Haven

WRITTEN BY
Karen Lord

ILLUSTRATED BY
Michela Buttignol

Lyndon Greaves sighed deeply and leaned his forefinger on the delete button for a long, long time. He stretched back in his chair, reached out for the glass of rum, breathed and sipped, and reread his last paragraph with a critical eye.

“In an era of climate change, many Barbadians rely on environmental control in their homes and workplaces to keep out heat, humidity, mosquitos, and Sahara dust. Construction has become a delicate, super-skilled undertaking. We expect our dwellings to be smaller, smarter, and stronger. Harbor Habitats Inc. claims to provide all this and more.”

Greaves wasn’t sure how to feel about the Habitats project. Public opinion was … mixed, to put it mildly. People complained loudly on the radio call-in programs and podcasts, protesters occasionally showed up at the gates of Parliament, but still the Habitats grew like a long, low scab on the horizon. All around Barbados, that horizon had been clean, pristine, and empty. The isolation was part of the Bajan identity, the privilege of having a moat of ocean around their own little secure haven. He understood that, even if he didn’t fully agree with it. His concerns were more specific.

He took a final sip of his rum, opened up another document and resumed typing until a quiet knock at the door made him stiffen. “Je suis prêt,” he lied.

In two minutes he was outside, surrounded by damp night air and the ever-shrill keening of tree frogs. Henri Leclaire was lounging in the yard, looking casual and fit in his black neoprene vest and swim shorts. Not quite James Bond, but close enough to make Greaves feel a bit foolish in his baggy nylon shorts and t-shirt. Leclaire took in his look with a quick up and down and silently offered him an inflatable belt pack. Greaves soberly put it on.

“Suivez moi. C’est pas loin.”

Greaves obediently followed over pebbled paths, uneven grass and vine-covered sand towards the susurration of breaking wavelets. A sliver of a moon and brilliant starlight gave him just enough light to see a long, dark slender shape. He stopped short and gave a noise of dismay.

“You said you know boats,” said Leclaire, both amused and accusing.

“That’s too small to be a boat.”

“It’s an outrigger canoe. Just sit in the back and keep a steady stroke with me. I think you can handle one kilometer.”

The protected bay granted them an easy launch, but as the water deepened, the swells grew stronger and more capricious. Greaves swallowed his fear and focused on matching rhythm with Leclaire. The lights of the coast receded, and a string of lights on the horizon grew brighter and nearer than all the stars. The sea calmed slightly, and Greaves perked up. Time to see the scab up close.

“Magnifique,” whispered Leclaire.

“Merde,” Greaves grumbled.

They called it a village, not a city, but the structure was sprawling, massive, like a lazy kraken fanning its tentacles over the surface of the ocean. At first Greaves thought Leclaire would secure the canoe and let them both scramble onto the boardwalks that were the lanes and paths of the floating village. But Leclaire was Bond enough not to do that; he wanted to keep their only chance of escape close by. He was right. A small motorboat passed by, sweeping the area with bright lamps.

“Take your pictures,” Leclaire urged him. “I don’t want to get caught.”

Harbor Habitats Inc. distributed their own PR-slick portfolio of glossy mockups of the final product. Greaves had no interest in that. What they never showed, and what he needed to see, were the servants’ quarters. Where would the cooks, cleaners and garbage collectors live? Was this truly a full community, or merely a floating hotel? He turned his head every which way so his small head-mounted camera could capture all that the naked eye could not see.

Even in half-finished form, with its guts and sinews exposed, the village was beautiful. He couldn’t deny that. Three-storied buildings clustered close in hexagonal symmetry of sixes and lozenge triads of threes. There were modern touches in the clear, curved, moonlit glass and the glittering mirror of solar panels, and the administrative center of the city bloomed in a bunch of geodesic domes, noseless igloos of smooth white stucco. But the curlicues of fretwork, the large, wraparound wooden galleries, and the bamboo struts echoed both the local architecture of 19th Century rural chattel house and merchant townhouse, and the timeless pseudo-rustic kitsch of beach bar and cabana.

Here I am, just as you see me, it seemed to say. No hidden windowless interiors to house sweating servants, no trailing offshoot island for the lower castes of maintenance and service. Everything neighborly with not even the screen of a paling to hide behind. It attracted and repelled, this combination of privacy and communality. Get along, or walk into the ocean.

He filmed and filled his files with images, until “Home,” said Leclaire firmly, and shoreward they went.

 

Leclaire later joined him in his living room for a warming, post-adventure glass of rum.

