Corporeal Passage: Chapter 12: BC
by Jeff RandLieutenant Manu dragged the shovel through the soft mud on the shore of Kwajalsin Island to dig for clams. The lieutenant, as the sole representative of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, was in command of the small squad remaining at the base. The rest of the squadron had left for a few days to participate in the World Unity Celebration at the nearest Neural Virtual Reality Center in Hawai'i and were due to arrive back by military transport that evening. The clams would be part of the feast for the returning sailors.
The Republic had been an independent nation since 1979, when the United States released this vast area of atolls and islets, formerly a trust territory. Since that time, the country has been hugely dependent on the US, including the military and even the postal service. Marshallese communities were assigned zip codes and the dollar is the official currency.
The capital city of Majuro had been losing population prior to the mass exodus for the World Unity Celebration. Few are expected to return. Majuro was suffering from coastal flooding due to rising sea levels, when in 2025 there were more than a dozen storms completely flooding the islands of the atoll. The United Nations struggled with solutions that year, but the problems remained unresolved. The final vote changed the definition of sea level, and every elevation throughout the world simply was reduced by 60 centimeters.
Fortunately, the base was located on the Kwajalsin Island, which contained the highest point in the country, now 30 feet above sea level. Lieutenant Manu grabbed the bucket of clams and began to trudge up the 1% slope to the installation. The lieutenant was pleased to see the planes approaching in the distance. Soon the base would be alive again with more than six people.
As the first plane came for a landing, the lieutenant ducked behind a palm tree to avoid the runway. However, the plane did not land, but crashed into the barracks where the others were housed, before it was engulfed in a massive explosion. Lieutenant Manu stood motionless, contemplating the loss of life both in the plane and on the ground. A second plane veered away from the runway. "That is fortunate," thought Manu. "We don't want more people to die."
However, the second plane circled towards the machine shop and engaged a flame thrower at the wooden structure. Two other planes performed the same action, effectively destroying every vessel, vehicle, structure, and supply cache on the island. As the planes departed, explosions could be heard in the distance, suggesting that civilian structures throughout the atoll were facing the same fate.
When there were no more planes nearby, Manu rushed to the burning barracks. The intensity of the blaze was too much to approach closely. It was extremely unlikely that anyone had survived. The lieutenant knew that the Japanese had occupied this area between World War I and World War II. Were they returning to finish the job?
The devastation to every manmade structure and artifact was nearly complete. Now, it was a matter of waiting and hoping as the last embers glowed from the fires. Manu was fortunate to be in the tropics, where shelter would not be a major concern. Perhaps the US military would return soon before the enemy. Manu sat by the palm tree, deciding to feast on the raw clams.
No more airplanes arrived during the night. Manu entered the remains of the barracks to survey the damage. It was impossible to find anything of value among the debris. But eventually the lieutenant found a charred skull with a dog tag attached. It was all that remained of Corporal Woods.
The Kwajalsin Atoll covered about 6 square miles over several islands, circling a large underwater crater that formed it. Manu walked to the northern end of the Kwajalsin Island to the causeway connecting it with Ebeye Island. Just a few years ago the causeway across the coral reef had been above the water during low tide. Now it was permanently flooded. Manu would have been happy to have a jeep to make the trip, but was forced to walk six miles through the flooded causeway.
Ebeye Island had been densely populated with Marshallese citizens and had several shops and other services. Perhaps the people were still in an NVR center in Hawai'i, and as Manu noted, if they were to return, they would find their town completely destroyed.
Manu adjusted to life alone, still hoping and waiting. In the weeks that followed, there was some improvement in accommodations through the construction of a shelter from the remnants of the buildings. Manu was able to build a net to catch fish in the shallow waters. This diet was supplemented by clams and coconuts. On a trip to Ebeye Island, Manu found a garden of taro roots.
No other remains could be identified as those of a human, but a melted dog tag was found, believed to have belonged to Ensign Hall. Manu dug a grave and buried it, along with the remains of Corporal Woods.
The monotony of the tropical weather was only interrupted by an occasional storm, which tended to cause significant flooding. However, the storms were welcomed as a major source of fresh water. Manu continued to make careful observations of the weather and trade winds.
Six months had passed with no sign of another human, good or bad. The realization that Manu might die alone had become a constant nightmare. It was time to leave the atoll. Yet the Majuro Atoll was nearly 300 miles distant, and much open ocean beyond that. Unfortunately, the attack had thoroughly destroyed every vessel. If Manu were to make the voyage, it would require building a boat.
