Bath lay suspended in the high-pressure water, his narrow form gliding down further into the lightless depths surrounding the glacier.
The ice should be larger, he thought to himself. He envisioned a glacier spanning the horizon, its sheets stalwart against the thrumming ocean.
He ran his nose against the glacier’s smooth form as he pondered why the glacier was smaller than he remembered. The last time the glaciers appreciably changed size was thousands of years ago when they reshaped the continents. And here they were again, shifting and signaling incipient climate change.
Bath remembered the past mass extinctions. The most terrifying had been when the oceans themselves seemed to boil up with everything stuck inside of them, saturated with toxic ash. The sky had been cloaked in darkness that smelled of sulfur for time too long to count. For countless years he had feared that the world was truly ending.
Bath sighed. The world was always a lonely place for millions of years after mass extinctions. At the very least nature always rebounded, producing new and beautiful creatures for Bath to devour and enjoy.
He really shouldn’t fight the next mass extinction. Bath had already devoured most lifeforms on current Earth and had everything to gain from a fresh slate. But all the same, he wasn’t ready for the next period of desolation. Only a few thousand years had passed since the last extinction, although it had been relatively minor; why had the next appeared so quickly afterward?
He tilted his head up towards the faint light above. He swam to the top, jetting out water in a stream behind him while thrumming his tail.
He saw the humans strung out on the ice with their tools. They had a little gray house that seemed on the brink of being carried away by the arctic wind. The humans were huge, sporting sleek coverings that obscured their true forms like a thick layer of blubber. Fur encircled each face like a lion’s mane, the strands blowing forcefully with the wind.
They were doing something or other to the ice, Bath wasn’t sure what. He couldn’t ask them.
But the humans gave Bath an idea. He had wondered what was causing the next mass extinction; perhaps the humans knew. Bath recognized that the humans had special arts, had papers and devices that could store and transmit information. Though he had never fully learned a human tongue, he knew some words and phrases from his time in Europe during the era of blood and castles.
Bath thought over his plan while he watched the humans work.
Bath next went to a place in the South called Canada, assuming the form of a bird. It was the kind of bird that inhabits cities, brazen enough to share its territory with predators like humans. Bath stayed there for a while, studying the humans, learning what he realized was called English. When winter came, he followed the other birds and went South, to a country called America.
Winter passed and gave way to summer. Bath was a squirrel during this time. He continued to explore the human cities along the coast of the Pacific Ocean throughout the warm season. He listened and learned, and as he learned he became more concerned.
The humans seemed aware of the next mass extinction. They even talked about it with each other. They called the melting of the glaciers Global Warming and seemed to think themselves as fault for the catastrophe.
Bath had known humans to be superstitious creatures before and didn’t believe the humans knew what they were talking about. No other species in Bath’s memory had ever caused a mass extinction. They were always the doings of natural events: the fickle Earth changing her temperature, the Great Black sending down fiery rock. He knew the humans were powerful, but doubted them capable of apocalypse-level destruction.
Bath decided that he needed to do his own research aside from listening to humans talk idly about the next end of days. He still couldn’t believe their lack of urgency regarding the unmaking of the world. Though they were an apex predator second only to himself, they were fragile: did they really think that they would escape the extinction?
Bath knew the largest were always the first to fall. And unlike Bath, these humans were stuck to their physical forms. They couldn’t adapt.
Bath became a ladybug and entered a library in the middle of the city Washington D.C., a library he had heard was without peer. He specifically chose the form of a ladybug because humans seemed to like the red beetle’s color and very rarely swatted at him. As he looked over the shoulders of people reading books, he realized that his reading speed was pitifully slow. He had thought sounding out street signs and advertisements practice enough, but he could only parse a few sentences before the people he spied on would turn the pages of their books.
Bath knew—a knowledge gained from ancient experience—that practice was important with this kind of skill. So he continued to read over people’s shoulders for weeks until he was able to read just as fast or faster than the humans he was watching.
He realized quickly that many of them had no interest in the apocalypse. He had thought more of them would be researching its causes and trying to divert them, but he had apparently overestimated the intelligence of the humans. Or, at the very least, he had overestimated their survival instincts.
He decided that he would have better luck trying to operate a computer than just waiting for humans to read a book with the answers he was seeking. He had seen advertisements for an internet cafe, a place with computers for rent, somewhere in the city. He found the address and flew there as a bird. He then shifted into a fly and entered the establishment, quickly locating an unmanned computer.
The place wasn’t very busy, which suited Bath just fine. He stared up at the screen, his compound eyes shifting into miniature avian eyes as he did so. The image instantly became much clearer.
He debated whether or not he was being watched. Humans had little cameras that they liked to put everywhere.
Most certainly, Bath thought to himself. So he would need to be discreet.