“I think you are too worried about this. We have these same constructions. Not so elaborate, but the same idea. We have always travelled from Guadeloupe to Dominica to Martinique to St Lucia – French, Kwéyòl, Patois, English – it doesn’t matter. So what if there is a stepping stone or two between?”

“You have waystations, not hotels. Not enclaves. They belong to you; you can use them.”

Leclaire waved his hand impatiently. “And these will belong to you too. For now, let the rich have their fun. Your government has been wise. The infrastructure is yours … all the anchorage, the rock, the growing reef … that is the price they pay for permission to construct. Let them have their fun, and when the wooden cabanas decay and the tourists leave, you move in and take over the foundations. Rebuild to your own dream.”

“I won’t live long enough to see that,” Greaves said with a pained smile.

“My friend, if we always had death in mind, we would never dare to start anything.”

Ding! A high, sweet chime rang through the night. Greaves retrieved his tablet and glanced idly at it, meaning only to silence it, but the name that appeared made him blink twice. “Sorry, Henri, I have to take this.”

Leclaire took the hint and focused intently on his rum, leaving Greaves to read and react to the message that had just arrived.

Tanesha Joseph: Hold your report. News from our UN mission in New York. Question of microstate sovereignty will be considered at next session.

Lyndon Greaves: Why?

Tanesha Joseph: Wish I knew. Think the Aussies are pushing back against Pacific Islander influence. Many islands lost, but their states can still vote. New Zealand neutral, but Japanese and Chinese backing it for their own reasons. Not sure where the NWSA stands.

Lyndon Greaves: Find out. Call me tomorrow morning.

Tanesha Joseph: Aye aye, skipper.

“Move in. Take over. Oh Henri, you prophet. Is it already time for that?”

“Time for what? What are you talking about?” Leclaire demanded.

“The sovereignty formula. Population times land-area times GDP equals some arbitrary but approved constant of survival and worth, without which you should not have a seat in the UN General Assembly.”

“Ah, that,” said Leclaire, coolly acknowledging his relative ignorance of the issue. “Well, we are Europe.”

“Yes, yes,” Greaves said impatiently. “You and Martinique are France and France is Europe, but we are only ourselves and we may not even have that for much longer. Unless we add artificial islands to the formula.”

Leclaire’s eyebrows did a dance of wicked glee. “Reaaally! Such interesting times we live in!”

“Not too interesting,” Greaves warned him. “But yes, that changes things.”

He almost laughed at his petty worries from three hours prior. Floating hotels—who cared! He was watching a much bigger game now.

 

#

Tanesha Joseph lay on a cot with a cushion over her head and tried not to scream.

“Don’t worry,” they’d told her. “There’s no safer place to be during a hurricane,” they’d insisted. And, because she was a journalist forever and terminally curious, she had allowed herself to be stranded with the essential crew of the farthest waystation east-south-east of St Lucia. In fact, she was practically at home, still within Lucian territorial waters, close to but not yet over the border into Barbadian seas. Not that it mattered, with Dora, a massive Category 5 hurricane, straddling the stretch from Roseau, Dominica to St George’s, Grenada.

She was fully informed on the strength of the geodesic domes, the foundations of the waystations, and the metal grids that surrounded them. She should have been reassured, but the wearing, hours-long shriek of hurricane strength winds was more than any human was meant to withstand. The season of 2040 had already been record-breaking for hurricanes Category 4 and above. What if Dora weakened the superstructure of concrete and alloy? What if the mooring cables snapped? What if her curiosity led to a long fall, and longer sink, and no body for her friends to bury?

She tried screaming. It didn’t help. She could barely hear herself.

When the noise died down at last, she slowly sat up, head spinning, and tried to order her thoughts. Others moved about the room, dazed but professional, and buttressed by their responsibility to the functioning of the waystation. They muttered quietly over their laptops and tablets and counted what sensors and gauges and buoys remained functional. When someone approached her, she barely noticed him until he laid a hand on her shoulder. Shaken from her trance, she reacted with a glare, suddenly infuriated by anyone who dared pretend at normality.

He reared back, astonished, stammered unintelligibly for a sentence or two, and then gathered his wits. “Get your camera. Come see the eye.”

Ordinary mortals are warned not to go outside when the eye of a hurricane passes over. Journalists, however, are not ordinary mortals, and even as a part of her still wailed in primal fear, Tanesha arose and took up her camera and followed without hesitation. Off they went, through the double doors with the equipment-packed vestibule between, and up the metal steps that wound through the supporting grid. She glanced back at the dome and noted how steady it looked, caged and cocooned in a nest of steel and wire. She left it behind and went bravely to the uppermost platform, which had been swept and scoured clean by the brutal winds. There was a freshness in the air and a faint scent of ozone.

