Shattered. Forgetful. Forgot. Ten years, one month.
What’s in a calamity? – he mused. Rejecting himself, he recoiled from the runners, with their uniform slick, tight silver training outfits. Monochromatic, that’s a part of the calamity – maybe he thought. He pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket. The old pocket had a small hole at the bottom – too small for anything but some antique coins he’d found as a child. A bit of spare change. Several coins fell into the inner lining, occasionally moved from the sides to the back of the coat, making themselves known to his posterior when he sat down. The light, woolen trench coat came to just below his buttocks. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Smoked one. The packaging had faded to a light blue, only two letters remained: an A and as S. Time to meet Mar.
Mar lived in an old abandoned shack on the outskirts of Park. The settlement of Park had been hastily built just before the calamity, with metal and glass brought in from some local warehouses. Eventually Park became larger, and after the collapse, a year after the calamity, it became a kind of regional hub, with its own defense force.
Mar’s place predated the calamity, the settlement and some of the trees. Several old pines obscured Mar’s wooden cabin. Mar chain-smoked cigarettes between bong hits. She grew her own weed. She tended to those plants as though they were her own children. They grew large at 41.2577° N, 123.3226° W, almost her exact location. Soft, cool bubbly steam infused with that medicinal herb entered her gnarled yet surprisingly healthy lungs. Mar was old. No one knew just how old, but she was very old. Some suspected her of being over one-hundred rotations around the sun. Her rugged hands and dark, tan skin resembled the outer part of a Redwood tree.
Perhaps she was as ancient as a Sequoia – the name she gave her dog, a youthful, happy blonde Labrador retriever. Retriever here is key. The dog loved to retrieve items for Mar. He’d sneak into neighbor’s houses and reclaim Mar’s things by scent: books (‘borrowed’ by Stone), a pair of slippers (never returned by Stone’s wife, a woman who, for reasons no one really knew, had no name and simply went by ‘Stone’s wife), a deck of cards (‘borrowed’ by Tomas), and even several chess pieces found on the ground outside of Joan’s house.
Everyone played chess and cards since the calamity. Sequoia loved to see Shattered, and the feeling was nearly mutual. Shattered couldn’t quite bring himself to love, but it came to him in the form of excited barks, licks and soft, excited whimpers. “Now, that’s enough, sit down, come on, come on, come on.” Shattered approached Mar’s place, opened the door and came in.
“Want a drink?” Mar asked, holding up a bottle of some homemade whiskey Stone had given her.
“No Mar, but a little tea would be nice.”
“Damn! Well, I am not one to judge, never have been, not in any place to do, and don’t want to. But S, five days in a row of strong-brew mushroom tea–Ooo, boy! Well, here it is.”
She lifted a ladle from a big pot on the wood stove and poured some in a an old ceramic mug. The mug, fatter in the middle, once had a flower and a creature called Mickey Mouse on it — both long faded. Shattered drank the lukewarm solution in one gulp.
“I am trying to figure out,” Shattered said, sitting back in one of the two rocking chairs. Mar, of course, occupied the other. Her dark green eyes, lit by the western Summer sun coming through the old glass windows, shined. Shattered even perceived some crystalline figures coming out of them. The medicine began working. “Mar, I am trying to figure out.”
“Let me stop you there, S, figurin’ out stuff like you’re trying ain’t never proved useful to me. More pain and trouble than it’s worth. Look, you’re what, thirty-three? Right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Shattered nodded, his thin, ashen face framed by his long dark hair reminded Mar of her first husband. She liked his look. He could be her son. Although she knew he wasn’t, but he was, she’d raised him since his parents abandoned him when he was two-years old, exactly one year after the calamity. He stopped looking or asking about them when he turned twenty-three, and served briefly in the Park defense force, wearing the sleek uniforms and running for miles. Aside from briefly thinking of joining the medical containment and isolation unit, Shattered had few ambitions yet he had one obsession–the place.
Before he joined the defense force, he already knew how to make a raft, how to skin and carve a variety of animals, how to build a shelter, how to make a food and herb garden, how to sew, cook and many other things. Mar had taught him everything. Most of the post-calamity kids knew these things too, and most of them joined at sixteen, but Shattered took his time, learning from Mar, not just survival and practical matters but literature and and advanced mathematics. Only after he felt he’d learned what he needed to be whole did he then join for the minimum one year of service. Mar had been some sort of genius professor from a place called South Carolina, long before the calamity, and she knew what was coming and where to go, and she went. She came here.
“I know, I know–but the rumors–the place.”
“Ain’t no travellin’ to the place, if such a place does exist.” Mar rocked back and forth in her wicker rocking chair, her eyes, lit each time she went back, let out little light messages like codes to Shattered. The wood room, square, held a stove, two chairs and a bench with a fur-coated oval bed for Sequoia. He only slept in his bed at the beginning of the night, but around 4am he’d either go into Mar’s room and sleep with her or go out and stealthy retrieve useful items and Mar’s lost objects. Mar’s room held a bed that nearly took up the whole space, and it had no door.
“I need to use the outhouse, it free?”
“Should be, old man Stone isn’t back yet; he’s been chopping lumber like a woodpecker, preparing for winter, ‘supposed to be a cold one’ he says. Said that last year and it didn’t even snow. Lots of rain though.”
“I’ll be a minute.” Shattered left for the old outhouse, a building that sat some 50 meters from Mar’s place, and beyond it, to the left another 100 meters, sat Stone’s sturdy wooden house. He’d lived here since before the calamity. Shattered walked down the path through the pines and ferns, and found a dead squirrel near the door. The door, a piece of wood tied to the sides of an old wooden frame with metal wire, slammed shut. Shattered undid his trousers and sat down. He looked out the screen window; the sun’s rays came through the trees and illuminated the foliage on the forest floor. He thought about the place. He thought about what life might be like there. He’d heard the rumors. He’d even seen the light, high above, fly by brightly on clear nights. He knew the numbers, 53°25’05.5″N 132°20’33.5″W. After washing his hands with lye soap, and the tap from the well, the water being pumped by pressure from the water-wheel in the river, he returned to Mar. Everything felt safe.
“Listen, S, there’s a new administrator at Park, did you know? Came yesterday.” Mar smoked a cigarette rocking back and forth.
“No, what’s their name?”
“Tallie, TJ Tallie, a real tyrant. I knew him some years ago. Raised all kinds of hell last time he came through these parts. I wish they’d kick him off the Council. But, what kinda’ voice do I have. Ain’t no one listenin’ to me. Hell, he’s the new administrator. They wanted balance after the last election. Balance with Tallie? No way.”
“Should we go to the meeting, and raise objections?”
“Sure, he’s a mean fucker … But will you speak for me? I am…”
“Yes, of course I will.”
“I love you, S.”
Stone found Shattered sleeping in the corner of the main room. Mar was sleeping in her bed. A steely man of some fifty-and-twelve, Stone had led many lives before coming to Park just two years before the calamity. It wasn’t called Park then, but Stone had never forgotten the name of the little town he had happened upon one summer’s day, hungover, tired and broke; Stone had been broke and broken in so many ways, pecuniary, physically, psychologically. He’d been traveling on foot since being dropped off by a trucker some twenty-five miles from his eventual destination, a destination he didn’t know would become his home. Feet that had swollen smelt of the crusty fungus grew in the old boots he’d owned for over a decade; Stone came to what was then called Forks of Salmon. He took the road traveled less, and found much more. A kind people, open and yet cautious of the outside, lived here. The original Northern California exclusion zone had by now been limited to primarily the Bay Area, and the rules of the state and Federal authorities receded like the rivers and lakes during The Big Drought. Not a cop or National Guard soldier had been seen in Forks for over a year, but the people remained calm; in fact, the locals seemed calmer than ever; they prospered by growing their own food and cannabis on the verdant hills, plateaus and mountains, and the Big Drought had ended the winter before Stone arrived; as he looked up at the warm summer sun through the dense pines, he thought he’d found Eden.
