We finally reach land again. Even those of you who love the ocean are happy at our return, for you were growing tired of the endless days at sea with nothing eventful to break up the sameness of each day. We follow the Tiasa River northwest, travelling through the same forest that was one of your first experiences on this planet. Within a week, we reach Jakita, setting up camp in the same location as before. Now it is time for me to share more about the scientists’ backgrounds, for the scientists play an important role in everything you will see once we leave Kareena.
* * * * *
Horatio put on one of the hazard suits the scientists keep near the exit. It had been a thousand years since the fifteen of them had last stepped foot on the surface. Now it was time to see if Kareena were habitable again or if they would have to wait another thousand years. Horatio could sense Oriana’s nerves. She was angry he had to be the one to explore the surface. She didn’t want him in danger. Horatio reached out to her with his mind, the connection allowing them to communicate.
I’ll be okay, Ana. Don’t worry.
I’ll worry until you’re back in the bunker.
Deklan, the well-rounded scientist, checked Horatio’s suit for any issues. When he gave the go ahead, Horatio carefully ascended the ladder. Upon reaching the top, Horatio opened a panel and climbed to the next level. There were three checkpoints between the scientists and the surface. When Horatio reached the final door, he opened it and was temporarily blinded by sunlight.
The safety suit prevented him from feeling anything of the outside world; but once his vision cleared, he could see what had become of the planet.
The bunker was under a high mountain valley. The peaks loomed all around Horatio. There were once tall evergreens throughout the valley, but now only a few stunted bushes and weeds grew in the barren soil. There was also a stream that flowed through, but it had dried up long ago.
Horatio wandered the valley, searching for signs of animal life. He reached out to Oriana as he walked, letting her know he was safe. He found many species of insects, but it took him almost an hour to find anything else. At last, he came across a lizard. That was evidence enough that advanced lifeforms still existed on Kareena.
I’m coming back, he told Oriana.
After Horatio was safely back underground, Deklan removed his safety suit; and Ruben, the medical doctor, examined him.
“What’s your report?” Gina asked.
“It’s habitable,” Horatio said. “Very hostile, but habitable.”
“Good. Deklan, prepare your instruments for a surface visit. I want quantifiable data before I send the whole team up there.”
* * * * *
It was the first day of spring when the entire group left the bunker for the first time. Deklan had determined they didn’t need to wear safety suits. Now Horatio felt what he hadn’t before: the air was hot—hotter than he had ever felt it before.
Horatio and Oriana stood side-by-side, surveying the desolate landscape. After a thousand years of living underground to escape the deadly consequences of the durmiads’ livelihood, they were finally back on the surface.
“Are you sure we can live up here?” Ruben asked, looking around with a frown. “This place is as dry as the Komair Desert.” He stooped and crumbled some dirt in his hand. “It’s lifeless.”
“We have to heal the land,” Gina said. “When we went into the bunker, we knew Kareena needed more healing than we could give her, especially while people were still adding to the problem. Now that people are no longer an issue, we can reverse the global warming effects.”
“How can you say that?” Araceli asked. “Those ‘people’ had lives, families, loved ones. And now they’re…gone. Do you think anyone survived?”
“Do you think anyone else figured out how to be immortal?” Gina snapped. “No. They didn’t have the world’s best scientists to discover that for them.”
“I meant their descendants. Surely there are durmiads besides ourselves?”
No one answered her.
“How do you propose we heal Kareena?” Oriana asked. “We may have magic, but healing an entire planet is well beyond the scope of anything we’ve ever done before.”
“Are you doubting the strength of our abilities? We’re the world’s top scientists. We know more about magic than anyone.”
Oriana refrained from pointing out they can’t know more because there was no one left to know less.
Gina clapped her hands. “Back underground, everyone. We have preparations to make to restore Kareena to her former glory.”
* * * * *
Preparations took a month, and Oriana made a point to question every decision Gina made. “Are you sure we should be doing this?” she asked. “Every time durmiads meddle with nature, we make it worse.”
“You remember the agreement you made when you joined the team, yes?” Gina asked. “You had these same views then, and I told you they have no place in our team.”
“It’s been a thousand years since I made that agreement. I stand firm in my beliefs, and I’m no longer willing to help you restore Kareena.”
Gina raised an eyebrow. “You’re refusing to uphold your end of the bargain?”
“You’re really going to do that?”
“I just said I am.”
“Well, then you will…” She trailed off as she thought. “You will remain confined to your quarters, and you won’t hinder our work. Understood?”
“I’m done following your orders.” Oriana turned to leave, but Gina summoned a wall of fire to block her path.
“I am the leader here. You will do as I say or face the consequences.”
Oriana sent a cascade of water down on the flames and walked away.
* * * * *
“You should give it up,” Horatio said afterward as he and Oriana sat against the wall behind their bed. “You’re fighting a losing battle.”
“I don’t think it’s right for us to use technology and magic to behave like the gods of old. People disapproved of their meddlesome actions in ancient times, eventually leading to mass abandonment of religion. Why would we want to be like them?”
“The rest of us believe we’re doing the right thing by correcting our past wrongs. It’s not a matter of us wanting the power of the gods. It’s a matter of fixing our mistakes.”
“Not all mistakes need to be corrected.”
Horatio shook his head. “You’re being stubborn.”
“I’m not changing my mind.”
“Then you need to be careful around Gina. You’ve already pissed her off. Don’t make it worse.”
* * * * *
Myra was assigned to Oriana. She followed her everywhere, monitoring her every action. With Myra shadowing her and no one willing to side with her, Oriana was unable to hinder the other scientists’ work.
At the end of the month, the other scientists put their plan into action. Within a year, the scientists had restored as much plant and animal life as they could. It was a small fraction of the diversity the planet once knew; but given time, diversity would return.
Now that Kareena was restored, tensions were lower between Oriana and the others. She and Horatio built a small cottage next to the river. As a group, they decided they wanted to be far away from their bunker. It took time to move everything, especially the laboratory equipment and digital archives—it took Deklan a month to disassemble and reassemble the supercomputer—but it was worth it in the end.
Horatio and Oriana lived some distance from the lab. Their abode was one of the smallest and humblest. It had only two rooms: a main room with a kitchen, sitting area, desk, and bed; and a washroom. It was comfortable, and Horatio and Oriana were happy there for a time. Oriana mostly avoided the other scientists, especially Gina. The only reason she stayed was for Horatio.