Characters: Jayce (Jack), Gray, OCs.
Word Count: 2996
Spoilers: Set way pre-series, with Jack as a boy on Boeshane.
Summary: Storm Season on Boeshane is late this year, so it will probably be worse than usual.
Written For: Challenge #165: Amnesty, using Challenge #32: Season at fan_flashworks, and my genprompt_bingo square Sirocco.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
“Me and Gray are going to the beach to look for Arun shells,” Jayce called to his mother, sticking his head around the door to her workroom. It wasn’t a school day and both boys had already finished their chores so they were free to do whatever they pleased.
“Alright, have fun. Just don’t let your baby brother go too near the water, you know what the tides are like at this time of year, and make sure you’re home before sunset.”
“Have you got your goggles and breather?”
“Mom!” Jayce was indignant; he wasn’t a baby, he knew how important it was to take sand goggles, breather, and a head towel with him whenever he went outside. The weather on the peninsula could be unpredictable, sand storms coming up without warning. All kids were taught safety procedures from the moment they started walking, what to do if they happened to be outside and too far from the settlement to get under cover before a storm hit. Everyone understood the dangers.
“Just checking, his mother replied mildly, not raising her eyes from her work table. “It’s Sirocco season, but the winds are late this year. Last time that happened was before you were born and the winds were much worse that year than any of us had ever seen before, so I need you to be extra careful and not let your brother out of your sight.”
Jayce had learned in school that Sirocco wasn’t a Boeshanian word but one that humans had brought with them from Old Earth, making it among the oldest words currently in use on their planet. That seemed somehow fitting for such a primal act of nature.
Sirocco season was an annual event, commencing at about the same time each year. Powerful winds would sweep along the coast from the south, churning up the sea; hot, arid blasts of air that withered plants and scoured the land with the blinding sandstorms they generated. Although it was a purely natural phenomenon, it was one that all Boeshanians treated with caution and respect.
Nevertheless, Jayce still felt a bit put out by his mother’s warning. “Don’t you trust me to look out for Gray? I’m not a little kid!!”
Now she did look up, turning slightly to face Jayce. “I know you’re not a child anymore, Jayce, you’re getting so grown up, but if it’s as bad this time as it was twelve years ago, we’ll all need to be on our guard, adults too. Almost twenty people lost their lives last time, most of them children. If the wind starts to get up you bring your brother straight back here and raise the alert. Even if it turns out to be a false alarm, no one will be angry; everybody agrees it’s better to be safe than sorry. Understand?”
Jayce nodded, a little subdued by the seriousness of his mother’s tone and expression. He seldom saw her without a smile on her face, but she had good reason to be serious now; Jayce had never heard tell of anyone being killed during Season because they all knew to be careful. If so many had died last time the winds came late despite all their precautions… “Yes, mom. I understand.”
“You’re a good boy, Jayce. You make your father and I very proud, and we trust you completely, never forget that, but you needed to be warned so you would know. All the other children are being told the same thing. Now, go and have fun, just keep a close eye on the sky.”
“We will. Love you, mom.”
“I love you too. Be off with you, I have work to do.” Her smile was back and Jayce laughed, reassured, running out to where Gray was waiting impatiently, collecting sack in hand, goggles and breather around his neck.
“Come on, shorty, let’s get going!” Jayce ruffled Gray’s long, wavy hair, once again feeling a faint pang on envy that his brother had been blessed with their mother’s curls while his own hair was boringly straight.
“I’m not short,” Gray protested, scampering after his older brother. “I’ve grown three whole units since last year! One day I’m going to be taller than you, maybe even taller than Father!”
“Maybe you will be at that,” Jayce agreed. “Listen, Gray, Mom said we have to keep a close eye of the weather while we’re out. Season is late this year, that means when it hits it’s gonna be really bad.”
Gray’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Wow! Hope it comes soon!” Gray had been born in Sirocco season six years before, and the wind was definitely his element. He revelled in it, the stronger the better, loving nothing more than to be outside during storms, his hair flapping about like wings trying to lift him from the ground.
“If it’s as bad as mum thinks it’ll be, you won’t be able to go out in it, you’d get swept away, rolled along the ground and blown into the air like the rambler plants. Maybe even swept right out to sea. That would be bad.”
The younger boy nodded solemnly, understanding. During Season, no one swam or went out on the water; it was far too dangerous. Getting blown out to sea would mean certain death because nobody would risk their own life to attempt a rescue.
“Race you to the cove,” Jayce grinned. “I’ll even give you a head start.”
Laughing, Gray took off running along the beach; Jayce counted to twenty before starting after his brother, making sure to stay just a step or two behind so the smaller boy would win.
