying him to the dock and had his motor revving in the water. Marko wasn’t going to try to educate the man by shouting over the engine. He turned, nodded at the security guard while muttering the little-heard courtesy of ‘thanks’ and stepped inside.
He was immediately hit with such an overpowering concentration of pine and lemon air freshener that his eyes watered. Humanity couldn’t stop itself from receding below the waves, but it could get rid of the smell.
I guess we deserve some credit for that.
Where once had been segmented office spaces, there was now a grand, open reception area. Couches rested in a line between the reception desk and the door, each with its own side table and antique lamp. Along the walls were Romantic paintings of peaceful European landscapes, filled with windmills and granaries and simple-dressed townsfolk. Despite their attempt to shut out the world, this place in its brightly-lit excess still carried an air of the impending doom in its over-perfection.
Waiting in front of the reception desk was a large man, half a head shorter than Marko, but with an enormous gut. The man had three chins; the first two and the rest of his round face were covered in white stubble that matched the thick hair on the top of his head. He wore a fine, dark blue suit and sported an antique golden watch with inlaid diamonds on his left wrist. His clear blue eyes, which were friendly but distant, had locked onto Marko. Marko walked towards him, hearing the echo of his black dress shoes as he spanned the gap between them.
“Sverichek,” the man called as they approached. “Ready for tonight?”
Marko wondered if he was asking if he was personally ready for the ceremony or if all the plans were ready and functioning. “Yes, Mr. Stanhope.” A response that answered both questions.
“Good.” Stanhope nodded. “I managed to sneak away from the socialites for a second. I don’t think they mind; they’ve mostly been congregating around me, but I suspect it’s just because you haven’t shown up yet. When you’re ready, we can head to the observation deck.”
Marko nodded nervously. He didn’t like large social events, especially ones where he had to mingle with people above his social class as he endured their judgment. It wasn’t a good quality for a scientist to have: the inability to socialize with financiers. The two stepped around the reception desk, completely ignoring the middle-aged woman sitting behind it, who was trying to look busy in front of her boss’ boss’ boss by typing madly onto a projected keyboard in between smiling at them. Stanhope pressed the button for the elevator. They stepped inside and were immediately hit with the cold putrescence of algae and salt water. Marko could imagine the pool of water that was just underneath their feet, filling the bottom of the elevator shaft. He looked at the buttons and saw that the first two had been removed. Good, he thought, and before he could stop himself, he imagined some careless pencil pusher stressed from an upcoming deadline accidentally hitting the wrong button and drowning inside a luxurious decorated elevator in the middle of what was once ‘the Capitol of the World.’
The doors opened to a long, golden hallway cut with red carpet. Marko had to temper his long strides as Stanhope waddled beside him. Stanhope opened the door at the end of the hallway and they stepped onto the roof of New York City. There was a slight burst of wind that tousled Marko’s hair. To his right, a shining cube of light filled with elegantly dressed people whose eyes had been locked down at the rest of the skyscrapers turned to him. Without pausing for a view over the side, Marko followed Stanhope underneath the observation deck and up the stairs, emerging in the center of the party.
Tables covered in white cloth with glasses of champagne and bouquets were spread across the room. All around them were men, the youngest in their thirties but most in their fifties, in finely-tailored suits, slick-gelled hair and satin handkerchiefs. The women were noticeably younger than their male counterparts, each dressed in a myriad of shiny gray, deep blue, and even a handful of red, green and black dresses. Marko guessed that the older women with austere clothing were the ones who had their own money. Marko noticed an exception to the age rule at the end of the bar, where a woman in her late fifties, or early sixties minus the plastic surgeries, stood beside a well-muscled, bronze-tanned, college-age boy who looked as if he were wearing his first suit. Marko smiled and saved that image. You have to smile now, look friendly. This is a business world; it’s all marketing, not the product. They’ll trust you if you smile.
The conversations began to die off as all eyes turned to the two giants, the one skeletal, and the other walrus-fat. They looked as if they didn’t know how to respond. A few people broke out in cheers, more from a sense that that was what they were supposed to do than at any actual enthusiasm for Marko. The hollow cheer spread throughout the room and Marko was received to the least enthusiastic uproar he had ever heard.
