Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience bidding tokens (earned while watching) to determine the path of the story. The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways. Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.
Arrive by Cruise Liner Arrive by Submarine Arrive by Helicopter
They surfaced ten nautical miles out from the summit for their checkpoint. They could’ve gone right under, with all the civilian subs, but there was decorum to consider. Every bit would help, considering the condition of their own vessel.
The minister had assured the ambassador that he would be riding inside the navy’s best, yet he suspected it was more like their tenth or eleventh best submarine. In addition, a nice regal boat would have made a better show, but all of those were busy back home, acting as the fence for its border.
Ambassador Kholaf examined his nautical portpass in his private quarters aboard the sub to pass the time until their arrival. He didn’t want to speak to any of the sailors. They were men and women who, if they were lucky, had only managed to spend a few hours on actual dry land in all their lives. They had disrespect in their eyes, even as they saluted.
It didn’t matter to him. Kholaf’s family had worked that piece of farm land for hundreds of years, through countless regimes and climates. His father knew, before the flooding had gotten far worse, that their home would not be touched. It never could be; his family’s soul was in it and they would drown if the salty water ever reached them.
The portpass was more convincing than the vessel. The watermark, though everyone insisted on calling it the lightmark these days, was a vibrant mix of iridescent purple and blue. Its leather sleeve smelled like dry land. Meanwhile, there was a tiny leak somewhere in his quarters. A dripping. Constant. He’d had to sleep with the sound for days, yet never found the puddle as evidence.
He was happy to surface, see the sun, and get back to the business of diplomacy. As they filled out their paperwork at the checkpoint he stole glances at the island in the distance. The facility was visible at its highest point: a flashy assemblage of glass and chrome rods holding up a globe that spun in the wind. Not bad for the world’s fifth choice of summit locations. All the others had gone under.
Somehow it was more hectic past the checkpoint, a fact Kholaf chalked up to the civilian subs that snuck by and then tried to dock. The poor and their endless opinions on why the ice had gone and the waters had come. Kholaf knew he was supposed to be there, supposed to set foot on land once more, because he’d always been blessed with soil between his toes.
He’d just passed his sixtieth birthday, his wife had gotten him a new dog, one well-trained in tracking the few remaining geese in his land, and he carried his age well. His suit was an earthy brown, his tie so subtle that it barely registered, and his shoelaces were tipped with wooden aglets. He had a trimmed beard that he was quite sure was only 43% gray. He had a hat upon his head, mostly so he could remove it at the sight of the first female dignitary who was also looking at him.
Once he was pas the checkpoint, the protesting subs and their shouting innards, and the walls around the docks, Kholaf set foot on the island. Someone was there to greet him personally. That was a step up from last time, a time where there had been three choices for meeting locations instead of one. Perhaps they were finally coming to recognize the value of his family’s, which was now his country’s, land.
African Ambassador South American Ambassador Japanese Ambassador
Kholaf recognized the woman standing at the end of the dock under a parasol. She was one of the Japanese ambassadors. How they maintained such a presence in the world after the flooding he had no idea. There was no Japan left; it was just their navy and all their little bobbing boats, roughly holding the shape of their old nation above its sunken form.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She stood just as solidly as everyone else, thick-waisted and with a sour expression on her face. Her hair was done up in a tight bun that suggested she didn’t let it down even when she slept. She shook his hand and pulled it back before he had a chance to lean over and kiss it.
“We will both be seated at table forty-one today,” she said without a hello. “I wanted to be the one to greet you so we could discuss some things.” Kholaf waited a moment while his earpiece translated her native language into his own. Her statement caught him by surprise. What was so important that it couldn’t wait until the table? These things had become known for lavish food, stuff that could only be grown in a handful of places these days, so perhaps she wanted as much time as possible to stuff her face.
“Should we discuss it here?” Kholaf asked, locking up his face so she couldn’t glean any information. He’d noticed the shift over the years, as the waters rose. The old guard wasn’t shifting, but it was contorting. Politicians that couldn’t keep up were drowned, either figuratively or literally, sometimes tossed back to the people who saw their every action as a betrayal.
Many at the summit were receiving training in facial analysis, the reaping of information from micro-expressions. He didn’t give her so much as an eye twitch, so much as a lash breaking loose. It would have to be actual conversation, which was his domain.
“No,” she eventually said after eyeing a few others. “Let us walk the coast for a while. The wind should discourage any… bugs… hovering about.” Kholaf nodded and followed her towards a section of abandoned beach. Both of them had guards, but they hung far behind when waved away.
She took off her shoes as they reached the sand, but Kholaf kept his on. He had a stylist who had worked hard on arranging his image for the day, and he didn’t want to discard any part of it. He would be stiff the whole time, rigid and unaccommodating. To lose the shoes would be to let something slip, and he made a great figure for his people on this new political beach because he never let anything slip. She stared at him like he was about to swim in his wedding tuxedo.
“Do you think this one will ever go under?” he asked to stop her eyes from prying. She looked up at the summit building and then out at the sea.