The search for materials to build a boat did not identify anything viable for its construction until Manu sat in the grove of "bird killer" trees, where the seed pods would stick to the birds' feathers making flight impossible. Although the wood was weak, these pisonia trees had thick trunks. Perhaps one could be hollowed to make a canoe. Afterall, this was how the ancient Polynesians travelled to settle in these islands.
Although some useful tools could be found among the ruins on the island, it took more than a week to fell the large pisonia with a hand axe. Then it took the lieutenant three more weeks to split the log and remove the top half. The 30-foot log weighed at least a ton and required a constant application of wedges and prying to separate the halves. Manu had to exploit superhuman strength to accomplish this alone. The log half selected for the project sat on the ground about 200 feet from the shore. Manu did not know how it would get to the ocean, but much work lied ahead to hollow the log, and the rainy season had begun. Manu still hoped that others would arrive any day, yet proceeded with the project. It might take a couple months.
The construction of a dugout canoe involved a tedious approach using an axe and slow burning the interior for each half inch increase in cavity depth. Manu had to divide time between this project and other tasks to keep alive. Besides providing food, the coconuts were used to extract oil from their flesh. Manu was uniquely talented to do this, having learned some old customs and island survival techniques before joining the military. Some soda pop cans were used to make oil lamps and a cooking stove that could be used on the canoe. Manu had hoped to find some gasoline or fuel oil on the atoll, but every potential source had been destroyed during the attack. There was some tar available near the damaged runway, but it would not be suitable for a lamp, hence the coconut oil was the best alternative to burn for light.
Daily rains hampered the canoe construction, making it difficult to have a sustained fire in creating the cavity. Fortunately, Manu had the small hand axe. Yet, it took six months to finish the canoe. Living in such primitive conditions, the finished product exhibited exceptional craftsmanship. Unlike a typical dugout, the bow was tapered. The inside of the canoe was narrow, but limited food in the survival conditions had caused Manu to lose lower abdominal mass. Manu was able to use the tar that had been intended for runway repairs as a coating for the canoe. Then as the dry season progressed, the canoe was left to cure before it would touch the sea. A single outrigger was added after the canoe was moved to the ocean. When finished, the canoe was 25 feet long and weighed nearly 300 pounds. However, Manu calculated that it should be able to hold half a ton of cargo before sinking.
Manu had been alone surviving on Kwajalsin Island for more than a year and was ready for the trip to Majuro. Besides some dried fish and cooked taro roots, Manu would bring a homemade fishing net and canoe paddle. The single jug found among the debris on the atoll was filled with coconut oil for the soda pop can lamps and stove, although food would be consumed raw when at sea. However, Manu expected to land on some islands on other atolls during the two-week journey.
The arrival at Majuro twelve days later was disappointing. The town was mostly flooded to the extent that the national civilian airport was underwater. Manu found some canned food and empty jugs, along with a small chest to bring back to Kwajalsin.
Manu had been alone for 1373 days and longed for human contact. The rains had come early in 2031 and never relented. With no one else to engage in the reproductive act, Manu would be the last human. It was time to leave the Marshall Islands. The country no longer existed, and the atolls were slowly being reclaimed by the sea.
Manu long since discounted the belief that the Japanese had attacked this archipelago in retaliation for losing the Second World War. It had to be a global nuclear war, likely pitting the Chinese against the United States. The World Unity Celebration was just a ruse. Yet there had to be other pockets of survivors. It just didn't make sense that the Chinese would destroy everything in this country, even if it held a US base. There was no one left here.
Since returning from Majuro, the canoe had been fashioned into a more serious vessel. It now had dual outriggers with storage capability. The bow and stern held secure wire cages, with a tabletop at the bow. Manu installed a mast and a sail, often using the canoe as a fishing vessel in the lagoon.
Despite the rain, preparation was underway to leave Kwajalsin Island for good. The vessel was fully stocked with food and coconut oil, along with other critical supplies, including the fishing net, axe, lanterns, and stove. Manu added a bilge pump constructed from debris washed ashore. The prevailing currents headed west, but there was a northern one sweeping the edge of the atoll. Manu hoped to catch that and head north where if would eventually diverge, making it possible to head east to Hawai'i with less resistance.
It was July 4, 2031, when Manu christened the "BC", which stood for "Beckoning Civilization."