Sea of Storms


Water, she said -is the glass half empty to you? If you mean: am I an optimist then no, it's half full. We were sitting around a small table at the dinner buffet. There were windows all round, on the roof of the small street corner hotel and dark slate clouds hung over the Straits of Johore where a bunch of ragtag scientists and me, a philosopher-mathematician, were meeting to debrief on the world crisis which I had started.


And what happens if I upturn the glass? She continued, making a point. Is your glass now dry and your lap wet? Yes.... I winced, expecting the punchline. Then take off your pants and wring them, math genius. The table roared with laughter. Daphne looked like she just caught a 4-foot tuna. She turned kindly and put a coaster over the glass and held it, turning it upside-down. It held onto the coaster and nothing spilt. This is what we've got to get out, she said.


We should do it, said Boris, the Russian expert on high altitude winds. He nodded solemnly. What we do is we put the fusion reactors into the ocean and then, as the water all evaporates, the Earth will cool, finally the increased amount of vapor in the atmosphere will brake and burn up the asteroids. After a -say small -impact, the Sun will be hidden for a while but with the thicker atmosphere, we can make it. It will also rain easier, and the haze will clear sooner, said Bob, the American physicist.


They looked at me, the group of scientists. Well? Bob asked. Is there anything we've missed? Don't interrogate the poor guy, said Boris, there'll be plenty of storms that's all -and I'm going to vote "yes". We retired to our rooms.


There was a knock on the door -it was Daphne. You know, I didn't mean to embarrass you, she said, looking condescending and kind as only she could. I've had a rough life as well. I know the pressure on you is max right now and everything had better work. I nodded. She reached into her handbag and pulled out a mask. You'll need this tomorrow morning.


I was up at 6am. I took a shower and combed my bedraggled hair back. The room lamp was set on dim and threw an orange light across, turning the small corner strip of window into a mirror. I went up to the glass and touched it -it was cold and frosted with dew. I opened the window and fog rushed in, condensing in the air-conditioning. I rushed to the elevator clinging on to my mask, not knowing how to put it on.


A hotel staffer showed me how as I entered the rooftop dining room. Make sure the eye goggles are tight, she said, and the fuel cell, turned on. Can you breathe? Yes, I said. It won't be so easy later. I took out my phone and did a panorama of the port city as the sun came up. It felt like we were on top of a mountain with rolling foggy clouds moving among the lowrises and yes -it was quite a bit of a struggle to breathe but not terribly uncomfortable.


Boris sipped his coffee through the breathing mask's mouth straw. Bob dunked his teabag absentmindedly while staring out the window, and Daphne had on a sequined gown which I guessed was for the television interview. How do you eat? I rasped, through the voice transmitter, sounding like a Stormtrooper. Beats me, she replied. How does my mascara look? I laughed. Yes, I have a wet lap, I admitted, pushing the food aside. If they had vaporized any more of the ocean, nothing on Earth would make it, said Bob. Hope you know where we come in. I nodded like a pet dog. 13% -that's your bang for the buck. You know, Boris, I've always wanted to challenge you to a game of chess. The Russian looked up from his tablet slate and raised an eyebrow. Here, now? He said, tapping open the app. I'll have the sausages to go, I told a waiter.


Kid, I don't know how to tell you this, Daphne confided, but I've always wanted an Asian guy. Well, here I am, I said. She laughed. As a chess partner. Don't you play, math whiz? I said I don't count moves. Neither do I. You know, Australia seems like a good place to live, like a month from now, I think, she calculated mentally. And so is Death Valley and the Gobi Desert, but I digress. We stared at each other through the transparent mass of tubes and wires across our faces, and she laughed. I don't think I need it anymore. She turned and left through the lobby doors, into the foggy Malaysian morning. But I do.... I whispered to myself.


A child came up to me: where are all the animals, sir? I looked at him huffing through the mask and knelt on one knee. They don't have masks. I ruffled his hair and told him not to worry. You've built an ark then? He asked. Yes, what happens to them? Said his father, holding the news open in his hand. We haven't been told. Reckon most of them just die? Actually, we've thought of that, I said, stammering. It sounds cruel but most every animal we could catch, or lure is by now, in hibernation. And a lot of people too -soon. Snakes, bears, lots of creatures can go under, it just takes a bit of coaxing. That way we have more food. The kid smiled. They think of everything, said his father rubbing his shoulders nervously. We'll walk, the car wouldn't start, he said as they left.


The high-speed rail to Singapore city was shrouded in fog, so it looked like a steam train had pulled up to the station. I got on board and pressed my mask valve open, breathing the dehumidified cabin air. To the left, an immense compound rainbow had formed with all its colors clearly visible. I posted it on my Facebook. Coming for the conference then? Replied Daphne.


The Shangri-La was a hive of activity. Press badges were everywhere. I pushed through to the courtyard balcony where she was standing after the presentation, in her sparkling green mermaid gown, taking questions. She saw me wave and said, no more questions. Amidst the LED flashes and raised voices, security guided us to the open-air atrium. Look up, said Daphne. It's a storm, I said looking up into the flashing grey, white eye. You know why I wore this? She asked, head tilted. We're going to get wet. I started to speak when the first of the giant raindrops landed on my L'Orealed hair. That -is going to be one hell of a killer, said the government scientist moving in on me -for the next 50 years, kid, so you had better kiss me now.

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