North Bay Road (Part 3)
They sat on the fan deck drinking mimosas. It was only an hour after sunrise. The sun was still low but heat danced on the surface of the water like a mirage, water above and water below.
“Beautiful,” Jalen said.
The yacht Tatooine lay at anchor in what had been Biscayne Bay. The bay was unrecognizable except for the black towers rising from the sea. Storms and sea salt had pitted exposed concrete and steel and broken the glass from windows. Black mold covered the surfaces above high water, barnacles and sea stars and scuttling crabs below.
The sun burned in a cloudless sky. The flat water reflected the sun like polished glass. Humidity added weight to any movement, even breathing.
“It would be more beautiful it wasn’t so oppressively hot,” Rifkin said. He laid the champagne flute, beaded with condensation, against his forehead. “Why can’t we admire it with air conditioning?”
“If you’re going to complain,” Jalen said, “go inside. I’m enjoying myself.”
“I’m not complaining. I’m just stating a fact. It’s damned hot.”
“Of course it’s hot. It’s hot everywhere.”
“Couldn’t we have come at a more seasonable time of year? Maybe winter. Or fall.”
She bristled, then took a deep breath. “There is no other time of the year. There’s only a narrow window between storm seasons. We discussed this. If we want to dive the ruins, it has to be now.”
“And why do we want to dive the ruins again?”
“Now you’re just being petulant. Besides, I thought you wanted to create a performance piece. Some nonsense about the kraken rising from the sunken ruins of civilization.” She knew she was being cruel. She didn’t care.
“It’s not nonsense, it’s just impractical. To be credible, it would be too big to fit any museum space. And besides, it’s too hot to think of art,” he said.
The sloth lumbered around the performance space criticizing, in a heavy Spanish accent, the species responsible for its extinction.
“I’ve wanted to visit my great-grandfather’s house since I was a child,” she said.
Jalen Páez came from old South American money, one branch rooted in Venezuela, the other in Brazil. Both had profited from years of inequity and withdrawn with their wealth to the U.S. when their own countries became too heated.
She finished her mimosa and set it on the mahogany table. An autobot promptly removed the empty glass, wiped the sweat stain from the wood, and purposefully set a full flute on a coaster. She ignored the implied criticism. “I never knew much about my father’s family. They were almost wiped out during the Venezuelan rebellion.”
“My dear, you’ll need to be more specific,” Rifkin said. “Rebellions, revolutions, coups—they’re endemic to South America.”
“Don’t be an ass. You’ve heard this story before.”
“And I never tire of it. It’s like a child’s fairy tale. You know how it ends but you want to hear it over again. And again. And again.”
“You didn’t have to come.”
“No, I didn’t. But the alternative was to remain in Manhattan. People were being so pissy about the scene at the MOMA.”
Rifkin Po was an artist working at the intersection of performance art and artificial intelligence. His last installation at the Museum of Modern Art had been a giant sloth extinct for 10,000 years. The sloth lumbered around the performance space criticizing, in a heavy Spanish accent, the species responsible for its extinction.
Over the brief period of the installation’s exhibition, the sloth—named Megatheria—became increasingly irate. Its criticism escalated to invective. There was no separation between art and observer at the museum. Megatheria wandered freely through the crowds. A bitter sloth the size of a rhinoceros alarmed the staff. When Megatheria began making fake dung from found objects and throwing it at visitors, they tried to contain the exhibit behind velvet ropes. Megatheria used the rope to hang itself from the rafters. It was never really alive so it couldn’t really die but neither could it speak with the velvet rope crushing its larynx. It hung for several days, slowly turning at the end of the rope, glaring balefully and croaking at museum patrons. The art critics were unkind.
It had been Rifkin’s first very public failure. He hadn’t taken it well. She could have consoled him. She didn’t. “The captain believes they may have located the block on North Bay Road where my grandfather lived. We’re going to dive the site this afternoon. You can go or stay, whichever, just quit being so depressing.”
