The waves lapped gently at the orange submersible-like lifeboat. Inside, Lorelai, the sole occupant lay, wishing for some water. She was thirsty. Actually, dying of thirst more accurately portrayed her current predicament. She lay in the empty metal life raft, the parts and pieces inside had long-since been scavenged for scrap metal. It had been made decades ago to launch from oil rigs one hundred feet down into the water and survive the tossing and turning of waves without tipping. Lorelai had read the ancient list of supplies that had been in the lifeboat, wishing for any of it to be stashed away still. These days, people were supposed to bring their own gear to the boats. That was the law. But Lorelai had not had the time to grab anything but her canteen, which was attached to her hip at all times. That, also, was the law. Fresh water for her people was rare, the old desalinators could only run for short periods on the old ships. She still had half of her water left, but had been taught survival sipping as a young child. All children of the floating city of Orleans learned those rules first in the event of a super-hurricane.
She always assumed the thirst would leave at night. The cool breeze and lack of a harsh sun not sapping her body of precious water and energy. But the temperature was only a reprieve for a few moments as the sun set on her sixth day lost at sea. Once it had disappeared completely, the temperature dropped 10 degrees. Now she lay in the metal tub, bobbing through the endless ocean, staring at the stars, a rare sight. She brought her left arm up and tapped at a small tattoo on her wrist shaped like two back-to-back ‘L’s. A screen appeared on her forearm and she saw that she had no signal, but she already knew that. the digital clock showed 23:59.
“Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one.” The time changed to 0000. “Happy birthday.” Her voice sounded hoarse, her lips were cracked and hurt when she spoke. She closed her eyes, imagined a cake and a candle, and blew softly. She was 18 today. Old enough to own her own boat and old enough to be drafted into the Navy for her mandatory five years per the law of the Eastern States of America. Maybe dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean rather than on some far battlefield had its perks. She grimaced involuntarily at the thought of all of the veterans that littered the crowded docks of Orleans.
She lowered her arm back down to her side and stared up at the stars. It wasn’t often that one could see through the near-endless grey skies. In all of her life Lorelai could only remember a few times she had seen a clear sky. Clouds covered the sky most days and smog from the floating city and the land-based portion of the city shrouded the sky other days. Stars were even more rare, only visible one or two nights a year- maybe.
She began counting stars, starting with the North Star. She knew nothing of astronomy, not a lot of people did, just the Old Salts men from before the Impact. She did not know which lights made up which constellations, which stars were part of which far away galaxies, or which ones were planets, but she enjoyed the stories of the gods and men they were named after. But they were pretty, and she quickly lost herself in counting and wondering. Like the other nights, she lost count as the Cluster came into view. Nothing more than a tight clump of lights moving across the sky, the Cluster was a collection of the old nations’ and corporations’ space vessels and mining asteroids locked in something called a geosynchronous orbit above Earth.
The Old Salts men talked about the nations and corporations from before the Impact like they did the gods. Men with an inch of glass between themselves and the endless sea of space; flying between the boats in the sky on rockets meant to go up, down, and sideways; moving pieces of rock larger than Orleans. She didn’t know if the stories were true, but as she watched the large oddly shaped light fly across the sky, she allowed her mind to wander and imagine the massive machines of the spacemen.
The story of the Cluster was her favorite story as a child. Years before the Impact there had been a rush of nations and something called corporations to corner the market on comet and asteroid mining. Laws were passed, technology rushed along, and plans put into motion. The Old Salts men said there had been a disagreement over the rights to Halley’s Comet. Everyone wanted a piece of the massive ball of ice, and a tentative agreement was made to bring it into orbit. The major powers managed to change its course to bring it into geosynchronous orbit with Earth, but during the systematic explosions set off on the large rock, the American president, a man named McAllister, set off a series of bombs at the sites of the different nations who had laid claim to various parts. The explosions formed a chain reaction that caused the comet to break apart and enter Earth’s atmosphere.