Trade to Forks during that time came primarily through the remaining sections of Interstate 5 or Highway 101, inland and on the coast, respectively; goods were deposited and traded for silver, gold, weed and fruit and vegetables at large markets set up inside old grocery stores, convention centers and hotels, in places with names like Etna, Weed and Eureka. Stone worked as a transporter, then, slowly over a year he was given the responsibility of helping build what would become Park; his carpentry skills put to good use, he felt a sense of purpose.
During his first year as a porter, the growers, the drivers and the merchants from the both Forks and the Bay Area negotiated agreements for the transport of goods; collectives were formed to protect against exploitation, and the area, once incredibly white, became more diverse. Working-class Black and Latinx families and individuals, the few left who had formerly lived in the subsidized areas of the Bay Area exclusion zone as essential workers were replaced with drones, self-driven cars and other gadgetry. They came up Highway 101 in electric cars, buses and on the high-speed railway that operated a daily service from Oakland to Eureka. Eventually, Humboldt and Siskiyou counties (integrated and renamed Twin Counties six months before the calamity), some of the whitest places in the former United States, had become, during the 2030s, one of the most diverse places on the West Coast of North America. Of course, this didn’t count the Southern Californian migrant-irregular worker and homeless enclosure zone. Yet, during the months leading up to the calamity little information traveled that far from this zone, so most of the world knew nothing of the conditions there; and very few people traveled north beyond the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges. Those who did found themselves shot by drones, soldiers and others to maintain a quarantine. A severe virus had spread through the former Los Angeles-Inland Empire area, and no one was allowed in or out.
Stone had come at the right time. He built his home, a cabin near a small creek, on land that was cooperatively held. The locals appreciated his craftsmanship, for Stone had been in construction since his teenage years. When the calamity came, all electrical devices ceased to work, and this greatly reduced trade and travel into and out of the area. One year before the calamity, Park had already been established near Forks; large areas of forest had been cleared for emergency housing, without the consent of the local population. Eventually, Park grew to number some fifty-thousand people, the largest town in the Twin Counties by far. Streets designed for bicycles, pedestrians and wheelchairs crisscrossed the land. Most of the older trees were left. The new buildings included The Large Forum, essentially a huge square warehouse; a separated third of the building had an enclosed space measuring some some ten-thousand square feet. Most of this part of The Large Forum was used as Federal hyper-modern local parliament, with seats aligned for seventy members, a voting space and computers. Buried deep beneath this giant Faraday box were incredibly powerful batteries, they would power the electronic intranet that would be used to track food, cargo and cannabis sales, votes in the Twin Counties parliament and other regional affairs. Several alcoves, serving as offices, were located on the east end of the parliament. The entire building, framed by wooden panels, with large glass windows held by steel-beams that jutted out at various angles deep into the dirt, had a massive double-door opening for the delivery of goods, while the sealed parliament had its own entrance on the north side. Park’s Parliament, as it would later be called, served as offices for Federal and local officials, and later as workspace for Park administrators.
By the end of the pre-calamity construction boom, some four-hundred houses featuring two and three bedrooms, gravity toilets and septic tanks, over one-thousand four room cabins with shared outhouses and outside gravity showers, thirty artisanal and forty deep ground wells and some fifty roads were built. The rest of population lived in informal cabins made before the Federal Response agency decided on this last minute manic project. The Federal government collapsed after the calamity within days, yet by then, accustomed to little reliance on DC, the people of Park took little notice. The Federal administrators integrated into daily life of the newly pre-electical society, and over the course of a decade the area from the Pacific Ocean to the old Interstate 5, namely from Eureka to Etna, became simply known as the Park region. Within a year of the calamity Park established a civilian defense force, and Stone assisted in training teenagers how to shoot rifles, build temporary shelters, and, in various ways, to fight.
“Shattered, wake up.”
Shattered looked up at Stone. He noticed his tan skin, his muscular slim torso (Stone rarely wore a shirt in the summertime), his bald head, his thick arms. Those were arms of a man who worked from dawn to dusk, and sometimes late into the night. Chopping wood. Fixing plumbing. Sealing roofs. Making, mending, this was Stone’s form of meditation. A body in motion. He slept about four to six hours a night. Shattered slept at least double that. Shattered’s light ashen body rose from the floor.
“Damn it, I was just dreaming of my first husband. He was a real good fuck, sexy as hell.” Mar shouted from her bed, from underneath several quilts.
“Stone’s here, we need to prepare for the meeting tonight.”
“Well, give me a minute Stone; I need to get…”
“Yes, Mar.” And Stone loaded Mar’s bong. He left.
Shattered, Mar and Stone arrived at the Park parliament. Outside, on the long street that stretched from the bottom of the hill near the river up to the top, the sun shone on the dark, heat absorbing pavement. Shattered looked at the buildings along Park Main, or as the locals called it, The Long Road. The five-storey buildings, all identical and built from densely packed recycled wood, with large glass windows, housed various shops on their ground levels. Above most of the apartments were occupied by the traders, merchants and store owners’ families. Some officials lived on this street, alongside others who needed extra care and attention. “Come on, S” – Mar tugged at Shattered’s old woolen trench-coat, which he eccentrically wore on a day when the temperature was a searing 32 degrees Celsius.
They took their seats as members. Through an odd turn of events in last year’s election, when Shattered and Mar placed their names on the ballot, in the midst of a night full of libations, they had won enough votes to sit in the 70 member chamber. Stone had run a more serious outreach, but given his reputation for being reliable, combined with his well-known strong work ethic, he won easily. Shattered and Mar each one their seats by a fluke. The voting age stood at fifteen, and a group of very young people decided to tip the scales and vote for these two outsiders. Despite being old, quite old, Mar won on The Youth and Freedom of Movement Platform. She found great joy and irony in this after the results came in, “Age ain’t just a number. Hell, it has done a number on me. Sure. But it sure as hell it didn’t affect the number of votes! I didn’t believe it, not until I received the official letter!” Shattered had won because he wanted resources to leave, and many of the youngest in the population felt that movement outside of the Park region should begin again, given how long it had been since the calamity. Mar’s support came from the fact that she and Shattered were so close, and The Youth and Freedom of Movement Platform had decided, two nights after these two picaresque candidates placed their names for candidacy, to endorse them.
Three major factions controlled the Park parliament: The Merchants and Traders Cooperative Alliance, often just called MT, held thirty seats; Park Regional Best Interests Column, an inward looking coalition of people who felt that trade or movement to and from the outside should be limited, and that the interests of developing Park as a non-electrical society (an amendment had been made to ban electronics two-years after the calamity), held twenty two seats; and finally, The Youth And Freedom of Movement Platform, a well-organized group of teenagers and people in their twenties, with older allies, run by Autumn Spring, held the remaining eighteen seats. Autumn Spring, when she’d turned fifteen, founded The Platform, held meetings, organized and emerged as a force to be reckoned with within several years. Now twenty-and-five she held various positions of great importance, yet her main focus, her driving aim, was chiefly working with the more open-minded traders and merchants on trying to reverse the ban on electronic equipment. She’d traveled to the Marin Region, just north of the now abandoned cities of the Bay Area, and studied computer science at the various compounds inherited, run and maintained by the adult children of the wealthy elite who had built them. She’d been awarded dual citizenship with Marin, and traveled their frequently, meeting its the aging premier, Morph Zed.