The glass door slid open automatically and one of the camera crew walked onto the fan deck. “I hope I’m not intruding.” Jalen couldn’t remember whether it was Blick, Snick or Whick. Rifkin had named them after the dwarves in the silent film version of Snow White published in 1916. They were making a documentary on Rifkin’s life. He had agreed to take them along before the spectacular failure of his giant sloth. “Is this still a good time to film?” he said.
“Can we do it inside?” Rifkin said.
Whick, she thought. Blick was the cameraman, Snick the soundman, and Whick the mouthpiece.
“Sure,” Whick said.
“Then it’s the perfect time.”
As the world became more heated and the deserts marched north and drought led to famine and famine sparked wars, neither of them felt much of the world’s pain.
A few minutes later, after she had finished her mimosa, Jalen followed them out of curiosity. Snick was fussing with something that looked like a wooly caterpillar, a cozy that fit over his microphone. Blick was taking notes on a tablet. Whick was spread out on the couch like it was his own living room.
“Something I don’t understand,” he said casually to Rifkin. “So much of your work is an indictment of western civilization, its avarice and greed, but you live in Manhattan, an island of privilege guarded with deadly force. How do you reconcile the contradiction?”
Jalen looked closely at the man. He seemed so casual and nonchalant but his question was sharply pointed.
“I’m an artist,” Rifkin said, “not a bleeding heart. You think my art would be more authentic if I was starving in a garret or a cold water flat?”
Rifkin’s life had always been privileged like her own. As the world became more heated and the deserts marched north and drought led to famine and famine sparked wars, neither of them felt much of the world’s pain, protected by the walls around Manhattan, living in an armored high-rise, defended from the rising sea and the riots and the storms.
Rifkin took the bait. He didn’t see the cameraman—Blick, no, Snick—put down the tablet and pick up his camera. The other one—Blick? What did it matter?—subtly extended the boom mic in Rifkin’s direction.
“I didn’t make the world we live in,” Rifkin said. “I do what I can but, let’s face it, I’m not going to change the world, either. There’s only so much food and clean water and power left. It’s not enough for everybody. Some have more, some less. I’m not going to surrender my share to satisfy someone else’s sense of fair play.”
“Isn’t that the attitude that got us here in the first place?” Whick’s eyes were half closed as if thinking about something else. Jalen suspected he was much more attentive than he appeared. He was baiting Rifkin.
“What got us here was a genetic flaw,” Rifkin said, rising to the bait, “a lack of self-discipline. We shit in our own bed. We bred like field mice, ate everything, and now we’re starving. Simple, brutal math.”
“So, you’re saying all this was inevitable?” Whick waved his hand in an encompassing gesture.
“All this? You mean the Tatooine with all its firepower and sophistication? Or the ruins beneath us?”
“Inevitable as a Greek tragedy. It was never going to be a happy ending. Our insatiable curiosity and casual violence helped us survive the African savannah but it doesn’t scale. We’re still the same vicious apes that first descended from the trees. We’re still using automated drones and nuclear bombs like stone clubs. Art isn’t going to change who we are. It just makes who we are more obvious.”
“Then what’s the point of it?” Whick sat up on the couch and leaned forward. He wasn’t pretending indifference anymore.
Rifkin leaned back, self-satisfied. He didn’t even know he’d been trapped. She loved him, she thought, but sometimes he was such a bumpkin. “Something to do,” he said. “Another way to keep score.” He thought he had won. He turned as Snick removed the camera from his shoulder. “What, you were filming? I didn’t approve that.”
“Just some b-roll footage,” Whick said. “Filler.”
Jalen didn’t know much about film making but she knew you didn’t record sound for b-roll.
Worldcenter was a presumptuous name even for Miami. It was constructed as the convulsive gesture of a dying city.
She left her empty flute on a glass table and went in search of Captain Fairchild. She found him on the bridge looking at a display of weather systems cartwheeling across the Caribbean.
“I hope the weather isn’t going to spoil my vacation, Captain.”
