A Pair of Colourful Shorts
Dark and light shades, really.
Issue #8, Sunday 27 March 2022
As he stepped out of the air-conditioned court building into the warm outside air, Jamieson looked up and frowned. The sky was dark, with a funny mottled look to it. Rain coming then, perhaps a thunderstorm. A bad one, by the look of it. He couldn't recall seeing a darker sky in the middle of the day.
Long ago, when he had been a boy, he would of course have thought it was going to snow. It was February, after all. But there hadn't been a snowfall here now for – what? Thirty years, perhaps. No, it would be rain, maybe one of those torrential downpours that were happening more and more often now. Some people were saying they should be called monsoons – here in Edinburgh!
As he made his way down the street, the first drops began to fall, and he cursed himself for having forgotten his umbrella.
Except that the drops weren't wet. He stopped, as many others were doing, and looked up. Black flakes were drifting down gently from above. Snow, then, after all. But... snow was white, wasn't it? He couldn't have forgotten that, could he? But these flakes were pitch black. Was there a fire somewhere?
He held out his palm and several of the flakes fell on it, each about a half-centimetre across. He rubbed one between his fingers and it crumbled into a very fine, black dust. Like black talcum powder, he thought. Irritatedly, he noticed that his fingers were now black, and rubbing them with his handkerchief didn't clean them much.
He pulled out his phone and asked for the news. The first item sounded like some kind of international incident, typical stuff:
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously condemned India for its unilateral geoengineering action in the possible strongest terms....
He flipped past that story to the local news. Nothing about a fire there, but reports coming in about strange weather conditions.
The black flakes were falling fast now. His white shirt was going to be ruined. The flakes were so fine that they came apart on the slightest movement, and were powdering all over it. Damn, that was a £200 shirt!
The stuff was starting to build up on the pavement, too, and people were making tracks in it, their footprints looking remarkably like the prints that the original Apollo astronauts had made on the Moon before he was born. What a nuisance! Someone should be doing something about it.
Unwilling to get more of the stuff on him, Jamieson ducked into an arcade and lifted up his phone again. Surely there was some explanation?
But the front page was still stuck on that international story:
In Breaking News, the Indian Foreign Ministry has just released this statement....
Jamieson flipped directly to the statement. He fast-forwarded through the first few paragraphs.
...millions of Indians have died and are dying this minute due to the excessive heat, which has rendered many parts of India a desert. The intransigence of the major polluters in refusing to make the same drastic cuts in emissions that India herself made a decade ago...
More of that climate change claptrap, then. Jamieson looked out into the street. The black fall seemed, if anything, to be getting worse. The stuff was starting to form into drifts, and cars were starting to skid in it. There would be an accident any minute.
He looked back at the phone. It was saying:
...for this reason our scientists have developed a radical solution based on advanced nanotechnology. We have been working on this technique for the last twenty years in secret due to its possible military applications. However, today we have applied it to solving the world's greatest problem...
Buckets-full of the black stuff now. It was starting to pile up, and for the first time he started to feel real unease. Would he be able to get home?
...powered by solar radiation, the nanomachines we released today are already converting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane into their elemental components...
A car skidded in the slippy, sooty material, and came sliding, swerving, directly towards Jamieson, not fast, but too fast for him to dodge. He dropped the phone and tried vainly to stop the vehicle from squashing him into the brick wall behind him. As a horrid internal blackness fell down upon him, the last words he heard were:
...further, the intelligent agents in these nanomachines have been directed to concentrate their efforts over the cities in the world in those nations which have been most responsible for our current situation, as a punishment for the refusal of the major powers...
Two hundred and sixty years or so of the Industrial Revolution, triggered off by the Scotsman James Watt, two hundred and sixty years of belching chimneys, of steam trains, of cars and ships and planes powered by fossil fuels, by coal and gas and oil.
Two hundred and sixty years later, the carbon was coming home.
© Copyright David R. Grigg. All rights reserved
About This Story
Written late 2011. This was based on a stimulus photo prompt, a black and white photo looking up steeply at a dark mottled sky above the front of an imposing building with classical columns. It stumped me for some time. After thrashing around with ideas about law cases I took a second look at the photo and concentrated on the dark and mottled sky. Then I had a flash of inspiration about climate change.
As Lieutenant Travers began his dash across the courtyard, a cannon boomed in the distance. Just as he reached the tower doorway, a ball sped over the wall of the fort and smashed into the stonework on his right, throwing out a chip of stone to slash across his face. He staggered for a moment and then threw the door open and went through.
Major James looked up from his desk, a haggard look on his wide, florid face. "You're bleeding, Travers," he commented quietly.
"Yes, sir," said Travers, pulling out a handkerchief to ineffectually staunch the blood.
