Friday, August 1, 2014

Chapter 28

The boat pulled alongside a metal pier.  The escort soldiers hopped off and tugged on mooring ropes until the boat was secured.  Then they hooked a walkway from the pier to the boat’s deck.  Peggy Lee, Ian, Graham, and Charley disembarked. 
Despite the slight morning breeze, the air was quickly growing stale and heavy.  The dark steel pier concentrated the sun’s intensity.  Above them, the top of the three-story pontoon radiated thick heat waves; it looked like the sky was melting.  Graham noticed that Peggy Lee had broken a sweat.  She produced a neatly folded, blue handkerchief from her back pocket and wiped her brow.  Graham wanted a drop of her sweat on his tongue.  He imagined that it would taste like sweet tea.
The group walked up a flight of stairs.  By the time that they reached the top of the pontoon, everyone was sweating profusely.  The breeze was stronger up top, but it did not really make a difference; this kind of heat penetrated everything, even the wind.
From the walkway that circled the massive pontoon, they could see down into the boiler unit, which was framed by a second immense pontoon about a mile away.  Between the two pontoons, a vast network of cables hung like a web under four feet of water, supporting thousands of heating nodes. 
“It’s amazing,” Peggy Lee said.  While Ian set up, Peggy Lee checked her face in a compact and then positioned herself next to Graham at the guardrail overlooking the network of heating elements.  “Is this the right spot?” she asked Ian.
“Looks good to me,” he answered as he flipped on his array of cameras.
After the interview, they all returned to the boat and took refuge from the heat in the air-conditioned bridge.  The boat headed farther west to the solar farm, where long rows of giant, floating solar panels reached out to the horizon. 
“Three solar farms power the water production facilities,” Graham explained.  “This one is the largest, with dimensions roughly the size of Rhode Island.  Each panel is approximately the size of a football field and is set at a 32-degree angle.  They track the sun from sunrise to sunset.” 
“They look like huge wedges of metallic cheese,” Peggy Lee remarked as they began to cruise between two rows. 
Graham continued, “The electricity that’s generated is transmitted via massive underwater cables to the central power transfer and storage facility on the Farallon Platform.  From there, the power goes out to the boiler units, which transform it to back to heat and then to fog.”
As he spoke, Graham wondered what would become of the solar panels after the facilities were shuttered.  Would the U.S. government try to sell them?  Or install them back east?  Would pirates beat the government to it?  Or the Alaskans?  Or would the panels just sit and fry in the heat – a remarkable relic – until they eventually sank to the bottom of the ocean? 
After touring the solar farm, Captain Sherwood set a course for the Farallon Platform.  Despite the comfortable cool air in the bridge, Graham returned to the deck.  Peggy Lee was busy talking to Ian, and Graham did not feel like disturbing them.  Now, his stomach rumbled.  He was looking forward to getting to the mess hall on the Platform.
He sat down on a bench with no shade and closed his eyes.  The sun burned into his pale forehead and cheeks, but he wanted a fair dose of vitamin D before heading back into the fog. 
As the boat rocked towards its destination, he drifted into a semi-sleep.  He had been thinking about Peggy Lee, and now a somnolent dream took shape.  He was riding a mule into the desert.  Peggy Lee had been right behind him on a white horse, but when he looked back, he couldn’t see her.  The sky was heavy red velvet.  The sun, a hazy globe directly overhead, scorched his head.  Small clumps of desert grasses burst into flame at the mule’s feet.  Large cactuses on the horizon smoldered like torches.  He looked behind him again, but he still could not find Peggy Lee.  Was he the last human on earth?  If he could find Peggy Lee, perhaps together they could survive.
The mule turned down into a large basin.  Graham wanted to go back and look for Peggy Lee, but it was too late – the mule refused.  A windstorm kicked red dust high into the sky.  The dust commingled with the velvet sky, creating an upside down bowl of dark, thick heat.  The sky began to press down on the landscape while the bowl’s edges crept down the sides of the basin.  Graham spurred the mule on.  He did not want to get caught in the wind and dust.  He knew now that he would never see Peggy Lee again – he knew that this remaining capsule of land and sky was all that was left of the earth.  When they reached the lowest point in the basin, Graham surveyed the sky.  The sun was gone, swallowed by the thick, red clouds that swirled around him.  He stood inside the shrinking globe of breathable air.  The mule tossed him to the ground and ran, braying madly, headlong into the dust storm. 
Graham could do nothing to save himself.  The dense, blowing sands were upon him.  He struggled for air; he covered his mouth and nose with his shirt.  The wind whipped his bare skin, chaffing it.  The blood on his arms became instantly caked with grit.  He fell to the ground and tried to shield himself from the force of the storm.  The sand below him gave way and he fell headlong into the earth.  His descent slowed and then stopped.  He found himself buried alive in the depths of the sandy desert.  The winds were gone.  Light was gone.  Graham could not move, and he could not breathe.

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