The A to Z Challenge – L is for “Last boat to nowhere”

I had, literally, just witnessed the end of the world on the large screen TV.

Live and on CNN.

There had been skirmishes, Russia looking to take back its satellite countries and restore the USSR, and NATO posturing when the leaders of the countries asked for help and received none.  Everyone knew what would happen if they did.  War.

But, the playing field changed when Russia set it sights on Poland.

Rollback 83 years, the last time a country rolled into Poland.  What happened?  War.

This time, threats, empty it seemed for a month, and then, yes, we were plunged back into War.

This time, however, everything was different.  Yes, wars were once predominantly waged with men and machines.  That type of warfare changed when Germany introduced the VI Rocket bombs, a means of remotely bombing selective targets.  Hit and miss maybe, but it worked.  Last time we had an atomic bomb, or two as it happened.

This time, we had guided missiles, with nuclear warheads, not a hundred, but thousands, deployed all around the world, aimed at selected targets, not necessarily military targets, but civilians.

There were some who thought they could negotiate a peace settlement.

And, in the middle of that, someone pressed the button.  You know that infamous button that sends a nuclear weapon on its way.

We all saw it launch, live.

We all saw it land, dodging every defence system in its path, with devastating effect, as the camera melted, and everything just went black.  Not one, but all over the world.

It was estimated that the whole world lost a third of its population in four hours, vaporised by missile strikes, and another third would be dead within a month from proximity radiation.  The remaining third, when the dust settled, and those who were not in the direct line of fire, well, the weather would soon decimate them.

Us.

We all thought nuclear weapons were just a deterrent.

Now, well, it was too late to think about anything.  We were, as I just heard on the TV, all going to die from the fallout.  It was only a matter of time before it reached us.  Then, according to the expert, we would all end up with radiation poisoning and die.

I was fortunate enough to live on one of the most southern parts of Australia, a small town by the name of Cockle Creek, Tasmania.  Even though I had never heard of it until overwhelmed by the loss of my wife, I wanted to hide from the world, and Cockle Creek was just the place.

Now, for a while, it was going to be a haven.

Before the storm clouds arrived.

I switched off the TV, and most likely wouldn’t be turning it back on.  There wasn’t going to be any good news, and I really didn’t want to know how long we had left.  I put several bottles of red wine, some cheese, bread, and meat into a bag, and headed down to the beach.

It was part of a secluded part of the shore that backed onto a half dozen houses, and on rare occasions, the neighbours appeared, spoke briefly and went about their business.  People in my street were at best recluses, at worst hermits, all of us running away from something.

It wasn’t long before Angie appeared, at the end of her evening run.  I’d met her several times, and knew a little of her history, once married to a cheating bastard, once had a good job but because of him had to leave, now no longer interested in anything.

I understood her.

She stopped.  I expected a wave as she passed by.

“Max.”

“Angie.  How are you?”

“Usual.  See the news?”

“Hard to miss it.”

“Not a lot to look forward to?”

“I came here to spend my last days in peace, there’s just fewer of them, I guess.”

“Pragmatic.”

“Realistic.

She came over and sat beside me.  For some odd reason, I’d packed two glasses.  Had I a premonition she would drop by?

“Red?”

“Why not?”

We sat there and drank wine, first from one bottle, then starting on the next.  We didn’t say anything, there wasn’t anything to say.

“Would you believe me if I said I was once a scientist?  There’s a more specific name, but the scientist will do?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“My dad refused to believe a woman could be that smart.  My husband was a bit like that, never liked the idea that I might be smarter than him.”

“Some men feel threatened.”

“Would you?”

“My wife was far smarter than I was, but I loved her because she was her, not the smart part.  That was just a small part of who she was.  And she didn’t care if I was a dustman.”

“Were you?”

“No.  I owned a bookshop, served coffee, and talked to strange people all day.”

“Lots of dusty books then?”

I had no idea if she was joking or just commenting, but it didn’t matter.  It was amusing to think of it like that.

“Lots.  So, what branch of science was it?”

“Snow science.”

OK, so my poker face wasn’t quite working, and it wasn’t hard to guess what I was thinking.

“Look it up, it’s real.”

“No internet anymore.  Kind of got nuked along with a lot of other stuff.  But, despite the scepticism I suspect there is such a thing, and, if I remember right, is that something to do with the study of snow and ice movement, possible for the prediction of similar events?”

“It had a lot to do with predicting storms, and how snow affected water supplies.  There’s a whole lot more, but it’s rather irrelevant now.  Like me.”

“Like all of us, I think, though if you’re feeling irrelevant, come and see me and I’ll try to think of a way to change that.”

“Could you?”

“Probably not.  But I know how you feel.  That’s why I’m here.”

Another few glasses of wine, enough time to consider what she said, and how to make sense of it, before she said, “My last job was for an eccentric billionaire.  I never told anyone because it was the craziest two years of my life.”

