A Coming Storm

“No one could ever say where The Rains first came from; we only knew that they would never cease.”

As the barge cut through the fog, rain beat on its steel hull with the muted staccato of distant timpanis—a calming lullaby to the increasingly drunk Captain Lawash. Clotted rust’s stench, mixed with stale salt-water, choked her senses. No matter how many years she spent at sea, she never became noseblind to its rot. She never adjusted to the slow accumulation of scents, gathering like the water that leaked through the rivets which held her vessel together.

The captain finished her flask and lay back on her bunk, her mattress hard like a stone. She swam through hooch and memories of her youth. Closing her eyes, she saw the world as it was then, bathed in a pleasant yellow glow. Dew-streaked grass tickled her bare feet as she danced through her parents’ backyard. Marcy, the family dog, sniffed at her face, large wet snout touching her diminutive and dry nose. They watched her, Mom and Dad, from the doorway, smiling. Her mother’s arm wrapped loose around her father’s waist, in the easy manner they had with one another.

When she was nine, the sun disappeared under roiling clouds, beneath endless layers of drab blues and gray. The Rains began to fall, fittingly enough, as she waded in the ocean at the beach. Watching the distant ocean waves that would one day be her home—that would soon consume the Earth entire—she let her Dad lead her away.

“Don’t worry, Silly,” He calmed her as she pouted, “We’ll come back another day.”

They never did. In the coming weeks, as the nature of the crisis became clear. He was called away to study the coming emergency. Frightened nations convened a global institute of pre-eminent climatologists who found nothing but questions with no answers. Where did the precipitation originate? How could the storm spread across the whole globe? When would it end?

How would humanity adapt if it never did?

“How fah we’ve fallin’…” She slurred and smacked her lips, “How fah are we still t’fall?”

Inebriation swaddled her better than her threadbare sheets ever could. Her mouth and head contained more cotton than the rags she shivered through. Her body screamed for water, but—even though as captain, she could easily requisition another liter—she dare not claim more than her fair share.

                Indeed, how far they had fallen. Cursed to drift through watery damnation, measuring every drink they took.

Her crew had precious few hours to work before they themselves had to retreat to their cabins, these men and women, and secure themselves against the danger to come. A storm approached, well, a storm fiercer than that which was always among them. Her meteorologist came to her early that afternoon with presentiments of calamity.

                “I see it in the clouds Ma’am. The ones we enter are mighty angry. Up to 125 kn.” He showed her calculations she could never quite wrap her head around, and then satellite images that were far clearer. Hurricane storm clouds barred their way to the Conclave

                She nodded shakily, buzzed even then. Her nips of that hip flask started earlier and earlier each day. Gordon, always by her side when not overseeing the dispensation of her orders, knew without being asked what was to be done.

                “I’ll see to it we start taking the appropriate measures captain.”

                On Gordon’s sturdy shoulder, she lay a trembling hand.

                “Thank you, Bosun. I’m counting on you.”

                He saluted, but could not hide the hurt in his eyes. The gulf between them grew wider every day. It grew, along with the gap between who she was now and the effective seaman she used to be. More and more she was consumed by her pain, fleeing from the burden of command into a bottle.

                Responsibility, it wore her down to a nub.

                Waiting for sleep, she imagined that over the deluge, she could hear her crew. A few dozen men and women worked through the night above, bearing their most precious cargos below deck and lashing everything else to the transport ship’s flatbed. Gordon, the boatswain, would be working them hard, drenching them in sweat as well as the ever present rain. Beneath her, in the stokehold, men and women drenched in sweat and with painted faces eased off the steam engines, slowing the barge’s pace to a crawl. Beneath them, horticulturists tended to their sustainable garden, the manufactured environment where they grew all their crops. Alongside them were biologists and veterinarians who prepared their livestock for the coming turbulence with gentle whispers, medicine and heavy doses of tranquilizers.

                Around her, the men and women whose lives depended on her stewardship worked, as she receded further into the fogs of drunkenness and sleep, wondering at the weakness of person she had become.

                “I wa’nt always like this,” She spoke to the remorseful ghosts. Every soul dead under her care watched her every night, silent and reproachful. Each loss had taken another piece of her, until most of her strength lay strewn about the ocean bottom and only a shell remained.

                This small part of her, this part that still lived, as she slipped into the comatose slumber of self-medication, hoped for the worst with surprising clarity.

                Perhaps this storm will claim us. Perhaps this pain can end…

                …Mom, Dad, I’ll see you again someday. Hopefully someday soon.