“Not likely, Ms. Páez.” Fairchild wore a uniform jacket of Navy blue with gold stripes on the sleeves, starched shirt and black tie. She had never seen him outside in the heat. His white hair was precisely cut. He was the manicured impression of authority. “The window is still open, at least for several days,” he said.
“Excellent.” She paused. “Something Rifkin said piqued my curiosity. I didn’t pay much attention to the yacht’s charter, Rifkin did all of that, so I’ve never reviewed your security arrangements. Do we have time for a tour?”
“Of course.” The captain seemed to inflate like a frigate bird in mating display. “I’d be delighted.”
He led her down several narrow ladders somewhere deep in the 80-meter yacht and opened a metal door. “This is the CIC—the Combat Information Center. It’s the beating heart of our defensive systems. And this is Mulvaney, our weapons specialist.”
Mulvaney was rising from a swivel chair in the center of circular banks of screens rising in several tiers. The monitors were thin and translucent. The images seemed to float in the air.
“Please, keep your seat,” she said.
“Every inch of the water surrounding Tatooine can be observed from here,” Fairchild said, “and every inch defended with deadly force. Mulvaney is jacked into the weapons network, two miniguns mounted above the flying bridge. Wherever he looks, the guns track. One man can pretty much defend the entire boat, stem to stern.” He was obviously proud of his deadly toy, like a child with a pet scorpion.
“It’s called the Basilisk,” Mulvaney said. “The miniguns on either side can put a round every square inch out to 1,000 yards. Beyond that it’s less accurate but still messy.”
“What happens if you’re looking here,” Jalen nodded toward the screen showing the yacht’s bow, “and the threat comes from there,” she pointed toward the screen showing the stern.
“When the system goes to full engagement, the guns become semi-autonomous,” Mulvaney said.
“Semi-autonomous? You mean, they choose who to kill?”
“Within limits, yeah,” Mulvaney said. “Even if I was taken out, the Tatooine could defend herself.”
“And how do the guns determine who is a risk?” she said.
“Facial recognition,” the captain said, taking back control of the conversation. “Behavioral patterns, detection of lethal weapons or explosive signatures, proximity. The system goes to its highest defensive posture when it registers damage to the vessel or crew.”
Jalen raised an eyebrow. “The crew, but not the passengers?”
“From the Basilisk’s perspective, everyone is crew. Everyone authorized to be onboard. Everyone else is a potential threat.”
“I hadn’t realized the Tatooine was so…” she hesitated, choosing her words cautiously, “self-contained.” It seemed a better word than militarized.
“Ms. Páez, we specialize in adventure tourism. You pay us to take you places where other people don’t go…for a reason. You also pay us to bring you back safely. We take your security seriously. All my crew are combat veterans. So is the Tatooine.”
“You mean this boat has been attacked?”
“We’re a brightly polished target,” Fairchild said. “The people living on the fringes have never seen such wealth and probably never will again. So yes, we’ve been attacked but never taken.”
“I’m sorry, captain. I didn’t mean to sound critical.”
“Ma’am, you’ve paid for the privilege.” He didn’t smile.
She didn’t know whether she was reassured or alarmed. “Thank you, Mr. Mulvaney. Captain, are we still on for the dive this afternoon?”
“We are but if you’re up for a dive this morning, I thought we might take advantage of the weather. There’s something you might like to see. A drift dive through the Worldcenter.”
Jalen caught her breath involuntarily. She was not often surprised. “I thought that was too dangerous.”
“Normally I would agree. The currents are usually treacherous and the Worldcenter itself is unstable but this is an unusual opportunity. We have slack water in an hour turning to ebb. The current is unusually weak. The weather is holding and visibility is excellent. We can drop you and your guides up-current, track your drift with GPS, and pick you up on the far side. We’ll be in communication at all times. Anything gets hinky and we can retrieve you immediately.”
“Yes,” Jalen said, I’d love to.” She hoped she didn’t sound as smitten as a school girl. “When can we go?”