The cove was about a mile and a half down the coast from their settlement, and a good place to look for anything swept ashore by the sea. It was a wide inlet, fully two miles across, with shallow water and a wide, sandy beach, making it a favourite place for the settlement’s children to play. Jayce and Gray made a beeline for the high tide mark and began their search among the driftwood and streamers of slimy weed, decaying in the heat of the sun, looking for the telltale rainbow shimmer of the treasures they were hoping to find.
Arun shells were much prized by some of the craft guilds because they were especially strong and could be carved to create a wide variety of decorative objects, from ornaments and shallow bowls to jewellery. Such things were much sought after as love tokens. Boeshane was a relatively new colony and a long way from the nearest human-inhabited worlds, so when supply ships came out this far they only brought essentials with them. Luxuries and anything purely ornamental they had to craft themselves from local materials.
As jewellery and sculptures were also used in trade with nearby planets settled by other sentient races, the children all across the peninsula earned themselves extra pocket money by collecting shells, seedpods, feathers and scales from the native wildlife, dried resin, polished stones, and any other natural materials the guilds might be interested in.
Perhaps because the adults were being extra wary over the weather, Jayce and his brother were the only people out at the cove that day. The sea had been rough the previous night and the tide had swept in further than usual, depositing flotsam less than a dozen body-lengths from the scrubby trees and bushes that marked the end of the beach and provided a meagre windbreak for the cultivated land beyond. By mid-afternoon, the two boys had amassed an unprecedented eight Aruns, plus a good selection of other shells, several flat Orci, which many believed to be scales from a mythical undersea monster, and some interesting lengths of sand-polished driftwood.
While they searched, Jayce checked the sky and the horizon frequently, and when he noted dark clouds starting to gather in the south he called a halt to their search, even though they’d barely covered half the cove.
“Come on, Gray, load up, we’d best be getting back.”
“But we’ve got hours of daylight left!” Gray protested.
Jayce pointed towards the horizon. “Not with the way those clouds are building.” They were coming up faster than he would have believed possible, and to get home they’d have to go towards them. The wind was starting to gust too, hot against Jayce’s exposed skin. “Put your goggles and breather on. Quickly.” He helped his brother tighten the straps and secure his head towel before fixing his own. Even in the few moments that took, the dark clouds looked noticeably closer and Jayce knew they weren’t caused by water vapour; they were sand being driven before the wind.
Snatching up both his and Gray’s sacks, assuring his brother that he knew which was which, Jayce grabbed the younger boy’s hand, leading him up the shallow bank at the edge of the beach and through the stunted trees to the other side, where the ground at the edge of the farmland was firmer and better for running on. The fields had been harvested weeks ago to make sure precious crops were under cover before they could be destroyed by the coming storm season; they stretched bleak and empty as far as Jayce could see, not a soul working there now that the growing season was over. That was good, it meant they didn’t have to waste precious time spreading the word, and could just head straight for home.
Running as fast as Gray could manage, they set off towards their settlement, slowing to a walk every so often for Gray to catch his breath. Each time they slowed, the storm looked closer and more ominous, building higher into the sky than either of them could ever remember seeing in previous years. It was a dramatic but worrying spectacle and Jayce realised it was a good thing he’d been watching the weather so closely, otherwise he might have noticed the looming darkness to the south too late for them to get back home ahead of it. Thankfully, luck was on their side; they made it to the settlement, sheltered in the lee of a tall hill, with plenty of time to spare.
Reaching their home, Jacye shoved both collection sacks into his brother’s hands and sent Gray inside. “Go tell mom there’s a big storm coming.”
“What about you?” Despite his love of the wind, Gray was nervous; he’d never known a storm to approach so fast.
“The storm can’t be seen from here, nobody will know it’s coming and there are still people out working. I have to sound the alert.”
“Can’t I come with you?”
“Not this time, bud. You need to stay here and help mum put up the storm shutters.” As the eldest, that was usually Jayce’s job. Gray had never been allowed to help before.
“I can do that, I’ve watched you. Be careful, Jayce.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll be back before you know it.” Impulsively, he hugged his brother. “See you in a bit, shorty!” Then he was off, running down the street towards the central plaza where the alert siren was housed.
An obelisk twice the height of a man stood in the exact centre of the plaza; it was part of a warning system that linked all eleven settlements across the Boeshane Peninsula, and it would be expanded to each new settlement that was added as colonisation of the planet continued. Skidding to a halt beside it, Jayce opened a hatch set in one side and punched the button within. Immediately, the alert siren began to blare and people appeared, abandoning their work.
“There’s a big storm coming up fast,” Jayce yelled.
“How long before it hits?” a man asked.
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen one move so fast.”
