Rise of the Gomeral
Pedro and Elsa
Long ago, on the planet now known as Huntress…
The water surged again, pounding against the levee in a breaking wave sending foam and spray over the top.
“More sandbags over here, quickly!” Pedro yelled into the howling wind and rain.
Two Gomeral boys came running towards him, pushing a laden wheelbarrow through the mud and slush behind the levee.
“Can we help?” Hamish, the older of the two, asked.
“Yes; you see how I’m crisscrossing the bags to give it strength?”
“You two can do the same starting from the other end.”
The boys set to work, strengthening the barrier against the onslaught of tide and storm. Once satisfied with their workmanship, Pedro moved further along the wall, looking for weak spots. Seeing a torn bag that had almost emptied its contents, he returned to grab a replacement and had it in place just as the water surged again.
“How’s it going?” Hamati asked as he came up behind him.
“We’re holding but only just. If the surges get any bigger –”
“Just do your best, Pedro, that’s all we can ask.”
Pedro spied another weak spot further down the wall where water was starting to push through. “Hamish, Jordan, as soon as you’re finished, refill your barrow and help me down there.”
Hamish grinned, giving him the thumbs up.
“The boys are enjoying it at least,” Hamati said, following Pedro down to the new breach.
“Only because it’s something new for them and they still hold out hope that their efforts won’t be in vain. The way sea levels are rising and storms are becoming more frequent and powerful, soon no amount of sandbagging will hold it back.”
Hamati gripped Pedro’s elbow. “Without giving away anything of the future, what would you have me do?”
“Focus on your subspace research; that’s how, um, other civilisations have overcome these sorts of problems.”
Hamati nodded. “I will, of course, but I’ve struck an impasse. I know there’s something more, something I’m not seeing –”
“I can’t give you any technical answers, you know that, but perhaps you should swallow your pride and compare notes with the Tivinel researchers.”
Hamati grimaced. “No, I can’t do that, not unless I have no other choice.”
“You were happy enough to collaborate with them in the early stages of your work.”
“That was before Drago and the war. Now, anything I gave them would just be used to make weapons for killing more Barungi.”
“There you are!” called a voice from the gloom. A moment later Elsa came running up to them, wrapping them both in a hug. “The tide has turned and the radar’s showing the storm’s moving out to sea. We did it!”
Pedro looked back at the sandbags, making sure they were still holding. “We’ve won the battle but not the war; the seas will keep rising and the storms will intensify until your pig-headed uncle and his Tivinel counterparts bury their respective hatchets and…”
“Sorry, I almost said something I shouldn’t have.”
“How, um, how do you know when there’s something you shouldn’t say? Surely if it was so easy to change the future, just your being here would’ve done that already.”
“I don’t know, it’s just a gut feeling I suppose, yet there’s something else, something I came across back when I was working on my doctorate, or should I say when Peter was working on his.”
Elsa gave him an inquisitive look.
“Sometimes I think I’m just one of Peter’s thought bubbles that escaped, but even that metaphor’s tied in with the idea of quantum fluctuations. The physicists back then only thought it applied to particles but what I, um, we discovered was that it worked for time as well.”
Hamati’s eyes lit up. “Of course, but if that were the case –”
A bright flash of lightning seared the gloom, followed moments later by the crack and roar of a strike that was uncomfortably close.
“I thought you said the storm was moving away,” Hamati said to Elsa.
“It was, but –”
Pedro followed her gaze out across the ridge separating the farmlands from the sea. “Holy shit!”
Illuminated all too clearly now by the setting sun, a huge mass of greenish-grey thunderhead churned and swelled, sending down a proboscis into the sea like a giant sucking insect. More lightning flashed as the waterspout pulsated and thickened.
Faint at first, but growing rapidly louder, came the roar of water as a tsunami-like wave tore its way up-river, sweeping aside everything in its path. Above the ruckus, the screams of those unfortunate enough to be caught in its path could just be heard as they too were swept away.
“Run!” Pedro yelled, grabbing hold of Elsa’s hand.
Hamati followed as they dashed through the field of crops, seeking higher ground as the wall of water sliced through the levee bank, taking less than a second to obliterate their hours of sandbagging work. Seawater spread out across the land, rising to waist height as they splashed their way forward.
Elsa tripped, falling face-first into the surging water, her hand wrenched from Pedro’s grip.
“No!” Hamati shouted, diving into the mirk.
Momentarily stunned, Pedro was about to do the same when Elsa’s head broke the surface. He leapt over to her, wrapping both arms around her before she could be swept away. Hamati, now covered head to toe in mud, wedged himself on her other side as the rush of water eased and slowly began to subside.
All around them, as far as they could see in the still-gloomy light, seawater covered the farmland.
“Not everything’s been flattened,” Pedro said, looking at the foliage still poking out above the water.
“Maybe so,” Hamati said, “but as soon as the salt permeates the roots everything will be dead and nothing will grow here for decades to come.”
The storm, its fury spent, dissipated as quickly as it had formed, leaving an eerie calm and silence in its wake as they joined the surviving Barungi and Gomeral trudging their way back home across the devastated landscape.