“I’ll have a boat put in the water. Whenever you’re ready.”
Millions of people once lived here, walked these flooded streets, laughed and loved and argued bitterly in these empty rooms. How could so much be lost so quickly?
Jalen breezed through the main saloon but failed to get Rifkin’s attention. He was gesturing broadly for the camera like an actor onstage. She left him recording for posterity and quickly changed. The rigid inflatable that took her to the ruined city was large enough to accommodate twice the size of their party—coxswain, a crew member armed with an assault rifle, and her two guides, one armed with a spear gun, the other a bang stick. It was surprising how simple underwater weapons remained, a piece of metal sprung like a bow and a shotgun shell detonated by contact.
Worldcenter was a presumptuous name even for Miami. It was constructed as the convulsive gesture of a dying city. The architects knew the city couldn’t be defended against the rising sea level. Even a wall around Miami like the one encircling Manhattan was useless. The city was built on porous limestone, the bones of ancient reefs. The flood tide bubbled up through the ground. But the city was financed by a Ponzi scheme. Miami depended upon real estate, resort, and business taxes for funding. The moment investor confidence in the city’s future faltered, the house of cards collapsed.
The boat traveled across the bay on a plane and then slowed as it steered through the massive towers rising on either side of what had once been 10th Street. It seemed to Jalen they had entered a place old and weighted with arcane significance like Stonehenge or a Neolithic tomb. They motored past the Paramount Hotel that seemed as tall as the Tower of Babel. It measured 700 feet when it was first built, less since the upper façade had blown off. A low ground swell surged into the open atrium and broke against interior walls with a sound like a slow drum beating inside of a mountain. The rags left of curtains still hung in some of the broken windows and fluttered in time with the drumming like a dying breath.
The divemaster looked vaguely like a young Sterling Hayden. (Jalen was a fan of Doctor Strangelove.) He shouted over the sound of the outboards. “We were here a few years ago when a heavy sea was running. There was so much pressure built by the waves inside the building that spray burst out the windows. Made your ears pop. We tried to get a look inside but the surge almost sucked us in.”
The divemaster—his name was Redford—plotted their dive with grease pencil on an old street map encased in plastic. “We’ll start the dive here,” he circled the intersection of 1st and 9th Streets, “and enter the mall here. The current is slack right now but it always accelerates between these tall buildings. Just flow with it. We’ll be right behind you and the guys in the boat will be right behind us.”
“How are they going to do that?” she said.
“There are bugs built into the gear. They can follow each of us wherever we go. And we’ll be able to talk to them and each other with the mics built into the masks. No worries.”
She had several worries despite Redford’s reassurance. Pieces of the façade were missing from the massive towers they would pass between. What if a piece of concrete fell on her? Or if she got tangled in the city’s wreckage and couldn’t free herself? Or a shark attacked?
Redford apparently saw the fear on her face. “It’s cool,” he said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “We’ve done this before. We got your back.”
It was presumptuous to touch her but reassuring.
The coxswain slowed the boat and the crewman tied the bow line to a piece of angle iron that broke the surface. Redford helped her with her gear. He gave the universal hand signal, thumb and forefinger enclosing a circle—Are you OK? She replied with the same, held the mask to her face and rolled backward off the side of the inflatable.
The warm water embraced her like a womb. She hung from a line trailed from the inflatable like a flag in a light breeze. Thirty feet below her the rusted remains of a city bus lay on its side, crusted with barnacles, sea anemones and ochre stars. A small jewfish swam out of a broken window, looked at her, and swam back into the bus.
The visibility was outstanding, like swimming in a sea of glass. She released her hold on the line, turn turtle, and allowed herself to sink deeper. The towers rose on either side from deep shadow into fierce sunlight. The foot of the towers looked organic, fecund, encrusted with life, but above the surface, in the relentless sunlight, they looked like broken weapons turned against the sky. She felt like she was falling, light as snow, into the underworld.