“Why bring it up?”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.  Turns out he wasn’t batshit crazy after all.

”OK, I’ll bite.  Why was he crazy?”

“Because he built a huge city like complex under the ice in Antarctica.  He said that man would destroy the earth sooner rather than later, and he wasn’t going to hang around and watch them do it.  Space travel was too difficult, so he did the next best thing.  A haven for 5,000 specially selected people.  I was his snow and ice expert.”

“It’s all melting.”

“Deep in the ice.  There are a few thousand years before it all dissipates, and even then, it’s below ground.  We anticipated every scenario.”

“Bet you didn’t think of aliens with excavators.”

“Now you’re mocking me.”

I shook my head.  “No.  Ivan Rostov, an oligarch.  Strange man, stranger idea, bet rich enough not to care what the world thought of him.  You knew Ivan?”

“Slept with him once.  Bit of a disappointment.”

“Sorry to hear that.  Before or after your husband strayed.”

“After.  I have principles.”

“You should be there, with him.”

“Wasn’t open for business.  When I left, just before I came here, it was in the last stages of being shut up until when it would be needed.  I guess that’s about now.  But I don’t work for him, and he doesn’t need me, and I don’t think I could stay there anyway.  How long do you think people would have to stay there?”

“From what I’ve been reading, between 5,000 and 25,000 years, but that’s very extreme and assumes plutonium has been used.  A substantial amount of the northern hemisphere has been rendered radioactive, and if Chernobyl is anything to go by, a long time.  People wouldn’t see daylight in this lifetime.”

“Sounds like fun then.  You up for a home-cooked meal.  Long time since I’ve entertained, seems like there might not be many more opportunities.”

“Why not?”

Sitting opposite a woman who I had probably seen a dozen times in a year, and spoke to here, albeit briefly, on three of those occasions, I felt remarkably at ease in her company.

Perhaps it was the fact we were all living on borrowed time, perhaps in those circumstances, we had let a lot of our guard down.  Whatever it was, sitting there, enjoying the moment, I felt as though I’d known her all my life.

An odd ringing sound broke the silence that had settled on us.

She got up.  “Excuse me for a moment.”

She went into another room, the ringing stopped and I could hear her muffled voice.  A minute later she returned with a device that looked like a satellite phone in her hand.

She put it on the table and sat down.  “You’re on speakerphone.  Now, tell me what you just said again.”

A male voice, relatively old if I was to guess, and authoritative.

“We are just packing, and tomorrow we will be going to nowhere.  I’m sorry I haven’t been as communicative in recent times, so much to do, so little time, but, as you are aware, the world has finally gone to hell in a handbasket, and we’re getting everything ready.  I’d like you to come.  After all, it’s as much your pet as it was mine.”

“Tempting offer, but I don’t think we’ll ever see daylight again.”

“That maybe so, or maybe not.  We have no idea how mother nature is going to handle this swipe, but that’s in the future.  Staying outside is simply a death sentence, and you’re too good for that.”

I looked at her, the look conveying the unspoken quester, ‘Is that your former boss?”

She nodded, a sign to me at least, that she could read minds.  Perhaps then not a good thing.

“I have a friend here, if he wanted to, could I bring him as my plus one?”

“Certainly.”

“I need time to think about it.  Can I call you back?”

“Any time.  As I say we leave tomorrow and will be there in a week.  I’ll be dropping in anyway, whatever you decide.”

“Ok.  Thanks.”

She disconnected the call.

“Nowhere?”

We gave New Eden and name that people would never quite understand.  We used to say, we’re going nowhere, when we were going to the building site.  It was how we kept it secret.”

”You should go.  Life is precious and you should hang on to it for as long as possible.”

“What about you?”

“I’m sure there are other more important people you could take.”

“There are none that I care about.  Not anymore.  Why do you think I’m here, alone, and never leave?”

I shrugged.

“You don’t know me.”

“I know enough.  There’s no obligation on your part to be anything but a friend.  If I go, I need to have at least one person there I know.”

“Won’t all the people who built it be there?”

“I never got to know any of them.  Didn’t want to.  But with you, after one afternoon, I feel as though I want, I need to know more about you.  You are perhaps what some would call a kindred spirit.  I know it doesn’t make any sense, but these are strange times, are they not?”

I smiled.  They were.  And oddly enough, I felt the same about her.

“Perhaps if we both take the week to think about it?”

She nodded.  “Dinner at yours tomorrow?”

“Afternoon wine, same time, same place?”

A nod and a nod.

I saw the superyacht arrive and drop anchor about a mile offshore, and then, after a half-hour of activity on the rear deck, the launching of a tender, which then headed slowly towards our section of the beach.

It was a no brainer, in the end, we got along so well, why would I want it to end?  So we had to live in a bunker for 50,000 years.  It would be with her, and that’s all I cared about.

She took my hand in hers.  “So, are you ready to catch the last boat to nowhere?”


© Charles Heath 2022

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