by Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part one of a three-part sci-fi series chronicling the adventures of several leaders in a post-petroleum, climate-ravaged San Francisco Bay Area in the early 22nd century. It is under consideration for publication within John Michael Greer’s next post-oil sci-fi anthology. For more about his first work, please visit the publisher’s page.
Bryce Morgan peered through his eye scope across San Francisco Bay, scanning the East Bay hills for signs of troop movements. Some on the High Council thought him paranoid for his constant surveillance. But as defense chief for St. Francis Citadel, Bryce figured he couldn’t be too cautious.
Especially in times like these. Especially since 2115 marked the eleventh straight year of the Great Drought, with all the water skirmishes and rising cross-bay conflict that’s come with it. Of course, the political tensions could have been far less, if only Council Premier Alito hadn’t…
“See anything interesting, chief?” asked Alara Alito as she strode into the overlook antechamber. Her long white gown flowed freely in the night air, matched only in elegance by her waist-length silver braid.
Bryce gathered his composure before turning to face her. “Nothing out of the ordinary, premier. Mostly water scavengers in the lowlands trying to tap the main lines again. Nothing our patrols can’t handle.”
“Of course,” said Alara, joining his side by the overlook archway. “May I?” she asked, reaching for the eye scope. Scanning eastward, her expression turned quickly from calm to alarm: “Wait! Why is the Stone Mason Lodge lit up at this time of night?”
“Let me see that!” Bryce grunted, snatching the eye scope. “I had no idea. They must have been commissioned by Piedmont Citadel, or perhaps someone from the East Bay Defense Corps.”
Alara frowned at Bryce, sighing in disappointment. “Well, whomever it was, Chief Morgan, they’ve obviously gotten wind of our plans. And now, we have only weeks before their entire waterfront is reinforced with stone barricades!”
“They can’t possibly have the manpower to work that quickly,” Bryce pleaded.
Alara stared at him in disbelief, then returned her gaze eastward. “You, of all people, should never underestimate their determination, especially after their last bit of water thievery,” she said. “We’re simply going to have to speed up our timetable.”
“But respectfully, premier, what if we’re going about this the wrong way? What if we infiltrate their Defense Corps instead? Find a trusted confidant to learn more about their plans?”
“What?!? And give Councilor Imani even more time to rally her people against us?” screamed Alara. “I’m afraid that’s a risk we can’t afford to take.”
* * * * *
March 14, 2115, 0210 Hours
Fairview Heights, Hayward, California Autonomous Region
Thump! Thump! Thump!
“Uh, wha?” answered Brandon Lee, stumbling to his feet from a deep slumber. “Just a minute!” Pulling open the security panel, he saw two men dressed in defense garb just inches from his door.
“What’s going on?” Brandon demanded. “Why wasn’t I called on my radio?”
“Apologies, councilor,” replied the taller of the two, handing Brandon a sealed scroll through the barred opening. “It’s an urgent, top secret message from Council President Imani. She couldn’t risk anyone listening in on your frequency.”
“Thank you for your service,” Brandon said. The men mounted their horses and strode off in the night.
Brandon lit his lamp and reached for his monocle. Unsealing the scroll, he read:
EMERGENCY SUMMONS: PLEASE DESTROY AFTER FULL REVIEW
It is with the greatest sadness that I must inform you we’ve once again spotted SF forces at one of the core aqueducts near San Pablo Reservoir. Several onsite sources confirmed at least four SF infiltrators carrying what appeared to be sizeable caches of explosives.
Don’t worry, nothing has happened. Not yet anyway. But we weren’t able to make any arrests. If last year’s security breaches are any indication of their resolve, we have every reason to believe they’re now planning on blackmailing us by threatening our very own primary water source.
Brandon, let me personally stress to you how much I’ve admired your efforts to keep the peace over the years by brokering water rights agreements between our region’s various factions. But we cannot let them jeopardize the East Bay’s rightful claim to our fair share of what remains of the Hetch Hetchy Regional water flow. If they disrupt even a small portion of San Pablo, they could force us to completely relinquish our claim to Hetch Hetchy. You know the chaos that would ensue if that ever came to pass, especially within the communities you hold most dear.
As a precautionary measure, I’ve established security checkpoints at the harbors and Bay Bridge feeder roads. I’ve also asked the Masons to begin 24-hour requisition and production of wall-grade stone. This may be their largest public works contract since Piedmont Citadel’s construction. I know you’ll be tempted to overturn these efforts, but I will not go down in history as the East Bay’s first council president who left her guard down in a time of crisis.
