(from Two Old Men Disputing, Rembrandt, 1628)
THE WATER IS cloudy with silt and rust. Leathery kelp fronds reach up from the cobblestone streets below, brushing against Marijne’s suit as she dives. She maneuvers the drone out over the clear path of an old canal, a dark crevice in the ocean floor, checking the coordinates in her I/O. Through the mask, Marijne peers forward in the murk, taking a depth reading from the sonar imaging.
‘Six metres. Visibility poor.’
Pieter’s voice hums through the uplink; she can feel his disapproval via the neural implant.
‘Let the drone finish. You shouldn’t be down there.’
They’d argued on the surface as she meshed herself into the dive suit, inserting the oxygen nodes into her skin. The archive drone would locate the vault for assessment and, hopefully, extraction—there was no need for manual operation. But Marijne wanted to see this city for herself, where her ancestors once lived. The street lamps, bridge rails, rusted bicycle frames: the old world, drowned.
Inside the building the darkness is ink, tarry and solid-looking. Guided by the map on the interface, she navigates the caverns of the gallery. She locates the stairwell and sets the drone down on the debris-littered floor. Activating the halos, the vault doors are illuminated below.
‘Are you getting this?’ She feels Pieter’s sadness.
‘I see it.’
The doors look as though they’ve been blasted, some kind of crude depth charge. Marijne scans the drone’s sonar imager into the darkness of the vault, the rows and rows of storage stacks, all flooded.
On deck, she shucks herself out of the graphene fabric and disengages her depth regulator, the needles of the oxygen nodes stinging as they come free from her skin. Pieter engages the hover drive, and the ship lifts off the water’s surface. The hull is heavy from the shield plating they’d had to employ when Hypercane Elena caught them. The storm surge has receded and the swell has flattened out as the wind eases. In the dusk, a few miles across the water, Marijne can see a collection of low-tech vessels tethered around the roof of one of the few buildings tall enough to breach the waves. Water gypsies, gathering in the wake of the hypercane, or maybe refugees from one of the southern atolls. A cry peals out across the water from the drifter flotilla; long low notes of grief.
‘I’m surprised to see so many of them this soon after a storm.’ Pieter’s face is creased in the salty air, his white hair blown back off his brow. ‘It’s incredible they’ve managed to survive.’
Marijne enhances the image, scanning the decks of the boats.
‘They’ll be scavenging, same as us.’
‘What we do isn’t scavenging. You’re too young to understand. But it matters, that we try to save something.’
The setting sun turns the swell beneath the ship into liquid gold. Rotterdam lies beneath them, under the rolling waves. They thought their city was protected by its network of sluices, locks and barriers. Damn old fools, she thinks, but all she says is,
‘We’ll keep looking tomorrow.’