We continue sailing across the Moroko Ocean, steadily nearing the continent of Shika. Many of you are growing tired of the sea voyage, but we have many days left before we return to land and conclude our exploration of Kareena. I spend most of my time sharing stories to keep you entertained and to keep your mind off the ceaseless rocking of the ship, the stinging spray from the waves, and the sticky saltiness of the air.
One night I determine it’s finally time for me to share stories of the scientists’ histories.
* * * * *
About eight thousand years ago, Kareena faced a global crisis. Temperatures were increasing, which in turn caused sea levels to rise. Some places were dry with record-breaking droughts. Others were overrun with floodwaters. People were starving. Diseases were running rampant. Nations were threatening war.
The air in the cities was so toxic it couldn’t be breathed. Rivers and lakes were brown, filled with trash and toxins. The oceans weren’t any better. Islands of plastic dominated the seas. Plants and animals were going extinct at alarming rates.
Storms were more common than ever before. Hurricanes became more and more frequent. Twisters accompanied most severe thunderstorms. Earthquakes caused by too much development devastated cities and triggered tsunamis.
Each day the planet became less and less habitable.
* * * * *
Conference Room 4 was packed with every employee from the Aveshik Research Institute, located in Vraga, the capital of Shika. The head of the Institute stood in the front of the room, a blank screen behind her.
“Thank you all for coming,” she said. “Today we are here to discuss an important matter that must be addressed.” She paused. “As you all know, rapid climate change is causing life-threatening problems across the globe. While we were hopeful world leaders would take the advice of scientists like ourselves and make corrections to our ways of living, they have not. Yesterday, we reached the point of no return. Global warming is not going to stop or improve.”
There was a quiet murmuring in the room.
“Here at the Research Institute, we believe it is our duty to protect Kareena’s resources and the knowledge of the durmiads. We are partnering with the Krauf Lab of Botany and Agriculture in Raloa. We will both be building underground bunkers to serve as safe storage facilities for our resources and knowledge. Our bunker will be responsible for housing frozen DNA from as many lifeforms as possible in addition to a supercomputer storing all of our data.
“Some of you have already been working on projects to support this initiative. Now it is time for us to build the bunker before it’s too late and everything on Kareena perishes.
“We are putting together a team of fifteen scientists who will live in the bunker. Your job is to restore Kareena to her former glory once the worst effects of climate change have passed. We fear most life on Kareena will be gone in a matter of years.
“We will be conducting extensive evaluations to determine who our fifteen scientists will be. If you are offered a position in the bunker, you don’t have to take it. If you would rather stay with your families, we respect that decision.
“Thank you for your time today. If you would all go to your stations, your supervisors will bring you your new assignments. Thank you.”
* * * * *
Oriana was one of the Research Institute’s geneticists. She and her partner Horatio were assigned to help prepare DNA for storage in the bunker. They were working in the DNA lab with the other geneticists. There were about a dozen of them at the Research Institute. On normal days, they made breakthroughs in cloning and genetic modification or searched for ways to cure genetic diseases.
“If they select you for the team, will you accept?” Oriana asked Horatio.
Horatio shrugged. “I don’t want to leave the surface behind, but they’re right. At this rate, Kareena won’t last much longer. If they choose me, I’ll do it. I don’t have any family to keep me here.” He stopped and looked at Oriana, his expression softening. “Except you. Would you go?”
“Only if you do. I’d be reluctant to leave my family behind, but they won’t survive the climate crisis either way.”
“I’m sure the rich are building their own personal bunkers as we speak,” Horatio said. “They’ll survive for a while, but the land won’t be habitable again until long after we’re all dead.”
“What’s the point of the bunker then?” Timothy, one of the other geneticists, asked. “If the scientists won’t live long enough to restore Kareena, what’s the point? It’s not like there will be anyone left to use the DNA and information we’re storing.”