The Impact had occurred somewhere near the pole continent of Antarctica, sending shockwaves, tsunamis, and debris across the globe. Billions died in the ensuing years from the tsunamis and the long winter that followed. Radio contact had been lost with the thousands of space colonists and tourists; all of them now stranded or dead on whatever ship or space station or mining colony they had watched the impact in. The people on Earth did not look up for years, but when the waves subsided and the clouds parted occasionally people saw the hundreds of orbiting lights had moved together, then apart, then together again and became what the people looking at the sky like Lorelai referred to as the Cluster.
No one that Lorelai had ever met knew anything substantial about the Cluster. A few people she had met said that they knew of a friend of a friend that had managed to make radio contact with someone on the Cluster. According to them there had been civil wars among the inhabitants over whether to try to return to the surface, stay in orbit, or move on to try to settle on the moon or Mars. Those people said that the spacers had huge hydroponic farms nestled deep in captured comets and mined water from the ice of asteroids. Those people always said it in such a tone that implied the spacers were living the good life and getting fat in their space mansions.
Lorelai didn’t believe that it was easy living up there. She had read books and seen videos about space travel. Even with all of their advanced technology, they had still not mastered gravity or protection from the countless dangers of space travel. Air had to be recycled and carefully managed, fuel was scarce and hard to refine from raw comet materials, and water reclamation was not yet 100%. Lorelai pitied them almost as much as she currently pitied herself, almost.
Through the open hatch the Cluster moved silently across the sky. The bundle of lights merely reflecting the sun’s light. Was there even anyone alive up there? What if everyone had died years ago, and the Cluster was orbiting on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and fell to Earth? Was there a lone survivor on board one of the stations floating in zero gravity, looking up at the Earth- at Lorelai- and wondering if there was anyone left alive on Earth? In that moment, she felt a kinship to the people, if any had survived, in the Cluster. They were, like her, stuck on a life raft in the middle of an endless ocean; them unable to unable to get to Earth and her unable to get away.
The Cluster moved out of her field of view and Lorelai started counting stars again. She felt small. She did not think about her chances of being rescued. Since her parent’s yacht had gone down with her family, she spent countless hours thinking about what life would be like if she were rescued. Would she return to Orleans and act like nothing happened? She assumed someone would have filled her father’s position as Governor , but she didn’t want the job anyway. She would have nowhere to live. No money, no one. For those days she mourned her family, she could do nothing but cry. But she was beyond that now, reserved to her fate of likely death.
Lorelai was going to die. She knew this with the steely resolve of a person that had not only accepted their fate, but was at peace with it. As the waves broke over the edge of the entrance of the metallic ball the saltwater stung her cracked lips and dry eyes. She had come to terms with her fate two full days after her last drop of water had touched her lips-three days ago. If she continued drinking saltwater and her urine, she could stretch her life another couple of days, maybe. However, after weeks with no food except for a bird she had eaten the other day, she could not move to the door to get outside, let alone drink from the ocean without falling in and drowning. And since drinking from the ocean made her vomit sometimes, maybe that was for the best.
Instead, she passed her time staring out of the hatch, at the sky she could see from her spot on the floor. She watched clouds pass by, hoping they would disappear by nightfall. She waited for the night sky, longed for it during the day and basked in it at night. Her wish, now, was that she would die at night, so she could see the stars one last time. She knew she wouldn’t be rescued, knew how big the oceans were now that Halley’s Comet had melted the ice in Antarctica and added its own ice to Earth’s oceans. The tidal waves and tsunamis that had ravaged the Earth after the Impact had not only drowned the world, they had washed away entire coastlines. The sublimated ice from the Comet had caused rain and snow to fall for five straight years.
Much of the land that had survived the tsunamis and rising sea levels had quickly become lakes and swamps. Very little truly dry land was left, and only certain people had claimed it. Lorelai had known this from birth, and with that knowledge of the unpredictable tides and what the Old Salts men called the gulf stream and major currents virtually gone, there was no chance that a vessel would just happen upon her microscopic little bobber.
More time passed as she drifted in and out of consciousness. It seemed as if time moved differently now. Morning sky… blink… evening sky… blink… night sky. She did not have the strength to look at the screen on her forearm. Not that telling time would matter much any more. Through the hull, she could hear the rapping of waves on the life boat. The waves rocked the boat harshly, water pouring in through the entrance hatch. Her head lolled limply, her strength draining as she tried to keep her head still looking out the window.