TJ Tallie, the new administrator, had been elected by a coalition of more agrarian and conservationist traders and merchants and Parks Inside, the common name of the Park Regional Best Interests Column. He took the platform on the main stage. The members had all taken their seats. “I am pleased to be back in Park, my time on the edges of our wonderful region has given me an experience, and a lesson in the need to pursue the interests of maintaining security, stability and health. We are not a people longing for long speeches, and we have never been. I will administer practically, and in accordance with the Park Prime Amendments. Amercements, fines and punishment for those violating our customs will be severe.” Tallie, a stalky, large man with rough, tanned skin and a glass eye, looked – for nearly a minute after this last remark, where he placed especial emphasis on the word ‘severe’ – directly at Autumn Spring. She sat in the front row, and returned his stare with complete insouciance. Her long flowing robe, a mixture of lavender, Tyrian purple with crimson collar loosely floated around her silky white skin; the outfit had been a gift from Marin. She never brought electronic equipment to Park. She wasn’t a rule-breaker, yet there was no ban on outside clothing. Unlike most of the others in Park who wore simple white, beige and recycled clothing, Autumn Spring always dressed like a Marin citizen. Her parents were both leaders in one of the largest merchants’ cooperatives, and she was regarded with either disdain or love by the denizens of Park.
Autumn Spring, next to speak, stood and took the podium. She looked at the members, and the crowd of residents packed on both sides of parliamentary platform. She took off her shoes, and spoke; she spoke loudly, louder than Tallie, who’d never been a great public speaker; there was no electrical voice amplification equipment, yet the entire hall could here her. “We, denizens of Park, must not allow fear and ignorance to keep us isolated from the world. I respect the Prime Amendments, and the ban on electronics. You know I am trained in electrical engineering, computer science and regenerative medical practices, and you all know that my opinion is that these technologies, available in Marin, could benefit us greatly. But that’s not what I am going to argue for to-day. I want communal assent to allocate resources, and allow a party of ten-and-twelve volunteers to use electrical equipment outside of the bounds of Park, to go to 53°N 132°″W. Shattered, a man of great dreams, must be allowed to make this journey, and The Youth and Freedom of Movement Platform fully endorses his desire to explore the possibility of another, even more technologically advanced than Marin, region.” Autumn Spring’s best friend, and a fellow member of Park’s parliament, Joyful, a Lassik, a people more native to the region than any other, shouted, “I second the motion!” The hall stood in silence. Autumn Spring walked gently from the podium platform, sat down, and waited for TJ to return. He came, red and slightly trembling with anger, but he dutifully, as required, called the vote.
37-33, the motion passed. Shattered’s sweaty palm grasped Mar’s dry hand.
Stone had voted against Shattered. Stone, a conservationist, an isolationist, a strict adherent to the Prime Amendments, had no desire to return to technologies beyond what his hands could build. He stared intently at the ground for a moment, then backed up, raised his arm, and banged – firm but gently – at the side of an injured bronze axle. Correcting, building and mending wagon parts. This is how he spent the first half, sometimes more, of his third day of every week. Working for the Spring family. His pay, from this one day, would provide for the entire week. But Stone didn’t want to just provide, he wanted to save, and, more importantly, keep moving. Given this, he worked and worked tirelessly doing every job imaginable. Felling trees, fixing outhouses, cleaning outhouses, mending old plumbing, painting walls, building fences, removing fences, fishing, building rafts, mining and even moonlighting twice a month at Park infirmary, cleaning patients’ rooms. He placed all the extra silver he managed to make into the Park regional bank. His common-law wife, known to him as a cipher, had lost all memory of who she had been before the calamity, and arrived at Park six-months after it. Initially, for reasons unknown, she trusted only Stone, and after several years of Stone sleeping on his sofa, she allowed him into his bed with her. The relationship wasn’t sexual, they held each-other every night, when Stone wasn’t working. She spoke very little, refused to take a name, and spent her days in solitude, sitting in their cabin, smoking a little hash; she had vague dreams, shadows, of her life before. Tall buildings, people, soft beds, cool air, the Bay Bridge – it’s faded orange – she recognized it in a photo that Autumn Spring had given to Stone, a gift from Marin. Yes, in the photo: helicopters. Yes, she remembered those, or, at a minimum, a hazy impression with the sensation of upward movement. She flew in that cabin.
“Stone, I’d like to speak with you,” Autumn Spring, coming down the spiral staircase of her family’s large five-storey house; one of the few houses on The Long Road. Most of her neighbors lived in apartments. Her parents had founded the largest cannabis cooperative before the calamity, and they had a special and unique trading relationship with Marin. Alongside major cannabis farms, the Spring family administered wagon repair stores in several settlements of the Park region, a well-water sanitation cooperative, and, most profitably, the Metal & Currency Cooperative Bank. Metal, as it was called, provided the only banking alternative to the Park regional bank. It had several advantages; first, it was allowed to transfer the local currency, silver, into Marin’s cryptocurrencies, the M-coin, the L-coin and the P-coin, although these transfers had to be made on paper and sent to Eureka, where they would in turn be picked up at a special trade zone by electric vehicles, and then taken to Marin. This allowed some permitted Park denizens to travel to Marin or simply earn interest; second, the bank, because of this first measure, could provide interest and loans, depending on the types of deposits made, which varied from low risk to highly volatile; and, finally, it employed over five hundred people throughout Park, paid well and had a six-hour workday. These were exceptional conditions, for one could work at the bank and do no more. Or they could opt to do more and make more. The mandated official six-hour workday instituted in the Park Amendments excluded those unable to work, those over fifty-and-ten, and those stricken by illness. These three groups were guaranteed a basic income, and everyone in Park could freely access the multiple doctors’ offices for basic vaccinations, minor surgeries, and referrals to Marin for healthcare, care that included regenerative, stem-cell and other technologically advanced therapeutics, that couldn’t be provided by the pre-electrical community. Physicians, watching their patients often wait until the last minute for transport to Marin, were the most opposed to the ban on electronic-based technologies, and they voted for either the more liberal members of The Merchants & Traders Cooperative Alliance, or, more recently, The Youth And Freedom of Movement Platform.
“Yes, Autumn Spring, how may I be of service?”
“I noticed…” She moved around the foyer, titling her head slightly to the right, then to the left, her jet-black hair, cut just above her shoulders, moved gently. Stone had been a fan of old films when he was younger, and she reminded him of a spitting image of a young Natalie Wood. Her powerful, dark eyes met his again, after a few moments of penetrating inspection. “Mr Stone, I have called you hear to talk at some length; come, let’s sit in the drawing room.” They entered a large room off the foyer; the room had high ceilings, large windows overlooking the road, several soft, white couches, and bookshelves from floor to ceiling on the inner southern facing, down the slope, and westerly facing, towards the back of the house, walls. The shelves were completely full. Almost everyone in Park read with lesser or greater degrees of alacrity, yet the Spring family had the largest private collection of books. The attic was likewise filled with books. Autumn Spring pulled a book off the shelf. The title, in Mandarin, translated roughly as The Post Carrington Event Social Order In China. “I don’t expect you to know this book, or to have read it; I learnt Mandarin when I was studying in Marin. And my mother knows a bit. Several of the Chinese-Americans who fled San Francisco, especially the older generation, have helped me read this fully. It’s an outline, by the Chinese government, for multiple underground settlements that would house millions, on technologies that make Marin look pre-Neolithic. It also outlines something about time. You’re interested in time, aren’t you, Mr Stone?”
“Please, just call me Stone, Autumn? May I call you Autumn?”
