Graham instantly felt the heat from the ship’s deck rising up and filling the air around him. It was just past nine o’clock, but the sun burned bright and hot already. He walked over to a dark corner of shade created by the bridge overhead where no one could see him. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.
He heard the entrance portal being secured, and then the boat’s engines grumbled to life. He opened his eyes and sat down on a nearby bench as the ship began to move. The sunny bulk of the Platform slowly started to disappear. There were no gulls here, no squawking, no fluttering about, no pecking. No people waving good-by. The still air surrounding the boat was empty – empty and hot. He had been on this exact trip perhaps hundreds of times, but it was different today. In the bright sunlight, the Platform, the islands, and the ocean all looked so depressingly desolate.
He remembered a scene from an old time movie he had picked up a few years back. A ferry filled with families – children, dogs, smiling adults, and friendly grandparents – departed for a lovely vacation island somewhere on the east coast. Everyone wore the anticipation of summer-filled days on their faces as the boat turned away from the dock and headed out into the seas. The birds, so wonderfully loud and excited, swooped and cried out, marking the boat’s departure like white fireworks and an out-of-tune brass band. A little girl waved to the disappearing shoreline; her father stood next to her in his stylish sunglasses, breathing in the warm salted air, with a relaxed and contented smile on his handsome face.
Graham scanned the vast, flat horizon. There was no sign of life anywhere, just the massive, metallic boilers floating listlessly here and there throughout the blue, dead canvas that lay before him. He felt like he was the only living thing for hundreds of miles around.
Had it been the fog that obscured this vast emptiness for so many years? Graham tried to remember what he normally thought about when leaving the Platform – details mostly, boiler performance, rain accumulation, fog density, soldiers’ assignments, schedules, graphs, charts, all of the everyday minutiae that seemed at the time so critically important. Now, the fog was gone, and the sun illuminated the world as it is, as it truly is without the manipulations of the water production facilities. Was it the sun, he wondered, or Peggy Lee? No matter, really, the effect was like a powerful drug. Everything had changed. A new crystalline reality – bleak, hard, and stiflingly hot – had replaced the fog of before.
Where was he going to go now? He realized that he could not stay at the water production facilities any longer. He would resign. He didn’t want to study drought reports, rain tallies, and fog production numbers any more. He could not even stomach the thought of it. Why had he spent so much of his life in this futile pursuit of water – this futile pursuit of life? He knew now that no matter what he did, the planet would become completely uninhabitable, maybe just for eons . . . maybe forever. He had no remaining energy for his task – his life’s mission.
He had been fighting against a problem that had been created way before his time. Decisions that were made decades, even centuries, ago – along with the slow responses of government and the reams of pseudo-scientific justifications and miscalculations created by big, profiteering corporations designed to maintain the status quo – had caused the winds to shift and the currents of the oceans to go haywire, the skies to grow cloudless and the ground to dry up. Graham had been struggling against the inevitable downfall of man. A long history had led up to this point, and now a simple, unyielding momentum would carry all of the inhabitants of the earth into a bleak, red-hot, and lifeless future. Graham stood face-to-face with the fate of man, and he felt nothing but pure exhaustion. Extinctions and suffering, catastrophic plagues and famines would continue, but he knew that he had done enough. He could stomach no more. He had participated in this disaster, he had tried to pitch in and make things better, but now all he wanted was out.
He would not wait around to hear about the failings of the space exploration program. He did not want to watch the government scramble and fail to construct a large-scale space station. For, at this point, it was too late; the sands were running low in the hourglass of humanity.
And even if, by some miracle, one of the space escape programs turned out to be successful, the thought of evacuating earth, the only planet that had ever produced life, made Graham sick. Humans would be leaving as the destroyers of the planet, the cause of our own demise – the lowly species responsible for the elimination of all of the other beautiful forms of life that once ran, flew, and swam across the globe. Humanity would exit like a lowly dog with its tail between its legs.
He wanted nothing to do with it. And he couldn’t bear to watch it anymore. He could not ignore the decline, while trying to live out his remaining years in Southern California – or wherever. He could not pretend that nothing was wrong. He wanted to go back, back to the farm, when it was still raining. He wanted to see the thunderheads gather over the Missouri, to feel those rising and cooling winds that foretold the coming downpour . . . to taste those first few drops of natural rain. He wanted to sit on the porch of his parents’ old farm house to watch the sheets approach and then fill the barnyard with muddy puddles of cool water.
He saw images from the past – the oil rich past – when everyone had a car, and people flew from city to city without ever thinking twice about the consequences to the earth’s atmosphere. He wished he had been born back then, when humans still believed that they were not despoiling the planet – and that Mother Nature would prove invincible. Maybe he would have been an oil executive, rich beyond his wildest imagination. The titans of industry would have come to Graham for guidance – how can we make more money? And in his blissful ignorance, Graham would have told them, go faster, drill deeper, burn more, that’s how you make more money. Graham was surrounded by opulence and fortune, beautiful women and cars, boats and bodyguards.
But then Graham saw how it really would have been. He would have been a longhair, a hippy, a radical fighting to change the course of human history. He would have argued, ranted and raved. He would have painted signs and marched in demonstrations with his other “extremist” friends. He would have written letters to his congressmen and organized voters for every election. They would have celebrated victories, all the while knowing in their heart of hearts the pyrrhic nature of each tiny win. He would have spent a lifetime fighting for a change that the rest of humanity was not ready to make. He would have grown old, bitter, and unhappy. He would have thrown rocks at the windows of the limousines, but he would have never had a chance of influencing anybody. He would have been an outsider, a nobody . . . for he would always have been born on the wrong side of history. In this vision, he cared so deeply for his failing mission that it eventually killed him.
Sweat poured down his forehead as he sat staring out at the horizon. The boat turned slightly, bringing the bench into full sun. He was bone tired and decided that he should just wait there until he caught fire, immolated like the monks of long ago on the boat’s red hot deck.