The novel 3Rivers is set near Slick Rock on the Kaweah River in Central California. It has three parts. The first and second parts are set in 1864 and 1964 respectively. This is the third part set in 2064. Enjoy.
Flag Day 2064
My granddaughter and I were sitting off a little way from the others, leaning back against a rock, savoring our dog sandwiches. Mine was sweet and succulent. Someone once told me that hundreds of years ago, the Indians who lived in this forest grew dogs for food too, much as we do now. It was nice where I was I was reclining. I turned my face to the sun listening to the water. The river was running strong. The sound was pleasurable.
I was sitting in the shadows between two huge rocks jutting out of the side of the mountain. No one not equipped with the right BiNOCs would be able to see me. My position was a good vantage point from which I could enjoy my lunch while watching the activity below me, watch our enemies prepare their invasion. Simultaneously, I could hear the conversation of the other members of our merry band of anarchists.
I looked over at my twenty-eight year old granddaughter. Although her eyes were still on the river, she had a look of disgust on her face. Her little troop was arguing again. And they were the same old arguments.
Millie: “We won’t only destroy the year’s clone crop, we kill a lot of the Farm Factorettes. What did they ever do to anybody? Why would we want them dead?”
Bobbie: “They may as well be dead. Girls like that are only bred for that kind of work. Not good for anything else. “Happy dexterity” my ass! That’s the same old corporate bullshit. We would be doing them a favor as far as I’m concerned. The Corp nurseries produce too many girls anyway. We all know that. Eight out of every ten pods is a girl. Pretty soon they won’t allow any boy chromes at all.”
Millie: “We don’t need men anyway. That’s been proven. Half of them request gender reassignment before their Common Age, anyway. They need a job. They need food. Men restricted Corporations are everywhere. Work pits, in most regions, best they can hope for. It’s simpler, shit it’s just easier to trans over to hybrid. No discrimination then.”
Sammy: “Yeah, well they’re wrong. The days are coming when all of you will appreciate a good old fashion man. Not a freaky hybrid man, but one with all his chromes intact. A real untransed. His natural chromes just firing away. It’ll get all over you, Millie.”
Sammy and some of the others laughed out loud at the image.
Lonnie: “Well, all of you get off that. Are we going to blow the Dam or not? You know our assignment. Our orders.”
Lonnie was the action teamer, my granddaughter’s best soldier. She abhorred all the talk and the interminable arguments. She craved havoc.
Until this point all the voices I had been listening to were feminine.
My granddaughter’s Queda had two hybrids and half a dozen changelings. You couldn’t tell their voice from the original girls. They had once been boys. But never became men. All had requested sex reassignment when they turned twelve as was usually done at Common Age.
In our unit, besides mine, there could only be one male voice. Should he choose to speak. I along with the others always drew quiet when he spoke. I enjoyed hearing another male voice. And I had eavesdropped on the others and heard them talk about how the low guttural growl to his voice was strangely, to them, compelling. It contained a calm resonance like a bass echo from deep in his chest. None of them wanted to admit it, but it stirred them in unusual ways. Probably because male voices were heard so seldom.
The whole group grew silent at the mention of orders. Though they couldn’t see us, I knew they were glancing in our direction. My granddaughter was the elected Captain. The orders were passed down through her. It was her responsibility to make sure they were carried out. One thing for sure, her Queda would argue over them anyway.
Orders were orders, but it didn’t mean free minds wouldn’t argue. It was one of the things so recognizable about the group. They had thrown off the political speak indoctrinations, from the Edindoc schools and argued about every thing. They even used the suppressed arguments. They found it exhilarating to have the freedom to say mean, hateful, even racist or sexist things to each other. Even sometimes calling each other vulgar, insulting names: Kike, negro, Mex, honky boy, Rag head, bonsai.
Racial differences were chromed out of most of population by the genome engineers three decades ago, right after the Great Merger. But it didn’t diminish the absolute satisfaction of hurling a racial epithet at an opponent when they were losing an argument. Their generation all looked alike now, but that didn’t keep us from closely inspecting each other for little imperfections we could attribute to a long extinct racial heritage.
I turned my attention back to the armament being arrayed below us. My granddaughter got up and left without saying anything.
The Tree Eaters were sitting all in a row like giant rodents about to advance up the mountain. Their diesel engines idled loudly, belching up irregular puffs of black smoke into the brackish cloud hovering over the river. Higher up in the mountains, passed the dam, the cloud was not so bad, but down here it was almost as choking as the valley floor. I saw that each one had two flags flying atop the control cabin. The flags were red, enhanced by yellow star and crescent. Chinese. Made in China. Well, Made in L.A. So call it “Made in China.” Their Corp was in charge of that region now.
It had taken two days for the huge machines to be brought over the river to begin their march up the mountain. When they started, their path would be direct. Any tree they encountered as they marched up the mountain would be downed and ground through as if it didn’t exist. Small piles of sawdust would be all that remained of the Tall pines, even the New Growth Giant Red Woods.
A group of geneticists at the old University had been able to clone one of the last remaining Redwoods before they became extinct and, by implanting an engineered gene, flash grow Redwood forests all up the side of the mountain where they had once existed. Of course the trees were grown not for their beauty, but as Harvest Parks. Still, we could use them to hide and plan our attacks on the corporate farms down in the valley
The Corps were fed up with us and they meant to deprive us of our hiding places. The laser saws on the Tree Eaters were efficient and irresistible. The deforestation left in their wake, would leave nowhere for us to hide from the Sun Drones. We would be located, our sniff profile recorded, cross-referenced in the data banks, and matched. The code would then be imprinted on the Moth Flybys. As many as twenty with the same locator codes would be released from the Home Sun Drones to hunt us down and inject us with the poison. Drones the size of insects. That bit like insects. But their bites were lethal. Their energy cells lasted up to thirty days. Plenty of time to sniff us out and kill us.
We had taken out three of the Tree Eaters with IEDs on the other side of the river. We could thank Terrell for that. The leaders had assigned him to our Queda. Many of the others weren’t happy about that decision. At first. But he was our explosives expert. And he was our only other original male. And he was young. And now he was popular with all the Queda.
I didn’t hate the Farm Guild like he did. Of course my parents and siblings hadn’t been slave workers in the food processors either. His parents had been Imported labor. Like all the others they had been swept up from the teeming and starving populations around the globe. Herded here by the Food Corp Co-Ops. They had been promised good meals, only to be chained to food sorters for twelve hours shifts, losing fingers, arms, being hacked up until they could no longer serve. And then be left to starve in the ditch fills with other cast offs.
Terrel talked sometimes of the cold misery his parents must have felt watching truck after truck of fresh produce rumble by, hoping for a peach or a tomato to fall off, just enough to sustain life for a little while longer. Hungry, so hungry, haunted by the knowledge that most of the food produced on the land factories was destined for the Data Corps around the globe, FACEBOOK lands or even the Disney Continent in the southern hemisphere.
I finished my sandwich, stood up and squeezed between the rocks and walked over to where the others were looking at Terrell. I looked too. I had to admit, he was a beauty.
Terrell was sitting regally on a tree stump yards away from they were gathered. The group stared across at him. He didn’t mind. It wasn’t rude. He was truly handsome. In the old way. He was a born man; a real original born man. There weren’t that many left. They were especially rare around these parts. You might find a ReverseTrans every so often. Those had transitioned and then decided to be male again. The gender engineers couldn’t ever quite the reverse process to work. The Chroms had been messed with too much many said. The ReverseTrans dressed and acted like Original men, even faking the deep voice. And some were very good at the imitations. They had their pretense down pat. At least you thought they were good imitations until you encountered an original. Then the inadequacy, the freakishness, of the ReverseTrans became apparent.
Terrell never joined in any arguments. He was never offended by anything anyone said. He just kept his own counsel. He shared his thoughts and emotions with me from time to time, but no one else. At least that’s what he said. He was the only original man not just in our Queda, but also among our whole Caliphate.
He was beautiful that was for sure. But the stories about original men persisted. The LeadFems never tired of reminding us all about the character of original men. They lied all the time. Especially in bed. Especially to subjugate you in bed. Our EdDoctrinations at the sixth level in school had a special chapter section devoted to little else.
Terrell was listening to their arguments and stories. And I knew he would later laugh about them. He obviously enjoyed the attention of the females. Their eyes were constantly returning to him. The young girls especially. And well they should.
He was a legend. He had brought down other giant dams with his explosives. He had wrought wonderful havoc on the Sacramento River and sent a giant, killing body of water to destroy the FranCisco DigitalCorp. It had been one of his spectacular bombings. And it was his work that gave the mighty Shasta River its vengeance and returned its path to its origins. Most of the factoretts in that processor area had died though.
Especially horrifying was how so many of those living in the slot shelters had drowned. It was a bad way to go. Being locked in a drawer as the water seeped in and the air ducts stopped pumping. But that was where factorettes had to sleep if they were to work in the cities. Space was too valuable to waste on living quarters for the workers.
I felt a kinship with Terrell. I would never dare say it out loud, but we used to call it brotherhood. Back then. Back when I was a young soldier like Terrell.
I was a young then and on the move. I wanted to be a top exec. But the prospects for advancement in any organization were not many. Even then, it was not good to be a man.
In fact, many boys were already opting for support roles or even transitioning. It was a frightening procedure to contemplate. The surgeries were not exactly perfected yet. There were a lot of kooks were out there chopping dicks and balls off on the installment plan. Lots of young men died on operating tables or soon thereafter. The Ed-curriculums had not yet incorporated the new children’s “Wonder of Butterflies” books to allay the fears of young boys and encourage the changes. No one was actively advocating transition then. That came later when the Corps concluded a less male population would be a more compliant population. That turned out not to be true. Too bad for all those little boys. The culture monitors were too invested in their new Butterfly series to reverse course.