“Yes, sit, here.” she motioned to a light-blue armchair. She sat in a large lavender reading chair, crossed her legs; her crisp, white linen dress fell to her ankles. She wore a white button-up, linen shirt, with a thin black tie that came just above her navel. Her family also traded in a great deal of flax, and they administered several textile mills in Eureka, Arcadia, Park and Pine. Stone wore his best outfit, after he’d finished with his work on the wagon’s axle, he’d been called by the foreman to the Spring residence. One hour. He went home, showered outside, put on his cleanest trousers and denim shirt, shaved his face and proceeded to this odd interaction. He’d never been inside the Spring residence. “Stone, why did you run to be a member? What motivates you?” Autumn Spring rested her left elbow on the side of the chair, the other elbow held her her arm up, she tilted right—light reflected from the glass building opposite, casting ambient shadows through the lightly curtained triple Bay windows—her head rested on the palm of her hand. Stone felt uncomfortable in this large room, with its white and blue tile floors, its massive bookcases, its high azure ceiling. Not a man to sweat, his bald forehead produced one, maybe two droplets of salty liquid.
“Well, Autumn, I’d say it is because I’ve been here for so long, I love what we’ve built, and I didn’t like what I saw before the… you call it a calamity, most folks do… But you don’t know what life was like in those times. Technology didn’t free us. It put millions of us out of work. It ruined the atmosphere. It destroyed entire foresta, lands, seas and rivers. Here, in Park, we’ve restored the environment as best we can, and I am not one—I am not one who wishes to go back. I know, I know, I have heard you speak, and you’re an idealist; you think technology—opening ourselves up more to the Marin people, maybe even these more technologically advanced societies in China—will solve our problems. I take an opposite view, I think it will create problems.”
“I am pleased you’ve been frank with me. We are on opposite ends—not opposite—we are of differing opinion, but the motion passed. Shattered is going north. He’s going to need help. Marin is offering a degree of support, but he needs passage beyond Park’s region, and supplies, before he can continue his journey. Marin has an agreement that they cannot use their technology—by sea, air or land—through the Park region. The necessary means of travel, namely the solar flier, the tents, the computers, will all need to be deactivated and loaded onto wagons. I want you to head the project. The foreman where you work, Thomas, has the blueprints. I would also like you to lead the expedition to edge of Park, and slightly beyond.” She pulled out a laminated map from behind her back. “Here, take him to just beyond 42.4390° N, 123.3284° W, there was once a town there, and there is a bridge across the river known as Rogue. As soon as he is across, he can activate the equipment and proceed north in the solar flier with the five Marin scientists, the remaining six of you will then return here. Your wife will be given the best care.”
“It’s not that. She doesn’t like it when I am gone. How long will this take? About a month by the looks of it?”
“About a month, yes. But we must proceed, it’s summer. And autumn is also a fine time to travel. We haven’t had snow here; well, I can’t recall, I suppose since before I was born.”
“Twenty-nine winters ago.”
“Right. So you’ll do it? I need an affirmation of contract, and I will need you to begin to-day.”
“How much does it pay?”
“I thought you’d ask. Enough for you to retire. Perhaps build a bigger cabin, or move into an apartment? Or have both as you and your wife age? Around three million.”
“Yes, is there a problem?”
“None at all, ma’am.”
“Please call me Autumn. Money mustn’t change how we treat each-other. Such a hangover from before. I suppose you are right about many of the problems faced before the Carrington Event. Yet I truly believe we can learn, and… I won’t advocate here. I am always ready to advocate. I get it from my parents. I want the man I hire to do this job properly. Partly, that’s why the pay is so high. Mostly, it’s the reason I hired you.”
Autumn Spring saw Stone out the front door, she stood at the open door, leaned on the side and watched as he walked down The Long Road. “He’ll do it properly. He will…” her thoughts trailed off as she watched clouds slowly change the landscape, the buildings, the outlines, the mountains; it was going to rain. She loved the rain. She went inside to grab an umbrella and rain-boots.
Why me for selection? – he mused. Shattered didn’t vocalize his question, not even to Mar. After a long horse-drawn carriage ride from Park to Eureka, he smelt the ocean. He loved the salty smell, the heavy, humid feeling; the foggy summertime leaden sky sat low. Passing through odd buildings – pre-calamity architecture – with strange designs, with no windows, or too many windows, Shattered felt a tinge of homesickness. He never expected to feel this upon leaving – a desire he had since childhood; although, he had never been beyond Arcadia. He had never gone this far south. A massive wooden gate, about fifty-feet tall and just as wide, he surmised, opened just enough for humans to pass. “Papers!” A tall, Black man demanded; a senior member of Park’s civil defense force. Shattered produced his passport – it didn’t include a photograph, but had his date of birth, eye color and height; he also showed the official the three-page motion signed by the administrator allowing passage to Marin for the duration of a one-month period – for training purposes followed by permission for an expedition to 53°25’05.5″N 132°20’33.5″W.
Shattered passed through the gates made of large timber doors. His eyes adjusted to the shine coming off silver bubbles, large silver bubbles, the size of a wagon – yet, smooth, clean, floating. “Hello, welcome to the Marin-Park trading zone, Shattered.” A young woman in her late twenties approached him, her dark locks moved ever so slightly in the breeze. Her thick, dark purple overcoat came up to the bottom of her neck. Shattered had never seen someone so beautiful. He looked from her neck up, his eyes still reeling from the shine of the bubbles. Her chocolate brown skin, silky and soft, reminded him of art, real pre-calamity art – what he’d seen of it in the libraries he often frequented. Her voice, calm and confident, reassured him, yet he found himself muttering,
“How do you know my…?”
“Name. Well, you’ve been bio-scanned. We knew you were coming, so ran a few tests from your DNA profile. This is available because you had several minor operations requiring blood transfusions. I know, it is not the custom of your people, the people of Park, to have such personal information. But you must brace yourself for shocks – culturally speaking of course. I am Knowledge.”
“That’s a wonderful name!”
“Thank you, let’s go – we are behind schedule.”
Being behind schedule – even the phrase behind schedule – didn’t make much sense to Shattered. He pulled his old woolen coat around him, pulled a scarf out of his rucksack and put it on. It wouldn’t be needed for long. Approaching the floating metallic oval, a slit, then half of the vehicle slid slightly open. He entered. “Sit, do sit.” He sat on the most comfortable chair he’d ever felt; it perfectly contoured itself to his body. “Marin Central – engage.” The door closed; the vehicle turned mostly transparent; it sat on nothing, and like a raindrop, flatter at the bottom, rounded at the top. The floor remained dark, but the outside was fully visible. They passed near the Pacific Ocean at speeds Shattered never felt before. “We will reach Marin soon, travel-time to Sausalito is just over an hour.”
“That’s incredible! Sausalito is, over four-hundred and twenty kilometers from…”
“Yes, speed is quite a different matter in the Technocratic Republic of Marin – what did Tennessee Williams say, “For time is the longest distance between two places.”? She waved her arm in the air, almost in a circle, as she quoted a man Shattered hadn’t yet read. He knew the name, he knew the person was an author – a playwright – but he didn’t know anything else. Knowledge smiled at him. Shattered found this peculiar. Smiling. This type of behavior, at least in his little world, was reserved for special moments. And while the moment was special for him, he couldn’t see how it would be special for this advanced citizen of Marin. For that matter, he had never heard it called the Technocratic Republic of Marin.
“So this is a car?” He shifted his position, relaxing into the warm chair, taking his coat off, and placing it on top of his suitcase; his scarf – his crimson scarf knitted by Mar – he placed on the table to his right; a table that seemingly led straight into the ocean, for there was nothing, not even what he could call glass, between himself and the outside, yet he felt only the inside. He looked to the right, toward the coastal mountains; they passed so quickly he had to look down for a moment.