“Ma’am, you alright?” Redford’s voice was distant and mechanical. She righted herself. He was beside her.
“I’m fine. Where do we go from here?”
“This way,” he said, leading her through shoals of clown fish and angel fish. A big grouper lurked in the shadow of some concrete rubble like a cartoon character. Anemones waved their tentacles.
She felt like an archeologist among the ruins of a dead civilization. Millions of people once lived here, walked these flooded streets, laughed and loved and argued bitterly in these empty rooms. How could so much be lost so quickly?
They emerged from the shadows of the Paramount and floated above what had once been gardens that adjoined the mall. Eel grass and shoal grass grew with abandon where bermudagrass had once been trimmed with military precision.
They entered the mall. The sharp edges of terraces and store fronts were softened by marine growth. The architecture seemed in the process of transforming, morphing into something organic, abandoning its provenance, becoming something other. She was startled by a mannequin still standing behind a broken display window, clothed with sea squirts and filter feeders that wrapped around its body like a boa, fanning the water with the illusion of movement.
She let the current carry her past the remnants of expensive boutiques and specialty shops and sidewalk cafes that had eventually become bodegas and cribs and storefronts for drug dealers as the ocean advanced and the wealth retreated. It felt like she was fixed in place and the world accelerated past her. A school of angel fish darted back and forth, frightened by the shadow of a six-foot barracuda that passed overhead. The mall narrowed, constrained by two large buildings that flanked either side, and the current began to quicken.
“Hold on,” she heard Redford say. “This is an E-ticket ride. See you on the other side.”
His voice was disembodied. She turned to locate him at the same time the current became more turbulent, accelerating like water through the nozzle of a garden hose. She was caught off guard and began to tumble. She struggled to right herself and overcompensated, tumbling in the opposite direction. She was cartwheeling ass over teakettle, out of control, hardly aware of the dark shadows racing past on either side. Her breathing became ragged. Her stomach muscles constricted, her heart raced. She kicked hard and twisted. Something large flashed past her. A manta ray? A shark? She fought to get her mind and body under control. Something gripped her wrist. She jerked reflexively. It was Redford.
“Looked like you were enjoying yourself too much,” he said.
It felt like her breath was whistling in her lungs. She didn’t dare more than a single word. “Asshole.”
The current went slack as it spilled them into an open expanse that led to the edge of the sunken shore and the bay. She settled into an upright position.
“One more surprise for you,” he said, holding her by the wrist, pivoting her until the object filled her vision.
“My God, what is it?” It was a massive black monolith, an octagon. There were inscriptions on the two sides she could see. “I’ve never read anything about this in the histories,” she said.
“No idea,” he said. “It might have been placed here just before the city was submerged or just after. Either way, you gotta wonder why anyone would create a monument that nobody sees.”
“What language is that?”
“Swahili and Hindi. Least, that’s what I’m told. I don’t speak either. There’s also Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish and English on the other sides. They hedged their bet who might survive to read it.”
She swam around the edges of the black sculpture until she recognized a few words of English not covered with algae. She rubbed the stone with her gloved hand. A cloud of micro-organisms slowly dispersed.
“Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason,” she read aloud. It was number four. “Really, no one knows where this came from, who put it here?”
“Someone knows, I guess,” Redford said, “but they’re not talking.”
She cleared the face of the stone further down. “Avoid petty laws and useless officials.”
“Amen to that,” Redford said.
She read the last commandment. “Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.” She paused. “Important enough they repeated it. I’m afraid we still screwed that pooch.”
“That’s the end of the tour,” Redford said lightly. She could hear the smile in his voice. “Hoped you enjoyed yourself. Remember to tip your deckhands.”
People don’t take kindly to immigrants anymore. You shelter in place or not at all.
When she returned to their stateroom, Rifkin asked, “Did you enjoy your excursion?” He was sprawled across the bed wearing only a Speedo.
“It was marvelous,” she said, “and horrible. It’s as if the earth is erasing us.”
