fiction

Treasure Hunters of the Drowned Empire

Jackson maneuvered the Zodiac among the choppy waters of Long Island Sound. He was far away from land at this point, but could still see the twinkle of the Sixth Borough on the horizon. The sun would come up soon, masking the artifice with orange light.

This was the part where things started to get dangerous. He could see, barely, the outlines of sunken buildings below him. The GPS he had taken on the boat showed where the old streets were, but it was still all too easy to run aground on an errant apartment block or office tower. He throttled down the engine and continued slowly, letting the boat get knocked around by the entropic, adirectional surf.

As he felt the warmth of the sun hit his back, he saw the reflections in the distance, the massive towers that once made up the Manhattan skyline. The buildings were still intimidating in their enormity, even though their lobbies were filled with water. At this distance, you couldn’t see the decay that had set in, salt water no longer held back by human habitation.

The GPS showed Jackson’s boat over the East River. He throttled up and pointed the boat at one of the closer towers. After building up a bit of speed, he cut the engine and let the craft float towards his destination. It was hard to tell who was watching at this point, but he wasn’t supposed to be here. The entire city had been closed off for “safety reasons” since it started flooding, and there was no lack of fevered conjecture about how this was enforced.

It was hard to say how much of a risk there was, though, in just being here. With the engine off, all that could be heard in the abandoned street was the lapping of waves, the cawing of birds, and the loud creaks and groans of fatiguing metal. No one knew when the towers would start falling, prey to the twin evils of erosion and corrosion. But for now, there were people here.

Jackson tied the boat to a twisted and broken window frame, and hoisted himself up into the building. What was once a glass facade stood shattered, the abandoned office gutted entirely. On the bare concrete and fragments of institutional carpeting, there was another man, sitting on a large hardshell case and playing with his phone. Jackson cleared his throat.

“Good morning! Please tell me you brought coffee,” the man said. Jackson chuckled. He had pulled a large frame pack from the boat, and in one of the external compartments was an aluminum carafe, filled with coffee. He removed the vessel and handed it to the man, who poured himself a large cup.

“Nice to see you too, Miller,” Jackson said. “So what’s the plan, here?” Miller took a long pull from his cup of coffee, and then handed Jackson his phone. His e-mail client was up.

“That’s a pre-release, slated to hit the newsfeeds on Monday. Basically, the interim government is putting a moratorium on navigation through any of the waterways in and around the Five Boroughs until a full environmental impact statement and risk assessment is performed. Security teams are going to start patrolling as soon as this goes public.”

“So?” Jackson said. “We knew that they were going to close off the city eventually. No real worry about survivors from a flood like this.” Miller smiled, and jumped off the hard case. He turned around to open the clasps, and then lifted the reinforced lid off the case. Inside was a dry suit and a wicked-looking SCUBA setup.

“We have 48 hours to get down there and see what’s what,” Miller said. “It should be the treasure hunt of a lifetime, scooping up salvage, jewelry, and whatever else we can carry.”

“Sounds promising, but I have a better idea,” Jackson said.

“Fine, but it better not lose me the opportunity to use all this gear,” Miller said.

“Not at all, we still need to take a dive and look around. Do we know when any of these buildings are going to collapse?”

“Nope,” Miller said. “That’s the line of the security corps, though, that they’re worried people will be caught under collapsing buildings.”

“Well what if we could figure out which buildings are safe, and sell the real-estate to all the refugees trying to get into Sixth Borough?” Jackson said. Miller just looked at him.

“Man, you think big. How are we going to do that?” Jackson handed his phone over to Miller, after navigating to a social media profile.

“Karen is a former employee of the State of New York. Civil Engineer. Like most of her co-workers, laid off after the state of emergency was declared. She and some of her friends have some wicked plans for the city…they just need two hardasses to get them in.”

“No shit,” Miller said. “Well, set up a meet. If we survive the first dive, we may be going into business. Think this gig of yours will be dangerous?”

“Almost certainly,” Jackson said.

“Good.” The two men finished shrugging on the SCUBA gear, and jumped off the building ledge into the inky water below.

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