In any event, we need you Brandon. Please come as quickly you can to an emergency session at East Bay Regional Hall. We’ll begin proceedings at 0900 hours tomorrow morning. I’m confident that together, we can forge a strong defense plan that will force Alito to come to her senses.
East Bay Regional Authority, Oakland
Brandon couldn’t believe it was coming to this. Security checkpoints? Stone walls? Granted, Alito’s minions were obviously behind the security breach at San Pablo a few years back. But these kinds of moves will only fuel people’s fury. The last thing the East Bay needs is more angry San Francisco visitors, merchants, and public officials being frisked or having their boats and carriages searched.
There must be a way to stop this from spiraling, he thought. And then he remembered: “Desirae…”
* * * * *
March 14, 2115, 0715 Hours
Arroyo Viejo Training Farm, Oakland, California Autonomous Region
Desirae Greene wiped the beads of sweat from her brow. Today was shaping up to be another scorcher. It’s been that way as long as she can remember. Granny used to tell stories of cooler times, when the sea breezes would rush inland, and the springtime highs would reach only into the 70s. These days, East Bay towns like Oakland were lucky to see highs lower than 90.
Still, Arroyo Viejo’s bountiful gardens were some of the most lush, teeming landscapes around. If it weren’t for the massive rainwater basins constructed decades ago, none of this would be possible. They’ve allowed several acres of prime parkland to be transformed into a self-sustaining oasis that now feeds over 80 families, and doubles as a training ground for upstart farmers hoping to join the northern townships. Thank goodness the torrents still come, once in awhile anyway.
“Sis, you have a visitor,” said Honor Greene, arguably the most slender of Desirae’s family, also known as Sly among the local stewards. “It’s him again,” he said, not hiding his disdain.
Desirae’s stomach turned. Anxious flashes of energy coursed through her chest. She smiled. How long had it been since she’d seen him? Two, maybe three months? Something serious must have come up for him to have gambled on her being here. Something very serious.
“Please let him in Sly,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I promise not to get too entangled.” Sly went to open the front gates, waving Brandon’s horse-drawn carriage into the main storage yard. Brandon approached her with diplomatic assuredness, dressed to the nines in full council garb. This wouldn’t be a romantic visit, she thought. Probably for the best.
“You’ve done wonders here,” said Brandon, flashing his warm, familiar smile. She couldn’t help but smile back as she reached for him. They embraced, and held one another tightly, if only for a moment. Brandon peered over her shoulder, furrowing his brow.
“What’s going on, Brandon?” she asked. “Are you here to drag me, kicking and screaming, on one of your wild-ass political crusades?”
“You know me well, Desirae,” he said. “But this time it’s different. Seems the residents of SF Citadel are screaming bloody murder over their recent losses. Nesalla thinks Premier Alito’s planning an all-out attack to reclaim exclusive access to Hetch Hetchy’s water. It’s starting to get ugly.”
“When hasn’t it been?” she asked. “Why should I care if the citadel dwellers are forced to cut back a little? Serves them right for walling themselves off and taking more than their fair share.”
“It’s not that simple, and you know it,” he pleaded. “Not everyone in these parts is as fortunate as your Urban Water Guild communities. Most still rely on that new flow. For them, this is life and death, Desirae.” He gazed into her eyes, searching for agreement.
“I know,” she sighed. “But what can we do about it? Alito will simply take what she wants.”
“Not if the lowland communities come together to defend our rights,” he said. “Alito’s expecting us to be divided, too busy squabbling amongst ourselves to pay attention to her schemes. But if she faced a united front with people putting their bodies on the line, she’d have to back off.”
Desirae looked at him with worry, the kind of worry that won’t be comforted away. “There will be losses, painful losses,” she said. “And there’s still a great deal of anger from the last time Piedmont Citadel turned its back on our people. It’s going to take some hard convincing.”
“I understand,” Brandon said. “But this is coming from Nesalla directly, not citadel leadership. I’m heading to an emergency session at East Bay Regional in about an hour. I’ll try to calm tensions as much as I can, but we need to come together around this, Desirae.”
“I’ll check with the guild leadership,” she said. “And put the call out to our friends in the neighborhood assemblies. But I can’t offer any promises.”
“No promises,” he acknowledged. “But if I know you, we’ll have scores of allies by nightfall.”