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Chapter XXIX

            Joyce and Larry Townsend had finally become settled in their little undersea dwelling off the coast of Florida. After the initial tide of humanity from the Moon had slackened, and the spaceports were quiet from the bustle of the Great Exodus, the Governments of the world had finally managed to secure enough housing for the billions of Earth's inhabitants. The Townsends had run into a streak of prosperity, and had moved to Tampa, but the press of crowds in the heart of the city was so great, they succumbed to the lure of the quietness of the undersea bubbles. They frankly missed the placid movements of the marine animals which had managed to survive the loss of the world's vegetation. The more vicious fish in general survived, although there had been some remarkable examples of adaptations to extreme environment by seemingly more sedate fish. Many species which had once been able to live only on highly special marine plants or algae survived by turning cannibal, and although the fish roe came to be regarded as quite a delicacy by the denizens of the lightless waters, the oceanic population dwindled much less radically than had been expected by prominent icthyologists.
            So Joyce and Larry had spent quite a bit of money for comfortable quarters about 500 yards off the coastline, in 25 feet of water. Their comparative wealth enabled them to purchase a rather pretentious villa-type home, with an expensive cupola made of the material of the undersea bubble itself, gave them a feeling of living in an upside-down glass-bottomed boat, affording them a view of the landscape, rather than the seascape. The ellipsoid surface of the city-under-the-sea plastic dome was found to be still somewhat malleable even after it had been made strong enough to hold out under considerable buffeting from the winds and storms, so when strong-enough pressures were applied to the roof of the bubble, it permanently deformed it, and when it was tightly sealed to the upper structure of the undersea home, it became a safe and spectacular luxury. Tests made on the deformed substance showed it to be, naturally, weaker than the untampered-with plastic, but the cupolas were found to have enough strength to stand up under a 140-mile-an-hour gale, which was more than could be said of some strong shore dwellings.
            In the morning of the day that Vincent Harrison's orders to his crew of engineers were given out, Larry Townsend decided that it was the perfect time for a swim, so he took the bus to the bottom of the central tower of the city, went up the elevator to the roof, stepped into the dressing rooms just below it, changed into his swimming trunks, and got ready to slip into the airlock that separated the city from the waters above it. The trip from the center of the city, through the tunnel connecting it with the main part of Tampa, and thence to the shore took too much time for most sportsmen, so, to ease the passage, an airlock was put in the center of the city to permit easy exit. The lock was a very simple device consisting of a tiny bubble of compressed air firmly joined to the roof of the city dome. By the simple method of opening a valve to the sea outside, the water gradually leaked into the lock, and when the pressures equalized themselves, the swimmers, some of them daring to forego the help of the Aqua-Lung, would streak for the surface fifteen feet above them. Larry made a few last adjustments on his Aqua-Lung, opened the valve, and started his swim.
            Joyce, in the meantime, busied herself with odd jobs around their house and waited for her husband to reappear. About three o'clock in the afternoon she climbed the stairs to the top of the house, hoping to catch a view of her husband swimming back to the airlock. She had just reached the top step when she was aware of a faint tremor in the floor under her feet. She grabbed for the banister and walked into the sunlight streaming in from the center of the dome. The vibrations grew stronger, and the waves against the sides of the cupola grew larger. She gasped as she looked toward the southern horizon and saw what very few had seen. The horizon line seemed to rise suddenly, and in a few seconds she could see tiny white streaks at the top, which gradually grew into a huge swath of foam across the face of the oncoming wave. Statue-like, she stood in the sunlight as the tremors in her penthouse augmented and the noise heightened. The wave seemed to move more slowly and majestically as it advanced from the horizon, but when its majesty turned into churning violence as it neared, she ran down the stairs to the lower part of the house.
            As the Sun grew hotter in the sky, Larry grew tired, and at about the time that Joyce started to climb to the upper part of the house, he headed for the airlock. He fretted around the outside of the lock as a diver who had entered just before Larry reached it prepared to enter the city. Finally, the bubble was cleared of water, the other diver opened the port to the ramp to the city, and Larry started to open the outer door. It was then that he felt the same trembling that had terrified his wife, and he felt the water around him trying to tear him away from the airlock. He fought against the increasingly powerful tide and managed to open the door and pop inside before he could actually see the wave. His immediate thought was to get into the city proper and go home. It seemed to him that the water was unusually slow in leaving the bubble; and then he felt the same thrill of terror that gripped Joyce at the first sight of the huge wave. The pressure in the bubble began to feel normal, and in a second, the air from the stopcock started to hiss into the chamber. As the air began to circulate around his head, the wave towered above him. He watched as the southern arc of the gigantic undersea bubble curved inward under the tremendous additional pressure of fifty feet of water. The escape tower on the other side of town buckled under the curving roof and splintered on the asphalted sea bottom. The airlock was about emptied of water, but he had no intention of opening the door to the city, because the inward ballooning dome seemed almost visibly to thin under the unexpected weight.