The books taught kids from their earliest readings in school that gender change is like an ugly worm being sewed up in a cocoon to emerge later as a beautiful butterfly full of color. The children came out of school wanting to transition. But that was later. We didn’t have those beliefs yet. And the horror stories of botched surgeries scared us.
I was working as a military apprentice. Soldiering was a still mostly a male profession, one of the last ones where men could prosper, have a real career. I found it all fascinating. We had new weapons systems coming on line all the time. They were being introduced almost every other month by private corporations under outsource contracts from the governments. The Weapon Corps paid well and the systems they were producing were superb.
There hadn’t been a war for sometime, not a real war, anyway.
Oh, we still had brushfires around the globe. We stationed troops from the China mainland in Australia to put down the last of their revolution and some of our good old American boys were in Brazil fighting the few remaining indigenous tribes. The Indians, after their blitzkrieg conquest of Pakistan kept moving right through all the other “stans”, Afghanistan, Kerikistatn, all those, on over the Iranians and were threatening to Nuke the Israelites/Arab coalitions unless they agreed to open of the ports of the Mediterranean. We all hoped they would go ahead and make that whole area radioactive glass. They were such a disgustingly obstreperous people. I’m glad they’re gone now.
Still, back then these were relatively little battlefronts and our Big Three militaries coordinated the fighting efforts and even had an exchange program for the sailors, soldiers and airmen. They were very popular. Kept our experience levels keen.
I remember I wanted to join the Chinese in the Australian outback and get some real wilderness training. There were other advantages too. Only a conquering soldier can truly appreciate the personal opportunity in an occupation. War zones had few laws, few rules of conduct. Real Freedom. Women were still frightened of men in those situations, I tell you. With reason to be, too. All these youngsters now wouldn’t know, probably will never know, the fun it was being a man with power, gun power, around some scared snuffling population of primitives. Saying something like that now, back in civilization could get you killed.
No one said it then, but we all new, the big Data Corps were keeping us from engaging in real conflict. The three main armies, American, Chinese, Indian, received their weaponry as well as the technical and digital networks and equipment that made them work from the same handful of companies.
While the Corps liked selling the weapons, the profits from replacing the weapons lost in a war were immense; the impact of an actual war on the international financial system was becoming unacceptable. Everything was interconnected and war, real war, ate up the profits in unexpected ways. And you could never tell when some army would strike at one of the Data Corps, in order to deny an adversary a weapon system. That was one of the big mistakes we, in the military, kept making.
It all came to a head, it all changed the day me and Roberto had our last beer together at the NCO club. That was the day the Mergers really started. We were talking about the Outback, when a flash alert came from the Chief Sergeant. Both our watches started buzzing at the same time. We looked down at the face.
“Report to Post immediately. Urgency Level One. This is NOT a Drill.”
“Now what the hell is this?” Roberto was already standing and picking up his change from the bar.
“I’ve never been involved in a Level One”, I said quietly.
I gulped the last of my beer, put the glass down, stood up and was right behind Roberto as he headed for the door. I noticed there was already a jam up in the front of the club as other soldiers were trying to get out of the door in front of us. I could see the day light through the open door and rows of bright lights inside were coming on as well. Sirens were echoing in the distance.
As I looked back, the lights inside of the bar had changed the interior from a warm intimate feel to a sterile lonely place. The Comfort Trans, all those that had been falsely promised jobs if they transitioned, had not moved. Those poor boys had believed the lies and then ended up whoring in NCO clubs. After the soldiers headed for the door, the pitiful creatures still sat at the tables, pulling at their short skirts and patting the back of their wigs. They were now alone, looking uncomfortable and not all that pretty as the windows were opened and the lights came up.
Roberto was already behind the wheel of our staff car and starting it up when I finally got through the door. I sprinted over and jumped in the passenger side. He managed to get the car on the street before the others got jammed up trying to get out of the parking lot.
“What IS this?” I said.
“I’ve heard scuttle butt and seen some chatter,” Roberto replied. “But I never thought that much of it. I still don’t believe it. It’s probably something completely different.”
“Come on, Asshole. What the Fuck?”
“All right, but you’re going to give me shit when it turns out to be just a god dam drill or something,” he said.
He turned a corner, hit the gas again and we sped up before we hit a speed bump ordered there by the Base safety committee to slow young soldiers like us down. Both our heads hit the roof of the car, but Roberto kept giving it the gas.
Roberto said, “The Browser Corps have been locking down info from the war zones. Funneling it to the secondary lines. They bitch there’s no revenue. Keep pressing the Congresses and the Politburo to authorize revenue charges for military news like everything else. The Presidents and Premier even got involved. They were voting on a bill today to take one of the Browser Corp public. For unlimited use in what they are calling the Public Service.”
“Yeah, so?” I had heard something about what he was talking about, but no one took it that seriously. The government always compromised when it came to the Data Corps. They issued idle threats but always moved on to something else by the time the afternoon cycle of Opine Posts began.
“Well, here’s the thing. There was some chatter. On the back lines. Heavily encrypted. Secure Zone stuff.”
I looked at Roberto quickly. He was nodding his head up and down like he knew what I was thinking. No one at our rank had ever been allowed access to Secure Zone communications. After the leak scandals, the entire intelligence community, the military, the police forces, government agencies, including the Executive departments, all were prohibited from monitoring Secure Zone materials.
“Yeah, I know,” he said, “but just listen. We got orders to do some discreet listening early last year. You know? So we do. And we found some threads. Data Corps talking what I thought was nonsense.”
“Like what?” I asked. Roberto, turned left fast and we hit the curb to the parking lot. Our heads hit the roof of the car again. He hit the brakes and we came to a stop just outside Headquarters. He paused for the first time since the urgent message came over our watches. He just stared for a few seconds out over the hood of the car. He then reached over to the door handle. He engaged it and looked at me.
“They are going to shut them down.”
He was already out of the car, but I heard the words before he shut the door.
“Sergeant Easley, report to CommOp, immediately. Sergeant Easley, to Comm Op.”
I was surprised to hear my name over the intercom when I first entered the building. Then the same voice started calling out other names urging soldiers I knew to their posts. I picked up my pace to a half run as I crossed the computer banks in the middle of the headquarters floor toward CommOp, my current assignment. Roberto had disappeared. I was sure he was on his way to his duty station. Anyway, that was the last time I saw him.
My specialty was field communications, but I had been TRO’d (Temporarily Assigned) to Headquarters while my new orders were being processed. I hoped they would be for the Outback. I didn’t like the relatively tame environment at Headquarters and had hoped to ship out by the end of the month.
“Easley, you’re on Station Five. Station five, acknowledge Soldier.” It was Top Sergeant McGill. Back then she was a tall severe looking woman with the sharp cheekbones of a Saudi and the eyes of a Japper. Parents couldn’t pre-select the eye shape then. Her features were true genetic. She stood in the doorway of her office up on the second floor down at me crossing the main floor. Though no one knew it, we were already a couple.
She didn’t seem, at the time, to be under any stress. In fact, she was leaning against the doorframe. She was affecting a bored look, wearing her perpetual frown, as she directed me as well as her other charges to the assigned tasks.
“Aye, Sir, Top, I’m to Station five. I yelled.”
I saw her speak into the microphone attached to her collar. It came out over the loudspeaker. “Very Well.”
I slid into the pilot seat before my console and stared at the screen. It was lit up with numbers and letters streaming across it, marching onto the screen from the top left and proceeding to the right and down row after row before exiting the screen at the bottom right. I had never seen such an array. I hit the clear button, but it didn’t respond. The board was locked up.
I heard the guys to the right and left of me pounding at their keyboards as if more force might loosen the lock down. I didn’t try. I spun around and looked at Top McGill. Her eyes were still on me. She gave me an almost imperceptible nod, her chin just barely rising, to come to her and turned and walked back into her office. I got up and went up the stairs to her doorway. She was sitting down now behind her desk. She waved me over. I walked behind her. I put my hand low on her back where no one could see and looked at the screen in front of her. It had a bright red banner across the top flashing.
SECURE ZONE. AUTHORIZED EYES ONLY.
I felt her push herself against my hand and actually leaned her head back into my chest. I could smell her hair. She hadn’t washed it in a while.
Below the banner on her screen was a checklist. The font was Old English script. There were little boxes to the left side of the numbered items on the list.
“Top, what is this? The script is hard to read.”
“Here, sit down.” She got up. Her hand went to my chest. She didn’t seem to care if someone saw her gesture. She was usually very cautious about giving any indication we were affectionate, much less screwing like we were whenever the opportunity presented itself.
I sat in her chair and pulled it up close to the screen so I could study the writing. She walked to the door of her office and leaned once again against the doorframe looking out at the rows of soldiers attempting to unlock their computer screens.
I peered in close to the screen. Item number one said “Presidencies”. There was a checkmark in the box next to it. Item number two said “Congresses/Politburos”. There was also a checkmark next to it. The third item said simply, “Courts” and it was similarly checked off. The next item said “Military.”
The checkmark next to the word “Military” was flashing different colors. Blue, orange, red, green, pink. It hadn’t been checked, but I interpreted the flashing to mean it too would soon have a check mark.
A couple of officers walked into the Top’s office. I discreetly said “Yes Sir. I will get right on it,” pretending to be following some non-existent orders. I left the Top Sergeant’s office and went back down the stairs to my machine.
