If life were a script, then Xia Yi felt this year’s play was the most awful.
Back in the year 2000, there had been talks of the end of the world. Luckily, other than the Millennium Bug1 A problem in the coding of computerised systems that was projected to create havoc in computers and computer networks around the world at the beginning of the year 2000 , life had carried on as usual. Then there was the 2012 phenomenon— the year in which the world would end as prophesied by the Maya people. Yet how many people had actually counted down their days of life as 2012 passed by? Things like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were normal geological activities that would occur regardless of if it was the end of the world or not. As for climate change? That had been going on for forever; in Xia Yi’s home town, abnormal shifts in temperature have been happening since at least a decade ago.
Xia Yi may possess a strange personality and had imagined a lonesome death somewhere unbeknown to anyone, but he had never considered jumping into the sea.
The boundless azure ocean surface may be vast and spectacular for others, but Xia Yi didn’t like it. He prefered the scenes he’d come across in a documentary where a single ray of light shone into the deep, dark sea, followed by the sudden movement of the camera panning either up or down. Beneath its surface, the sea was often very calm. Schools of swimming fish and bright coral reefs gave him the opportunity to lose himself within carefree daydreams. Here, there was no need for language, nor was it necessary to guess the underlying tone in people’s conversations; there was only predator and prey, and all that existed was simply natural selection.
There were companions, but no traitors; those who camouflaged, but no hypocrites. One didn’t have to worry about whether they offended someone, nor did they have to act according to people’s whims.
So, when Xia Yi opened his eyes, his instincts told him he was still dreaming.
Magenta plants that grew from the cracks in underwater rocks covered the area. They weren’t tall, but from Xia Yi’s angle, they were high enough to obstruct his entire line of vision. The plants were lean and tall with distinct roots; they resembled miniature white birches. The main trunk was straight while the branches were slanted and became thinner as they grew further upwards. Although the thickest part of the trunk was only the diameter of a pinky and the thinnest part was comparable to the size of a strand of hair, they clustered together gracefully and beautifully. The prune-coloured roots gradually changed to a currant colour, with the entire thing looking like a mini lithograph.
Xia Yi couldn’t help but reach out his hand, except before it came into contact with anything, he swallowed a gulp of seawater.
Xia Yi suddenly came to a realisation and bolted upright, and the water sound that resulted from his movements—
He was underwater?!
Xia Yi accidentally choked on another mouthful of water, and the bitter saltiness caused him to immediately hold his breath. Looking up instinctively, he could see that the surface of the ocean was surprisingly close. Light shone all the way to the bottom and amongst the fine, soft sand, there stood reefs of various sizes. The mass amount of magenta algae danced with the rise and fall of the waves. There were no fish or shrimps, their absence making the area deathly still.
This was obviously the shallow part of the sea. The Thalassa Goddess had to be in deep waters even when it was anchored, let alone that it was supposedly sailing in the South China Sea the whole time.
Xia Yi couldn’t hold his breath any longer and had no choice but to wave his arms in hopes of floating to the surface.
He didn’t know how to swim so he expected it to be an arduous process. Much to his surprise, it felt just like climbing out of the tub he had at home, where Xia Yi’s uncoordinated and unstandardised movements easily brought him to the surface.
Even though he was only about six or seven metres deep, Xia Yi still felt a rush of happiness when his hand broke through the water.
Being surrounded by air was a completely different feeling from being surrounded by water.
Xia Yi rushed out of the water and exhaled deeply. Closing his eyes, he let the water run from his forehead as he greedily breathed in the salty air. When he began to return to his senses, his stomach dropped.
There was radiation above the sea.
Xia Yi didn’t dare look right at the sun. Earlier, the sunlight shone directly underwater and the seven-to-eight metres of shallow sea seemed to be lit up by a ten-watt light bulb; only, Xia Yi no longer felt the painful burning sensation on his skin. On the contrary, the seawater was cool and refreshing. This discovery convinced Xia Yi that unless he wanted to die quickly and miserably like the bodies on the cruise ship, he had to stay in the ocean.
For most people who mustered up the courage to die but didn’t succeed in their attempt, they often broke down upon waking up and rambled on with words such as ‘why did you save me’. One possible reason for this could be the realisation that, after going through the pain of treading on death’s door, they would then have to suffer through the whole process all over again because they’d failed.
Much less for Xia Yi, who’d only chosen death because there were no other possibilities for survival.
He took a deep breath again and sunk back into the water.
The small area around him was covered with fine, white sand.
Wait, what was that over there?
Xia Yi paused and rose back up to take a look in that direction.
He could barely make out the faint outlines of a large shoal rock peeking out of the ocean. If he hadn’t dived underwater, he wouldn’t have realised that this was actually an island, except only its tip was above the surface. Even further away, there were gray silhouettes that were probably island groups made up of undercurrents and reefs. No wonder this part of the sea was so shallow.
But how did he manage to arrive at this place?
It was near dusk when Xia Yi had jumped into the ocean, but now it was the middle of the day when the sun shone blindingly in the sky.
The waves couldn’t have pushed him this far. The thinning atmosphere meant there were barely any winds, rain, clouds or thunder, thus there could be no big waves. Not to mention, this wasn’t a river or brook where there was a possibility of him being washed downstream.
Also, right before he’d lost consciousness, he seemed to have hallucinated.
