Author : Philip Berry

Dropping out of purple clouds into a thin brown layer of wind-scour, Gess identified the Pinnacle City, capital of Fenlan Found. Waves of refraction formed pulsatile auras around the high, glass-clad buildings, making them warp in the relentless heat.

Around the urbanised mountain stretched a sandy plain that would, five years from now, flood beneath the tide. The tide from the single ocean came in every five-hundred years. Successive generations – self-limiting monarchies, revolutionary governments, entire cultures – had ample time to prepare their defences. Under the plains were the remains of towns and cities that had made errors in prediction and succumbed to nature.

Many inhabitants of Fenlan Found lived and died while the ocean was in retreat. Others were born while it was coming in, and made a once on a lifetime journey to view its edge, only to die before it peaked. Those who witnessed full tide became legends in history. At these times the pinnacle city stood tall over swirling currents.

Around the nadir, fortunate schoolchildren were shuttled out to the distant shore, ten thousand kilometres away, where the waves lapped innocuously. It was hard to believe that midway between low and high tides the incoming water could easily outpace a land vehicle. The children grew nervous when told this fact, and edged back to the shuttle’s ramp.

Accommodation in the Pinnacle City, among the tightly packed high-rises, was beyond the means of many. Five-hundred and ten years ago, half a decade before the last high tide, a man called Chèvrelli (meaning ‘little goat’ in an ancient, off-world language) persuaded many of the disenfranchised to put their faith in his plan – to build a community out on the plain, founded on a network of interconnected barges that would, he assured them, rise gently on the tide when it came in. Sadly, when the water arrived it first saturated the parched ground and formed a quagmire into which the barges sank. When a body of water did eventually accumulate, the angled hulls that now punctuated the landscape remained glued to the soggy, sucking ground. Many of the inhabitants escaped (there was plenty of time), but were displaced to one of the distant moons. Chèvrelli remained, frantically digging around the base of the flag-ship, living on supplies delivered by his disciples from the air, until a storm produced a swell that carried him away.

Gess hovered over an expansive cattle ranch on the plain. Behind the homestead Gess spotted two children making sandcastles. They looked up, dazzled by the ship’s lateral engines, intensely bright circles of violet that created no draught. Gess accelerated away.

“We’re here!” shouted Gess, throwing her voice back to the small crew. The ship landed three hundred kilometres seaward from the city. The creeping ocean’s grey slab had been glimpsed at altitude, but now they saw only sand. Gess, the captain, the leader, stepped out onto the sand and planted a flag in the brittle crust. The perpetual breeze took hold of the cloth rectangle to reveal the image of a goat with its forelegs raised onto a rock.

At the touch of her hand a panel opened noiselessly in the ship’s hull. Gess reached in, unclipped a spade and began to dig. Her crew joined her. Later, the poor would trickle out of the city’s exposed foothills and come to believe that Gess, distant relative of the pioneer Chèvrelli, could succeed where he had failed – by living under the ground, rather than over it.