“Look!” her guide commanded.

She looked. She’d seen images of the famous stadium effect, and heard tales from a colleague who had been brave enough to fly with the hurricane hunters. None of it matched the real-life visual of stacked clouds, white and thick as seafoam, a never-breaking wave held in suspension. The sun peeked over the crest of that wave, silvering the edge with its blaze. She turned around and around, staring, uncertain whether the leap of her heart was awe or fear.

“Take pictures!”

Even in the midst of his own awe, he was laughing at her. She switched the camera on, lofted it vertically, and let it fly free to determine the right angles and exposures while she stared again for the vault of her memory.

“Time to go back,” he said at last.

What was that accent? German? Dutch? He was a junior engineer, one of the global staff recruited for their combination of qualifications and adventurous spirit. She would look up his name later to add to her account of Dora’s passing. She called the camera to return, clipped it to her utility vest, and followed the engineer back to the safety of the dome. She even remembered herself enough to thank him.

The atmosphere inside was more relaxed. People were chatting, eating and drinking. Whatever the data was saying, it was nothing bad. Perhaps the waystations were Category 5 capable after all. Perhaps they might all live.

And then, because it was finally quiet and because she was a journalist, she pulled out her tablet and began to download and organize the photos and footage she had just taken. When that was finished, she returned to her drafts and pulled up an article in progress.

“The floating cities of Harbor Habitats Inc. were a corporate project taken over by the government out of public interest. The South Caribbean Waystations are a far stranger beast. They began as the experiments of a global non-governmental organisation, HAVEN, whose main sources of funding include the Vatican, the monarchy of Liechtenstein, and the Foundation of the Aga Khan. This multinational project attracted both civil and corporate attention, and within three years, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) became a major shareholder. Their intent is visionary, the timescale generational. Some day, some decade in the future, we will build bridges between the waystations from island to island.

“Four years ago, the North Western States of America vetoed the sovereignty formula, but no-one, least of all Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, expects this to be more than a brief reprieve from the inevitable. If the microstate is to survive, statehood must be redefined, but if the microstate is to perish, let us redefine ourselves. When the time comes, we will need those bridges.”

Tanesha deleted project and beast, replaced them with endeavour and scheme, and uncapitalized Haven, a common mistake that she knew, yet kept making. Then, to her huge surprise, her tablet chimed an incoming message. Connection, in the middle of all this?

Kirk Baptiste: Wish I could be there! Barely any rain in Trinidad. BORING.

She swore and flicked the message away. “Interns!”

 

A decade later, sitting comfortably on a patio overlooking the south coast, Dr Tanesha Joseph reminisced about that day with Lyndon Greaves.

“Ah yes, when you were young and cautious, and Baptiste was younger and stupid,” her old boss chuckled.

He started to cough, and fumbled for a handkerchief to press to his mouth. Tanesha turned away. She watched the white crests on the waves in the far distance, and waited for the silence to return. It didn’t feel like the right time to mention that she knew he was dying.

“So, what do you think of the new sea road?” she asked casually, not taking her eyes off the ocean.

His voice was a little raspy when he replied, but still cheerful. “A friend drove me from Guadeloupe to St Lucia last month. Long trip, but fun. Is that doubt I’m seeing on your face?”

Tanesha gave him a look. “I’m not saying the French are neocolonialists, but they might find it convenient if Dominica and St Lucia had good reason to tie their sovereignty to the European Union instead of CARICOM. If that were the case, certain non-EU countries in Europe would happily put the brakes on that. Of course, governments wouldn’t interfere, but who can dictate how princes and priests spend their money?”

“Oho?” Greaves put away his handkerchief. He looked unconvinced, but eagerly so, as if spoiling for a good debate. “You still think that’s the reason for Haven’s investment in the waystations?”

“Yes, but even after all they’ve done, Haven might stop funding the competition, stop funding us, if the EU addresses its issues with its neighboring small states. It would be nice,” she added cynically, “if we could get things done without some version of a Cold War to push projects along.”

“We’ll never have the money for that. We’ll just ride this train as far as it’ll take us, and pray for another to come along.” Greaves shifted worriedly in his chair and frowned. “Do you feel that?”

Tanesha stood quickly. “Earthquake for sure. Let’s move from in front of this glass door.”

She grabbed his arm and they staggered away from the patio, away from walls and into the garden. Soon, the movement was too much and they fell to their knees, embraced earth and rock, and waited for respite.

