Sun, Moon, and Stars
by Abe Drayton
Originally published in Abyss and Apex
“Sun, Moon, and Stars.”
Lena wiped rain off her face and skimmed her fingertips over the damp, faded graffiti. She glanced up at the ruddy clouds above the skyscrapers, and stepped quietly into the derelict building, shedding her poncho. Walking along the dripping support beams, she brushed past spiderwebs as their swarming creators retreated from so large an intruder. She reached her destination, and pulled a large duffel from an alcove, shaking off one stubborn spider, which hit the ground with a heavy thud, lay stunned for a moment, and scuttled off into deeper shadows, away from her light.
Lena hauled the bag, almost as big as herself, out onto an open platform, and began pulling out her scuba gear. Diving was illegal, so she stashed her equipment in a place nobody, not even the cops, would go. The buildings in this district belonged to the spiders and their prey – birds, small mammals, and fish netted by slow moving webs in the water. They were poisonous, but they conserved their venom for digesting prey that wouldn’t fight back, and Lena didn’t fit that description. She carried antivenin, but she never needed it. They guarded the equipment she had worked so hard to acquire, and she brought them the occasional treat from the pet store.
She slipped out of her clothes, and worked her body into the heavy pressure suit. As she zipped it up, she glanced out a window crisscrossed with glistening spider webs that dripped with the ever-present rain. The heavy New York clouds hung on the other side as a reminder, and Lena murmured the Creed into the damp air.
“Sun, Moon, and Stars.”
She slipped on her mechanical gills, and double-checked the breathing system’s reserve tank. Sitting on the edge of the platform, she pulled on her flippers and gloves. Lena pulled down her mask and slipped off the platform into the air. Every night, the drop seemed longer than Lena remembered, and every night, she told herself it was just her imagination. She hit the cool water with a phosphorescent splash, and dove slowly, breathing the stale air of the reservoir tank as she sank towards the foundations of the ancient building.
They – whoever “they” were, said that the sea levels had started dropping decades ago, when the poles had frozen – just a millimeter or less per year. That was when the Creed had started to appear: Sun, Moon, and Stars. It was a silent question; a reminder; a call; a hope that maybe – just maybe – the sky would return to New York for the first time in over a thousand years. For almost a century now it had been written on the dripping walls, and murmured into the persistent rain, and whispered to children as they fell asleep.
She reached the door at the base of the building, and swam through it into the streets of Old New York. Turning over, she paused to let her body and her suit adjust to the pressure, while she gazed up at the surface, thirty feet above her. The water was clear, all pollution and muck having been filtered out generations ago, and the raindrops twinkled across the surface, refracting the city glow that shone orange on the clouds. A solitary rowboat was gliding over, silhouetted against the sky, sending a wedge of ripples that spread out above Lena. A large fish slid silently between her and the boat, and her pressure monitor beeped.
After scanning the surface once for police, Lena rolled over, and headed to the subway entrance, ready for her next descent. The ancient stone foundations of the city loomed at the edge of her vision, forming the walls of a silent, empty labyrinth where millions had once moved through the streets in never-ending processions. The empty canals of Old New York’s roadways gaped at Lena, sending a shiver up her spine as she reached the station. She glanced around once and swam inside.
Her mask’s lights flickered on as she dove down into the darkness of the station at Lexington and 53rd, and into her private world. The tunnels had been reinforced hundreds of years ago, as the city was built higher to escape the rising sea, and the ancient New Yorkers had rebuilt and reinforced their tunnel system to prevent the city from collapsing. Here and there, the hulking remnants of ancient public transit slumbered, covered in barnacles and corrosion.
Wrapped in silence, Lena swam down the tracks to Grand Central, the hum of motorboats and city machinery muffed by the walls of the tunnels. The only noise she noticed was the soft whir and puff of her breathing apparatus. She touched her mask and turned off the lights, bathing herself in darkness for a moment.
A moment, but no more – Lena’s chest swelled as the lights came on. They hid when humans came down with their too-bright lamps, but now they came out, and shone proudly. Small fish blinked out of crannies and holes in the walls, glowing crustaceans moved in slow motion along the rail bed, light tracing their waving limbs, some over a meter long.
Lena had heard of other tunnel divers, but had never seen any, and assumed that they, like her, wanted to be alone in the dark passages. She swam across a tunnel opening, and a cool current of water pushed against her. Glancing the way it had come, she saw a massive grouper moving slowly in front of a subway car crusted with glowing polyps.
