The Last Aquarium

Image by Hans from Pixabay

The depths crushed against the glass, sheer pressure sounding a monotonous drone that perpetually permeated the crystalline tunnel as it burrowed into the deep. The only other sound was the constant clonk of Michael’s boots against the steel mesh flooring.

How long had he been down here? He wondered as he passed another automatic food kiosk.

He gazed across the deep, to the other tube running parallel to his. The dim depths made it hard to parse how far away it was, but he could still see the other man making his own journey through the foreboding construct. Michael realised the man was looking at him and waved.

The distant companion waved back, and with a nod, they both turned from each other to continue down the sloping tube.

Seriously, how long had it been?

The monotony was interrupted at points as the hours dragged on, as whales or fish or squid would swim up to the pressing glass and turn bulbous or beady eyes inwards to scrutinise Michael. He would stop and balk in wonder at the creatures, and marvel at how humans could construct something like this so far beneath the surface of the ocean . . . How long had he been down here though?

Occasionally he would pass plaques, explaining the habitat in a dizzying array of foreign languages. But it was in a strange language, as if he was reading back to front, his head throbbed and he would give up trying to decipher the strange symbols.

Perturbed, Michael turned to see if his distant companion was still there. Sure enough, he was, Michael realised the man was looking back at him and waved. The man returned the gesture, and they continued on their path.

Maybe the tubes would link up at the end . . . maybe he would get to talk to this man . . . the thought seemed strange to him, but Michael did not know why.

Eventually, the tube turned a corner, and Michael sighed with relief. He came around and saw his companion walking towards him. As always they waved and continued towards one another . . . until Michael pressed up against a wall of glass, his distant companion appearing to be as perplexed as he was.

“Perhaps we need to turn back?” Michael tried to speak through the glass to the other man, who appeared to be speaking back, but no sound got through. “Dam.” Kicking at the floor, Michael moved to the nearest plaque, “I’ll check here mate don’t worry, maybe there’s an explanation this time.”

Michael read the plaque, his frustration seeping from him as it was replaced by dawning dread.

It was back to front . . . he squinted to hold the words in his mind.

It read:

Here stands the last human, after the war to reclaim our waters we left as many of them alive as we deemed safe, but they quickly reverted to their old ways. After the second war we imprisoned them in these cells beneath the sea where they would do no harm. The rest have since died off, but this one persists, walking the paths of this last aquarium, waving to his own reflection in order to stave off the illnesses that eventually took the others of his kind.

One day he will stop.

Until then, we may take this moment to observe—in safety—what was once the most dangerous species on the planet.

Michael murmured, his mind erasing the words from his awareness as they did every time before.

“Nothing useful here mate,” he shrugged and gestured to his distant companion again, “Best we turn around and head back.” He waved, his companion waved back, and he turned from him and marched up the never ending tunnel through the depths.

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