Clouds blocked her view of the sky. They were deep grey and she could hear thunder rolling through the walls of the boat. Lightning streaked the sky, burning her retinas. She scooted to the far wall as rain started to fall. The temperature fell and wind blew rain in through the open hatch, chilling her to the bone. The fresh rainwater made her feel better, but as the tiny boat was tossed from wave to wave, she began to fear that she would die by drowning rather than dehydration.
The waves ripped into the boat from all directions. Rain pelted the windows and poured in through the entrance, mixing with seawater. She closed her eyes to save energy until she could see the stars again. She felt pounding on the wall, as if it was hitting something. Rhythmic banging, the sound changed from metal-on-metal to a deep thudding sound. A flash of light. It didn’t disappear, but lingered on Lorelai’s face.
The storm still surged. Rain no longer pelted her body through the open door of the lifeboat She stared into blackness, she heard the rain on the hull of her lifeboat, felt a few drops hit her face, but something blocked most of it from entering.
Lightning flashed and silhouetted a man, his electric blue eyes caught the light and burned as they watched her. He had finally come, the man to take her into death. Long ago he’d been called Davy Jones, before the impact he was the Grim Reaper, now he was known simply as the Captain. She was conflicted, wanting to live, yet terrified he was but a hallucination. She could only croak a single word, “Help.” She didn’t know if he heard her, but he stepped into the lifeboat and scooped her into his arms. He lifted her as though she weighed nothing. She cried into his wet clothes as he carried her to his boat, to take her away, so that she could die.
He spoke in comforting tones that she was going to be ok as he gingerly stepped from the small cabin to a large rubber zodiac where another man waited. He yelled something to the other man. She was passed to the man in the zodiac and her savior jumped in behind them. The boat took off, curving left and right as it navigated the large waves towards a massive black boat in the distance, cabin lights the only source of illumination from the massive vessel.
A sailboat. Even with the proliferation of nuclear engines and electric boats that ran on sunlight, wind, water, and fossil fuels, sailboats were still relatively common. But there was something she knew. Something she needed to remember. Her dehydrated mind fought off sleep. A tune drifted into her head, a song her mother had sung to her that all the children of Orleans knew.
Beware, beware the ship of the wind.
It’s manned, they say
By a crew of the damned.
Bad things have happened here,
We’ve paid for our sin.
When we brought the wrath
Of the cursed Summer Lyn.
Beware, beware the ship of the wind.
The Captain is death;
A Reaper of men.
Bad things have happened here,
We’ve paid for our sin.
When we brought the wrath
Of the cursed Summer Lyn.
My child, my child live your life in the light.
Where you can be free,
from the ship of the night.
Bad things have happened here.
No worse could they be.
If you see the black ship,
Child, turn away and flee!
She had heard the stories from the Old Salts, the old men that had been on the oceans since before the Impact, most of them working with her father to run Orleans. The Captain of the Summer Lyn was the most terrifying man on Earth, challenged only by the Reaper of New Zealand, who had not left his island in over a decade. Wanted for killing thousands, he looted and sank merchant ships that crossed the massive oceans. Those that put up a fight were destroyed, usually after torturing the crew.
The Summer Lyn was an anomaly. In a highly advanced world brought to its knees by Halley’s Comet, the Summer Lyn was undetectable and came and went as it pleased. Few had ever seen the vessel, even fewer had seen the Captain and lived, and those that had told tales of a man in a black cloak with no face. They said he could make a man explode by simply touching him. He was seven feet tall, couldn’t be harmed by any kind of weapon, and had a crew of demons.
Lorelai saw the black sailing vessel, nearly invisible against the night sky, the lightning flashes silhouetting the ship against the night sky. She felt her pulse quicken. She struggled against the man giving her water. She squirmed and kicked and punched weakly. The man put down the canteen and held her still, saying something over the crashing waves and pounding thunder.
As the zodiac reached the ship she saw in a flash of lightning the burning gold letters on the stern, confirming her fear. The lightning made the letters look like they were on fire. Molten gold, burning themselves into her retinas. Even as she squeezed her eyes shut she saw the name.