After about an hour, we had all given up and were just sitting at our machines staring at the screens. A few had stood up and were wandering around or talking in little groups. I found it strange that we had had no communications from the command structure. I fooled with my machine some, but eventually wondered back up the stairs and into McGill’s office. By then the officers had left and three or four other sergeants had joined her and had their feet up on the side of her desk and were just passing the day waiting for something to happen. I found a seat on the corner of the couch and sat there sipping my coffee. She got up from her desk and walked casually over and sat down on the couch right next to me. Our shoulders were touching. It was comforting. I had the feeling that’s what she wanted. No one seemed to think it was a big deal.
Then the screens all went dark. Every computer, even the one in the Top’s office just turned off. It was suddenly very quiet. No one said a word. We had power. The lights were still on. The little light on the coffee pot still burned red. But the computers had turned off.
Then we heard it. They started all at once. The quiet hum of tiny fans deep in the consoles. And one computer screen over by the wall came on and then another and then a half dozen others. They had been all rebooted and were now coming back online.
The Top and I both got up and walked over to her computer. There was the buzz, then a flash and the screen lit up. Nothing was on it, but it was on. Then a banner started on the right and proceeded in reverse fashion across to the left. You had to wait until it was all on the screen before you could read it.
ADVISORY: PLEASE STAND BY.
We looked at each other. But no one asked any questions. This was all new. None of us had the slightest idea what this all meant. McGill put her hand in mine. I disengaged our hands and put my arm around her. I was scared. No one was threatening us with violence, but I felt scared. Down in the pit of my stomach was a dread. I felt sick.
Another banner started across the screen. Once it was in place, it read:
GENERAL ORDERS ARE MANDATORY.
As soon as we had a chance to read that, another banner started from the right side. We were getting better at reading them in reverse order.
GENERAL ORDER ONE:
ALL GENERAL OFFICERS ARE DISMISSED.
ALL FLAG RANK OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE A ARE DISMISSED.
ALL FLAG RANK OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE B ARE PRIVATIZED.
ALL JUNIOR OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE C ARE DISMISSED.
ALL JUNIOR OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE D ARE PRIVATIZED.
ALL ENLISTED RANK MEMBERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE E ARE DISMISSED.
ALL ENLISTED RANK MEMBERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE F ARE REASSIGNED
AS SPECIFIED IN SCHEDULE G.
ADVISORY: GENERAL ORDERS ARE MANDATORY.
At the bottom of the screen were file folders labeled with the appropriate schedule letter. I clicked on the first. A drop down menu appeared with links to the three armies. I clicked on the one marked American Armed Forces. A list of names appeared. I scrolled down to see if the name of our unit commander was on there. It was. I looked up to the third story window. I wondered if he was looking at the same list.
“This is bullshit. Who do these bozos think they are? They can’t do this.” It was Sergeant Smythe, standing behind one of the soldiers reading his console.
I had the same thought. I couldn’t understand how this could be done much less who was doing it. But there was also that sick feeling persisting in the pit of my stomach that I guess was telling me they could do it.
Turns out they could.
“Hey, who the fuck locked the doors?”
One of the soldiers was standing in front of a door ineffectively pushing on the door bar. A lieutenant who was watching from an office door across the bay, walked to a nearby door and pushed. It didn’t budge. A dozen others suddenly got up and started moving toward the two doors and one other centrally located between them. One after the other then in twos and threes they started pushing against the doors. They wouldn’t open.
One of the guys in the office where we were standing said, “The central security protocol has been initiated.” McGill walked to her console and started attempting to enter codes. They were secure codes I knew she possessed due to her rank. The computer didn’t respond to her typed commands.
She sat looking at the computer screen.
“Something is coming across.”
There was crash outside the office. Evidently someone had decided to throw a chair against one of the doors. I walked over to the door. The lieutenant I had seen try the door across the bay was now walking toward it with an ax. Another lieutenant was right behind him. He had drawn his sidearm and was holding it down by his waist.
“Look at this Easley.”
I walked over to look at the computer screen. I could hear the thump-thump of the ax behind me. Those doors were reinforced steel. No ax was going to open them. I only hoped the other shave tail didn’t try his gun. New Lieutenants could be incredibly stupid and I didn’t want us all dodging ricochets.
I looked at the screen.
SECURITY LOCKDOWN HAS BEEN INITATED. YOU WILL RECEIVE FUTHER INSTRUCTIONS AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME. ALL PERSONNEL ARE TO STAND DOWN.
The message moved across the screen to be replaced by another stating the same thing. The same messages soon became a banner crossing the screen.
It had gotten quiet out in the bay. I figured others had received and spread the news about the latest message.
McGill walked over to look out on the bay. Her back was to us. I heard her say “Could this truly been happening everywhere or is it just localized. Are the networks being taken down on one base after another? I wonder.” She was talking to herself.
One of the other sergeants walked over the T.V. along one wall of her office. Looking back, I really don’t remember why we hadn’t tried it before. Or maybe we had. Anyway, he picked up the remote for the television and pushed a button. The screen lit up white and then the white slowly withdrew into itself down to a tiny pin of light. It blinked for a few moments then evaporated. It was gone. He pushed some other buttons but got no response.
I reached for the phone and picked it up. There was an initial dial tone, but before I could start entering a number, there was a buzz and then the phone went silent. I pushed some other buttons. There was no sound on any of them until I hit the button labeled intercom. It came alive and stayed alive.
McGill who had been watching me walked over and took the phone out of my hand.
“This is a test.”
I heard it come over the intercom. I looked out and saw a number of soldiers on the bay were looking up at the speakers.
McGill hit a button labeled number one. I listened in to her side of the conversation. “Cox? Yeah the intercom works. At least we have that kind of communication. No. I don’t know if anyone can get to the armory. Try to raise Commander Blythe on the intercom. Yeah, let me know. We will go now.”
She looked at me then the others in the room. “We are going to down to the basement. It shares a wall with the armory. We may be able to break through.”
“These walls? I don’t think so, Lieutenant.” It was Sergeant Sterling. “And with what?” he continued. “You got some grenades we don’t know about, Sir?”
“Move your ass Sterling. We aren’t going to sit her and see what comes through those doors without trying to regain control of our own goddam headquarters. Move or I’ll find a grenade and put it where the sun don’t shine.”
He laughed out loud. But he got up and started moving toward the elevators. He often said she was his favorite Top because she didn’t mess around when it came to giving orders.
Before he got to the elevator, her hand went up to stop him.
“No’ she said. “We don’t know if those are booby trapped somehow. Take the stairs.”
“Roger that.” And he and three others headed for the stairs. Three or four others joined them when they reached the first floor.
“Easley. You’re with me.”
I followed her over to the elevators. She pressed a button and the doors opened.
“There. The chair.” She said, pointing.
I grabbed a chair. It had wheels. I pushed it on the elevator.
“Wait a sec.” I held the button keeping the doors open. She pulled some cords out of the back of a console on a desk nearby, picked the console up and waddled with the heavy unit over to dump it in the chair. She took me by the hand and pulled me off the elevator. She hit the down button.
Just as the elevator door closed I heard the gunfire. It was coming from the basement. And then there was an explosion, we both jerked back and looked at the closed elevator doors. A faint cloud of acrid smoke began seeping out from the bottom of the doors.
She moved before I got my bearings. She opened the door to the stairs and was starting down when I grabbed her shirt by the back of the neck and jerked her back.
“It’s a trap. Stay put.”
“But those men! “
“Those men you can’t help right now. Get your bearing first. What’s your fucking plan? Top Sergeants always have a plan.”
She was staring at me intensely. In my peripheral vision I could tell her fist was clenched. There was no doubt she was thinking about decking me. I dreaded the moment. She was big woman. I knew how hard she could hit. We had wrestled around a few times, once even had a knock down drag out. Anyway, I knew enough about her in a scrap to know I didn’t want to fight. I certainly didn’t relish the idea of trading blows with her.
“What’s my what?” She was gritting her teeth.
“Plan! Denise! Denise! What’s your plan?”
She blinked a couple of times, shook her head, and then I saw her intellect re-engage.
“Okay, okay. But I need recognizance.” She was looking around. I figured she would find some poor bastard and send him down that stairway to draw fire. Or maybe since she was pissed at me, she would select me as the bait. Her having a plan wasn’t looking good for me right then.
“Here. Come over here.”
She took one of the loose hook ups she had yanked out of the back of the console and spun the console next to it around. She reached back there and pulled some plugs out. She then plugged the one in her hand into the back. As I watched, a white screen appeared and then changed to an image of a TV camera. At the bottom it said, “Zicon video”. She hit the keyboard and things started happening. I realized she had disconnected from the outside feeds. She had turned the Internet into an old time intranet. And one with video surveillance capability.
A picture popped up. She had taken over the inside cameras at Headquarters. I looked up at the cameras situated high on the walls all around the interior of the room. I looked back at the monitor. She had brought up a view of the floor of the basement.
Soldiers were lying haphazardly around the floor. I saw Sterling. His eyes were frozen open. There was a big hole in his chest. Looked like he had been hit with a shotgun. McGill’s intranet had gotten us pictures. They weren’t pretty.”
“Scan the cameras along the walls. This was an ambush. An ambush inside Headquarters! Who’s down there?”
“She typed in the keyboard and then moved her finger over the track pad. We didn’t see anything at first. She scanned the entire room and then started again slower.”
“There. The Lesar units. See? Behind the desk?”
She began tapping a button on the top of the keyboard. The picture magnified. The Lesar units were no more than three feet high. They were constructed to have a functional square body with a head that turned like a turnstile. They moved on wheels around headquarters adjusting the digital feeds in all the computers and scroll pads. Their ports were open. The muzzles of two guns were poking out of the ports. As we watched the head of one unit moved almost imperceptibly. Then the others. It was slow, but there was no doubt they were swiveling and they held the side of the room where the stairs and elevator emptied in a field of crossfire.
“Sergeant McGill. Please stand down.”
