The Shrine

The night was still, the gentle splashing of the waves against the hull of the ship was the only sound that reached Neill. Glints of moonlight reflected on the tips of their crests. A salty taste hung in the warm air. He rested his folded arms on the gunwale and looked towards the shore. Trees lining the cliffs were illuminated from behind by the shifting oranges and reds of bonfires. Occasionally the colours touched the water, giving it form.

Footfalls on the metal plating of the deck grew louder as one of the crew approached. Neill recognised the gold wedding ring on Wikus’ hand when it wrapped around the rail.

The First Mate leaned over the edge and dipped his head towards the land. “They’ve started to gather a crowd now.” His deep South African accent rumbled out from his whiskered mouth.

Neill gave a grunt of acknowledgement.

“You think they’ll be coming for us tomorrow?” Wikus asked.

The seconds of silence were marked out by the rhythm of the waves. Neill straighten himself.

“I reckon they will.” He let the words hang there for a moment. “I’ve counted six more fires tonight.”

“You used the scope?”

Neill let out a long breath. “No need. It doesn’t matter if there’s only thirty of them or a hundred, we’re not gonna stay around. Can’t risk the barrages.”

Wikus flicked a glance to the black shapes of the electric generators bobbing in the water. The darkness made them look like tentacles reaching out from the tanker: strings of buoys creating a half mile wide skirt.

“Why is it always the same? Why don’t they just leave us alone?”

Neill became more animated, sending a globule of spit into the sea.

“You know how it is, they’ve been taught to hate us. Fifty years since the fall. Half of ‘em won’t even remember how it used to be.” He gave a short laugh. “Heck, we don’t. If it wasn’t for the films we’d have no idea what a plane looked like.”

“You’re not wrong there. Bloody crazy how no matter where we anchor they all have the same urge to sink us.”

“It’s in their history now. Stories told around those fires of how the men from ages past tried to rule the world with electricity and metal and how they brought down the wrath of the gods. You remember what it was like in Fiji.”

“Yeah.” It was all the big South African could say about the incident. The memory hung heavy on them all.

Neill could still hear the screams of those they had left behind as the motor launch pulled away. A shudder ran through his body. There were six less of them since. Six lives gone from a population they could ill afford to let dwindle. All because he thought they could recover some spares from the ruined city. He had not repeated the mistake. It had made him cautious. Since then all the landings had been done by covert teams. Their ability to bring back large hauls had been reduced, but it was safer.

Overhead one of the wind turbines caught a rising breeze and began to spin lazily. The faint noise brought Neill back to the present.

“Best get a team to start hauling everything in,” he told the other man.

“You want to move tonight?”

“Yeah. Don’t wanna be here when the sun comes up.” Neill let out another long breath. “I’ll go below and check.”

He turned away from the First Mate and headed into the interior of the ship. In the section given over to the larger cabins he turned the handle of a small door and pushed it open.

The room was garishly decorated. Flowery drapes hung on the walls covering up the steel bulkheads. Small curtains had been placed around the single porthole. Two chairs sat upon a cream rug, their carved dark wood frames would have looked out of place if it was not for the rest of the furnishing. A large bed took up half the room.

Under the flower patterned covers lay the wrinkled form of an old lady. Her eyes were closed. The steady beat of her heart was broadcast by the machine standing next to her.

Neill’s hand reached out and he touched the old woman’s cheek.

“We’re going to have to move again, mum. There’ll be some rough weather, but it shouldn’t last too long.”

—————

4 September 2009
Villagers in China have continued to protest over pollution that is damaging their health and the local environment.

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