I remember back in Thirty Nine all the campaigning and competitions to save one building. Each Capitol City was given the chance to save one special building. Somewhere to retreat to, grow food in the Hydroponics Galleries, somewhere to watch the rain. The endless deluge. London voted for Tate Modern. The Artists won. And the work began. Seven long years later the building work was complete. It had been the only work available in the city. Every Builder, every Artist, the poor the wealthy, everyone who could, worked on the site. Nine massive pillars now support the Turbine Hall at over a hundred and sixty four feet above London. No one ever thought the water would one day be lapping at the doors. Even then no one really knew how bad it would become. Scientists kept promising sea levels would stop rising after the ice melted. Weather would stabilise by 2050 they promised. Secretly it was known that the weather would never return to that paradise of sunshine and showers talked of by the few Old Ones who survive.
There has been no sunlight this year. Not a day without rain. The Children don’t mind, they have no innate longing for sunshine. They play under the solar lamps absorbing the life giving light. Run with joy under the massive legs of Maman. Giggling. Playing chasing games as the Curators watch. They swim tethered to buoys around the Sea Room in the specially heated Warm Pool. Mothers joke that one day a baby will be born with gills. We shall return to the sea they say. And laugh. It makes me feel cold and sick. I am too old. I long for the sun. Today is my birthday, no one has noticed. I am forty eight. One of the Old Ones. Perhaps next year I will go for the Longswim and not return.
The sea stretches for miles in all directions. There is a dull greenness to it, and here and there the remains of a tall building reaches above the waves. People get about in boats. Rowboats. Sailboats. Houseboats. I remember cars. The road. Driving. Blinding sunlight and being grateful for the rain. How things change. But today something different happened. It was like a scene from the Vid Screen. A small black speedboat came whizzing over the water. It must have been powered by some exotic engine. Everyone stopped reading to gather at the Window and see. It must be coming here. It must. The whispering grew. The shock was palpable as the boat sped away. One woman cried. Then the children started. A wailing grew in the Turbine Hall. The endless deluge was creating its own atmosphere of tension and despair. We have become caged People with our precious Artworks, our Treasures. Our Precious things. I wonder what would have happened if the Scientists had won the vote. I was an Young Artist, back then, and I voted for them of course. But perhaps I was wrong.
The Lead Artist has called a meeting. Everyone must go. There are people calling for a boat to go after the Speedboat. Others argue the pointlessness of such a venture. It must be hundreds of miles away by
now. But the longing for a new power, that feeling of speed is like an infectious drug amongst us all. What Super Power could have developed such a wondrous thing people mutter. But they don’t let the Artists hear. People fear having to take the Longswim. As we all do in the end. Except for Louise B. of
course. She is kept alive. It is her Spider that we worship after all. “All that you desire is never enough.” Those were her last words. She lies sleeping now.
The meeting didn’t go well. Afterwards we watched as twenty three of our Number got into a Sailboat and left. There were twelve Curators and a Director in the group. The Artists were not pleased by this
departure. Warnings about further departures and the dire consequences that would follow were posted
in the Turbine Hall. Tonight even the food tasted of rain.
Over one hundred of our Number left today. Only those with young children are too frightened to leave. I watched them leaving. Sailing away. I wanted to go. Out into the rain. To see what was left of the world. But I couldn’t, I was too frightened. It was Reading Day. I read The War of the Worlds again. To remember another world. Where in the end it got better. There was disaster and terror, a terrible spreading fear, but the world survives. People survive. What will happen to us now. There has to be a certain Number to survive here in our Art Gallery. Food must be grown. The Solars and Winds need maintenance. The Artworks must be cared for.
I had a terrible dream last night. The Speedboat came and it stopped. But it was empty. There was no magic engine or new energy developed in some far off place that would save us from the endless rain. Then I woke and felt sick. And there it was floating gently, bumping into the dock. Black and shiny. It seemed to have no unbroken line. Impenetrable. And then I saw him standing on the balcony holding
something. Something I remembered from a Christmas long ago. Remote control. That was how it worked. This was some trick by the Artists. They wanted us to go. They wanted more space for their Artworks. And then I woke up. I felt sick.
It is so cold today.
Today marks the anniversary of my child’s death. I know there was nothing I could have done. It haunts me still though. The guilt. The sadness of losing her to the waves. The endless sea.
The friction between the Artists and the People has grown. There are strange rumours. I wonder sometimes if my dream wasn’t a dream. Other people talk of it. That strange boat mooring at the Dock. And the Artist with the Remote Control. But I told no-one.
I spent the day in the Quite Quiet White Room today. No outside. Nothing. Just white. I tried not to think about the Speedboat. The cold. The rain. But even in there I thought I could hear it. The far off drumming of rain.
I spent so long working on the Hydroponics Trays in the Food Hall my back has stiffened. I keep thinking about the boat. Where is it now? I cannot concentrate on my book. It is Reading Day. I must read. It is cold. My back aches. I decide the only solution is a Painkiller. Time to visit the Damien Hirst. The Dispenser hands over one Painkiller with cold disapproving eyes which bore into the back of my head even as I walk away. I lie back down and savour the effects of the Painkiller. I hate myself for giving in to the pain.
It is Christmas Eve. But only the Old Ones remember. Christmas was banned in 2026. Excessive consumption was no longer tolerated. Now all that passes between those that remember is a small smile. The one that says Yes I too remember the Old Times. Celebrations, shops full of endless gadgets and toys. And food like you have never seen. The taste of honey. And birds that flew in the sky. And Aeroplanes. Children laugh at that one.
Something incredible has happened. And on Christmas Day. No one else can see the significance of it. The rain has stopped. Blue sky. Everyone has rushed to the roof to feel the sunlight. They all run around screaming even the Artists and Directors. The Conservators and Curators check Atmospheric Levels. And then it happened. Everyone froze. The boat was back. Speeding over the beautiful blue sea. It was real. The sunlight dazzled on the water. The shiny black Speedboat glided gently to the Dock. All the children ran. Down the stairs. Towards the boat. A few seconds later the Adults recovered
from the shock and fear. And ran. Towards the boat. We Old Ones were the slowest of all. The last to see what happened next.
There are twenty nine of our Number left now. Fourteen are the infants who were sleeping in the Crèche on that fateful day when the Speedboat did that terrible strange thing. I hid. Once I saw what was happening. The Children were first, sucked straight into the blackness of the shiny hull. I didn’t understand what was happening. Then the Adults, they tried to resist. But they must have been too
close. I shall never forget the screaming. And then it was gone, speeding away. There was silence. No rainfall drumming. No Children laughing and playing. Till a cry came from the Crèche and those of us left came running. The same look of terror stamped on all our faces.