Taking on another of Chuck Wendig’s prompts, I rolled two 10s to get the above title. This is what came of it.
A wave like a small mountain hovered above the weather-worn sloop like a warning. But it mercilessly crashed down anyway, snapping the homemade mast in two. It tugged the blue sails into the darkening sea, tipping the ship precariously. Sobbing with terror, Pania sliced at the ropes with her hunting blade, her frozen fingers slipping on the handle. Another wave slammed her hard against the railing and the rope trailed through her fumbling fingers. Listing where the sail had gone under, the boat whirled around, trying not capsize.
Scrabbling across the slick deck, Pania grabbed on to the taut rope and sawed. A sudden keel and her hand gushed blood, dull under the storm clouds hanging low. Despite the stinging in her hand she kept sawing, the thrashing of her former sails making the boat swing and dance about.
Another wave blasted over the deck of the boat, swirling Pania off her feet and slamming her head against the boards. She was saved from being swept overboard only by the line she’d secured herself to the boat with. Groggily, she realised she had lost the knife. As lightning forked overhead, she caught the glint of silver. She dived, stretching for the knife, as the ocean relentlessly pounded her down.
It was gone, and her boat was being dragged under by the weight of the water in the sails. Pania wondered whether it would be better to chance the open waters until the partially cut rope snapped with the weight and she was flung from the boat.
Even with the tether, she was being subsumed by the raging waters, one wave slamming on her head before she’d had a chance to take a breath after the last. Weakening from the struggle and her bleeding hand, the cold sapping the little energy she had left, Pania drifted. She would never again see the rolling hills of home or hear the calls of the kea. The old men who didn’t believe in her would be right. Sinking felt so peaceful.
Vaguely, she might have noticed being lifted in the air, on to a sleek, metallic boat. If you asked at that moment, Pania would have said it was a dream. When she awakened, she had no memory of her rescue.
In a bunk, with a scratchy blanket tucking her in tightly, Pania silently panicked. She didn’t recall escaping the grip of the waves, nor any of this brushed metal rescue vessel. Only the roll of the room gave away that she was still on the sea.
Climbing quietly and gingerly from the bed, Pania tried to remember. She was dressed in a fluoro-yellow jumpsuit, warm socks on her feet.
Suddenly an image appeared in front of her, of a man. “Welcome to the Nightingale, friend. I am glad to see you are awake.”
Pania reached out. She had heard tales of what once had been, before the Catastrophe, but it was so beautiful. The shimmer of light, projected into pure air.
“My name is Sam. Come upstairs to the helm.”
Pania startled as the wall moved back and she peered into the dim stairwell. She darted up the stairs, bounding from step to step. Another door hissed open, revealing bright sunshine. Overhead, the sky was clear and calm, and the light only enhanced the sleek metal lines of the ship. The way she skimmed on the surface was like a thing of magic.
A ladder led her toward the now unblemished blue of the sky. Pania ascended toward the bridge, the mirrored glass hiding her host from her view. With hesitancy, she entered the darker room.
Turning at the sound of her step, Sam was all smile, all the way up to his jewel green eyes. “I’m so glad to see you up and about.”
“I’m Pania.” Her hand took his and shook it. It was cooler than she was expecting.
“So,” Pania’s hand stroked the well-tended console reverently, admiring the whorls of her warrior status reflected in the surface, “how did you come by a ship from the before?”
Sam’s expression was confused. “The before?”
“You know. Before the Catastrophe?”
“What catastrophe? Where?” Forehead furrowing, Sam looked back at her blankly.
“Everywhere.” Pania stared at him. “How could you not have known?”
“I only just started commanding this vessel. We launched from Sydney 6 months ago.”
Pania blinked. “Sydney was one of the worst hit, almost 300 years ago. It’s been submerged for that long.”
Sam was incredulous. “I would have heard about it, and certainly would have made a log about it. When did you say it happened?”
“June 5th, 2063.”
“But it’s only May 20th today.”
“As best my people calculate it, it’s 2252.”
Sam turned away, his fingers flying over a console, where reams of dates spooled. All the same. Excepting the very last one, a week before the Catastrophe.
“How long have you been on this boat Sam?” Pania whispered, her eyes fixed on the screen.
A recording appeared near her head. It was Sam, his face as smooth as it was now. Distress twisted his features.
“I can’t do this on my own Carolynne. But I haven’t heard from you, and I know you would have found a way, if you were alive.”
“I searched for you, in the debris.” A stifled sob. “All of those people. Someone’s pool noodle. A paperback. A floating cemetery of everyday lives. No one deserved that.”
“It was supposed to be you and me together with just the open sea for a while. I feel like I’m slowly going crazy.”
An arm dashed across the image’s face. “When I said I couldn’t live without you, it wasn’t a lie. I have to erase all this, so I can dream you’re still coming home. I’m going back two weeks, continually erasing for as long as I can.”
“Goodbye firebrand. I miss you.”
The recording folded down to a square of light that flicked back into the console. Pania stood silently, assessing Sam whose face was wracked with grief.
“How are you still here Sam?”
Lifting his head for a moment, Sam smiled weakly. “I almost died in a severe accident. My brain was intact, so they saved me and put me in this body.”
Hand sliding palm facing revealed a glow. “My atomic heart powering my housing. I am an android.”
“Nightingale was designed to be a rescue ship, sailing Australian waters to rescue those in distress. When the last global war hit, and refugees were dying by the thousands in the Strait, this was the answer of the Australian people.”
“And who better to power it than the robotic naval captain?” His voice was bitter and far away.
“Have you been alone all this time?” Pania placed her hand on his arm.
“I don’t know.”
“I was trying to reach Australia,” Pania ventured. “I need to know if there are others alive out there. The Nightingale could help me, help us.”
Sam didn’t answer, his head bowed, hands in his artificial hair.
“I won’t leave you alone.” Pania squeezed his arm and he looked up at her.
He didn’t answer, but with some deft movements at the main console, he set a course.