“Not entirely. We have our own geologic epoch. The Anthropocene. That’s some kind of immortality.”
“Why are you always so glib?”
He lifted his head. “Me? I’m a sane man well-adjusted to an insane society. And the filming went well today, thanks for asking.” His head fell back on the bed, seemingly exhausted by the effort.
“You know that documentary isn’t going to end well for you, don’t you?” she said.
“Don’t be absurd. They love me,” he said.
“Like I said, well-adjusted.” He stood and smoothed his clothes. “When you’re out of the shower, join me on the upper deck for a rum and tonic. Thank God they have a competent bar on this boat.”
She showered the salt water from her body and the wriggly little worms that were the larval stage of some lifeform that had found safe haven beneath her swim suit. She found Rifkin lounging in the pool. Sweat beaded on the glass in his hand and on his forehead. The autobot took her order and returned with a Mojito.
“What is that?” she said, pointing into the distance.
“My dear, are you really going to make me get out of the pool?” Rifkin said. “It’s hot.”
“It looks like a stain on the water,” she said a few minutes later, “but it’s getting closer. I think they’re boats. I’m going to ask the captain.”
“Really? Just leave it alone and it will go away.”
Captain Fairchild was on the lower bridge with a pair of binoculars aimed at the approaching boats.
“Who are they?” she asked.
“Drifters,” he said. “Migrants with no place to go.”
“Where did they come from?” she asked.
“There are tussocks of land still above water,” the captain said. “Hardly big enough to call islands. They’re regularly overtopped by storms. These people keep moving. They’re homeless. They live more on the water than the land.” He passed her the binoculars.
“They look so gaunt,” she said, “like Auschwitz survivors.”
“It’s not a good life,” Fairchild said, “but it’s the only one they’ve got. People don’t take kindly to immigrants anymore. You shelter in place or not at all.”
“Can we give them any food?” Living within the armored defenses of Manhattan, she had never seen hungry people before. On the video feeds, certainly, news footage of riots and restive natives, but that was like watching a documentary of baboons in the Drakensberg Mountains. They didn’t seem human.
“That would be unwise,” the captain said. “It would appear to them a sign of weakness, appeasement. If they think we’re vulnerable, they’ll become aggressive like sharks tasting blood in the water.”
“Really, captain. You’re being melodramatic. How harmful could these people be? They hardly have strength to raise a paddle. And they have children with them.” She saw a gaunt boy with hollow eyes sitting in an aluminum canoe between a bearded man and a woman who looked like she was fleeing the Dust Bowl.
“With respect, ma’am, these people have nothing and no hope of anything more. We have everything. The math doesn’t work in our favor.”
“What if we trade them for food? We wouldn’t seem weak.”
“They have nothing of value.”
“Don’t be dense, captain. It’s just a pretense.”
“The safety of this boat and everyone onboard is my responsibility. I don’t want these refugees inside our perimeter.”
“A few at a time,” she said. “The children first. What harm can they do? I insist.”
“I’m the captain. I’m the final authority on this…”
“True, Captain Fairchild.” she interrupted. “But I’m paying the bills. The children first.” She turned and walked away.
Rifkin stood beside Jalen as the first skiff came alongside. He was still wearing nothing but his Speedo. “Is this necessary?” he said. “It won’t make a difference. It’s an empty gesture.”
“It’s not a gesture.” she said, “They’re people. It will make a difference to them.”
“They’re not our people.”
“Really, Rifkin. You’ve been living in Manhattan too long.”
“You were living there with me, as I recall.”
There was a little girl in a wooden sailing skiff. Her skin was tanned like shoe leather. She waved at Jalen and smiled. She was missing several teeth. She was the first onboard. She was shy and hid behind her father, a man who looked anemic despite his dark tan. Kneeling, Jalen tried to coax her with an orange.
The captain’s handheld radio crackled. “Captain, we’ve got several of the buggers getting close on starboard side.” It was Mulvaney.
“Keep them at a distance,” the captain ordered.