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. We just call them trans-pods. The are essentially quite simple really, we have an arrangement with Park, we cannot use anything more sophisticated too close to our agreed boundaries.”
“Simple, huh? Well, so – I was told I would meet someone of great importance.”
“Oh, great importance, really?” She again gestured in a semi-circle with her arm as she said great importance. “I am the Secondary Adjunct of the Central Nexus.”
“What does that mean? Sorry.” Shattered’s green eyes looked directly at Knowledge’s dark brown eyes. She didn’t blink. She held herself with a sense of – he couldn’t find the word straightaway – royalty.
“I am the third highest ranking member, as you would call someone, in our Republic. I serve the Deputy Premier, and she in turns serves the Premier.”
“We’re here.” Shattered had found himself dozing off – he hadn’t properly slept in several days. He awoke to an open door, the trans-pod had turned nearly completely black inside, and light came in from outside. Outside turned out to be inside; he looked around – “Where are we?”
“Underground, follow me.”
Walking past swimming pools dotted with people talking to themselves, floating up the mass cavern in suits, machines like large spiders crawling the walls, machines like discs he’d discovered in the ground, but larger, hoovering and quietly whizzing past him in the long corridor. From the trans-pod to his room, he passed four giant swimming pools, each the size of a lake, three massive gardens, and the light felt so natural – underground. “Liquid light,” Knowledge explained – “it’s like pumping water from a well.” He passed people wearing purple robes, with translucent coverings over the heads, their eyes moving back and forth; everyone looked so young, so healthy, so vibrant and also so removed from everything and everyone around them. No one greeted him or Knowledge. No one wore shoes. The ground was so warm and smooth – he took his shoes off and placed them in his suitcase after Knowledge encouraged him.
“Adapt,” she said.
“You know what date it is?”
“Yes.” Morph Zed laughed. This creature from the north, this ashen figure with several red spots on his pale, white skin, this frail thirty-three year old child of a man, was indeed as educated as he’d been told.
“July, 15th of the year 2063, AD.”
Shattered said these words without any emotion. Stricken with new, new, new, he felt cold, blank; he stared at the Premier. The massive, transparent ovoid building, towered some two-hundred meters over the calm Marin Bay. The day was sunny, cloudlesss, dry. Inside, the temperature in the main nexus, near the top, remained a stable 22.2 degrees Celsius. Humidity stayed fixed at 53.5%. Morph Zed’s offices took up several floors. Aside from the opaque flooring, the rest of the building was entirely transparent. One couldn’t tell that there was something like glass containing this giant egg protruding from the cliff-side; one might just walk off into the ocean – only to bump into a soft gel-like invisible wall.
Morph Zed’s face betrayed his age. He seemed a man frozen in time. Shattered thought he didn’t look much older than perhaps ten-and-five years above his own thirty-three circles around the sun. Regenerative medicine is unbelievable, incredible – he almost said this out-loud. Shattered’s sweaty palms rubbed at his soft, new white, linen trousers. He sweated profusely under his arms, but his white shirt discretely maintained itself – and himself – dry. The sun’s rays came in gently, as though they’d been dimmed but only on their entry, for the outside could be seen in all its luminous glory.
“Pope Gregory XIII wanted to control time. He commissioned the making of the calendar; look, here is aerial footage of the Vatican – see that building there? Near the Sistine Chapel? That’s the old museums. Above, in the chamber up there, is where the Meridian still stands – to this day. He also, not so incidentally, had all of Italy mapped. Incredible pieces. To control – to know, time and land, spacetime. Old Europe, sunken into a feudal state. Warring little bands of people fighting over scraps. Yes, yes, I know what you are thinking. Why don’t we go over there and offer to help. We cannot. The Nexus Directives of our Republic, drawn up before the Carrington Event, prohibit all nonessential interaction with people who fell into a pre-technological state. We monitor the entire globe. The mass solar ejection cleared a great deal of space debris – satellites are in orbit right now, and this… More on this later. Solar drones produce a great deal of data as well. With the exception of the underground resettlement program in China, which had ten underground cities, holding some twenty million people, and is now a society far more advanced than anything we’ve got here, the world has fallen back in time. Or forward? Who knows. Plagues, diseases that were once eradicated came back; post-industrial and industrial food supply chains were cut-off immediately as the Carrington Event II happened. All electronic equipment not secured was destroyed, as you know. The light was so bright; you were just baby, and couldn’t possibly remember. Night time glowed as though day, we had to shut off the liquid light at night, to adjust the conditions. Some days afterwards we sent several aerial vehicles to monitor EM, and then we came out. Solar devices popped up. Within several years we developed into a thriving, research-based society of some two-hundred thousand. The children of the most privileged. And then we became inward looking, as we witnessed in horror the mass death, the starvation, the plagues – diseases ravaged entire peoples – we counted as the homo sapien population fell daily. Then some very ill people tried to come from the former Southern California exclusion zone, and the farmers of the Central Valley had them all massacred. Yes, Park – your home – is a lucky place. Not many settlements managed to maintain organization, connection to the outside, and a sense of morality. The farmers, we all trade with them, but they practice every form of cruelty. They have no formal social organization, and they are not permitted into either Marin or Park. We receive their goods in a place formerly called Victorville, and your people trade with them in Etna.”
Morph Zed motioned and turned off the floor to ceiling monitor that demonstrated – in the most vivid set of images Shattered had ever seen – the narration. Shattered had witnessed some of the worst footage. Bodies piled in large burning pits; farmers’ using drones and long-distance lethal weapons to kill hundreds of refugees coming down a mountain pass; bodies on cement in places formerly called Paris, London, Lagos, Rome, Moscow, Kyiv, Los Angeles, missing limbs, skin falling off, coughing blood; zoomed lenses from safe aerial distances projected back to paradise images of a calamity. He fully understood his original question – What’s in a calamity? A question he’d asked himself since childhood. This, this, that, that, his eyes took in the visions from a distance reluctantly and also hungrily. He wanted to know. He didn’t want to see this and that. But he wanted to know. And the latter desire compelled him to consume these images – until the Premier noted their effect had its intended impact and turned off them off. A wall, light purple – lavender, remained.
“We turned inward because we could no longer look at this. Within several years, our society had become – and remains – as inward looking as some of Park’s most strict isolationists. Marin citizens know they are privileged, and aside from our inter-governmental pacts with Park and our less developed relationship with the Federated Cities of China, we aren’t globalists – a word that used to mean something different than it means now. A globalist is someone like your Autumn Spring, like you. We need people willing to explore. The problem is there is one place we cannot see or know with technology, it’s entirely a blank space, and no aerial or orbital vehicles have been capable of penetrating into the area around the former Victoria Island.”
“Yes, precisely. You’re aware of the tertiary facts. No one from Marin is willing to leave; well, five people are – the call went out over a year ago, and five people came forward. The Chamber of Deputies thought them insane, so they underwent eight months of extensive testing. When they were approved, by me, over the objections of Chamber – with the exception of Knowledge – to go to 53°N, well, they obviously needed someone who could manage to get them in without the use of technology. Someone with experience growing up in a pre-technological society. Autumn Spring put your name forward, and after you were elected as a member, she had that motion passed.”
“Because you’re obsessed, your distressed and you need this. And because you need it, you won’t stop until you find out what is there. The five who came forward are all scientists; mostly in the field of quantum mechanics, and one is a temporal physicist. None of them can make this journey – they wouldn’t know how to sleep outside, under the stars, with bare living. And they were technically prohibited from this kind of thing. Until…”
“Knowledge’s call out for volunteers?”
“Yes, our own ever curious counterpart to your Autumn Spring. And she’s one of the five.”