He began operating the mouse by pushing it with the strong body of a beetle, invoking his Center to increase the beetle’s density. After opening up the browser, the application humans used to access the enormous and ever-changing book called the Internet, Bath lightened his mass, hopped over to the keyboard, and flitted between keys that he wanted to press. Each time he stepped on one, he increased his density until his weight triggered a keypress. After a minute or so of typing, he had the action down to a science.
The first thing he looked up was Global Warming. One of the first results in the Internet’s Index was a page called Wikipedia, which he selected with a click of the mouse. He had heard the humans discussing Wikipedia on the street and took this as indication of the page’s authority.
As he scrolled down the page, Bath began to feel a seed of sickening certainty in his Center. This page’s author seemed much more informed than the average human. Had many humans read this before?
The page—which was the longest book page Bath had ever read—described how humans had accelerated the process of global warming by polluting the atmosphere. As Bath read, he realized that the page corroborated many of his own experiences. Over the past hundred years, he had seen many species driven from their natural habitats. He had seen many animals struggling to stay afloat, in particular the kinds of animals most specialized for certain ecological niches. These were always the first to go whenever an extinction was on the horizon.
The article even described how the ice caps were melting and would cause the sea levels to rise and the weather to become erratic. The disruption of the ocean currents would cause its own measure of problems.
Bath was overwhelmingly impressed by the author’s acute knowledge of Global Warming. After finishing the page, Bath looked at the computer screen in awe.
He digested the information he had learned, assuming that the page was factually accurate.
Humans seemed to be the cause of the next mass extinction’s acceleration. He wouldn’t have believed it to be true, but from what he had seen of human civilizations, with their towering cities and electronics, he was inclined to accept that humans were, indeed, responsible. There was no superstition or mentioning of the gods in their assertions of culpability.
The author had even outlined possible solutions, though they seemed ineffectual. At best, they seemed geared towards preventing further degradation of natural climatic conditions. There didn’t seem to be a plan to reverse the changes that had already occurred. The author mentioned environmental engineering as a means toward this end, but then stated that this method of climatic rectification had been proven ineffective.
To Bath’s eye, the humans had given up. He snarled internally.
If the humans couldn’t reverse Global Warming, the current climate would persist and continue to change over time. The glaciers, already melting, would continue to melt. The oceans would rise, the coral reefs would die, animals would starve, forests would burn down in dry fires. All of these things he had already seen happen in the past few years; he had also seen them happen before, many many years ago. How long had it taken for the coral to return back then? Millions of years?
He began to feel a sense of panic in his Center. Could humans really be at once so powerful and careless? To wield the power to shape nature and use that power to prematurely usher in the next extinction?
Bath felt his Center tighten and his mass naturally pooled inward, causing him to nearly float off the keyboard. Had he been in a mammalian body, he would be hyperventilating with disbelief and dejection. He didn’t want to believe what he had read.
Bath spent the next few hours scouring the internet for more information on Global Warming. All that he read, besides one article of pure drivel that claimed the next mass extinction wasn’t being accelerated (obviously false), solidified the information that the Wikipedia page had provided him. Global Warming was real, man-made, and seemingly unstoppable.
Bath knew now that there were many humans who feared the mass extinction’s acceleration, a fact which gave him hope in the instincts of humanity. Among humans populating islands and coastal regions, many called for drastic actions to prevent the continuing emission of greenhouse gases. Most countries had already signed agreements towards this end. Bath knew from what he had read that essentially everything that the humans were doing was futile, but infinitely better than inaction.
One thing he had discovered through all that he had read was that humans didn’t actually fear extinction. Their primary fears were that Global Warming would kill off many species of animal and plant, restructure the coastlines, and elevate the Earth’s temperature in places where the climate was already too hot. He had never once seen anything published as a page that suggested humans feared for their own survival.
They seemed confident that they could move inland and away from the equator with their livestock and plants. Bath couldn’t believe their arrogance.
Perhaps, in the beginning, this was true. In a thousand years from now? A million? Bath scoffed. Weren’t they thinking that far ahead? Just a few generations in the future and they might face conditions exponentially worse than those in the next hundred years.
Bath knew he needed even more information and decided that it was time he finally assume a form capable of interacting with the humans. He researched for a while on the computer what one needed to survive in human society. After realizing how difficult it would be to create an adult human from scratch (without any form of identification), Bath looked into other alternatives.
In the end, he decided that the easiest course of action would be to assume the identity of an abandoned human infant. That way, by experiencing the human life cycle and integrating himself into a family unit, he would be able to better understand how to navigate human society.
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- The Timeless
I'm originally from Chicago, but I've moved a lot.
Currently working full-time as an AI/ML software engineer and part-time as an author/publisher of progression fantasy books. I publish The Menocht Loop, which I write, and a growing number of other awesome series by other Royal Road authors! For more details check out my website, https://www.timelesswind.com