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Floodland: Alternative Apocalypses

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Prague, 2002

Residents of the Czech capital Prague have been warned of the risk of collapsing buildings as some of them return home following the worst floods in about 200 years. Waters from the River Vltava have been receding, but a third building caved in overnight in the city's Karlin district and officials said people should wait until tests were carried out.
—BBC News, 18 August 2002

"It's worse in Mirenburg," Una Persson said. She took a sip of her wine.

The little tavern was the only one left open in the neighbourhood. As Una and Jerry Cornelius nursed their drinks, they heard a soft rumble and thud outside as another building gently fell into the slowly rising floodwaters.

"Which is why I couldn't find out anything," she went on. "All I could gather was that Frank had been through, but when the flooding started, we all had to leave. But I'm pretty certain that they weren't there anymore. He's moved on, Jerry."

"And taken Catherine with him," he replied gloomily. "Fucker."

"As if you expected anything else," Una replied, not unkindly. "We mustn't give up, Jerry."

"I've no intention of it." He rose and put on his black car coat. "Be seeing you, Una. Got to get moving again."

"Take care of yourself, you little wanker." She rose and kissed him on the cheek. "Water's rising everywhere."


Rowe Island, 2004


An early warning system that could have saved thousands of lives lost in the devastating tsunamis that swept around the rim of the Indian Ocean yesterday was talked about but not acted on by governments in the region, it was revealed last night. More than 12,600 people were killed and millions more displaced in eight countries by a wall of water unleashed by the biggest earthquake for 40 years, which began 25 miles under the seabed off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and measured 8.9 on the Richter scale.
—The Guardian,  27 November 2004

The ruined hotel lobby reeked of dead fish. Bastable coughed and dug in his pocket for a handkerchief to put over his nose, but Jerry was unaffected by the stench. In fact, it was almost reassuringly familiar.

"Bloody waste, what?" Bastable said, his voice muffled by the handkerchief. He glanced down and nudged a mass on the ground with his toe. It might have been a fish, or seaweed, or something else. Flies buzzed lazily up and settled back down again.

"No one could have ever predicted..." Jerry said, trailing off. "You heard the stories, didn't you? When the water went out and left the fish behind, people ran out after the fish."

"Shows you what they know in these parts," Bastable said with a wry chuckle.

"Actually, the natives showed more sense," Jerry replied. "The old stories, you know. Old legends about the water going away and then coming back, fiercer than ever. Didn't need us to help them tell what time it was, I don't think."

Bastable grunted; his boot had gotten stuck in the sludge near the reception desk.


New Orleans, 2005

Hundreds of mercenaries have descended on New Orleans to guard the property of the city's millionaires from looters. The heavily armed men, employed by private military companies including Blackwater and ISI, are part of the militarisation of a city which had a reputation for being one of the most relaxed and easy-going in America. After scenes of looting and lawlessness in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck, New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, as well as 70,000 national guard troops and active-duty soldiers now based in the region.
—The Guardian, 12 September 2005

Jerry found Miss Brunner standing on the front porch of a Gothic Revival house in the Garden District. A branch of a massive pecan tree had smashed through an upper story window and some of the shutters were coming off, but otherwise the house seemed to be in remarkably good shape. The neighbourhood had not flooded very much at all during the storm.

Miss Brunner shifted the assault rifle to rest the butt of it on her Mouret-clad hip and glared at him. "Cornelius. I should have known you would turn up here."

"Like a bad penny, Miss B," he said cheerfully. He was sweating in the dank humidity, but he hadn't removed his car coat. "Keeping an eye on things, are we? This your place or someone else's?"

"Mine," she retorted. "I'm not working for hire."

"Not this time, you mean?" he said, grinning. "Nothing wrong with working for hire, Miss B. It's what I'm doing right now." There was a loud bang in the distance that might have been gunfire. "Sure you don't need a hand?"

"Fuck off," she snarled, baring her sharp little teeth. "You're regressing, Jerry. I'd heard you were in control these days. What happened?"

"Control?" Jerry paused. He pointed vaguely in the direction of the flooded Ninth Ward. "Who's got control anymore, Miss B? Not me. Sure as fuck not you. It's all slipping, you know. Hang on tight, sweetheart." He giggled, raised his gun in salute to her, and turned to go.