            With a crack and thunder of water that was audible even in the sealed interior of the airlock, the dome collapsed. At that same second, happening to glance upward, he saw a foaming wall of green-black water rising sheer above him, and then the tiny compartment quivered under the impact of the mass of water, and he was forcibly reminded of an incident from his childhood. He had been climbing a tree in his backyard when a small windstorm hit. He had climbed to the topmost branches, and the wind had whipped him back and forth, causing a great, sinking sensation in the floor of his stomach. Now he was tumbled about in the bubble, and he got alternate glimpses of a dirty green shroud of water over his head, in which floated small and large chunks of tree, animal, and human life, and assorted rocks---ranging from pebbles to boulders---swept in the tide from the South Pole. He saw a sight which turned his thoughts toward his wife: water flooded into the undersea city through a huge fault in the plastic dome. Masses of water, which resembled jets from a faucet more than they resembled waves, shot through the street-canyons of the city.
            As the water in the city deepened to about three feet, small houses near the ring about the tear in the plastic began to uproot and float along with the general debris. There had been no need for strong foundations to be made for the undersea dwellings, because the atmosphere never had the chance to feel a breath of air, or a rainstorm, or any agitation of the air whatsoever. Added to this lack of need of a foundation was the fact that when a rather tall building needed a foundation for ballast and stability, the basements were sunk into soft sand, which held them upright, but which now were of no help against the onslaught of water. Larry watched horrified as row after row of houses tipped on their sides, struggled like a small dog on an unwanted leash, and pulled themselves up and coasted over the water like wooden blocks. Autos caught in the roadways were forced by the impact of the wave to the top of the crest; then as the wave advanced and the car's inertia held it back, it was drawn away from the crest, where the weight of the car pulled it underwater.
            There was a parade-like string of houses bearing down on the business center of town now. A frame house came in contact with the brick side of a warehouse, and while the house was thoroughly demolished, it was left with enough force to blast its way through the wall. The whole structure trembled as the water forced its way to fill the second floor. The ceilings and floor were blasted apart by the pressure, and the opposite wall was thrown open by the press of storage forced to the wall by the waters. It seemed that the city below turned upside down, and Larry found himself lying on his back on the floor of the bubble. The water above the city was now completely opaque. He could make out vague shapes and forms above him, swimming in the water. Looking to one side, he saw a body grow large as it approached him, gliding swiftly along the smooth surface of the dome. It rotated slowly in giant somersaults, and then stopped dead, directly above him. He started to his knees, actually frightened too suddenly to think coherently. He saw her long hair stream out behind her, blondly silken. His blood pounded up into his brain, and his shocked eyes superimposed his wife's face on the strange woman's head. She had desperately grabbed hold of the outer valve of the airlock, and she tried feverishly to open it. He found his voice in a scream of agony, and he clawed madly at the inner wheel. What seemed to him to be his wife's face contorted with the need of air. He screamed "Joyce" only once, before the drag of water, and the woman's weakness, combined to loose her hold on the airlock. Globs of useless air were torn from her lungs as she collided once more with the surface of the dome, and again began her graceful revolutions in the turbulent water.
            Frantic with grief and anger, Larry pounded on the roof of the airlock, shrieking his wife's name, oblivious to the havoc below.
            Bits of dead fish, human corpses, and still-living animals swept past him, mixed with crates and cardboard cartons from the warehouse, and thousands of indescribable bits of furniture, housing, clothing, cookery and hardware. The central towers were no longer standing, their foundations disintegrated by the torrent. In one instance there seemed to be a race, as a toppled tower fell away from the water, and the water itself raced toward a milling, ant-like, group of people clustered outside one of the department stores which had been uselessly abandoned at the start of the flood. One second there was a group of humanity, the next second there was nothing to be seen but the advancing front of the water, greedily covering the ground, and utterly smashing everything in its path. The wave reached the other side of the circular boundary of the undersea city before the pressure of the water pushed the water level above the opening in the wall of the dome. The other side of the dome bulged under the impact, but held fast. The seething water rebounded off the slanting wall and slashed once more across the dome.
            His instant's burst of angered energy spent, Larry turned again toward the now-invisible city below, and therefore he didn't see the large rock which the rush carried toward the airlock. He was aware of a splintering sound behind him, and as he turned his head, the rock, still possessing great momentum, tore through the underside of the airlock. The bubble cracked apart like an egg, and Larry felt the chill of the water attack his nervous system. He was catapulted out of the bubble, and the pressure of the depths forced him upward. When he broke the surface of the murky water, it was only his animal instinct of self-preservation that forced him to coordinate his shock-numbed arms and legs, and forced his body to swim toward the shore. His battered mind didn't seem to notice that the beach he swam toward wasn't the sandy, placid, palm-lined beach of Tampa which he was so used to---he had struck out toward a still-standing luxury hotel which had somehow managed to withstand the crush of the tidal wave, due to the fact that it was rather apart from the beach, being located over 100 yards inland. The only thought that raced through his brain was that he had lost his wife. It stood out in his mind that his wife was afraid of water, and had never gotten up enough courage to learn the necessary art of swimming.