“This was one of the tallest mountains in the world,” she answered. “I don’t think so. If it does, we’ll be long dead. For now, we’re alive and there are pressing matters.”
Delusions Shortages Protests
“Have you noticed there are more of them out there this year?” she asked, nodding towards the subs in the distance, the ones that had snaked their way under the first checkpoints. People were emerging and waving flags and signs, but they were too far off to see or hear.
“I have,” Kholaf said. “They are becoming a nuisance.” He thought about waving to them, taunting them with nonchalance, but he thought better of it. Yes, it was his destiny to always have the dry land, but there was no dignity in rubbing it in. Of course they came to him. The moles had been washed out of their holes, and they had to speak up, had to pretend they deserved the same things just for a shot at survival. They wouldn’t get any further.
“They are letting some of them in this year,” she said. That got his attention. He stopped fondling the corners of his portpass.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean they’ve been granted a few minutes with a microphone, in front of all the same cameras as us,” she said. “They will be speaking their mind, advocating for the disbanding of all remaining distinct national governments. They want us as one, one species drifting across the united ocean.”
“Their words do not matter,” Kholaf dismissed with a wave of his hand. “They don’t even want what they think they do.”
“Now what under Earth’s surface does that mean?” the Japanese ambassador asked.
“Are you familiar with what some red ants do during a flood?” he asked. She shook her head, somewhat annoyed there was information she did not have. “They form a raft with their bodies, interlocking legs and jaws so they can float above it all. They live as one while the disaster goes on.”
“Some of them have heads below water the entire time. How long do you think that raft would hold if the flood never ended? If they lived with their heads down there? We cannot live as one without sacrificing some, and that is what we already do. There is no need for change.”
“That we can agree on,” she said. “We will have to deal with them. Two of the protesters are at our table. I would like it if you and I had trivial conversations the whole time so that they cannot engage us.”
“I am happy to oblige,”Kholaf said. He looked once more to the sign-wavers. He wondered how many more were packed into their submarine, just for a chance to yell madly at a distant beach.
Sushi Complimentary Bread Sorbet
They didn’t have to enact their plan until dessert. It seemed something, most likely the guards, had kept the invited protesters busy for most of the speeches and presentations. When they finally entered the opulent dining room they were slightly disheveled. They dropped themselves into the remaining chairs of table forty-one with a sound like a bag of fish fillets hitting a sidewalk.
They arrived around the same time as the sorbet, which was placed much more gently in front of Kholaf and the Japanese ambassador. It was a lovely little portion, bright pink in color, with three mint leaves arranged on top, vaguely resembling the cluster of islands they were in.
The protesters wore their best clothing, which wasn’t fit to serve as slaves to the suit and dress worn by the ambassadors. Their fabric was thin, their collars uneven, and whatever colognes and perfumes they wore were insufficient to hide the smell of salt. They also seemed unsteady, rocking back and forth in their chairs, because the ground was just too stable for them.
Kholaf analyzed them closely, but only with tiny glances away from his partner in cold-shouldering. It was obvious the pressure was building inside the protesters. They were a young man and woman. Kholaf assumed they were together, but unmarried. There were no rings, and even seagoers could afford something carved from shell if there were no precious metal available. The angle of their arms suggested they held hands beneath the table.
They had to wait their turn. Currently the environmental admiral of the baltics was speaking. He was a muscular fellow, shoulders broad enough to be confused for another boat on the horizon, but he spoke with a deflated voice, like air hissing out of a child’s oceanball as it floated away from their playing court.
“The myths of climate change continue unabated,” the admiral went on, “despite our best efforts with the educational exchange programs. It seems no matter how many people, from no matter how many nations, tell them there’s no support for the idea, they will continue to hold to it.” Kholaf stole another glance at the female protester. She was closer to boiling over. Her face was nearly as read as the sorbet. Kholaf, on the other hand, was so in control that the heat of his tongue had a hard time melting a mouthful of the stuff.
“At this point I suggest we cancel the exchange program and divert the funds into something more helpful. I hope all of you will consider the options I’ve presented. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get another bowl of that sorbet.” The crowd laughed as he strolled away from the podium and down the stairs. There was a collective tinkling of spoons as they either applauded with a tap on a wine glass or went for another bite themselves.
Kholaf couldn’t help himself. He’d timed everything perfectly, so there was nothing to worry about. He brought out his portpass and examined it as if reading a novel, clearly flaunting its insignia in front of the unwanted guests. They stared back exactly the way he wanted. They now knew he was from the garden state. Back in the days of his father that would’ve meant New Jersey, off in the United States, but most of that was long drowned. The new garden state was his home land, his sovereign land, and it had nearly everything the rest of the world wanted.
Protester Speech Protester Rage Protester Threat
They stood. Strange. Kholaf was expecting an outburst. He’d planned for one. Nothing they said would be taken seriously if they couldn’t hold their mess in before they made it to the podium. How were they suddenly calm? The young woman had a vice grip on her man’s hand. In the other she held a folder, a rather rough-looking thing no doubt made from seaweed paper.