 

The solar glider banked, giving Kirk a clear view of the waystation. Dora’s eye had passed over this one in 204o with minimal damage, and in the ten years since then the waystations had been fortified, expanded and multiplied. A chain of new constructions lined the potential sea road from the east of St Lucia to the north-west coast of Barbados – the start of a framework to complement … or compete with … the European-funded sea road linking Guadeloupe to Dominica, Dominica to Martinique, and Martinique to St Lucia.

“Why not directly from Barbados to St Vincent?” he had once asked, naïvely assuming that proximity was the only factor. He had been gravely and thoroughly schooled on the topography of the ocean floor between those two islands and now understood that every station he saw was a tower on an undersea ridge.

The glider banked again, and something about the direction of the sunlight made Kirk frown. He tapped the intercom. “Wait, Albert, we’re going south?”

The three-seater glider had two enclosures, one for the pilot and one for passengers or cargo. Kirk could see the back of Albert’s head through a filter of slightly smoky glass. It looked like Albert was talking on his headset.

Kirk hailed him a second time. “Albert?”

“Just a sec.”

Kirk waited. Albert kept flying south and talking on his headset. At last his voice came through the intercom. “Okay, Kirk, we have a bit of a situation. No need to panic, but we’re going to have to land at Argyle.”

The plan was to go west and north, filming the waystations and the sea road all the way up to Guadeloupe. Now they were diverting to St Vincent? “What’s wrong with the glider?”

“The glider is fine, we can fly for days. But we can’t land at Guadeloupe.”

“Why not?” Kirk asked cautiously.

Albert didn’t reply. The answer became clear soon enough. The undermount camera of the glider continued to feed ocean views to Kirk’s screen. Even before they reached the coast of St Lucia, he could see the unusually high swells sweeping past the waystations. As they approached the coast and the sea depth decreased, the swells crested, broke, and frothed. Bands of white seafoam charged towards the land like a line of cavalry horses going into battle. The first hit and withdrew, mingling its dirt and debris with the bright white surf of the waves behind it. Kirk felt as if he was watching a violation. He moved to switch off the camera.

“What are you doing?” Albert demanded.

“I can’t film people dying.”

Albert was silent for a moment, and then he said simply. “But this is your job. People must see this.”

Kirk inhaled sharply, bit his lip, and set the camera to record at all angles. Albert input a new flight plan for the autopilot. They flew for hours along the coasts of the Eastern Caribbean. Neither felt like talking. The quiet was too sacred for chatter, and their grief was too deep for words.

 

The Baptiste footage of the effects of the magnitude 9.0 megathrust earthquake and the tsunamis that followed became world famous. Scientists analyzed it. Filmmakers paid it homage. Emergency organizations the world over used some portion of it in their information and education videos, usually including the poignant dedication to Baptiste’s fallen colleagues.

Nothing, however, proved as groundbreaking and legendary as the CARICOM recruitment film targeted to all citizens living abroad.

The visuals were well chosen and tastefully edited; the camera never drew so close that a body could be seen. But the sudden inundation of low-lying airports, the crushing of ports and coastal towns to a slurry of devastation, the shocked and tearful faces of the survivors sheltering on high ground – those were shown with honest feeling. The lens also lingered on the cracked and tilted earth of Barbados, the churning waters of the Atlantic, the beaches scoured clean of sand, and the high new cliffs of the East Coast of Barbados bared to the blast of the trade winds.

Finally, the west coast of Barbados, remade by a massive extension of upthrust reef and rock only meters shy of the Habitats cities, was shown in all its glorious potential. The scene faded artistically into views of that same land a year later, shyly greening and dotted with tentative construction. The sea was clear blue once more, but busy with ships and machinery. The floating cities were being unmoored for relocation farther north, nearer to the sea road. Best place to ride out Emilio, a monster of a Category 6 hurricane (or was it Category 7 yet?).

The narrator spoke soothingly and persuasively of unlimited space and opportunity for the future growth of CARICOM’s sovereign nations.

 

“We can grant you safe haven.

“We can give you a future.

You are our future.

Come home.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barbadian author and research consultant Karen Lord is known for her debut novel Redemption in Indigo, which won the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Award, the 2010 Carl Brandon Parallax Award, the 2011 William L. Crawford Award, the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and the 2012 Kitschies Golden Tentacle (Best Debut), and was nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. She is the author of the science fiction duology The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Galaxy Game, and the editor of the anthology New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean. Her newest novel, Unraveling, will be released by DAW Books in June 2019.