Miss Brunner, unable to take his mockery anymore, leveled her gun at his retreating back and fired.


Grasmere, 2009

EYEWITNESS reports suggest Grasmere is cut off from the rest of South Lakeland. Eileen Jones told The Westmorland Gazette the river levels are matched in the roads, making it virtually impassable. Mrs Jones was on her way from Keswick to Huddersfield, but had to abandon the trip and check in to the village youth hostel.
—The Westmorland Gazette, 19 November 2009

Jerry stepped out of Dove Cottage and heard splashing in the distance. He looked down the flooded road and saw Bishop Beesley, leaning back in a rowboat that was being inexpertly maneuvered by his daughter Mitzi. He started to call out to Jerry, but his attention was distracted by a still-wrapped Flake bar that was floating by. He scooped it out of the water and wiped it down on his cassock.

The boat fetched up on a kerb and Beesley rocked and swayed out, munching on the Flake bar, while Mitzi tried to set the oars. "Jerry, my lad," Beesley boomed. He cast a predatory glance up at the windows of Dove Cottage and Jerry was seized by a peculiar sense of deja vu. It passed quickly.

"There's nothing for you here this time, Bishop," Jerry said. "Not unless you've brought anything in return."

Mitzi, having settled the boat more or less to her satisfaction, minced out of it and sidled up to Jerry. He ignored her.

"But surely there is a flock here that needs guidance," Beesley said. "In these times of trial..."

"Bollocks to that," Jerry replied. "Get out of here, both of you."

"You should come with us," Mitzi said. She started to slide her hand down his trousers, but he pulled away sharply. An idea struck him.

"All right," he said. "Let me get my things."

He stepped back inside Dove Cottage and turned on the shifter. There was a faint, high-pitched whine as the heat drained off Mitzi and the Bishop, and upstairs Jerry could hear Catherine stirring again. Mitzi and the Bishop had, like the rest of the citizens of Grasmere, bought her a bit more time. Jerry glanced out the window at the crumpled piles of clothes and smirked before going upstairs.


London, Near Future

Early indications suggest that the Thames Barrier will maintain the current standard of protection to the year 2070. The Thames Estuary 2100 project is investigating the many different future scenarios from minor to extreme sea level rise and proposing a number of options for numerous possible futures. Final results of this study will be available April 2009 when it goes to public consultation.
—The UK Environment Agency

Jerry and Catherine held hands as they watched Frank's body drift away in the Thames floodwaters.

"He'll be back, of course," Catherine said with a sigh. He usually is."

There was no more need for the shifter; Una Persson had put things to rights again. Catherine kicked at the remains of the coffin in which she'd slept until Una had woken her up. One of the tarnished brass handles bounced into the murky brown river with a splash. Una had already gone, guiding her little motorboat carefully through the flotsam-choked waters, away to the east. She had not turned back to wave goodbye, for all that Catherine had shouted farewells after her. 

Jerry holstered his needler and kissed her. "We'll be all right for now. Come on." He clambered up the broken barrier wall and reached down to give his sister a hand up.

"But where do we go?" she asked, unable to keep a querulous note out of her voice as she struggled after him. Once atop the wall, she shielded her eyes and looked west, toward the drowned Millennium Dome, the broken spire of the Houses of Parliament rising from the water. In the distance they could hear more gunfire and occasional screaming. "We'll be lucky to get out of London in one piece. We should have gone with Una."

"She wanted to go alone," Jerry said, not ready to either agree or disagree with his sister on this matter. "Anyway—look. Here comes Mo."

Shakey Mo Collier brought the small cabin cruiser alongside the barrier, heedless of the corpses and refuse he plowed under in his wake, or of the way the boat bounced and scraped against the wall. "Come on then!" he shouted gaily. "Let's get a move on, yeah? Things to do, places to see, crap to steal. Ladbroke Grove's not flooded; we'll be safe there."

Jerry climbed down first, then took Catherine by the waist and lowered her in beside him. Soon they were off. Mo turned on the radio and soon the sounds of David Bowie's "Heroes" were echoing across the water. Someone tried to fire on them but only succeeded in nicking the side of the boat. Mo turned on the would-be sniper with an XM8 and the shooting stopped. Jerry hugged Catherine and grinned as they passed the remains of Canary Wharf.

"Tasty," he said happily. It was going to be a beautiful day.