It was the voice of Commander Blythe over the intercom. It wasn’t in his usual abrupt tone. His voice sounded shaky. McGill was staring at the screen on the monitor. She had returned the view to where Sterling and the other soldiers lay. They had gone down right into the crossfire field of fire of the Lesars. She stared once again at the video of the dead soldiers.
I had learned over the years being a non-commissioned officer is just play acting until the day your orders send somebody to their death. McGill, bless her heart, was a dam fine NCO. Tough as they came. Hell, I loved her. But before that day she had never been in real combat.
“Lieutenant McGill. Report in ASAP.” It was Blythe again. I looked up. He was on the ledge at the top of the stairs looking down. I knew then that the video feed could be seen on monitors around the bay and in at least some of the offices. I walked over and pulled the plug I had seen McGill put in the back. The screens all went dark again.
“Denise”, I said. She was still staring at the screen. I’ve no doubt she could still see the soldiers even though the screen was now blank. “Come on Denise. I’ll walk you up there. Let’s go.”
She turned toward me. There were no tears. She wasn’t the crying type. But there was a hurt in her eyes. She straightened her shoulders and turned back to face the bay. she kept her head straight ahead and started walking. It was a long walk, the other officers and soldiers all looking at her. All knowing her orders had ultimately led to the deaths of the men in the basement. Not blaming her for giving the orders, but knowing she was carrying a huge weight now, a burden that could never be laid down, as she crossed the bay and started up the stairs to the commander waiting on the ledge”
It’s not fun to watch something like that, but you always wonder if someone who started on such a journey will make it to the end. She did.
Blythe was waiting for us on the landing at the top of the stairs. He turned and led us into his office. A captain and a lieutenant were sitting looking at the monitor as if it still held a picture. A second lieutenant was also in the room though he wasn’t sitting with the others. He stood to one side watching McGill and I enter the room. Something about him stuck with me. I remember how his feet were spread evenly apart. Balanced.
“Sergeant,“ the Captain said to McGill, “get the picture back. We need to keep an eye on things and figure out what kind of surveillance we need on the other floors of the building.”
“Of course. I’m sorry.” She walked over to the console on the commander’s desk. She didn’t tell them it was me who had prematurely shut down the picture.
She spent a couple of minutes rearranging the wires and plug-ins. She punched a key and the monitor went white again, through the program start up card, and then it showed a view of the basement again. The cameras were still trained where she had last directed them.
“Can you control access to what the cameras are showing? Restrict it to the consoles we designate?” It was an obvious question. We all knew that could be done. We just didn’t know for sure if her expertise extended that far.
“I believe so.” She began typing commands on the keyboard. I walked out on the landing and, with nothing else to do, watched to see if the cameras on the walls moved in response to her typing. I heard the Captain add a question.
“And can we be sure no one outside the building can see the feed, you know, the picture we’re seeing?”
McGill answered him as she continued typing in commands.
“We have control over the cameras, where they are pointing and the routing of the images, but, Commander, you know each of these monitors have cameras too, right? And we all have them on our scroll pads. I just got control of the cameras on the walls. But the monitors on the floors? We would have to make sure all the computers and pads were taken offline, off any outside feed or connection, wireless or not. We would essentially have to unplug them all. And shut down the repeaters.”
I walked back in to listen to the conversation.
The lieutenant standing to the side had been silent to that point. He said, “We can’t cut off from the outside. We need to know what it is going on. There may be more instructions or orders from Central Command.” He was a fat, soft looking officer. I remember thinking he had probably spent his entire career in Support Services. I wondered who he was. McGill’s look surprised me. It was contemptuous.
Commander Blythe studied the chubby lieutenant as if he was giving serious thought to what he was saying. But his response showed he didn’t consider it much of a worthy concern.
“Whoever is doing this has control of all communications anyway, so outside connections are useless until we can figure out how to establish our own lines of communication. Cut ‘em.” He ordered. “Unplug all the fucking computers.”
The Captain stood and walked over and picked up the handset off the phone cradle on a corner of the Commander’s desk. He hit a button I figured was the intercom button. He opened his mouth and was about to give the order, when his head exploded. The sound of the gunshot in the confined room left my ears ringing. McGill’s fingers had stopped moving and her hands hovered, frozen over the keyboard. There was brain matter all over the side of her uniform. Some of the blood and chunks of brain and blood was also on her face. I shook my head to clear the sound, all the while staring at the crumpled body of the Captain on the floor. We all turned our heads. The Lieutenant was holding a gun.
“No. We won’t be unplugging from the network. Commander Blythe you are relieved of command. Remove your sidearm and place it on the floor. Slowly, Commander. I regret any loss of life, but I will enforce orders. And I will do so immediately and without hesitation. I do hope that is clear to everyone.”
As Commander Blythe removed his gun and bent over to place it on the floor, McGill swung around in her chair to face the lieutenant.
“Well, I guess we now know why you were on the approved officer’s list.”
The lieutenant just looked at her. He made no reply. He just held the gun steady pointed directly at us.
“But, I’m also curious, you know, about your orders. Whose orders are they?”
I heard the echoes of three more shots in quick succession. Coming from other offices on the floor.
The lieutenant didn’t answer her. He just smiled.
We descended the stairs with the others. We were all being herded out of the offices and down the stairs onto the central floor. On the floor I saw some other junior officers holding guns and a circle of Lesars placed strategically around the bay. Guns stuck out of their ports. We were under guard.
I heard some noise and looked over to see one of the three big bay doors being pulled open. A group of soldiers, at least twenty, all armed with rifles slung at the ready, marched through the central door. Two men and one woman in the causal business attire of the Data Managers we occasionally encountered followed them into the bay.
The Data Corps performed, on an outsourced basis, all administrative tasks for the military. From time to time we needed to visit their facilities either for training or to discuss system needs. They always showed eagerness whenever we requested improvements. I suppose it enhanced their contract price.
Whenever we had business at one of the Data Corps we visited, young men and women who looked very similar to these three usually met us. Dungarees pull over shirts or sweater, sweatshirts if the weather was inclement.
The three went immediately to a set of computers situated along the wall. These were the oldest computers and were kept to perform general tasks. They pulled up chairs and began typing on the keyboards.
“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.”
I looked up to one of the ledges and a Full Colonel was standing there. He was speaking into a microphone.
I strained to hear him. It was anything but quiet on the Bay floor. There was still a lot of commotion. I had lost contact with McGill and the Commander. I looked around for them. By one of the windows there seemed to be a stuggle occurring. I moved in that direction and after I maneuvered myself around some of the other soldiers, I saw McGill and the commander.
The Commander’s head was down, his eyes on the ground. One of the soldiers was holding it there, making sure he remained in a subservient position. Commander Blythe’s hands were secured behind his back. Next to him, McGill was also being restrained. Her arms had been pulled behind her and were being held there by one soldier while another was attaching cuffs to her wrists. A round plastic, tubular looking necklace had been placed around her neck. I looked back at the Commander and he also had one of the objects around his neck. To this day I don’t know what those were. I’ve assumed all these years they had explosives in them. One of my friends from the old days told me the neck things were electronic. Anyway, three other senior officers were similarly being restrained. All with the tubes. Who knows what they were?
“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.”
The colonel was still calling for quiet, but the commotion continued. I moved toward McGill. She looked up and saw me. She shook her head emphatically side to side and mouthed “No.” She could tell I was about to intervene and she was warning me off. One of the soldiers restraining her slapped her hard across the face. She stared at him gritting her teeth. Then there was suddenly a loud retort. One of the three other officers I told you about crumbled to the floor.
“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. ANY FAILURE TO FOLLOW ORDERS UNQUESTIONED AND WITHOUT RESISTANCE WILL BE MET WITH HARSH MEASURES. PLEASE PAY ATTENTIION TO THE THOSE WE HAVE PUT IN CHARGE.”
One of the side doors suddenly was pushed open and, as I watched, the
Commander, McGill, and the others in cuffs were pushed through the door. It closed with a slam. That was the last time I ever saw McGill.
“Hell, if things had been different she could have been your grandma,” I told my granddaughter once.
“What happened to her?” She asked.
“Oh, nothing real bad” I told her. “I heard she made it through. She wasn’t executed like so many of the others. In fact, I believe she got married, had a couple of little ones. They just changed who she was. Who she had been. They did that to a lot of people. She went along with it I guess. Most did.”
She now knew what I meant. She didn’t then. It was common enough knowledge; it just didn’t quite make sense to her when I first told her. Back then she was only fourteen years old.
“Changed who she was?”
I stood and walked to the end of the porch. We were at the old homestead. We were across the road from the melon fields. The Cullers were about done.
It was culling time and the Cullers, all of them kids and old people, were wandering down the rows, culling the melons.
The harvesters had come and gone in the night, and before the accelerated second bloom, the Farm Corps always allowed the fields to be picked cleaned before re-activating the electric fences. They didn’t so much do it to feed the Cullers. The Cullers in actuality sold the produce at illegal black markets anyway. They did it to clean the plants clear so the blossoms could more fully develop for the secondary harvest. Thanks to the geneticists, that would be within thirty days.
Most of the carts were gone. The last of the Cullers emerge from the fields dragging their burlap sacks of melons. Some of the old men were having trouble lifting the sacks up into the carts hooked to peddle cars. The kids tried helping them, but none of them were very strong. They weren’t of much use.
One cart, pulled by a rather spry old woman who was shouting orders at three kids pushing the back of the cart were making there way up onto the pavement and moving away towards town and the market there.
To my granddaughter I said, “Let me explain. A lot happen after that. And it happened fast.”
I paused. I can remember staring out on the field searching for a place to start.
