A very rough first draft of an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for about two months now. Best to get it set down before NaNoWriMo takes over my attention!
“Follow the sun. Follow the sun home…” Every morning I’ve watched the sunrise, and known that someday, somehow, I’d follow the sun all the way back home to your arms. Soon, I promise. I’m on my way.
The Cape is notorious; if the weather doesn’t get you, the pirates will. So far, we’ve managed to avoid the raiding parties that anchor near the coast, and the waves have been calm, with a strong wind in the sails. Good fortune on our part, although Skip favours divine intervention. “She’s blessed by the gods, Tom” he always says. “The sea loves The Redemption.”
Maybe. In the three years I’ve sailed on her I don’t recall us losing anyone – passenger, crew, cargo. No-one wants to risk attacking The Redemption. If we’re favoured by the gods, then you don’t want to go pissing off those same gods, just in case your next voyage isn’t so favourable. We were attacked once, maybe two years ago now? Just east of the Caribbean coast. Rumours spread shortly after the attack, about how they didn’t find all the bodies. Pirates are a superstitious lot, and took that as a sign – the gods really did favour The Redemption. In reality, you don’t attack a ship carrying vital supplies to the 23rd Marine detachment and not expect some blowback.
Food, guns, dignitaries, people, refugees – we will take anything, anywhere. It’s what we do, it’s why we’re called Redemption. Like our sister ships Hope, Faith and Charity we offer a glimmer of optimism in a bleak world. No matter how bad things have been, no matter how bad they are at the moment, we offer a chance. If you’ve served your time and you need to get home, we’ll take you there. If you’re in trouble, chances are we’ll be bringing the rescue team.
One by one I watch the stars fade out of sight, as the inky velvet of the night gives way to a pale azure that heralds the approaching sun. My watch is almost over, and so is my term of service. Two weeks on from the Cape I’ll be dropped on shore, free to go, free to rejoin my family, free to be with my love again.
Five years ago the closest I’d ever come to the seas was when I used to walk on the beach with my girl, watching the waves roll over our feet. That was before the lights went out worldwide. I was in New York on business. Business. That makes me laugh now. Pushing a service nobody wanted onto people we didn’t care about. Things had already become expensive by then. The only way I could afford to be in New York was because the company paid for the flights. We knew a problem was coming, but we were all in denial. Gas at the pumps was pricey, but hey, someone would come up with some kind of electric car or something. Oil running low in the Middle East? Of course it wasn’t, that was just OPEC raising the stakes. Business as usual.
Except it wasn’t. The oil fields really were dry. Everywhere. Gas too. And coal. We’d been running an energy deficit in the decade leading up to the big switch off, and the scientists, the environmentalists, they’d all predicted it, but the politicians and the public – we didn’t really want to know.
Until it was too late. The announcement by OPEC that they hadn’t produced more than a couple of hundred barrels of crude a day for the past six months rocked the planet. They had been secretly exhausting their reserves, giving the impression that production was fine, hoping they’d find a new supply, and they’d then restock on the quiet. But the reserves were completely gone, and suddenly the whole supply chain was in freefall. When we realised that what we had was ALL we had, the panics began. Governments had to step in and conserve what they could. First, all non-essential travel was axed. Then came the big switch off. Shut downs on the national grid supply systems across the planet. No power supplies during the day except to essential services. Limited domestic supply at night.
I instantly became part of a new class of people. Energy refugees. People trapped outside their own countries and unable to get back home because they couldn’t fly, drive, take a train, whatever. You could walk, if there was a land border. I had an ocean in my way. Out of the question.
I hear you can still bribe your way on to military flights. That’s not the great idea it seemed five years ago. But at the time, if you had a spare $25,000 or so, you could get a ride home. The military always seemed to be able to fly, even today. When The Redemption put in to Tokyo last year, I swear I saw a couple of fighters on the horizon.
Energy refugees had to earn their keep. We didn’t belong, we were a burden, so we were put to work, essentially slave labour. The idea at first was we’d earn citizenship, and just stay where we were. But the General Strike put paid to that idea. What were they going to do, deny us citizenship if we didn’t work? Deport us? That’s what we wanted! We just wanted to get home. So that was the compromise. Energy refugees could work, and earn the one thing most people were now denied. The right to travel. We put in our time, and we get a travel permit and a free pass to our homes.
I’d never sailed, but boats were the popular jobs. After the oil dried up, some countries realised they could produce a fair amount of energy from solar, wind and wave power. Others realised that although they couldn’t produce the power, they could produce food. The food rich states send supplies to the energy rich states, who in return supply enough power that we can all sort of muddle by. What a world we live in now. We’ve got indoor electric lights, since LEDs don’t use much power. But we cook on woodfire stoves. We ride horses, not cars. But we can listen to the radio, and once a week there’s television. And the sailing ships bring essential supplies around the world, as well as delivering energy refugees to their homes.
This is my last voyage. Most people have to serve between five and ten years, depending on how far they have to go, what sort of work they do; it’s all about the energy it takes to get you home and the value your work has. Serving on The Redemption was a lucky break for me, it gives special dispensations. We’re a Neo-Clipper – fastest ships in the water. Low crew numbers, high capacity for cargo. We go where other ships won’t, and we do it faster than any other ships. Dangerous cargo, dangerous waters, dangerous deadlines. So, in recognition of the extreme danger, my service was pegged at three years, despite the distance. When we get into port, my three years will be up. I’ll be home. Just over the horizon, where the sun rises…