Elvis Johnson must have hit the snooze button at least eight times that morning before he finally got up. He unbuckled himself from his mattress and swam across the room to his closet. He unhitched a coverall from its rack and let it float outside the bathroom door.
He wasn't nearly as hungover as he expected, which was a nice change. Three glasses of air before bed had done his body some good. Elvis turned the shower pressure knob and immediately regretted not waiting to get in before the air started coming out. It was way too cold, blasting his body with icy needles. A few more seconds, however, and everything mellowed out.
Last night, Elvis and a few buddies had gone to their favorite bar, Atmosphere, to celebrate the birth of his friend Chuck's daughter. When Elvis asked why Chuck was out breathing instead of at home with his little girl, Chuck shrugged and said Marcy had insisted.
"Wow," Leroy had said. "Your wife is a saint. What she's doing with you I have no idea."
"Clearly she's kidnapped me and using me for my sperm," Chuck had responded. "And I'm okay with that. Gentlemen, this round's on me. What are we having?"
After his shower, Elvis donned his coveralls, grabbing his water helmet from the rack by the door. Or at least, he tried to, except the helmet was nowhere to be found. Elvis bit his cheek and scowled, looking around the room.
Out in the kitchen, his daughter Cleopatra was already airing out her dishes from breakfast.
"Cleo, have you seen my helmet?" Elvis asked, paddling over to the pantry.
"Yeah it was floating on the ceiling when I woke up, so I tied it to your chair," she said, pointed toward the table. "This is why we--"
"I know, I know," Elvis interrupted, hearing his own words repeated back at him. "This is why we tie things down."
Cleopatra smiled. "You're late."
"Tell me about it. A little too much oxygen last night."
"I don't envy you today."
"You wanna go in my place? They could probably use your brains on the site. There are so many idiots running around up there."
"You make it sound so great," Cleopatra said. "Tell me more."
"Okay, fine, smart ass. Offer rescinded."
Cleopatra shrugged and strapped her pack to her back. "Good luck today, Dad. Love you."
"Love you too! If you see Mrs. Williams tell her I'm still single..."
"Gross! She's like, ten years younger than you."
"Listen, beggars can't be choosers."
"Whatever. I'll see you later." Cleopatra smiled and swam out the front door. Man, high schoolers had it so easy, Elvis thought.
Elvis arrived ten minutes late to the work site, a miracle if you thought about it. Somehow the main swim lanes hadn't been blocked by an accident, nearly impossible in this day and age of universal watercraft. Trying to explain why being ten minutes late was really quite impressive did not go over well with his boss, however.
Sliding into his full-body water suit, he strapped his helmet onto his head and checked the seals. Everything good, he expelled all the air from the helmet, his head now encased in a glass dome filled with water. Being hungover while in the water helmet really sucked. His daughter was right.
Entering the water lock, he closed the door behind him and pressed the green button on the control panel beside it. The water began to drain from the room, replaced with air pumped in from the outside. The light on the upper hatch turned yellow, then blue, and he twisted the steering-wheel shaped handle as hard as he could, popping the outer seal. With a shove he popped open the hatch. Elvis climbed out into the air, slowly, testing for leaks in his suit. Finding none, he shut the hatch and walked over to the repair area, joining a dozen other men in their water suits.
It was a sunny day up on top of the city enclosure's roof, but that wasn't much comfort. The suns rays belied the cold draft that blew across the water. Days like this were more and more common, and it made the water suit a pretty unenviable thing to wear. But with global water levels sinking, more and more of the city's exterior was being exposed, and cracks were beginning to form in the outermost protective layer. Left unfixed, the cracks would expand and eventually the city's safety shielding would implode completely, drowning everyone in toxic oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.
In school, Elvis had been taught about the humans that lived in the air thousands of years earlier, but it wasn't until he surfaced for the first time a few years ago that it really sunk in. He never thought about the city he swam through every day once being completely exposed to the air. The top of the Wedbush building downtown was the first exterior point to be uncovered due to the sinking water levels, thanks to what smarter people than him were calling global cooling. He'd been just a junior welder that day, but stepping out onto the building's roof surrounded by nothing but air was a feeling he'd never forget.
The worst part was, there was nothing he or anyone else could do about it. Thanks to the intense heat given off from the hydrothermal vents at the ocean's bottom, the modern world was powered by an unlimited source of energy. What humans once burned for energy no longer existed, nor was it needed. Elvis couldn't imagine what life must have been like, all those chemicals in the air.
Yet though it was those very chemicals that eventually caused Los Angeles, and many other cities, to become inundated and then buried in water, it was now their absence that was threatening to put an end to Elvis' way of life. Scientists said it was a matter of decades, maybe a hundred years at the outside.
What did it matter, he thought. His job was to repair the cracks and try to maintain some semblance of life for his daughter, so that even if the world ended in a hundred years, at least she'd get to have a life worth living.
There was constant debate from the men and women in his crew about whether this was the right thing to do. The fatalists tended to think, "Why bother?" which of course just pissed off the optimists. Elvis felt like he landed somewhere in the middle.
When he brought it up at dinner that evening, Cleopatra had scoffed and changed the subject. But when he saw her sleeping with his water helmet clutched to her chest later that night, he realized that his helmet hadn't actually floated away the previous night. And maybe he was doing the right thing after all.
This idea started as I was driving into work, trying to think of what I wanted to write next. For some reason, I thought about how weird it might be if instead of showering in air with water, we showered in water with air. Then I thought about writing a story where air and water were basically transposed in society, and what that might look like. The title just seemed like a natural fit.