“Well, that’s the day we learned the mergers were taking place. Had actually already started. The Corps knew the Governments would never allow the mergers. Not on that scale. So the Governments had to be changed, all the old forms of governance essentially ended. And to do that the military had to be neutralized or at least given a new command structure.”
“Well, at any other time in history up until that moment, there would have a lot of blood spilled. Certainly, a lot more blood would have been spread around than was left on the floor of the headquarters that day. But not this time.”
“World wide, in all the major nations, at least the one’s that really mattered, you know, Russia, China, India, the U.S. In each of them, a bloodless coup had happened. It was all done on a corporate level. And because the Corps had control of all data they had the ability to change everything with a keyboard. Everything could be started, stopped, redefined, remodeled, refined through the strokes on a keyboard. I think it was the Corp’s realization that they had such a power that led them to dare to remove the governments and assume control of the military.”
“The weapons were easy enough. A few changes to the central controls, infecting a few systems with a special bug, a computer virus, and with the click of a mouse at the exactly the right time the control of the weapon systems were removed from the senior officers who had until that moment been assigned the responsibility for operating them.”
“Then it was just a process of using the personal data fields to identify a cadre of young officers strong enough to remove the senior officers and take physical charge of the facilities. The Corps had enough critical info on everybody to pick out a few of the senior officers who had some personal vulnerability, and those they put in charge. At least until the coup was complete. Then they were disposed of.”
“How?” she had asked. I regretted she wanted to know, but I was determined to tell her the whole truth.
“The were killed, some of them. Or they acquiesced.”
She still looked confused so I continued.
“Like Commander Blythe. Remember him? Well, I did see him again. In fact, he’s the one told me how things turned out for McGill. Dam, you know, I think about her a lot these days.”
She looked at me in a curious way. I knew she wanted me to talk more about McGill. I wasn’t going to do that. Those thoughts might lead to regrets. I didn’t want to go there.
“Anyway. When I saw him, he was working as a beam scrubber. The Corps decided they were going to melt down all the abandoned steel in the old, the ancient production factories, not sure why, for ships I think, but they needed cutters and scrubbers to get at the rust. By then the human labor was cheaper than the robots to deploy for the nastier tasks. Using humans prolonged the productive life of the robots. It was better for the robots, if you kept them out of the nastier environments. Gummed them up. Humans? Well, there were always more humans.”
“I knew it was the Commander. He was sweating heavily, the sander in his hand making an irritating keening noise as he ran it along the steel support. He was a little old for the work. But you had to take what you get; be glad for what they would let you have.”
“We had, by then, learned not to call out to acquaintances from the past. It could get you or them imprisoned or worse. As I walked past he glanced up. I could tell he knew who I was. He said nothing, but merely bent back over his work. I walked over by the portable kitchen, got a coffee tube off the rack and sat down on one of the plastic chairs. I waited for a few minutes and then saw him walking toward me. He went by me, got his coffee tube, plus a muffin patty. He sat down a couple of chairs over and started unwrapping his patty. He never once looked in my direction. But he did speak.”
Around a mouth full of patty, he asked, “Where’d you come from? What are you doing in these parts?”
Following his lead, I didn’t look directly at him.
“I’m on my way to Fresno. I’m to help out at a co-op there. Grow food, you know? Get it ready for shipping out.”
He was quiet. Chewing some patty and then taking a suck from his coffee tube.
“How about you?” I asked. “Got some tough work there. You going to stick with it?”
“No choice. It’s who I am now. Well, according to them, I’ve always done stuff like this.”
“You ever think about saying No?”
He was silent for a long couple of minutes.
“Not really. They had my records right there. And they had the records of my wife and kids. I remember how they said it. That they were busy and was only going to explain it one time so I had better listen.”
“They brought our records up on a screen in front of me. All aligned side by side.”
They said. “This is who you are from now on. When we hit the “confirm” button, this will be who you all are and who you have been. You will never again mention you came from the military. Your records there don’t exist anymore. We deleted them. But you have a choice. This is also who we can make you.”
“And the screen changed and there were records of me being in prison for 20 years and that I had escaped and was being returned to serve out my sentence. And of course the wife was listed as a waitress and my kids, well, they had no schools, no diplomas, were fostered out in a city in the mid-west. They had different parents according to those records and those parents were dead.”
He paused for a moment. Took in a deep breath. “So, yeah I guess I could of said No. But then what? It was just better this way. There was no way to fight them. I guess I just gave up that day.”
Still without looking at me, he put his expended tube and the wrapper from his patty in the receptacle and walked back toward his work site. I remember how slumped his shoulders were. His head was down. It brought back the image of his head being held down by the junior officer.
“You mean they just changed his records and it changed who he was?”
At fourteen she was still mighty incredulous. I nodded. She needed to know the rest. She needed to know what happened to her parents. And I was determined to make her understand.
Yep. I told her it was all so easy. That’s the first thing they did was change who we were. Simple really.
After the mergers, they controlled the data. All the data on everyone and everything. The Corporates took the last few steps. It was all in place. They had been doing something similar for a couple of decades. Changing profiles and creating new ones for special people. Politicians and leaders mostly. Some entertainment figures. Most with their permission, but not all.
It didn’t take the Corps long to realize that the more they controlled the data about a person, the more they controlled that person. If they didn’t like who you are or don’t want to confer on you the status you might mistakenly, in their view, believe you have earned, they had the power with just a few keystrokes and some syncing between systems to just change who you were.
I remember my granddaughter still questioned whether the Corps could just change who you were. I remember being angry. I shouldn’t have been. But I always got angry when I thought about it. I knew my voice took on angry tones and their was a bitterness to my words I wished I could mitigate.
“As far as who you were, your identity, the data banks contained your lifeblood. Just think about it. Your education records, your driving habits, your social network, friends and unfriends, your medical history and the history of your relatives, the music you purchased, the books you purchased, your work history, complaints, resolved and unresolved others had made about you, your financial records and history, your sexual preferences, the news stories you read, the views you seemed to prefer, the memos you have written, the letters you wrote, the pictures you have taken or others have taken of you and all your relative and friend’s pictures of themselves and you and them and you together, the art you have created, the poems you wrote, how many times you read and re-read your favorite stories, how many times you watched and re-watched the movies you liked, how fast you drove a car when we were allowed to have cars, who your voted for when we were allowed to vote, videos of our interactions with police officers, with senior officers in the military when we were allowed to serve in the military, everywhere we have lived, how much we paid, the debts we had, the bills we paid and didn’t pay, every keystroke we ever made on every computer we had ever sat at, every page we had printed out on a printer connected wirelessly to a computer, the number of steps we had taken when we went for a walk, the number of calories we consumed every day, how many we burned that day and the next and the one before, the things we bought, all the things we bought, underwear, suits, shorts, the trips we took, the vacations and the ice cream we bought at the end of a hot day on the rides at Disney Park, the rides we queued up and thrilled to, our sex and who we were before the inevitable gender reassignment, our IQ, whether we are left brain or right brain dominant, our test scores on standardized scores given to everyone and test scores given only to you and how those scores compared to everyone else and the other members of your family, the genetic markers in our blood and the likelihood of our dying of cancer, or becoming obese or impotent or senile. They had it all. And they could change it!”
“Sure there were backups but nothing on paper. No “hard copy”, that’s what we used to call paper records. Hard copies of records no longer existed.”
“See all of that, everything about us, was on paper nowhere. It didn’t even exist on an actual computer. Oh, some of the more mundane data remained on local computers but copies of real data, the important stuff, the rest of it, was out there, in “the cloud” they called it, part of a giant shared and shareable database.”
“And once those databases could cross-reference, and be synced; once they could marry records from all the places that had records and all without an individual’s or even a government’s permission or knowledge, it became possible for whoever gained control of the databases to change who you were. With a few keystrokes you could become an ex-felon or one who was serving a prison term and had warrants out to arrest you and to return you to custody. Even though you might be one of the last few remaining worshipers at churches and would never consider doing so, those controlling the data bases could establish records that you were one who had watched things one shouldn’t watch on the Stream Vision and had diaries of unspeakable acts. They could make you a pervert if they chose. Or they could make you one who had no education or one who had the most education; one who was once a licensed attorney could now be recorded as having flunked the bar exam: one who had never applied a band aide was now a world famous surgeon.”
“So those who controlled the data banks decided who was who and what they did, what their histories were, what they were qualified to do. Like Commander Blythe said, there was no fighting them. At least they thought there wasn’t.”
“And that’s’ how our little bands of anarchists came about”, I thought to myself.
Each of us had at one time or another got out of the data banks. Many of our number no longer existed as who we had been to the rest of the world. We stayed off the cloud to avoid detection. It also allowed the younger of us to be what we chose to be for a while. No more gender re-assignments, no more balancing the demographical statistical. And we had to rely on the old human skills of determining, well guessing, whom our companion really was and if we liked him/her/it or not. Our abilities to do so were improving. The longer we were on our own, the easier it was becoming.
The Data Corps had with a few keystrokes, made the governments adjunct departments in the corporate entities that ruled the lead countries. And now they were merging the countries themselves. They had all signed the latest labor sharing agreements. And whole families, even the populations of some small cities were being re-assigned, re-located, exchanged was what they called it, to foreign lands.
The exploitation of natural and human resources could now occur without constraint. And it did. Nothing restrained the cultivation of the planet. In a mere thirty years it hade all been put in production. The Rain Forests in Brazil were logged. Virtually the entire continent of Africa was put to plow and harvested.
And seventy five per cent of the population of the planet was put to labor. They lived hard, grueling lives. Human workers were cheaper and more expendable than the complex artificial intelligence units in the automated factories.
The other twenty five percent of the world’s human population were the middle managers, lawyers, doctors, and accountants still necessary for a civil society to function. And they lived decent enough lives. They could even afford to vacation at the Disney Continent once a year.