* * *
“We were damn lucky no-one was killed,” Hamati said as Pedro and Elsa joined him the next morning to inspect the damage. “My, what a mess.”
In several places, the entire levee bank had washed away, allowing the high tide to cover hundreds of hectares of what had been prime agricultural land. The crops that hadn’t been flattened by the rush of water were already withering from the salt inundation.
“The weather experts are mystified by that storm cell,” Elsa said. “They reckon it formed in only a few minutes and dissipated just as quickly.”
Pedro nodded. “Small scale weather systems are inherently chaotic. With the right mix of pressure gradient, humidity, temperature and spin, anything’s possible.”
“We should repair and strengthen the levee,” Hamati said, “although with the damage the salt water has done to the soil, there’s really not much point now.”
“Are there any salt-tolerant crops you could plant?”
“I’ll have to ask our farmers.”
“Salt bush and mangroves are all it’s good for now,” Charon said, walking up behind them.
“They don’t sound very appetising, Dad,” Elsa said, giving him a quick hug.
Charon shrugged. “If the sea level keeps rising at the current rate, in a few short years the entire flood plain as far up as Benton will be inundated.”
Hamati nodded, turning to Pedro. “You say something to do with subspace will provide the answer to this.”
“In the long term, yes, but given how bad it’s already become I reckon you’ll need some pretty drastic short term measures as well.”
“Drago’s keen to deploy the Tivinel’s star-dimmer once they’ve figured out how to make the damn thing work, but I can’t help thinking that’ll only make things worse. We really need to stop burning fossil fuels.”
“You and your damned future, Pedro!” Hamati looked around once more at the devastation. “I suppose I really don’t have any choice now but to confer with the Tivinel researchers, do I?”
“That’d be the best course of action, I think.”
“It’ll have to be on neutral territory. Drago won’t allow Barungi to go anywhere higher than fifty metres above sea level, and that’s the old sea level before the damn thing started rising.”
“What about Benton?” Elsa said. “You could use one of the rooms in Dad’s pub.”
“The Ferryman’s Arms?”
“That can be arranged,” Charon said. “I’ll make sure you won’t be overheard.”
Hamati scratched his head. “How will we convince the Tivinel to come?”
“Pedro and I can do that,” Elsa said. “Who amongst them do you most trust?”
“Glamming was good to work with and certainly knows his stuff. Last I heard, he was based in Dartmoor.”
“That’s the village just below the volcano temple, isn’t it?” Pedro asked.
“Yes. You’ll have to be careful; the Unity League has spies everywhere up there.”
“I know someone who can keep watch,” Charon said, scratching his chin, “but yes, you’ll need to keep your wits about you. Don’t talk to strangers.”
Elsa gave him another hug. “No, Daddy.”
“Indentured Gomeral slaves are free to come and go without question, but wear your identity cards at all times. Grab whatever you need and meet me on the ferry in an hour’s time.”
Elsa gave Pedro a wink before running back to the village. Sighing, he turned and followed in her wake.
* * *
Charon stood alongside the gangplank, checking the tickets of the Barungi workers as they boarded his ferry. Normally buoyant and cheerful, today they were sullen and quiet, as if the storm and inundation had knocked every last vestige of hope from them. From what Pedro knew of their future, they had good reason to feel that way.
He and Elsa followed the last of the workers on board.
“I’d like you both to go out on the bow and keep watch for debris in the water,” Charon said as he untied the ropes. “It’ll be a slow trip but I still don’t want to hit anything.”
Pedro nodded, taking Elsa’s hand as they stepped onto the foredeck.
“They make a lovely couple,” one of the Barungi workers said to Charon.
“Too lovely I fear.”
The river was chocolate brown with mud carried from the farmlands by the receding waters, but there was no obvious floating debris big enough to damage the vessel. After passing through the narrow gorge between Kurramurra village and the inland flood plain, the extent of the damage became obvious. The once green fields were now a sea of mud extending as far as the eye could see, with bogged or overturned farm machinery dotting the landscape.
“You’re being very quiet,” Elsa said, squeezing Pedro’s hand.
“Huh? Yeah, I suppose I am.”
“Is the future really that bleak for us?”
Pedro remained silent.
“What was it you were saying yesterday about being a thought bubble that escaped?”
Pedro smiled, glad for the change of subject. “Peter’s work suggested the possibility of quantum fluctuations in time, bubbles of existence in which events play out differently. He called them time cusps and I was created in one.”
“He and Billy Collins caused a temporal paradox when they saved one of their friends from being killed by a Barradhim operative and I was a by-product of its resolution, condemned to a life in the shadows until, well, until another friend saved me.”
Pedro stared down into the water, pretending to look for debris but in his mind’s eye seeing the smiling face of Jim Hamilton, the Eridanian boy who’d offered compassion and love in a world filled with hatred.
“You’re crying,” Elsa said.
“No, just remembering a dear friend who’s passed on.”
“No, don’t be; he found true happiness at the end.” He looked up at her, smiling. “Perhaps that’s my fate too.”