Shattered’s twenty-and-five days, out of thirty, went by so quickly he could barely keep up with himself; the last five days moved slowly as he anticipated his return. The lifestyles of the citizens Marin varied, but they were always busy, always connecting with some technology that Shattered didn’t understand. He spent the first few days as a tourist; he visited the massive Central Nexus, a structure that went deep into the Earth, some one and a half kilometers. Transport pods, smaller than the one that took him from Eureka to Marin, moved in every direction through a main shaft and zoomed in and out of transparently sealed corridors. The corridors were sealed with the same gel that Shattered had encountered above ground in Premier Morph Zed’s office. The transpods moved quickly through this immense space. On his seventh day he visited The Arcades.
“Some of our guests have decided to live completely virtually.” Dr Bernhart explained to Shattered as he saw rows of naked bodies in slightly opaque ovoids, sitting side-by-side. As he approached, he noticed two small hair-sized lines going into the temples of each person’s head.
“See, their bodies are tended to by the carrier eggs, and they — only they — decide when they want to hatch. For some it’s a short stay, like a holiday; others, many in the cyberpsychiatry division view it as form of therapy, helping certain people re-integrate into society; and some live nearly their entire lives inside them. They can live out a reality that is peopled, has architecture, is built from almost any time period — many chose to live as Roman Senators or Russian aristocracy, a few though go for the simpler lives of farmers and ranchers; I had a person request something very specific, he wanted to live in 1964, in Boulder, Colorado with a man named… Ah, Allen Ginsberg. He was one of the older citizens.”
“Wait, therapy? Re-integration for what exactly? Everyone here seems very — calm and also busy, happy.” He nearly added an “almost” to his last sentence, but his internal prudence prevailed. Dr Bernhardt looked at him, smiled, then looked down and began moving small dots — red, yellow, purple — around a transparent screen she held in her left hand. She looked up again. Her peering dark, brown eyes met his nervous green eyes. He shuddered and looked down.
“We have our anti-social elements here too; people who refuse to live by the Nexus Directives often develop anxiety disorders, they are very small minority, some two-percent of our current population, but they are a substantial number of our cases. They are often the ones, after we awake them from their mandatory month, that decide to stay in virtual suspension. We are required to inform them that they are in a virtual simulation every six months, yet some people begin to… Well, let’s just say they get very comfortable.”
Dr Bernhardt clearly felt she’d said too much. She brushed her long, dark hair back and walked away from the eggs, toward an opening. “Come.” The wall became transparent, then a section the size of a large barn door opened up. Shattered stood looking at the face of man; he thought the man to be about twenty-and-two or so, but given how Marinian’s age, they could be about the same age. His pale eyes twitched slightly; Shattered jumped back. He quickly walked over to Dr Bernhardt and found himself, by accident, holding her arm.
“So they lose sense of reality?”
“What is reality?”
Dr Bernhardt took Shattered to dinner. As the chief cybernetics and computer programmer for The Technocratic Republic of Marin, and as a trained physicist, her duties during Shattered’s stay included familiarizing him with technologies he’d never used before. Most of the work would be done by the others, but he needed a rudimentary knowledge of the tools for his trip to fifty-three north. That’s what they called it here. Legendary and yet forbidden, for any outside travel had to be within the bounds of Marin, or short-term stays at Park. Only the lucky few with coequal Marin citizenship and Park denizenship, like Autumn Spring, could travel between the two places freely.
Dr Bernhardt finished her salad, her tumeric and green tea, her soy-based protein with stir-fried vegetables: onions, cabbage, garlic, spinach on a bed of brown rice, and turned to Shattered. They’d been silent since they began eating, a Marin custom. Shattered had finished his meal too – everything was vegetarian.
“So, I helped develop the vaccinations that don’t need refrigeration — specifically for Park. It was part of a trade. I believe that in the early days, some of you got mumps?”
“Yes, I did, horrible, when I was two. Fortunately, I had a great caregiver, her name is Mar.”
“Yes, Mar, she’s quite woman.”
“You know her?”
“Yes, of course, she worked here for a year after the calamity. Didn’t you know?”
“No, doing what?”
“She was one of the finest biomedical researchers we had, and then, she left; she went back to Park — a place she’d lived before the Carrington Event. She said she needed to take care of someone. And I realized, just now, that someone is you.”
“Might I, may I, ask how… How old you are?”
“Of course, seventy-eight.”
“You don’t look older than forty-and-ten! Damn, this regenerative medicine could really help my people.”
“I know, but they do not want technology. Perhaps they are right, look at how long they’ve managed organized governance. We’ve searched the globe, and – aside from the less than communicative Federated Cities of China – there are no other organized societies. Also, you’ve the fortune of being geographically located to near us, and we to you. Many of our medicines are derived from plants your people find, as they explored the forests and moved northward and inland. I am surprised at how large Park has grown. The Sacramento Valley farmers, they still have a pre-Carrington mentality, they cannot organize themselves; they are cruel and ruthless, and they still – do you know the concept of race?”
“I’ve read about it.”
“Well, those farmers are what we called, before the C2 Event, white nationalists. They call themselves ridiculous names now, Duke of this, Duchess of that. A lot of them are from the area, a few of them came in the last months, just before C2, from all over North America, to live out some horrid Confederate fantasy. They use machines we trade with them to tend their fields, but long ago they would exploit people from other places to tend their crops, simply because of superficial markers like skin color or language. We trade with them as infrequently as possible, and only at one location. And they are not allowed to ever enter Marin or Park.”
“Use for profit, for gain — they even killed these people when they tried to fight for dignity. And they massacred thousands trying to flee over the mountains into the Valley from the south.”
Shattered put his head in hands and began to cry. He had seen so much. Too much. Eighteen days later, on his twenty-fifth day, he awoke; he felt the warm bed become slightly firmer as his 08:00 alarm neared. Another day with Dr Bernhardt and the team: Dr Knowledge X, temporal physicist; Seymour Zan, theoretical physicist; Judith Spring, atomic physicist, and inventor of the first operable nuclear fusion reactor; and ReJurgen Judd, optical physicist.
His days consisted of working closely with this team of experts to identify the possible reasons why fifty-three north fell outside of all monitoring, including satellite imaging, using the virtual reality simulators to help train them for life insides forests, and learning as much as he could about the technologies they would be using. On the last day, they all boarded a large, shining transpod at a place overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The breeze, some of the first non-filtered surface air Shattered had felt, smelt and breathed since arriving, had a salty harshness about it. Shattered loved the feeling. The sun’s light shimmered off the tranquil ocean, the ovoid raindrop transpod, and the faces of the six explorers. After the last one, Dr Bernhardt, entered, the transpod’s doors closed and the vehicle began moving at an exact 400 kilometers per hour. Gliding above the main coastal transvector line, the transpod interacted with a fixed narrow flat white line emitting graviphotons, these both powered – by absorption into the outer gel – and allowed the vehicle fast, albeit slower than capable (treaty-regulated) speeds; one hour and twenty two minutes of friction-less travel they stepped into the trade zone; the large timber wall, with it’s timber fencing reaching over the coastal plain and up into the day’s misty coastal mountains, greeted them, and so did Autumn Spring. They’d arrived at the fulcrum point between two very different but intertwined worlds.
Shattered sat in the isolation yurt, looking up at the light coming through the circular glass covered opening in the center of the ceiling. After arriving at the Marin-Park trade zone, the group came to the large timber gate. They waited about an hour. Ordinarily, this type of wait, a relatively minor one for a major inter-regional border crossing, would not have made Shattered feel restless. But his sense of time, his pace in and of life, his inner clock ticked faster than the world he had left and now returned to. Only thirty days in Marin, and he had begun to feel the need for fast, frictionless, no-wait, no-delayed movement through the world; a restless movement that required every movement be devoted, or at least, to something, engaged in some way, some fashion he could not articulate or explain to himself. Shattered paced. The gate slid open a little, about two meters. Three Park civilian defense ministers, wearing masks, gloves and goggles, donning grey uniformed sports-wear with small, metallic white triangles on their right chests, indicating they were ministers of the medical containment unit, escorted the six to the other side.