The Summer Lyn
Lorelai screamed hoarsely and passed out.
Lorelai woke up in a strange room. She didn’t open her eyes at first, but let her senses wake slowly, her inner ear told her she was on a rolling ship, with waves as big as these it was almost certainly far away from any shore where the waves became shorter before they broke. The next thing she noticed was the sounds of a crew aboard the ship, somewhere outside the room she was in, shouting orders and laughing as they worked. She opened her eyes slowly, the light coming in through the porthole bright and painful. The room itself was unlit, but she could see enough to tell it was small, but enough only for her bed and a small stool. There was the one small window, and outside she saw huge waves come and go as the ship rolled on them, alternately giving her views of the dark ocean and the gray clouds.
Only after her eyes adjusted did she feel the pain. She hurt everywhere. Her stomach felt as though it was collapsing in on itself, her arms and legs felt achy and hurt to move, and her head felt as though it would split. She clenched her eyes shut again until the pain lessened some. She brought her hand to her head and squeezed her temples. As she brought her right arm up, though, she felt an IV in her hand.
The bag hung to her right. After a few flashes of lightning she was able to read the contents of the bag: ’Ringer-Locke’s Solution- 001-A’. She tried sitting up but was still too weak. She lay back heavily, looking at the ceiling and thinking about what she knew and what she thought was a fevered dream. She was on a ship- The Summer Lyn? With what sounded like a large crew- demons and ghosts? In the middle of the ocean- which ocean? With an IV in her arm- for what reason?
She had seen the pictures of the Summer Lyn’s victims. The massive cargo and navy ships brought to their knees by the brutality of The Captain and his crew. She had watched the real-time videos of the first responders as they boarded the ghost ships. She had cried with friends when this crew had murdered their family members. These people were monsters that wore bone masks of their victims, carved up their bodies, delighted in violence, and on occasion feasted on their fellow human being.
She began to panic. Her breathing became fast and light- hyperventilating. She needed to calm down or she would pass out again. She began to puzzle it out- to fill in the gaps. If this was the Summer Lyn, they had saved her. They were keeping her alive. She hated to admit it, but through the pain she felt much better than she had in that life raft. They were keeping her alive and helping her body- why? Assuming she was, in fact, aboard the Summer Lyn, there was a reason she was alive. Why?
The answer hit her suddenly- information. She had almost none to give, but being the daughter of the leader of one of the more prominent floating cities in the ESA made her a prime target for bandits like these. They would not know she did not know anything. They would get her healthy, then torture her until they were satisfied and then they would kill her. Lorelai’s breathing quickened again, this time from the adrenaline rush.
She looked around for something she could use as a weapon. The room was bare besides the IV bag hung on the pole attached to her bed. She looked at it; a sturdy silver pole attached at the head of the bed. She could spear one of them or use it as a club.
With a guttural sound, she swung her legs over the edge and slithered off the bed. She slowly put more and more weight on her legs until she was standing entirely on her own. Her head pounded, her legs wobbled, forcing her to lean back against the bed, half-sitting. Then, with a grunt she removed the I.V. from her arm. A small dot of blood ran from the crook of her elbow to her fingers and dripped on the floor. She took the half-empty bag off the stand and placed it on the bed. Her heart was beating fast and loud in her ears. Outside, the sounds of the men struggling on the deck filtered down to her cabin, none of them aware she was awake. On a modern ship the crew would be inside, maintaining systems keeping the ship upright and afloat. Those systems had failed on the ship she had come from, but that was, what- one in a million? Even though there had been no technological improvements since the Impact, the levels of maintenance they could perform on ships was nearly as good.
Outside her door she heard footsteps and voices as people walked by the room. More voices passed the door, but a pair of footsteps separate from the others stopped outside the door. Lorelai steadied herself on the bed by leaning against it slightly. She would fight to the end. They would not torture her. She would make them work for their meal. She set her jaw against the weakness she felt all over. She closed her eyes and strained her hearing, listening to the voices in the hall. A light knock followed by silence, then the door knob turned and Lorelai’s knuckles tightened around the pole.