The man, Baer Erwin, Settlement Three’s representative on the Boeshane Council, nodded as if that was the answer he’d been expecting. “Batten down, then get to the shelter!” he shouted to the gathering crowd, and they scattered, heading for businesses and homes, to put up the reinforced shutters that would keep the wind and most of the sand out, and hopefully protect the buildings.
Jayce looked around, wide-eyed. The shelter? Normally people waited out the storms in their homes. Then the image of what he’d seen bearing down on them filled his head; if ever there was a day when their homes might not be strong enough to withstand an approaching storm, surely it was today.
A hand touched his shoulder; it was Erwin. The tall, grey-haired man smiled down at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Go help your family prepare. Make sure you take anything you value to the shelter. Better hurry, son, there might not be much time.”
“Yes, Boss.” Jayce nodded curtly and took off running for home, getting there just in time to help his mother secure the shutters on the higher windows, which Gray couldn’t reach.
“Gray, Boss Erwin said to gather your valuables; we’re going to the shelter. Can you get mine too? And don’t forget my towel.”
“Okay, Jayce.” Gray ran indoors to the room he shared with his brother, pulling things from drawers and cupboards, stuffing them into carry sacks, dragging their towels from under their pillows and stuffing them in the tops of the bags, where they’d be easy to get at. The comfort of the frayed and faded fabric might be needed.
“I can finish here, Mom,” Jayce added, picking up the shutter for the final window. “You should pack whatever you and dad might need.” His mum hugged him quickly and went into the house. Jayce knew his father would be helping to batten down the rest of the settlement. It was a good thing that the caves where the storm shelter was located were also used as warehouses to store the harvest and other essential supplies. If the coming storm caused damage, at least they wouldn’t lose anything too irreplaceable.
By the time the final shutter was secured, strong winds were gusting among the buildings, rattling shutters, stirring up the dry, loose dirt that was everywhere, and whipping the twisted trees into a frenzy. Rambler plants skittered past, dry and desiccated, uprooted and sent on their travels by the winds to put down new roots when the rains eventually came. The sky overhead was dark, the sun a barely visible, pale disk seen through the haze caused by sand higher up in the atmosphere where the air currents were moving faster. Jayce was starting to think it was lucky he and Gray had gone out to the cove where they’d had an unimpeded view along the coast as far as the distant horizon. Otherwise, people might only just be starting to prepare for the coming storm.
With nothing more they could do to protect their home, Jayce and his family joined the rest of the community heading for the shelter. Heavy sack slung over one shoulder, he gripped Gray’s hand tightly. Walking to his little brother’s left, their mother had a firm grip on Gray’s belt because he was carrying his own sack in his other hand. They joined their neighbours, heads bowed against the wind, everyone wearing goggles and breathers, protective towels tucked inside their collars and fastened down, shielding their heads. Progress was slow and it took a lot of effort to make headway because despite the shelter from the hill, they were walking directly into the wind.
Parents and other adults shielded the younger children, while the smallest had to be carried. Everyone held on to someone else, but even so, from time to time a strong gust would knock someone over and everyone around them would pause until they regained their feet; nobody would be left behind.
At last they were filing through the narrow opening into the outer caves. As soon as everybody was inside, momentarily safe from the weather, a group of men closed the heavy doors and barred them while Boss Erwin called out names, checking each person off on his tablet as they entered the shelter itself, making sure nobody was missing. To the relief of the entire settlement, everybody who should be there was accounted for, including a number of domesticated animals.
There were no windows in the shelter. Once inside, with the inner and outer doors sealed, air came only from the labyrinth of deeper caves, so it was clean, cool and fresh, devoid of sand and circulated by pumps in one of the caverns below.
Bunks lined the walls in the big sleeping chamber, there was a communal kitchen and dining room, and even a bathroom complex, complete with showers. Food stores and several underground springs within the cave system meant that they could all safely stay here, protected from the storm, for well over a planetary year, although it was unlikely to come to that. Conditions outside could be monitored via sensor arrays in the obelisks at the centre of every settlement, and others laid out in a network across the peninsula, so they’d know when it was safe to leave the shelter again and see to any damage the storm had caused, in preparation for the next one.
Jayce and Gray found themselves treated as heroes for providing the early warning that had led to everyone being safely ensconced in the caves so quickly and efficiently. It gave Jayce a warm glow, knowing that they might even have saved lives if the storm turned out as bad as people seemed to think it might.
Settling down in his assigned bunk that night, the howling wind audible even this far underground, Jayce decided that one day he wanted to be like Boss Erwin, watching over the people of his settlement, protecting them from any danger that might threaten them. It would be a huge responsibility, but a worthy task, because nothing was more important than the safety of the people.