“You will all, per Park regional regulations, need to be in containment and isolation for monitoring for a period of at least fourteen-days. This can be expanded based on your health presentation, and can last up to a year, but must be renewed by the administator every twenty-and-eight days.” They had to say this. Even though Marin citizens were healthier, and it was Marin that actually supplied Park with vaccines and medicines that didn’t require refrigeration, every person, no matter from where, had to be quarantined for a period of fourteen-days. Special isolation yurts were set up at various checkpoints, from this major hub on the coast to inland posts at Willow Creek, Etna, to the northernmost outposts along the Smith and Klamath Rivers; various peaks were equipped with monitoring stations, mostly for wildfire alerts, but occasionally for spotting the few people who managed to make the journey over the steep mountains that straddled the former California-Oregon border. Park’s region came near the former border, but never formally entered into the erstwhile state of Oregon. While Park’s formal boundaries were clear, and much smaller, for the last decade, since most of the northern region became less inhabited, Park had claimed the area from Applegate-Manizanita Lake to where the Smith River flowed into the Pacific Ocean as part of its region-of-influence.
Regular expeditions, led by Park civilian defense forces alongside plant life researchers, geologists – taught at the one thing left that could be called a university, Park Biology and Forestry Association – and miners, were allowed to venture up into the southwestern tip of old Oregon. The people of this region were dangerous for the first five years after the calamity. Almost always armed and often prejudiced against what they saw as an overpopulated – mixed -, arrogant and too centrally organized invasion, they several times attacked Park denizens and outposts. As the civilian defense forces built up a series of outposts, timber walls, booby-traps, trip wires and armed its northern forces with various types of guns and rifles, the attacks from their racist, fearful and disorganized northern neighbors slowed and then stopped. A decade after the calamity, after waves of disease hit these unorganized regions, the land emptied of most of its former inhabitants, and the civilian forces of Park moved from defensive positions to research and exploration.
Shattered knew all this. He knew that quarantine procedures were essential. Morph Zed had revealed to him a classified secret: His parents had died of a type of viral hemorrhagic fever after encountering a group of very ill people; they were on an early expedition, but to where? Even Marin’s Intelligence Agency could not determine this, and Park’s administrators had stonewalled all but the medical examinations; officially, the couple had been interested in cartography, and mapping the outer parts of Park and beyond. Yet, they seemed to have been ordered to leave abruptly, and, more strangely, leave their one-year old child in the care of Park’s nascent government. Who placed the order? – Where were they heading? – unknown. The report read dryly:
Near Applegate Lake, the Sorsby couple found a group of some fifty people, in various stages of illness, apparently with some type of hemorrhagic fever. They took precautions to avoid contact, but had been infected, and by the time they reached the nearest Park outpost, blood poured out of their orifices. They did not ask for admission, and they died painfully, although together in the forest at Park Outpost 18 [41°55’47.6″N 123°11’00.3″W], on seventh day of the month of February, 2032 [temperature 12.C, time 23:55). Before the couple died, the Park authorities authorized the use of a drone to collect blood and tissue samples. Virus identified, sequenced and vaccination created on the twelfth day of the month of May, 2032 in laboratory 12, Marin Central Nexus. Noted: covert post-retrieval aerial surveillance of the region indicated a bright blue sphere appearing for 1.203 seconds.
What’s in a calamity? – all of this. Although he read this Marin IA classified report, along with notes that had been passed from the crew at the crow’s nest – the elevated outpost on top of a large wooden fence – documenting the two days his parents sat outside, how they had water and some food delivered to them by a rope in large flasks and bags, Shattered had never actually seen this type of suffering until his first visit to Morph Zed.
It was three days after his initial visit with Shattered that the Premier decided to release the text. He called for Shattered, let him read the report but barred him from viewing the footage of his parents from the medical drone. “For whatever reason, the blue sphere phenomena occurred at their exact location. Park classified all of these documents. Mar knew of the incident and she immediately left – for you, I presume. Of course, those at the outpost saw the blue sphere, but they were prohibited from speaking about it, and since it was a violation of our inter-regional agreement that we had maintained high-altitude surveillance, a practice we’ve only done on three occasions in Park’s regions, we did not feel the need to inform them.”
Living in Park, Shattered had felt safe, and he had, in fact, been quite safe considering the current state of most of his fellow species. He was treated to the best inoculations Marin could make. He had excellent food, fresh air and could amble around the forests, hills and rivers all he liked. Yet, ten years ago, when he heard of the place Marianians call fifty-two north, he felt an upsurge, a kind of carnal desire, to go their.
Is that where his parents were headed? – no one would answer him because he did not pose the question, expect privately to himself. He had, his entire adult life researched the libraries tirelessly, talked endlessly at parties, gatherings and even at the Forum about 53°25’05.5″N 132°20’33.5″W. He eventually became known as an obsessive. Park had many obsessives. Men who collected old bits of metal in wheel-barrels for hours on end. Will I end up one of them? – he couldn’t tell. Or was he taking after his parents, who seemingly had the same wanderlust? Ruminating on the entirety of the last thirty-days, the massive shifts in his consciousness, the fact that quarantine was more for his mind than his body – for he needed to slow down – Shattered fell asleep in the yurt after the light dimmed.
Awaking around 22:00 he noted a small slip of paper under the door:
“Dinner is in a tiffin box just outside. The yellow line leads to the outhouse. Please use the alcohol sanitizer, shower twice a day, and try to enjoy your time here. Books and magazines are available on request, please state the title or genre on the back of this paper, place it with the used tiffin and we will attempt to deliver the appropriate books or magazines.”
Opening the wooden door, Shattered noted the tiffin, opened it and ate his rice, broccoli, boiled beans and onions watching the night sky. Finally, I can see the stars. It is good to be back. His kerosene lamp illuminated a bare room; after dinner he turned it off, looked out the window and noted that another yurt, some twenty-and-five meters away, had its light still on. He was not told, and did not know – after they were placed into the isolation zone they had been separated – which of the other five inhabited that yurt. He thought maybe it was Knowledge. He wanted it to be Knowledge. He found himself wanting to be close to Knowledge. Stony silence. Pine, Redwood and ocean smells.
He fell into a deep sleep.
Autumn Spring, her black hair against her silky white, gentle, slender face, gracefully walked up to the podium. Her white trousers, white shirt and slim black tie gave her a look of authority; her composer, despite or perhaps because of her youthful age, commanded the room. All seventy members of the parliament were present, including a very livid, very angry Mar. She had almost hit TJ Tallie with cane on her way in, only to be stopped by an unbearable pain in her right shoulder. Nearly two-thousand people had come from all over Park; The Long Road filled to the brim with eager denizens. A good day for business for the owners of shops along the main road. A show, a serious show of representative democracy, a serious showdown was about to begin.
Placing her shoes to the side of the speaker’s platform, Autumn Spring spoke clear and loud, with a legato structure to her sentences. Her accent had been informed from an early age; educated, fluid, politic and eloquent. “We are assembled under the most grave of circumstances.” The room fell completely silent. The whispering among the public audience stopped. “The Youth and Freedom of Movement Platform along with our allies among The Merchants and Traders Cooperative Alliance have moved, unanimously, to censure administrator Tallie. I do not take censuring a member, the central member, the administrator of our laws, the upholder of our Prime Amendments, I do not take this lightly. In point of fact, I resisted it. When the two aforementioned groups met, I listened, as the Chair of our loose collaboration, to everyone. And everyone, to put it mildly, wanted to officially reprimand the administrator. He is here today, and he will have to answer to this motion. Aside from violating a motion, Tallie has brought an inter-regional and juridical crisis of the worst kind since the post-calamity transition ended. Marin is threatening sanctions, an innocent and very well man, Shattered, a member of this body, is being held without cause, and therefore we have no choice but to act. Do I have a second?”