Light silver strands floated in the turquoise water and coiled around him, and the alluring amethyst eyes— it seemed as if it was a siren talked about in legends. Xia Yi didn’t remember its appearance, only the almost colourless lips that were very cold and the scent of death that he’d encountered as he’d sunk deeper into the sea.
Xia Yi subconsciously rubbed his temples as they throbbed with a piercing pain.
This was an old problem that bothered him whenever he was frightened or panicked. Xia Yi had never once told anyone about this because it was the same as a chronic migraine that a lot of people felt; one couldn’t help but rub it a few times when they were anxious or angered and it’d go away once they relaxed.
But Xia Yi’s current state of being…
What was worse than death was the fact that one must, in a limited time period, choose – no – find a comfortable way to die.
There were many island groups around the intersection of the South and East China Seas. Even if there weren’t any inhabitants on these islands, one may be able to find some sharp rocks or trash that was tossed away by passing ships. Xia Yi was hoping to find something, even if it was an old can, and as long as it was sharp enough, it’d be sufficient. Xia Yi repeatedly took deep breaths and attempted to mimic swimming motions underwater. Though this didn’t give him much speed, for some reason, Xia Yi didn’t sink. After about an hour of fumbling around, his clumsy imitation of doggy paddling was finally presentable.
There were no fishes or shrimps in the water, only a few shellfishes here and there, but these shells were very small and rough. Xia Yi spent some time trying to pry them open and, from the looks of it, he’d probably have to bring them to a rock for sharpening before using them as suicide tools.
Doomsday was so tragic that people needed to make their own tools before committing suicide.
Xia Yi didn’t dare expose himself to the air too often since the sun was beaming straight down. Each time, he’d hold his breath until right before black spots would appear in his vision, before swimming upwards for another gulp of air. Trying to get to the shoal islands was already manual labour, but it’d be pathetic if he spent too much time on the trip and ended up drowning halfway. If that were the case, then he might as well have just stayed on the ocean floor and stared at the beautiful algaes while drinking seawater until he died!
It may have been his imagination, but Xia Yi felt that he was gradually staying underwater for longer and longer durations.
Diving could be strengthened over time, right? Xia Yi was confused since his instincts told him that something about this logic was absurd, but for the time being, he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong with it.
After three hours, he saw a rather large island. The other shoals he’d passed by on his way were quite bumpy and the hardness of the rocks would most likely crack the shells instead of sharpening them.
This island wasn’t like the rocks that poked out of the sea and had withered tropical plants. Xia Yi was drenched as he tiredly climbed out of the water. He knew he was supposed to minimise his exposure to sunlight, but he really didn’t have an ounce of strength left. After a while of struggling, he dragged his feet to a little cave created by the erosion of wind and waves. He rested there for a long while, and during that time, he didn’t hear any voices on the island.
Xia Yi patiently waited for the sun to set before carefully exploring the entire island.
The only traces of life were those left by flocks of seabirds. This was an uninhabited island that was at most the size of a soccer field. Whatever plants were once here had shriveled, and till now, Xia Yi had yet to discover any living organisms.
Perhaps ants or other bugs were still clinging to life in the depths of the soil.
Xia Yi wearily walked back to the cave by the ocean.
It was extremely narrow, and when he sat down, he couldn’t even stretch his legs out. Xia Yi let his gaze wander to the horizon that connected the sea and the sky.
How pathetic. What was he looking at? What was he hoping for? A ship?
No matter how advanced a ship may be, once it lost the ability to propel itself, it was reduced to a pile of useless floating metal. As time went on and the pressure chamber began to malfunction, any ship would be doomed to sink.
Humans weren’t strong, nor did they possess any superpowers. Once they lost the tools they’d created, both their civilisation and country were destined to collapse. Regardless if it was nuclear weapons or high-performing artilleries, they’d fall short to even a simple knife.
Or in other words, what would humanity be left with once they lost the most important technologies that upheld the foundations of their society?
Silently draw a cross, pray, and then wait for death?
Xia Yi didn’t have a religion— he wouldn’t be preparing to commit suicide if he had such beliefs.
If death really was a trial, then after this disaster, what would be left on Earth? Withering plants meant a great reduction in oxygen – no – the disappearance of the magnetic fields would be more than enough to cause the dispersion of the atmosphere. Without it, could a balanced ratio of air still exist? Thus, what follows must be harsh winters and boiling summers according to the rotation of the Earth. Just imagine Mars, with how almost all its water had evaporated and what remained had frozen into ice. The entire planet was encircled by a blanket of deathly stillness.
Even if the magnetic fields only temporarily disappeared, for a planet with an infinite amount of history, life didn’t matter. Its unit of measurement began with billions of years, and even without a magnetosphere, the only change to its orbit and rotation would be the axis it spun upon.
Xia Yi was hungry and tired. All he wished for was to close his eyes and die peacefully in his sleep.
January 11th, late at night, the planet enveloped in death began to change subtly. The speed at which the atmosphere was dissipating slowed to a stop and the barely existing magnetic field began its once-per-million-year geomagnetic reversal2 When the positions of the Earth’s magnetic field flip; magnetic north becomes south and magnetic south becomes north .
However, this was yet to be the end of doomsday.
- 1A problem in the coding of computerised systems that was projected to create havoc in computers and computer networks around the world at the beginning of the year 2000
- 2When the positions of the Earth’s magnetic field flip; magnetic north becomes south and magnetic south becomes north