Lena swam on. During her first dives, she’d used twine to keep from getting lost, but she knew the tunnels so well now that it was more hindrance than help. Looking behind her, she watched the phosphorescence swirling in the wake of her flippers, and the little fish that chased the vanishing wisps of white-green light.
During the slow swim to her destination, Lena reflected in silence, and prayed. In the beginning, it was the Creed that went with her down the long, dark tunnel. Now it was a more desperate hope – a fear more real than imagined points of light. After a lifetime of rain, and clouds, and dripping buildings, Lena had begun to lose faith. She no longer believed that the water was receding. Every time she dove, she hoped for a longer drop to the surface, and every night when she made the dark, lonely swim, she prayed for a sign – for something to tell her that she was wrong – that the sea was falling.
That the sky would return.
After a couple hours, she reached the entrance into Grand Central, and stopped for a moment to clear her mind before swimming up into the wide-open hall. The windows had been walled over long ago to support the towering structures above. The vast space was a cavern of permanent darkness, and Lena drifted loose, slowly turning with the gentle currents that flowed from the many tunnels. As she moved with the water, the phosphorescent glow around her faded to black. Sun, Moon, and Stars, the Creed begged; down here, in the eternally silent night, the stars that had been banished by centuries of clouds rested, and waited to rise once more when the seas retreated, and the sky cleared.
Small fish darted by like comets, their glowing trails catching up with them as they moved in spurts and rushes; eels formed glowing ribbons as they slid from one hole to another, and sometimes one of the great, slow cave groupers glided along the bottom like a massive nebula. Lena chuckled, sending a few bubbles swirling out from around the edge of her mouthpiece. Comets and constellations – she’d never seen them in her life, and probably never would, save in pictures, stories, and her imagination. Her eyes followed the slow, shimmering ascent of her laughter as the bubbles clambered to the ceiling. Once there, they spread out, and were lost among the more permanent constellations that grew at random across beams and stonework that had been built, and then rebuilt to last a thousand years.
Faint motion caught her attention, and as she looked, Lena saw that the bubbles from her laughter were still seeking higher ground, and were crawling along the ceiling like little glowing beetles. A moment later they vanishing upwards, briefly illuminating a hole that Lena had never noticed before. Curious, she began swimming slowly after them. When she reached the ceiling, she rested against the stone for a moment, and then switched on her lamp, the abrupt arrival of daylight turning the enchanted firmament back into barnacles, and waving tube worms, and crabs that dropped away from the sudden brilliance to drift down into the welcoming darkness below.
She found the hole – it was round and jagged, like something had been pulled out of the ceiling, and it was just big enough for her slender frame to fit through. Lena cast one thought to her spool of twine, back in the duffel, and then pulled herself into the hole, chasing her laughter.
The passage was a little wider than she was, and opened into blackness about a meter after she entered it. Lena paused for a moment, and looked around. She was in another chamber, but how large it was, she couldn’t tell. She switched off the lamp and the familiar swirl of phosphorescence in the water illuminated the fish that had paused at her arrival. Crabs scuttled away from her, and she could make out what must have been support beams as fish darted behind them. Uncertain of the size of this new room, she rose slowly, glancing back to be sure that she could find the hole again. She’d gotten lost before, and it meant a sleepless night of retracing her path. Looking up, she could see little flashes of light where water struck the surface. It wasn’t the chaotic sparkle of rain, but rather the slow, steady dripping of a perpetually damp ceiling.
When she surfaced, and turned on her light, the first thing she saw was a staircase on the wall, about ten meters from where she had emerged. With a few kicks of her flippers, Lena reached the stairs, and hauled herself up to sit on them. There were lines carved deep into the wall, covered by centuries of grime, and a stained water line, level with the top marking, which ran along the wall as far as her light could reach. Lena held her breath and reached up a gloved hand, slowly clearing away the thin layer of gunk and old barnacles that obscured the markings nearest the water level. She let out her breath in a rush, and began to breathe harder as she hurriedly cleaned the stone up to the top marking, and sat back, staring at the damp wall, tears starting in her eyes.
Hundreds of years ago, someone had come down to this room over Grand Central, and recorded the rising sea level. The top mark, level with the high water line around the room, was half a meter above the surface of the water. Written next to it, dated ninety years before, was the Creed: Sun, Moon, and Stars.