Joyful, her voice full of anger, yelled out, “I second the damn motion!”
“A formal vote will now take place, members, please find the pencil and paper on your desks. Mark ‘yes to censure’ or ‘no to censure.’” Autumn Spring walked back and forth, slowly, addressing both sides of the hall. The members section sat at a stepped twenty-degree angle; the large room, filled on both sides of this section, packed with people in chairs, or standing up, all in their beige, white and grey clothing began talking softly as the members voted, and passed their cards down to a Park civilian defense force clerk. A young, beautiful Black man of twenty-and-three, a prodigy trained by his father – a man who helped found Park’s system of governance as a director with FEMA and later as one of the drafters of the Prime Amendments; this young man sat upright, his chiseled face looking over the proceedings like a statue, with thick, dark hair in the shape of a halo around his head. His muscular body filled the standard issue silver, form-fitting suit, and he wore the symbol of the blue circle, a sign that he worked for the parliament. One year ago, after his father died, he took the position with community assent. His allegiance was to upholding the rules of the parliament, organizing protection – when rarely necessary – for members, and keeping a log of motions passed. He also served as the Chief Archivist for Park Amendments and Motions Secure Section, located deep under The Forum. In total, he commanded a team – autonomous from the rest of the defense force – of one-hundred and two persons. His name was Jamal Cohen.
His voice, deep like a base drum, resonated, “The motion passes 48-22.”
Autumn Spring exited the stage and took her seat among the other members. She had already voted before announcing the motion, the prerogative of the both the leader of a party and one bringing forth a motion. Tallie, standing preternaturally tall, his one functioning and one glass eye scanning the room – almost in synchronization – without blinking, took to the stage. He wore, most exceptionally, a crimson red shirt without a collar, buttoned up to his thick neck, falling to his lower buttocks, and dark black trousers. Shiny black shoes.
“What exactly am I being censured for? This motion is not clear – it does not state the reasons for it being brought, and although Autumn Spring has stated her reasons, those reasons are not included in this motion. There are reasons, and they are not benign my fellow denizens! They are ulterior reasons of a few – forty-eight – who want to subvert to core values of our Prime Amendments; they are reasons bound to profit, personal interest, the eventual – what do they call it – opening up of our society in clear contradiction of our core values. Since the beginning, when the motion that passed to allow Shattered on his expedition, to allow him to train in Marin, I have been nothing but accommodating – have I not?” The isolationists cheered. This was their man in action, the reason he’d been selected. He had gotten his stride back. No more rolling over to youthful forces who did not know what life was like before the calamity. No more rolling over to the greedy merchants who wanted to trade more, more, more like the people before the calamity, amassing wealth at the expense of the community.
“Why is it that I hold him now? Why is it that I would slow this process for this body to have time to re-think its position? Because I have information that he is a spy. A spy for the government of Marin, and for that matter, and for this reason, I vote that he be removed from medical quarantine and placed, after his mandated stay, in the…”
“Not the damn holding space you fascist bastard!” Mar couldn’t resist. She could no longer contain the rage inside her. Her son, stuck in a yurt, then a small enclosure like the animals she visited as a child, or the people she knew – the dissidents, the outcasts – who had spent time in the prisons of the last world. No, she couldn’t bear it. She shouted obscenities. She banged her fist against the desk. She turned red. Autumn Spring walked up to Mar, sat with her and held her hand. Mar cried a little. Autumn Spring, a true politician, sat – holding Mar’s back with her arm – sympathetically but without expressing much emotion. “What evidence do you bring administrator?” Autumn Spring boomed. “And what nonsense. Shattered has been with us since before the calamity. He was born here. He has never been to Marin before this in his life. Again, what evidence?”
“That’s currently classified, but I am possibly willing to discuss it with a select committee.”
“Willing? You will be more than willing; you will be forced to now. What is the evidence?”
“I can’t say here.”
“I call for a motion to command the administrator to release all classified information regarding his claim that Shattered is a spy.”
“I second the motion, and damn the man who made me do it!” Joyful, almost always vivacious and on the side of optimism, shouted while recoiling in anger.
“Mr Cohen, please call the vote.”
Bits of paper were passed around. Members looked at each other. A sea of faces, the diversity of skin color standing in stark contrast to their monochromatic sartorial choices, whispers. Heads nodding. Heads shaking. Pencils being held above a yes or a no. A binary. A choice. The sound of chairs moving back and forth. The collective anxiety in the room reached a crescendo. After twenty-and-seven minutes the last paper ballot had been passed to Jamal Cohen.
“35-35, the motion does not pass.”
Silence in Shattered’s yurt. He heard of the votes two days later. He sat motionless. The day passed as though everything was sped up. The light ascended and descended. He sat on his bed, going outside to urinate on the ground twice. He did not eat. He did not sleep until the next morning, just as the sun ascended over the pines on the eastern side of his yurt. A note came in,
Are you a spy? I must know the truth. Tallie is refusing to release information, even in closed session with a select group.
Am I a spy? Do I look like a spy? How could I be a spy? How could anyone even think that? For who? Marin — I spent thirty-days there? – his mind, too tired to race, fell into blankness.
Joyful Paine met Autumn Spring outside The Forum on that day of the vote. The hot dry air, slightly acrid with the smell of a distant wildfire, met their faces, lips and made their noses itch. Autumn Spring and Joyful hugged.
“I have a solution.” Joyful, shorter than her friend, rounded face, with long straight stunning jet-black hair that fell to her waist, held out her hazel hand, and pulled Autumn Spring toward a cannabis store owned by the First Peoples’ Autonomous Collective. “Hello, Ma, just going downstairs.”
Down the spiral staircase, Joyful took Autumn Spring. They had done this countless times before. “I know, my love, you tremble. You never let them see it. You are strong. I have an idea. You know Park Amendment thirty-seven?”
“The one related to the autonomy of First Peoples? The inclusion of formations of sovereignty within the governance of Park? Vaguely.”
Joyful poured Autumn Spring a glass of lemonade; it was cool from sitting in the underground larder. The pitcher, that contained lavender lemonade, was made of ceramic, had been in the Paine family for decades. “Sit.” Autumn Spring, never one to take directions – except in private, from Joyful, sat on the small, newly made white couch. “Like the couch? It’s one of yours — Ma, bought it yesterday.”
“I didn’t recognize. I am in such a state. How can they call Shattered a spy? Is he? I will send a message asking him, directly. No. Maybe.”
“Yes,” Joyful said as she sipped her lemonade, sat sideways and pulled her hand through her hair, smiling at Autumn Spring, “send it to cover yourself. It will hurt him initially, but I have a plan. I am going to invoke that Prime Amendment thirty-seven, which allows me unfettered access as a First Peoples’ representative and member of parliament, to see whatever Tallie is hiding; he will never allow a committee to see it. You know how he works — put that in the letter too, but don’t mention the other part.”
“And what of Tallie, don’t you need to request…?”
“Not with PA thirty-three, I can go directly to Jamal. He’s the only person with full access, and he is also versed in all the amendments. I will see him tomorrow, at the meeting of the key-holders.”
“Of course, Joyful! I love you!”
They embraced and kissed, their lemonades sat on a small wooden table in front of them, gathering drops of water as the cool liquid interacted with the warm room.