Horatio and Oriana glanced at each other. Until the recent reassignment, they had been working on a top secret project that probably had something to do with that problem. “Being a geneticist,” Horatio said, “you should know it’s possible to lengthen lifespans. No one’s figured out how yet, but there’s a chance someone will before it’s too late.”
“Immortality?” Timothy asked. “That’s quite the gamble.”
“It is, but it’s worth it. We can’t restore Kareena if we all die.”
“Should we restore her?” Oriana asked. “I don’t think it’s our place to decide what happens to her. Mass extinction events are a normal part of the planet’s history. If another extinction occurs, it would be wrong to reverse it.”
“Even though the extinction is our fault?” Horatio asked. “Don’t we have a responsibility to undo our wrongs?”
“I agree,” Renita, another of the geneticists said. “We as a species have really messed up. I don’t want us to go extinct knowing we took most other lifeforms with us.”
“But think about what it would take to restore Kareena,” Oriana said. “Even if someone makes a break-through with immortality, the scientists would have to wait a hundred thousand years for the planet to cool down before they could even consider restoring her. In order to properly restore balance to ecosystems, we need to have DNA from every single lifeform. If we miss one, the ecosystem won’t be balanced. And, after a hundred thousand years, there will most likely be new lifeforms on the planet, and restoring the current ones could lead to the extinction of the new ones. I don’t think this restoration plan is feasible.”
“That’s why we wait for a shorter period of time,” Horatio said, “like a thousand years. Most of the pollution will be gone. We can use magic to fix the atmosphere and remove toxins from the soil and water. Then we can restore lifeforms. There will still be some life left, and there won’t be many new species. We have a lot of DNA already, and the ecologists are making sure we have the key species we need.”
“If we’re going to use magic to restore the planet,” Timothy said, “why not fix it now?”
“Because there are too many idiot durmiads who refuse to change their lifestyles,” Horatio said. “We can fix the problem, and they’ll just unfix it.”
“What about us, though?” Renita asked. “We need to consider the survival of our own species, too. If there are only fifteen scientists in the bunker, they won’t be able to restore the population without a lot of genetic modifications to counteract the founder effect. They’d probably have to do some cloning as well because it would be difficult to restore the population using natural pregnancies and birth alone.”
“If we restore the durmiads,” Oriana said, “we’ll give our species another opportunity to destroy the planet, making all of these efforts pointless.”
“Not if the scientists raise them properly,” Renita said. “If the new durmiads grow up respecting Kareena and understanding the hazards of certain types of developments and technology, they won’t repeat our actions. We study history to learn from it. They can do the same.”
“We’re scientists,” Oriana said. “We spend more time with microscopes and petri dishes than we do with other people. If we want to restore the durmiad population, we need people with social lives and better maternal instincts.”
“Are you saying scientists make poor parents?” Timothy asked. “I may spend a lot of time in laboratories, but I still see my wife and kids every day.”
“I’m not saying that exactly. It’s more like—“
“Enough,” Gina, another geneticist snapped. “Stop arguing over decisions that aren’t yours to make and focus on preparing your DNA samples.”
Oriana met Horatio’s gaze and rolled her eyes. Gina took every opportunity to assert herself as a leader—even though she was equally ranked with everyone else in the room—and order people around. Oriana and Horatio hated working with her.
The geneticists returned to their work, now silent; but Oriana’s head was full of questions and opinions about the bunker and restoration projects. She and Horatio would have many long conversations—and arguments—about it in the days to come.
* * * * *
A month after the bunker project announcement, the Institute began choosing its team members. To Oriana’s dismay, Gina was appointed as the team leader. Her partner Ryker, the head ecologist, was chosen as her second-in-command. Ruben was selected as the medical doctor. Evelina became their neuroscientist. Jaelyn was the zoologist, and Kaden was the botanist.
Gina offered positions to several of the general scientists; but they all declined, refusing to leave their young children behind. Many of the scientists were upset the bunker couldn’t be expanded to house their family members. The head of the Institute was insistent that only the fifteen scientists would live there, as it would be too difficult to ensure the survival of their families, too.