The Japanese ambassador stopped mid-sentence once they were out of earshot. She tucked into her sorbet and paid no attention to either them or Kholaf. For his part, he dropped his spoon, tucked his portpass away, and turned to face them. They had something to say? Fine. What could they offer the man with everything? The man with enough footing to grow his own food?
The woman took the podium and opened her folder. Her man stood behind her, clasped his hands in front of him, and bowed his head as if in prayer. She cleared her throat, and a few of the audience murmured. Kholaf knew the jokes. They likely suggested she was clearing the salt from her systems.
“What I’ve seen here today is truly amazing,” she opened. “It is amazing that the most powerful people in the world can stand here, with the united ocean behind them, and declare anthropogenic climate change to be a fiction.” The dignitaries rolled their eyes. More of this nonsense. More of their ankle-high propaganda.
She pulled a piece of paper out of her folder and held it up. She bowed her head, but got louder.
“You deny it because you’ve never had to live its reality; you’ve been able to choose your own by birthright, landright, or legacy, where ninety percent of the world has had nothing but water or creeping water upon infertile sand. So, under the guise of convincing you, of us working together, we have brought this.” She shook the paper.
At the word guise many of the security guards moved into position on either side of the podium. Their hands moved to their firearms, but they didn’t undo the holster buttons yet. All she had was a piece of paper. Kholaf adjusted himself in his seat. He felt unsteady, like he was back on the cramped submarine. No, he felt like he was in their submarine, packed into it with a hundred and eleven other bodies, all breathing and sweating and complaining on him.
He closed his eyes and retreated back to the garden state. They couldn’t touch him there. It was nothing but rolling fields of grain, textiles, and orchards. They had grown the fibers to make his portpass. They had grown the trees for his little swirling red aglets. Why did he agree to come out here? If it was the sea, it wasn’t his business.
“You checked us for weapons, but not for isotopes,” she said. Everyone’s ears perked up. “There is a radioactive tag in these sheets of paper. They are guiding an aquatic missile to this location as we speak.” Dignitaries bolted from their chairs. Suddenly they wanted to be in the water. The young woman continued. “You’ve denied it all along, so we brought the truth to you. Here is the destruction you’ve avoided with your words, with your money, with the clay in your treads!”
The guards pulled their weapons and shot the two of them. They did not struggle. The woman clenched the radioactive paper in her fist. The guards wrenched it free, trying to hurry it out to the beach. If they could just get it away from the island. Without that summit, there was nowhere left to meet that wasn’t claimed land or deck. The nations might begin arguing over whose venue was best for their continued narrative. Whoever held the venue held the pen.
Kholaf was next in line to receive it. The garden state was small, but no place on Earth was as fertile anymore. He wanted to live, he wanted people forced to his shores, forced to their way. It was simply nature for the ground to be power. Those not from it couldn’t even kneel without it.
Kholaf Runs Kholaf Swims Kholaf Flies
His eyes opened. He couldn’t do any of that if he was dead. He shot to his feet, knocking poor table forty-one over. It took their sorbet with it. The Japanese ambassador calmly righted her dessert and stood there, eating it and sighing with pleasure.
“We have to leave,” Kholaf said to no one in particular.
“It’s a missile versus an island. It’s over,” his table partner said. “Enjoy what’s left.” She grabbed his bowl off the ground and licked it clean. Kholaf had other designs. He ran. He plowed through everyone else, ran over them as if they were the ground, his shoes knocking out teeth here and there. He beat everybody else outside.
All she said was ‘a missile’. There was no size clarification. They didn’t say ‘torpedo’ either, so even though it was in the water, it would likely be coming out and striking directly. Kholaf pinpointed the furthest point of the shore, furthest from the summit, and ran. He pretended he was back home, running through the orchards, chasing his giggling bride-to-be and their nieces, pretending to be a monster.
There were no orchards here, no trees at all. Grasses and moss and stone and pavement. Kholaf left them all behind as he made it to the sand. There he stopped, just at the edge of the surf. That was the sea; there was no salvation there. Kholaf was a creature of the land, of distinct winters and autumns. He would not forfeit his body to the brine. He didn’t have to drink from the desalinator.
Others caught up and flung themselves into the surf. No dignity. No commitment to their homegrown narrative. He wondered where they’d ever gotten their confidence; none of their homes could’ve been as solid as his.
Something screamed through the air behind him. The summit was hit. The island roared in pain and vomited fire and debris. The shock wave threw kholaf off his feet and into the water. His submarine had to be out there somewhere, so he suffered the indignity of swimming.
He had to get there. He had to get back. When he surfaced the fifth time he found a metal ladder. The side of the sub. He pushed someone else away, a Belgian perhaps, and climbed all the way up. He dropped down into the vessel and coughed, trying to get the salt out of his mouth. He snapped his fingers, barely audible because of how shriveled they were, and ordered someone to bring him a glass of real water from one of the garden state’s rivers.
Nobody handed him a thing. He looked over. This was not his crew. They all held seaweed signs. He had assumed complaints, but they bore mostly pleas.