The world was burning. Or so it seemed from the after-deck of the MV Rawalpindi.
Whipped from Java’s farthest edge, scorched by the hundred thousand forest fires in-between, the westerly winds rushed at them. From beyond Bandung, beyond even Jakarta, they ran like scalded dogs until they came here, the Lombok Strait. Even out at sea, sweat evaporated the moment that it beaded; lost into air that was dry-baked, as if from an oven. The sky was shaded like thick terracotta, backlit by a disc the colour of bleached bone.
Leaning on the ship’s guardrail, First Officer Larissa Barr gave silent thanks for being offshore. The air here tasted like the burnt phosphor of a struck match; inland, it could only be worse. She jerked as she felt a splash of warmth on her neck. Another. On her forearm, now. It was the hot, hard touch of over-cooked rain. She scowled: the water, blackened with ash from the fires, offered no respite from the heat.
“First Officer Barr,” a monotone voice issued from the ship’s speakers. “First Officer Barr to the AI cabin.”