Finally, Gina was able to convince Deklan to join the team on the condition his wife Latanya could fill the biochemist position. Their children were grown, but it didn’t make it any easier for them to leave them behind.
Araceli, Myra, and Vivian were the behavioral scientists. Fletcher was the assistant and records keeper.
Gina came into the DNA lab and approached Renita. “I highly value your knowledge of physical anthropology and genetics,” she said. “I’m offering you a spot on my team. Congratulations.”
Renita accepted. That left two spots. Gina gestured to Horatio and Oriana. “Step outside.”
They followed her into the empty corridor, aware of the curious gazes of their coworkers. Gina stopped and faced them, her gaze shifting from one to the other.
“There’s no question you two are our best geneticists,” she said, “and you’re highly valued due to your work on the immortality project. However, I understand, Oriana, that your views aren’t the same as those of the Research Institute. I won’t have one of my team members disrupting our mission. You don’t have to agree with what we’re doing, but you do have to complete the work you’re asked to do. If you can do this, the two of you can have the last spots. If not, I still extend the invitation to you, Horatio, though I know you’ll likely decline if Oriana chooses to stay on the surface. Losing both of you will hinder the team’s ability to work on immortality, and it would force me to choose geneticists who have children. What do you say?”
“May I take the night to think it over and answer you tomorrow?” Oriana asked. “It is a big decision.”
“You may, but if I haven’t heard from you two by the end of the work day tomorrow, you forfeit your spots.”
* * * * *
That evening, Oriana and Horatio had a long conversation about whether or not they wanted to join the team.
“If we refuse to join, they’ll struggle to make themselves immortal,” Oriana said. “That means there’s a chance they’ll have to let Kareena heal herself instead of forcing a restoration on her. Horatio, you and I have the potential to decide the fate of this planet.”
“I love you, Oriana,” Horatio said, rubbing a hand on his neck, “but I can’t condemn them to failure. I don’t want to leave you, but I will sacrifice our relationship for the greater good if I have to.”
Oriana sighed. “You’re too stubborn, you know that?”
“Yes.” Horatio paused. “Will you join me?”
As much as Oriana hated the thought of living in a bunker with Gina for an unnaturally long time, she couldn’t bear the thought of dying without Horatio by her side. In truth, she was afraid of dying, and the only thing that made it bearable was knowing Horatio would be with her when it happened. Could she face the end alone?
She met Horatio’s gaze. “You’re lucky I love you. I’ll join.”
* * * * *
The team spent over a year preparing the bunker. Once everything was ready, they transferred all the DNA to the storage facility inside. Their rooms were finished up. Food was put into the many pantries. Live plants and animals were brought down. All that was missing were the scientists and their personal belongings. Understanding they wanted to spend as much time on the surface as they could and knowing they wanted time to say goodbye to friends and family, Gina waited as long as she possibly could before making them move underground.
After a large tropical storm assaulted Amarek and the nearby Tiki islands, the scientists were asked to pack their belongings.
“Things are getting worse,” Gina said. “We’re anticipating the need for you to move into the bunker soon.”
Two nights later, a severe storm threatened the city. Oriana and Horatio sat by the window of their house, watching rain, hail, and wind pelt everything outside. Lightning forked across the sky and thunder shook the walls.
Their watches beeped and vibrated. Gina’s face appeared on the screens.
“It’s time,” she said. “There’s a tornado watch and a flash flood warning. We move into the bunkers now. You have a quarter of an hour.”
Oriana and Horatio packed a few last minute items into their bags. As they did so, they heard a terrible howling in the distance. A twister tore through buildings a few streets over. Horatio grabbed Oriana’s hand, and they teleported to the bunker’s entrance. Myra had set up protections preventing people from teleporting inside. Then they climbed down the ladder to their new home.