But we were the one per centers. We were the ones who had gotten away. In fact we weren’t even counted on the scale at all. We were free thinkers who had broken and run. Many of those who escaped like us were in hiding. But not us. They called us the enviro-terrorists, the anarchists. And they were right. We wanted to fight. We wanted to hurt someone.
And I had trained my granddaughter to be a leader of the movement. I was sorry for that. But her life had been stolen from her right after she was born anyway.
I had begun her training by giving her a book. Books were precious to the end. I gave it to her the day we had sat on my porch watching the cullers. I gave it to her with the strictest instructions that she was to keep it secreted away and not speak of it to anyone.
“There is an inscription inside the cover,” I told her.
She opened the book. The way she held the book in her lap and put her fingers on the top of the cover to flip it over was awkward. She had not opened many books. There were few reasons for children to open actual physical books anymore.
I watched her read the inscription. When she had, she looked up at me.
“This is from my Mother?”
“Isn’t that what it says?”
“I don’t know much about her.”
“It was better not to talk about her. At least until now.”
“What’s the inscription say? Read it to me.”
She bent her head low over the book, which still rested in her lap. She paused and swallowed. Waited for her voice to come. That was good. This was having an impact. It was getting through.
After a few moments, she read: “To my Daughter; I am sorry I don’t have anything else left to pass on to you, but this book was precious to me. And it was to your Father too. It’s all that remains of him now. I fear I too will soon be gone. Take pleasure in reading it. Not because it’s great or profound. It is not. But it is real. It is by a real person. They didn’t get to change it. I guess that is why we think it precious. Your Father loved you. And I love you. Always, Mom.”
I noticed her voice didn’t quiver. She took a deep breath afterwards. She was moved, but kept her strength. That was good too.
“There is also a letter that goes with the book. It’s in the back.”
She closed the front cover and turned the book over, carefully like it was thing of value. She opened the back cover. The envelope was in a little pocket that had stitched to the last page. I watched as she carefully removed the delicate pages from the envelope and unfolded them. I had read the letter myself. One time long ago. I remembered it said a lot.
I waited while she read the letter to herself. I looked out over the culled fields and thought of my daughter and the man she took as her husband. The feeling of loss was still keen. My anger at how they were taken still caused me to seethe inside, but I didn’t want that to infect my granddaughter’s exposure to her mother’s words. When she was done, she sat back and looked at me. I could tell there were questions she wanted to ask. But this time she was genuinely choked up. I didn’t want to embarrass her so I reached over and gently removed the letter from her hands.
My daughter’s words were better than any I could say in some awkward attempt at consoling my granddaughter. I chose to read her letter out loud. My granddaughter looked off in the distance in the same direction I had been staring while she read. I wondered if she was living the experience of the mother she had never had the chance to get to know.
“Dad will tell you many things of this world, but there are some things I want you to know about your father and me. And what happened to us. It is important that you know why we were not there with you. And I want you to know this when you are ready, from my own hands, not off some computer screen. Those words you can never be sure who wrote.”
“First, we love you very much. There is nothing we would not have done to keep you and stay with you. In fact that was out plan when this all started happening, but somehow it all got away from us. We had wanted to just take you and run away. Just find a place and live our lives. But things don’t always work out the way we want. I’m sure you are starting to see that in your own life.”
“I am going to try to set down as accurately as I can what happened and the way it happened, even what people said as nearly as possible anyway. Maybe I won’t have to give you this letter. Your father is in the city right now making one last try. We never actually said this to each other, but neither of us believes his plan will work. But there is always hope, isn’t there. And if he succeeds we have a chance to get away. If it doesn’t he won’t return and they will come for me. All I can do now is trust my own father can get you away from all this.”
“And to think this is all over a book. A simple little book. Was it all worth it? I don’t know. I hope so. We have lost so much. We are going probably going to lose much more. I really hope it was worth it.”
“Do you think it was worth it?” My granddaughter asked. It was the first of that kind of question, something mature, something beyond the immediate and the close that children are always concerned with. I didn’t remember her ever asking such a question before.
“It’s not something I can say really. It was bad losing her. And your Father too. I hated everything a long time. Still a lot of hate in me. So I can’t be exactly rational.”
“Read the rest,” she said. “It helps me to hear her words spoken. I can imagine them being said by her.”
I looked back at the pages to continue reading, but she interrupted me again.
“Was she a good person, my mother?”
“She was a very good person.”
“That’s not what they all said. My teachers. The case workers, you know, before you took me out of that place.”
“I know what they must have said. But you know now. They could make changes to profiles. Change who were; who you had been. Even your teachers, the caseworkers probably didn’t know the truth. They didn’t know her. They had never met her. They read records. Records were changed like I said.”
She nodded so I continued.
It was like my daughter had heard us talking and was joining in and advancing the conversation.
“I know they will tell you things about us. Your father and I believe, however, and I can’t explain how we know this, but we do, we just do, that deep down, down in your bones, your cells, where we live through you, those things are not true. You will figure that out. That one thing, we are confident about.
What you won’t know though is the rest. About the world. How they changed what was true. History itself. I’m sure my father will fill you in on a lot, but you need to know how it affected us. How it caused us to be lost to you forever.
This dam book! What we did was right. I know that. But I dam this book. I turn it over to you as the only precious thing I have left, but I do dam this book for what it cost us.”
“I’ve never seen paper like that,” my granddaughter said out of the blue.
“And you won’t.” I told her.
“It’s thin. How’d it last so long?”
I realized something I should have recognized. She had very little experience with paper at all.
“It is called stationary. Once, long time ago, you could get all kinds. Different designs embossed in it, colors, gold symbols. People bought it just for letter writing.”
Until then I didn’t understand why my daughter used the paper she did. She was as clever in this as she had been in other things. She was communicating and passing on information on more than just the surface level of her words on the paper. She knew somehow, it would cause her daughter to ask just such a question.
“The only paper I’ve seen with words on it, was the orders they posted sometimes at school or the facility. They re-used the paper for a lot of orders.”
“That’s because there isn’t much of the stuff anymore.”
A simple child’s question. The Answer was more complicated. I needed to make her understand. Understand all of it.
“Listen” I said, “the Corps had control of more than just individual profiles. That only gave them the ability to change who we were to the world. That was bad enough. But you need to understand, and I think your Mother wanted you to understand; they also needed the power to change what the world had been. The human race’s memory; their history.“
“The mergers that allowed them to assume all the real power in the world were possible because they had all the knowledge. It was all on the computers they controlled. Science sure. Medicine. Finances. Coins, money, gold by then was rare. Most every thing was credit and debit. Easier to control. But there was more that they controlled.“
“They possessed all the art and literature. And history. World history. By the time the mergers took place, there were no more paper books or records or stand-alones containing music, art or history.”
“Like I said, there were no independent controls, nothing important was in the hands of individual people anymore. The military, the drones and driverless tanks and pilotless planes, the missile silos, all were under the control of algorithms in computer banks. It was all in the shared cloud. And it was all in the hands of the Data Corps. And they had simply took control of it all. And by then they literally had the ability to control human knowledge, learning and history.”
“About the paper?” She said it with a hint of impatience. I had told her that part before and she wanted to know what I had started to tell her about the paper.
“There were no physical backups for anything. All the paper records had been destroyed in the great recycling campaign of 2045. It was said to be an effort to save the trees and fight global warming. That’s what all the experts told us. If we surrendered all the paper for recycling into fresh paper, we could rely on the cloud records. They were much more responsive anyway, we were told. And, you know, they were.”
“Of course, as the months passed we never saw the recycled paper return to the shelves. It had been recycled instead to make wallboard, first for homes then later for such things as the attractions on the Disney continent. Gradually paper disappeared altogether from the store shelves. And nobody really cared. There simply was so little demand the product quit being produced other than in the more useful forms like paper towels or clothes.”
She was looking at the paper in my hands. And she was running her own hands over the cover of the book she was holding in her lap.
“What happened to them?” she asked.
“It says in the letter.”
“I read what she said, but there is more. They died. How did they die?”
The ember of hate in my gut, I could feel flaring up and I knew if I wasn’t careful it would soon be raging and consuming my judgment. It wasn’t the right time.
I couldn’t answer for a moment. I had to gather myself.
“I don’t know.”
“No. I took you and we left.”
She stared at me. I could see her mind working it out.
“But then, how do you know? How do you know they are dead?”
“I know they were taken away. When I went back to see, Mrs. Winters, one of the few friends we could trust anymore, just an old lady lived down the street. She had been married to a college professor. They had taken him too you see. Well she told me she watched them arrive at our home to get your mother. Said your father was in the back of the car. His hands were behind him. Like they were tied, handcuffed, or something. And they marched your mother out and put her in the back of the car right next to him. She said she saw your mother, I will never forget this, she said she saw her lean over and put her head on your Father’s shoulder. And the car left. No one ever saw them again.”
She was more animated then. “Well, they could still be alive.”
I shook my head. “They may have lived for a while. But where they were going, they wouldn’t last. No one ever did.”
“But you don’t know for sure.”
“The lady, the old lady, Mrs. Winters I said saw them? Well, her husband had been a fitness nut. Jogged, lifted weights, you know? She said they let her see him once. He wasn’t the same. He had been re-indoctrinated. He weighed less than half of what he weighed when they took him. She believed he had been starved. They starve them into submission the way they do slaves. It’s a common enough technique. And they work them to death in the pits. He was dying, she said, and he didn’t even know it. She said he was already dead, who he had once been was already dead anyway, and he just didn’t know it. She never tried to see him again.”
“So you didn’t even try to find them!”
“I didn’t want to. I had you to think about. Your mother wanted me to have you, take care of you. They took you away for a while, we knew they would, but I got you back. Its what I said I would do.”