Stanhope marched forward, walking directly into the throng. Marko kept pace, fearing the inevitable introductions that were to follow. “Esteemed guests, Marko Sverichek, the head of Project Sea Titan, inventor of the Sea Titan motors and the man who will save the city tonight.”
A few glasses were raised.
“When does the show start?” asked one of the younger men, who stood beside a stunning Chinese woman in black.
Stanhope turned to Marko. Marko looked at his watch. “High tide is in thirty minutes, so an hour.”
Stanhope turned his head, nodding at the semi-circular crowd. “I think we can drink all the booze before then.”
That drew some laughter. An older man said, “You can!” which drew a second round of laughs. After that, the majority of the crowd returned to their previous conversations, to Marko’s relief. He stood quietly by Stanhope as he talked to an older French couple. Marko caught a few key words, but wasn’t listening to them as he let his mind and ears wander. The talk of the people in the observation deck was slow, expectant and almost dreading, but in a nonchalant manner, as if the specter of disaster was humorous. Every few seconds, Marko caught someone looking at him, then turning away. I am a sight to behold. Seven feet tall in a three-year-old suit. I would have gotten a new one, but nice suits are expensive for a man like me to buy. Marko looked down and was reminded that his tie was comically short. They must all be thinking ‘what a poorly dressed freak he is, who let him out of the lab? Or did he synthesize a muscle growth serum and break out? Maybe that’s why he’s so tall…’
“Mr. Sverichek,” a soft female voice called. Marko turned and looked down. A short Latina with soft up-turned cheeks, dark almond eyes and jet black hair looked up at him. She was wearing a green dress suit that looked somewhere in between stylish and business-like. Her smile seemed more genuine than most of the others at the party. She reached out to shake his huge hand. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Yes, Miss Mayor,” he stuttered.
“So formal. Please, call me Sophia.”
“So, are you enjoying the party, Mr. Sverichek?”
“Are you lying?”
He paused long enough to give her a chance to answer her own question.
“It’s all right. I get bored of formal events, too.”
“Yes, you’re right.” He smiled awkwardly. “I would prefer that things got started.”
Sophia’s smile straightened and she nodded slightly. “Good, so you’re confident?”
Marko nodded. “Yes, I checked everything again today. Everything should go by without a hitch. Every variable has been calculated, nothing is left to chance.”
Sophia’s smile widened. “I wish there were more people like you in politics; people who could only tell the truth. It seems we get too much of the opposite. Try to enjoy the party,” she sang as she turned. Marko gave an awkward nod just after she walked away and watched her join another group of socialites.
Marko looked aside, trying to ignore his own thoughts. There was a waiter walking toward his small group with a tray of champagne. Marko grabbed a glass, wishing he could have grabbed two. Stanhope and the French couple each took a glass and Marko realized he shouldn’t act the drunkard in front of the only man who believed in him while he was trying to impress foreign business magnates. The couple kept talking to Stanhope, although they would occasionally look at Marko as if to be polite and acknowledge that he existed.
Oh, to hell with this. Marko walked away, not even bothering to give an excuse. He didn’t care whether or not they started forming opinions about him; he had already formed enough about them. He walked to the window. Everything faded as he gazed out at the still-drowning city; the gentle white waves upon the buildings looked like an almost peaceful struggle against the dark, cold water that was reaching up to claim them all. As high tide arrived, the water level began to rise until the first two floors of every skyscraper were fully underwater. The city workers were careful to scrape off the barnacles during the day, but there was a clear line on every skyscraper in Manhattan where the sea water had left its salty kiss. Marko glanced at his watch every few minutes until finally, the moon hung above Manhattan. Not quite yet. It’s not centered.
Lights from every skyscraper were shining down on the dark brown waters. In the distance, smaller lights rose in a semi-circle around Manhattan. A third of the taller buildings in the Boroughs had their lights on. More light came from the houseboats that filled the bay.