"Any news from the semaphore?"
"Yes, sir, in a way. The Frenchies have captured the nearest station on the mainland and sent us a very rude message. At least, I assume it's rude. There were several French words I didn't recognise."
"The same thing, then? They want us to lay down our arms and yield up the fort?"
"More than that, sir. They claim to have captured London itself. They... they say that King George has surrendered England to Boney and that the war is lost." Travers stopped for a moment, his young face bleak as he continued to hold the kerchief to his face. "Well, that's what they claim," he ended lamely, without much hope.
Major James grimaced. "It may be true, alas. Their flagship sent a signal this morning. They want to send their Admiral across to parley. If what you say is true, they may even have a signed order from the King, directing us to surrender."
He stared gloomily out of the narrow slit window towards the bay. In the distance, the cannons of the French fleet continued to boom, and nearer to hand, there was a continual crash and shake as the cannonballs arrived. Every so often, a man screamed.
Much less frequently, there was a louder boom as the fort replied in kind.
"Why aren't we shooting back more often, damn it? We can't be short of powder, surely? Have we lost so many gun crew?"
"No, sir..." Travers suddenly stopped, his face turning a greenish shade of white.
"Sit down, man, before you fall down."
Travers sank gratefully into the wooden chair in front of the Major's desk.
"No, sir, though it's true we have lost several crews. There's still plenty of powder in the magazine, sir, as you would expect. It's cannonballs we're short of now. I have as many men as I can shaping stone, but it's a slow process. And of course, we can't throw stone balls as far and hard as iron shot. They tend to shatter if we use too much powder."
Major James drummed his fingers on the desk. "Hmmm. If you're well enough, Lieutenant, send Captain Smithers in to see me."
Travers shook his head sadly. "Sir, I'm afraid that the Captain was killed about an hour ago by a Frenchie cannonball."
"Damn. He was a good man. All right then." He reached into his desk drawer and drew out a heavy bunch of keys. "Are you recovered? Come with me, then."
He used the keys to open the door behind his desk, and beckoned to Travers, who followed, a little wobbly.
They entered a corridor leading deeper into the fort. Reaching a set of stairs, the two men descended. On the first floor they passed, soldiers were busy rolling barrels of black powder to be passed up onto the battlements and the ranks of cannon there. There was plenty of powder still, but their supplies of iron shot had been heavily depleted to supply the ships of the fleet.
Fort Redoubtable had been established on this island as a supply post for the British Navy and Marine Corps. The Admiralty had thought it impregnable, commanding the heights above the harbour with ranks of cannon mounted behind its thick stone walls. In case of a siege, it had always been assumed that the Navy could easily relieve it. But that had been before the war went bad. The loss of Nelson and half the British fleet at the Battle of the Nile had been a disaster, and from then on things had gone from bad to worse.
The two men descended another two flights of steps, to the lowest level of the castle. They went around several corners and then the Major used his keys again to let them into a large store-room, filled with wooden crates.
"Lieutenant, I'm about to show you something that only myself and Captain Smithers knew the truth about. The war may be lost, but I'm damned if I'm going to go quietly. I'll refuse to see the French Admiral, damn his frog-eating guts. I'm not going to see what is in this room fall into their hands so easily. They can have it, all right, by God they can have it. But they won't like it!"
He picked up a crowbar and pried the top off of one of the crates. A layer of lead sheeting covered the contents. Major James peeled it back and Travers gave a shout of astonishment. A glorious gleam of gold shone out, filling the dark room with colour. The crate was full of gold bars.
"It's from the Mint. When the French invaded and started making progress towards London, it was decided to ship half the Mint's store of gold abroad to our colony in Canada, top secret, of course. This is as far as it got before we were cut off." He looked at Travers with a smile. "What do you think?"
Travers sat down dazedly on one of the crates, suddenly understanding. "Yes, yes..."
The fort's cannons started firing again that afternoon. Major James and Travers stood behind the ramparts of the fort as ball after ball, yellow and gleaming, flew out out towards the French flagship, which had pulled incautiously close to the shore. Heavier even than lead, they wrought terrible damage, and within minutes the flagship was keeling over, masts torn away and huge holes in its side.
"We're still doomed, of course," said the Major reflectively, as the golden barrage continued. "But by God, what a way to go out!"
© Copyright David R. Grigg. All rights reserved
About This Story
This story came out of a prompt given by the writer Chuck Wendig on his blog, along the lines of “Go to the nearest hardware store and check out the paint section. Pick up a random selection of colour swatches. Choose the name one of those colours as your prompt.” I did as instructed, and my choice was “Glorious Gold”. From there, and some playing with alternate history ideas, the story emerged.
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