I could tell by the set of her mouth she was angry, she was disappointed in me. Few things hurt as bad as having a grandchild look at you with that kind of disappointment in their eyes. And I knew she would never think of me again with the trust and affection she had up until that moment.
“So this book, why was it so important?”
“Let’s finish the letter. Then I will answer all the questions I can.”
She didn’t ease herself back in the chair. Instead she clutched the book to her chest and scooted up on the edge of the seat to listen. But as I started to return to the letter I felt her get up. I watched her walk to the edge of the porch still clutching the book to her chest, both arms folded in front. She looked away across the fields. I knew as I read she would be seeing it all, the past, for the first time.
“You will learn, dear daughter, and I hope not through sad experience, about the betrayal of friends. They can, if they have fear, turn on you. Some few will do it for money, others out of jealously, but those aren’t true friends. Only fear will cause a true friend to do what you would never expect. Don’t trust, dear, not anyone, not ever in all situations. Don’t let it make you bitter; just don’t expose yourself completely to anyone.
“She used a name.”
“Yes, Rosalind. Who was she?”
“It tells in the letter.”
“The letter says she was a close friend. She worked with my Mother. It says nothing else about her as a person. Who was she? Did you know her?”
“ I knew her. Let’s finish the letter first.”
“No. I need to know who she was. Mother would want me to understand why she did what she did.”
My granddaughter could be stubborn. Got more like that with every passing year. I was glad. She would need that kind of resolve. And I also realized that in her mind she now had a relationship with her mother. Through the letter.
“I will tell you what I know. Rosalind was a pretty girl. Too pretty. It wasn’t like beauty. You know, like some women have beauty. Well, she was pretty in a prissy way. Like she never wanted to grow up. All curls and frills, and she liked that, liked the fancy things. She and your mother knew each other since they were kids. Played dollhouses. I know you don’t know what that was about, but it was a made up, imaginary game and they set up housekeeping. Your mom even copied her when she was very little. Got my wife to curl her hair like Rosalind and started wearing these little girls dresses. I remember we thought it was cute. They looked like sisters.”
“Well they grew up. Your mother got over the little girlie things. Rosalind never did, but they kept their friendship. They stayed close friends. They bought houses right across the street from each other. Spent time together, family stuff and all. Like sisters they were. The strange thing was their husbands never got along that well. He worked for a Data Corp and your father was in Ag. Before all the farms were taken by the big Ag Corps. He was with a small little ranch. Took care of groves of walnut trees, the irrigation, the pesticides, and equipment. He was like a foreman. Well, Rosalind got pregnant and had a little girl. And then your folks had you. You were born virtually the same year.”
“My mother says in there Rosalind betrayed her. Said it was out of fear. That she wanted to forgive her, but couldn’t.”
“The letter says what she did. She betrayed us all. None of us could forgive her.”
“What was her fear?”
“It doesn’t really matter.”
“It matters. If my mother wanted to forgive her, it matters. I just know it matters. She would want me to know.”
She was right. My daughter would want her to know, to be aware of motivations of people, of their vulnerabilities, of their weaknesses and how they can be exploited. Heroes there are. But heroism is a gift when it happens. It is wise to never expect it from anyone. It is never to be depended upon. And it will most come from someone whom you don’t expect and almost never from those whom you do.
“They had her little girl. They took her. Her husband was the one who turned her over actually. For nothing more than to advance his own career. He did it to his own kid. They had this campaign. It was like a friendship between nations. An actual exchange of kids. Kids from China would be placed with American parents and their own kids would be placed with the Chinese parents. Strictly voluntary they said, but the parents that volunteered got these incredible benefits, advancements, and advantages of all kinds. But the kids never came back until they were older. Her husband was very ambitious. He wanted things, the positions, the status, and so he volunteered their child. He did it without telling Rosalind. She was distraught. He ignored her. Told her to get over it. She hated him for that. And one day, she went over her husband’s head, she took a bus to the regional governor’s office. Got in to talk to the people in charge of the program. And they figured out she had something they could use. That she they could get to your mother through her. And see, she, for good measure, betrayed him too. Her husband. When she made her deal, they arrested him too. She is the only one that came out ahead in all of it. By then she hated him so much she didn’t care. I don’t know how she felt about your mom. Never figured that one out.”
“So, how did that work? I mean what did that have to do with my parents?”
“It was the books. Your Mother got involved with opposing the regional government’s book retirement program. Your father and I told her not to do it. But she had a stubborn streak. You have that streak. She just went right ahead and did it anyway. It just made her a target. They wanted her. They set her up and Rosalind helped them trap her.”
“That was the final piece of the mergers. Again in the interests of saving the planet, a cash-for-books program was established. Paid for by offshore cash reserves of the Double A, ‘AA’ Data Corp (Amazon/Apple). The plan was a good one. Coin was given for every book brought to recycle centers. And people wanted coins. They could buy things that were “off the data bases.”
The Data Corp even uploaded those books on the individual Kindle/Fire electronic tablets of those who gave up their paper books. The program was extensive. Any book, no matter the age or condition, no matter if it was pornographic, scientific, or dealt with engineering much less books by the likes of Shakespeare, Faulkner and Hemingway were eligible for the cash back and free replacement upload.”
“Thousands, millions, of paper books were recycled into plain paperboard for the construction of houses and businesses. There were periodic reports of rogue libraries popping up around the globe with actual printed books, but most people believed those stories were myths.”
“Admittedly there were a few who regretted their decision to surrender their books, especially after the Kindle/Fire Reset Day. That’s when they changed history itself.”
“What was that?” She was following what I was telling her closely. Taking it all in. Just like, I realized, her mother knew she would.
“Though the governments promised investigations and the political leaders railed some, all the uploaded books on everyone’s machine were one day, Christmas day to be exact, just wiped out. Gone. They said it was necessary to eliminate a vicious and destructive computer virus. And, I guess, to calm everyone down, ‘AA’ Data Corp immediately began replacing all the online books that had been lost. So most people never worried too much. They figured it would all be okay after the books were downloaded back on the devices.”
“Over the next two years, the Data Corps reloaded the books. There were a few professors and other so-called experts who complained the books had been changed. But this was explained as a necessary clean up of the originals to eliminate offensive language, phrases, and overly violent descriptions and situations. Stuff that made certain groups uncomfortable or stressed them. And now with the Data Corps in control, only certain segments of the population were allowed to upload literature of any kind anyway. The Corps urged their friends in the governments to rewrite the laws on access. For security reasons they said. That it would be better for everyone. And one by one the laws were changed.”
“Essentially there had to be a demonstrated “ need to read”. If you were a certified engineer you could have access to certain engineering tracts at least up to the level of complexity appropriate for your assigned duties. But of course there would be no need for you to read Walt Whitman.”
“Again there were stories about a return to oral traditions where certain groups sought to pass down to generations the originals of information that had once been in the public square. But it seemed so tedious no one gave it much credence. I don’t think it ever got done. And even discussing the banned works was considered a serious ethical breach of the accepted political speak and could lead to one being dismissed from his/her position and even expelled or, worse, sent to the work pits. The offense was considered so egregious; it didn’t matter if you were original male, female, hybrid, changeling or a trans or reverse trans. All the book violators were going to eventually be sent to the pits. It wasn’t worth it to most people to have original versions of the literature and history books.”
“That book you are holding was on the banned list. It is unashamedly patriotic. Contends the old United States was an exceptional country, better than every other country on the planet. Boy was it controversial. Hell, it is poorly written and the research is highly questionable, but it struck a cord and people started talking about it and exchanging it, passing it around. And it had one other thing in it that was really forbidden. This guy that wrote it, talked a lot about Religion, about his belief that the old United States was a Christian nation and that it had been punished for straying from those old beliefs. Really weird stuff. I think bogus. But it got to your Mother. She started speaking out very publically. And she developed a following. I think more for saving the books than the religious part. But it was mixed for sure.”
“So how did they use that on her.”
“Well, by then it was on a special list. Books they said might insight an insurrection. It was a crime to have it. She had it. That book right there. But it was kept well hid. They never found it. That’s why you have it. And then the religious things she said. Well, they couldn’t have that. It was too offensive to too many people. It was against the law.”
“So Rosalind turned her in?”
“More than that. There was a bombing. At a different regional office. Rosalind lied. She said, it was your mother who planned the whole thing, was the leader of the cell of terrorists that did the bombing. Warrants were issued. We knew they would come for her.”
“Your dad made one last effort. He went to the husband of Rosalind. He was still high up in the Corp. Begged him to intervene. He actually tried. But by then they were ready to arrest him too. You know the rest.”
My granddaughter’s eyes misted over. I waited for tears. They never came. Not ever.
It has been years since I thought of the book I gave my grandchild. And now that was all past and I had my work to do.
I sometimes wonder why we keep fighting. The seas keep rising. We lose almost as many Free Thinkers to sun cancer as we do from the drone flybys and government tracker bombs.
But Terrell was with us for this operation. Everyone felt better, more encouraged with him here. And, if all went as planned, we would bring three of the great dams down and the mighty Kaweah would return to the valley floor.
Farm Factories would be under water. And, unfortunately, floating among the produce and the nuts and greens would be the workers, the factorettes, as well as the local managers. None of them had ever been allowed to taste the bounty produced there anyway. And they never would. They would all be dead.
I felt bad about that and, no, I didn’t know if it would do any good. But then it was our belief that putting back Nature the way it had been once, might save us. Destroy everything else and put Nature back in its place. And see what happens. An existential thought for sure. But it was ours to have as free persons. Some of our bodies may have been modified, but our minds could still be free. For those of us who still cared, our thoughts could be free a while longer.