Marko gazed down as far as the windows would let him. He had wanted to be as close to the ground floor as possible, but the financiers wanted to watch the spectacle from above. Marko looked down at the other skyscrapers and saw the bottom halves of each filled with people, staring at the water below. Caught between the sea and space, millions watched and waited as the water rose to its highest level.
Marko looked down at the engineering teams, who were riding the waves in their boats. They were barely specks from this height. It didn’t matter; he knew exactly where each of his machines were and could imagine every single bolt underneath the towers. Even at the top of the city, he imagined he felt the gentle thrum of the machine placed a thousand feet below him.
“If this doesn’t work, you will go down in history as a madman.”
Marko didn’t even glance at the portly, fine-suited old man who happened to be his only supporter. “You didn’t have to be here. None of you had to be here.”
Stanhope knew who he was referring to, as the two had broken away from the larger gathering of the richest industrialists and real-estate owners who had the misfortune of being unable to move their businesses out of the sinking city.
“Most of the time, innovation leads to disaster. Other times, it dominates the market, but either way, it is the future, and in this case, risks are unavoidable. If I don’t die here now, I’ll just die somewhere else in a less exciting fashion.”
“Well, if this doesn’t work,” Marko choked out the nicety and imagined himself flinging the fat old man from the ledge, “we’ll be the only ones killed.”
“Us and whoever is in the buildings that we fall on.”
Marko tuned him out. He looked at his watch, then back up at the moon.
“It’s time!” someone from behind Marko announced.
Even with the handrails, no one dared to stand on the edge with Marko. Stanhope stretched awkwardly as he tried to put a hand on the tall man’s shoulder, before letting it rest on his back. “Best of luck,” he intoned and abandoned him for his young wife.
The last of the engineers emerged from the water, climbed into the boats and sped off. The rest could be done via remote.
Marko saw the bubbles before the tremor worked its way up the building. A few people gasped. The champagne glasses tinkled. Dirty foam rose furiously at the base of the skyscraper as the machine began to work. Marko held his breath, hoping that the tiny holes beneath the concrete wouldn’t create too strong a stream of pressurized water that might unbalance the delicate procedure. The skyscraper continued to shake. Glasses fell from tables and cries rose from behind him. Marko looked out to the other buildings and saw the people watching open-mouthed as the tower shook.
The Empire State Building began to rise. The massive engines at the building’s base sputtered out water and calmed as the long-lost concrete sidewalk emerged as its newly reclaimed base. Then the Empire State Building grew still, fully detached from the sunken land.
Cries of wonder became cheers and as the people below cried out, Marko heard them echoed from behind him. Marko looked up at the moon. They had only risen thirty feet, but he felt as if he could reach out and grasp it. Marko looked over his shoulder. Everyone lifted their glasses to him. Then the socialites and billionaires turned to the company heads who funded the construction of the machines, hired the engineers, the Congressmen and women who hadn’t done anything except calling it a ‘bold initiative’ and gave tenuous support. Marko watched as they drank to their own futures.
Marko put his left index finger on his right wrist. He tapped it twice and the digital interface appeared before his eyes. He placed his left index finger on his open right palm and brought up a groupchat application. Video of the engineering teams scattered throughout the city appeared before his vision. “Is everything working according to plan? No malfunctions, even minor ones? No? Then activate the motors on the other buildings, too.”
Marko tried to follow the engineering teams as they weaved through the canals, once streets, of New York City as he attempted to guess which building would be the next to rise. It was the one directly opposite him, and Marko almost laughed with joy as he saw the face of an astonished girl in a blue snowflake sweater clutching her mother, mouth agape as she looked down at the waves, then back up toward the stars, as if gauging the new difference.
A future scientist.
The buildings rose around him sporadically, sometimes a few in sequence; once, he saw five rise together in a line. By sunrise, every skyscraper was over two stories taller. Marko clutched the railing, exhausted, feeling as if he had just run a marathon.
Stanhope appeared at his side. “If only you had been at Atlantis!”
Marko laughed with joy and almost hugged him. Gulls cawed below him. In a night, I have reclaimed a city from the waves. I am the captain of New York City.