“You want me to sink one as an example?” Mulvaney said.
“Keep it in your pants, Mulvaney. Just train your guns on them.”
The little girl wasn’t convinced. She had probably never seen an orange before. Jalen peeled it and ate a segment. She licked her lips. The little girl took a step forward.
“They’re not impressed, captain,” Mulvaney radioed. “They’ll be beneath my angle of depression in a minute.”
“Fire a few rounds above their heads. That should get their attention.”
The little girl extended a dirty hand. She touched the orange tentatively. Jalen held her hand, drawing her closer. The starboard minigun spit out a hundred rounds in less than two seconds. The little girl pulled back. Jalen held her. The little girl reacted instinctively, slashing with her free hand. Jalen dropped the orange on the deck. Blood spurted from a wound in her wrist. The little girl was holding a bone blade sharpened to a point.
“Captain, they’re on the aft deck,” someone shouted from the radio. “Bastards must have been underwater.”
“Weapons hot,” the captain shouted into his radio. “All targets.” He grabbed Jalen and pulled her away. Rifkin stood stunned, immobilized by the sudden change in roles. The girl’s father reached behind him and pulled a rusted blade from his rope belt. He plunged the blade into Rifkin’s throat. When he withdrew the blade, Rifkin’s heart pumped blood in a jet that splattered the man’s face. The man licked his lips.
The miniguns opened fire. Water erupted in jets like choreographed fountains. Wood and metal, flesh and bone were shredded by the impact. The small boats instantly decomposed into debris floating in a spreading red stain. The sound of small arms fire came from the aft deck.
The girl’s father moved quickly toward them. The captain roughly flung Jalen behind him. In the same movement, he drew a Glock from a shoulder holster beneath his uniform jacket. There was only an arm’s reach between them when he shot the man in his blood-stained face. Then he shot the little girl.
Rifkin was slumped on the deck, his back propped against the side of the cabin. He held his hands to his throat. The blood welled between his fingers and drained down his naked chest. He looked toward Jalen and tried to speak but only gurgled. His hands fell to his side. Blood trickled from the wound.
One of the boat people stepped into view from the aft deck. He was carrying an assault rifle issued to the crew. Another followed close behind. The captain fired before the man could bring his weapon to bear. The shots struck him center mass. He fell back onto the man behind who scooped up the dead man’s weapon and used his body as a shield. Captain Fairchild pulled the trigger until the hammer fell on an empty chamber. There was nowhere for them to go, nothing to hide behind. The man stood and raised the rifle. He looked as gaunt as death. Jalen braced for the pain.
The man’s head exploded in a cloud of blood and bone. He tumbled sideways. One of the camera crew appeared. It was the sound man, Blick. He was holding his rifle like a soldier. Of course, Jalen thought. Almost everyone who wasn’t rich had once been a soldier. Blick gave Fairchild a thumb’s up. The captain nodded.
“Report,” the captain barked into the radio.
There was a long pause. “Four dead, two wounded, one badly,” someone said. Jalen didn’t recognize the voice.
“Who is this?” the captain said.
“Withnal.” Withnal was the cook.
“Where’s the mate?”
“The mate’s dead. And Redford and Crookshank and the guy leading the film crew.”
“Damn. What about the boat?”
“The decks are cleared. You can see what’s left in the water. Mulvaney did a man’s job today.”
Jalen looked at the floating wreckage, pieces of boats shredded by the minigun but no bodies. No survivors, no one lifting their hand for help, no one struggling to stay afloat. They were all gone, slowly settling to the bottom of the bay. The little boy and his gaunt mother, his father, everyone except the bodies staining the teak decks with their blood. And poor Rifkin, propped against the bulkhead, a perplexed expression on this face, always the victim.
“My God,” Jalen said, still holding the wound in her wrist. “They’re all dead.”
“What did you expect,” the captain said. “They were starving. We have food.”
“I didn’t expect this.”
“You should have,” he said and turned away.