I sat and looked at Terrell like the rest. He was indeed beautiful. And I knew he would join my granddaughter in her tent tonight. And tomorrow we would sweep away the machines and all below them. I belched. The aftertaste of Lab dog was not something I enjoyed all that much.
I sat way back in the shadows of the trees. Their tent flap was open on this side, the side facing away from the camp. I listened.
“I’m going to miss this,” he said.
She was lying on her side watching Terrell pull on his shirt. It was third time since he joined our Queda I had urged her to go to him.
He looked down at her as he buttoned his shirt. She lay naked before him. Her legs were splayed apart. As I watched, his eyes traveled the length of her body. It was having an effect. She spread her legs father apart and laughed at him. He ignored her invitation and turned his back to reach down and begin to pull his pants on.
He turned back to face her as he continued buttoning them up.
“We can’t wait any longer. The Defoliators will start their march today. In two days they will eat right past the dam. Then the redwoods will be history and the mountain will be alive with the buzzing of flybys. None of us will survive that and the dam will still be intact and the food supply will keep flowing to FACEBOOK Land and Disney.”
She replied that she knew he was right. What they didn’t discuss was that we all knew there would be vengeance taken by the Big Data Corps. We knew their philosophy well enough. Always respond. Always hurt us worse than we hurt them. It had served them well and they had prospered. And we hadn’t. We damaged their factories we destroyed their fields. But we weren’t growing.
Another thing the Corps didn’t appreciate having to think about was food prioritizing and distribution much less actually having to develop other food sources. Their machines had never been able to master food preparation. The tastes of humans, all humans, even the hybrids, were too varied and idiosyncratic to be satisfied with the fare produced by the machines. The Farm Corps served a purpose so the Data Corps had never tried to merge them. As long as their delicacies were on the table they didn’t care all that much about how it was done.
“Did you see the flags?” She asked him.
“Yes. Some Flag Day celebration, huh?”
He nodded. “They do it to humiliate any body who might be left still identifying as American.”
“Oh, I don’t think they care enough to deliver a message just to humiliate. It’s more likely they just want to emphasize we can never go back. The Merge was done. American for Chinese. They adopt our economy in whole and we surrender a separate corporate identity. It was a deal. Lots of profits. They get control of the data. And if they control the data, they control us. We can never go back on that deal. They have ownership now. All the shares. Bought and paid for. Fair and square. The flags, I think, just emphasize that.”
She nodded again and began gathering her own clothing. I thought he was being needlessly sardonic. Battles we would loose, but battles where, if we were lucky we would hurt the Data Corps. Maybe show others out there, fighting, keeping up the resistance, that we just maybe can inflict some real hurt on the Data Corps. Maybe we can destroy all this before its too late.
I left where I had been standing in the shadows and moved to the other side of the camp.
I was sitting on a rock overlooking the camp, when Terrell left her tent. When she emerged a few minutes later, she had put on my side arm, took her rifle, and slung it over her shoulder. She wanted to create an illusion they had just been conferring on military matters, even if no one really bought into it. Appearances were important and the pretense forestalled the inevitable barrage of questions. Everyone in her troop was curious, intensely curious, about sex with an original Male.
She whistled. And the others started gathering around her. She was in the center of the Queda. I knew Terrell would not be standing with the others. He would be preparing the explosives. It was time for her to explain the operation to those who would carry it out.
Before she could get started, there were more arguments to be made. It would try her patience, but she needed to allow the arguments of free people to be vetted out for a while as they must, but at the end of the hour, she would need to have made assignments and issued the orders. Once that was done it was very unlikely the orders could be withdrawn. Once we broke up and went to do our assignments, there was no real way to communicate with each other. The Data Corps employed an army of hackers. They could monitor any online or oral conversation, which used a computer chip.
I listened for a while to the arguments. She finally raised her hand and the group stopped arguing. She let the silence linger for a few moments. Then she gave out the orders.
It was time.
It was a quiet morning along the banks of Tulare Lake. The water had spread and settled for a hundred miles in every direction. It wasn’t deep but you couldn’t see the far shore of the lake. As the water spread it sought and found ancient forgotten rivulets, crevices and beds. It was like the lake had come home. Had longed to be home for a hundred years. And indeed it had returned.
In the soft morning sunlight coming off the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the water reflected a million diamonds in the rippling eddies and shifts in the lake’s surface. The treetops of the orchards were still visible. It was an awkward phenomena and it wouldn’t last long. The root systems of the oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and almond trees were not bred to survive in a lake bottom. They would rot and the trees would lose their anchor and float away from their mores until they hung up on the banks or sank below the surface. Here and there green immature Tules could already be seen sprouting above the shallows. They hadn’t been seen for decades, but their long dormant seeds had sprouted, resurrecting life from inanimate buried pods. Their stored energy had been given life again by the returning waters.
As I walked, I couldn’t ignore the smell. There were still too many bodies floating to the surface or snagged in the treetops. It has been two weeks since the deluge and they were beginning to rot. Some of them were members of my granddaughter’s Queda. We had lost over half our number. The rest of her band were scattered among the hills, some no doubt were making their way out of the valley to find other Quedas and continue the war. We had won this one battle though clearly the Data Corps would count it more of a defeat for them than we counted it a victory for us. The cost to them had been dear in financial and distribution terms. The cost to us in trusted allies and soldiers had been proportionally more devastating. Not that we hadn’t expected losses. But the reality was harsh. Even though the attack had went as expected.
All three dams had collapsed in sequence just as Terrell had planned. The three mighty rivers, East Fork, South Fork and North Fork coming together and building up an irresistible force as they joined into a mighty wall of water and roared down the canyons swamping all, taking everything man-made before it. And most importantly, the Defoliators and all the platoons backing them up were gone.
Out of the mountains the three rivers, the three sources of the mighty Kaweah, once again joined, came down from the mountains and flooded every town, every orchard, drowned all the animals and humans alike. Tulare Lake was formed once again almost as if it had been waiting two hundred years to cast aside man made impediments and come back to rest at the place that once had been its home.
As I looked out across the lake some kind of wild fowl, I hadn’t seen before, landed together and floated on the lake surface. Pretty birds, grey and blue, dashes of yellow, honking and flapping their wings, seemingly at home also.
I did find it surprising that the drones were absent today. For the first few days after the destruction of the dams they had buzzed above us constantly back and forth to every location along the hillsides, the lake shore and on up to the new base of the Kaweah river on and on up to Forks where the dams had been blown up. The buzzing had no discernible pattern. It was like they were in a panic mode, in a worrying confusion over what to do.
A few helicopters had come. And as I had watched with binoculars from under the protective canopy of the downed Oaks along the banks, they landed on Rocky Hill and a few figures emerged who seemed to be surveying the damage, the submerged fields and orchards. Though we had weapons we had secured away before the destruction of the dams and with which we could have attacked the helicopters, we waited and held our fire. We weren’t a strong enough force to press any advantage gained from our attack. In true guerilla fashion we would wait now to see what the enemy would do before we reacted. Or maybe we would all just disappear.
Though none of us knew for sure, my granddaughter was confident the Corps would try to rebuild the dams. And she hoped to keep enough of the Queda together to attack them piecemeal and make it difficult for them to complete the task. Her strategy would be to make it so difficult they would abandon the valley as economically unfeasible to defend. If so that meant we had returned this one valley, this one river, to what it once was. And that was, I suppose, a victory. At least as we defined victory.
I heard voices. I recognized who was speaking. As always I stayed hidden in the shadows and listened.
I wondered if she would tell him about the baby. I had warned her not to tell him. She had seemed to agree.
Terrell was waiting at Mayor’s Rock. We had discovered it a year earlier complete with plaque. One of the mayors listed on the plaque had the same name as my own granddad. His name had been Easley.
The plaque honored the mayors of the city that had once been on that spot. Ironically, the city had been named Dry Creek. Added to the irony was the fact that the rock was the only thing in the immediate vicinity that was not under water.
Terrell was sitting arrogantly out in the open atop the rock and watching my granddaughter as she made her way towards him along the banks of the lake.
He smiled when she got to the shore directly across from him. Though separated by water, they were close enough to have a conversation in a normal tone of voice. He did nothing to leave the rock and join her on the shore.
“No drones today?” She asked.
“None we can see. They may be too small to see. Did you enjoy your walk around our new lake?”
“It’s not a new lake. My granddad told me long ago, or maybe I read it, not sure which, but anyway, he told me there was a lake here before the dams. It had been there who knows how many hundreds of years or even longer. Then they dammed up the rivers and turned the lakebed into Ag fields. And towns. We just put the lake back where it was supposed to be.”
“Well, maybe that is so. Lots of bodies floating in your lake now. And lots of produce which won’t be going where the Farm Corps want it to go.”
“We killed thousands. No doubt about that. And we will kill many more before this war is through.”
“Will it ever be through?”
She didn’t answer. There was no answer to give. An end to the war would mean our side had lost. She stood there with her hands on her hips and looked at Terrell. He looked at the water flowing among the treetops.
“Will you leave?”
“You could stay. We have more work to do, if they try to rebuild.”
“They will rebuild. There are too few of you to stop them.”
“You could help.”
“No. There is another river to return. Our leaders want to reclaim the Colorado. And I want to bring down the Hoover. That will be something.”
“The Data Corps will think of that. They will protect Hoover better than here. By now they have computer models of your attacks. All of them. It won’t be easy to do what you did here.” She paused for a second. “You should stay with me.”
“I will leave.”
“So we have today.”
“And tonight,” he said with a smile. He stood, easily balancing himself on the Rock. He spread his arms. “And we have all this.”
She smiled back. I could tell she thought he was beautiful. An original. One of the few left.
“Yes. Tonight,” she said. “We have the lake. And we have tonight.”