Under the Waves, They Rest
Avery Parks

The marketplace was bustling, filled with raised voices, hunger, and desperation. Elei weaved through, glancing at anemic food stalls, unsure why she had bothered to come.

Hawkers cried their wares, gesturing at limited stock. One had a single pandanus fruit and was selling the cones individually, breaking them off with care as they were purchased. Small slips of paper were offered as payment; IOUs for chores, or perhaps time charging off the buyer’s rooftop solar panels, the only remaining source of electricity on Tarawa.

Their determination to keep going, despite all that was arrayed against them, made her old bones ache. The heat pushed down on her like a physical thing, oppressive and unwelcome. She should just go home; there was nothing for her here. Nothing for anyone, really.

A man jostled through the crowd. A stranger, he pushed through with brute force, leaving in his wake looks of shock and indignation.

Elei turned away. Her motivation to shop for scraps for dinner had evaporated in the heat, and she couldn’t summon the curiosity to wonder how or why someone had come to the island.

The man raised his voice, stopping her in her tracks.

“Elei Akana!”

She frowned as he approached. His blue eyes were intent on hers, and as she pulled her gaze away she realized there were three more people with him, clinging together against the crowd. Their skin nearly glowed in the sun; an island of white in a sea of brown.

“Yes?” She was curious now, despite herself.

“Ms. Akana, my name is Roland Banks. We read that you were one of the top dive guides in the area, even earning an advanced degree in marine biology. Your company was quite highly rated, before…” he trailed off with a shrug.

She gave him a flat look. “And?”

“Well, I’ve chartered a boat. I can drive it myself of course, but we’d love a tour, like the old days, eh? I understand that Marakei is completely submerged now, and—”

“Marakei is gone. It belongs to the sea, now.” Her voice was frigid, and he blinked, taken aback.

“We’ve flown quite a long way to get here, and could pay you handsomely for your time.” He plastered on a smile.

“There are no commercial flights to the island. Not anymore. And private jets are illegal these days.” She narrowed her eyes. “You wouldn’t be breaking the law, of course?”

He chuckled and took a breath to respond, but she spun on her heel and walked away, resisting the urge to punch him in the mouth.

“We have food.” His raised voice carried to her. Turning, she looked at the crowd, every eye on him. His companions shuffled their feet nervously but he simply watched her, oblivious. Food, and a plane…

For a moment she let the tension hang in the air. She could almost feel the other islanders’ hunger, the low buzz of violent energy barely held in check. But now wasn’t the time.

She held up her hands, drawing the crowd’s attention. She may not be an elder yet, but she was old enough to be respected. They watched, waiting.

“I will take you to Marakei. After you deliver the food.”

Elei stepped onto the boat, pushing away memories that clung to every painfully familiar surface. State of the art dive gear was piled haphazardly at the base of the seats, and she shook her head at the casual disregard.

“You came a long way for this. Why? Do you think there’s treasure there?” she asked disdainfully.

He laughed. “Of course not. After all, money can only buy so much. I’m looking for experiences. Unique experiences. I think you can give us that. No one’s been back, have they?”


He leaned over the wheel, neatly cropped hair shifting slightly in the wind. It was brown streaked with silver, not dissimilar from her own. His nameless companions perched on the white leather seats, chatting quietly. Roland hadn’t bothered to introduce them, and she hadn’t asked.

Violating the grave of my home, resting under the waves. A ‘unique experience.’ She fantasized about pushing him overboard, her hands dark against his crisp white shirt, the look of shock in his eyes.

“I came to Marakei, once. I’d like to see it again, in its…current state. I travel to witness the changing face of the planet, the rising sea levels. It’s fascinating, truly.” He waited, watching her. He seemed legitimately interested in what she might say.

She snorted and turned her back, allowing a faint resurgence of professional curiosity to drive her to the dive gear. She picked up a full face mask, turning it over in her hands idly as she inspected it.

It had been years since she’d been diving. For a time, business had been good; taking clients to the reef and marveling at the abundance and variety of life that was seen.

But as time passed, the carbon dioxide levels rose—filling the air and the oceans, acidifying the water. The temperature climbed and the reef as she knew it slowly died, corals bleaching and dying before her eyes.

They had tried. In desperation and misplaced hope, her company took on a new mission, seeding the reef with the few coral species that could live in higher temperatures.

But it wasn’t enough. Temperatures rose too quickly, and even the new corals couldn’t keep up. Her heart clenched at the memory of the increasingly acidic ocean dissolving her beloved corals’ calcium carbonate bones.

Then came the vast algae blooms, overtaking what was left of the lingering reef. The invasive monoculture couldn’t support what fish were left, and every time she returned, fewer and fewer remained.

The ocean that she loved had been gone for a long time.

“Impressed? The gear’s top of the line.” Roland’s voice intruded into her thoughts, and she ground her teeth together.

Wordlessly, she dropped the mask and sat down, as the boat’s wake pointed back the way they had come.

“Marakei. The submerged isle. Here, rising sea levels have claimed…” Roland droned on to his companions, voice hushed as he lowered the anchor. Elei pinched the bridge of her nose and did her damnedest to ignore him, instead thinking back to earlier. After two of his companions had retrieved a truckload of food from their private jet, she had seen it delivered to the local pantry. Every bit helps delay the inevitable. Then, she had allowed herself to be herded onto the boat.

They had armed guards at the abandoned airfield, protecting their precious plane from the islanders. It seemed utterly outrageous to her, the amount of time, money, and effort they had put into coming.

That plane could save her people. There was no other way off the island. The remaining islands in the chain were abandoned or underwater, and any boats capable of reaching the mainland had left long ago. Her people had been forgotten.

Mechanically, she pulled on her dive gear. Roland gave her a thumbs up, smiling before lowering his mask and rolling back into the waves. Elei followed suit, palm pressed against her mask to keep the water from ripping it away as she plunged into the sea.

The water’s warmth was a shock—a bathtub instead of the crisp cool ocean of her youth. She realized her eyes were closed and reluctantly opened them, regarding what remained of the island she had called home.

It looked different, of course, damaged from waves that had slowly claimed beaches, roads, buildings. But it was a small island, previously home to only a few thousand people, and she quickly oriented herself.

“Check, check! Let’s make sure we can all hear Ms. Akana.” Roland’s voice was an intrusion. Elei was accustomed to the silence of diving with the regulator separate from the mask, disallowing speech. Roland’s gear, with its full face masks and radios, was nearly as unwelcome as he was.

Elei waited, wondering what he would do if she stopped cooperating with his ‘experience.’ The others hung awkwardly in the water nearby, clearly unwilling to begin exploring without Roland in the lead. Roland himself slowly approached her. He stared until she reluctantly responded, continuing to play along.

“When I did this for a living, we didn’t have radios to communicate underwater. I’d rather dive in silence.” Her home was dead. Would he not let her give the respectful silence it deserved?

“But you have a history here that will enrich the experience for us all. Please, tell us your story. Perhaps it will help you find some closure.” His companions nodded their heads in sympathy.

“Fine. You feel how hot the water is? See the lack of pelagic animals? My island isn’t the only thing that’s dead, here.”

“True, and terribly tragic.”

Elei’s hands balled into fists. She turned away to swim over the island, her movements a pantomime of the grace from her past.

The others followed, clustered around her like orcas driving a seal to separate it from the pack. She did her best to ignore them, as well as the buildings below that triggered wave after wave of memory that made her breath catch in her throat.

Her parents were buried here; they all were. Lost to Elei forever, separated both by death and distance. Her whole family, taken by old age and then the ocean, no siblings or children to assuage her loneliness.

Children would be nice, she had always thought. Perhaps later, once things were settled. But that day never came, Marakei was lost, and it became crystal clear to her that it would be cruel to bring a child into the world, such as it was.

Suddenly furious, she poured all of her strength into speeding away, feeling the aching pull of her muscles as she kicked her long fins.

But it was useless. Everywhere she turned, she saw places that fueled her despair. The local market, silent forevermore. Her childhood home, her family buried in the small plot nearby. Even worse, she had almost missed it, so covered in the algal monoculture as to be nearly unrecognizable.

It had all been stolen from her: her home, her livelihood, the reef and ocean that had brought her so much joy. Stolen by the faceless masses who poisoned the air and water. She looked back at Roland and the others swimming hard to catch up, and felt her jaw clench. Not faceless after all.

“Please, Ms. Akana. What is this, here?” Roland said, breath labored from the swim. He gestured to a large block of stone, canted over and half-buried in the sand. A simply carved statue of a woman rested nearby, face down.

She blinked, unsure how she had missed it. “A shrine,” she said finally, her rage spent as quickly as it had come. “To one of the spirit guardians of Marakei.” She swam closer, drawn in despite her determination to keep the memories at bay.

“Nei Reei,” she said quietly, resting her hand on the block. A measure of peace descended on her, soothing away some of the pain, and unbidden, she continued. “My mother took me here as a child, and to the other three guardians as well. Four guardians, to keep me safe…”

The sympathetic murmurs of the group filled her ears; she had forgotten the others, lost in the memories she had been so desperate to push away. But now, remembering the joys of her childhood… I wish I could have shared these memories with someone, kept Marakei alive, just a little longer.

Tears blurred her vision; she raised her hand to dash them away, but bumped against the mask instead. She felt a presence nearby and spun, raising a fist reflexively.

Roland held up his own hands placatingly. “I apologize. In my eagerness to see Marakei again, I didn’t think… You have my sympathy. Truly.”

She blinked hard. The salt of her tears left sticky tracks down her cheeks inside the mask, and she ached to rinse them away in the ocean, such as it was.

Marakei deserved to be remembered.

“I don’t need your sympathy. But…” she hesitated, watching Roland as he hung motionless in the water. His parade of false smiles had finally drawn to a close, and he looked at her gravely. “Thank you.”

“Of course. You’re welcome to return to the boat, whenever you wish. We will join you shortly.” With a nod, he turned to rejoin his group.

Glancing at her dive watch, she saw that it had been eight hours since she had stepped onto the boat.Her part in this deception was finally over.

By now, her people would have had enough time to overrun Roland’s plane. She had been so angry with him, angry at the world and the destruction people like him had wrought on her home. He deserved to be stranded here with the rest of them. But he had shown her a small measure of kindness, and she no longer felt quite so proud at the part she had played.

But it was too late. By now, the islanders would be moving toward a new future, one not bound by the sure knowledge of abandonment and starvation.

They wouldn’t all fit on the plane; Elei could only hope the council leaders had tempered the islanders’ desperation as they took advantage of this one and only chance. Those who left could bring back help. Perhaps.

For the first time in far too long, she felt a spark of hope ignite within herself. Maybe it isn’t too late. I can still share my stories. A slow smile crept across her lips, timid at first, then widening.

As reluctant as she had been to return to Marakei, she realized the depth of her gratitude to have seen it again; to swim in its waters, to feel the last of its lingering presence.

To remember.

With one final look, she said a prayer and swam back to the world above.

Avery Parks (she/her) is a science fiction writer, with stories at Cossmass Infinities, MetaStellar Magazine, and Infinite Worlds, among others. She lives in Texas with her family, a variety of pets, and (according to some) too many books. You can find her online at averyparkswrites.com.

Leave a Reply